Sunday, December 30, 2007

Resolving the Resolution Game in a Revolving Manner

It's that time of year...the time of New Year's Resolutions.

However, after a recent conversation with Shane, I'd like to think of 'resolutions' as something slightly more positive. 'Resolutions', at least the way they are practiced at the present time, seem to focus on the negative first. "I suck at this, I'm too fat, I'm not good enough" and then moves into the positive adjustment. Well, I think the thought process should be changed.

So it goes more like this:
'I will do aerobics three times a week to keep my strong heart beating.' (See? The heart is already strong in this scenario, and you want to keep it that way.)

Or that the idea is more of something you want to accomplish...a stretch goal, as the businesses say:
'Last year I finished two short stories. This year I will send those short stories out to publishers and write three new stories.' (That way it builds on work you've already done and pushes you to do just a little more than before.)

So, it's the end of 2007. Maybe some things sucked, maybe some things were great. 2008 is a clean slate. Time to decide--or at least think about--some things you want to accomplish this next year. This is the time to think of the big goals. This is also the time for dreaming. If you don't have a bigger goal, all those little goals that we set up monthly or weekly aren't going towards a bigger picture. They're a way of spinning our wheels.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A New, Fruity Metaphor

Recently I chit-chatted about 'refilling the well' of creativity.

The only problem I have with that is that I don't feel like a well. I feel more like a grape.

When I'm working on a big project, or a pretty steady stream of little projects, I begin like a grape--round and ripe and full of juice. As I type/scribble away the liquid slowly squeezes out. Eventually I reach the end. Drained and wrinkly, like a raisin. Physically I feel that way. Dried out. Less rounded.

Now that I'm not focused on the hugeness of a project I can feel the swelling begin. Soon I will be a nice, ripe grape again, ready to squeeze out new ideas, thoughts, and weird anecdotes. Makes me curious about how other folks feel when they're 'recharging their batteries' or 'filling the well' or 'gassing up the tank.'

If you were a physical object that needed to jumpstart (or whatever, you people know what I mean) what would you be? I'm totally a grape.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nice Rejections are Nice

Just got a rejection letter from a neat magazine called Contrary. They were very polite. While it's always a bummer to get a "No", a "No thank you, but we enjoyed it" is even better.

Check out their new online content:
http://www.contrarymagazine.com/

And consider submitting.

Writing Friends...Keep 'Em

Once upon a time, I had a class with a prof who argued that writers do not write in a vaccuum--and many times directly collaborate. Her main focus was on Romantic and Victorian literature. Lots and lots of emphasis on how Wordsworth and Coleridge were buds and eventually rivals. Lots of focus on the Bronte siblings and how they influenced one another.

A little sampling of the historical evidence:
1. Wordsworth and Coleridge
2. Byron, Shelley, and Keats
3. Shakespeare (we may not know the collaborators names but you cannot write plays without players...theatre and movies are collaborative arts)
4. Henry James, H.G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad
5. The Bloomsbury Group (including Virginia Woolf)

I was so fascinated by the concept that writers, for all the 'solitary genius' emphasis on writing, are not really solitary. In general, the writers we still read and today's published writers are not writing in isolation. There are groups. Agents and editors know this too. At a writer's conference I attended in April, agent Dan Lazar of Writer's House said: "Great writers write in packs."

Recently, I finshed Year Zero by Jeff Long. A blurb caught my eye. Here it is: "A superbly original thriller. Terrifying and exquisite in a single breath. Jeff Long writes with poetry, style, and pace...crafting his twists and doling out his delectable details with exceptionally gratifying results. Year Zero is first rate entertainment." -Dan Brown, author of Angels and Demons and Deception Point

In the timeline of events, this blurb came before Brown's skyrocketing bestseller The Da Vinci Code. I thought it was verrrrrrry interesting because Long's thriller explores the idea of Christ being cloned back into life. It throws a lot of questions out into the world that Brown also explores in Da Vinci. Do Long and Brown work together at all? Reading each other's work? Darned if I know, I'm only saying that there may be more than a little influence between writers living today.

Contemporary Evidence:
1. Stephen and Tabitha King (also including the Rock Bottom Remainders: Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Mitch Albom, et al. They may not work directly together, but you can't argue against influences...)
2. Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman (She thanks him in the acknowledgements of JS and Mr.N and he thanks her in the acknowledgements of Stardust)
3. Chuck Palahniuk acknowledges his writing group (see Writer's Digest Interview)
4. Laurell K Hamilton also thanks her writer's group in one of her novels, I forget which one...

Basically, all I'm saying is that as much as we think we're in this writing thing alone--and we are when we physically put the words on a page, we're never really alone. So, pay attention to the conversations that you have with other writers and be open and constructive with what you say. And always write your best. You never know when you're helping to build a masterpiece. Or at least a bestseller.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ha! I get the party crowd...

All righty...

It's great to have friends that are smarter than you. It's true. They keep you from doing the dumb things you would otherwise, of course, do. But it's still a bitter pill to swallow when every last one of them is apparently smarter than you. Take the following example:

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans





Apparently, my blog is not as difficult to understand as some other 'genius' blogs I know (and love...or at least moderately tolerate). Yes, smart friends are good. They can tell you what a dangling participle is. They can explain string theory and why 7-11s are opend 24 hours a day.

But people who are drunk, high, and/or tired from midnight cram sessions can understand what I'm saying. Oh yeah.

Filling the Well, as it were

Julia Cameron, of Artist's Way fame, recommends what she calls "artist dates" in order to "fill the well"--meaning you can't create something if you are tired or empty, as it were. That state of "I have no ideas!" can be remedied by taking yourself out somewhere: to the movies, for a walk, working on something completely different.

Recently, on another writer's group there was a writer who said he couldn't put pen to paper. The biggest advice from everyone else? First: write anyway. Second: you may be burnt out and need to switch gears.

All of it boils down to the idea that when you put so much of yourself into such a large project for such a long time (a novel, a piece of music, a painting) you use everything up. Having just finished the rough draft of FJR I was feeling similarly to this writer. What was I supposed to do? I couldn't imagine putting pen to paper.

So I picked up books instead. Right now I'm bouncing between two different books. Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez. And Year Zero by Jeff Long. Let me tell you about different writers! I'm halfway through Year Zero and about a quarter of the way into Cholera--which is further than I've made it in any of Marquez's other work (excepting short stories). An interesting thing happened.

While driving, I had clear scenes for one of the books I want to work on next. In the shower I got another one. When talking to my writing buddies, just about everything they talk about is now short-story fodder. I wanted to reach for a pen. And I have made notes.

However, I'm keeping from starting the next big thing because the well is not nearly full enough yet. Right now I feel like I'm in 'Receptor Mode' (ha, sounds like a trasformer of some kind). The reading is triggering that inherent love of words and stories that I think is so necessary for a writer. And it's fun. No pressure, no deadlines, just read and read again. If I'm getting this kind of material just from reading two books...well, let's just say I'm really, really happy to have decided on a reading spree!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Place for the desk, take 2

This last week has been a trial, let me tell you. Yes, everything mechanical was breaking...car, toaster, you name it.

Now my desk will be in a new corner in a new place. The house has become far too expensive and, of all things, we are having to move in with family. Yep, and right after Christmas too. Let me hear a big yee-haw!

The good news is that I just finished typing up the end of FJR and it's now off to the first readers for their perusal and critique. The rough part is that the space that has turned out so conducive to writing will be moving and I'll have to adjust to another space.

Right now I have a table set up next to the desk that I bought way-back-when and the table is going to have to go, so my work space just got halved. Yesterday I played around with the desk set up and figured out how to get all of my office supplies (my mother's life-long lament) into one smaller space. If you think writing is creative, try space-saving. Interior designers get paid the big bucks for stuff like that.

