Monday, February 25, 2013

Walking the Dog

I finished my editing while recovering from surgery. I’d not only completed a life-long dream, I was proud of it. I was ready to take my book puppy for a walk in the park.  People would tell me how cute and handsome he was.  I’d smile humbly on the outside and feel like a genius within.

I sent my friend, Eva Marie Everson, the first few chapters.  She’s an accomplished writer with a long string of published works. “What a cute puppy,” she remarked politely.  Then she reminded me puppies make messes and messes require cleanup. She pointed out my bad writing habits.  “Go through the manuscript and surgically remove the word ‘that.’ Most sentences don’t need it; excess baggage.”  So I spent days performing ‘that-ectomies.’

Then I showed the manuscript to Dave Greek.  He’s an English professor and a good enough friend to be brutally honest about my puppy.  Since I’d removed the thats, he blistered me for over-using the word ‘it.’  He claimed that lazy writers say ‘it’ when they should be more descriptive.  So I spent several more days performing ‘it-ectomies.’

And on it  (editing changes) went for weeks.  My manuscript contained more red than a pitcher of Kool-aid.  Genius fled; I started feeling like the amateur writer I was.  Every page reminded me that my puppy needed a bath.

My book and I both underwent surgery. I lost a tumor and became a better writer.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Freeing the Engineer

Writing Sunset Roma Italy Italia - Creative Commons by gnuckx (4276946305)
I didn't edit as I wrote. I just kept planting new chapters.  I feared the loss of momentum. Even more, I feared the loss of creativity. The unfettered artist writes in a wild flourish, but the meticulous engineer cleans up the mess.  They have completely different brains.  I feared the engineer would kill the artist if I tried to shift hats along the way.  I valued passion over precision.  So I tied and gagged the editor and threw him in the closet.

When the artist finished his canvas, he loosed the engineer and fell into bed.  The engineer rubbed his unused muscles and sprang into action. He'd been planning while the artist splattered words. He sharpened his knife and whacked away at word fat. Less is more when constructing a sentence.  He shook his head at awkward phrasing and tightened the prose. He re-engineered paragraphs to help the reader understand.  He fixed typos and bad grammar while marveling at the artist's sloppiness.

He fixed words faster than the artist had created them. The engineer fixed a chapter a day and declared it very good. The artist shook his head and took another nap.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Go Ahead and Peek

August Müller Tagebucheintrag
 Remember when diaries were private? It was bad form to peek.  Now we publish our secrets in blogs and invite the world to stare.  That's what a blog is; a peek-able diary. Some blogs - mine included - even invite people to leave comments.  So go ahead - peek in my blog and then leave tracks. How cool is that?

I'm currently blogging about writing my first book; shamelessly begging my friends to follow my blog by entering their email address in the box to the right. I'm secretly hoping they'll buy the book when it comes out, but for now I'll settle for followers who comment. I mean, really, even TSA leaves a note when they rummage through your undies.

So far, that hasn't happened much. A good friend called yesterday with a possible reason why:

FRIEND:  Your blog is unfriendly. It says "No Comments" at the bottom of each post.  Why not?
LON:        Why not what?
FRIEND:   Why won't you let me comment?
LON:         You can comment; I want you to comment.
FRIEND:   But you clearly state that you don't want any -  see it says "No Comments"
LON:        That just means no one has commented yet.
FRIEND:   Why didn't you just say so?
LON:         Sigh

Maybe it isn't as clear as I'd hoped. Here's how you tell me what you really think.  Point your mouse to the word "Comments;" then left-click.  A very friendly little box will pop up and let you comment on my latest craziness. Of course if I think you're being too nasty, I might just censor you. I have that power.      (Smile)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Books Need Titles

I can't name things.  My first puppy arrived in the mid-60's.  I held a contest and the winning entry was Ringo. What can I say, the Beatles were the craze.  I later got a cat and named it Kitty. Then we adopted a dog mainly because he already had a name.  If my wife let me name the kids, they'd be A and B.  I know my limits.

Still my book needed a title.  Titles are huge for books.  Without a title how could the library file it? How could the New York Times dub it a bestseller?  Something has to go on the cover. Honestly, without an intriguing title no one but your mother will give your book a passing glance.  You've got 3 seconds to sell your book. If the title doesn't hook potential readers, your book is dead-on-arrival.

So titles are huge and I can't name things.  Great combination. I'm a reader. What do I like?  I like short, intriguing titles, like The Shack.  How about The Jump? The book encouraged taking risks.  It encouraged readers to jump off the porch.  I had a working title.  It wasn't great, but a beginning. Eventually I realized the book wasn't asking readers to jump off the porch, but leap off a cliff.  The Leap - a title I could live with.

Google revealed many other authors liked that title too.  I needed a subtitle.  The book was about walking by faith into an adventurous, but uncertain future.  So I dubbed it, The Leap: One Man's Journey into Faith.  It wasn't quite there. Maybe that's what publishers do; replace your crappy title with something that snaps.  Then it hit me.  My title broke writing's cardinal rule: it portrayed the writer's point of view rather than the readers.  What benefit will the reader get from reading my book?  The Leap: Living the Life you Dream About. That's been its name ever since.

