How would you describe that? I don’t know

In less than a week, I hope to send Bone Girl to my editor, Maudeen Wachsmith. Now comes the hard part. It’s time to fix the widgets. Or more aptly, to describe them.

I’ve got about six scenes I need to fill out in the manuscript and because I’m awful at writing description, I’ve procrastinated this task.

I blame my journalism background. When you work for newspapers, you learn to keep descriptions brief. Only the facts, ma’am. So, when my journalism professor critiqued my manuscript and wrote, “Describe Missouri during winter here,” he touched upon my biggest weakness: writing description.

The problem is, I can see it. I know exactly what Missouri looks like in the winter. Patches of dirty snow cover dead grass. The trees are bare, their branches encased in ice. Sleeping crop fields lay covered in snow, like great vats of chocolate chip ice cream. See. I’ve been there.

Or when he asks what Josey’s house looks like, I want to tell him: like my Grandmother Obermeier’s house outside of Lucas, Iowa. You know, you’ve been there lots of time.

But he hasn’t. I’m willing to bet that for all the millions (Hey, I can dream!) of people who read my book, maybe three will have been in that house: Aunt Mary Rose, Uncle Jack and my brother, Kevin.

Meanwhile, I see my author friends post on Facebook, “I wrote 5,000 words today! Woo-hoo.” And here I sit, searching for the words to describe a beginning band Christmas concert.

This reminds me of the annual inventory of my father’s lumberyard when I was a kid. Talk about the devil being in the details. Everything, I mean everything, had to be tallied once a year.

Like writing this novel, it started great. I was paid the grand sum of $1 an hour, and we had doughnuts on the first day. But it quickly tumbled downhill from there. Because you would be amazed at how much stuff is in a lumberyard. Screws, tools, nuts and bolts, light fixtures, paint, paintbrushes, wooden dowel rods, nails…you get the idea. Lots and lots of stuff. All of it to be counted. By day 2, I looked for a place to hide. $1 an hour just wasn’t worth it. Alas, I was found and encouraged to return to task.

My father’s business is no more. The last time I visited my hometown, Drake Lumberyard was a payday loan office. But this need to focus, to stay on task, remains. And this time, there are no doughnuts or lucrative wages. Just a fierce determination to make this book the best it can be and send it out into the world.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: I go undercover at Mirror Lake Middle School.


Pardon me while I have my anxiety attack.

I just opened the returned manuscript for Bone Girl from one of my beta readers. I’m overwhelmed with all of the notes he made on it, written in red type, and all in CAPITAL LETTERS. My heart is racing. My fingers are shaking. Holy buckets! I’m totally freaking out.

Here’s what happened: after I finished the first draft of Bone Girl, which by the way, was originally titled Phat Girl, I sent it off to my beta readers. These are friends and acquaintances who critique the first draft of a manuscript and provide feedback, which is used by an author to revise the work.

I had about five beta readers for Bone Girl. Let me tell you about them.

To begin with, there’s Maudeen Wachsmith. Maudeen is a professional editor who worked on Celebration House. She gave birth to the idea that the book should be a trilogy. When Maudeen first approached me with the idea of not one but two sequels, I said “Nooooo.” Then, after applying tincture of time, and hearing from other readers, I realized the answer was, well, maybe. Now, I can’t stop thinking about these next two books, especially Melanie’s.

For those of you who have bought and read Celebration House, well, first, THANK YOU! Secondly, you know who Melanie is and how unlikeable her character is. But, you’ve got to admit, she’s a tough cookie. Man! You should try living with her in your head all the time. I mean, really. C’mon! Stop already.

My second beta reader is Edith Poole. Edith, stand up and wave to the audience. Oh, you are standing. My bad. Edith is my petite mother-in-law and an experienced horsewoman. She’s five feet of red-headed fury. Say that fast three times.

I gave her Bone Girl last summer, and she called me and told me to come to her house. Alone. She wanted to talk to me. Eeek! Boy, that was a long one-mile drive. But I listened, and she was right. The book wasn’t finished. I hope it’s more finished now. I say that because I agree with George Lucas: no creative work is ever finished, just abandoned.