But I wonder if moving your writing space around isn't a good thing in the end. After all, it comes at the perfect time. I just finished. Time for a new project. New project. New place. New energy. New spaces for new ideas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

If It's Mechanical, I'm Breaking It...

My car refuses to start. (Twice now, totally dead.)

My computer at work has to be restarted at least four times a day.

My printer is out of toner.

That's this weekend in a nutshell. Let's see what other kinds of damage I can do. I better get off the computer pretty quick because if this breaks...well, I don't know if there's enough hot chocolate in the world to make me feel better.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Heroics for Beginners

For those of you looking for a fun, quick, fantasy read, then I recommend to you: Heroics for Beginners by John Moore.

And when I say quick, I mean this story moves from point A to point B quick. You just get to know the hero--or wannabe hero in this case--and then it's off to the races to save a kingdom and marry the princess (quite the buxom babe...).

Moore takes all the cliches and uses them to their fullest. The bad guy is a dude named Voltmeter--"he who must be named." I mean, what more do you want? The whole story leads off with a man named "Thunk the Barbarian" and then there's "Eric the Cool." No, I wouldn't count it 'high literature' but, damn, sometimes you've just got to read for fun, right?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ending at The End

I was just reviewing the books that I've read this year in preparation for a future post, and it occurred to me that there were a lot of great reads. Action, adventure, etc. The build to the climax was generally good in all the books I've read (I'm excluding the non-fiction pieces at the moment, because, well, my reasons should be obvious....).

My biggest beef with the 'problem' books was the ending, in almost every case. In one way or another I was let down (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot) by the turn the story took. Now that I'm writing the ending chapters of FJR--the 'last bit' as Deb calls it--I'm finding that my 'inner heckler'--as Deb calls it--is up and yelling loudly.

"You can't do it that way!"
"No one will like this!"
"You're gonna piss your readers off by doing that!"
"You're going to disappoint everyone and no one will read your next batch of drivel." (This one is particularly loud.)

It just won't stop. I'm sure part of the problem is the time of year. It's hard to get 'alone time'--as I call it--when there's relatives/dogs/cats around during the holidays. When I do have a free half hour or so, I get into a rhythm and, inevitably, am interrupted.

Yes, I realize that I'm whining after the whole "Cowboy Up" speechiness. It's not that I don't want to write it. I just have to find a way to shut everything else up. Then, when I type "The End", I'm done for this year. I'm gonna go read a ton of books and hopefully, when I'm ready to revise, those books will have shown me how to end at the end.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cowboy Up

Tonight I had a conversation with my mother about westerns (movies specifically).

Westerns are a very traditional structure, story-wise. Hero falls into great calamity, everything looks dark, then the cowboy gets up off his duff and does the hard work/killing/etc. Sometimes it's a happy ending, sometimes it's a sad ending, but dammit, the cowboy did something.

Recently the writing has been coming hard for me, doubly hard since last month was so prolific. Then, during the conversation with my mother (maybe you all should have conversations with your mothers and see if something cool happens...if you don't have a mother, dude, I'm sorry) I realized the reason I was not doing so well this month was because I slowed down. I got off the horse. Thought that was okay because I'd done so much earlier.

The truth is this: the more you do, the more you can do, the more you are capable of doing, and the more you want to do it. You've got to be a cowboy. Say damn it all and ride all night if you have to. That train in Yuma is not going to wait for you--it's leaving at 3:10. You have to get to it.

When you're done, done, that's when you rest. Not before. Yes, it's hard. It's supposed to be.

Cowboy up.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Strange and Norrell

Here's something that'll get to the friendly-neighborhood-demon (hey, she said it)...

I finished reading the gigantic book Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell these last couple days.

First, let me say that I was very impressed by Clarke's use of language. She captured the feel of Lord Byron/Jane Austen's world very well. I felt like I was reading a real history, which was incredibly cool.

::Spoiler:: (If you haven't read it all the way to the end and you want to, stop reading...now)




I was bothered by the ending, not because of the ending, but because of what was not put in the book. For example, there is a 'gentleman with thistle down hair'--a fairy--who wreaks all kinds of havoc upon, well, everyone in the book. We're shown bits of his world. Then he dies. With his death, it's like all the parts of Faery/Fairy/etc (the world outside and within our own) die too. I feel like we spent all this time in Clarke's world but never got to spend any time there.

For my part, I thought at least Strange would turn out to be even more of an adventurer. Norrell's a bookish, selfish man. Strange, while selfish, has a lot more action going on. There's a conflict over the King's Roads--it's kinda like Chekov's gun. It lays out in an earlier act. But then it never really goes off. It hovers there, like a character picked up the gun from the mantle, but then it never sets off.

The subplots are, in many ways, more interesting for me. I love Stephen Black and Lady Pole and Arabella--all the people who are trapped by the magic Norrell and Strange struggle so hard to understand (but in the end, never truly can). Quite frankly, I'd follow a novel based just around these guys. They were great! Conflicted. Trapped. I'd like to see if Stephen Black could've managed to save them all without the magicians. He definitely worked hard enough....

Good news though, for those who enjoyed a lot of Faery/Fairy/etc. Clarke has a new book coming out, with short stories about said world. Should be good.

...and that's what I was doing while I was supposed to be finishing my own novel.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Avast!

Pirates of the writerly kind would do well to look at the following...

***Warning, you may spend your hard-earned booty ($$$)

http://www.piratemod.com/

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Home Stretch

Somewhere I read that the last 20% of a novel is the hardest part to write. I'm believing that I concur.

Part of it is because you say goodbye to the freshness of your characters--after this it's all editting and revising. Doesn't seem like there's any new surprises. (Unless you want to keep writing the same book for the next twenty years....)

Another part is the 'cleaning up' process. The first half of a novel is about making a mess. The second half is about cleaning that mess up. As anyone with small children (or anyone who has even vaguely seen a small child) knows, making the mess is infinitely easier than cleaning it up. At the end, there has to be a resolution. A raison d'etre.

Right now, I know how it ends. The question is whether or not I can pull it off. Does anyone else know how to handle this? Or should I shut up and just do it?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Looking at the Bright Side of Life

I just handed of FJR to Shane so that he would be so sweet as to print out the copies I need for tomorrow. It occurred to me that I have been playing negative Nellie on myself. I've been so hard on myself for 'not finishing' that I've overlooked the fact that I more than doubled a year and half's worth of writing in one month. Count it: 1 month.

I figured out cool things about my characters. I put a ton of words on paper. 25,000 words in a month. That's a lot for me, and I'm sure it's nothing to be sneezed at, even by folks going into NaNoWriMo. (Though with the exhausting part of turning out that many words, I'm thinking my NaNo goal is going to shrink =) Are the words good? Who the fuck cares? Not me, not right now. Not as I watch page after page churn out from the printer. I'm all smiles.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

NaNo Month--I'll Be Short

I'll be short on two fronts:
1. There's no way I can finish FJR by Monday. I'll be two chapters shy. But--before the demons come out! I will give what I have to my first readers (yes, Ali, that's you!) and e-mail the final two chapters later in the month. --So far I'm only making copies for Ali, Deb, John, and Nicole...can't afford to do much else.
2. This stalls my NaNo attempt for a bit too. So, I'll make sure that I still work a month and go into the first week of December with the random piece. (I have to wait to use my sticks, John. I'm sooo disappointed. But I'm glad they're working for you so far.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

The October Wind-Up, November Goals

October went pretty well. My goals were to finish critiques (big check...there were ten of those buggers) and to finish the rough draft of FJR. I am four chapters shy. But! I still have until November 5th, when I meet my fellow pirate bloggers to finish that up. Since I finished the biggest, chunkiest chapter on Saturday night (see That Hurt...) I am hopeful that a measly four chapters can be done and I'll have finished my October-and-a-week-goals.

