Monthly Archives: January 2016

From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens

Linda, what a wonderfully practical exercise for your students. This is good stuff and will benefit them as they move forward. Great stuff.

Linda Taylor: Teacher, Editor, Publishing Professional

I’ve been intensely creating syllabi for the last month. Spring semester begins February 1 and I have three classes to prep. (I never appreciated my class syllabi for my classes in college. But now that I’ve had to be creating them, wow. What a lot of work and planning!)

One class I’m particularly excited about is a new one I’m creating called “From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens.” I did a version of it during a May term at Houghton College back in 2009, but I’m refashioning it to fill a full semester. Five local authors have entrusted us with their complete manuscripts (all fiction), and my class will become a publishing company (name to be determined) that will walk these manuscripts through the entire publishing process.

My students will work in groups. Each group will receive a manuscript and they’ll first work as content editors. They’ll keyboardconsider all the things fiction editors have…

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Little Jack Takes A Trip

Yours truly ready to work on the ranch with assistants Jack and Bella.

Yours truly ready to work on the ranch with assistants Jack and Bella.

Some may recall the little brown dog we took in and named Little Jack. We named him after Jack Kerouac as both had spent time “On The Road.” Little Jack in short order stole my wife’s heart and continues to be her favorite among our three dogs. The brown splotchy coated Little Jack of questionable lineage has a sweet disposition (except around varmints) and cuddles much better than do our Border collies.

A question persists in our minds as to how Little Jack became lost, survived for at least a month on the road (spotted by friends), and eventually how found his way to our front yard where our two Border collies penned him securely in the corner of our yard. Nevertheless, an event occurred recently that may shed light or at least provide a theory for Jack’s period of wandering.

About a month ago my friend and former colleague, Ralph Menard, arrived with pick up and trailer to obtain hay for his cattle. I loaded his trailer using my tractor to load the 1000 pound large round bales.

Following the loading and saying goodbye, Ralph headed for his ranch on the other side of Fredericksburg. I then closed up the barn, loaded my Borders into the pickup, but despite calling and searching was unable to locate Little Jack. I momentary panicked, for it would not do for me to show up at the house without Trudy’s little dog.

I carefully inspected the barn to see if Little jack might have been accidentally been locked in. I found this was not the case. I then drove back to the house to see if, by chance, he might have taken off on his own for the home. I saw no sign of Little Jack. I proceeded to hail Jack and search the ranch for him, thinking he might have taken off chasing a deer or rabbit. Again no sign of Little Jack. My apprehension mushroomed. I could see Trudy relegating me to the couch for losing her dog.

it was only then that I recalled having heard an almost subliminal beeping coming from Ralph’s pickup- the sort of beeping that accompanies an inviting open door. The idea struck home. I immediately called Ralph on his cell phone and asked if, by any chance, he was hauling along with his hay a little brown dog. There was a short pause. I imagined Ralph twisting in his seat and inspecting the backseat. I then heard Ralph exclaim in his rich baritone, “WELL YOU LITTLE RASCAL!

Sure enough riding in his backseat, as contented as a fat man at an all-you-can-eat restaurant, was Little jack. My, that dog loves to travel. We’ve learned than when Jack sees an open vehicle door, he gets in- no questions asked. We’ve even had to remove him from UPS and FedEx trucks.

Ralph being the good friend he is, immediately reversed course. Our pickups met up on a country road where Jack appeared anxious to leave Ralph’s truck and load into mine. I may have imagined it but that dog seemed proud of himself for having stolen an unexpected trip.DSC_0888

So here’s the question. You think a similar occurrence might have happened prior to his coming to our ranch? Might Little Jack have jumped in a strange vehicle and later been turned out? Of course, we’ll never know for sure how the apparently well-cared-for dog suddenly found himself lost. We can only be grateful that he discovered our ranch and for all the joy he has brought us. Now if only Little Jack will learn to stay home!

Let me know your thoughts. All theories are welcomed.

My Writing Process

One frequently asked question readers have asked since publishing Carrying The Black Bag is about my writing process and any efforts utilized to foster creativity. I’ve decided to add some thoughts here on my blog to answer my readers more fully:

Yes, some authors do goofy things to stimulate their creativity. i’ve known some and read about others. The superstitious may choose to sit only in a specific chair or drink only one brand of tea. Others play up-tempo music or stirring classical works. Admittedly, I’ve been known to don a cap (my Greek fisherman’s cap’s my favorite) to prime the creative juices. But the goal for each author, no matter what the idiosyncrasy, is to achieve a creative fervor whereby the characters take command of the story and  fingers simply race to keep pace with surging thoughts.

