Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year, new stuff to do

So Deb mentioned posting the new goals for the new year....

I'm not looking at my sidebar at the moment so please forgive me if it differs at all:

1. NANO January novel = rough draft (meaning I'll write a really quick, useless novel in January to restart my writing muscles
2. Submit FJR to agents = gonna put my list of fave agents together and start bombarding them with my genius (right after I finish that last, polishing push in February--I want them to be pleasantly bombarded, after all)
3. rough draft of La Llorona novel = the real focus work of the year...or at least six months of it, if it takes much longer than that to knock it out I might cry.
4. NANO in the real NANO month of November = rough draft of another possibly useless novel, I don't care how random or wild it is
5. three short stories for future short story collection = pretty self explanatory

Other things that will probably occupy some of my time:

1. UGWP round story finishing and editing (as we actually have something [however weird] there, this might take some time)
2. rearranging the submissions of FJR--rewriting query letters, etc.
3. submitting current short stories in submittable condition
4. family
5. work
6. work
7. work--which I hope I can quit after this year because I'll have made some gigantic book/movie rights deal
8. critiques for the group (very important, can't forget them!)
9. random other things

Monday, December 29, 2008

Nervous energy.

Tonight the CWCers will be giving me feedback on the 2nd draft of FJR. I admit to feeling a bit stressed because I so want it to be close to submitable. (I also hope they don't read this before hand and adjust comments...so: no adjusting people!)

Here's the thing when you've put so much work into something--it's easy to want to let go, to let the thing go forth into the world and wow the world, etc. And it's really hard to admit that there might be even more work needed. I mean, enough's enough right?

But the truth is, sometimes you just have to keep plugging along. I'm hoping that my next plug won't be as intense, though. In the recent Poets and Writers interview with the 'new guard' of agenting the agents talked about how a book needed to be at a 6-7 and they would help make it a 10. Right now I'm okay with a 5 that I can turn into a 6-7 and then submit within the next month or so. Then just rewrite for folks who might be paying me.

Assuming the publishing world hasn't exploded by then.

Reading Experiment=No Go

Well, so much for 10 books in a month. I have succeeded in reading only 3 1/2....which isn't too bad when 1/2 is the 1200 pager Monte Cristo.

I also made it through part of Garden Spells and Old Man and the Sea.

Knew it was a stretch during this most busy of times: the Holiday Season!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Free at last from retail hell!

For three wonderful days I don't have to ask people if they want gift receipts, or gift cards, or a foot up their watoosie. Now I get to be on the buying side of things.

And the first thing I bought is the new Poets and Writers with the up and coming young agents on the cover.

The only one I've met in real life is Dan Lazar and I have one really complimentary thing to say about him right up front: he's very consistant. All the information that he gave in the interview/round table discussion was very similar to the information he presented a year and half ago at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. So, in working with him you'll know that he's not a schizophrenic psycho...and he loves Stephen King. He's soooo gonna rep me--even though he doesn't know that yet.

If you get the chance, check out the whole article. It's really interesting and touches on a lot of business aspects of writing that we writers need to know that we need to be willing to do.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Initial issue with Count of Monte Cristo: caricatures instead of characters.


Enter Edmond Dantes, handsome, charismatic, beloved by boss, parent, and fiancee. He is a good guy. As spelled out in capital letters by Dumas before page two of the book.

Then the enemies come in: Danglars, jealous of Dantes's recent promotion to captain; Fernand, jealous of Mercedes Love for the Hero. And some random neighbor who is unsavory in general.

In other words, there's not a whole lotta depth to these guys. They are good or they are evil. The characters that come up will either help the Hero or try to destroy him--part of the novel's lengthiness is the fact that so many people are jealous of this upstanding gentleman, and the lengths they go to bring to him down are extreme, to say the least.

I realize that Count is kind of dated. Some of the reading issues are with me. After reading so many writing books and reading so many contemporary authors who follow the new, established rules of writing fiction (with perhaps the notable exception of Palahniuk...whose extremeness stretches those a bit) I need to stop looking for the 'psychology' of the character and just enjoy the ripping ride Dumas has in store.

At 1200ish pages, there's one hell of a plot going on. Each character has their own motivation, which is a bonus in my opinion. Far too often the characters just go through the motions. But each one is acting on their own principles and I've gotta give Dumas credit for that.

Now if only I can keep on turning the pages. One page at a time right?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finished Heartsick by Chelsea Cain. As a sort of homage to the authors who are entertaining me this month, I will post ways to get more information on them. After all, the most fascinating part of being an author is seeing how other folk did it.

Chelsea Cain has a pretty awesome site--very like J.K. Rowling's (so this Oregonian writer can't be all bad, right?). She's funny and insightful, both useful character traits when you're going to write about pill-popping investigators, pink-haired journalists, and super model serial killers:

http://www.chelseacain.com/

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

December Goals

Actually, writing is not one of them. Having spent the last two years on one large piece, I have decided to take a writing break and read instead. Besides, December is a month where it's sooooo hard to get anything decent down on paper anyway--what with chestnut roasting and all.

So my goal is also a challenge.

I will read 10 (ten) books in December:

1. Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
2. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
3. Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk
4. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (You didn't think I would make this easy on myself, did you?)
5. Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
6. The Duma Key by Stephen King
7. The Queen's Fool by Phillippa Gregory
8. Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins
9. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
10. Series of Unfortunate Events: The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket (this is where I left off in the series....)

Seems like a nice mix of old/new, long/short. Let's see what I can learn from them.

***Adjustment!
I have just remembered that two Kate Winslet movies: Revolutionary Road and The Reader will be coming out verrrrry soon. So, scratch Series and Queen's Fool from the list and insert these two. (Because Winslet rules!)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Printing in progress

Three cheers for me! Finished the manuscript!

Now let's just hope the printer holds out. It's going through a lot of paper at the moment. Yeesh, death to the forests I guess.

I'm trying very hard not to focus on the thoughts going through my head
It's not perfect.
You've still got that typo.
You didn't correct the earlier critiques.
This will never make you a living.

I must tell those thoughts to shut up because you know what?