So, assuming that everything until Nov 5 goes good, heres the goals for November:
1. To cheat at NaNoWriMo. The 'winning' requirement is 60,000 words. After finishing my other novel, I don't feel like jumping into anything quite that large. I'm going to shoot for 20,000-30,000 words using:
The Writer's Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan (This box is really cool, you find out who your protagonist is by spinning a wheel, you keep your story moving by using 'non-sequitor' sticks...my goal is to have fun with this and write something completely random. Who knows what I'll get?) So, I won't do the word count for NaNo, nor will I really come up with key points for the story...if that's not cheating I don't know what is.
2. To finish the critiques (again!)--there are eight this time around. However, I'm thinking this month, instead of getting them all out of the way early, I'll do the time-honored tradition of procrastinating until the last minute.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

That Hurt...

Last night I woke up at 2:30 and could not go back to sleep for the life of me. I stayed awake and watched the alarm clock tick away. Ever have one of those nights?

But that's not the only masochistic piece of me. Oh, no.

I tried to take a nap this afternoon and that didn't work out. Instead, I decide, in all my brilliance, to write a submission for the Sunday group (for tomorrow...). Then I decide that what would be even better than that would be to write the stand-alone-ish part of FJR and submit that. Unfortuantely, in my head this was supposed to be one of the longer chunks. Well, hell, I said to myself, just go ahead and get-r-done. So from 5:00 until about now, when I have finished printing out the last page, I have turned out fifteen pages.

Don't oohh and ahh. That frickin hurt. And I'm sure it will be reflected in the critiques. Thank Goodness that I have to wait a month to hear them. =)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Writer's Marathon Results...Part 2

I like to think of this one as: "The Birth of the Land Pirates' Captain De Foe"

(Consider this a character sketch for a future novel character...)

"Once there was a dashing young man who was commandeered into His Majesty's Navy. The young man's dashing good looks were eventually dashed onboard ship. Scurvy took his finger and toe nails. A seemingly endless diet of turtle soup took part of his lower intestine and any liking for liquid foods--like soup. But he did learn a great deal about mizzening masts and hoisting main sails. One day, he and the crew of The Happy Charleton (named for the king) committed mutiny and became hideous sea pirates of the variety with no teeth or discernable table manners. Eventually, however, the young-yet-no-longer-dashing man, who made himself Captain of The Happy Charleton, grew weary of vomitting over the side of the ship but did not want to give up the life of pirating and riches he had grown accustomed to. So, he hatched a plan. The crew would take The Happy Charleton ashore. The ship, vast and mighty as it was, would be loaded and rolled along the trunks of felled trees. Instead of other ships, Captain and crew would plunder castles and manors."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Writer's Marathon Results...Part 1

A writer's marathon is not physically taxing. Let's just say that. However, there are elements that definitely test one's endurance. Using the places that you travel to as an influence, for one.

Lynette, our host for the Pueblo Writing Marathon--part of the Southern Colorado Writing Project and All Pueblo Reads--did not make us use the library as a means for inspiration, however. Instead, she read an excerpt from Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, to get out creative juices flowing.

Because I'm not too worried about selling the rights to the work I did yesterday, I have decided to go ahead and post them as my writing samples, for now. After all, having a writing blog with nothing to back up my claims as a creative writer seems weird. So, here is my response to Lynette's choice of excerpt:

"The Mississippi River has mosquitoes that swarm, like clouds sometimes when the weather's just right. On evenings like that, before the sun fully sets and the cool night breezes blow in to wash the buggers away, he has a hard time imagining why he left a home with a roof. As the skeets bite away on his exposed toes--the socks had rotted away over the skin--he looks westward. Somewhere in California his wife and daughter would soon make dinner, probably cursing his name--which he can't seem to remember now, like part of his identity disappeared when he left them. He watched a mosquito land on his arm among the fine, dark hairs and he flexed his muscle, holding the little bugger there. Blood pooled into the mosquito and after a moment the small creature stirred with a tiny beat of wings. Then, as the mosquito burst, blood leaked onto his arm."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 3: Revision Time

“Now let’s say you’ve finished your first draft….You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination—two things which are related, but not really the same—have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work.” Stephen King, On Writing

Space. Distance. Time.

Now that I’m approaching the end of FJR’s rough draft I’m having flashbacks to the first novel I finished (in rough draft form). Intimidation? You betcha. That monster is about 600 pages long and it needs to be about half that size.

Deb recently asked about what to do when you want to throw your book across the room, out the window, down the street, and into the harbor…okay I added the last couple bits with some help from Finding Nemo.

My answer: wait, grasshopper—is greatly inspired by my first novel experience. I wrote that book definitely thinking it was my “big break.” There would be advances and accolades. Life would be good. I had no idea how much work it would be to revise that whole damn thing. When I began the initial revising (without waiting, yes, initially I blew off the mentor’s advice…) I hated the stupid story, the stupid characters, the stupid stupidity of the whole mess. So I boxed the dumb thing, went to college so that I had to read and write a ton of stuff that had nothing to do with the novel. Wrote a bunch of short stories and poems. After two years, years (!), I looked at it again.

It was less scary. There were scenes that definitely needed to be there to tell the story. The rest was (I should say is because I haven’t really revised it yet either) just extra stuff that needs to be cut out. I made a list of important scenes and, one day, if I decide that it’s worth revising and not just a ‘practice novel’, I’ll have a great place to start.

Things I learned from that sorta-revising process? How to streamline scenes. The novel I’m about to finish is much shorter…maybe I’ve overcompensated? We’ll see. And I learned that I need time.

When the first draft is finished, I plan to hand it out to my first reader gang, but I refuse to talk about it, or read their actual critiques, until at least March. That’s more than King’s recommended six weeks but I’m not as experienced as him. It’s just fact. I need a little more distance so that when the time comes, I’ll be ready to fix what needs to be fixed in a creative, good kinda way.

A Planned Reading Spree

After I finish the rough draft of FJR, I have planned to go on a reading spree. But, I'm having trouble deciding which stack of books to read.

Stack 1: Stuff that I just wanted to read. These are in no particular order by no particular people, just books I thought seemed interesting and picked up off the shelf.

Stack 2: Reading that is meant to get me prepped for my next novel-writing endeavour. These are books (I still want to read them...very important to note) that I think are similar to what I want to accomplish with the next book.

The mind frame is different while reading. One is a much more conscious thing with special attention to style, etc. The other is more T.V. watching--but since they're books then there's still the lit element. You see what I'm saying? How to pick?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Authors Who Have Humbled Me

Among writers there is a tendency to be like that old actor joke:
Q: How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: One. And seven more to stand around and say "I could have done that better." (now insert 'writer' for 'actor')

The truth is, that just ain't so. We did not have thier original ideas. We did not have their life skills, their writing ability, or their je ne sais quoi. So, we really need to give some writers their due.

The following list is compiled of authors that made me sit up and go "I could never in a million years do that!" The list is nowhere near comprehensive....

