There's a saying that the hardest line to write is the first.  I won't disagree with that--it's sometimes half the battle just to get started, and the first line is all about crossing over from talking about writing to actually writing. But they're lying.  The hardest part isn't just the first line; it's the first chapter.

The first chapter is everything.  It establishes your setting, your tone, the characters and their baseline before the plot happens, and it has to all be wrapped up in a beautiful, enticing package that seduces the reader into wanting to read more.

I know a lot of writers lament the "middle" of a novel--where the plot stalls and sinks like a cake with no leavening--but it's the beginning that causes me the most struggle.

Ironically, it was only a few posts ago (my first post, incidentally) where I was lamenting that I had to rewrite the middle and end of The Lucky Charm.  And it did need to be rewritten, make no mistake about that, but then it turned out that the first chapter needed rewritten too.

What it boils down to is this:  in a novel, the characters go on a journey.  Sometimes literally; but usually, more like metaphorically.  I believe that for a novel to be satisfying, there's a journey each character needs to take on their own, and then if the novel is a romance, there's a journey the two characters go on together.

I understood the destination, and even most of the journey my characters would take to get there. The problem was actually where they began, more with the female protagonist rather than the male. Full disclosure: Jack Bennett pretty much dropped into my head fully formed, very, very passionate about what he was and wasn't, and loathe to change anything about himself.

But Izzy, she was a real issue. I didn't know how to frame her story and tell the reader about her devastating past while keeping the light, comedic tone I really wanted. This is where writing is really hard; as a writer, you try a lot of things and sometimes none of them work.

I tried re-working what I already had. I tried editing. I finally came to the conclusion the entire chapter would have be thrown out and I'd have to start over.

It was totally the right decision. I understand Izzy a lot better now and when I sent it to my mother to read, she said, "oh, I really like her now. I didn't before." My mother is the best beta reader in the world because she is horribly, horribly honest. Like too honest sometimes, but only in the best possible way. She pushes me to be a better writer. She also forces me to look at the logistics of things, and I know to listen to her when she says, "there is no way this would ever happen like that." When she's reading, she's excruciatingly sensitive to problems that jerk her out of the narrative, so if she tells me she doesn't like something, I listen.

The happy ending here is that the rewrite cured the problems with Izzy. She wasn't unlikeable anymore; she wasn't too tough or insensitive or callous. She was finally a character deserving of a happy ending with Jack.

So, without further ado, meet Izzy Dalton:

When Izzy Dalton was eight years old, she proudly boasted to her parents that when she grew up, she was going to be a famous movie star. Mobs of adoring fans, endless red carpets and a never-ending supply of rhinestone sunglasses would be hers. She’d imagined swanning around a glittering blue swimming pool, shaded by palm trees and a legion of Ken doll lookalikes.

And here's Jack Bennett:

“I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t put your feet up there.”

Jack Bennett opened the eye closest to the flight attendant and didn’t bother to hide his grimace.

It was her—the same girl who’d already interrupted his nap three times. First, she’d asked if he wanted a refill on his ginger ale. He’d replied, observing that in his experience, drinking more of the beverages the airplanes supplied usually correlated with an above average need to use the airplane facilities and really, he needed more room than that little cramped closet with its black hole of a toilet. But thank you very much for asking.

Now, I'm sure you're dying to read more. And I do plan on putting up a new excerpt every Wednesday until the publication date.

And what is the publication date, you ask? Hopefully, all the moving parts are in place by April 30, but I will definitely keep an update here at the blog.

Shiny, Sparkly Things

Anyone who knows me at all knows I'm a HUGE sap.  Like the most ridiculous romantic on the planet.  Case in point, those jewelry store commercials that seem to alternate with the luxury car commercials every holiday season.  Most people hate them--or do very shortly after they air for the first time.  In fact, I found pages of search results of people whining about how awful jewelry commercials are. Me?  I love them.  I stop what I'm doing to watch them.  I even download the songs they use and listen to them over and over, reliving the thirty seconds of magic as many times as I can.

This one, from 2007, is what started me on the obsession.  How beautiful is the song?  Also, I'm a huge fan of the method he uses to give her the necklace.  Sometimes love isn't about complex plans, but simple moments.

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This commercial is from 2008.  So disregard what I said before about simplicity.  Sometimes complex is good too.

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The best commercials are the ones that tell you a story, that make you wonder how the couple met, how they fell in love, how they'll spend the rest of their lives together.  In this commercial, I adore the moment when the world stops, because that's real life. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of those Pandora bracelets, but I get the point they're trying to make.  Sometimes, we're lucky to experience moments that stay with us for our entire lives.  Those are the moments you want to save, to treasure, to hang on your wrist (apparently).

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And last but not least, I present to you the most beautiful jewelry commercial of all time.  I literally get teary-eyed at their expressions at the end, because you cannot convince me they're not in love.  Nobody can act that well.  Nobody.