Hope you like it; otherwise I'm calling it Book A.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Everyone knows the writing process 'cause writers love to write about it.  When creative juices are flowing, words pour out like flood waters. It's quite a ride.  Then some damn beaver dams up the word stream. Most call it writer's block; I call it "Beaver Season."  The river dries up. Nothing worth reading flows downstream. Until cancer, I'd been locked in Beaver Season for years.

Then Gollum showed up.  What better name for a gray, slimy tumor who lurks in the dark regions of your body. While he hated me and wanted me dead, he also came bearing gifts.  One of the most "precious" was beaver dam dynamite.  I could no longer wait for the dam to disappear, I had to blow it up. Healthy people can postpone dreams for decades; sick people better Get-R-Done. With Gollum's involuntary assistance, I blew up the dam and started writing like there might be no tomorrow. I had my deadline.

"I don't feel like writing today."  Boom. Get-R-Done.

"The words won't come; try again tomorrow.  Kaboom. Get-R-Done.

"I need to do something else today."  No you don't; Boom - KaboomGet-R-Done.

Writers fail to realize they build their own dams and blame it on the beavers.  Gollum blew up my beaver dam and taught me the discipline of writing.  Writing is hard work, even for gifted writers.  Words don't come easy.  On a good day, I can only write 6 pages that I've got the guts to ask someone else to read. On a normal day, I'll crank out 4 pages of worthwhile prose.  On bad days, I'd produce zilch. But not any more.  Gollum showed up with more dynamite and whoops there goes another beaver dam site.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Alternative Therapies

Cancer is crazy.  Since there's no medical cure, alternative therapies abound. I crafted a few of my own; not as a cure, but rather as an emotional coping device.  They both worked wonders, keeping my mind off of death, surgery, and its nasty after effects.

Writing Therapy
Writing the book distracted me.  I love to write and lose myself when writing.  Everything else disappears including my cares and worries. So I got up early and worked on the book for six or seven hours each morning and early afternoon.  But I also blogged about my cancer. Blogging helped me find the funny side of cancer and laughing about it soothed me.  You can read my musings at:


Baseball Therapy
I love baseball.  I was 6 when I fell for America's pastime and I still swoon at the sound of a bat hitting a ball.  The Cincinnati Reds are my team.  But being in Denver for treatment, the Colorado Rockies were more accessible.  At least they share the same initials as the Reds.  So I attended baseball games in the afternoons and evenings. It helped that my son-in-law works for the Rockies. I watched the Reds online when the Rockies were out of town.

All things considered, it was Lon's excellent adventure.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Unwelcome Blessing

The pain I'd been experiencing turned out to be cancer. The Namibian surgeon who discovered it strongly advised I return to the States for treatment. So I traveled to the States a month earlier than planned. As I contemplated the after effects of chemo, my plans for a writing retreat appeared to being evaporating. I left immediately and Val stayed behind to prepare the team for our extended absence. The stateside biopsy revealed GIST (Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor), a rare form of cancer that doesn't respond to traditional chemotherapy, but does respond to a targeted chemotherapy pill that I began taking with minimum side effects. Eventually the tumor would have to be surgically removed, but the immediate plan was to let the pill shrink my tumor as much as possible.  (Read more about GIST)

I jumped into writing with a vengeance. I finally had the necessary deadline, with "dead" being more than figurative language. Finish the book before cancer kills me. I no longer had years or decades to finish my dream. I had to finish now; I no longer had the luxury of procrastination.

In a strange way, cancer became a blessing. It gave me:

  • Reality check. - life is tenuous; squeeze each day for all it can give. 
  • Motivation - to write, although not in a way I would have wished. 
  • Urgency - write now; tomorrow may never come.
  • More Chapters – my already interesting story just got bigger. 
I used the cards God dealt me to build discipline into my writing. I buried myself into my book. It was therapeutic.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Fizzle Factor

I stopped writing.  I don't know why. I gave excuses, but I knew they weren't valid.  My stimulus in starting petered out before my fire for finishing kicked in.  I began with power in my pen, but it fizzled before I developed a writing discipline. I write best in the morning, the time when other work also comes calling.  My  shared office was a pregnant passageway without doors. If people weren't interrupting me, I distracted myself by eavesdropping on them.  My habitat discouraged creativity, and I wasn't doing anything about it.

Months elapsed between the second and third chapters.  Then months grew into years.  The story continued unfolding, but I wasn't telling it.  In 2006, we started adding staff members.  I filled my time with training and oversight. Other staff left, leaving work that needed attention.  Then 2008 became the year of many crises, including some nagging pains that wouldn't go away.  In fact, they got worse.  It's all in the book, but I couldn't write about it then.  I struggled physically and emotionally.  I had nothing left for writing.

I convinced myself that 2009 would be the Year of the Book, but by April, I hadn't penned a single word. I needed a writing retreat away from Africa where I could focus on writing the book.  I planned to spend June and July in Denver.  I would write every day as a discipline, without interruptions.  It was perfect. I was excited.  It seemed too good to be true  . . .  and it was.