1. Stephen King. The Stand. Just the scope of this monsterous book was humbling. You pick it up and it's like weight lifting. Then there's the story itself. Huge and gothic and religious in scope. Impressive.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri. Short story, "The Third and Final Continent." Even the title gives me goosebumps. Then it was so quiet and subtle. I am subtle like a jackhammer. Quite frankly, if I ever wrote anything that remotely resembled this story...I'd die a happy writer.
3. Chuck Palahniuk. Haunted. Holy crap. It was disgusting. It was gross. It was hilarious. It was some weird car-wreck-train-wreck-with-bus-full-of-school-children-over-a-cliff-while-skydiving kind of ride. You couldn't look away.
4. Anne Bronte. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The magic of this story happens in the time period in which it was written. A woman taking her child and running from an abusive husband. Happens in a lot of movies nowadays, but in Victorian England? That took some guts. The style of writing reminded me of Jane Austen writing about something other than a safe marriage. Cool.
5. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter. I may have wanted to finish the sucker, and I may have called just about every important point in that last book, but I could never have come up with the wizarding world. Just couldn't have done it. Period.
6. Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Nope, could never, ever, in a million-plus years have put something like this together. I'm not even done with it and know that.

That's the beginning of my list. Anyone else?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 2: The Commandment

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” –Stephen King, On Writing

Time for a little self-evaluation: Do you follow this train of thought?

For the first part, the reading, I think that I do pretty okay. Currently, however, (and I blame J.K. Rowling for this) I have gone through a ‘reading block’. I did not think something like this could happen. I mean, how do you not read? Just pick up the book, open the cover and let your eyes rove along the lines of words.

Nope. Since Harry Potter finished up I’ve been at a complete loss as to what to read. I think I wanted to pick up something un-put-down-able like HP but have been failing to tell myself that any book is good enough. Just read. Just do it.

Then, the night before last, it occurred to me to do the opposite. I would pick up a book that I knew I would not be able to finish in one shot. I picked up the largest, heaviest, thickest tome I could find, knowing I would have to put it down. No, not War and Peace. The book that I selected to pull me out of my reader’s block is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. And I’m sooo glad I did. It’s really quite good, but I can put it down without feeling guilty because it’s like a reading marathon…a good companion to the writing marathon I’m putting myself through.

As far as writing goes, King recommends a really strenuous writing program. And if I did not have a full time job and a kid and a half then I would gladly write for four to six straight without any complaining. I realize that this sounds like “I have no time” excuse, but I have a really hard time buying that when King was daddy to three small children and working in a laundry and/or teaching high school English that he wrote for six hours straight either. (Or maybe I should take up smoking?)

My writing schedule is something more like this:
Tues-Thurs: write while Owen is at school (three hours), if I have to work one of those days then I swing it during my lunch 15 minutes and sometime in the morning/afternoon depending on what shift I’m working.
Fri: generally a no-go
Sat-Mon: early in the morning is seeming to work best, I have anywhere from an hour to an hour and half.

I do try to write something everyday. Now that I am focusing on finishing my novel (seeing the home stretch!) then I keep my butt in the chair a little more than normal. So, I think I do okay. How’s about you other writers out there? Are you workaholics? Or write-when-the-mood-strikes? Or somewhere in between?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Critiquing Load--Gone!

Let me just put a big, honking, gigantic CHECK!! next to one of my goals for this month.

No, I haven't finished novel rough draft yet...I have been too busy reading the critique pile (equilvalent to reading a novel...).

But this is like a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I can just cut loose and write. Dig it, man. Dig it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 1: The Desk

"...now I'm going to tell you as much as I can about the job....It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around." -- Stephen King, On Writing

(I realize that Neil Gaiman technically won the poll for 'Most Wanted Mentor'...but since I voted for King, we're gonna use him first.)

In one of those serendipitous moments of life, right after I decided to take writing seriously, I found Stephen King's book On Writing. Read it cover to cover. He said exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it, in a way that I could hear it. And one of those passages that spoke to me was the above quote.

Two things came to me from that:
1. I needed a desk.
2. I needed to find a place to put it.

I needed a desk so that I knew I took my writing seriously. There needed to be a space that was inherently mine, and it was inherently for writing--my place to keep the 'door shut'. But I had nothing. Most of the time I was working on my short stories out of 10 cent notebooks on my lap. I was in my early twenties, still living with my mom, trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life...and the argument "I wanna write" sounded more like whining than an actual argument (especially since to all outward appearances, I was making no progress in that regard).

I reviewed my meager finances and decided that I would buy a desk. The first piece of furniture I ever picked out, bought, and used by myself. It couldn't be large, because I was basically living in a seven-year-old's bedroom. It couldn't be expensive. It couldn't be used (like sharing a bathroom--who wants in on private moments like that?).

Turns out, I found the perfect desk. A roll top, half the size of a normal roll top. It has slots and files and places to organize stuff. There's no room for a computer, but I was doing all my writing by hand at that time because I didn't really have a computer...my brother and I were splitting computer usage until he left for the Marine Corps. It cost me $200. I still have it.

As far as placing it goes: I knew what King said was correct. Writing is a humble job. You don't get to look glamorous like a movie star. You don't get to 'write' in public. You put your ideas down on a silent, no-talk-back piece of paper and wonder what the hell you're doing. Are you doing it right? Will people like it? Is that what you're doing it for in any case? So the desk does not go in the middle of the room like a shrine.

Turns out, I could never figure out where my desk should go. It has been in the corner of at least two bedrooms, the corner of a living room, the basement, and now it's against the wall in the kitchen. I'm always interrupted (but the door somehow remains closed) and I can tell everything that's going on in the house. My son's kindergarten papers are mixed with drafts and critiques and jump drives. I've also expanded the desk. Now it's a desk + table. The table keeps all the tech stuff (computer, printer, etc.) and the desk is the creative mess it should be. Not nearly as organized I'd like but it has all the chaos of a great working space.

It's my little corner of the world.

How about you? Do you have a space that's just yours, even if it's in the middle of kids, pets, neighbors, fast food workers, etc? Where's your writing hidey-hole?

I highly recommend finding your space. But don't let it block you from the world you want to connect to.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

October Goals

New month starts tomorrow, time to decide on what I want to do. This one's pretty easy, in a difficult kind of way.

1. Finish FJR. The rough draft. Done. Complete.
I write everything out by hand first, so by complete, I mean that I have typed it into the computer as well. Then, on the first Monday of November I'll hand the whole thing over to my first readers...whoever may volunteer...and not touch the stinky thing again until probably March.
2. Finish critiques.

That's it. Simple, to the point.

I can't wait to work on something new. November should be fun.

How September Turned Out

Well, September's over.

I changed my goals halfway through: to just finishing as much of FJR as I could. I was shooting for something like 50 pages. I got about 30 in and another 11 on the round story chapter...so total for pages was about right, just not all on one piece. Not too shabby.

Didn't get too far on the whooping J.K. Rowling's Minesweeper score though. Thanks John.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

For the Deadline Naysayers

Ha!

Guess what I finished just now? Three guesses, but you'll only need one. The round story chapter, you got it. I win! Finished before the deadline!

Now I'm going to soak my aching fingers in ice water.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That Deadline Thingy

All right, so I started out really strong with the round story, and I know exactly where I want it to go.

However, I seem to have dropped it in favor of the novel that I really want to get done by November. This equals trouble for the round story bit because it seems that I have not done a damn thing after I said I was doing so well. Ah well, since it's due on Sunday, I have decided that I will set aside my own novel and finish the round story. Should be fun, and more in keeping with the 'last minute' tradition established by our ilk.

Oh, and I still need to do the critiques for Sunday too.

I will beat back the fiendish Deadline through the use of previously suggested options...

I just don't know how I'll type while punching the Deadline in the nose, stomping on its feet, and running faster than the poor bastard behind me....

Monday, September 24, 2007

What 'Heroes' Teaches About Editting

Last night Shane surprises me because he's bought Season 1 of Heroes. And so, of course, instead of working on my novel like I've planned all day, I decide that watching the show would be more fun.