I have never finished a second draft of this magnitude before. I wrote a novel once upon a time and it's in the 'once upon a drawer' drawer. But it's just a first draft. Now, I've actually taken another step in the learning how to write ladder. It's a good thing. So I should just shut up and enjoy it. Moving on and up!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Libraries: conducive for rewrites

Today I discovered a new place to work: the library. Who knew?

I set out to find a quiet place to write this morning--forcing Shane to babysit because I have to, have to, have to finish my draft. Lo and behold Fountain, Colorado, has a library. I knew it existed because I have recently checked out multiple titles for my son to read, but it seemed a novel idea to actually work there.

The windows look out over a small wooded area and you can't see any cars or roads or anything and I realized that I like not being able to see or hear technology while working. I was focused for the two hours or so that I was allotted by the baby. Some work actually got accomplished.

But, I think more than the quiet, was the fact that I was surrounded by books. I mean, that's the whole reason I'm a writer. I love books. It seemed appropriate that I was working on a novel while surrounded by the fruits of the labors of many other novelists. This might seem strange because I work at a bookstore and am surrounded by the 'fruits of' all day long. But in the library it wasn't about making the sale...you can't buy these books. If people are going to the library, it's because they want to read something. It's a genuine love of reading that is found there.

Later I will have to worry about marketing and making the cash with the book I produce...but not right now. Now it's not about the business, it's about creating something good that someone will want to read.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What did I do?

Like an idiot, I asked if the CWC crew would be willing to do a 'full novel' read through--which involves handing in:

1. full draft of novel (like the name implies)

2. list of agents I am considering submitting to

3. rough draft of the synopsis that I would hand in to said agents

4. copy of query letter for said agents



I was hoping I would be a lot further along on finishing the draft than I am. Looking at the mess of paper in front of me I have another five chapters to do before I even touch at the query/synopsis process--something I've never actually tried before.

One of those chapters is the last chapter, which has always been the hardest one.

Here's the good news. I do think it's better than the first draft. And it's always a plus to be progressing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You people spend WAY too much time on Facebook

How do I know this?

Because I've been slowly sucked into the void that is Facebook. I pulled myself away before I planted anymore weird computer plants or joined more mafias or got bit by vampires or whatever else it is that the creators of this insane website have designed to eat my brain cells. And I do feel them dying, one by one.

Yet...

I'm scared to leave my profile alone for too very long because I was just gone for one day and have been notified that I have almost 30 'notifications'--namely, information regarding mafia/vampire/plant attacks from everyone that I've signed up with as a friend. And I don't have that many friends! I have located a bunch of people from high school and my Barnes and Noble career that I have not approached with the pleading tone of "be my friend!" partly because I'm scared of what will happen.

I have novels to write, people!

But if you listen to this post, I know I'll check my Facebook profile and be lonely if there's nothing there.

Can't win 'em all. Let the brain sucking commence.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

With Apologies to Virginia Woolf

A little while ago, I requested that people send me reading lists. On one of the lists John mentioned that I should definitely pick up Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. This is one I've read before, but considering the slight funk I was in, better to read a book about fiction, women, and writing by one of the greats.

Here's the problem.

One of the main tenets (actually the main tenet...note the title of the book) is that one must have 'money and a room of one's own' in order to write. And I looked around at my life and noticed that I have neither of those things.

Money: yeah, pretty much, no.

A room of my own: I share a loft with a husband and a baby. I do have a desk, but if I use it when I'm 'free' to use it, I wake everyone up and there goes any chance of creativity. Sometimes I'm so not-alone my skin is tingly from just being in the room with other people. At least I'm with people I love. (For example, as I am writing this brief blog, my brother has gone through the room in order to use the bathroom and I can hear the baby and my husband crawling up the stairs, heading my direction-wait baby tumbled now there's crying....)

Anyway, I'd like to amend this oh-so-famous tenet, because if I am to become a writer I cannot do it in the way Woolf accomplished her career. Times are a bit different. Let's look at it in the spirit I think Woolf meant:

You cannot be a writer without freedom and a spot to jot.

You must have freedom in order to create. Nowadays, women are not bound to the idea that we should be uneducated, the idea is, in fact, abhorrent. We can have our own money, property, and pursuits of happiness without anyone (except maybe a couple Neanderthals) thinking the less of us. By freedom, I also mean that you must have some free time.

So, freedom: Yep, I am not restrained by social convention. And if I don't have free time, I can definitely make it. Observe: brothers have left the bathroom and loving husband is comforting tumbled baby and I'm still writing this little blog...which is actually longer than normal.

You must also have a spot to jot. Stephen King is my example/inspiration here. Not only did he not have money when he started, but he also made a place to write. He wrote with a freaking typewriter on his lap! I at least have a computer. You can write anywhere-Ali is my example here, if you have a piece in your brain that will let you tune others out. Your spot to jot can be your brain, if nothing else...but eventually you do need a physical jotting place.

Spot to jot: The aforementioned desk. And my new toy: the lap desk with attached light. Awesome. Got some FJR work done on that yesterday.

With apologies to Ms Woolf-
If I followed her line of thought, I couldn't write-or at least succeed. I don't want to be an angry girl writer, writing to defend my right to write. A great many wonderful women have done that fighting for me (Jane Austen, the Brontes, Woolf herself).

Because times have shifted and because I want to be on the shelves next to her I must reject her most popular of tenets. I must do the work without money and without a room, but I think I retain the spirit of her argument.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New Toys

I've been struggling with finding a place to write. Yes, I have a desk--in a loft I share with my husband and baby. If I want to write I have to wake everybody up (because any lamp or light illuminates the whole small space...ditto if I'm writing downstairs because of the shitty architecture of the house in which I reside...ditto laptop screen light)and I'm sure you all know how conducive that is to creation.

Enter a new product: the lap desk. A lap desk with a light attached. A small light that illuminates just what I'm working on. So, I can work downstairs without bothering anyone and (!) I may actually get some work done. My mother has graciously agreed to pay for my new toy.

Three cheers for progress!