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Because you are definitely going to ask, the song is called "Ends of the Earth," and it's by Lord Huron.  And yes, it's available on iTunes.  Go on, you definitely deserve a little stocking stuffer for yourself and 99 cents is dirt cheap for romance expressed in pure melodic form.

Baseball in October

October is one of my favorite times of year and not because of apple recipes or carving pumpkins.  For me, October is all about playoff baseball.  Baseball in the summer is always great--I love hanging out in the stands in the middle of a hot day, a cold beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other.  But October baseball is a completely different breed. October baseball is win-or-go-home, tense-pit-in-the-bottom-of-your-stomach, all-out-reach-for-eternal-glory, wrapped up in a cold snap package.

The heroes of October are players that their fan bases remember forever.  David Freese was unknown in September, but now he's considered a hero by the people of St. Louis.

As a fanatic of Red Sox Nation, my October squeeze is Curt Schilling of Bloody Sock fame.  He pitched with a torn tendon sheath literally stitched together on his ankle.  His postseason pitching performance is one of the grittiest, toughest, most amazing of all time.  How he was able to dig deep and find a way to make the pitches he needed to bring the Red Sox a win when they needed it most.

Hopefully this year the Red Sox won't need another Curt Schilling-like performance--I don't want to consider the possibility that the Sox could struggle enough to need those kind of heroics, but the truth is, those heroics are what make October baseball so special.

Maybe we'll see Jon Lester return to 2010 form and record a season-high number of strikeouts.  Maybe we'll see one-hit baseball from Clay Buccholz.  Personally, I want to see David Ortiz smack a homer in a late inning to give the Sox the lead.  David, or Big Papi as he's known to the Fenway faithful, has the kind of dramatic flair that, for me, defines October.

So for the next few weeks, I'll be wrapped up in a snuggie, on my couch, fists clenched tight, as my team fights to be the last one standing.  Maybe they'll win, maybe they won't.  But the good news is that whatever happens, however the games shake out, you're guaranteed more than one unforgettable moment.

Those unforgettable moments are what made me want to write a novel about baseball, and when I created Jack Bennett, the scrappy, talented, but always underdog player, October made me want to create some of those moments for him.

P.S. When I wrote this two weeks ago, I didn't know that I'd be predicting an actual event.  But I did.

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Gives me goosebumps, even days later.


So, You're a Writer.

My fiancé and I went to dinner with one of his colleagues this week.  After the somewhat mandatory half an hour of technical gibberish that I’ve come to expect from one of these dinners, the colleague turned from C and looked at me.  He then proceeded to ask my least favorite question. “What is it that you do?”

I hate this question because it’s difficult to answer.  Obviously, he meant to ask what I do for a living—but of course that wasn’t the question he asked.

I could have told him that I quit my job last March, and have been working several part time administrative jobs while I revise the novel I wrote last year, all in the hope of publishing it.

But naturally, this explanation isn’t what the man wants to hear, it’s really far too complex, and while I’m debating how exactly to boil down the truth to a pat sentence that makes sense, C (who would shout this from the rooftops if he could), boasts, “she’s a writer.”

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s wonderful that he’s so proud.  I love how sure and succinct he is about it, as if there is no question that a writer is truly what I am.  He’s a tech guy, so in true binary fashion, he sees things in black and white.  I write, therefore, I must be a writer.  And of course, I’m somewhat proud of myself.  Writing a novel isn’t easy.  It wasn’t easy for me, and if anyone out there tells you it was easy for them, they’re lying.

For the last few days, I’ve been trying to figure out why the question (and its answer) bother me so much, as well as desperately trying to figure out a way to start this blog without sounding horribly egotistical or mind-numbingly boring all while making out that I genuinely believe someone will read this.

Let’s face it.  The moment you announce you’re a writer, there’s a typical succession of questions that you’re subjected to.  They’re sometimes difficult to answer, but with the slight veneer of anonymity, I feel a lot more comfortable.  Shall we?

What have you written?

A novel, The Lucky Charm, a romantic comedy about a woman who hates baseball and a man who couldn’t live without it.

Wow, that must have been tough.

You have no idea.  I started work on The Lucky Charm in the beginning of 2012.  Last fall, with about 30,000 words written and getting nowhere fast, I decided to participate in Nanowrimo, the National Writing Month.  I committed to writing 50,000 words during the month of November, and planned on adding those words to what I already had, either finishing the novel or getting a heck of a lot closer.

For a lot of people, Nanowrimo is an amazing thing.  It’s not really all that difficult if you are disciplined about a daily word count, which averages about 1600 words a day.  If I’m focused, I can usually manage that in an hour or two.  Unfortunately, what Nanowrimo doesn’t allow you to do is take really any time at all to think about what you’re writing.  You’re only writing.