After a little while, I definitely felt like I was watching way too much T.V. but I discovered something cool on the extras: the unaired pilot. We watched the actual pilot and then we watched the unaired pilot.

In the unaired pilot, the original radioactive man (remember Ted?) is a Middle Eastern character. That's probably the biggest change. And Parkman's whole beginning is rearranged around this Middle Eastern plot, not Sylar. Watching this, the flaws are obvious...not to mention a little too close to home and a little to 'current events' to make for a more universally appealing show. There were some parts I really liked--like the fact that radioactive dude was not a Unibomber rip off. I wish they could have kept the Middle Eastern flavor without the terrorist element--that would have made it more believable for me.

As a writer though, it was interesting to watch the edits going on.

I love Heroes and I think the creators made a fantastic, entertaining product. And they did that by editting. By looking at what worked/what didn't and deciding which way to go...in the end demanding more work from some of the actors (double-time for the guy playing Parkman) and completely scratching other characters. Big plot changes. Terrorists=gone. Serial killer Sylar=in. That involved budget makeovers, physical rewriting, and re-acting for the actors.

So, if T.V. shows can do all that, effecting so many people, why are so many writers scared to re-work their work? It doesn't involve firing people if you make a mistake...it requires the delete button on you computer. Just you and your work. Next time you're in a critique group, or you get your work back from someone you've asked to read it and they make suggestions that are fairly large. Don't freak out, please. Consider what they said. Try it out.

You may be brought back for a second season.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Emotional Drain

I’ve just finished a rough area of my novel where the characters have to deal with an intense emotional crisis. Now, it seems like these are the fun scenes to write – the scenes where everything comes to a head. But it’s been such slow going.

Putting people, even imaginary ones, through hell is just no fun. First, there’s the actual pain that must be caused. Second is the reaction to said pain. Third is the challenge of writing a pain-charged scene without coming across as preachy or sentimental. It’s tiring and trying.

The page count slows down because the ‘internal editor’ kicks in saying things like “So-and-so wouldn’t do that!” “How whiny are you trying to make this?” and “Sappy, sappy, sappy.”

I’m not quite done with the scene that I’m working on, but I’m over the hump. I know what needs to happen. Now there’s just saying good-bye and then it’s off the subplot and on to the main story arc. (Yes, that was just the subplot, but it drives a lot of what happens next in the main narrative.)

So, what do you do when you want to avoid sounding whiny, preachy, and now-the-reader-must-cry?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Doing the Math

Today I did the math to discover how far I had to go in my novel before I'm finished. By my guesstimation I have around 15,000 more words to go. That's not much. So, if I write 500 words a day (two pages) I could conceivably have the rough draft of FJR done in 30 days. One month.

The trick is to do the two pages a day, right?

Plus finishing the round story chapter.

So, we'll give the official due date for the novel's rough draft as Nov. 1. It gives me some extra days, plus it gets me done by the time the holidays start rolling around. And it's done before the baby gets here.

Where to Find Markets

There are a lot of questions out there about where to find places that will publish your work. Really, all you’ve got to do is snoop around a little bit and you’ll find a place. But (!) to make your snooping easier, below are wonderful resources for writers looking to publish short stories, poetry, and essays.

These are the links to the literary world! (Sounds a lot cooler that way…)

If you are a sci/fi/fantasy/horror/any-combination of those, then this website is a great resource for genre-specific fiction:
http://www.spicygreeniguana.com/

If you wish to one day win an award—or at least get published in a magazine that wins awards, the following is a list of all the magazines that have published stories that have won the pretty prestigious O. Henry award. While the O. Henry is just for short stories, many of these magazines publish other things (read: poetry).
http://www.randomhouse.com/anchor/ohenry/magind.html

If you are looking for really comprehensive lists of lit magazines—both online and in print, the following four websites are for you:

http://www.newpages.com/npguides/litmags.htm

http://www.pw.org/links_pages/Literary_Magazines/

http://www.duotrope.com/index.aspx

http://www.litline.org/links/index.html

I highly recommend that you at least browse the website of the magazine you wish to submit to. At the absolute verrrrrry least, read the WRITERS GUIDELINES. If you are a WRITER then the GUIDELINES are for YOU. This is not a trick. If you send something electronically to a magazine that does not have e-mail, then woe betide you.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Domination and Submission

"How do you go about submitting your work? Do you have a system for keeping track of markets and/or pieces you've sent out?" --Ali

She asked this like it would have a simple answer....

What I do, when I'm looking to send stories out, is I first browse through various market sites (for some great resources, check out the links in "Where to Find Markets). A lot of them recommend reading an issue before submitting, and I completely concur with that advice. It makes it a lot easier to 'get' what they're looking for. However, there are some ways to get ideas for the right market without paying for 2,000 subscriptions.
1. Check out the websites. Most have at least one sample story--and here's a clue: they don't pick ones that are weak for their example...
2. Look at the "Best of..." and "O. Henry" anthologies. See what stories are from what magazines. This is the best of the fiction that's being published, again they are practically handing you exactly what they are looking for.
3. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES! They are not lying to you. They are not trying to bluff you. They are telling you what they want. Do it. If it's not for them, don't waste your time, your postage, or their future good graces.

Once I've browsed through--making notes on a scrap piece of paper regarding what story should be sent to what market--I write a cover letter. I paper clip the letter to the story that I'm sending to that market. (There are one or two magazines that flip out over paper clips, but don't worry, they'll tell you in the guidelines--but don't staple anything.) If it's an e-query, I note it on my scrap paper and save everything together on the computer. So, basically, I organize everything together.

Then I have an Excel spreadsheet where I have a different tab for each of my stories. Every time I send one out I note the following:
1. Name and address of the magazine, and the website if it has one
2. Name of the editor I addressed the letter/envelope to
3. Date I sent the work off
4. Magazine's estimated response time

I also have spaces for when the work comes back:
5. Date I received reply
6. Editor who actually responded
7. Whether or not it was accepted
8. Whether or not it was a form response--if there are sweet little notes like "Send us more!" then I make sure that the magazine is up top the next time I do a mailing.


I also mark whether or not it's a simultaneous submission, so I know that I can keep sending a story out if I want to. It's important when doing simultaneous submissions to keep track of who is who because if the story is accepted somewhere, you'd better talk to the other people fast...so they don't hate you. Generally, those magazines asking for exclusivity (read: no simultaneous submissions) are faster than those who allow them...but not always, so you have to keep on them. After their alloted review time is up (it's in the guidelines...), write them to follow up--politely, don't be a jerk. Sometimes things do get lost in the mail.

Change in Plans

Okay, so I've decided to throw the September goals out the window and readjust a couple things.
1. I will finish the round story chapter (umm, I think I have to...)
2. I will write as much as I can on FJR--hoping at least 50 pages...

And that's it. I was going to have a new chapter of a new novel done, but (!) I realize that the baby is going to come very soon. Much sooner than I think and I want to be through the first draft and hopefully half of the second draft by the time junior comes along. Judging by my recent pacing...I have to step it up in that department.

So, it boils down to: Write like a mad fiend...or Whit on caffeine.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why Creative Writing is Absolutely Necessary

"...learn just what you need, then get the hell out of academia before you get sucked into that solipsistic, mind-fuck parallel universe..." --John

Q: Why is creative writing necessary?
A: So you can construct effective, moving sentences such as the one above.

Scary vs. Stupid

"Here's my challenge: take some risks this month. Think about that thing you've been thinking you should do, or write, but you've hesitated because it's risky."--Ali

When I discussed this challenge face-to-face with Ali I had a really hard time thinking about what I was scared about as far as writing goes. Because, really, I've gone into this whole writing thing pretty cocky and just kinda jumped in with both feet. I've submitted. I've been rejected. I've been accepted. I've written things outside my comfort zone. I've done public readings (probably the most nerve-wracking but I've done a lot of theatre too, so I didn't sweat too very much). These are the reasons I love writing, because I can do these things and I'm not incredibly nervous.

