Monday, July 30, 2012

Little Miss Editor

Our first editor practices the dreaded stink eye as a youngster

At some point, over 90,000-plus words were making Judy and me feel as though we were giving Tolstoy a run for his money in wordcount.

It was time to face the chilling reality -- to girder our literary loins and turn Hot Cross Buns over to another set of eyes.

Mary, our dot-every-i friend, work cohort and grammarian was the obvious choice.  Even better, she wanted to do it! 

Four months later we got it back.  Sweet gawd, did she pour her strict Catholic, "Yes, Sister." "No, Sister." childhood into this one! 

HCB gave us the "stink eye" when we poured over its red-penned edits and sticky notes full of suggestions and questions. Stink eye is a term Mary uses a lot. Her dog, Ben, gives Mary and her husband, Brad, the stink eye when he senses they're packing up to leave town or a squirrel teases him halfway up a tree on his morning walk. The stink eye makes you feel like a louse. You don't want to get the stink eye.

Yep, HCB gave Judy and me the stink eye. We should have seen it coming.

It was time to redeem ourselves.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Let The Games Begin

Scones vs Hot Cross Buns

But first., a plug for Coach Judy's sport, badminton.  It's a little-known Olympic sport. It looks kind of like this:

Man who looks like Pee Wee Herman going for the "birdie" wearing a cool outfit

With the London Olympics opening this evening, it seemed appropriate to take note of the event in slowreadtoasunburn.

This is going to be a broad jump.  Pun intended.

With the exception of a couple of characters going out on a casual run/jog, there is absolutely zero athletic activity in HCB. The most energy expended by any characters, aside from the sex we leave to the readers imagination (June 10), is that of the heroine, Ellen, the owner of a bakery.

Her big sellers are scones.

She doesn't even make hot cross buns, which begs the question why we titled our book Hot Cross Buns. That story will be told another time. (Would you title a fiction novel, Scones?  Doubt it. No snap there.

Coincidentally, scones and hot cross buns share British origins, scones as a British quick bread traditionally hailing from Scotland. Hot cross buns have a complex history. Cliff Note version: Like everything else (and very Olympics - appropriate) some say the origin of hot cross buns is Greek -- like the Olympics! The Saxons ate them. The Anglo Saxon thing happened, hence the British connection.

Scone vs Hot Cross Buns competition is a timed event.  It isn't a gymnastics event, which is subjectively scored.  I'm a times, heights and goals spectator. Maybe James Beard would subjectively score Scone vs Hot Cross Buns, but any competition that involves cleaning one's palette is not of Olympic stature. Sorry. Thems the breaks.

Let the games begin!

NOTE: Each was baked using British recipes.

Prep time:
Scones: 15 minutes. 
Hot Cross Buns: 15 minutes

The suspense is palpable!

Cook time:
Scones: 15 minutes
Hot Cross Buns: 3 hours 30 minutes

What the????

And the first medal of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games goes to Scones!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's Your Book About?

 Judy and Sarah when presented with the question: What is your book about?

What is your book about? A polite, appropriate, should be welcomed question for authors.  But, I'll be hanged, Judy and I still sputter when trying to articulate a response. We were (okay, still are) greenhorns at trying to give a cogent, succinct answer to this piercing inquiry.

We'd amassed about 70,000 words over four years (actual writing time -- maybe four months), burned through two laptops and reams of paper.  Of course people were going to ask what we were penning.

After copious prereads by patient friends and relatives, edits, rewrites, etc., the following is a slightly abbreviated version of  the performance we engage in when ask "What's your book about?

Of course, we start talking at the same time. The first sentence is kind of a duet.  "It's a women's commercial fiction novel."  (A workshop director gave us that description, thank God. At least we had something to toss out there.)

Next, one of us (in one breath) says something like "It's about a woman whose husband dies young and she opens a bakery and all these characters come and go in her life."  In hindsight, I'm surprised we don't add, "and the sex part leaves a lot to the reader's imagination."

At this point, whoever is talking usually starts to look like she strangling on her words and looks wide-eyed to her co-authorette for help. An attempt is made to grab the baton and make good with an articulate run to the finish.

