Greetings, June!

What’s with this cold weather? Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer, was cold and rainy. So that meant more time indoors, which was fine, except that I had to bundle up in a winter house dress over my sweats, just to warm up.

So what was the rest of May like?

We had the last meeting of our non-fiction food writing group the third week of May after a course of eight meetings dating back to the first week of February. Where did the time go?

I was interested to learn about an African American culinary history program on Netflix: link.

It’s based upon a book that was published sometime ago. I was even more excited to see that a woman I knew from years ago was a consultant on the program. Here’s the book.

Returning to my own food writing, I’m part of the group that will be ready to go early enough for the first publication. A number of other folks struggled to write, and I know that’s been a concern, that some of us are experienced writers, while others are totally new.

Nonfiction essay writing is so easy for me, that I didn’t have a problem with writing and getting things done on time. We’re to be done by July. I’m on my seventh draft–yes, you read that correctly! I’ll only have to tweak it here or there.

I remember taking a poetry class when I was in my early 20s. As part of a regular routine, I’d rework one poem at the start of every summer. It was a poem about the changing seasons and my favorite summer dress.

When did I first know I was a writer? It must have been junior high. I used to journal, I suppose, in my own rudimentary way.  I was a serious nerdy girl, clipping newspaper stories from my dad’s newspaper and making note of my observations. These were probably early inklings of my Meyers-Briggs INTJ type.

Nowadays, I’m likely to blog.

On the reading front, I finally catalogued all of the romance novels in my e-readers, when I’d already catalogued the other books some time ago. I merely add more books to the shelves or create new ones.

I joked in a tweet that this project was evidence, once again, of my history as a nerdy girl. I worked at the local library my senior year of high school.

But part of that project meant purging books I wasn’t likely to ever read. I had to make a decision. Whose books interest me the most nowadays?

It came down to inspirational romances and nonfiction written by mostly Anglican writers of apologetics.

So here I am with the books I’m reading nowadays. I might have mentioned one or two earlier in previous blog essays as books I hoped to read. I’m making my way through my to-be-read pile.

This isn’t what it seems. How has modern thought shaped us? He was writing in the early 20th century, but his ideas still resonate.

Copyright Barbara James, all rights reserved.

Welcome, May flowers!

How has your month been? Helena and Leon are back from the developmental editor. I’m reviewing my final round of edits in preparation for sending to the copy editor and proofreader.

Stay tuned!

My recent blog post on developing writing goals will be published in my romance writing chapter’s newsletter. I discussed developing goals based upon how many words I might write per day.

I really like revising with my critique groups. Working on twenty pages at a time makes the work manageable. I’m not even worried right now about what the second draft will look like. I have the first draft that I finished in three months. I figure that by the time I finish my critique group work, I’ll bring together all my submissions together and make them into a draft.

This type of revising is a long process, without question, in that I’m only revising twenty pages per month. But it feels very thorough. After I meet with the critique group, I revise those twenty pages then I take what I learned from that session and use the information in revising the next round of twenty pages. I’m often revising right up until the following month’s deadline, and that is a good thing. Revisions can only make the writing better.

I talked to the editor of my food writing piece. From what she said to me the last time we were in contact, she had some minor edits. Of course, I always have my own as I imagine some new thing I can include or cut.

This is the first Saturday in the month, so I have two writing group meetings, the ACFW group from 10-12 and the romance writers from 12-2. On some Saturdays, I have a third, my nonfiction food writing group from 3-5. It’s all good, spending a whole day talking about writing.

We talked about Anne Lamotte’s book in the ACFW group.

In the romance writers’ group an editor talked to us about self-editing. I worked with her last year and urged the chapter leadership to invite her and speak to us. I’m glad they followed up and she was able to join us.

I always look forward to all my writing group meetings!

Copyright Barbara James, All rights reserved.

Greetings, April!

Although Easter Sunday was the 4th, we are still in the season. It doesn’t end until Pentecost, which takes place 40 days after Easter. This year, that’s May 23.

So what has been happening?  I’m glad that Natasha and Austin are out in the world as of last month. Helena is getting ready for her turn.

I noticed something interesting when I looked at my notes file for Helena’s book. On April 3, 2018, I first imagined what hers would look like. On April 3, 2021, I was in the midst of checking the revisions from my editor.

A lot took place in the meantime: Ayanna’ book, Suzette’s, then Natasha’s. I would have finished the first draft of Helena’s book by the end of 2019 or early 2020. I decided to spend most of 2020 working with my critique group revising the manuscript.

I’ve been writing as well on the nonfiction front. Those have taken the shape of community writing projects. They all share a theme insofar as they are all related to ministry in some form, at least in my own mind. The latest is on food: cooking, baking, and grocery shopping as ministry.