Though submitting my novel is quite tremor-inducing.

But it's not done. So submitting it would be stupid. I mean, I like to think that someone would look at it and say "Damn, I can sell this on the first ten pages." Let's face it. Such is not the case. (Though the first ten pages are, of course, brilliant.)

Now I'm trying to think of something that will help me prep for the BIG submission process. The only thing I can think of is continuing to submit short stories. Because then I'm still exposing myself, if I can put it that way in a public forum, and opening myself up to the varied/wandering/opinionated opinions of others. The other thing I thought of would be to write a query letter--apparently incredibly important to the submission process--and make other people read it/give their opinionated opinions.

So, does the challenge count if I do this, and all it does is alleviate those original fears I had?

Monday, September 3, 2007

So Much for That...

Well, crap. Didn't get the round story done. Now I'm behind on my timeline for the monthly goals. Crap. Double Crap.

But, the good news is, I have worked on it. And it's really, really cool. If I do say so myself. And I do. Now the problem is I want to just keep going and going and going. How will I hand it over? It's kind of an addicting world for me. Crazy people all over the place, those are the best kind to write about.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Waiting Around

Right now I'm hanging out at my mother's, waiting for a guy to measure the floor. I know, thrill a minute right? Briefly I thought that I should bring something to work on, like the round story chapter that I will, will, will (!) finish by this weekend. I've already got a pretty good handle on where I'm going (chaos) but now have to work out the willy-nilly details of getting there.

And yes, I realize that I'm on a computer right now, but I've already started writing the round story chapter and I did not bring my file. As fun as this story is, I'm not starting from scratch. Uh-uh.

But, my question to pose right now is: If you know you're going to be somewhere where the only entertainment for a while is mindless television, do you bring something 'productive' with you? My obvious answer is no, though my thoughts are good (I wouldn't quite call them intentions...).

I mean, I suppose I could work on the Minesweeper score thing, but various parties have informed me that it 'doesn't seem like a 'real' goal, now does it?' After my ambitious post for September I tend to agree and will stay my hand at the mouse. Eventually I will make it home this afternoon and set to work. Or nap.

Okay, maybe not nap. But it sounds good.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Things I Learned from Icon

First off, here is how the contest worked: There were 19 contestants who read either excerpts from book-length pieces or short stories. In as few words as possible they stated who they were, what they were writing and give a log line (what's your story about?). They had two minutes to read from their work and if they did not finish within that time frame an obnoxious sound could be heard.

After that, the three judges would give their critiques. And these guys were great, really on target for being put on the spot all night. The judges were Carol Berg, award winning fantasy author, Charles Kaine, head of Last Knight Publishing, and Barbara Samuel, award winning romance author (she has a great blog called A Writer Afoot).

I'm the seventeenth person to read. After sitting in the front row and listening to 18 of my peers read aloud, this is what I have learned:

1. Practice what you are going to read. Out loud. With a watch. Cut your scene if you need to so that you can get the pertinent information across. A lot of people just read until the buzzer went off. The ones that did better in the competition as a whole stopped before that buzzer hit, and took charge of the note that their piece ended on--and it was never a screechy one.

One woman in particular comes to mind, and I don't remember her name, but there was a scene with a car wreck. The main character reaches out a hand to grab her son and discovers that he is not there. Ending on that image, the image with the hand reaching for the lost son would have been sooooo powerful. But she continued reading for maybe one more paragraph and was interrupted mid-sentence by the buzzer. I think her odds were hurt by that, honestly.

2. Know where the scene is. In about half the cases there was a great deal of exposition. In a couple cases the exposition went back to the dawn of man. An audience, like an editor, wants to be pulled in immediately. And, while my log line sucked, I could tell exactly when the audience started listening to me. It was only a sentence or two in. I was pretty proud of that. For others, I don't know if they ever caught the audience's attention.

3. Speaking of log lines--I'm not a big fan of them. The agents and editors I've heard from don't want the vague notions that even the best log lines give. They want the meat of the story. If that takes a paragraph or so, they're willing to read it, if it's well written. But, if you're going to go through the trouble of participating in a contest, follow the guides and write a damn log line. It'll save the judges something to critique you on. I wrote mine in about thirty seconds, right before I went up there. Don't do that.

So, Jenny, how'd you do?

Well, I did not win the overall contest. I believe I was a top contender. But, in the spirit of the competition and out of deference to my karma, I voted for someone other than myself. The good news is, he won. Because had I voted for him and he hadn't won...and neither had I...well, then I'd be a tad bit upset.

Congratulations to Kirk Farber, who took the critic's prize and the Audience Favorite for his Postcards from a Dead Girl (see, even the title's pretty cool).

I got an award for Best Tension. And I was granted a reading from agent Kristin Nelson, who also has a fabulous blog.

Barbara Samuel
http://awriterafoot.typepad.com/

Kristin Nelson
http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

September Goals

No, I don't like them. Yes, they're good for me. Like broccoli. So I'll eat them anyway.

1. Finish 2 chapters of FJR.
2. Finish 1 chapter of TR.
3. Finish round story chapter...and, John, you have some explaining to do.
4. Get as many of the submissions done for this month as I can.

Yes, I realize that these are loftier than the August goals I missed. But, come hell or high water (and maybe both), I shall prevail.

Friday, August 24, 2007

August Goal Results

The results:
I still hate goals.

I finished one chapter of FJR, not two.
I did not complete my fantasy chapter.
The critiques for the Sunday group will be done by Sunday. Chalk one up there.
I did not read The Namesake, which I am greatly saddened about.

But, Jenny, you ask, why did you not finish everything? I answer: A combination of factors. Mainly I blame the lure of competition. I spent a lot of my time refining my submission/reading for the contest that's going on tomorrow. That cut a lot of hours out of the week (read: I made Deb sit for two hours while I practiced. Then I did the same thing to Shane).

Another reason/excuse? My plan did not execute as well as I'd hoped. Ah well. We'll chalk that up to experience. It's hard to work two pieces at once. Though I think I'm a slow learner and will try it all again next month.

But I'm waiting to see if I actually have to do the round story for next month. That'll cut into something, I'm sure. But maybe John will have mercy and point the finger at some other schlub?

Minesweeper Scores

Okay, I'll never beat J.K. Rowling's sales. But, by golly, I shall defeat her Minesweeper score.

Her fastest score for the expert level, if I remember correctly from her website, is a 99. So far, my fastest time is 125. Only 26 seconds to go and I can take her.

If only my wrist wasn't killing me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dreaming a Scene

The only time I've ever used dreams in my writing (that I'm aware of) has been for poems, and those were assigned. The basic idea was to transcribe the dream, not interpret or manipulate, and see what happens. Results varied.

Last night was weird though.

So I'm exhausted, right? (I blame being pregnant.) I go to bed and it's all snug and warm. Then the dream starts coming and it's odd because it's the scene that I want to write for the American Icon competition. And I'm in two places: at my desk with a legal pad and a pen, physically writing the scene and in the bar where the scene takes place. Like I'm watching it through the paper and pen.

The thought keeps running through my head that I've procrastinated too long, everything is going to suck...but the scene is good. And it's come to me whole...with only one question of continuity because there's something I want to happen that I may have to let go. I only have two minutes after all--that's about two-three pages depending on how dense I make the prose.

When I woke up I felt ready and raring to go. Has anyone else had an experience like this? Where you realized the dream was your work and you knew what happened next? It's pretty trippy. Goodness knows if it'll work, but I think I'm gonna try to do what I remember.

