(Originally published on Writer Unboxed)
What Color Is Your Revision Balloon?
I wrote, rewrote, proofread and edited my story. Three times. I typed ‘The End’ and then with a writerly sigh and a wink, emailed my fifteen-hundred-word short story to my best reader-friend.
“It’s really good, Ame” she said over the phone. “But I want, well, I really want more.”
Who did she think she was? Oliver Twist? I replied as eloquently as possible. I was, after all, a writer, wordsmith and lover of language.
“Huh?” I said.
Until that time, my published writing had ranged from six-hundred-fifty to one thousand words. I had never written anything longer. Had she missed those additional five hundred words? Perhaps her version of Word didn’t have a counter.
I printed out my story and stared at the first page. I turned it upside-down, read it with one eye closed and read it aloud. Then, I read it aloud with one eye closed. I knew what the story needed and was up for the challenge but didn’t know how to start. The thought overwhelmed me. Then, because when writing didn’t work, doodling did, I uncapped my favorite, fine-line blue marker and drew a circle around the first paragraph. (I’m that delicate balance of procrastinator meets visual-learner.)
And that’s when I saw a blue balloon.
That first paragraph separated from the rest of the page as deflated blue balloon needing enough air to make it round, but not so much that it would burst. So, with short, precise breaths I exhaled into that first blue balloon and then the ones that followed. I meticulously added detail, emotion and meaning, all the while holding tight to the story so it didn’t drift away.
Those fifteen hundred words became three thousand. And eventually the story was published.
At one time I did not believe I could write more than one thousand words. Then for a while I thought three thousand was my limit. I’m happy someone had the insight, faith and chutzpah to ask me for more.
I’m even happier that I had more to give.
It’s now four years*, many blue balloons, essays, stories and one seventy-seven-thousand-word, yet-to-be-published novel later. So, when writing friends and colleagues ask for advice (and sometimes when they don’t ask) I suggest looking at each paragraph as a deflated balloon. Just try it, I tell them. It doesn’t have to be blue. Go wild. Pick any color at all.
And it’s still my best advice to myself. When my writing needs a little (or a lot) of something, I automatically see each paragraph as a floppy, blue balloon. Then, I take a deep breath and huff and puff just enough of the right words to evoke the images and emotions I had truly hoped for.
And then not only is the page filled up, but so am I.
*Now it’s seven years!!
What color would your balloon be? And, what’s your favorite tip, trick or advice for trying something new or getting over a speed bump when writing?
It was the day before Valentine’s and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, except for the kid who was supposed to be sleeping but instead was chanting “mama truck mama truck” in his crib.
Mama would prefer to be snug in her bed
But her car won’t start and there’s an ache in her head
Then all of a sudden there came such a clatter
Because into a pan she was pouring some batter
You see, when your day stinks, you simply must make
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bake
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. brown sugar
- 1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
- 1 T. oil
- 1 t. vanilla (we here in Madison like Penzey’s)
- 2 eggs
- 1 c. flour
- 1/3 c. delicious add-in of your choice
- 1/4 t. baking soda
- 1/8 t. salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In one bowl mix the wet stuff (sugar through eggs).
In another mix the dry (flour through salt).
Combine the two bowls just until blended.
Pour into a 8×8 oiled pan.
Bake 25 minutes.
What you get hardly tastes like peanut butter at all, but is a perfectly delicious, not at all oily, creamy, moist way to make blondies without a speck of butter. Baked, they taste like raw cookie dough but without the thrilling risk of salmonella. You can use whatever you want for the add-ins–be it nuts, toffees, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, reese’s pieces, even a special bar of dark chocolate chopped up into lovely shards. When I make it for the BLB who is very very allergic to dairy, I will use Enjoy Life brand chocolate chips. This is an ideal recipe to cook up for your valentine or eat by the pan-full using only a spatula. We here at the Deb Ball don’t judge.
Happy Valentine’s Eve to you all and to all a sweet bite!
I’m a huge fan of cover art. I can’t even count how many books I’ve bought for the covers alone.
I’m also a fan of cupcakes – which I often refer to as “happiness on a plate.”
Imagine my joy when Deb Dana sent the rest of us an early peek at her cover art – and this arrived in my inbox!