Again, this works for a lot of people.  They’ve done their thinking ahead of time, maybe, or they don’t need thinking.  Unfortunately, I’m a person who needs to think a lot.  You would have thought I would have had time to do this during the I don’t know, six months before I started Nanowrimo and I would have worked out all my issues already.

As you have probably already surmised, that actually hadn’t really happened.  Why is this?  I’m not sure, actually, which is perhaps a bit worrisome, especially if I try to prevent it from happening on the book I’m working on now.  All I know is that about three quarters of the way through November, I realized I had a major problem.  More than one, actually.  I knew something major was going to need to change plot-wise and I couldn’t really face up to it.

I still hit the 50,000 word mark and yet still had a good chunk of the book left.  If I even wanted to keep the words I’d written for Nanowrimo.

I remember thinking during December and January—months I forced myself to take off for a variety of reasons, burnout being one, an extremely busy work schedule being another—that maybe The Lucky Charm was something that wasn’t meant to come to fruition.

February rolled around, and I toyed with the idea of scrapping everything and starting fresh.  Maybe with hockey instead of baseball.  I mentally tried out a dozen ideas to try to fix the issues inherent in the story.  Maybe it was work-related stress or maybe it was frustration and boredom with the story, but I struggled and stalled out again.

March was the low point.  I’d been fairly happy, if not extremely busy, at my job.  I worked at a CPA firm, managing his 200+ payroll clients.  It was an incredibly left-brain thing for me to do, and when I received my bachelor’s degree in English, I never thought I’d be working with the dreaded math all day, every day, but I was pretty happy.  At least for a time.  Things at my job came to a head in March, and I had to face the fact that not only was I no longer happy in that position and at that company, I was unhappy and unfulfilled in my life in general.

Of course, C begged me to quit.  That’s the kind of guy he is—he isn’t typically a leap first, look later type, but if I’m unhappy, that’s all it takes.  He just wanted me to find something I loved.  He suggested I leave and devote the sixty hour weeks I was spending at my job to writing instead.  E-publishing was reaching a worldwide frenzy by this point, and the obvious suggestion was to finish The Lucky Charm and publish it myself.

I honestly don’t know if I would have done it if the job hadn’t soured so horribly.  Maybe if I’d continued being pretty happy, I would have stayed there, gotten my payroll certifications, and The Lucky Charm would have merely festered on my laptop’s hard drive, a foolish reminder of that silly time of my life when I thought I could be a writer as a job.

But things did sour, and I did quit, and after quitting, I had some (okay, lots) of time on my hands to figure out what exactly was wrong with The Lucky Charm.

The short answer?  A whole lot of things.  I ended up taking out most of what I had written for Nanowrimo—I would estimate about 5% of it stayed, in small bits and scenes, most of which were in a completely different order than before.

Over the spring and summer, I started on the long road to basically re-writing the middle and the end of the novel.  Like a good soufflé, the middle needs to be puffy and light, and basically support its own weight.  You don’t want it collapsing in, leaving a huge ass crater in the middle of your novel, and after Nanowrimo, the crater in The Lucky Charm looked like the Grand freaking Canyon.

I officially finished the first full draft of The Lucky Charm in late August.

What’s The Lucky Charm about?

It’s about Izzy Dalton, who messes up big time and almost ruins her career.  She gets a second chance and it’s a sideline reporting job for the Portland Pioneers, an expansion Major League Baseball team.  It’s in Portland that she meets Jack Bennett, who plays second base for the Pioneers.  Sparks fly.  I could fill in a lot more clichés, but that’s the gist of it.

When I can buy The Lucky Charm?

If everything goes according to plan (*crosses fingers*), you should be able to download the novel from most online retailers in the beginning of 2014.  More updates on the release schedule to follow.

Why are you writing about baseball?

Um.  Baseball is awesome.  I’d love to write about the Boston Red Sox, but they might not like that very much.  Plus, there have been rumors for years about a major league team in Portland.  I actually wish the Pioneers were real; then I wouldn’t have to drive up to Seattle to get my baseball fix.

So the Pioneers aren’t real?

Nope, they’re a completely fictional team that I dreamed up.  But hope springs eternal.  Maybe someday we’ll get a real major league team here.

Don’t I know you from

Yep, you do.  I wrote quite a few fanfiction stories, all under the name bethaboo.  They’re all still up.  The Lucky Charm is a completely original novel.  Aside from my general fascination with sports and snarky heroines, it doesn't have anything in common with my fanfiction.

Are you done talking about yourself already?

Definitely.  For now, anyway.  I plan on writing a ton of blogs on what I did wrong while I wrote The Lucky Charm, and what I did right (though we all know which is more interesting), and a lot of other miscellaneous crap.  Recipes, cool youtube videos, TV shows I like to binge on, movies I couldn’t live without, awesome stuff that C does, pretty much anything else I can think of.  Now that I’ve started, I may never shut up again.