Monday, November 3, 2008

November is Here, Yippee Skippee

All right, my goals this month:

Post about something other than my goals.
Finish 2nd draft of FJR and submit to CWC.
Get all critiques done (thanks to everyone for making that one easy!)
Put together submission packet (query letter, agent list, synopsis, etc.) for submission to CWC...I'm actually most nervous about this....)

I would love to do Ali's Challenge this month, but I'm afraid I'll hafta do it in December, which I was going to turn into my 'writing exercise' month--in which I write whatever the hell I feel like. And read whatever the hell I feel like...in between wrapping gifts and eating far too much for the holidays.

So, here's to November, but I'm looking forward to December.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October Goals--A Little Late

So, I'm a little late on the goal thingy. Ali has called me a slacker and that I'd better get in gear. All true.

Basically my goals are to get the critiques done for both groups and write all the scenes that need to be added into FJR. And figure out what order they go in.

The good news? It requires writing new pages. The bad news? I'm tired of my characters--it's like spending time with one friend and all of my other friends are going: Where'd you go? And FJR keeps me from making new friends. She's that needy, demanding friend. It's a little irritating.

How does one plunge through? My guess is that I'll have to make my new scenes really freakin cool. I may blow shit up. That could be fun.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Are there any real losers?

For those of you keeping track of Ali and John's competition, I know you're with me when I say:

Those two have done some work.

Word Count Math: Both have done about 80 or so pages in less than two weeks. That's an amazing blast of words for those of us who are not Stephen King. And probably even for him.

While I know that some (read: Ali and John) would claim there is a definitive loser somewhere in the mix, I know they both kicked my ass for this month...and the next couple month probably!

Ali's thesis is well on its way. John's novel has taken off.

Nah, no losers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Competition: Is It Right For You?

Iron John has proclaimed that competition is not for the weak, and I tend to agree with his argument.

I also say that competition, healthy and vital competition, is necessary for development as a writer. In my college classes there was a certain 'squaring up'--'partnering'--'creation of nemeses' amongst the classmates. In essence, one would pick out another writer in the workshop and basically try to ape them. We'd pick people who had similar writing styles/themes/issues as our own and try to bounce off them. If they had something we wanted, they were a nemesis. Our rival. Once we gained (or thought we gained an inkling) what they were accomplishing, we moved on and selected others.

It's a growth process. But, you have to be willing to have your ass handed to you.

True for all competitions. Sure...you could win. But you could also get kicked to the ground and humiliated. Fear of humiliation=motivator. Anticipation of kicking ass=motivator. Whatever motivates you to get stuff written down, well, I say it's a good thing.

So...should John and Ali decide to have a 'my page stack is bigger than yours' kind of competition...I say right on. Just remember, we will cheer the winner and throw pickles at the loser. I also say that the count should be words-not pages-because that's a clearer indicator of quantity. Messing around with fonts won't help you in that case.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Very Own Reading Challenge

Looking over at my lists on the side there, I see that my reading has been skimpy compared to previous years. So my challenge for the next week or so is to read three books.

Presently, I am reading My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates.

I am now accepting application/recommendations for the next two books. If you name it, I probably have it...but just to be safe, name three or four each....;)

Sound off.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Never Get Cocky

That's the message that I received in the mail today.

First: Free copies of Shimmer magazine...the issue in which I was published! Yippee! I'm the best writer ever!

Second: Rejection letter right below it. "Sorry, it's not right for us" yadda yadda yadda.

You just gotta take the bad with the good, ya know?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Comments from the Peanut Gallery

Friday night, after closing on Thursday evening and then opening on Friday morning, I attended the Fourth Annual American Icon. Didn't participate in this one--unless you count whooping and hollering for my buds participation.

And let me tell you: Deb, Fleur, and John kicked all kinds of butt.

Deb conquered her fear and stood in front of all those people and read like a pro. It was amazing. She claims her hands were shaking like crazy when she was done, but I didn't notice. I thought she did awesome. Plus she (along with only our table--the cool kids' table) won one of the door prizes.

Fleur, on top of the door prize she won (see? told you we were the cool kids--or at least really lucky) took "Best Tension" this year. That was the prize I won last year, so I'm glad the torch passed on to a worthy successor. See how I take all kinds of credit? Anyway, she earned it. She did an awesome job--especially after seeing her so nervous at practice. Practice makes perfect! and she was.

John in a suit jacket. Nuff said. He whooped up on all the action/adventure people. He came across professional and his presentation was spot-on. I'm pretty sure if just one guy had been on the panel of judges he'd've swept up.

It was great. For those of you plugging away all alone in a home office or on your lunch break, I highly recommend befriending your local writers. Not networking. Making friends. The most irritating part of the evening was the schmoozing. I had fun not because I was there to promote my book, but because I was supporting my friends in their endeavors. They shouldn't be surprised to see me there: I'm invested in them and what they do. Their successes are mine too. I want them to do well. I'm pretty sure that's why Shane and Ali and Nicole and John (different John...) showed up as well. Networking is getting your name out. Who cares?

You want people to care about what you do and why you do it. So, even though I didn't read, I think I got three special prizes from my friends--their stories.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Failure Sound-Off

Everyone else did it. (See Ali, Deb, and John at right...)

Right now I'm looking for a job. Already I've done two interviews and two second interviews--so now it's a foot race for who can offer me better stuff. And that sounds good, right?

Here's the thing: None of them are the job I really want and none of them will lead me to the life I want. With either job (or both, depending on how I swing this) I don't get to stay home with my kids, I don't get to write bestsellers in my pajamas, I don't have free weekends to research exotic locales for my novels, hell--my progress on my writing in general is forcibly slowed because of these jobs.

Even though it's not a failure, and technically good for my bank account, it still feels like a failure--and an almost overwhelming failure at that. I'm beating myself up for not writing faster, getting the drafts done quicker, and putting together a synopsis and submission package--steps that would take me closer to my end goal. Now I have to do all that on top of possibly working two jobs (or one really demanding one). Menial jobs. Jobs that suck. Jobs that suck because they are not what I want. Painful months are stretching out in front of me and all I want to do is sink into the floor and cry.

