Is Your Novel a Rust Bucket? Mine Is!

I’ve been thinking a lot about cars lately. I love cars. My dad used to custom-build race cars, and he restored his own Model A. My dream is to rescue a ’76 Triumph Spitfire and restore it (along with several other British cars like the Jensen, the Sunbeam Alpine, the Sprite, the . . . ) 🙂 Plus, I’ve been researching them for my YA novel, looking at exactly how you drop a large engine in a small car and modify it so that it isn’t immediately apparent what you’ve done, and how that affects the rest of the car’s body and its performance.

I’ve also been rewriting the first two books of my urban fantasy series. I just finished rewrites on the first one, and it went to my betas on Thursday (YAY!); now I’ve started on Book 2, which used to be Book 1. And what I have, I realized, is a great big rust heap.

Driving Lessons

When you get an old car, nine times out of ten it’s not complete. You might have a body and frame, but no engine or transmission. You might have a frame OR a body, and maybe the transmission but no engine or interior. So you have to go to swap meets, get online, find other “parts cars,” and sometimes manufacture things yourself. That’s where I am with this novel. So much of it has to change — not only is it going from third person to first, but the entire timeline is changing, getting shorter. That means a lot of scenes have to go, or be rewritten and re-purposed. Moved elsewhere. Some of it simply isn’t usable.

What I have is a frame — the basic story line, the plot, the characters. And I’ve got the engine and transmission — the conflict, the inciting incident, the rising tension. I have a few doors and instruments, and a steering wheel — scenes that I can rewrite and use.

Now, I have to go find my parts cars. Dig through old drafts and locate things that might be usable. Those, I can slowly weld together. Rough at first, yes. Welds always are. But then you sand down the seams — your rewrites, your transitions between scenes. You make sure everything’s aligned — all your scenes are in place, everything’s been referenced in the right order, the story progresses naturally and chronologically.

After several drafts, you have something that looks like a story, just like when you get the body put on the frame and the engine and transmission dropped in, you have something that looks like a car. But are you done? Nope! Let’s say that car’s been sitting in a field for forty years. Mice and rats have eaten the upholstery and wiring. Hail finally broke out the windows. Rain ruined the walnut dashboard and rusted out the floorboards. All that has to be replaced, brand-new. Just like I have scenes that will need to be written fresh, just for this novel. So now I get to do all new wiring. Order the new dash. Pick out the upholstery color and material. Make it all match the original, as close as possible. Of course, this isn’t going to be original — we’re going custom. So I have a little leeway with a few things.

Some people would be happy with that. The car’s now running. You have seats and headlights — it’s done, right? No! Now, you have to choose the paint, put on several coats to get that deep, glossy finish, sanding it down between coats to make sure the next one goes on just right. You have to make sure every stitch in the interior is exactly right. That the stain on the woodwork is even, deep, glossy, satin-smooth. This is coachwork. This isn’t an assembly-line, cookie-cutter car. This is your novel! It shouldn’t be like anyone else’s, and it shouldn’t be less than perfect. Not a single flaw can be allowed to exist in the finish, or in that walnut dash. The engine must be spotless. The pinstripes, absolutely straight; no drips, no differences in the thickness of the lines, no hesitations. This is the editing phase. Just like this attention to detail is what separates a good car from a concourse car, this same attention to detail is what separates the okay novel from the great one.

I remember when my dad brought home his Model A, it was nothing more than a frame, two doors, and pieces of a rusty engine. My mom looked at it and said “What the . . .?!” But he knew what it could be. He had a vision for what it would look like, already. That’s where I am with this novel. I have a lot of parts sitting around, but I know where they need to go and I know what I need to do in order to restore it properly.  

To the woman who called me today . . . from # (888) 978-7818

I promise, after this week, I will be back to regularly scheduled programming. But just now, I have a PSA to post about a particular scammer that I tangled with today.