The editor assigned to work with me likes it. I sent her my first draft then replied to her edits. I then submitted my second draft. Since then I’ve been revising my third draft. She would like me to present to our group the next session.

Since I’ve been focusing on revising with my critique group the latest manuscript that I finished in March, I’ve spent lots of time looking over the first twenty pages, my first submission. Did my critique partners ever have lots of suggestions! I revised it and submitted it again for us to review this month.

What have I been reading? I finished my Lenten reading on spiritual direction before the end of Lent. Then I got two books on Anglicanism, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and a selection of essays on Anglican studies. They aren’t an easy read, but I’m glad I have them.

I’m thinking that I should read two G.K. Chesterton books for the Easter season, Orthodoxy and Heretics. In addition, I’m hoping one of Andrea Lee’s will become available from the library soon, merely because I read Interesting Women years ago and it stayed with me.

As for fiction, I’ve read some romances as well as some short fiction, especially books by Danzy Senna and Andrea Lee. Their characters are memorable insofar as they speak to a certain zeitgeist of African American women who grew up and came of age in the post civil rights eras of the 1970s into the 2000s.

Take a look at these book covers:

Have a wonderful month!

Copyright Barbara James, All rights reserved.

Happy March and Hello, Spring!

We’ve had some snow storms recently, but the days have been getting longer and we’ve had some warmer days. I’m so looking forward to spring!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since we’ve been living with this pandemic. It would have been this month a year ago, in the beginning of Lent, when I last experienced normal life as I knew it: Sunday services; daily visits to the gym; and monthly writers’ group meetings.

Sunday services has become Zoom virtual services. Daily visits to the gym have become daily visits to my home exercise spaces. The monthly writers’ meeting shave gone virtual.

One blessing that has persisted is that the writers’ group meetings have become more intense and participatory for me in a way I didn’t experience before the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, I was limited to what I could attend in person. If I didn’t have the time to travel or if there were conflicts, I didn’t go.

Conflicts still persist, but they are more easily managed now. I attend one meeting but not the other. But I don’t have to worry about travel, when attending the meeting simply requires that I be in front of my computer at a specific time.

I now have the chance to work with two different critique groups. That is a pandemic blessing, I must say. I have my local RWA chapter: link and the ACFW chapter: link, that covers my geographic region of people living in the Northeastern U.S.

Even if we were to go back to normal, I don’t want to give any of that up.

So what’s happening in my writing world? I noticed something a few weeks ago. I writer I follow on Twitter uses the pomodoro method, of setting aside a specific number of minutes just to write in blocks and chunks of time: link.

That reminded me of something. I used to keep better track of my word count. I don’t know why I stopped. I became content with finishing a draft in four to five months, which was fine, in my view, reasonable progress.

But what did that mean in terms of word counts? I began a new project on December 3 of last year. By the end of January, I had almost 20,000 words. I was writing on a regular basis, I was sitting in my chair at my desk. I did the math. That amounted to 500 words per day, about a page and a half.

It occurred to me that was paltry progress. I decided to try and do better. What if I wrote 1500 words per day, about five pages? What if I wrote 3000 words per day, about ten pages? 1500 words is a scene. 3000 words is a chapter.

At 500 words, I’m either dealing with major distractions, or I have the making of a scene that I really need to flesh out. I might be struggling with something. At 1500 words, the scene looks complete. At 3000 words, I have two complete scenes.

I’m not a Nanowrimo person, but I pushed myself to write as much as I could during the month of February. I aimed to minimize distractions. At some point, I was doing even less working out. The end result was a completed first draft by March 3. I can’t remember whether I ever did that before, complete a draft in three months, and with this word count, almost 55,000 words.

I still have work to do in revising. Even now, I can think of some edits to the final chapter. It seemed complete as I could make it when I finished it yesterday, but I know there’s more I can do. But at least I’ll be able to workshop it with the critique groups. There’s a writer’s saying, you can’t revise an empty page, and that certainly applies.

So I’m doing a serious juggle. Austin is almost ready for publication. Helena is in the pipeline, visiting with the editors. Then I’ll have a nonfiction piece to work on at some point in time. The important point is that with this draft out of the way, I can focus on other things while I work with the critique groups in revising.

What about my reading? Well, if you’re writing less, there’s more opportunity to read. So I haven’t been reading as much. But I did get to finish Toni Shiloh’s book: link. Plus, I’m reading a new book for Lent: link.

I learned recently about some books that I was curious about. I borrowed them from the library. I should begin reading soon.

And here’s something from my alter ego, the stay-at-home wife in the kitchen. My husband likes tools, all kinds of guy stuff for doing all kinds of guy things. Me? These are my latest tools. Smile.