Never happens.

Instead there is an almost monosyllabic speed talk:  "Dock book."  "Beach read." "Fun read." "Not Chick-lit" a.k.a. girly lit. (We were reprimanded by a couple of literary types for referring to HCB as "Chick-lit." "It's a novel.")

Sometimes I think listening to Judy and I talk about writing HCB it is more entertaining than the book itself.  This is not a good marketing strategy.

Me and Ethel must work on our delivery.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fifty Shades of Pink

Grey? Naaaaa, not even close. We had to go with pink.

Sister Shella Marie, as mentioned in the July 12 post, taught creative writing at Marycliff High School. I neglected to add a significant footnote.  She did not teach us to write about sex. That gaping hole in her syllabus became glaringly obvious when it came to writing "sex scenes" in Hot Cross Buns.

Even Judy, the product of fine midwestern public schools who runs from nothing, turned a few shades of pink when we discussed the stark reality that a few of our characters were headed toward you know what (sex). We wrote around it for at least four years.  Our characters remained sexually stifled.

I was the first to hit the stretch of black ice that bolted two of our characters, Clare and Joe, somewhere in the vicinity of a bedroom. Hey, I'm a good Catholic girl.  My face was solidly in the dark pink range.  Having never written about sex, I did the first real research required for HCB.  I Googled "How to write a sex scene."

Well, that was a waste of time. I found no secret formula to writing about you know what.

I read about sex and sexual pleasure. (FYI, sexual pleasure is a gift of God. Thanks tons, God, but that revelation wasn't worth squat in helping me write about you know what.)  I spent an hour skimming a 12-step plan to help the writer steer clear of pornography and keep the "erotic buzz buzzing."  They were very long steps.

Eventually, I had a revelation. I beckoned back to bit of knowledge my mom, Weezie, passed along to me about sex in literature. The time was probably in junior high, when my reading tastes started to stray from childhood biographies like Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin. I'm sure I remember this vividly because I'm pretty sure it was the only discussion about sex -- in any way, shape or form -- I had with mom.

Mom, a voracious reader, said when writing about sex good writers leave room for the reader's imagination.

BINGO! Thank you Weezie!  Judy and I were good to go in the you know what department.
The you know what scenes in HCB require readers to use their imagination -- and sense of humor.  The three blog followers we have in France may find us prudish.  I'm sure the one follower in Bulgaria will hit delete on slowreadtoasunburn.

I say good riddance. Sister Shella Marie, and mom, would be proud.

PS: Quite some time ago, I Googled hot cross buns. Hundreds of recipes of the famed baked treat associated with Easter flooded my computer. And then, after several pages, the search took a sharp left and photos of baked Easter treats switched to photos of girls' bums. I turned a very dark shade of pink and worried people would think our pithy little read was porn.  Oh, the burden of writing fine literature.  Again, think pink.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dock Reading Techniques

Julie, Mary, Chris and Marnie model stellar dock reading techniques

Now that the hot, tic-pickin' days of summer have hit the Pacific Northwest, I re-affirm -- quite definitively -- dock books rule!

Allow me to point out some dock reading techniques that will make your floating literary experience more enjoyable. What better guides than the O'Neill sisters, above?
1. Footwear: Notice Julie, Mary and Chris are utilizing the benefit of flops or sandals.  These women  know docks can get hotter than holy water on asphalt. Marnie (far right) obviously has asbestos feet.  Take heed, unless you want heels that look like blown tires by September, keep footwear close by. Footwear also helps in the sliver department.

2. Shorts: These middle-aged women are North Idaho stylin' --  in shorts, thank you very much. Only those under the age of 30 dare sit on the dock doing anything in a bathing suit. Next time you're out on the dock look around. I rest my case. Enough said on that.

3. Chairs:  This is where beach and dock reading marry.  Docks become hard on the tush after about 30 minutes.  Low-slung beach chairs are critical, not only for butt preservation, but also to keep the reader from getting sea sick.  The higher up you are, the more you rock.  You get it.

