Category Archives: Projects

Wrapping up 2012

Wow — it has been a long time since I updated my blog! There has been a good reason for that: I’ve been heads down on a huge project at work. Lots and lots of overtime. But the largest part of it wraps up this weekend (handoff on Monday), and it’s time to do an update. Lots of changes around here.

All three dogs are doing well. Pax is getting older, which breaks my heart. I can’t stand the thought of losing him — ever. Most of my critter update isn’t dogs, though — it’s horses. Back in August, Mr. Blue came home again. I was inordinately glad to see him! I’d missed him terribly. Our barn is in no shape for horses, so I’m boarding him at Eden Farms where I’m taking riding lessons. Here’s a picture of him at a clinic acting as a demo horse with Monica.



A couple of months later, Monica posted the picture of a horse in the Enumclaw kill pen. (Translation: a horse who had been purchased by a guy who sells them by the pound to slaughter houses.) We made a deal: I’d buy him and cover his stall, she’d train him, and then we’d sell him in the spring.

Yeah, that selling part? So not happening. This is Charlie, right after he came in:


Can’t get a good look at him there — sorry. He’s a quarter horse, extremely similar to Blue in size and build. He is an absolute love! He’s doing well in his training, and hopefully will get his first ride soon. Right now I’m intending to keep him. If he ends up being unsuitable for me under saddle, I’ll go ahead with the plan to sell him.

Miss Guin is still down in Olympia, happily retired at my friend Leslie’s place. I get down there once or twice a year, and Leslie gives me updates. I bought her a new purple blanket for Christmas. Hopefully Leslie will send me a photo!

My long-term plans for the horses are up in the air. We were planning to rehab the barn this spring so we could bring everyone home, but my job situation (and our funds) got iffy, so I’m not sure what will happen. More on the job situation further down.

The remodel
We still have no walls in the basement. However we have propane, and the electrical and plumbing have been done, and we’ve got a brand new whole-house generator installed! That was a huge part of the project, and we’re thrilled to have it done. It means that winter can throw its worst at us, and we’ll be fine.

It also means we can have horses at the house again. See, our well is wired into the house. No power = no water. That’s not a huge problem for humans and dogs, but it’s a MAJOR issue with horses. That generator solved the last big horse-owning problem we had.

The next major step in the remodel is to redo the stairs to the basement and finish Jay’s office. Both parts of that are huge, expensive undertakings. Right now those steps are on hold, because of my job.

The major project was a major success. It was, without reservation, my favorite project ever. I’m extremely blessed to have gotten to spend the past six months focused exclusively on it. I’ll be sad to see it end. Technically, though, it isn’t ending. I am.

As kudos to a job well done, my job said, “We love you! Come take a massive pay cut and work for us full time! And if you don’t want to do that, get out!” Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what they said, but it felt like that. I’m a contractor, you see. My division at work has roughly 15 long-time contractors, and our senior manager put together a report showing how she could save the company money by converting all of the contractors to regular employees.

It’s not as bad a deal as I made it sound. They offered straight conversions for most of us, meaning we didn’t have to interview. (I’ve never heard of them doing that before.) And if you factor in the value of their benefits package, the total worth of what they were offering was essentially the same as what I make now for 40 hours a week.

That doesn’t work for me, though. My husband works for the state, so I don’t need their benefits. I need cash. The job would have required me to work in the office three days a week — 50 miles a day on my 13-year-old car, plus two hours a day lost to the commute. I just couldn’t agree to that, so I declined the “offer.”

The theory is that I will stay until they backfill my position. As I understand it, they won’t be interviewing for it until early January, so I’m hoping I can ride this out until the end of January. The *ideal* would be the second week in February, because I’m going out of town then anyway.

All of this caused me a lot of stress. I had been doing really well with my eating and exercising, and all that came to a crashing halt with the news of the re-org. I haven’t gotten back on track yet. I have processed the changes though, and I’m really not upset about them anymore. I wish the situation were different, but it is what it is.

What’s next?
Good question. I have to get another job in my field without question. My mortgage and those hungry horses insist upon it! But I think this is also a call to pursue some things for myself that I’ve put on the back burner.

I’m signed up for a Reiki Level 1 class in January. I’m going to focus on the animal communication again. And probably most importantly, I’m pulling Doubting River out of the drawer. The Universe asked me to write that, but I got too comfortable in my life and put it aside. Now I’m on the edge of being not-so-comfortable. I’m going to get to work before I become decidedly UNcomfortable! There are a few other things I’d like to work on too. (Honestly, if I didn’t have to get a job again, I wouldn’t be bored. Promise!)