Best of wishes,

Barbara.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Happy February!

This is Valentine’s month. Read romance, write romance!

Today is a snow day. DH is thinking about when to begin the shoveling. It’s his birthday as well, and so I baked his birthday cake: Caribbean black cake. It’s a typical cake recipe–sugar, flour, butter and eggs, but you add dried fruits, and burnt sugar to give it the dark color.

People often have it for Christmas, but I like to make it for special occasions, which includes DH’s birthday. I think I might make one for Valentine’s Day as well.

This past month, DH and I have been talking about stews v. soups. I like stews, he likes soups. I felt inspired to get a new cookbook full of recipes for each type of dish. It’s called a Taste of Home.

On the writing front, this month should be the last month that I present my latest work in progress to my critique group. It’s been almost a year of critiquing and revising, which is new for me, but I don’t mind. Feedback is invaluable. I’ll reach out to the editors next.

I began another work in progress in December. That’s the next project I’ll present.

On the reading front, I have an interesting story. A friend who teaches junior high school talked about how she encouraged she felt when her students were excited to visit the library. It was as though a whole new world was opened to them.

That was me as a child. My mom got me my first library card when I was of elementary school age. The library was around the corner from our house. By junior high school, I had a library bag that I would take along with me and a tiny notebook of interesting things I wanted to learn more about.

It was where I got my first job my last semester of high school.

All these years later, I’m a reader as well as a writer. But the library culture has changed. Nowadays, people go for the computer access. I’m sure that’s changed because of Covid, with the libraries being closed.

A romance novel I’d been waiting for finally became available, Toni Shiloh’s latest. Even better is that my local romance chapter hosted an interview with her about writing inspirational romances, and I was the moderator. Once I knew her book was forthcoming, I requested that each of the three libraries I’m a member of, buy a digital copy. I wound up first on the waiting list and I got notifications from all of them when it became available today.

I downloaded this morning and I’m ready to go!

Do you like my little avatar? It’s the one I set up on Reddit, where I post mostly on the Anglicanism and Episcopal Church boards.

Regards until next time!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Happy New Year!

(and Merry Christmas!)

Because it’s just the second day of the new year, this is still the Christmas season.

I hope your celebrations were great. Mine were fine and quiet. Christmas gifts? They were perfect: a few L.L. Bean pullovers, some new earrings, and a new apron.

So what have I been up to over the past month? The writing life is coming along with the two works in progress. They each should be going out to the editors soon. And because I can imagine a light at the end of the tunnel, I started a new work in progress early in the month. It’s coming along. I hope to begin presenting it to my critique group once I finish presenting the second work in progress.

I’ve also been into movies this past month. Not sure why. It could be because I heard of some interesting new ones, namely a remake of Les Miserables, plus a few movies about Caribbean immigrants to the U.K. in the 1960s and 1970s. Then finally, a recent release, Sylvie’s Love, a story taking place in the 1950s and 1960s.

I’ve included their posters.

What about books? I hope to read some new romances, you can see their covers. I read the book on Anglicanism: link, because I can’t read enough. Finally, I’m interested in reading the one on theology.

My reading interests are eclectic, I know. Smile.

Copyright Barbara James, all rights reserved.

Happy Advent!

So here we are in December with the end of the year upon us. Thanksgiving was quiet. I was happy to be content that we were safe.

The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of my Christmas preparations. This year, it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. So I made sure I was ready. I put up the tree, got out my Advent candles and sent out the cards.

So what’s going on for the beginning of December? Well I missed my writing chapter meetings in November because of my church conference. I’ve been going for about ten years now.

I thought about the differences in attending all these years. The first few years when I lived locally, I just drove over or went with someone. When I was no longer living locally, I needed a full weekend just to attend this Saturday conference. I’d arrive on Friday, stay at my favorite b&b and then return on Sunday.

This time around? What was the commute like? A mere five minutes to boot up on the computer! At the close of the conference, the organizers asked us what we thought. They asked whether we would want to attend a virtual conference again. I assured them that I would want to, just to avoid the hassle. Yes, it’s always great to see everyone in person, but online is unquestionably better.

So today was our last writing chapter meetings before the end of the year–American Christian Fiction Writers as well as my local Romance Writers chapter, and I’m excited. Not only are some new characters starting to talk to me, but they are starting to tell me about their stories, and that’s been great.

This will be an interesting approach to writing, I think. Getting critique group input as I’m writing as compared to afterwards. I typically wrote, revised and then sent to an editor. Or this time around, writing the full complete draft then meeting with the critique group. But I should finish soon with the group regarding the latest work in progress, Helena’s book. Austin has been to the editors. He needs to see the proofreader.

