Friday, April 30, 2010

Can Technical Writers Write Novels?

My friend Jimmy Clark posted this comment in Facebook:

I'm enjoying following your blog, Sid. Everyone who is good at technical writing dreams of writing a novel some day. Do you think this skill is transferable to writing fiction? Do creative writing classes help a lot. Thanks.

Here's my answer:

Thanks for the comments, Jimmy. Yes, I think technical writing skills easily transfer. It is communicating and technical writers know how to do that. Guy Perry, a friend who is a technical writer, helped me with the first draft of this book. It was amazing how much he improved it. I remember thinking at the time, how easy it would be for him to write a novel.

I took online classes from Writer's Digest. I started with basic creative writing, then short stories, then novels and advanced novels. I took the advanced one four times. It was mainly a way to get your work criticized by a professional novelist as well as classmates. Classes helped keep me on a schedule.

I took my classes through Writer's Digest's writers online workshops. See: I checked it today and they are changing their name to Writer's Digest University. Writer's Digest has been around a long time in magazine format. I took correspondence courses from them years ago, before computers. They are reliable. Getting the right instructor makes a big difference in what you learn. Check out the instructors carefully. Don't just look at their bios. Check the books they've written. See if they have been successful or not. It is hard to find a successful author who also teaches, but they are there. My instructor, Bonnie Hearn Hill, didn't seem to teach for the money. I think she just loved the interaction with students. However, she is no longer on the author list at Writer's Digest. She is now teaching online classes at

Thinking about Guy Perry, and how he helped me with the first draft of Where Love Once Lived, reminded me he wouldn't take money for editing my manuscript. When I insisted, he suggested making a contribution to my church, San Gabriel Presbyterian in Georgetown. That's what I did. And, since Guy is also a singer and long-time member of the Austin Lyric Opera Chorus, I knew he would approve of designating the donation to the bell fund. We now have a wonderful bell choir thanks in part to Guy and my need for an editor.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bookmobile Memories

Recently, while rummaging through some old files, I ran across this letter to the editor in the June 17, 1998 issue of the Austin American-Statesman:

The June 12 article about bookmobiles by Mike Cox brought back some wonderful memories of when I worked as a part-time driver in the early 1960s while attending UT. We also were responsible for stocking books, checking out books, keeping the generator going for light and air conditioning that sometimes worked and cleaning up.

We went to schools, retirement homes and several small towns and communities outside the city limits. We set up shop at locations where branch libraries were eventually built.

The librarian I worked with mostly, Jean Siedo, made the job a pleasure. She knew the regulars on our route and selected books from the main library stacks for them. She delivered books to the rooms of some of those who were not physically able to come to the bookmobile. She treated everyone with respect, regardless of age, race or economic situation. She encouraged and counseled when needed. A few times I saw her give food and money to children who had little. I'm sure that was not part of her job description, but I respected her for everything she did.

Sometimes I wish we still had bookmobiles.

Sid Frost

I had forgotten about that letter to the editor. I wish I had reviewed it before I started writing Where Love Once Lived. If I had, I could have added more details about how my character helped others to the point where she was surprised with a special gift from her patrons. Also, I may have used a different name for the character. I used Liz Siedo, and I wouldn't want anyone to think the fictional character was really the live person Jean Siedo. Even though their actions to their patrons were similar, I made up the rest.

Have you met someone like Jean Siedo who impressed you the way she did me?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Designing the Book Cover

A week ago today I was prompted to upload cover files for Where Love Once Lived. The choices were author photo, cover image, and miscellaneous. I don't have any images, so I clicked the button labeled No Files to Upload. The questionnaire I was expecting popped up next. I had my answers ready, so all I had to do was cut and paste from a Word document to the input form. Here are the questions about the cover along with my answers.

Q: Describe your own ideas that you would like to see captured on your cover. Are there any particular color(s) or types of imagery that you would like to see on your cover?

A: A potential reader should know by looking at the book that it is Christian in nature. That can be as subtle as a cross or a partial view of a church. Not too flashy. Solid looking. Peaceful. There could be an interior or exterior view of a bookmobile since it plays a big part in the story. The main characters are in their mid-fifties, but they first fell in love thirty years earlier while in college. The male lead character has a neatly trimmed beard and light brown hair. The title is Where Love Once Lived. Brian thinks he will find love by returning to the city and the job where he last felt love, but instead, he finds happiness when God's love returns to his heart, where it once resided.

Q: Describe your target audience, by factors such as age group, interests, education, gender, etc.

A: This book is about Christians living, making mistakes, and growing from those mistakes. I tried not to make it preachy, and didn't align it with a particular denomination. I suspect it would appeal to a more mature audience because the protagonists are in their fifties. However, several younger friends have read the manuscript and said they enjoyed it. Also, the copyeditor said she felt it would appeal to both young and old readers.