December 22 will bring not the end of the world but the beginning of a new cycle. I think it’s a good time for a new cycle for me as well, eh? Reinventing-Melissa, indeed.

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Are all novels publishable?

Writing a novel is just the first step towards publication. After writing, the novel needs to be edited — maybe rewritten, maybe several times. Some manuscripts need more editing than others, but with no exception, every manuscript needs at least one editing pass before it’s ready to see the light of day.

The best way to edit is to learn to do it yourself, but I don’t want to focus on that in this post. Instead I want to talk about the alternative. Many people don’t want to do their own editing. Some don’t feel like they can trust critique groups or beta readers. Others think they aren’t skilled enough to be able to edit their own work. So these writers try a different solution: they hire a freelance editor.

Freelance editors vary in experience and skill, just like writers. Some are published authors. Some used to be fiction editors in the publishing industry. Others just hung out a shingle. Freelance editors offer different editing services at different price levels:

A copy edit (or line edit) is the least expensive service, but it includes only a clean up of spelling and grammar. An editor local to me charges 1.5 to 3 cents per word for a line edit. For my 100,000 word novel, that would be $1500 to $3000.

A developmental or substantive edit is considerably more expensive. This edit includes an analysis of structure, pacing, character development, and plot. My local editor charges 3 to 6 cents a word for substantive editing, so $3000 to $6000 for my novel. Most of the time the editor doesn’t actually do the rewriting either (or at least not all of it) — just tells you what needs to be done.

That’s quite a bit of money to spend, particularly since after you make the rewrites following a substantive edit, you may still need a copy edit to have a finished, proofed manuscript. Would it be worth it? Without a doubt, a good editor can make a manuscript a lot better.

But is the manuscript ready to be published?

Here, finally, is the point of this post. After you’ve paid this money and gotten a professional edit, is your manuscript guaranteed to be good enough to be snagged by an agent or purchased by a traditional publishing company?


Not only is there no guarantee, in most cases it simply won’t be good enough.

Say, for argument’s sake that manuscripts were rated on a quality scale from 1-10. A manuscript of quality level 9 or above is required for traditional publishing. A freelance editor could bump your manuscript up to 2 points higher on the scale. If your manuscript starts at a 7 or 8, that’s great! But if the manuscript you wrote is of quality level 6 or below, then even with editing, you’re still out of luck as far as traditional publishing goes.

Here is the hard truth about freelance editors: As talented as many of them are, they are not magicians. They cannot take a fatally flawed manuscript and make it great. A good editor can make ANY manuscript better. But very few manuscripts, no matter how much time and effort and money is put into them, will ever be good enough to outshine 99% of other submissions, and THAT is what is required to get an agent and sell a manuscript to a traditional publisher.

Some writers write three, four, five, or even more novels before they write one of high enough quality that they are able to sell it to traditional publishers. That’s not a failing! They studied their craft, they practiced, they honed their words. They earned their way up the quality ladder. Don’t feel cheated if you don’t start at the top or if an editor didn’t make your manuscript perfect. You have to pay your dues just like everyone else and learn to write high quality manuscripts. That takes work. Hard work. With no shortcuts.

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Inspiration, part 2

In my last post, I found pictures to represent most of the major characters in my work-in-progress, Doubting River. I saved one important character for his very own post — River, the title character. Before we talk about River, though, I want to talk just a moment about setting.

Doubting River is set in a small, imaginary town in rural Mississippi. This photo is actually startlingly close to how I imagine Marlie’s farm to look.

Now let’s talk about River. River is a curly coated retriever, just like the dog I named for him. I don’t have any pictures of my dog here, though, because I haven’t had him out in the field, and River is most definitely a field retriever. Instead I asked my dog’s breeder to share some of her photos. First, here are some shots of curlies in their natural habitat.

In the book, Charm and Lucas are training River for an AKC retriever field trial. These trials are extremely competitive events open to both professional and amateur trainers. Of the seven eligible retriever breeds, the vast, vast, vast majority of the dogs who run in the trials are Labrador retrievers. In addition to Labs, a small number of golden retrievers and an even smaller number of Chesapeake Bay retrievers compete. The other four breeds are virtually unheard of in the sport, and to my knowledge no breed other than Lab, golden, or Cheesie has even won. That includes curly coated retrievers.