So it’s time to start thinking about new projects. Character studies, research and working outlines are on my mind now as I am starting to write: plotting and writing as things come to me, as my characters talk to me.

What about my reading? I finally managed to read the Pat Simmons inspirational romance novel I was curious about: link. In addition, I found this great book about Viet Nam war era wives who fought for their husbands’ release from Viet Cong prisoner of war camps. It was a great story about courage and hope: link. I’m reading now about the rise of Christianity in the ancient world: link.

Merry Christmas!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Welcome, November!

So we are now in November and the end of the year is drawing close. A second wave of Covid19 infections is on it way, so we really are in a new normal, Covidtide life.

So Halloween came, but there isn’t much trick-or-treating around here anyway. The bigger thing for me has been to remember (Protestant) Reformation Day, October 31. I remember the 500th anniversary was a few years ago in 2017. A lot of books got published commemorating it. Thus, more books to read this time of year. I’ve been reading one of Diarmaid MacCullough’s books: link. He talks about all the reformations of the period.

Then All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day as we remembered all those who have died. There is a song that I always remember during this time, I sing a song of the saints: link.

In honor of Reformation Day, I was thinking my characters in both my works in progress need to reference faith in some way that reaffirms their sense of Protestant identity.

So how has the writing been coming along? As I’ve been making progress with my critique group, I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve revised so far and the “saggy middle” in novel-writing. It’s referred to as a point in the writing process when things slow down because there might be less tension before things pick up again: link.

Gwen Hayes notwithstanding–link, beat sheets can be tough–I’m too much of a pantser as compared to a plotter, but I think I can avoid the problems of the “sagginess” if i think about the manuscript in one third segments. I want to make sure I have strong tensions in each of the three.

I’ll have to miss some writers’ group meetings this month. It’s a major conflict that’s keeping me away, a church conference for my district, and I have to be there. Zoom can only handle one call at a time, and so it goes.

What else is going on? My altar ego, “bookish” me (as per my twitter bio) is reading, of course. Not only the inspirational romances I mentioned last month, but a number of other ones.

Susan Wiggs’ book was great as a women’s fiction novel with strong romantic elements. A woman loses her mother and fiance in the same plane crash just as her grandfather, her last surviving relative, develops dementia. A real tear-jerker. She finds a happily ever after with the contractor determined to help her save the house and bookstore that has been in her family for generations: link.

The applications are in for RWA Academic Grants Committee. I look forward to reading the proposals.

What about the other books? The guys with swords? My husband likes military historical fiction, so we read the two books by Ben Kane. The one with the stained glass window, I’m thinking of reading it for December: link. Advent takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I see it as the real beginning of the Christmas season.

And yet, I’m on the verge of finishing my Reformation book, so what will I read until then? I was thinking that in honor of All Saints Day, I might read A Great Cloud of Witnesses for the entire month: link!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

FALL IN LOVE WITH AUTUMN – RWA NYC BLOG HOP

My local RWA chapter is going a blog hop of authors showcasing scenes from their books that evoke autumn: link.

Here is a scene from Getting Out of the Comfort Zone: Ayanna, available on Amazon. Ayanna and Todd went to a fall arts and crafts festival.

_______________________

Todd was whistling as he walked back to the meeting spot. Ayanna was already there, clutching a plastic bag.

“Hey, what do you have there?”

“Scarves.”

He peered into the bag when she opened it. “Very pretty and colorful.”

“So what about you? What did you get? What’s in the cylinder?”

“Oh nothing. It might be something for my mom.”

Ayanna giggled as she made to snatch it from him. “If it’s nothing, let me see!”

He held it away from her but brought her close for a kiss. “If and when I say so!”

She grumbled. “Okay, I’ll hold you to it.”

He chuckled. “Please do.”

Smiling, he tugged her along then winked as he started up the car to take her back home.

Todd was carrying both his cylinder and Ayanna’s shopping bag when they returned to her apartment. Once they got inside, he put her bag on the counter.

She looked at the cylinder and teased. “I guess it isn’t really for your mom. You brought it inside.”

“It still could be, you know. Why not open it?”

Ayanna studied it for a bit, then took off the cap and began shaking it. Todd watched while she picked up the poster.

“Now what’s this?” Unrolling it, she studied each section as it unfurled. It was a silhouette of an African woman on a red and green background. She was wearing a head wrap and had a baby by her side while she carried a rifle. Putting the poster on the table, Ayanna put her hands to her face and began weeping silently.

Todd hugged her to him and stroked her hair. “Do you like it?”

She gasped. “Todd, this is amazing.” She broke free from his embrace and picked up the poster. “You understand, Todd. You really understand.”

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.