Then they asked for 250 words to be used on the back cover. Since I showed that to you in an earlier post (see April 6, 2010), I won't repeat it here.

After submitting my cover information, I learned CreateSpace has another cover choice. It is called Illustrated rather than Signature and costs $500 more. It provides an original illustration. I asked if it was too late to upgrade and was told I could.

They said it would take six to eight weeks to finish the interior and the cover, but at least they are doing two activities at once. Perhaps they've been reading this blog. Now that I've completed the gathering of information for the book cover, I'm anxious to see what they come up with.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Designing the Book Interior

Last Wednesday I received prompts from CreateSpace to respond to two activities regarding Where Love Once Lived.
  • Total Design Freedom Custom Book Interior
  • Signature Book Cover
Total Design Freedom Custom Book Interior is the CreateSpaces choice I selected for the book interior. Since the submission instructions are for fiction and nonfiction, I wasn't sure what to do next so I clicked on Additional Resources for help. Based on the information there, I learned they wanted the manuscript with title page, dedication, and acknowledgement, all in one file. The instructions said they would create the title and copyright pages. It also said to use two asterisks to designate where to separate text with a fleuron. I'd been using three pound signs so I replaced them with asterisks. In one place I had a letter from Josh to Brian written while Josh is in the marines and I thought it would look better if it was double indented. I found instructions on how to do that using special tags. I checked the dedication and acknowledgement pages since they had not gone to the copyeditor, and submitted the file.

A questionnaire came up next. For font, I chose Perpetula 12, primarily because it was the only one they offered that I had on my computer. That meant I could print it out and see what it looked like. I tried 10, 11, and 11 1/2, but 12 looked best. I also selected a fleuron.

Total Design Freedom Custom Book Interior is the most expensive choice and perhaps the added benefits would be better for a nonfiction book. See for more information about the choices.
In the next article I'll tell you about my choices for the cover.

Monday, April 26, 2010


In the last entry, I told you about how Brian decides to wait until he and Karen are in the gardens before telling her he is moving to Germany. Here's an excerpt from Where Love Once Lived that tells what happens next:

When they reached the end of the ramp and were on a flat surface, he took her hand with fingers laced. Her pulse felt synchronized with his as it traveled up his arm. He searched her eyes to see if she felt it, too. She smiled and pulled him closer. They walked silently until they got to the barren area he’d told her about. White jagged rock told the story of what it was like here when workers cut the limestone blocks from the earth. Several huge blocks stood nearby, serving as examples. The rocks smelled musty.

“This is what the whole area looked like when Matt bought it.”

“Quite a contrast,” she said, not letting go of his hand.

Brian looked at her in the light of the garden. She was so lovely.

“Yes. Think of all the dirt Matt hauled in to cover the rock and prepare for new growth. It’s even prettier here in the spring when the flowers bloom.” He wanted to be the one to show her the flowers. “All this used to be outside the city limits. The quarry was closed for years, the land marred like this, until Matt came up with the idea of building the garden and restaurant.”

“Great idea,” she said. “He reclaimed the land here, brought new purpose to it.”

“Yes. He’s modest about it, though. He said he got the idea while visiting Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada. I haven’t been there myself, but he said they restored the land there and made it into a garden.”

It was cooler in the garden, so Brian pulled her close. Was it to keep her warm or to feel her warmth? Whatever the reason, it felt natural to hold her close once again. The thirty years they were apart seemed like mere days. He held her tighter, knowing this would be the last time they’d be together.

Of course it wasn't the last time they were together, but Brian didn't know it at that time. He hadn't trusted God yet.

Have you felt God's transformation of your life?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Accidental Symbolism

In Where Love Once Lived, there is a scene where Brian takes Karen to a fancy restaurant to say goodbye. Up until this point, he has tried to win her back. Now, after discovering his life has been a lie, he decides to give up on pursuing her and move to Germany. He'd rather lose her than have to tell her the truth about his past.

I knew this scene had to be done in a restaurant so that the characters reactions to each other would be constrained by common courtesy toward the other diners. My writing instructor, Bonnie Hearn Hill, had told us repeatedly that restaurant scenes were to be avoided because they were so overused. She always put her characters in unusual and interesting places. More about that later. What I did to block the objection I knew I would hear from her was to create an imaginary place that was so far out that it was unlike the usual eating place. In doing so, I think I accidently came up with symbolism for what was happening to Brian.