While it's not failing, "doing what you have to do" is not succeeding either. Who wants to 'succeed' at middle? Fuck that.

I think a lot of it has to do with attitude. Right now, I actually don't feel like I've got a kick-ass-take-names attitude and that bugs me because that's my general status quo. At the moment I've got a my-ass-has-been-kicked attitude that's hard to pull out of.

Though I'm trying to keep something in mind.

Yesterday I read a profile on Tess Gerrittsen (sp?) and she said something to the effect of: "If I had not had a breadwinner and had to work, I don't know how I would have done it (the writing career)."

One day soon I want to be able to say, after working all this and taking care of my family: "You do it like this."

So I'm hoping the attitude comes back.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Who to cheer for?

Hmmm, it's been a while since there's been actual competition amongst the writers.

But now, it seems Ali and John are having it out in an old-school smackdown style. Who will to fifteen pages first? Who will create compelling characters, develop fascinating plots, and type the fastest.

Here's the thing.

Actually, I'm sure they'll both make the goal of fifteen pages.

But who will finish more by midnight, Sunday?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A revelation that's probably only interesting to me...

I was looking at the calendar today, judging exactly how much time I had to procrastinate before I was really, really in trouble as far as getting the writing done. Usually, the last Sunday is before the last Monday. This month, that is not so.



So, here's what that means:

1. Finish all CWC stuff first. Because I'm gonna see them first. Which means:

2. That I should be able to put in a submission for UGWP because I'll have a whole week I can dedicate just to that.



I think that's cool. Somehow makes the month-load easier.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Twilight Zone

Last night I was surrounded by teenage vampires (and maybe a couple werewolves...). Not only vampires, but vampires dressed to the nines. Prom dresses galore. Not to mention dark lipstick, combat-boot-fishnet combos, and big hair. All out celebrating the release of Stephanie Meyer's fourth installment of the Twilight series: Breaking Dawn.

The faces of the 'normal' bookstore customers were priceless. They looked around like it was an alien invasion (and I guess in some ways it was). But some old fogies, and some not so old, were regrettably unable to grasp the significance of the teenage presence. Complaints: "It's too loud." "What are these people doing here?"

Admittedly, a bookstore is generally a place where you come in, sip your coffee, and browse through merchandise you have no intention of buying...even if the coffee gets spilled on said merchandise. Yes, you go there for 'quiet' and 'peace'. In my opinion, these people have forgotten the real enthusiasm of reading. They whined and moaned and left early. Poor bastards don't get it.

It's not about vampires and werewolves and wacky, whiny teenagers.

It's about the fact that these kids were reading. And not only reading--actively participating and cheering for characters that showed them something about life. Cheering loudly. With their parents. That's right, there were a ton of caring, supportive parents there last night cheering on the same characters and the fact that their kids were reading. I've only seen Harry Potter and Eragon do that.

When you read, you've got to get down into the characters, into the story, and fall in love. That's magic. As a reader you have to suspend your disbelief and imagine this writer's creation as real. If the writer did his/her job (key!)...that shouldn't be hard to maintain. I've read Twilight and Harry Potter and Eragon and all of them do this (stock characters and creatures aside...). And the fans have come out in freaky costumes and all their wild, nerdy glory and they deserve our respect and admiration because they get it.

Put some passion in your reading. You'll be better for it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rough Month Ahead

For July, I hit a large quantity of my goals. The writing was a little slow, so hopefully I'll be able to pick up the pace.

August, however, is gonna hurt.

Note the critique load:
  • 7 (seven!) critiques for UGWP...and they are of a longish variety (my submission makes 8)
  • 3 for CWC...and those are long, long, long

But, this is not all I have to do this month. Nope. Because I only submitted a partial partiality of a short story, I will have to submit the next installment at the end of the month to UGWP. And it's my turn to submit to the CWC...so I hafta crank out at least 50 pages for them. What the (^^&(*#%R& was I thinking?

One can only laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Got a submission ready

Okay, so it's not the full story, but even partially done, the beginning is running at 6 pages. This is gonna be a long one, so I don't feel bad anymore about splitting it into--probably 3--different submissions for the Sunday group.

Of course, in my excitement I forgot page numbers...off to do that by hand!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

At least I don't have to have a page count

Here's the decision with the short story: I will submit it in two parts.

As soon as I came to that conclusion, the words came just a little easier but I do need just a little more freakin time. I was busy with the novel and thought I could do it...but such was not the case. Then, reading Fred's submission, I realized I didn't need to finish it all at once! So I get to submit twice. Once this month and once next month. While I'll only get one piece out of it, at least I'll feel productive.

At least I don't have a page count necessary this month like some other people.

Who I love.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Use it or lose it

It's been a while since I've flexed my short story muscles. They seem very out of shape. Flabby even. I seem to keep wanting to add arcs and characters and whatnot. Admittedly, I'm planning a rather longer short story but I still feel that itch to add "Chapter One" to the top of the page.

However, I know it's a short story. There is not enough material for a novel and it's a short story that I intend to use for my future collection.

Originally, I chose to do this because I need to do something besides the novel. I've been looking at the same characters and rearranging the same situations. I just needed something new, ya know? Is that so wrong? So difficult to understand!?

Okay, I'm fine now.

So, I should have it done by Sunday. Hopefully before. Hopefully it won't suck.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Argh, Ergh, and other various things I can't say out loud

What. Did the whole of the magazine world get together and say "It's rejection season! Form letters to all writers!"

At least that's what it feels like. Just got two smackers in the mail and am having a hard time not feeling the world is against me. Bastards just don't recognize my genius.

That's all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Now I know some bar things

Last night was interesting.

Met Ali at the bar and rushed through the back of the service area. Apparently I had everything turned around. There are a lot more coolers than I'd figured on. To say the least. The back of a bar looks far more industrial than the nineteenth century saloons would have you think. I know, seems obvious, right?

That being said, I pictured my fictional bar just a tad more old-school than what was there last night. No touch screens for registers. But that might be the only thing. Less classy menus...