4 Days and a Wake Up

...until the Sunday meeting.

You would think I'd be more concerned about the upcoming reading in front of a bunch of strangers, in which three of those strangers will comment in public about the novel I am so diligently working on. Nope, not so much.

I still have not finished the critiques for Sunday--but I'm sure they're brilliant. However, that's nothing new, I'm notoriously slow about getting to them. However to my however, at least I remember what I want to say about them.

My biggest fear: I have not finished the chapter I promised the Ali-demon. *Shuddering*

Monday, August 20, 2007

Speaking of Reality Shows....

Watching writers write would, indeed, be like watching paint dry. You see a whole bunch of moderately attractive faces (because writers, unlike actors/models are not super-gorgeous, but we are not dogs either...) staring at computer screens or sheets of paper and you have no idea of what is going on behind that moderately attractive face. Something, yes. But what? You won't know until it's all done.

Well, a group called the Pikes Peak Writers has decided, for the third year in a row to host American Icon. This is a competition where writers read excerpts from their novels and are judged by a panel of three. There is also an Audience Choice award. It's based on the concept of American Idol.

And I signed up for it. I am a fool.

The competition is this Saturday from 6:30-9:30. I am biting my fingernails. (Yes, John, that does make it harder to type...) We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Novelist, The Short Storyist, The Dramatist, and The Poet

As a student, I have been involved in what seems like an infinite number of workshops--both fiction and poetry. In these workshops, it seems like the question of genre always came up. "Here is how poetry is different than a short story, which is different than a novel" type of conversations. I've struggled with professors and other students over the question of genre and whether or not one author can master all of them.

The original conflict came up in a playwright class where the textbook itself said that writers could not mix genres successfully. Another professor compared the genres to sports (and I'm paraphrasing here): Poetry is like ballet and Novels are like football--one person can have some ability in both but will only master one.

That is, of course, bullshit.

The genres aren't like different sports (and I can't believe I'm using a sports analogy here), they are all like swimming. In swimming you have four main competitive strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Each may look different, requiring different muscles, and then the different events require different distances. But the basics of swimming are universal. You will never qualify for the Olympics in any of these events if you don't know the basics of streamlining, buoyancy--and if you can't move a lot of fricking water.

Writing is like that. Sure, you may have to use dialogue tags in fiction and name-colon in drama to indicate who is speaking, but if you have command of the language, that's no big deal. It's about flexing different muscles, and if you're in good shape and train then switching off is no big deal. Yes, you will probably determine that you just want to write poetry. Fine. Novels? Go for it.

But if anyone steps back and tells you that writing in different genres can't be done (and those of you in grad programs are probably under the most threat, sadly enough) tell them Shakespeare wrote poems and plays, he's legendary for both. Hemingway? Short stories and novels--equally brilliant. Oscar Wilde? Plays, poems, and one spectacular novel. Percy Bysshe Shelley? Brilliant essayist and poet.

But...but...but...they're geniuses you say.

Which came first? The genius...or the practice/work/training/immersion in language by using the different genres?

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Double Header

Normally, when I'm working on a 'big' project, like a novel, I do not work on two pieces at once. If I get stuck, I'll do a short story or a poem or something 'small' to give my brain a break.

Recently, however, I decided from somewhere that I should work on two big pieces at once. Perhaps to challenge myself...mostly because I really, really wanted to work on a fantasy novel, which is something I haven't tried before. For the last week or so, that's what I've done.

Or, tried to do.

So I start work on FJR, because this is the original big project that I want to get done (and if you look at 'August Goals' that's the one I have to do two chapters of before the month is out). I get into it. There's a great argument scene, lots of tension and action--so it's fun to write, right? Right.

Everything is going so well, I decide to jump into the fantasy novel, which for shorthand purposes we'll call TR. I've made it one paragraph in--about seventeen times.

My problem, I think, is that I'm in two different places. I don't mean settings, I mean physical places in the novel. Page 1 and Page 200 are definitely two different stages of commitment, work, character development, world development. Yi! How to go from one mindset to another? I don't have an answer, but here's what I'm going to try.

Focus immediately on FJR, then, for the week leading up to the writer's group, I'll ignore that book completely and see if I can jump into the world of TR and get it ready to submit. By that time, I'm certain I'll be a little tired of FJR anyway. Fingers crossed....

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's a Grind: Revision

So last night I handed Deb my final critique on her novel, and I think I inserted my foot in my mouth (which happens more than you would think). The poor girl talks about how busy her week is going to be and how she's going to wait to do the revisions and I say something to the effect of: "Yeah, you shouldn't look at what I have to say during a busy week."

It sounds worse than I mean, both then and now.

Her story is fantastic, and because it's hers I will not go into why here...the story shall come out in its own time, when Deb says so.

However, like all, all, all first drafts, there's some revision and editting to do. I happen to love revising because it gives me an opportunity to make what is good even better. And that is how you have to look at it or it will seem like too much work and you'll flip out. Fleur said something to that effect (affect? I don't know, I'll fix it later...) last night. She said that she rewrites as she goes so that it's not so scary later -- revising twenty pages is easier than revising 200. I would still argue that you have to go through at least one major novel-length overhaul to make sure everything is seamless.

And a novel-length overhaul is what I suggested to Deb. I tailored the process for her novel, because there are certain elements that need to be considered seperately, but here is the basic layout:

1. Without re-reading a word, do a blind, (novelistic)sequential outline of the important scenes (i.e. Bad Guy Gets Out of Prison, Liquor Store Robbery...etc). Why do this? I borrowed this from Ali, who stole it from our professor, David Keplinger, in regards to a short story rewrite. Essentially, by doing something blind, you have to remember the parts that are truly important. The crappy, unecessary parts are cut out automatically.
2. Reread the novel with those thoughts in mind.
3. Go through the novel and rearrange the physical pages (no computer screens, those who ignore this do so at their peril) in the order that they have to appear. Don't worry if some parts don't really make sense, you're going to cut or rewrite them. You're also going to mark where you need new scenes. This is where you mark typos and cut whole chunks of prose and add in new ones. Add loose leaf paper if you have to.
4. With the original blind outline in hand, and the physical pages of your novel next to you, re-type the whole thing inserting the changes that you've made on the paper. If you think of a new turn of phrase or a better word this is where you put those in. Go until the end. If you haven't cheated, you should wind up with a pretty spiffy second draft.
5. Wait a little while (week or two at least) and read your second draft. Polish it or revise as necessary.
***It's important that you don't type over your first draft with your second draft. You may realize that you need something out of that first one after all. Don't delete anything until you've got a bound, published book on your desk.

But, you see why I told Deb not to look at this stuff during a busy week? Even with a full vacation time it's enough to make someone balk. However, after spending a year or more on just getting down the first draft, investing all that time and energy, aren't you cheating yourself if you skip the part where you make it all better? Make it all worthwhile? Because, really, and I'm repeating myself here, the only thing you can control is the quality of your work.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Top Chef and the Publishing Process

Top Chef, for me, is interesting to watch because the chefs competing are already successful, creative, and they are willing to learn. Because they want to be number one. The best. Every last one of them. Cooking is something that you are a student of your entire life. Like music. Like art. Like writing.


These men and women are put through grueling challenges meant to test their skill and creativity. The ones least successful are voted off one by one. A couple weeks ago, one of the chefs in the bottom set was a young man named Hung. When the judges began to critique his food, he stated that (and I'm paraphrasing here) that no one was spitting out his food. The judges immediately responded that no one was playing on the level where food would be spit. Essentially, stating that these guys were in a top playing field.


