Quotations: #7

It is with noble sentiments that bad literature gets written.
-Andre Gide

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Five Star Review for Child of El Salvador

Child of El Salvador is a powerful, well-written story that I couldn’t stop reading once I started it. I was vaguely familiar with the true story this book re-tells, but the writer’s clear and evocatave style kept me turning pages, wanting to know what happened next and how this personal and international problem could possibly be solved. It is the story of a somewhat unorthodox Lutheran minister and his wife who set out to adopt a child from a war-torn country and encounter not only danger but seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. At the same time, a parallel and connected story plays out as the minister tries to help refuges who turn against him and put his life, career and family in danger.

Ms. Durant’s evocative prose transports the reader into every scene, whether it’s the bloody streets of El Salvador, the noisy midway of a state fair in the U.S., or the serenity of a church. She makes us, feel, smell and hear everything in the scene. Most importantly, she makes the reader experience the emotions of the characters–minister, bishops, children, wives and killers. If you only read one book this year, make it this one. It portrays the human condition with all its ugliness and sublimity.

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Research #1: I Won’t Know What I Need Until I Find It

On Tuesday I met with a lovely woman, Margaret Caldes, who was with her chemical engineer-husband at Los Alamos during the Mahattan Project. She is a long-time friend of Pat Sutton, a woman who is a friend and writing group member with me. Pat knew I was working on a young adult book set at the time of WWII and the development of the atomic bomb. She got me in touch with Margaret. I’d talked with Margaret on the phone, and she asked me what I was looking for. I felt rather ill at ease telling her I didn’t know, but I’d know it when I found it. I was thankful she didn’t think I was an idiot. I told her about the genesis of my book and what I saw as the main conflict. She liked my ideas.

To the meeting I took a list of things I’d already run across that weren’t clear to me. Some items she cleared up. A couple of things she didn’t know. I asked about war-rationing and eating at the lodge. Did they give their meat stamps to the lodge? She didn’t know. They didn’t eat there. “We weren’t in the higher echelon,” she said. “We couldn’t afford it.” And there, in the answer she couldn’t answer, I found something I needed.

In all of the other books and memoirs I’d read, and there were many, the authors mentioned that the scientists often ate at the lodge. I realized that those books were written by women whose husbands were the ‘name brand’ scientists, the upper echelon. One of the men of whom I’d read was her husband’s boss. For the first time, I knew that there was another level of Manhattan Project society. My understanding had been incomplete.

My main character, Dana, is fifteen. She’s uprooted from a privileged life in Evanston, IL, and lands in what’s now Los Alamos, a town with no name, few other kids her age, and no idea why they moved. She’s left her best friend with no answers to her questions. All answers are either “I don’t know,” or “I can’t tell you.” Margaret opened my eyes again by telling me that she had to leave her mother with the same non-answers. Her husband proposed over the phone and then went to New Jersey to marry her and take her back to Los Alamos. They were young. I can imagine her mother’s fears and concerns. This, too, added another level to my understanding.

This is why we research so deeply. There are things we don’t know and things we can easily get wrong without knowing it. I often don’t know what I need until I find it, but finding it is like finding treasure.

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Editing #1: Five reasons why you may need a freelance editor