Cupcake!!! And cover art pretty enough to eat!
The joy continued when I received my ARC of THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS – which I admit I carried around all day simply so I could look at that cupcake cover. (Photograph or it didn’t happen? Here you go:)
Her book … my mug, printer, and photo (that’s me with my dad – I’m the bald one).
When I started reading Dana’s book, I quickly realized there was more to love about it than just the cover. The protagonist, Hannah Sugarman, is super-creative and talented in the kitchen (a trait I suspect she shares with her creator) and a genius when it comes to evoking memories with food. As I read about Hannah’s secret supper club menus, and the way she used different foods to call up memories, times, and places, I found myself transported not only to Hannah’s experiences but to memories of my own.
I remembered the day my teenage son decided to cook us dinner. He made us pizzas:
I remembered acting as cupcake chauffeur for a recent wedding:
And I remembered older memories, too – for which I have images only in my mind.
Although it was the cover that grabbed me first, I savored every page of Dana’s story. Hannah is a hilarious, realistic heroine that I related to on so many levels, and the story had me laughing out loud (my husband came running twice to find out why) and cringing in sympathy with Hannah when things went terribly wrong. The ending was unexpected, and wonderful, and fun – like the cover and like Dana herself.
So … how do YOU feel about cupcakes? Do you have a favorite bakery or flavor? Let us know in the comments for a chance to win Deb Dana’s great contest prize!
Last week to celebrate the launch of Deb Kerry’s debut, BETWEEN, I posted a recipe inspired by the book.
But with Deb Dana’s Delicious Debut, there’s just no way to compete with the tempting food stylings of her main character, Hannah Sugarman, would-be chef and culinary law-breaker. I mean, this woman, real or not, can cook. And then, to top it off, Deb Dana has littered the back of the book with recipes for delicious sounding morsels like braised green beans and Commissary carrot cake and turkey leg confit.
So you know exactly what to eat while reading THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS. But what should you drink?
Let me take you through it, step by step.
In the beginning of the book, our heroine Hannah is off to visit her boyfriend’s parents. These people could potentially be her in-laws so she’s got to get this right. To knock their socks off, she brings a towering carrot cake that sounds like it would take me six days to make. But as a reader I can practically taste it. What pairs with imaginary carrot cake?
Real Sauternes, of course!
Sauternes are dessert wines–not off-dry, just straight-up sweet– made from rich, honeyed grapes. A good one is balanced–as in it will have enough acid to cut through the ooey gooey cream cheese frosting but enough sweetness to mingle happily with all the sugar of the carrot cake itself. But there’s more! A wine-steward friend taught me that you don’t always have to spend big to get a Sauternes-style experience, just in case you want Dupont Circle townhouse for Dupont Circle basement prices. In fact, if you can track down a varietal from Loupiac like this one for just fifteen buckaroos, you will probably get some notes of gingerbread that pick up the spices in the carrot cake! Bonus!
It’s not long in THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS before Hannah is cooking up brisket. BRISKET! That most perfect of foods–and there’s a recipe too! Sure, you can guzzle Manischewitz with your perfectly tender, melt-in-your mouth hunks of beef and veg. But if you’re not keeping kosher, may I heartily recommend a malty full-bodied porter poured lovingly into a small glass for sipping? I like one from Great Lakes brewing company called the Edmund Fitzgerald–but only one, this beer is no joke. If, like Hannah, you live closer to DC than BC, Smuttynose in New Hampshire and The Samuel Adams mega-brewery both make American porters I’ve enjoyed.
Now, as tends to happen in every great work of fiction, the cake does hit the fan for poor Hannah. At one of her lower moments, we see her sitting in a bar, nursing her emotional pain with a martini or six. I don’t know about you but I can’t read a bathroom sign much less a novel after a good martini, so what can we taste to keep up with Hannah while still seeing straight?
Howabout one of my guiltiest pleasures, the Vodka Cupcake. Yes, this is a real thing. You know how vodka makes pie crusts tender and perfect? Well, the same holds true of storebought yellow cake mix. Just add two Tablespoons of vodka in place of some of the added liquid required by the box (if it’s milk or water, replace another two tablespoons with Kahlua and you will love me forever) and mix up the same as usual. Once baked, add silly amounts of lemon zest to homemade or storebought frosting, and voila, Martini Cupcakes with a Twist. Ok, so technically this is something to eat. But I take comfort in knowing Hannah Sugarman would never ever use storebought cake mix. So we’re not competing with her here so much as just waving the white flag in utter surrender.