Those are my brief initial thoughts. Now I need to bone up on what actual liquors would be there...the more generic 'house' brands and whatnot.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bar Research

I suppose if you're going to write a novel it should be about something you're interested in. After all, at some point, you will have to research various aspects of your piece--so that you don't sound like a total schlub to the people who read your work.

So Ali has graciously offered to let me follow her around one night this week so that I can get an inside look at how a bar is run. You know all those little bitty details of things, like layout and procedure and whatnot? Apparently I have that all wrong. She has been hounding me to fix the 'bar stuff'.

The closest I've ever been to mixing drinks is as a barista. According to Ali, mixing coffee and mixing alcohol are two totally different beasts...though I notice a remarkable similarity in the layout of the sinks (she sent me pictures, which I have diligently saved to my computer). I look forward to snooping around.

Here's a question for you: What novel would you write, just so that you could do the research part of it all? Would you set it during a specific time period--like the Salem witch trials, just so you could go to Salem around Halloween? Or about a specific subject--like rock climbing?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Kickin' Ass and Takin' Names

I only have one submission left to read! Yippee!

It's all part of my devious plan. If I finish the submissions, then that leaves more time for my own writing through the rest of the month. Here's the strike though: too much space between the written critique and the verbal critique. So I have to be extra, extra written...if that makes sense.

The good news is that if something consistantly bothers me through the month about a story/novel excerpt, then I know that it's a real issue and should definitely be brought forward.

So here's my question of the day: Is it better to do critiques early and get 'em done? Or should you wait, possibly waiting until the last minute, so that the story is fresher in your mind? Or do you blame the writer--if they didn't write a memorable story, then it's not the critiquer's fault, right? (Hee, hee...always gotta pass the buck...)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ahh, poetry

Just received my first rejection for poetry, which was interesting. With my short stories I've gotten plenty of rejections and they followed the usual pattern: form, form with personal note, acceptances.

Now, with this new genre, I am back to form. No thank you. No 'please submit again.' The sting of it all. I mean, I'm not as attached to my poetry. But still, as a writer you think "I can write anything!" At least I do. But you've gotta put in the time in the genre you're wanting to publish in. Yes? I just haven't put in the same amount of man hours into poetry as I have in stories/fiction.

So, does that make publishing in novels doubly hard? You have to put in an incredible amount of time just to churn out one rough draft. Then there's the revising. Then you look at what you've learned from it, realize it's probably crap, and need to do another one. But you have already put in so much time. Yeesh.

Here's to plugging away.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July Time

June went fairly well. There was only one or two really panicky moments...one of them being the day of the CWC meeting--while I had all 50+ pages done, I unfortunately did not have them typed up and was, of course, making a desperate attempt to finish right up until the last minute.

So, that brings us to July. I got all of my June goals completed except for the new 10 pages of Guardian. Yay! Lots of check marks.

Here's to July, a long month of fireworks...
1. complete another three chapters worth of rewrites for FJR
2. complete critiques for CWC (only two this month!)
3. complete critiques for UGWP (a lot more than two this month...darn prolific people...)
4. complete a short story to submit to UGWP

For everyone else out there working on completing pieces--best of luck and love to ya.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Struggle and the Writer

Went over to Ali's today and we had one of those nice, long chats that you can have with truly good friends. Those chats tend to jump from subject to subject and somewhere along the line we talked about writing and struggling.

On these blogs (see the bulk of them at right) we talk about writing and page counts and goals and words. When we talk about having a hard time, there's a whiny quality to it.

Ali said that's what it's supposed to be. Writing isn't easy--so when we write about writing and the effects we want to create with it, we should not always be "Damn, that was easy." Because it isn't. Sometimes we say dumb things. Sometimes we flub an example we're trying to make. Sometimes our clearly don't come out thoughts. Yep, that's what I said.

So here's what I'm whining about:
1. My pages are not done and what I have done is not in order.
2. I'm tired.
3. I don't have time.
4. I'm blogging instead of writing the 'actual' pages that I need to finish if I ever want a completed novel.
5. My house is a mess.

Now that I've done my whining, I'll shut up and do what I need to do anyway. But maybe the load will be lighter now that I've unburdened myself.

For those of you who wish to unload as well: My comment box is always open.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Puzzle Pieces

Right below my feet (I'm sitting on a barstool, at home, not at a bar...) is a notebook containing FJR. It's broken out into chapters, marked by those divider thingies you get from office supply stores. And I'm working on reivising the thing.

It's interesting work because I'm not really doing it in order. I figured that I needed to revise about 50 pages or so for the month and looked to see where the 50 page mark was. I rearranged a couple chapters, rearranged them back, added in scenes, expanded scenes, cut pieces of scenes. Here's the cool part.

I finished Chapter Two last night. But I still haven't typed up my new Chapter One and I'm halfway through Chapter Three and have not touched Chapter Four (where the 50 page mark should hit, assuming I have not cut too very much).

It's like a puzzle. I'm seeing how the pieces fit together. Now I'm just concerned that if I keep doing it in this random order: Will it make sense?

Only, knows I God don't sure.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Genius Question

Recently, on Ali's blog, she posted a question about what to do when you realize that something you've written/are writing has been done before...and by people who are probably better than you.

I have come to the conclusion that you should go ahead and write it anyway. But only if you are aware of what has been written before (hence, as writers, you should read...because you may find your 'original' ideas are not so much...). Then put your unique spin on it.

I feel this way because I think that there are two different types of genius.

The first is the innovator...the one who seemingly creates something new and fresh. I say 'seemingly' because everything is a built, at least in part, on stuff that has come before. Literary innovators, to me, include the following:
1. William Wordsworth: created a new form and school of poetry with his buddy Coleridge. The idea was to recreate an experience 'in tranquility' and use forms to reflect/expand upon that. Basically, it's the first lead-in to free verse poetry...though he only used verse...but he used it for a different purpose. Hence, originality.
2. Dante: Took religion to a whole new level...or depth, I should say. Opened up the possibility of creating a new kind of view of religion (yeah, the idea of limbo...it ain't in the Bible...that's Dante).
3. Tolkien/Lewis: Created completely other worlds. The first real escapades into the fantasy realm (Wells and Verne arguably the original geniuses of Sci Fi).

