Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Second Draft

I opened an email a few days ago from my local newspaper, The Saratogian. It said that my blog has been discontinued because a lack of activity, but I was welcome back any time. They missed me. It made me smile. I liked being missed.

I replied with an explanation about why I had stopped blogging. You know, the busy life thing which included writing my second novel, working full-time as a speech-language language pathologist, reading, socializing, and embarking on playful adventures.

Still, that email reminded me how much I enjoyed blogging. Blogs really are a free flow soap box, a public journal of sorts. I liked reading your comments and I liked connecting with so many people around the world. Just last month seventy-one visitors from France stopped by. I'm not quite sure how they discovered my minuscule, inactive blog. Regardless, "Hello France!"

I also crossed off a super-sized item from my to "want" list—finishing draft two of novel two. Hold your applause and don't head over to Amazon and look for it. Finishing draft two of a novel does not mean I'm ready to publish. What it means is, I deleted all of the really bad parts of draft one.

Writing a novel is like creating pottery.

The potter begins with a lump of clay.

The writer begins with a blank page.

The potter spins the wheel and maneuvers fingers to form an original design that is tailored in imagination. The writer does the same with pen and paper.


I can't speak for potters, or even for other writers, but for me the first draft is the most fun. It's when I let my thoughts spill onto the page without censor. I wouldn't however, try out a new recipe on a guest and I wouldn't let anyone, not even Mom, read my first draft.


The first draft is dreamlike. The second draft is realty. Mine took over one year to arrive at, "The End." It certainly is worth celebrating, but "the end" is such a deceitful little phrase. If I were a potter, I'd be at this point:

The story still needs detail, depth, color, glitter.

 Eventually the creation will evolve.

The Second Draft....

Thursday, September 5, 2013

J.K. Rowling Finds an Angel

I was outside helping my husband with yard work earlier in the year when my neighbor, Barbara, called, "Peggy."

I gladly abandoned my chore to have a nice chat.

"I just read the most moving book. You have to read it," Barbara said.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Wait, I'll get it for you." Barbara ran into her house and quickly returned with the book, I Wouldn't Change a Thing by Gina Peca.

"Oh yeah," I said. "I've been meaning to buy that."

Gina M. Peca

Gina is an amazing woman who took writing classes at East Line Books and Literary Center in Clifton Park, NY, just like me. Gina attended in the morning and I went in the evening. She was writing a memoir and I was writing a novel. Word about Gina's inspirational story of how she dealt with her daughter, Caitie's cancer and eventual death spread through the bookstore and our community. You see, it's not a tale of misery and hopelessness. It's a story of how Catie turned her cancer diagnosis into an unexpected adventure and took her mom along for the ride.

One of Catie's adventures involved an email she sent to J. K. Rowling. Gina explains in I Wouldn't Change a Thing, "Catie wanted the author to know how much Harry Potter meant to her, how much his antics amused her and kept her mind off her battle with cancer." Together, they searched the Internet for J.K. Rowling's email address. They couldn't find it, but sent the letter to her publishing company anyway. To their surprise, Ms. Rowling received the message and replied. Here is the first email Catie received from the beloved author:

Dear Catie...Your friend Paul Steinberg has written to tell me how much you like Harry Potter books and I can't tell you how much it meant to me. I am working very hard on book four at the moment—on a bit that involves some new creatures Hagrid has bought along for the Care of Magical Creatures classes. This is TOP SECRET, so you are allowed to tell Paul, Simon and your mom and nobody else, or you'll be getting an owl from the Ministry of Magic for giving secrets away to Muggles. With lots of love, J.K. Rowling (Jo to anybody in Gryffindor).

That began an email correspondence between Catie and J.K. Rowling that continued until Catie's death in 2000. The author was so captivated by the nine-year-old's charm and courage, that she called Catie when the end was near and read from the unfinished Book 4 of the Harry Potter series. Here's what Gina says about their relationship, "No matter what was happening during Catie's treatment, Jo made everything better. Her kindness and willingness to take the time to write to Catie show that J.K. Rowling is more than an author. She is a sorceress who brought joy and excitement to a very sick child."
J.K. Rowling was certainly the most famous person in Catie's short life, but she also embarked on plenty of other escapades that would make Harry Potter proud. Attending a prom with her special friend, Kevin, cheering at a Yankee game, and convincing her parents to buy a husky puppy—all while she was going through chemotherapy, extensive tests, and hospital stays.