They called my cell phone seeking someone who is related to me. The first time, they left a voice mail; the second, I answered but they hung up immediately (in fact, my phone registered it as a missed call); the third time, another voice mail. Both voice mails stated they were from “Linda Garcia” and that this relative had a bounced check and it was going to court (they knew what city he lives in), and that he needed to call them about his rights before it went to court. The second one gave his address (I don’t know that it really IS his address, to be honest) and said the subpoena would be sent out unless he called them by 3pm.

When I called them back, someone answered and I asked to speak to Linda Garcia. The person who answered immediately asked what it was about. I said this was about a phone number that was not related to one of her cases and — that was as far as I got. He assured me the number would be deleted from the file. I asked for the company name; he said he couldn’t give me that information. I asked again to speak to Linda Garcia. He kept repeating, over my voice, that my number would be removed. Didn’t even ask for the “case number!”

I called back 3 times. The first and second time, he hung up. The third time, he didn’t even answer, just transferred me.

The woman who answered was EXTREMELY RUDE.To the point of being ludicrous. When I asked repeatedly for the name of the company, she repeatedly refused to give it to me. She would not give me her name. She would not transfer me to Linda Garcia. She would not say if she was Linda Garcia or not. I wouldn’t either, if I was a piece of slime like that, but hey. You gotta try.

Finally, I’d had enough and said, “Look. If this shows up on my credit report in any way, I WILL find out who you are and I WILL sue you,” and hung up. SHE CALLED ME RIGHT BACK. The first words out of her mouth were, “You do NOT threaten me and then hang up on me!” Real professionals, these guys. Then, “How dare you call me and harass me and my people at our place of business?” Really? How dare YOU, madam, to call and harass me on my personal cell phone? How dare YOU scam people out of money that they actually earned? How dare you bilk people out of money that they earned with a — gasp! — REAL JOB?

She accused me of lying and threatening them; she would NOT give me the name of the company — finally after many, many demands, she said, “It’s BHA. B as in Boy, H as in Hill, and A as in attitude, which you are giving me right now and I don’t appreciate it!”

By the way, Madam Rude, here’s the definition of “facetious,” since you clearly don’t know it: “treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor; flippant.” If you can explain to me just how I was being flippant today, please, I invite you to do so here and now, on this blog. I was being many things, but trust me, “flippant” wasn’t even in the Top Ten. I was angry. Belligerent. Verbose. Frustrated bordering on furious. But not facetious, thank you.

How do these people sleep at night? Seriously. I invite – no, I dare – anyone in the scamming industry to come here, to this blog, and post a response to this question. How do you sleep at night? How can you live with yourself, look your kids in the eye, go to work every day, with a clear conscience? Do you simply have no soul? Has it been burned out of you? Is that part of your initiation process into the world of scamming, something that happens when you go through job training? Do you go to church every week and lie to those around you?

How do you sleep at night? Seriously. How can you sleep at night knowing that the only way in which you make money is to scam people who go out, get an education, find a job, and EARN theirs? How can you sleep at night, knowing that the money in your bank account is illegally gained? Let’s call it what it is: it’s stolen. Bilked. Scammed. From people who earned it.

How do you sleep at night? On sheets purchased with illegal money? In a house purchased with illegal money? Do you buy your kids’ school clothes with that same money? Your car? Your morning coffee?

I hope this has helped at least one person know that this number is nothing more than a scam, and I REALLY hope that this helps bring these people down. And I will be interested to see if anyone does take me up on my dare.

Dear Students . . .

As we are approaching another school year, I know some people are going back as new adult learners; others are going to college directly out of high school. Some are taking courses just for continuing education.

I’ve been an adjunct college instructor for eight years. I’ve seen almost everything. The following is a list of things I think all students should know before they start school

1.) YOU ARE NOT A CUSTOMER. The fact that you pay tuition does not make you a customer.  It gives you the privilege of attending a college, abiding by its rules, doing your work, and earning a grade.