If, after all of this, you’re still thirsty, why don’t you join me in opening up a decent bottle of Prosecco and toasting Deb Dana for writing such a delicious and thirsty-making read. May all your copies sell out and may your cup runneth over with good reviews, and may you write many more wonderful and hilarious and just plain tasty reads for your hungry fans!
Thirsty? What’s your favorite sip while reading? Coffee? Tea? Wine from a box? Comment to enter to win Deb Dana’s book, some cupcake mix that needs no vodka to spruce up, and a hand-written recipe card from the author herself!
I’m a fan of things that we in this house refer to as “woo woo,” just as long as they don’t get too close and personal. It’s all well and good to watch Ghost Hunters or Ghost Whisperer or whatever on TV – but I don’t want to wake up in the morning and accidentally step in a puddle of ectoplasmic goo on my way to the coffee pot. Not in my bare feet, thank you. Not before I’m caffeinated.
Okay – really just not ever. I’d much prefer to get the little shivers of distant fear by listening to a ghost story without ever encountering the ghost.
The same thing goes for dreams. I enjoy dreaming for the most part, although those dreams where all of my teeth fall out, or I’ve inexplicably gained a hundred pounds, lost all my hair, and find myself walking around naked in a public place because somehow it didn’t seem important to get dressed before leaving the house – those I could do without. I would also cheerfully skip the nightmares, not that I have many these days. Because one thing about dreams is this – even when I know it was just a dream, the experience of the dream stays with me as part of memory and reality. The fear remains, or the ecstasy. I know how it feels to fly, thanks to dreams, and I’m not likely ever to forget.
When I was a little girl, no more than 4 or 5, I’d guess, something happened that scared me for years afterward.
I was lying snug in bed with my stuffed dog, when a rhythmic thudding, drumming sound started. A little man appeared – no more than six inches tall – wearing a suit and a top hat. He began to walk the winding circle of the rag rug on my floor, moving in time to the drumming sound. That was it – nothing threatening on the surface of things. He didn’t threaten me, didn’t even look at me; he was intent on his marching. And yet I was terrified. I tried to tell my mother about it, and then my older brother. They told me I’d been dreaming.
But I wasn’t dreaming, I was sure of it. In retrospect, I think that is why I was frightened. In a dream, a small man marching around on your rag rug might be funny or just a curiosity. But a creature of dream made real was a terror that lived with me for years.
Logic finally dictated that since little men do not exist in the adult world, it follows that this event must have been a dream. And yet, somewhere deep inside where my wide-eyed inner child still looks out into a world filled with mystery, I believe that this was no dream. No matter what anybody says, no matter what I know as an adult to be true, my child self believes with unshakeable faith that this thing really happened, just as she knows that she could fly, if only she remembered the knack.
And who am I to argue with a child?
Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real you found yourself doubting that it was a dream?
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Ellen Marie Wiseman was born and raised in Three Mile Bay, a tiny hamlet in Northern New York, A first generation American, Ellen has traveled frequently to visit her family in Germany, where she fell in love with the country’s history and culture. She lives peacefully on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and three dogs.
Told from one of the best vantage points for witnessing the first cruelties and final ruin of the Third Reich—the German home front—THE PLUM TREE is an epic story of human resilience and enduring hope that follows a young German woman through the chaos of WWII as she tries to save the love of her life, a Jewish man.
Welcome Ellen, and thank you for taking the Deb Interview. First question: Where do you love to be?
Home. I grew up traveling, especially to Germany, and still love to go when I can. But there’s nothing like coming home to your own bed. For fifteen years, my husband and I had a 30 ft. motor home and we had a great time traveling around the country with our kids. The best thing about a motor home is that you take ‘home’ with you wherever you go. From Florida to Maine, we slept in our own bed and showered in our own bathroom. Unfortunately, our financial circumstances changed and we had to get rid of our motor home. We miss it tremendously, especially when we have to travel and stay in hotels. I can never sleep the first night.