The second type of genius I consider "The Finisher"--where the original concepts (like the ones above) are taken by a talent and finished so completely that it's difficult for others to follow up. For example:
1. Walt Whitman/Emily Dickinson/T.S. Eliot--finishers of what Wordsworth started. No one after them has really touched their level of expertise. A lot of contemporary poetry is just cheap imitations...they can't top these particular three (though arguable Frost and William Carlos Williams could).
2. Milton: Basically finished Dante's work. Name another person who 1. wrote a eulogy after him and 2. wrote another religious interpretation anything like Paradise Lost. Yep, he's responsible for the apple idea.
3. Tough to say who has 'finished' Tolkien and Lewis because they are so new. Generally I would think that it takes decades for inovations to percolate among the generations. But Rowling is a fair-game kinda finisher. Hard to top Harry Potter. However, because this particualar genre is so new, she could be counted among the innovators...and a strong one at that. Only time will tell.

Based on this, I don't think a writer should be shaken by the idea that a writer has 'done it before'. You never know if your take on an old idea will be the definitive take. So I say go for it. Just read what's there and put your own spin on it.

Thoughts? Opinions? Am I way off base? (Naaahhhh)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jane Austen and Stuff

For my hundreth post, it only seems fitting to chat about a literary great.

Marie recently posted about Jane Austen. She asked the question Why do we look for the brilliance in the writer's life?

I have a similar question, especially as it regards Jane Austen: Why do we try to imitate their brilliance. There are many, many sequels and points of view novels (written from a minor character, or Darcy's character in particular) that seek to continue her tradition. But here's the thing: Jane Austen, the ain't. I am also no Jane Austen.

But, as a writer, and I'm gonna play a little harsh here so others can take opposing views if they wish, why would you imitate someone else? All you will be in history is a pale, pale imitation. Perhaps a shadow--if you're lucky. Now, I'm not talking about books like Jane Austen's Book Club...which uses the Austen oeuvre as a structure...I'm talking about books that flat-out use her characters and her settings.

I would say fan fiction is included in this, but somehow it seems different when you're using such commercial characters to begin with.

But taking Dickens, or Shakespeare, or Austen and putting their characters in new stories and situations. Giving them children and telling stories about their children. Well, it shows that these writers have read. Their writing says that they are talented. So why not create your own places? Your own memorable characters? Knightley is Austen's. Darcy is Austen's. And Scarlett O'Hara is Magaret Mitchell's (don't even get me started there!).

I think if you want to be a great writer, you have to do you're own thing. As an exercise in memorability, I tried to remember a single author or a single title out of the Almost Austen Collection...and there are a lot...and I couldn't remember a thing.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Top Chef and the Bronze Medal

Last night I was watching Top Chef, a show that I love for many many reasons. One of the reasons I love it: The people are talented. "Reality" shows like Big Brother, where it's Joe Blow and his cousin Dotty Rotten sitting around trying to jack with each other don't impress me. Show me people who have trained, who have learned their craft and then throw them in a room together and let them show who is the best...now that's great. (I wish they could find a way to make writing seem like an interesting television endeavor...but we don't get to use knives or fire that often.)

So the final three were chosen last night. There were two, Stephanie and Richard, who have been kicking butt fairly consistantly throughout the show. The other two were Lisa and Antonia. Now, I love Antonia but she made a mistake...and one mistake on this show (in this case some beans were a little too chewy...yeah, it's that close) sends you packing. Unfortunately, Antonia was sent home for a bean error. This irked me because I really admired her. A single mom. Opened her own restaurant. And has made it this freakin far! I mean, wow. Overall she's impressive.

When she left Stephanie and Richard were sincerely bummed to see her go. They've gone through weeks and weeks and weeks of cooking torture and tests. She was their buddy. And in their sadness at seeing her go, they forgot to congratulate Lisa on the fact that L. was gonna be going ahead on the final challenge with them. And Lisa called them on it in a very rude fashion. Something along the lines of "I know you don't want me here but a congratulations would have been nice."

Then Richard, in one the asides, says, "What? She wants a congrats for winning the bronze? Congrats."

Burn.

But I think it's a legitimate point. You came very far and you did a good job. But it's hard to remember the person in third place, in anything. In publishing, the fact that your manuscript was the editor's third favorite pick means the difference between being published period.

And then there's the winning gracefully. I mean, there are two people who are missing their friend. Give 'em two seconds before reaming them for not saying "Hi, glad you're here. We're gonna kick you ass next week."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Critiquing, and again

I have read so much this week that words blur before my eyes in my sleep. I hear narrative when I'm not paying attention.

At the last Underground meeting, John made a good point: critiquing helps you become a better writer...so do it or get kicked out of the group. Okay, he was a bit more eloquent than that and made the argument that you can't half-ass stuff and become better. I'm paraphrasing, but still.

So, here is what I have learned from the reading so far:
1. It's nice to read the 'new guy's story but I'm still not a fan of present tense.
2. Sometimes people make long sentences when they should make longer paragraphs.
3. I'm at my sharpest in the evening.
4. Length, whether short or long, creates different demands--I had the pleasure of reading our shortest submission right next to our longest submission and, wow, it made me change my mindset midstream.
5. Exposition is important.
6. I like to play with titles.
and
7. I learned that if you have a lot of things to do you have to organize and realize that, if you want to be a better writer, you have to be willing to do more than the next guy. I did a lot of the critiques during my lunch hour while my co-workers, well, at lunch. I wanted to do a good job on the critiques because I am about to jump into my own revision and I wanted to be sharp. We'll see if it works.

Because in the end, you can see other people's problems but it's hard to be honest about your own.