Brian's friend Matt had converted a used up rock pit from a blemished, worthless spot on Earth to a verdant garden full of life. With God's help, Brian's life was in the process of changing from a loveless one to a love-filled one. Here is an excerpt of the scene before dinner:

Matt’s Quarry restaurant overlooked a rock pit that he’d turned into a lush garden by adding a thick layer of arable soil followed by a variety of trees, bushes, cacti, and flowers. People came from around the country to see the garden, making it difficult to get reservations for the restaurant, especially when the flowers were in full bloom. Matt had saved them a table with a view, and the special lighting installed in the garden below made it easier to appreciate the garden’s beauty.

Before he has a chance to tell her he is leaving the country, Karen threatens to walk out because of the way he is sulking about. Brian convinces her to stay, but decides not to tell her he must leave town until they walk through the garden after dinner. In the next article, I'll tell you what happens in the garden.

Have you ever set out to do something and find you can't? Is it possible God helps us out in these situations more than we might think?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Where Love Once Lived is Officially Finished

Yesterday, I received the final edits from CreateSpace and accepted them. This means the revisions are complete. That's daunting to think about, because I know there are more typos in there somewhere. You wouldn't believe how many competent people have read the manuscript and each time more problems are spotted. I've given up on doing it myself. Evidently, I see what I think should be there.

I'm pretty good about finding mistakes in other people's writing, even if I can't see anything wrong with my own. I once, hesitantly, since the book was out in print, pointed out some minor problem with several Bonnie Hearn Hill books. She acted pleased that one of her students was able to find typos her publisher hadn't noticed. In Off the Record, page 33, the word as was left out of this sentence: It was [as] if someone was looking at me... Then, on page 306 of Killer Body, the word loves should be love: ...when someone we loves leaves this earth. So, if the many editors at Mira missed these errors, I have little chance of making it to publication error free. Sorry, Bonnie, but I needed some examples. You're not only a great writer, you're the best editor I know. So, if these minor typos get into your published book, my point is made. I can say my book is officially finished today even though I know there are still some gremlins hiding somewhere in those 86,000 words. For information about Bonnie's books, see:

If I didn't need more support for what I know will happen, I received an email from Brian Donelson yesterday telling about his book publishing experience. You may remember from an earlier article, the character Brian Donelson in Where Love Once Lived is named after my friend because the book character was called BD (bookmobile driver) until I could think of a name. Anyway, here is what Brian said:

The biggest mistake was not hiring a professional editor. I grossly underestimated the difficulty in proofing and editing a book. I had four very intelligent, literate, people proof it and there are still a lot of mistakes. A few factual, but only because of info that came to light during later research, but a lot that are careless punctuation and grammatical. It drives me nuts because I know better, but I have learned that when you read something long, you often see what your mind knows should be on the page, not what is actually there.

You can find information about Brian's book, The Coming of the Train, here:

I did hire a professional editor. Several, actually. The final edit was done by a magazine copyeditor working for CreateSpace. I am happy with what she has done. It was the most expensive part of the publishing project since the cost is based on the number of words.

If you find any typos in this article, be sure to let me know. I edited it four times.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Marriage on Mount Bonnell

Here's an excerpt from Where Love Once Lived near the beginning of the scene on Mount Bonnell in Austin, Texas.

Rain covered the mountain and the whole city, and it wasn’t going to blow over in a matter of minutes, or even hours. Dark clouds hovered over their cars and blocked the sun and sky, covering them with an ominous darkness.

“Why do they have to get married out here, anyway?” Ron asked. “This is what happens when you don’t get married in church.”

“That’s silly,” Susan said. “They want to marry here because it’s special to them. It’s where they first kissed. That’s what Josh told me.”

“Really?” Liz said as she turned to face Ron and Susan. “Now, everything is beginning to make sense. Being new to Austin, I studied up on this place because of the wedding. Know what I found out? There’s a legend that says a couple who climbs to the top together will fall in love.”

“I never heard that,” Brian said. He’d hiked to the top with Karen once or twice back when they were in college.

“There’s more,” Liz said. “A second trip to the top together, so says the legend, means they’ll get engaged.” Liz’s voice got louder as she talked, and Brian knew she was getting excited. “A third time up that mountain, the story says, and there’s a surefire chance for wedding bells. Does anybody know how many times Josh and Cindy were on that magic mountain together?”

“Well, it must have been at least three times,” Susan said.

“Hogwash,” Ron said.

The weather prevents the couple from getting married on Mount Bonnell, so Brian comes up with the idea of having the ceremony in the bookmobile parked at the base of the mountain. The bride loved the idea. Here is an excerpt that follows the wedding just after they get to the cabin for the reception:

Once inside, Cindy grabbed Brian’s arm. “It was perfect, Uncle Brian. Getting married in the bookmobile was better than what we’d planned. Thank you so much.”

Brian looked at Cindy and realized how much she’d matured in the past few months. It may have been the makeup and wedding dress, but it could have been because she was married and going out on her own and saying goodbye soon to her husband as he went into the marines.

The look on her face turned serious. “When I say perfect,” she added, “you know I wish Dad had been here.”

While a student at the University of Texas, I climbed to the top of Mount Bonnell many times. Usually with my buddies, the Combine, but sometimes with a special girlfriend. We felt safe there back then. If you go today, you'll see a sign saying to beware of crime in the area. I'm sure Mount Bonnell has a special place in the hearts of many Austinites. In Kit Frazier's Dead Copy, there is a scene on Mount Bonnell that describes the area perfectly.

Have you been to Mount Bonnell lately? Here is a photo I took of the steps leading to the top:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Time to Plan for Writers' Conferences

Last week I made reservations to go to the 2010 Writers' League of Texas Agents Conference being held June 25-27 at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas. Where Love Once Lived, the book I'm publishing through CreateSpace, won first place in the Writers' League of Texas contest for the Romance Category in 2007. The prize was a free pitch session with an agent or editor, but I didn't attend that year because I was traveling. This year I didn't enter the contest, but I'm going to attend some of the workshops and pitch another book called Vengeance is Mine.

The schedule for breakout sessions won't be available until next month, but based on previous years, I'm sure I can find some useful sessions to attend to help market Where Love Once Lived.

I've attended a number of conferences over the years and highly recommend them. I'd love to hear from you about conferences you recommend.

For more information about the one I'm going to, check

Monday, April 19, 2010

More About My CreateSpace Experience

CreateSpace offers a variety of ways to publish your book: from do it yourself to let them do it all. For Where Love Once Lived, I selected an approach that includes everything except the basic edit and the marketing video. I felt I was past the need for a basic edit and didn't know what I'd do with a video. However, I have recently seen the way videos are being used in marketing and may want to add that as well. This is the support I purchased from CreateSpace:

• LCCN Assignment
• Promotional Text Creation
• Comprehensive Copyediting
• Total Design Freedom Custom Book Interior
• Signature Book Cover
• Press Release Creation
• Press Release Distribution

The LCCN assignment was completed quickly. The promotional text creation is done. This includes book descriptions and author bios of various lengths for business cards, brochures, and copy for the back cover. Comprehensive copyediting is scheduled to be finished by close of business today.

I'm very pleased with what's been done by CreateSpace so far. However, what bugs me is that they won't start on the cover design or finalizing the book interior design or press release creation until copyediting is complete. When I asked if we could start on the book cover design this is the response I received:

Hello Sidney,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the Signature Book Cover service for "Where Love Once Lived."

The Signature Book Cover service will not move forward until the Comprehensive Copyediting service has been completed.

I hope this information is helpful. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Kind regards,
Account Management

I contacted them by phone to ask why, and was told they can only do one step at a time. I worked as a project manager several times during my career in information technology and we always looked for ways to overlap activities to move the project to a quicker completion. As long as an activity wasn't dependent on the completion of another or didn't require the assignment of the same personnel, we'd do the jobs simultaneously. This refusal by CreateSpace to work on more than one activity at a time worries me. However, after today, we should be past the lengthy copyediting step and the publishing process should move faster. I'm not sure what the next step will be. I'll let you know soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Deleting Precious Words

Here is the overview from the editorial letter from CreateSpace:

Where Love Once Lived was a very clean manuscript overall. There appeared to be some structural issues with the dialogue, but there were few errors in terms of grammar. I have never read any books in the Mitford series, but found your manuscript to be a heartwarming love story that appeals to both old and young alike. I especially liked the beginning of the manuscript, as it really grabbed the reader’s attention.

The letter goes on to identify problem areas and offer suggestions for changes. I found much of it to be helpful, but I couldn't get my mind off what the copyeditor said about the beginning of the manuscript and how it grabbed the reader's attention. Isn't that what all authors try to do? I remember my first version of Where Love Once Lived and its beginning. With the help of Bonnie, my teacher, and my classmates I finally learned to delete everything I'd written up to where the action begins.

It was hard to cut so many words, but I did. Well, to be honest, I saved them all. I have a Word document I call snippets that is probably as big as the final manuscript. It came in handy recently when the copyeditor suggested another scene would be helpful. Turns out it was a scene I'd cut based on another editor's suggestion. So, I polished it up and inserted it into the manuscript. But, back to the beginning of the manuscript. Here's what I ended up with:

Karen felt loved on Tuesdays.

She was fifty-three and divorced with a college-aged daughter at home who’d probably flee the nest soon, leaving Karen to live alone. She’d missed her chance for happiness. Still, she wasn’t sad. Teaching and her volunteer work as a lay minister, hospital chaplain, and member of her church choir fulfilled her. To be honest, she wanted more. She wanted the special kind of love she felt on Tuesdays.

She glanced at the clock on the wall as the familiar knock sounded. The third graders snapped to attention, turning their heads in unison toward the door. Today was the day. Every Tuesday about this time for the past six weeks, a fresh bouquet of flowers arrived. Karen opened the door and felt a rush of warmth when she realized today would be no exception.

Peeking around the blooms with his usual grin, his black curls poking out from under the well-worn blue cap that sat too far back on his head, the deliveryman thrust the vase toward her.

Does that grab your attention and make you want to read more? I hope so.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dr Pepper Malts and Other Pleasant Memories

I used to be a soda jerk at Renfro’s Drugs on 35th Street. It was next door to Lou Sweet’s A&P. My parents knew someone who worked for the company. This friend was an accountant, I believe, and he and his family lived on the second floor of the store on South Congress across from Fulmore Junior High School. I made hamburgers and sandwiches, and mixed a variety of drinks. For fountain drinks such as Coca Cola and Dr Pepper, we would squirt in a concentrated syrup and then add carbonated water. We also made malts, shakes, and floats. The only flavors for malts back then were chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. One day when I wasn't too busy, I created a new drink that became my all time favorite: a Dr Pepper malt.

Our malts were made with only the best ice cream. Milk was added to give it the right consistency. For my new invention I replaced the milk with cream. There were probably tons of calories in that drink, but no one thought about that back then. Mmm.

I'd forgotten about that time in my life until recently. Celeste and I had a long weekend away in a B&B in Glen Rose, Texas. We were close to Dublin, and everyone knows that's where you get real Dr Pepper. See They use Imperial pure cane sugar instead of the high fructose stuff you usually get. I learned Dublin Dr Pepper is actually bottled in Temple, but it was fun visiting the combination museum and old time fountain. I told the man behind the fountain about the Dr Pepper malt I had invented, and he said they make them all the time. I ordered one and the memories poured in. I was a teenager again. I savored that drink and thought of Austin the way it was in the fifties.

In writing Where Love Once Lived, that older version of Austin pops into my head often. I don't ignore the new Austin which I've learned to love, but I'm reminded of a happy time in my life. Have you found ways to visit your childhood? I'd like to hear about it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mitford on Wheels

While reading Jan Karon's books, I fell in love with Mitford, a fictitious small town in North Carolina with a large number of interesting characters. I created a database of the characters while reading the second book in the series and tried to keep it up to date as I read one book after another. I finally gave up when the number of characters got into the hundreds, primarily because stopping to make notes was taking away from the enjoyment of reading. If you look on Jan Karon's website you'll find someone has made a list of characters in several of the books.

Where Love Once Lived is set in Austin, Texas with a 2008 population of more than 750,000 people, while Holly Springs, North Carolina, the city some say Mitford is based on, had fewer than 10,000 citizens at the time Jan Karon was creating Mitford. The Austin from my memories had a population around 150,000 which is still much larger than Mitford.

The characters in Where Love Once Lived get outside the confines of the mobile library frequently, but when needed, I use the bookmobile to limit the size of the locale. Friends meet on the bookmobile, and many of the most serious conversations take place there. It's used to chauffer the mayor in one scene. Children find the support of caring adults there. Adults get their dreams fulfilled. One of the highlights is when a young couple gets married on the bookmobile while parked at the base of Mount Bonnell. There's a chase scene involving the bulky vehicle which is more humorous than exciting, especially when it flies over Austin's traffic calmers. Books fall from the shelves, helping solve a crime. I call my book Mitford on wheels.

Once you've read the book, tell me what you think about this approach of using the bookmobile to make the surroundings smaller.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Writing Makes Me Cry!

The CreateSpace copyeditor said this about Where Love Once Lived:

Clearly, Christians interested in light romance are the target audience. While I have read little Christian fiction prior to this work, the love story between Brian and Karen really drew me in, so the book could easily reach a broader audience as well. The manuscript almost had a Nicholas Sparks quality to it, yet left me feeling happy and fulfilled without all the tissues.

Looking back on this paragraph, I see it is a compliment to be compared to a writer of Nicholas Sparks standing, even with the word almost inserted as it is. However, when I first read it my reaction was, yes you do need tissues. I cry every time I read parts of the manuscript. I don't know if anyone else does or not. I'd like to know, but it's not something that's easy to ask someone, especially my male friends. They're going to say no. Perhaps it's because I know the characters so well. Or, am I such a good writer I can make readers feel a wide range of emotions. That's got to it.

Are you willing to admit you've gotten caught up in the lives of fictional characters to the point of tears?

Monday, April 12, 2010

State Confederate Home in Austin

In Where Love Once Lived, 78-year old George McCullough is telling about a time when the parents of a white boy he'd been playing with told their son not to see George anymore.

“After that, we started meetin’ over at the ol’ Confed’rate Soldiers’ Home.” He turned to Brian. “Did Cindy show you where it use’ to be? Down at the end of Nine and a Half Street? We hunted birds and squirrels with our slingshots and sneaked around trying to find an old Confed’rate soldier. Never did.” He laughed. “That white family moved away, and I never saw that kid again. Bobby. That was his name. I’d forgotten that. Isn’t it funny how names can pop into your head after decades of not thinkin’ about them?”

George McCullough is a fictional character, but in real life, I lived on Nine and a Half Street and sneaked into the grounds of the old Confederate Soldier's Home with my big sister or next door neighbor. I remember a wooded pathway from the end of our street that led to facility. It was as if the denseness of the forest would protect those inside. As I remember it, we were afraid to get very close to where the old soldiers might be, but I do remember seeing a large brick building.

The Online Handbook of Texas says the Texas Confederate Home opened in 1886. The complex on twenty-six acres of land on West Sixth Street had several buildings, including a large administration building and living quarters, a brick hospital, and private cottages. The last Confederate veteran died in 1934 at the age of 108, before I was born. After that, the facility was home to Spanish American and World War I veterans and their spouses as well as "senile" mental patients. The area was razed in 1970 and is now used for University of Texas student housing.

The old Confederate Home made quite an impression on me as a child, and now it's gone. I think that's why I included it in the book. Do you have any places you think about? Are there places that have been torn down that you'd like to describe to someone?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Where Love Once Lived is NOT a Romance

I didn't set out to write a romance, and was surprised when everyone who read Where Love Once Lived thought it was one. Perhaps the title mislead them. Thinking my writing classmates might be right, I moved my story closer and closer to a romance as it developed. I joined the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and submitted the manuscript to romance contests. It won first place in the romance division of the Writers' League of Texas manuscript contest and third place in an RWA chapter contest in Houston. I queried White Rose Publishing and, after they read the first three chapters, I was asked to send the whole manuscript to them for consideration. After a short time, the editor suggested deleting some of the subplots. It sounded as if that was all it would take to get a contract, so I made the changes and resubmitted it. Here is what I received next:

Thank you for submitting to White Rose Publishing. I still enjoy your story, Where Love Once Lived, and it’s always wonderful to see characters get a second chance at love. I sincerely regret that I must pass on it.

Your story is well-written and the characters are realistic, but while there is romance in the story, it’s not the main focus. For a story to be considered a romance, the relationship between the hero and heroine should be the main focus and take up a majority of the pages. The hero and heroine should be together as much as possible and thinking about each other when they’re apart. Where Love Once Lived is a story about Brian’s personal growth rather than the relationship between him and Karen. As I said, it’s a wonderful story, it’s just not right for White Rose Publishing. Should you write a romance in the future, I do hope you’ll keep us in mind.

Thanks again for submitting to White Rose Publishing. I wish you all the best in your continued search for the perfect publisher for Where Love Once Lived.


So, it's not a romance. But that's okay. I didn't mean for it to be. Here are the words from the end of the book that explain the title and the story:

On the drive back in the bookmobile, with his fiancée beside him, Brian felt a bliss he'd not experienced before. He once thought getting back to the place where he last felt love was all he needed. But now he knew the love he had with Karen was doubly rich and wonderful because God’s love was back in his heart as well. Back where it once lived.

How about you? Do you have the love of God in your heart?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Feeling Alone in a Crowd

In this part of Where Love Once Lived, Brian is hosting a wedding reception for Cindy and Josh when he gets a call from Karen. It is the first time she has contacted him since his return to Austin and he is happily surprised. Tony had just given Brian two tickets to his upcoming opera and suggested he invite Karen so he does so on the phone. She accepts. This is an excerpt of what happens when he in confronted by Liz after he finishes talking to Karen:

"We have a date for Sunday. We're going to the opera."

"Fantastic. Then, your sadness has nothing to do with the phone call."

"What do you mean?"

"Look, I work with you every day. I know your looks, your moods, even what you're thinking sometimes." Liz looked bigger than usual in her fancy dress. He couldn't tell where her shoulders ended and her arms began. She was so charming, no one thought of her as big.

"You don't!" he said.

"Afraid so. Like today, you're trying to play the part of friend and uncle to make sure the married couple has a memorable day. All along you'd prefer to be alone, feeling sorry for yourself for not having had a successful marriage."

He couldn't believe how accurate she was. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't I? Look, I felt some of those emotions myself. I haven't had that happy marriage either, you know. I prayed for it, but it wasn't God's will."

"Well, I've been happy. Not happily married, but I've had a good life."

"I know you have." Liz squeezed his arm. "I also know you want more out of life. Perhaps you'll find true happiness with Karen."

"I hope, but I haven't had much luck with her yet. To be honest, this opera date was Tony's idea. I'm not sure she'd go if he wasn't in it."

"It's a start. Can I say a prayer for you?"

"Right here? Right now?"

"Yeah. No one will notice. They never do at parties."

Have you ever had a friend notice you're suffering in some way. Did they offer to pray for you? Or, perhaps you're the one who prayed for a friend. Prayer helps.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is Editing Ever Finished?

I received the edited manuscript of Where Love Once Lived from CreateSpace yesterday, and, after a quick review, am pleased with the results. However, several comments from the copyeditor alarmed me some. First, she said she had read little Christian fiction and had not read any of Jan Karon's books. She also referred to the point of view as omniscient when I worked hard to write in either Brian's or Karen's point of view.

Wouldn't you think CreateSpace would find an editor more familiar with your genre? Maybe it doesn't matter what the subject is when it comes to good grammar and consistency. So far, the corrections and comments look good. I'll let you know more later as I make the suggested changes. A real plus is that the copyeditor also pointed out places in the manuscript where she, as the reader, had problems with the flow of the story. Most of these continuity problems were introduced during previous edits and can easily be fixed. I just hope I don't create more grammatical errors with the changes I make. Yikes! Will I ever finish writing this book?

The copyeditor suggested including a scene I had cut based on a reading by White Rose Publishing. More on that later. Now I wonder if I should put the scene back in.

How about you? Have you spent months or years editing only to find there is more to do? Or you, dear reader, have you spotted grammatical errors and inconsistencies in published books?
I have.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Saying it in 250 Words or Less

Here is the proposed back cover text for Where Love Once Lived. Tell me what you think.

She'd once loved a bookmobile driver. Memories of that time with him poured in so rapidly she caught her breath. It'd been long ago, but her heart remembered. At first she remembered the love she'd felt back then, but the good memories didn't last long. She'd gone to the bookmobile as usual that last day, but nothing was to be the same again. She went to Brian with love and exciting news. She left alone. Not just without him, but alone in the world and apart from God.

Is it ever too late to find happiness? No, says Sidney W. Frost in his inspirational Christian novel, Where Love Once Lived. Brian Donelson returns to his hometown after a thirty-year absence to win back his beloved Karen. But Karen, who has grown closer to God than he has, harbors a secret that keeps her away from Brian at all costs. While driving the local bookmobile, Brian struggles to earn her trust, even as he grapples with secrets of his own. With God’s help, can these two find happiness? Beautifully written and told with wit and grace, Where Love Once Lived is a moving love story filled with the glory of God.

Sidney W. Frost is an elder in the Presbyterian Church and a Stephen Minister. A former member of the Austin Lyric opera, he once worked as a bookmobile driver at the Austin Public Library.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Trying to Ignore God's Nudges

The idea for writing a bookmobile story came to me while driving one back in the 1960's. I was a college student at the University of Texas assigned to drive for a feisty librarian who got us into trouble with the head librarian several times because of helping our patrons in ways unrelated to books. I wanted to write a humorous novel about her, but quickly learned I didn't know much about writing.

The writing urge hit me again a few years later, and I started a fictional account of my time in the Marines in the 1950's and my true-life experience of driving with a black friend from California to Texas. I had read enough books to know it was an interesting idea and would have made a great novel. But once again, I was reminded I didn't know how to craft a novel. After that I settled for non-fiction writing.

The nudge to write the bookmobile story came again in 2004, and this time I said no because I knew it was too hard. The very next Sunday, my pastor, Dr. Jeanie Stanley, said this: "Trust the Lord God with your dreams and He will help you achieve them." This gave me the idea to turn the whole project over to God. To remind myself I wasn't alone, I wrote a prayer which I printed and taped to the computer monitor.

Dear Lord, be my source of inspiration. Give me the words you want the world to hear. Help me create the story and the characters to convey your message in such a way as to be desirable to the business world of publishers. Guide my hands and stay in my mind and my heart while I write and while I edit. Amen

By then I was smart enough to know I needed help so I started taking online basic fiction writing classes. At the time I was in the Austin Lyric Opera Chorus and rehearsing three times a week for eight or nine months out of the year, and didn't want to take on a large writing project. But, God wouldn't let me use that as an excuse. I retired from the chorus, continued to study and started writing Where Love Once Lived. That's when I met my teacher, Bonnie Hearn Hill. More about her later.

I don't want this to come across as me believing my book is the word of God. Far from it. All I'm trying to say is that I had a strong urge to write and publish Where Love Once Lived. I hope it makes you laugh and cry, and if just one person should happen to move closer to God because of it, then all the effort was worthwhile.

How about you? Have you ever felt compelled to do something so strong you wondered if God was trying to tell you something?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Austin, the Friendly City

Where Love Once Lived is set in the current time in Austin, Texas. However, the male protagonist has lived in California for the past thirty years and his memory of Austin is different than the way the city is today. It doesn't bother him that Austin's slogan has changed from Austin the Friendly City to Keep Austin Weird. He doesn't even notice. He finds the place on Dry Creek near Mt. Bonnell Road where he and his college buddies rented a cabin and he builds his house there, including a replica of the cabin that had fallen to the ground from decay. Brian is determined to recapture his youth, and marry his college sweetheart. He buys a bookmobile, because that was the last place where he had been with Karen, and makes a deal with the city to try it for year as long as he pays the expenses.

In addition to the cabin, scenes take place at an elementary school built in the 1950's, Mt. Bonnell, Clarksville, and the city library (the old one, not the new one), the University of Texas campus, and Manor.

It was fun revisiting the Austin of the past while writing the book, and I hope you'll enjoy reading about it. I was born in Austin and went through school there. I joined the Marines after learning I wasn't ready for college, and didn't get back to Austin for 20 plus years. It had changed so much by then I hardly knew where I was. But, it didn't matter. Everywhere I went I could see and feel the past, the place where the memories lived. Once, I told an old friend I'd meet him at the drug store. When we both got there, we noticed the corner we'd been thinking about was now a strip mall and there wasn't a drug store anywhere near there. Another fun thing is that we, my buddies and I, know routes through town that newcomers don't.

How about you? Have you experienced a change in your life or your surroundings that made you wish for the good old days? Were the good old days as good as you remember? How do you handle change? Do you embrace it or fight it? Place is not as important as who you are. You can take your beliefs and faith in God wherever you go. Likewise, you can't move to another place to get away from problems. They go with you, too.

In Where Love Once Lived, Brian never recaptures his youth, of course, because that's impossible. But he does learn that what he was searching for was the love of God.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Racism is Alive and Well, Unfortunately

Shouts of racism are in the news every day now even though you'd think we'd be way past that here in 2010. The old saying, what would Jesus do, comes to mind.

In my book, Where Love Once Lived, the male protagonist is white and his best friend is black. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did make the story more interesting. I'm sure it has a lot to do with my personal beliefs. However, how does a writer who believes in equality, write about people of different races without sounding like he or she is emphasizing the differences? Ideally, race wouldn't be mentioned. This might work in a movie or TV show, but in the black and white of a book, how do you show the black and white of the characters?

I grew up in Austin, Texas during the segregation period, and use the father of one of the characters in the book to tell about some of my experiences of that time. I turned one story upside down, letting a black character tell about his experiences. As George McCullough, now in his seventies, describes his experience back in the 1930-40's with segregation, I'm the white boy he refers to. Well, as far as fiction allows.

"It's called historical, now," Mr. McCullough said holding a fork in the air. "It use' to be a ghetto, you know." He glanced at Brian. "I don't guess Cindy told you that. Most of the Negroes lived east of Austin, but there was a colony here in Clarksville."

Mr. McCullough continued. "When I was growin' up, there were boundaries, you see. We couldn't jus' live anywhere we wanted. Ever'one knew where the lines were. Our street here was as far south as we could live."

He shook his head. "Today, it doesn't matter. No one's shocked when black and white marry, even." He locked eyes with Brian, then moved his gaze to Cindy.

"When was this neighborhood a ghetto, Grandpa?" Cindy asked. "I've heard the story, but I think Brian would like to hear about it, too."

"Let's see." He touched a thumb to his fingers. "I'd say up until sometime in the 1950s." He pointed south. "Over at Mathews School, on 9 ½ Street, that was white. Our lot touched up to a white family's back yard." He laughed. "I'd forgotten about that. Fact is, back in the 1930's or 40's, I use' to play with the little kid who lived there. Well, not play, really. We mos'ly jus' talked through the chicken wire. My Mama and Daddy told me not to, but I did anyway."

As the author, I also worried about making Mr. McCullough sound different. To make up for using the speech pattern, which I felt gave a better view of the character, later in the book, his intelligence is clearly shown.

How do you write about race differences without emphasizing the differences? What do you prefer as a reader?