What time of day do you love best?
I love evenings best, when my work is done and it’s time for a long walk, a home-cooked meal, a good book, or a few hours spent with my guilty pleasure (Bravo TV). Weekend evenings are even better because that’s when the hubby and I go to the movies, out to dinner with friends, or to visit our beautiful grandbabies. I like mornings too, especially when it’s snowing and I can make a cup of tea and cuddle beneath a blanket with my dogs while I write. Sunday mornings are good, too. Oh hell, any morning I wake up is a great one!
Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
In THE PLUM TREE, when Christine is sent to Dachau for hiding her Jewish boyfriend, a number is tattooed on her wrist. The number is a date, one that changed my life forever. It’s the day my sister suffered a severe head injury in a car accident. After two weeks on life support, she was left in a persistence vegetative state. My mother took care of her at home—for twenty-three years.
Do you have any phobias?
Just one—flying. I’m not really afraid of anything else. I used to pick up spiders and snakes and chase my older brother around the yard. In our old farmhouse I used to catch the mice and take them out in the field to let them go. When the neighbor’s two-ton bull got loose, I led it home with a bucket of grain. My neighbor thought I’d lost my mind. Once I had to break up a fight between the neighbor’s untrained stallion and my gelding after the stallion jumped the fence and attacked my mare. When my grown son and his friends were working on a car in the garage, they came inside to get me to chase a possum out from behind some boards. I jump off boats in the middle of eighty-foot deep lakes. But even though I grew up going to Germany on a regular basis, I’m still afraid to fly. I’ll do it, but it’s hard for me.
What’s your next big thing?
Book two is about a young woman who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the owner of an old steamer truck after finding hundreds of suitcases in the attic of an old asylum, luggage left behind by patients who checked into the institution but never checked out.
We are honored to have had Ellen at the Ball today! If you want to learn more about Ellen, visit her on:
or at her website.
And don’t forget to order your copy of THE PLUM TREE at your local indie or online.
Want to win a free copy of THE PLUM TREE? Ellen has generously offered a copy to one randomly chosen commenter below! Good luck!
Ah, I have such fond memories of the query process. Formulating a hook. Trying to cram all of the important story elements into a paragraph so perfectly written that any agent could see this was the best and most wonderful book ever, an absolute must read. Such wonderful productive hours reading websites and databases to research agents, their wants, their likes and dislikes, what genres interested them, how they wanted their queries formatted.
And then, when all of the dutiful research was done, the thrill of pushing the send button and launching that marvelous query out into the unknown. Followed, obviously, by a swarm of requests. Oh the enthusiasm, the positive comments, the elevation of my self esteem -
Wait. “Scratch that, reverse that,” as Willy Wonka said.
Truth: I suck at queries. Big time.
The thrill that went with pushing the send button was one of terror. Most of the responses that popped up in my email from agents said, quite politely and formulaically, “No thank you.” Occasional requests for partials and fulls all led to dead ends. There were some tears on my end, some moments of despair. In fact, at the time when my luck changed, I was about ready to give up on Between. I’d already revised it several times since beginning the query process. It was a good book, I thought, but maybe it would have to wait. Maybe another book would be the one to make the breakthrough and it was time to move on.
And then serendipity intervened. Between caught the interest of an editor who was keeping an eye on Book Country, where I had posted the first couple of chapters. Within the course of a week I went from querying-hopeful to agented-with-a-publishing-deal.
As it turns out, chances are good that my wonderful agent, Deidre Knight, and I would have hooked up eventually. She had read the chapters of Between on Book Country too, and liked it. In fact, I’d been invited to query her but the query got lost somehow in transition. I’m glad we connected when we did, and I’m so grateful to have her experienced, kind, guiding hand on my career. She is the perfect agent for me. Looking back now, I’m glad everybody else said no. I truly believe that Between and I are precisely where we need to be.
For anybody out there who might be querying, I’m not much for advice in the query department. It was not my forte. But this one thing I can tell you
Don’t quit. If you truly have given querying your best shot with one book and haven’t found your agent, then try again with another. Don’t give up. Because sometimes, when you work really, really hard, you get lucky.
I know, because it happened to me.