I'm trying to keep in mind that the things I critiqued people on the hardest are probably the things I need to work on myself.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Galley Stuff

In the last couple weeks, I have had the opportunity to look at the galleys of the magazines in which my stories will be appearing. The experience is a heady one. There are your words, and you didn't have to type them this time, and someone else has formatted and made them look pretty. Of course, it's a little tedious at this point because all you're doing is looking for typos and 'does that comma go there'? I'm pretty sure in one of the stories, the editor added in semi-colons. That kinda threw me, but it looked good so I didn't say anything (of course, I could have done that last minute too, after a while you're just not sure what's yours anymore...)

Now it has me thinking about book galleys and having to read through your whole book for little typo shit. My eyes cross at the thought! At work we get what are called ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) which are basically the same thing that the authors get to proof. It's the pre-final edit before the actual publishing takes place. And sometimes, whoa!, the mistakes that get made in layout.

I have an ARC of Jennifer Weiner's Little Earthquakes. At some point there is a whole scene immediately repeated.

In the ARC of 20 Times a Lady there are multiple, painful misspellings (in one case a 'butt' for 'but'--could be slightly embarrassing).

The good news is that in a professionally formatted piece, the typos almost jump out at you. It's really hard to miss them. The consistancy of the publishing makes the mistakes twice as bad. Mistakes are easy to miss on loose-leaf, self-formatted paper (and one the computer screen).

So, here's to getting it right (hopefully! my eyes are tired).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May is Over, June is In

I didn't really set any goals for April or May. At first I decided that I would pat my back for things I got done and not worry about what I set out to do.

Apparently praise doesn't work for me. I didn't even do a decent blog session this month.

So, back to goal time (and there are a lot now...)
1. 50 pages of revision for FJR
2. finish critiques for the Underground Writers Project (the tentative new name for the Sunday Group)
3. Finish critiqes for the Creek Writer's Council (and while there are only three, there's a lot of paper, lemme tell ya)
4. 10 pages of The Guardian (part of my kids series)
5. and a stretch goal--yeah, because I need stretching with those other slacking goals--is to finish the first chapter of The Guardian for the UGWP.

Off to work on getting some check marks.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rejections are nice, but this is nicer...

Yay!

My short story, "The Elegance of Things Once Living," has been accepted by Skive Magazine for publication in their June 2008 issue!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Round Story Action Time

Our round story is progressing nicely. We have a large quantity of pages and a lot of schtuff that happens. Right now it's my turn and I think I've decided what I wanna do--probably a good thing since it's due tomorrow.

However, I plan to propose a couple things relating to the story now that we're going into the third round...basically we're rounding the corner and writing straight for the finish line in this last segment. Because it's so difficult to control such a monsterous task as a novel combined with the monsterous task of getting eight+ people to agree on anything, I think we need to do the following:

1. Decide how it ends (my vote is that Oz winds up with Hannah and lives happily ever after in his mansion)
2. In addition to our submission, we write a small note at the end of our chapters showing the next participants where our head was at and what we pictured happening next (the person following doesn't have to listen, of course, but I think it would add some consistancy...the end of the book is about fixing complications, not adding more)
3. I made a binder filled with all the submissions thus far. This go round, I think on each person's turn they should write in what they think needs to be fixed/changed/rearranged for the editting process to continue.

Those are my ideas and I'll present them tomorrow. We're almost done.

Anyone else have any ideas on how to control both a monster manuscript and a group of madly creative people?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quotes from Ancient Greeks

I was at work the other day and flipped through a book of "Ancient Wisdom." Inside there was a quote from some brilliant Greek philosopher (I think he was Greek) that went along the lines of this:

"If you want to be a good reader: read. If you want to be a good writer: write."

Now, before everyone thinks that I'm about to defend reading as a good tool for writers, let me ask a slightly different question:

Do better writers really write more? Does quantity count--because inevitably a writer will hit on something worthwhile, or because the lessons are learned faster with the larger quantity of words? Can you discover that one author is 'better' than another (more successful, more lauded) simply by looking at the amount of words they've put out over their lifetime--or lack thereof?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Marginalia

In front of me, I have a couple of books that I read a while ago. There are notes in the margins...and things like smiley faces for passages that I liked. Now, my question for today is: what do the notes you make in the margins say about you?

I'm not limiting this to novels or textbooks--some people don't mark those up at all. I would argue that not marking a book says that the owner was concerned about destroying the book, and the hard-earned money that went into buying it, or that there is an awareness that the opinions marked would change over time. For myself, I mark up a book because I interact with it...however, I always seem to stop in the middle. All of my 'marginalia' is at the beginning of a novel or story. After a while I just engage with the story and forget that I'm supposed to be 'studying' or 'having opinions'.

But I think marginalia includes 'notes to self' in notebooks, or half-finished stories, or sentences that were the spark of an idea (you wrote it down and then forgot about that brilliant little nugget). If, as a writer, you died today, what would your marginalia tell scholars? I don't date anything...they'd be lucky to decipher what I wrote when. And I skip between notebooks. The first part of my first 'under the bed' novel is written in one notebook, typed up in a seperate file, and the rest of it was written on random scraps of paper. So, I guess the future scholars will have to absolutely love me because I'm leaving behind one hell of a jigsaw puzzle.

How about you?

Monday, April 28, 2008

That Old Question

Where does one find time to write?

In recent days I have found myself pondering that question. There are multiple things I want to accomplish, but I seem to have forgotten how much time babies take. And how much babysitting seems like "sitting around doing nothing". So, not only is the house fairly trashed, but the writing isn't getting done either.

So I guess the mentor for this month should be Kate Chopin. (I think.) If she's the correct person that I'm thinking of, she had something like eight children. When her husband died, she started cranking out the books to feed everyone...a lucrative idea even then. This was at the turn of the century. So: she did not have a computer; she did not have a husband to shove the kids off on for a few minutes; she did not have a washing machine, vaccuum cleaner, or a nanny, and all she had was twenty four measly hours to crank out classics, a la The Awakening.

I guess it goes back to that whole Cowboy Up thing. But somehow I'd like a more definite plan. How do you guys do it? Is it better to just do a tiny bit (like a paragraph)and give yourself credit for it, so you don't feel quite so bad? And all this doubt coming right when I'm starting a new, larger project and rewriting FJR.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ali owes me money

but let me back up for a second.