So the question becomes, how does one critique the food? There are certain factors, of course, that go into it--texture, taste, presentation, creativity, and remaining within the parameters of the challenge. Then, it seems to me, that it becomes a ranking game. If you scored an 8.5 to Joe Schmoe's 8.7, well, you're going home.

A similar thing happens in writing when we send out work. Our 'dish' is 'tasted' and judged as to whether it should show up on the 'menu'. If our story did not perform either 1.up to par, 2.as well as the other offers, or 3.did not suit the palate of the particular 'restaurant' then the story comes back with a rejection note. Any one of those three factors could play a part in why we did not get voted in.

So don't whine about it. Keep in mind that competition is fierce, even in the smaller magazines. You can control only one of those three selection items: whether or not your work is up to par. The only thing you can do is write the best you damn well can and put out a story that you're proud of. That means looking at the story more than once, making sure there are no holes in the plotline, making sure it is a neat/legible package, and no typos. Clean and well-told. (You can also make sure that you send it to the correct magazine--the horror genre is to Ploughshares as a hamburger is to a donut shop, it don't mix.)

Recently I received a rejection from The Carolina Quarterly and they have written a note on the bottom: "We liked this story very much! Please continue to submit your work."

This rejection tells me two main things. 1.My work was up to par. That's good to know. They didn't tell me that my fingers should be broken and I should never write to them again. 2.That I probably sent my work to the right place, but I was just ousted by Joe Schmoe, and probably physical page numbers of the journal--they can't publish everything. Rejections like this are a step in the right direction. It tells me I'm playing at the right level (no one is spitting out my food). Be thankful someone bothered to tell you that you were on the right track...and then keep sending your story on down the line.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Breaking

After one month of focusing on nothing but reading, I'm finding it hard to get back into the swing of things with Following Julia Roberts (the working title of my novel). All the advice/writing/inspiring/etc. books say that you should not lose the momentum of your novel. Write Every Day! Plunge On!

Bite me. I needed a break, okay?

Anyway, I write most of my stories/chapters out by hand first. I just like the tactile feel of hand on pen on paper. It's intimate to me--and I like seeing how many different ways I can shape my 't's in cursive. When I left off with FJR I anticipated that I would need to 'get back in the groove' and, therefore, I did not type up the last bit of Chapter Eleven. By leaving it to be punched into the computer, I allowed myself a chance to re-read where I left off.

So far, it's worked. I remember what I was supposed to be doing and in the process have rediscovered my characters as if they were someone else's. Now, does that sound bad? I don't think so. Just because Harry Potter is not my character, does not mean that I don't know him. I didn't get the chance to end Harry's story, or Scarlett O'Hara's, but the opportunity I have to come in the middle of a story and direct characters that I know/love, and see with fresh eyes the direction that the story should go, well...it's kind of like getting to write the end of the Harry Potter series from Goblet of Fire to the end. (This is just an example, people, I do not consider myself the next Rowling...I just hope.)

August Goals...

Deb makes us do goals. (Okay, she doesn't really make us, but she strongly encourages....) Actually, I think goals are a wonderful thing. However, I hate staring at all the ones I don't hit in a month. Somehow it feels like I was sleeping while the test was happening...and it was a timed test...and I was naked...

But it's those months when you hit every single goal on your list that make you feel damn good.

So, here goes for August:

1. Finish two chapters of FJR (which is my current mainstream novel)
2. Finish one chapter of Two Rooms (which is my soon-to-be-current fantasy novel) and have it ready to submit for the writers group by the end of the month--that's for Ali's sake, demon that she is.
3. Finish reading/critiquing the stories for the writers group (because I can't expect them to work for me if I don't work for them. Right?)
4. Read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

We'll see....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Critiques for Sunday

As part of a writers group/workshop group it is one of the necessary duties to critique works that are submitted. I've been in groups where this is a fear-inspiring event, either because of page length, or quality of writing, or personal feelings towards others in the group. But with this group it is different...I feel no fear in picking up any of their stories and giving an honest opinion.

Ali, just a little while ago, stated that there are certain members of a group that play certain roles. She called them coaches (people who give exercises to help a writer work out an issue), fixers (people who read a story and know exactly how it should be fixed, and say so), cheerleaders (for when the writer is feeling like this whole writing gig isn't for them), editors (just like it sounds), and something else that I forget right now. And indeed, we can find all these people in our little group.

But I wanted to talk about two other types of people--one that is beneficial to a group, though it doesn't seem like it at the time, and another that is never beneficial.

The first helpful member of a writers group: the Reader. The Reader is not the best writer of the group, in fact, they may be the weakest. However, when critique time comes they are the ones who are the most astute at pointing to what they did 'like' and pointing out what 'worked'. If you have a Reader in your group, count your lucky stars. And pay attention--both to their words and their writing because if they're that bright without writing practice, once they catch up....

The second member of the group is dangerous. This member seems helpful--they mark up the papers, do it line-by-line, but then offer nothing constructive at the end. Yes, it is important to know what did not work for them (and that you've used the word 'she' fifteen times on a page, and that, well, they just didn't buy it). But, if at the end of the critique there has been nothing useful suggested (a la the 'fixer') or there is nothing positive said (a la the 'cheerleader') then it is just a rude, prolonged diatribe at the writer's expense--of both the writer's time and emotion.

Imagine it: A writer has worked on a piece for at least a week, put time into it, some sweat. And along comes this person who seems to want to help, but is not going about it in the right way.

First off, it's rather silly to mark up a rough draft line by line--if there's something wrong with the story structure, the writer will have to fix that first and then work on the language. By all means, point out spelling and punctuation, just so they know what to look for in the future. But after that, they can read your marks and take 'em or leave 'em. If something feels off in the story, mention that. But, more importantly, point out what worked. If a writer goes through life with people just pointing out his flaws...well, let's say that we'd possibly miss those brilliant metaphors, that funny turn of phrase, and that character we may fall in love with, if all we do is point out the negative.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Productivity

Recently, on Ali's blog (see left), she brought up the question of productivity. One of our mutual writer-people, Matt, had stated that he considered a 22 page week a slow one. He stated that he was feeling 'down' because of this lack of productivity. The immediate response was that he should basically suck-it-up because that was better than most of us did in a month.

Later Matt posted that he was out of his rut and had produced a decent 74 pages this week.

Well, glad he fixed that.

But the question for me: What is truly productive? No one in their right mind would say that 74 pages is unproductive. No way. But what if you're stuck in you story? You don't know which way your character should turn. Suddenly it doesn't seem okay to set the bomb off at that particular point in the story. Is plunging ahead when facing these kind of things okay? What if you don't know exactly how to word something? The language seems all wrong? (First, I'd say you were overthinking...but this is just a what if...)

Personally, I just took the month of July off from writing because I wanted to re-read all the Harry Potter books and enjoy the seventh without feeling like I had to get something down on paper. I wanted to sink into a story--one that I would never be able to tell because it belongs to one J.K. Rowling. I insisted that she take me somewhere I've never been, into a world I'll only be able to see because she showed me. After that, I figured, I'll come back to my story.

Instead of writing one word this month, I read over 3,000 pages. (If Matt keeps going at his 74ish-page-per-week pace, he should hit Potter-length in about 40 weeks) I learned a great deal about characterization, foreshadowing, and ending (bittersweet, but necessary). Possibly I could have learned all that without reading a page. But I think I'll have saved myself a lot of time by listening to a woman who did a lot of work over seventeen years. Paying attention is just as productive as churning out pages, in my opinion.

Yet Another Writer Blogging

Call it peer pressure. Call it another opportunity to write. Call it what you will but I call it this:

A chance to escape from the heat by hiding in my basement--and a way to keep the Ali-demon (whom I love dearly) off my back.