We’d all like to think what we write is perfect when we’re done. We run the spell checker just in case. Look it over. Have a buddy read it. It’s ready to go, right? Maybe not yet. Hiring a freelance editor might be the best next step for your manuscript. A freelance editor charges a writer by the page or by the hour to read, correct, and make suggestions for your manuscript.
#1 If you’re sending your manuscript out to a traditional (New York) editor or agent you need to realize that publishers get thousands of submissions a year, and agents hundreds. One editor told me they’re looking for a reason to send manuscripts back with a form letter. They don’t have staff or time to read the entire submission and make suggestions unless they think it is strong enough for the acquiring editor to take it to the editorial board and put herself or himself on the line to sell it. A freelance editor can help your manuscript give them reason to keep reading.
#2 You’ve heard about submitting your book to an online publisher who will put it into the correct form and get it listed on Amazon and other e-readers in a very short time. They don’t have tricky editorial boards to please. They don’t care what your book is about. Spelling errors? They don’t see them or fix them. Plot too contrived? They don’t know; they don’t read them. A good freelance editor can make a difference by helping you make your submission grab readers’ attention on the first page.
#3 When your buddy reads it he probably will tell you it’s good. Great! We all need a pat on the back, but what your buddy won’t tell you is that your characters are the wrong age for a middle grade novel, the thriller set in Australia won’t work the way you’ve written it, the sardonic tone you wanted comes across as cruel and makes the main character unsympathetic. Freelance editors read all the time. They know the rules and which ones you can break and how. Freelance editors offer services to help you get your work ready to be published, either with traditional publishers or e-publishers.
#4 A freelance editor will not only find your typos, but will analyze the manuscript as a whole. What works? What doesn’t? Would it be better to tell all the background, which you thought was chapter one, in flashback? Does your story really start at chapter three? Can you publish a book about the three cats that allow you to live in their house? How can you make those three cats come alive for readers?
#5 A freelance editor can be a teacher. She can take pen to paper and rewrite your sentences which were okay and make them work. She can slip in sensory details where they will add to the scene and characterization. She can cut out extraneous words and find clichés. This summer I pre-judged a number of manuscripts for a contest. I wanted very much to make notes on the manuscripts, to offer suggestions that might make the manuscripts better, to tell them what a great idea they had. It wasn’t my job, I was told. I was judging. I wanted to be their freelance editor.

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Quotation: # 6

[The art of the novel] happens because the storyteller’s own experience of men and things, whether for good or ill—not only what he has passed through himself, but even events which he has only witnessed or been told of—has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart.
-Murasaki Shikibu

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Quotations: #5

All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain.

-Walt Whitman

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Letter from Norma Joy, the True Child of El Salvador

The following is an email message sent to me by Norma Joy Remer, now in her 20s, the true Child of El Salvador.

Hi Penny!
I wanted to let you know that I just finshed the book,
Child of El Salvador. My mom got me a nook for my birthday and put the book on there! The book was AMAZING! There were parts in there that had me bawling my eyes out. I don’t think I ever
realized how much my mom and dad really wanted me. It’s so different reading the story and reading what they had to go through to get me. I have heard some bits and pieces about my coming to NM but reading it was a major eye opener. Thank you so much for writing the book. You told the story so well. Even the trial part with my dad was so good. I never really knew how crazy and
scary it was for Diane and Glen. I am so thankful everything went well.
Once again THANK YOU so much for wrting the book. You are an amazing writer. 🙂

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Writing Tip #7 Olfactory Memories

   In my last “Writing Tip” post, I asked where you might have thought, “This is where I belong; this is me.” I’ve had this happen to me a few times. Once was when I pulled up to my friend Cliett’s house in the Sandias for the first time. Another time it was at the Beaver Creek overlook in SW Colorado. In seeing these two places listed together I realize that the common denominator might be forests. To be more specific, the smell of pines.
   The sense of smell carries the strongest memories. If I catch a whiff of Wind Song perfume I’m immediately sent back to my dorm room freshman year at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Either my roommate or I spilled Wind Song, and the dresser scarf soaked it up. Our room smelled like Wind Song most of the term. When I think of our dorm room the color yellow fills my memory. The fall sunlight coming in our west-facing window must have been tinted by the yellow leaves of the tree outside our building. Maybe it was the mellowness of the light.
   Think about smells that immediately take you back. Journal about them. Then think about your story and characters. What scent will bring your character feelings of home? peacefulness? contentment? fear? anger? Let me know what you come up with.

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A Box of Pandoras

I just posted a review on Amazon for Steve Brewer’s A BOX OF PANDORAS. It’s a wickedly funny murder mystery set in New Mexico and would make great airplane reading unless, like me, it makes you laugh outloud! It’s available for Kindle at Amazon and other platforms at Smashwords.com!

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Quotations: #4

Be regular and orderly in your life . . . so that you may be violent and original in your work.
-Gustave Flaubert

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