Aarene Storms was my third reader. She’s a published author herself. She wrote Endurance 101: A Gentle Guide to the Sport of Long-distance Riding, which I used when I wrote the manuscript. Aarene pointed out some of my more glaring mistakes, i.e. any horse expected to trot fifty miles would likely be shod. Also, the main character in Bone Girl, an 11-year-old girl named Josey, wouldn’t be wandering alone in an endurance camp. There’s too many mama bears amongst horse people.

Because of Aarene’s comments, I created two new characters: Earl Keck, the farrier, and Opal Meyers, an older woman who watches over Josey on the day of the endurance ride. I grew fond of Opal quickly because I’ve known women like her who have shown me amazing kindness. I only wish Opal would invite me into her 1968 Oasis travel trailer for breakfast.

I also sent the manuscript to Dennis and Sue Summers. I know I’ve blogged this before but it bears repeating. The Summers are the real deal: experienced endurance riders who’ve taken horses to competitions around the world, including the Middle East. Dennis penned a book for advanced endurance riders: 4th Gear – Power Up Your Endurance Horse.

The Summers too agreed Chief should be shod. Alas, they didn’t like one of my plot points: PETA protests the endurance ride Josey’s father competes in. My apologies, Sue and Dennis, but I needed to get a television crew to the ride and that’s how I did it. I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation, when Bone Girl is made into a film, I intend to send the producers your way so my mistakes won’t be replicated in the film.

Last night, I received the manuscript back from my final beta reader, Les Dunseith. He was a journalism professor at my alma mater, Truman State University, and, I like to brag, a former editor at The Los Angeles Time. I met Les in 1985 in my first journalism class, and I’ve been annoying him ever since. Les read Celebration House before I finished it, and I asked him to read Bone Girl. If this continues, I’ll probably have to start paying him.

Les gave me my first inkling that maybe I had something special with Carrie, the main character in Celebration House. A few days after he returned the printed manuscript back in the mail, Les emailed me to tell me he was still thinking about Carrie. She lingered with him. She was not easily forgotten.  

Last night, Les returned Bone Girl to me, and he must know me and my neuroses well enough because in his email he wrote, “I think you’ve seen enough of my editing suggestions by now not to be surprised when you open the document and see lots of red type (much of which is positive by the way).”

Yeah, but you didn’t tell me it was going to be in ALL CAPS!

Relax, I tell myself as I scan the first page and see as much red ink on it as my original text. Relax. Deep breath. This is all part of the novelist’s experience. It’s like a practice test. Les has given me the answers before I actually step into the classroom, i.e. publish Bone Girl. I can use his feedback to make the book better. To make you, the reader, my boss, fall in love with Bone Girl the way I did. Okay. Let’s get started.

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, I’m interviewed by Stephen Colbert. (Please note: this interview takes place in my imagination)  

Just finish the book. Again.

For years, this quote hung above my desk:

  • 95% of people talk about writing a book,
  • 30% of people start writing a book,
  • 3% finish it.

It will be one year ago next month that I started this blog. While many things have changed, one thing has not: I struggle with the habit of completion.

My second novel, Bone Girl, will be published in less than two months. It’s with my beta readers now, then it will go to my editor, Maudeen Wachsmith.

A month later, I intend to self-publish my third novel, A Year with Geno. There’s only one small problem with this grand plan: the book isn’t finished.

Here’s why. I’ve come to the parts of the book that aren’t any fun to write. Like a picky eater, I now stare down at my literary plate, and all I see are lima beans, beets and fried liver. Yech…

I drafted a calendar-style spreadsheet with all of the scenes on it. According to the spreadsheet, I have five (I just counted them) scenes left to write. That’s all. Five! Figuring they are each 1,000 words, I only have 5,000 words left to draft and then I can begin revisions. Please note: I started writing this book in 2007. I originally dreamed up the idea for A Year with Geno in 2002.

But in order to finish the book, I have to write these five scenes. And rewrite them. And polish them. I just don’t want to.

I think I know why I’m so reluctant to write these remaining sections. Too much depends on them. I want A Year with Geno to give the readers a taste, a whiff of life in Alaska, and I don’t know that I’ve done that in the preceding 63,000 words. Yep. 63K. This is the longest book I’ve written.

Also, I have so many doubts: is the romance between the two main characters plausible? Did I create enough sexual tension to keep readers turning pages? Did I show how important the main character’s friends are to her? Ugh! So many questions and so few certainties.