There is a warning if you decide to read  I Wouldn't Change a Thing. You will cry, but it will be a mixed kind of cry. One of sadness about how a wonderful family lost their treasure of a child. But of inspiration on how to live joyfully, to take chances, to stay positive, and to embrace each moment.

Of course, Gina was devastated when Caitie passed, but she didn't wallow in her sorrow. She took action. Gina and her husband, Larry, founded the Catie Hoch Foundation to help families of children with cancer. Guess who one of the first donors was?

 J.K. Rowling. She made a donation of $100,000 along with this message:

 "Catie left footprints on my heart."

It's impossible to summarize all of the heartwarming moments in this book. You'll just have to read it. All proceeds from this book benefit the Catie Hoch Foundation. You can learn more about the foundation and buy your copy of I Wouldn't Change A Thing at  

"The stories we love best do live in us forever. So, whether you come back by page or by big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."—J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling &
Catie Hoch

A Special Friendship

Gina Peca will be signing copies of  I Wouldn't Change a Thing
at Northshire Books, Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY on Friday, September 13 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Coffee Shops: A Writer's Studio

Writers have been taking their pens, notepads, typewriters, and computers to coffee shops to work on their stories for years. In fact, some of the most famous novels and literary moments of all time were inspired and written in cafes. For example:
J.K. Rowling sat writing Harry Potter in the back room of the elephant house
in Edinburgh, Scotland

La Rontonde in Paris hosted authors like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald,
and T.S. Eliot


 I guess I'm in good company because I often leave the distractions of home, pack up my laptop, and drive into town to work on my day's writing.
Why do I find inspiration in a coffee shop?
Maybe I'm enthused by the energy of other writers. Maybe there's nothing else to do but write until my large cup of coffee is finished. Maybe the scents of cinnamon scones and a nutty Arabic dark blend stimulates creative power. Maybe its because they bake better blueberry muffins than me...  
...and maybe there are similarities between writing a novel and ordering a cup of coffee. They have both become more complex in the 21st century. Just like tall, dark, and handsome is considered cliche when describing a male character, coffee with only cream and sugar is on the dull side. Look at some of the choices I have at one of my favorite writing studios, Coffee Traders in Saratoga Springs, NY.       
Once you select the kind of coffee to add ambiance to your writing session, you must decide what to put in it:

Choosing your coffee du jour is just as difficult as choosing how to describe that handsome man in your story. Should he be a musician with a crooked smile, shoulder-length black silky hair, and electric blue eyes; a baseball player with tousled sandy brown hair, a lanky physique, and mocha eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses; a polished red-headed businessman with an Irish brogue whose wild eyes scream to escape from the confines of his three-piece suit. I guess I'll have to head to my favorite cafe and see who emerges on the page.
"My ideal writing space is a large cafe with a small corner table near a window overlooking an interesting street."—J. K. Rowling 
Where do you go when you want a different milieu to write, work, read, etc.?   
The You Code by Judi James  & James Moore delineates what coffee choices say about your personality (among other unique personality indicators). A great tool for matching coffee and characters. Examples are:
The espresso drinker - "The unfiltered cigarette of the coffee drinking world." Espresso drinkers tend to be moody, hard-bitten, and hard working.
The black coffee drinker - This type is all about minimalism and take a no-frills, direct approach to life.
The latte drinker - Typically metrosexuals or cuddly-toy collectors, latte drinkers are pleasers with an overwhelming compulsion to be liked.
A Fun Book!
Another joy along the novel journey! 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Start Your Novel Like a Country Song


Why is Snoopy working so hard on the first line of his book? Is it really that important?

Here's how literary agent, Michelle L. Johnson answers in an interview on Chasing the Crazies blog. "I can’t stress enough how important it is to give a great first line. A good first line should catch the reader off guard and set up the tone of the book."