Dawn doesn’t compete in field trials, but she does do hunt tests through various organizations. These photos aren’t, then, exactly representative of what Charm and Lucas will be doing, but I think you’ll get the idea.

See the fake gun in the next picture? That’s common in some venues. In a real hunting situation, the dog’s handler would be shooting the ducks that the dog retrieves. In a hunt test (and field trial), the live flyers are shot by someone in the field so the handler can focus on the dog. The handlers are still required to carry a gun in some venues, however. This picture also has a good full-body shot of a curly. They’re taller and leaner than the other retrievers. My River (the living, breathing one) stands 28″ or 29″ at the shoulder and, at 16 months old, weighs about 90lbs.

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Inspiration, part 1

A writer friend wrote a recent blog post about pictures that inspire her. That sent me on my own hunt. My journey took a different path, though, and I ended up searching out photos that resemble the main characters in Doubting River, my novel-in-progress. Although none of the actors I ended up choosing were the inspiration for the characters, and none match the pictures in my mind exactly, the ones I chose below are pretty close.

The protagonist is Charm. He returns home for the first time in almost twenty years after the death of his sister’s husband and reluctantly agrees to stay and help with her farm and injured son. This photo of Adrian Grenier captures two of the physical features that stand out most to me about Charm: his wavy brown hair and his killer smile. Charm is one of those people who has learned to use his looks and his smile to manipulate others.

His sister Marlie is struggling to right her world after her husband dies and she discovers their farm is near foreclosure. Her focus on restoring things to the way they were blinds her to her son’s need for closure. I never really thought of Charlize Theron as embodying Marlie, but this picture captures Marlie’s short, wavy, red hair perfectly. Too bad Marlie doesn’t have many opportunities to smile like this.

Lucas is Marlie’s nine-year-old son. His leg was shattered in the same accident that killed his father. As his family crumbles around him, he clutches his father’s last wish — to win the local trial — certain it is their salvation. This picture is of Ty Panitz, the young actor who plays Parker Booth on Bones. He is perfect as Lucas all the way to the blond curls spilling into his hazel eyes.

And then, there’s River, the title character in Doubting River. He’s a curly coated retriever — and my own dog is his namesake. Look for pictures of him in a follow-up post.

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November challenge

I made a challenge to myself this month.

This month is National Novel Writing Month — more commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a worldwide phenomena in which a couple hundred thousand writers commit to writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. 50K is more of a novella than a novel, and what you have at the end is an unedited pile of… well, you know. But that’s okay. The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to produce a finished novel. It’s to get the focus on butt-in-chair, words-on-page. It’s to get those creative channels open and productive — and to build that habit of writing consistently. It doesn’t matter if what you wrote is crap, because after November you have all the time in the world to rewrite and edit.

And now, after all that buildup, let me say… my challenge has nothing to do with NaNoWriMo. Sort of. I am not a fast writer, and I don’t want to be a fast writer. I have a completely different style of writing, and it works for me. But I struggle with the other key aspect of NaNo — butt-in-seat, write-everyday. So I decided to challenge myself to set aside dedicated writing time every single day in November. More specifically, I decided to get up at 5am and use those early hours to work on my novel.

I’m used to getting up at 7 — or even later this time of year, because it gets light so late. So on November 1, I was completely unsure I would make it out of bed.

But I did.

And I’ve done it every day since, even on the weekend. I even turn off email and close my browsers and Twitter before I go to bed, so I won’t be distracted when I get downstairs. Okay, it’s only Nov. 8, but I’m feeling good about it — especially since I have yet to need an alarm. I admit, I’m glad we had a time change last weekend; that definitely made it easier. In fact, I was up at 4:30 this morning, because my internal clock hasn’t completely adjusted yet.

It’s working. I’m making forward progress. Not fast progress — I’m not a NaNo writer — but progress I am pleased with. I expect I’ll get faster as I build the habit and get into the rhythm. It’s fun to see the page count and word count increase. Maybe I’m being optimistic after only eight days, but I can see this being sustainable.

What I’ve learned is that I have to have dedicated time if I want to work on my novel. Even if I don’t have a lot going on during the day, there are still enough distractions that I just can’t focus on the writing. After work? Forget it. My brain is fried, my creative juices dried up. All I want to do at that point is watch TV and then head to bed.

I like this challenge thing. Maybe I’ll come up with a different challenge for myself every month. So, tell me, do you have tasks that you find you absolutely have to set aside dedicated time for?

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