2. THE SYLLABUS IS A CONTRACT. When you enroll in college, you basically enter into a contract with the institution — you will pay tuition, and in return, you are — again — given the privilege of attending classes and doing the work. When you enroll in a particular course, the syllabus you receive is a contract between you and the instructor. The deadlines, protocols, rules, expectations, assignments, and schedule are laid out ahead of time. Choosing to enroll and stay in that course means you have given your assent and consent to that syllabus — and thus, to everything in it. If you can’t abide by the deadlines, rules, etc., then do not stay in that class.

3.) THE INSTRUCTOR HAS A LIFE. I admit that every instructor is different, but the fact is — we all have lives. Believe it or not, your teacher is not a robot that gets shoved into a closet at the end of the day and powered back on in the morning. They go home to families, pets, often other jobs, grading, problems. If they do not respond to your email within ten seconds, that means they are busy doing something else. Often, they will have a policy in their syllabus about timelines for responses. If it says “I return emails within 48 hours,” do not expect that they will necessarily respond to yours within two hours.

4.) YOU ARE NOT OWED A GRADE. Please refer to #1. That tuition you pay does not guarantee you anything other than that you will be able to a.) attend class, b.) do the work, and c.) get the grade you earn. If you don’t turn in work on time — or you turn in substandard work — or you don’t attend class or do the assigned readings or whatever — then you shouldn’t expect a good grade.

5.) DEADLINES ARE DEADLINES. Do not ask the instructor for an extension. You know when things are due. It’s in the syllabus. Or if it’s not, you should ask when things are due. That’s your responsibility. Get a planner. Put things in your cell phone’s calendar. Heck, get a wall calendar and a red marker if you need to, but pay attention to the deadlines. Think about it this way:  if you missed a deadline at work, what would your boss say? My guess is something along the lines of, “You’re fired.” Now. Why should your teacher say anything different?

6.) I AM NOT A BARISTA. THIS IS NOT STARBUCKS. Enrolling in a class does not give you the right to treat your instructor as your employee. They am not. You are paying for their expertise,  knowledge, and time. In return, they expect respect. In fact . . .

7.) BEING A STUDENT IS A LOT LIKE BEING AN EMPLOYEE. Your employer expects certain things from you:  be on time, be respectful, dress appropriately, behave appropriately, treat everyone else with respect, pay attention, etc. Your instructor expects the same things. Just imagine that when you come to class, you’re coming to work.

8.) PUT THE FREAKING CELL PHONE AWAY. You will live without your cell phone for an hour. And if you can’t, then maybe you need to be in an online class. And going along with that . . .

9.) CONTACT YOUR INSTRUCTOR ONLY AS THEY TELL YOU TO. If they give you their cell phone number and tell you not to text them, don’t text them. If they tell you not to call between certain hours, don’t. If they tell you to email them only through your LMS, don’t email them in any other manner. Remember, there’s a reason why they’ve laid down those rules. Some instructors allow — even encourage — phone calls; others don’t. Some prefer to have the permanency of email. Whatever policies they have in place, follow them.

10.) RESPECT YOUR INSTRUCTOR. Most instructors are there because they care, they want to teach, and they love their subject. Most instructors respect their students unless you give them a reason not to. Being disrespectful to them is the surest way to make sure you lose their respect in return. Do not go above their heads. Do not argue about every little thing you don’t like. Don’t be OCD. Think for yourself. Follow instructions. Really, this is common sense.

11.) DON’T BE ENTITLED. You are not entitled to anything in a class. The only thing you are entitled to is this:  to show up, do your best work, and be given a grade accordingly. That’s it.


The Perils of Procrastination

I have to admit, this is one of those weeks when I feel I haven’t accomplished anything or have anything interesting to share! I haven’t written very much (though I did go back through old drafts and try to pick up the pieces of a novel) and I did meet with my writing group (which was, ahem, not exactly productive, especially since — cough — I’ve sort of started revisions and realize I have more to go before I can give the revised MS to my beta!).

I did go to some rummage sales and picked up some fantastic pieces for my store. Great vintage handkerchiefs and vintage gloves from the 1950s. I went to a local museum and did some research there — by the way, if you’re researching the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots, they have some unpublished photos at the Top of Oklahoma Museum in Blackwell, OK! I urged them to get them scanned and posted online for historians, but I’m not sure they actually will. Then I stopped at one of my “happy places,” Ashby’s Antique Mall in Blackwell, where I picked up some fantastic 1920s purses and a 1930s umbrella, and my personal favorite, a photo album with some sweet photos and a new mystery to solve. But that will have to wait a bit . . .

This week on PBS, “Secrets of the Dead” was about the Mona Lisa mystery. In it, they said that da Vinci hardly ever finished anything, even paintings, because he would get bored with them. Most of these were commissions, mind you! And he’d just walk away, or let one of his apprentices finish it up. I’m glad to know that someone as great as da Vinci had that habit. It makes me feel better about my own varied and — at times — oppositional interests.

Deep down, I know I’m procrastinating. I have a novel to finish. The last line came to me this week, as I was making a salad for supper. Chopping up the tomatoes and — there it was. I’ve been researching it. I’ve been reading the old drafts. I had a self-imposed deadline of August 1 to finish it. I doubt that is going to happen. So I’m burying myself in my online store and in research, to avoid the inevitable:  sitting down, slipping back into Nicky’s voice, and finishing his story, his way. Even this post is procrastination!

So here and now, I’m saying:  I’m going to actually write this week. I can’t pin myself down to how much, but I’m going to separate my draft into the three sections I know the novel needs, and that will help me see where I need to start marrying scenes and what needs to be be filled in. I also have some major structural changes to make to my other novel before Tuesday, when my beta expects to see it. And grading. And . . .


A Passport’s Journey

I love rummage sales, yard sales, garage sales, boot sales (for my British side), and estate sales. I can’t tell you how many really cool things I’ve brought home from those sales. Most of it I have no plans for, but they’re just too cool to leave behind.

And then there’s the special items. The ones you can’t leave behind no matter what. The ones that haunt you until you turn the car around and go back, praying it’s still on the table where you last saw it — if you’re stupid enough not to snap it up then and there and cradle it to you all the way home. It’s not an experience I have often these days, but last weekend, I had it — with quite possibly the most special item I’ve ever found at a sale.

It’s a simple US passport, a mild burgundy in color with gold embossing. Big deal, you say? Maybe. Keep reading, though.

It was carried by a man named Ernest W. Reid, and used between 1936 and 1939.

Now does it make sense? Here, maybe this will make it more clear:  he was in England on September 3, 1939.

If that date doesn’t ring a bell, then your history teacher needs to be fired. If it does, then your hands are probably shaking like mine were when I picked this up and saw that stamp. Because this man was in Dover, England, on the very day England declared war on Germany. Starting World War II.

The next stamp is just as chilling in its finality:  No Return to United Kingdom. He had fourteen days to leave the UK.

For me, a historian who is passionate about finding and saving these scraps of history, this passport is not just ink and paper:  it’s a wormhole. I can look at these images and know where Ernest Reid was at any given point on his journeys. He wasn’t just in England; he was in Oslo, Brussels, Paris, and yes, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. You want chills down the spine? Try flipping a page and seeing a bright red swastika stamped there. I don’t know how many people have looked at this passport since that moment, but to me, I can look at that stamp and I don’t see all those other hands; I see that one hand, holding that one stamp. That one Nazi immigration officer, looking Ernest Reid in the eye as he checks the passport photo against the man standing before him, asking his business in Germany and his duration of stay, before he stamps that passport and hands it back to Reid.

So I’m on a quest. I needed another, obviously. My urban fantasy series, my fourteen-year old rumrunner, my Etsy store, my 13 classes, and my cats and horses — oh, and my OTHER historical research project! — clearly aren’t enough. I want to know more about this Reid, and I’m going to document my findings in this blog. It won’t be every week, but stay tuned — I’m determined to find out just why this guy was in the Sudetenland in 1938, and why he was in Germany just weeks after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

And why on earth he happened to be in England on such a pivotal day.