Except this one: if I want the life I dream about – writing full-time – I need to finish this book. No excuses. No buts, maybes or should-ofs. Finish the book. It’s just that simple. And that difficult.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: why I am choosing to self-publish.

Editors: you can’t live without them

Ray Bradbury asks wanna-be writers, “Who are your friends? Do they believe in you? Or do they stunt your growth with ridicule and disbelief? If the latter, you haven’t friends. Go find some.”

I found one. My editor, Maudeen Wachsmith. Recently, Maudeen offered to read my manuscript for BONE GIRL, which I’ve had no luck selling. Here’s what she had to say:

“I finished reading BONE GIRL just a little while ago. I really enjoyed it. I think there is a market for this book. And like I said earlier I really couldn’t put it down and it kept me interested and engaged the entire time…. Keep writing. You have a gift. Don’t give up or become discouraged.”

P.S. For readers who are curious about my second novel, please visit and type Bone Girl in the search field. I’ve posted the first 10 chapters there. Also, my rejection count increased by one this week. The current count is 17: 16 from agents and one from a publisher. I remind myself, it only takes one yes!

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, the realities of an e-book tour.

The business of self promotion

Most of my life, I’ve been happy to remain in the shadows, anonymous. As a nurse, I chose to work in nursing specialties where the patients and I interacted only briefly. As a nurse in the recovery room, the patients were just awakening from general anesthesia; they seldom remembered the care I provided to them.

But now, as a writer, one of my jobs is to promote myself. To “create a platform,” whatever the heck that means. I think it means that my job is to sell myself so that I can sell books. Okay. This is uncharted territory for me.

Before my life as a registered nurse, I was a journalist. I worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Missouri and Kansas. That job gave me a little bit of notoriety, but honestly, not much.

Please allow me to share my 15 seconds of fame with you. I was working as the lifestyles editor for The Sedalia Democrat in Sedalia, Missouri. I wrote a weekly column, entitled “Solo,” about my life and the people in it. One day at the library, I was checking out books, and the young woman behind the counter looked up at me, her eyes full of wonder. “You’re Annette Drake,” she gushed. I thought, oh, crap! Do I have too many fines to check out books? She said, “I always read your column. I love your writing.” Wow! I didn’t hear those words often, especially from my editors. I thanked her and left. Funny how I remember that incident more than two decades later.

So now with a book coming out this summer, an e-book, no less, I’ve got to start promoting it. My publisher, Tirgearr, will help, but as a new writer, a lot of it is up to me. So, here are a few of my ideas:

The book takes place in Lexington, Missouri. I’ve drafted a letter to the only bookstore in the town to ask if they will carry my book and perhaps allow me to do a reading when I visit Missouri this summer.

Likewise, I plan to query the newspapers in Lexington and ask if they will review the book. I also hope the daily newspaper here in Spokane will review it.

My publisher sent me a long, long list of blogs that review books. I’m to contact these and inquire if they will review my book. This, I can do.

They’ve also sent me some help: my editor, Maudeen Wachsmith. I’ve never met Maudeen in person, but already, she’s become an authority in my house. When I voice my many, many doubts about this book, my husband says, “I don’t know. We should ask Maudeen.” When I ask him if I should write this scene that’s been playing out in my head or is it too late to contribute more to the manuscript, he says, “I don’t know. We should ask Maudeen.”

Here’s more about my new literary godmother: Maudeen owned a bookstore near Tacoma in the early 1990s, then edited a magazine for readers and writers of western fiction. She has also been a contract reviewer for Amazon. She lived on Bainbridge Island from 1995 to 2001, so she’s rubbed elbows with some pretty well-known authors, including Susan Wiggs and Kristin Hannah. Maudeen also owned a book promotion company, “The Book Wizard.” She tells me she will ask Kristin Hannah to review my book and contribute a quote. Yikes! Kristin Hannah is going to read my book? Really?

In her most recent email to me, Maudeen wrote, “So hang on tight. We’re going on a terrific ride. It may be a bit scary and you’ll feel like screaming at the ups and downs, but like the roller coaster, you’ll feel good after it’s all done.”

I guess I better put my hands and arms inside the cart, huh? Next: When will Celebration House be in a printed version?