Like Snoopy, writers trying to break into the publishing industry are acutely aware about the significance of a extraordinary beginning for their story. It is rumored that literary agents receive between 100-to-200 query letters per week from debut authors seeking their representation. Most agents sign-on  between two to ten new clients each year, and the vast majority of publishers won't look at an author's book without that agent.

Yup! It's competitive in  the book world. That's why a writer has to grab an agent's attention with the first line. Talk about pressure. You could have written the next Gone with the Wind, but without a sizzling opening a potential bestseller could be tossed in a slush pile.

What make a great first line? Lucy told Snoopy to use, "Once upon a time."

What does Michelle Johnson say? "The most important thing to me is to connect with the main character. If I care about the character quickly and deeply and that character feels real to me, I will want to read the entire book. If the character is intriguing but the writing not polished, it will quickly eliminate my desire to read on."

Let's see how some recent bestsellers from my bookshelf start:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn:   "When I think of my wife, I always think of her head."

Wild by Cheryl Strayed:   "My solo three month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings."

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline:   "Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room."

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce:   "The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday."

The first thing that came to mind about these beginnings is originality. I haven't read lines like this before, so I'm assuming the author is creative. The second thing is I find myself asking why. Why does the man (Nick) in Gone Girl think of his wife's head; Why did Cheryl Stray's trek have many beginnings?; Why is Molly in foster care and what are her temporary parents saying?; Why did the letter change everything? The authors have enticed me to move on to line two. Hopefully, the intrigue will continue (and it did in all of the above books).

Some of the best beginnings I've ever heard haven't been in books, however. They're hiding in country songs. Check out these opening lines:

"In a bar in Toledo, across from the depot, on a bar stool she took off her ring." from Lucille by Kenny Rogers

"Fifteen minutes left to throw me together for Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Forever." from Settlin' by Surgarland

"I'm on the side of the road with a car that won't go and the night won't even give me a moon." Brokedown Cadillac by Brokedown Cadillac

If those lines were written at the start of a book, I'd be instantly hooked. Instead of Lucy telling Snoopy to begin with Once upon a time, she should have advised him to turn on the radio. Lots of powerful examples are just a song away.
What are some of your favorite opening lines from either a book or a song? Did the remainder of the story live up to the expectation?


Here's the entire version of Settlin' by SurgarlandA winner from beginning to end:


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Writing Wisdom From Author Carol Fragale Brill

Several years ago I took a creative writing course at a local college. The instructor asked me how I chose the books I read. I honestly replied, "I'm a front of the book store kind of buyer." She gaped at me in horror. I forgot exactly what she said, but I remember receiving a polite, but irritated lecture about mid list authors who create brilliant works.

I mulled over the instructor's point and decided to broaden my literary experiences. After all, reading only bestsellers is liking only going to arena concerts featuring superstar musicians while some of the best talent is performing at coffee houses, pubs, and intimate theaters.

Changing my habit was challenging. It's not easy finding an "I can't put it down" relatively unknown book. Right now there are over 8.5 million books offered on Hmmm. Which one should I pick?

Amazon Warehouse
No wonder they're pushing the Kindle!

That is why I'm a frequent user of the online book club, Goodreads. It makes the task of finding that perfect book so much easier.  One author I discovered on Goodreads is Carol Fragale Brill. She wrote a provocative debut women's fiction novel called Peace by Piece

Here's are the first four sentences from the back cover description:
Six years after Thomas's unfaithfulness in college, Maggie has nearly given up on love. Enter Izzie, a motherless eight-year-old, and every maternal instinct kicks in. With Izzie's dad, Maggie waits for the magic: a spark, a quiver racing up her spine. The thrill never comes, but the ordinariness of his kisses and marriage proposal make her feel safe.
You can just imagine the rest!
Who is Carol Fragale Brill and how did she embark on a novel journey? Read on...