For me I appreciate sitting before my word processor with a clear mind, a comfortable chair, and an exciting idea. I usually outline the story before beginning it. This isn’t an absolute but generally I find outlining helpful. I try and determine what the chapter requires for plot or subplot and then with trepidation shove off into the unknown.

Nothing inspires fear more in writers than a blank page or screen. Once immersed in the story, my pace inevitably picks up. Usually after the first draft I simply hate it. I often think what I have written is not fit for bathroom walls. It is not until  many more drafts later that I begin to like it even a little bit.  I 22109118then put it “in the can” for awhile. Usually after a week or so, I am able to spot additional flaws and weaknesses. I then adjust the story, much like adjusting a recipe to taste, substituting stronger verbs, adding apt similes/metaphors, and creating further descriptions.

The next stop for me on this literary journey is my writing group. Our group of five writers has met for many years and by now has developed a sense of trust. While we possess vastly different styles and genres, the feedback never fails to benefit my story. Soon thereafter I make the additional changes. After a final read through with minor edits I may write THE END. If the writing project is particularly important I may ask a beta reader for his/her thoughts. These are extremely valuable folks who must like your writing and be anxious to share their precious skills.

The question among writers that repeatedly comes up is whether the spouse should act as an informal editor or serve as an alpha reader. The usual response and one to which I hardily agree is NO, absolutely NOT! Having said that, almost every author I know or have read about uses (abuses) their spouse in this way, so long as he/she is halfway literate. I fully recognize this marital extortion is totally unfair to my spouse. In general the writer’s wife or husband feels torn between being supportive and being honest. To this I say, “tough.” No one ever said marriage would be easy!

So yes, Trudy regularly reads my stories. I ask her to do this when I am simply written out or else in need of a fresh eye. She also is good at word choice and grammar. Sorry Trudy. Such editorial services I’m sure must have been hidden in the fine print of the marriage contract.

My inspiration often springs from my surroundings and experiences. I love to tell stories. I love to watch people and animals and try to figure out what makes them do what they do. I love seeing people in extraordinary circumstances do extraordinary acts (this is the watermark underneath my patient stories  in Carrying The Black Bag). These stories show real people demonstrating courage and perseverance that, in some instances, they never knew they possessed. They tell us something good about the nature of our humanity.

Animal behavior also strikes me as overlooked for the substantial insights it provides for human behavior. I love animals. Maybe that is why in college I majored in Zoology. It wasn’t simply because it was a good Pre-Med major, and Chemistry, the other option, held for me no allure.

Much has been written on the creative process. I’m convinced creativity steals into the picture and cannot be forced. When it hits me, it does so unexpectedly much like a pigeon dropping. A rested mind, a beautiful scene, and a tickling of intellectual stimulation all enhance my potential for creativity.

Since the writing process per se is language-based, it is is strongly left brain. However, sudden insights like solving a problem or flashes of intuition come from the right brain. This  ability to perceive a solution requiring synthesis is right hemispheric and cannot be arrived at verbally. To write well, both sides of the brain need to work together. To paraphrase and alter the old Greek saying, we need a strong left hemisphere and a strong right hemisphere. That is, the brain must process verbal material, but also be able to discern some broader interpretation in order to tell a good story.

I believe this to be true, and try to put this into practice. And now so much for superstition or goofy acts. Now where was it I laid my Greek fisherman’s hat.

More Early Praise for Carrying The Black Bag

My book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, recently appeared in bookstores. This is particularly gratifying as there had been several unavoidable delays due to exceptional circumstances at the publisher. My book is the culmination of years of hard work. I am most gratified by how it’s been received by both individual readers and reviewers.Carrying the Black Bag book

Glen Dromgoole recently contacted me and asked if I would lead off the Texas Author’s Series March 7 in Abilene. I am excited to be a part of this effort featuring five authors over a period of months. It will be held at the Abilene library.

Glen Dromgoole who writes a column for multiple newspapers in Texas on literary matters recently  reviewed my book. I have attached the link below and love his review. If you are in the area, hope you will join us for the event. It should be a lot of fun. Below is the link to Dromgoole’s review.