4. Eye gear: Again, notice Marnie. She is wearing her sunglasses AND reading glasses.  This is a very acceptable practice today. If anyone makes fun of you, kick them in the lake -- with their book.

5. Headwear: It's reader's pick when it comes to headwear. Julie (far left) and Marnie are hatless. Mary (second from left) totes a visor.  Chris opts for a baseball hat. Personally, I go hatless. Hats make me feel like I'm sitting in a manhole. If you have a good thicket of hair, I say go for it. If you feel like your eyes are being sucked out of your head, I suggest Mary and Chris' options.

6. Timing: These sisters are enjoying the late afternoon for their dock read at Hayden Lake.  Why?  Because everyone else is off the dock.  Boat traffic sometimes slows at this time of day and waves are less likely to hammer the dock. Boat wake can rock the dock, thus rendering you nauseous. It's one of the few hazards of dock reading.

7.  Hydration:  It looks like Julie, Mary, Chris and Marnie are enjoying water and perhaps a barley pop.  Hydration, hydration, hydration! However, on the dock, stick to water, pop or beer.  You look like a fool if you're drinking anything more high brow.

8.  Talking:  Now, I know this is a group of women  and they do not lack for words, but notice they are abiding by the rule of the dock read:  Keep your yap shut when more than two people are reading.

I still debate dock reading over beach reading (June 12, 2012).  But I know one thing for sure, not one of the O'Neill girls has sand in her hind end.  Top that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Importance of Shoes

Imelda Marcos and a shoe

  "I did not have 3,000 pair of shoes. I had 1,060."
 Imelda Marcos, 1987

Remember Imelda Marcos, the famed widow of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos?  If you don't, think shoes.

Yes, I know, Imelda's also known for her husband's downhill tumble to eventual exile in -- what a bummer for them -- Hawaii.  And let's not forget the racketeering charges.

But really, it's all about the shoes.

I mention Imelda's shoe fetish only because she crept into my head early on in the writing of Hot Cross Buns.   Every time I got my hands on a character (Judy and I tossed them back and forth like a  bowl of spicy hot Filipino fish sauce.), I put shoes on them!  I took great care selecting shoes I felt reflected their personalities.  Shoes were my signature tactic in character development. Is this Imeldaesque behavior?

Surely there is some psychoanalyticablel reason for consistently using shoes to more accurately define HCB characters. Like maybe the fact that growing up me and my sisters each had TWO pairs of shoes -- school (saddle) and play (boaters). I wonder what Imelda's analyst said before he or she most likely was exiled to somewhere not as nice as Hawaii.

But really, who cares? I' feel a connection with old Imelda in the shoe department. Don't shoes, along with the rest of our earthly drapings, contribute to our image?  Good or bad, I say they do.  I'm firmly in Imelda's corner on this one, even if the majority of her1,060 to 3,000 shoes were largely sparkly heels.

Rest assued, the snappiest I got in HCB was a pair of red clogs.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


This is a shout out to teachers who we remember as making us write and liking it. I asked Judy to send me a photo of her early-on literary mentor (Notice the singular reference?) and a few sentences about the person.

Judy's Response:

Mrs. Black for most inspirational to my writing.
Mr. Prouty for most likely to resemble the Wizard of Oz.

The following add-on arrived after she had a little time to wander through her yearbook and down memory lane.

 A-1 Teacher
At first, I assumed Mr. "A-I" was included for his uncanny resemblance to Omar Sharif as well as his stunning teaching talents. Judy firmly assures me he was a great teacher.

Sarah's Response:

Sister Shella Marie, FSPA (Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Admiration -- I love spelling that out!)

Sister Shella Marie was as smart as she looks.  Also as petite as she looks. And again, my theory about small people having umphpa holds true. If she looks frail, believe me, she wasn't. Nuns can fool you that way. She stood firm in her little black nun shoes. She shared her love of literature (and obviously, God) in a firm way.

Writing was serious stuff at Marycliff High School. Almost as serious as God.  My respect for Sr. Shella Marie grew exponentially my freshman year of college when, to my surprise, I could read and talk about literature! Sr. Shella Marie also made me jealous of good writers.

Oh, and she also taught me how to write a wicked term paper, with footnotes!