 Carol Fragale Brill
Carol's fiction received recognition from Poets and Writers and was a readers' favorite for The Best of Philadelphia Stories. Her work has also appeared in Wide Array, New York Journal of Books, the Press of Atlantic City, and various e-zines and business journals. She earned a MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickson University. In her "day job" in Leadership Coaching and Organizational Development she frequently uses stories in training.  
Carol answers to few questions about her novel quest:
1. Your novel, Peace by Piece, explores many facets of love. Where did you get the idea for your story?
I’ve been a sucker for love stories ever since my parents read me bedtime fairytales when I was five or six—my favorites where always the ones where the girl overcame obstacles and got the prince.
I read a lot of women’s fiction, and rarely see realistically portrayed characters with anorexia and bulimia. I felt women were ready for a character like Maggie, but didn’t want her to be simply a character with an eating disorder. I wanted women to recognize themselves in Maggie’s desires and relationships and to identify with her daily struggles. We all have loves, relationships, and challenges. For Maggie, one of those challenges just happens to be an eating disorder.
2. Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
As the point of view character, Maggie is the character I know the best. We lived in each other’s heads for years trying to tell this story just right. I guess that makes her my favorite. But Lilly—for her unwavering friendship, Nan—for her spirit, and Rose—for her sense of humor, are all women I’d pick as friends.
3. Have you always wanted to be a writer? What helped you the most when studying creative writing? 
I look back now and realize there were signs when I was pretty young that I wanted to be    a writer, but I misread them. As a child, I spent hours browsing in the library, and by age ten had joined my first reading club, kept a diary, and acquired a pen pal. Maybe the biggest hint of my desire to write was that more than anything, I wanted a typewriter for Christmas when I was twelve. At the time, I thought it meant I wanted to be a secretary! Now I know my heart knew I wanted to write even though my head hadn’t gotten the message yet.
What helped me most on my writing journey is absolutely the support of other writers. Like you, Peggy.
4. Writing a novel is a major undertaking. What made you sit down the first day and begin your book? How long did it take from first word to finished product?
Sometime in my twenties, I began saying I wanted to write a book. I had no idea whether it would be fiction or non-fiction. It took me another twenty years to finally join a creative writing group. Empty-handed at my first meeting, the other writers urged me to draft something to read at the next meeting. Two weeks later, I timidly read the three handwritten pages it had taken me hours to write. Our meeting host, Herb asked, “Where do you want to go with that?”
I blurted out, “I want to write a book!”
Now mind you, I had just read three dreadfully over-written, scribbly pages—if they had been typed, they would barely have filled one double-spaced page.  Yet, Herb didn’t laugh, or say you must be kidding, or (and this would have been warranted) your writing stinks. He smiled reassuringly and said, “Good, you’ve got a start. Now, one page at a time, write your book.”
That was fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve written countless drafts of Peace by Piece, earned an MFA, and written a second novel, Cape Maybe which will be published later this year.
Developing as a writer, completing my novels, and facing down the publishing process has been daunting at times.  More than once, I have asked myself, “If I knew then what I know now, would I have even tried?”
I will always be grateful for Herb’s simple words of encouragement, inspiring me to page by page write Peace by Pieceand nudging me, word by word, to become the best writer I can be.
5. What is one of the most rewarding factors of having a book in print?
Over the years of my marriage, I caved in to pressure at work to keep my name simple and reluctantly dropped my maiden name. I don’t have children, nor do my brothers or male Fragale cousins, so our branch of the Fragale family ends with our generation. I am thrilled to see my full name, Carol Fragale Brill in print and know that in a small way, Peace by Piece will carry on our family legacy.
6. What advice do you have for people who want to write/publish a novel or memoir?
When I started writing creatively, I had no idea there were so many elements to writing craft. Put in the time to study craft—characterization, plotting, show don’t tell, creating a sense of time and place. Once you start to understand craft, grab a few books in your genre and read them like a writer, dissecting how the author uses craft to create emotion and drama. Also, the support of other writers has been so valuable to me. Find critique partners, join a writing group, and open yourself up to feedback.
Perhaps the most important lesson is learning that writing is just the beginning, rewriting is where the story becomes what it is meant to be.
Thank you Carol! I know I'm inspired. Feel free to leave a comment or question for Carol. Also, please share the name of a book/author that you loved, but hasn't made it onto the NY Times Bestseller List--YET!
Check out Peace by Piece by Carol Fragale Brill at: