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November 2010 – Darby Rae

Archives for November 2010

Thanks for the bird!

About ten years ago I read the book You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar, by David H. Sandler.  In the first 15 chapters, the author is teaching the reader his seven step selling system.  Chapter 16, ‘Getting the Angle on Success,’ is where he talks about a concept called the Birdcage Challenge.  In this chapter, he challenges the reader to buy a birdcage, put it in their kitchen, and see how much time passes before someone buys them a bird.

The birdcage is a metaphor for our goals.  Setting it in the kitchen symbolizes telling others our goals.  Someone buying us a bird reflects our friends and family wanting to help us achieve our goals.  This story encourages us to speak our goals to our network of family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  It is my experience that while there are always people who can’t wait to tell you something is unachievable; there are many others standing in line to help you get there.  (If you find the opposite is true—you may be hanging around the wrong people!)

Several months ago, I metaphorically brought my birdcage into the kitchen.  I discovered I had a burning desire to finish writing a fiction novel I had started, and wanted to have it published.  If this goal had surfaced years ago, I wouldn’t have told anyone.  Frankly, I used to be afraid if I failed, and all these people knew about it, I would look like a loser!  I shed this belief when my very wise mentor once told me (or maybe he told me repeatedly until it sunk in), “If you never fail, you aren’t trying hard enough!”  He pushed me often to stretch out of the safety of my comfort zone.

When I realized how committed I was to being a published author, I shared this goal with my family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  Over the past year, the outpouring of support from my personal network of ‘bird buyers’ has been tremendous!  Initially this was in the form of accountability.  I hardly had a conversation with family or friends without the question surfacing, “have you finished the book yet?”  The most relentless to keeping me accountable to finishing my novel were my kids and their teenage friends.  You want to be accountable to a goal…tell your kids and their friends!  What parent wants to face their children and their children’s friends having to admit they gave up…they quit before reaching their goal.  Not this parent.

In addition to the accountability, I’ve been connected to other published authors (I never would have met) through a friend-of a friend-of a friend, several times.  Introductions to publishers have happened the same way.  Countless people have offered to sit and listen to a chapter and offer feedback.  Several friends have linked me with places to do public and private book readings and promotional events.  Pre-published books have even been sold.  An empty birdcage is a powerful thing!

So during this wonderful Thanksgiving season, I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all of those who saw my empty birdcage…and helped me fill it!  To my family, friends, friends of my children, friends of friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends, ad infinitum…thanks for the bird!  Now go get your own birdcage.

Finalizing Editing

How many times does an author edit her first novel before releasing it to be published?  I donʼt know…Iʼm still editing; although I believe at this point it would be fair to say I am  obsessing. I find it difficult to read my work without switching around a paragraph or  adding a line of dialogue. So, to help me stop obsessing, a final deadline of one week  has been ordered by my publicist. This means one final time through the story…and  then Iʼm finished obsessing.

Whatʼs my strategy to conduct the final edit? Well, since I have complete faith my  editing team has caught all the errors in grammar, spelling, tense, homonyms, etc…, I  plan to read Merciful Law out loud—start to finish—as though I was enjoying it from a  ʻreaderʼsʼ viewpoint not critiquing it from the ʻauthorʼsʼ viewpoint. Wish me luck with that!

Here are a few editing tips for aspiring novelists that would have shortened my process.

1. As you write your novel, build a timeline. Youʼll make fewer errors if you have  something to refer to as you write, and youʼll find details (like fireworks on July 4th) may  add to the action in your storyline.

2. Keep a running log of your characters including what page you introduce them,  physical features you mention throughout the story, and any personal information you  may refer to later on. In Merciful Law, Deborah has two sisters. I mention them by  name early in the story. Toward the end they are mentioned again. I recall not being  able to remember their names when I was writing the later chapter and I had to go  searching through the story to find them.

3. Proofread out loud to someone else. You can feel if your story is alive and if it flows  well by reading to a neutral third party. My teen daughter often has me read what Iʼm  working on to her. She has a great ear for detail and understands the ʻvoiceʼ of a  character quickly. (Thatʼs the loud voice of a proud mother, just in case you missed it.)  Her feedback has ranged from renaming characters to reworking an action scene, and  she doesnʼt sugar coat anything.

4. Keep your eye on the length of your book, if you have a goal in mind. My target is to  keep my novels under 400 pages, since thatʼs the average length of the typical  suspense novel I read. (My reasoning may be flawed, but that is honestly the basis for  the target.) I had the painful task of editing about 200 pages out of my first novel, and  having to scrub through the story to make sure there werenʼt any references to the  events in those pages. It also screwed up my timeline. The upside…if Merciful Law  has a sequel I have 200 pages already written!

5. Remember you are your own worst critic. As authors, we are like high school girls  standing in the mirror listing all the things we donʼt like about our appearance…wishing  we had Amyʼs hair, Connieʼs smile and Josiʼs back side. (Was I the only one who did  that in high school?) Consider yourself a unique entity and donʼt try to be another  author. You are bound to water down your own creative talents.

6. Most importantly, find a way to enjoy the process!

Editing Process

I have to share, there is something incredible about surrounding yourself with talented  individuals to review and critique your book…but you have to leave your ego at home  and bring your sense of humor. My publicist is my best friend, so I ask for favors now  and then (or all the time). After she read Merciful Law and made editing notes; I asked  her to please review all her notes with me. Yes, every single page…every single note…  pretty please. What could have been an exhausting experience filled with criticism, hurt  feelings and defensiveness was instead several hours of laughter. We had so much fun  going through the novel, fixing things that needed to be corrected, tightening the story  and discovering all my writing quirks. Apparently, I have several quirks, including  randomly switching tenses and I suffer from homonym confusion.

In the story, Susan has prepared chocolate moose for the guests; Mitch remarks “…  Harold looks like he could kill someone with his bear hands;” and Annie listens to  Emmet tell his boys a fairytail.” Vicky, one of our other editors discovered “I shook my  head in udder amazement.” Word-nerd that I am, I wondered if there was a word/  disorder for obsessive animal homonym confusion. There isnʼt. There are over one  hundred manias including those for flowers, islands, dancing, writing, reading, words,  and animals…but nothing like zoomonymania or homonymzoomania (that I found).

While homonymzoomania isnʼt a common writing issue, (incorrectly) alternating tenses  (past/present/future) in a novel and lack of flow are very common. Reading your story  out loud will help you hear problems like this, but nothing can replace the uncensored  feedback of a third party. So, if you want to improve your story extensively, ask yourself,  who do you trust to take your first literary work and tell you the honest truth, warts and  all. Then, when they do tell you…laugh about it, enjoy the experience, appreciate their  efforts and know it will make you an exponentially better writer!

My love/hate relationship with reading

Iʼve made no secret that, with the exception of reading to my children, I never read  fiction. Needless to say, I didnʼt read fiction novels. I read dozens of business book like  Think and Grow Rich, The Millionaire Next Door, The 4-Hour Work Week, and Good to  Great. I read countless life improvement book (told in story form) like The Monk Who  Sold His Ferrari, The Richest Man in Babylon, Rich Dad Poor Dad and The Janitor…all  excellent books. I read spiritual books, psychology books, inspirational books; sales,   management and leadership books. You get the picture. I only wanted to read books I  could learn from…anyone else out there like me?

My infatuation with fiction didnʼt happen over night, but it did happen in just one month.  My daughter was reading the Twilight saga by Stephanie Meyer. I had seen the first  movie with her, and when she recommended I read the second book, I decline. It was  almost 600 pages! I was thinking, the only thing worse than a fiction novel is a long  fiction novel. I wanted to support her reading habit, though, so I bought her the four  book series.

A few days later she and I were alone at the house. Somehow she convinced me to  read the second book while she read the third. Half-way into the book I was in love with  the characters and Stephanie Meyers writing talent. I finished the second book, but she  hadnʼt finished the third, so she told me to read the first one. “The book is so much  better than the movie,” she said. So I began to read…and she was right. I finished the  series that month and was hooked on fiction. For fun, I even began writing a vampire  novel in my spare time. Then I read seven more books recommended on Stephanie  Meyerʼs website plus her book The Host. Itʼs my favorite.

Developing a love for fiction was the first step. The second step was a conversation  with my sister regarding retirement. I was recommending she write novels when she  retires. She has read hundreds, maybe even thousands of novels, and her writing skills  are incredible. The idea didnʼt interest her, but when I hung up the phone I was sold on  it. Becoming a fiction novelist seemed like a great idea for me. It wasnʼt long before I  had the idea for Merciful Law and began writing.

The first positive reinforcement toward my writing came from my daughter. She had me  read some of the story to her and she genuinely enjoyed it. As great a daughter as she  is, I know she wouldnʼt have sat still night after night and listened to the story if she  didnʼt enjoy it.

My second and most powerful affirmation that I had what it took to write a great novel  came from one of my best friends. She studied writing in college and is an avid reader,  but more importantly, she wouldnʼt lie to me. After reading a chapter to her she told me  not only did she love it, but when it was finished, she would help edit it and get it  published…and now here I am with my first published novel.

Looking back, I see all the road blocks that could have stopped me. Fortunately, I had  many more things happening that pushed me forward. So my question to you today is,  what goal or dream have you chosen not to pursue because you believe the road blocks  are too mighty to overcome? Whatever the roadblock is, just tell yourself…if Darby can  do it…I can too. I promise you there wasnʼt anything in my education, career or gene  pool that gave me a pre-disposition to become an author…but I did it, and whatever  your goal is, Iʼm rooting for you!

Interview with Darby Rae

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

In 2004, I set a goal to write a book, but I had thought about it for years. I saw writing as reenforcement to my role as an advisor. I didn’t consider, until years later, it would be my career. If you asked my children, “what does your Mom do at work?” they would say, “she tells people what’s wrong with them…and then fixes them.” Simple, and not too far from the truth…I have been blessed with the gift of helping others improve their lives. Writing a book was the logical move from helping people one-one-one to writing books to help many. To date, I have four business/self-improvement books written. (You are likely groaning, thinking…just what the world needs…more self-help books. I’ve groaned too while browsing the bookstore seeing the latest Six Steps to This or Five Secrets to That.)

What inspired you to write your first fiction book?

About a year ago (March 2009), I was on the phone with my older sister discussing retirement. As we discussed her options for fun income producing ventures I was pitching the idea of her writing fiction novels. (My daughter had recently guilted me into reading the Twilight series with her, and I had just finished the fourth book. Fiction novels were on my mind.) My sister has remarkable writing talent and has easily read a couple thousand fiction novels alone. I shared all the (perceived) perks of being a best-selling author–traveling to exciting places; hours of solitude creating enticing plots and characters, inspiring readers to become authors, having fans, and going on talk shows. Fame, fortune, and freedom…what more could anyone want? Lynda’s reaction was…neutral at best, but in 30 minutes, I had completely sold myself…yes, I wanted to be a best-selling fiction author! That’s my retirement plan. The main roadblock was— in the last 20 years I had read only five fiction novels…four in the last month. My attitude toward fiction was admittedly close-minded. I believed if the story line was that good, I could just wait for the movie. Luckily, I have a stronger belief that busting through roadblocks is part of success—and only wimps give up because of them! (I should know—I have wimped out before.) Needless to say, I started reading book after book and falling in love with the characters, the story, the written word. This would be a perfect adventure for me!

Where do you get your information or ideas for your story lines and characters?

The origin for the ideas is different for each book. Merciful Law was an idea I woke up with. I don’t recall the catalyst. The idea for Killer Coordinates came from a business trip. Dandelions came from a friend and mine tossing around ideas for a fantasy novel. Once I have the basic story line, I will lay in bed for hours (before falling asleep, when I wake up, or both) envisioning the story and characters. I want to picture it as if it is a movie (creative writing for couch potatoes). After I have built the framework of the story and main characters, I’ll discuss the story line with people who have insight to the plot. This is my checks and balance process to be sure the story is believable, but not predictable.

While I am visualizing, I pull out and put in the main characters like a ‘Color forms’ game (physical features, personality characteristics, marital status, etc…). I should probably lie and say all the characters come from the successful and famous personal friends I have throughout the world, but most of the supporting characters are people I see at Wal-Mart or the airport. I just returned from a week in England. I am adding the train station to ‘places to discover interesting characters.’

How long does it take you to write a book?

At this point—too damn long…and the editing…that takes exponentially too damn long. I’m a recovering perfectionist with ADD. I have started several other books while working on Merciful Law. Fear (my agent would beat me unconscious with the manuscript) was the main reason I finished and released Merciful Law for publishing.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Chaotic, thrilling, and vigorous…I have a full-time career, a family to care for, and an incredible amount of energy. My work schedule is fast-paced and I’ve had to sacrifice a few things to make time to write. I’ve given up cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking, making my bed, and a few hours of sleep each night. My children groan while doing their laundry, helping clean the house or cook dinner. I tell them it builds character. They believe building character is overrated. After working my daytime career, consulting with clients, and fulfilling all my motherly duties (minus the above mentioned items my kids are responsible for) during the week, I typically write from 11pm – 2am. On the weekends I write early in the morning instead. It isn’t the time of day that is critical, it is the absolute quiet….no phone calls, emails, text messages…no interruptions.

It is well known among my children and their friends that interrupting me during writing time is an egregious mistake nobody makes twice.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I have several books started. When a story line pops into my head, I’m paranoid I’ll forget it if I don’t document it right away. It easily takes a hundred pages of writing to get the idea and characters solidified. The quirky part is sometimes I’ll pull out one of my partial books and read it just to ‘spend time with’ characters—as if they are my friends…is that considered a quirk or psychosis? (For the record, I do have real friends too.)

How do books get published?

I leave the final manuscript under my pillow for the book fairy (AKA my agent). A few weeks later a box with 500 copies of my novel arrives magically on my door step to sign and send to special fans. In other words, I have no idea—you’d have to ask my agent.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

My first business book, The Forgotten Senses, was written in 2004. I didn’t begin writing fiction until I was 45 years young, in 2009.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I am blessed with a great family, incredible children and an abundance of friends (including many of my clients). They are more endearing than any characters I could write. My favorite pastime is spending time with them…and laughing. Simple, but nothing charges my batteries more than laughter! Many times I’m laughing at myself. I also have a great sense of adventure…and will try almost anything once (ipso facto, the laughing at myself ). What’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done? Can’t tell you…if my kids found out I’d lose all my parental leverage. I do enjoy pushing the limits of snow skiing, horseback riding, and scuba diving. In the next 12 months I will take a zip line tour through a Central American jungle and sleep in a hut the monkeys congregate around…anyone want to join me?

Reading fiction novels has become almost an obsession. Since my literary awakening (when my daughter and I read the Twilight series—thank you Stephanie Meyer), I have easily devoured over 100 books. Suspense, Adventure, Romance and Mystery are my favorites. My friends are convinced it’s my mid-life crisis. That’s depressing. I always envisioned my mid-life crisis complete with a sassy sports car, inappropriate clothing and a life-threatening adventure… reading books, not so much.

What does your family think of your writing?

Except for the increase in chores around the house, the kids love it. They’ve been telling everyone I’m an author, even before Merciful Law was finished, even before I thought of myself as an author. They make no secret that one of their favorite parts of my writing is the little time I have to cook. Instead of healthy meals littered with organic vegetables I used to torture them with, we order pizza or I’ll pick up Wendy’s.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

I was shocked to find out how much I love to read. Growing up I was high energy; always moving. Sitting still to read seemed like a form of child persecution invented by grown ups. Maybe nothing like The Magic Tree House series or Captain Underpants were available back then. That may have helped. Either way, I spent nearly 40 years reading only material I would learn from. I wasn’t bitten by the fiction bug until recently.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Four non-fiction and two fiction are written and awaiting my obsessive editing ritual. I have three other fiction novels between 20 to 50% finished. Picking a favorite would depend on my mood, but typically it is the one I am working on. Business ones are good when I’m searching for answers, reinforcement or reaching for a higher level of thinking; fiction is great for escape, adventure or relaxation…and apparently dealing with a mid-life crisis.

Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?

Four suggestions, in no particular order:

First—never let the truth get in the way of a good story!! One of my business clients said nonfiction is about what is while fiction is about what could be. The what could be encompasses everything in the novel—setting, plot, characters…capabilities, quirks, fears…everything. Don’t let what you know limit what could be.

Second—read out loud when editing. While it hasn’t helped me spell better, it definitely helps to hear if the story flows and is alive.

Third—learn to enjoy ‘people watching’. I wasn’t kidding when I said some of my characters come from Wal-Mart. If I see someone interesting, I’ll follow them around and take in as much about them as I can. What they look like, sound like, some make it unavoidable to know what they smell like…careful not to make them feel stalked, though. They’ll alert security. Care to guess how I know that?

Finally—check your ego at the door during editing. After my editor’s initial review of Merciful Law, I asked her to go over her corrections and recommended revisions (page by page) with me. She was worried how I may react to her constructive criticism, but agreed. We spent hours belly laughing at areas I droned on, extraneous content, spelling errors, and homonym confusion (bear/ bare, tail/tale, moose/mousse…). Don’t take yourself too seriously. You’ll stunt your personal growth.

What do you think makes a good story?

A strong plot and tight story go with out saying, but there also needs to be conflict and emotion. My research shows readers enjoy stories that tap into a range of emotions…make them laugh, cry, afraid, angry…all in one novel. I enjoy surprising my readers with a blind twist or an unexpected flash of emotion.

Why did you choose to create books for adults? Why suspense-fiction?

The target audience and genre were not conscious decisions. So the answer is a big fat I don’t know. I did spend hours talking with avid readers about what they enjoyed reading; what they liked about their favorite authors; if they didn’t like a book, why; and what books would they recommend I read…and I read a ton! In the end, it may be a simple answer of I write novels I would enjoy reading.

If you were to write a non-fiction book, what would it be about?

It would be something in the field of psychology. People fascinate me, more specifically how their upbringing establishes much of their path as adults. I’ve read a lot on birth order, and while there are no absolutes where humans are involved, birth order (first born, middle born and last born) comes with many predictable traits. On my list of “100 things to do before I die” is earning my Masters in Psychology. I think it would be interesting to do my thesis (and later a book) on birth order and the effects divorce/blended families have on the conventional personality and identity traits. That involves analysis of correlation coefficients, statistical variances, and reliability factors. (Anyone snoring yet?)

If you had to write a book about a famous figure in history, who would it be?

I was never very good at history, funny I thought there was way too much reading required. To interest me, the famous person would have to be someone whose wiring was off like Edgar Allen Poe, Picasso, or Bach. Yes, I’d have to say I’m drawn to genius and insanity. Probably a good thing I never remarried.

Has anyone inspired you to become a writer? Who?

Hands down, my daughter and my agent. When I began writing, I wasn’t convinced I had what it took to write a great novel. I enjoyed the creative outlet. My daughter supported my writing by having me read to her (and often her friends) what I had written the night before. Her interest and praise inspired me to finish the story. It also instilled accountability…here I had started something and I needed to be a good example for her and finish it. (If you are thinking—yes, but it’s easy to impress a teenage girl…you don’t have one.)

Hearing accolades from my daughter was my initial inspiration. Having my agent read the first 100 pages and commit to get it published was the confirmation I needed to believe I could be a best-selling author.

Has anyone inspired your characters and/or writing? Who and what character?

There are so many people who have inspired characters. At times, I overhear one line spoken by a complete stranger and weave it into a character because it fits so well. Or I hear a person’s name or see a facial expression that sticks with me. Mitch for example, is a successful business man, but he’s a big kid too. So he’s ten or fifteen different people (including a few teens) that I know. I take that kind of compilation and push it beyond ordinary to make the character intriguing, but believable.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

When I was little, I wanted to be a grown-up so I could boss other people around or Barbie…she had all the cool stuff (including Ken). In my pre-teens I wanted to be Cher or Laurie Partridge (from the Partridge family). Clearly I had an identity crisis.

When I was in college, my mother encouraged me to enter sales. She said when you are in sales, nobody tells you what you are worth. You want to earn more…you sell more. It was great advice. Setting goals became essential to a successful career in sales. In 2003, I set a goal to retire at 50, but to do that I needed a passive income stream. I spent five/six years trying different avenues until I discovered my love for writing. Although many authors would argue they are hardly retired, writing offers financial independence and freedom a person never has working for someone else. To me, retirement is just that, financial independence and freedom fueled by doing something I absolutely love.

Where do you want to be five years from now? Ten?

In five years, besides being a constant on the New York Times Best-Sellers List, I will be writing from exciting places—a beach in Honduras, a castle in England, a cattle ranch out west…a hotel with room service works too. In ten years—much of the same—with closer access to bathrooms since I’ll be north of 50. By then, I hope to have the freedom to spend ample time doing mission work and inspiring others to realize their dreams.

What one thing would you want your readers to know about you, personally?

In my 46 years I have experienced many successes, but I believe it was the failures I experienced that really grew me personally. I don’t have any outstanding capabilities, I wasn’t a great student or athlete, my upbringing wasn’t extraordinary, I didn’t win the lottery, and so on. I have a firm belief that if I can achieve my goals, anyone can achieve their goals. The one facet that sets those who achieve apart from those who don’t is the belief they can. I have learned not to fear failure, but instead to embrace it as part of success. That’s clearly more than one thing, but math has never been my strong suit. (Neither is following directions.)

What would some of your best friends want your readers to know?

My sick-warped sense of humor is shared by my parents, siblings and children. It’s genetic. And I’ve had it my whole life. I’m a middle child so I’m supposed to have an identity crisis, but instead I’m a Gemini, so I have two identity crises.

What are some of your goals?

My biggest goal is to live long enough to be as much trouble to my children as they have been to me. I plan to live with each one of them for several months at a time…and be a terrible houseguest… complain about the meals, leave dirty laundry on the floor, and not make my bed. I may even sneak out of the house so they wonder where I am (not that any of my kids have ever done those things to me.)

That’s my long-term goal…and it may take me past 100 years on this earth to achieve it…but I’m committed! I plan to live to be 110. Also on my list of things to learn are flying a helicopter and learn to salsa (dance). I’ll wait until I’m about 70 to learn both—half the fun will be horrifying my instructors, my children and as many members of the general public as possible… I’m choosing a dance class that has a public recital…maybe something at the local shopping mall.

Other than tormenting my children and horrifying the public, I want to leave a legacy of literature and inspire everyone I can to chase their dreams.

Merciful Law

Lawrence Davenport lives a fortunate life. He has a brilliant career, an enviable home, a devoted wife, and so much more. But Lawrence Davenport also has a brutal secret. One he has carefully hidden from his wife, Deborah, for years. But when she discovers the truth, she makes the only choice she can…never considering the personal consequences.

After three years, Emmet Navar is still grieving the death of his wife. Month by month he puts more pieces of his outwardly simple world back together, dedicating himself to his boys first and his firm second. He is not alone; those who know him recognize his struggles. To everyone else, Emmet’s biggest challenges appear to be retaining a personal assistant and controlling his fun-loving friends.

The woman they both know is battling demons from her past, demons in the present, and demons she is sure will rear their ugly heads in her future…and the future of those now close to her. She has no desire to trust, no desire to love and at times, no desire to live. Many days she allows herself to be fooled to believe her life is normal…even happy. Other days bear the terrifying truth…he is out there…he is hunting her…and he will not stop until he finds her. The only question is how high a price will she pay?

Full of suspense, adventure and humor, you’ll fall in love with the characters at every twist and turn in Merciful Law. It is the perfect blend of male and female, action and romance. As the story unfolds, you will wonder who will win, who will lose; who will live and who will die.

Merciful Law…they had a marriage to die for…and someone will.