Notice Judy is able to respond in just two sentences.  It took me a few hundred words! Yet another example of the different way in which Judy and I approach things and, yes, perhaps yet another reason it took SIX YEARS to write HCB.  Judy is quick and to the point in her writing.  She gets it on paper and worries about tweaking later.

Me? I'm more methodical from the get go, which resulted in a lot of mental constipation. Perhaps looking for the perfection Sr. Sheila Marie -- and every other nun at Marycliff expected.

Just look at the photos.  Judy snapped two in probably one minutes.  I took about 10 shots until I got one I could live with.

Somewhere along the line, our schools of thought hit a congenial cadance.  Mrs. Black, Mr. Prouty, Mr. A-1 -- a.k.a., Omar -- and Sr. Shella Marie, thank you.

And please, grade on the curve.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Our Muse

Meet Ann, the Goddess of Inspiration (muse) of Hot Cross Buns.

In Greek mythology, muses are the source of knowledge when it comes to literature and other stuff like science. Some writers lean toward three or nine muses as absolute musts. Homer was a nine-muse guy.  Most male writers are.

Not us.  HCB is a one-muse novel.  Ann was our go-to muse from the get go. She's also my older -- not by much -- sister. She and Judy have known each other forever.

Paintings of muses depict them as pastel, surreal characters typically looking very thoughtful, or upward as though there's enlightenment stuck up in a tree.  One exception is Polyhymina, the muse of, among other things, agriculture. She's wearing a granny skirt, a little cap, and totes a shovel and hoe. This woman would make carrots grow, pronto.

 But don't let the conservative dress of our muse fool you.  Our dad nicknamed Ann "Sparky" with good reason. (The nickname has nothing to do with the red glow surrounding her head, I'm just using this photo because it is one of the few I have of her sitting.)  She moves really fast and often. Oh, and she's really little, which I think makes her think quicker, too. Oh, and she's read her fair share of beach/dock books.

If you're writing a novel, I highly recommend a no nonsense muse like Ann. You want someone who will  slam her (small) hands on the table and plea "No! No! Lillian Johnson would never put up with that! and then proceed to enlighten us to a side of our conservative octogenarian we had yet to discover.  Our muse even corrected us on what our characters would eat (Ann's a foody.) and what they'd wear (Ann knows clothes.)

If you are interviewing possible muses, ask the interviewees if they mused their younger sisters into  rearranging the furniture in their shared bedroom every Saturday morning.  If they did, you've got yourself a muse.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Zen (or lack of) and Hot Cross Buns

I've been practicing my yoga this week in my sister's North Idaho "Zen Garden."  I mention this in confession for being inattentive to slowreadtoasunburn, which redundantly brings me to yet another possible reason it took SIX YEARS to write Hot Cross Buns.

How Catholic.  How not Buddhist.

Judy and I approach yoga a lot like we approached writing HCB -- very hit and miss with a lot of laughter. And just as we never seem to attain enlightenment or a meditative state in our yoga practice, we never came close to even a flicker of enlightenment while writing HCB.  We are Zenless in both arenas.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Character Development

Judy and I did not watch this video before writing Hot Cross Buns. We preferred to write by the seat of our pants.

One thing is certain -- and I'm sure this lady never talks about this thing -- character development gets tricky when two people are doing the developing.

There are two schools of thought regarding CD. (A nun told me this so I know it's true.) The first has the author sitting down (In their perfect writing spot.) and writing without any preconceived direction the characters will travel. The writer allows the characters to develope themselves. Characters, who we found rather pesky yet essential to book writing, have their own itinerary the writer doesn't dare diddle with.

The second school of thought is the flip side to the previously mentioned school. It requires the writer to have an agenda for each character before they settle down (In their perfect writing spot.). These authors know the characters better than the characters know themselves.  Every hick-up and potty stop is predetermined from beginning to "The End."

Through the writing of Hot Cross Buns, it became clear neither Judy or myself subscribe to just one school. 

Being the well disciplined writers we are, we were strict about our free-floating approach to CD. We would abide by our dueling approach FOR SIX YEARS!