At first, I did not intend to do Ali's challenge. But, as I was looking through our garage for one thing, I found a ton of other stuff for my office. This ton of stuff included notebooks small and large, pens, pencils, and various other paraphanalia. Turns out I wound up working with office supplies. And it was fun.

However, in the midst of all this fun, I came up with a really cool way to revise FJR--a way that would allow me to see a rough version of the new order that I wanted to put stuff in. I would literally cut and paste. I have decided to cut the scenes into the new order and rearrange various paragraphs within those scenes. I will paste in the new stuff I write with them so that I have one version all together.

It should be messy. Yay! Like kindergarten.

But, in determining this, I also determined that I needed loose leaf paper (better to insert into a three-ring binder--of which I found, like, twenty in the garage), rubber cement, and file dividers to mark chapter breaks since my current chapter breaks will be moot. And that's where Ali owes me money. See, if it wasn't for her goofy idea I wouldn't have thought of it. So I blame her.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mentor of the Month: Salman Rushdie: Part Two: Influence

"Afloat and terrifyingly free upon these boundless seas, the writer attempts, with his bare hands, the magical task of metamorphosis. Like the figure in the fairy tale who must spin straw into gold, the writer must find the trick of weaving the waters together until they become land: until, all of a sudden, there is solidity where once there was only flow, shape where there was formlessness; there is ground beneath his feet. (And if he fails, he drowns. The fable is the most unforgiving of literary forms.)


The young writer, perhaps uncertain, perhaps ambitious, probably both at once, casts around for help; and sees, within the flow of the ocean, certain sinuous thicknesses, like ropes, the work of earlier weavers, of sorcerers who swam this way before him. Yes, he can use these 'in-flowings,' he can grasp them and wind his own work around them. He knows, now, that he will survive. Eagerly, he begins."


--Salman Rushdie, "Influence," Step Across this Line

I can't add anything to this. It says what I want to say far better than I could possibly say it.

OMG...what did I just do?

Okay, there's a secret I've been keeping that I think only really Ali knows...and Deb to a certain degree.

But I, I confess, write poetry as well as fiction. However, I've never sent any of my poems out to publishers/magazines until today. I can't tell you why, except that I think I've had more confidence in my fiction. Sending out poetry always struck me as nerve-wracking. Not because I didn't think my poetry was good enough...but, strangely enough, because I didn't think I could keep track of it like I could keep track of short stories. It seemed easier to lose poems in transit.

Rather than stymie myself I have decided that I'll just send out the poems in a packet at a time. I'm in no rush for publication with poems...so, I've sent of a packet today and I guess we'll see what happens.

P.S. I realize that I put OMG in my title. Forgive me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reading to Your Kids and What You Learn

My son and I have been reading nightly since he was born. I read the entire Harry Potter series out loud (that equals the first five books at that point) during his first year of life. While he does not remember this experience, I do.

For the last couple nights I have reintroduced chapter books to our repertoire with a book called Lucy on the Loose. It's about a beagle. My son is into dogs. What can I say? But I'm learning a lot about how stories are structured because the plot/subplot elements are pretty darned straight forward. Chapter One: Intro of devious cat that will tempt Lucy the Beagle away from loving owner. Chapter Two: Intro of loving owner's (Bobby's) shyness and love of superheros (including Superman and the Lone Ranger). Chapter Three: Lucy the Beagle cuts loose.

What's my point? I can pretty much tell you right now that the only way to get Lucy the Beagle back is for Bobby to overcome his shyness and then he will become the superhero of his own life. I don't know exactly how all that will come into play but it's part of the inevitability that should be there in every novel, be it for children or adults. It's just easier to see in children's books...especially those really-really beginning reader books.

The first pleasure of this whole thing is that, as a writer, I get to see the plot/subplot structure and it gets me thinking about how I'll utilize it in my own writing. The second pleasure is that my son knows none of this and is just enjoying the story.

Even without the pictures.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Writing Marathon of My Own

Today is Pueblo's Writing Marathon. Unfortunately, due to the timing, I won't be able to make it.

So, I've decided that I will do a writing marathon of my very own. Today I shall hit a couple different spots and freewrite and then share my responses here. I apologize ahead of time for whiny, pathetic posts. But you never know what you'll get from these things, do ya?

Besides, the baby likes to go on walks...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mentor of the Month: Salman Rushdie: Part One: Stuff the Editors Think

"If you read two hundred or so novels, you do begin to notice certain general trends and themes. There was a point at which I said that if read another novel about a young girl beginning to menstruate, I'd scream."
--Salman Rushdie, "The Best of Young British Novelists", Step Across This Line

When you are rejected, it is nothing personal. Unless you've somehow managed to piss off the editor by standing outside his office and hovering while he read every single sentence of your manuscript and you kept saying "Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Areyoudoneyet?" the editor probably doesn't know you from Adam.

What the editor does know: "I just read thirty poems about deer. If I see one more fucking deer poem, I'm going to throw this whole stack of paper against the wall."

Salman Rushdie had the opportunity of sitting on a panel of people to select the up-and-coming list of new novelists. The quote above would be one reaction. I completely understand. When I edited the literary journal for my college...well, let's just say no animal poem fared well. And that was both my prejudice and my prerogative. My magazine, my call.

So, if you're going to write a poem, story, or whatever, just do it to the best of your ability, send it out, and cross you fingers. The person on the other side may be tired of it or not. You don't know until you send it away.

But if you're rejected, don't take it personal. It may have been one squirrel story too many...maybe the next editor will be less bothered. Keep sending it out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rejections of the Future

I just set up another 4 submissions to send out. Yippee!

Now, off to mail them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rejection Connection

Rejection update.

Got a couple form letters.

But I also got a great one from The Missouri Review:
"Although we won't be publishing this story, I wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your writing. The style and structure of the story itself sets it apart. Good luck in the future and I hope you'll try us again."

There are two things that are great to see when you get a rejection letter: the first is a handwritten note. That's just awesome.

But the awesome-ness increases with the second bit: the caliber of the magazine.

Who thought rejection could make you smile?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thank your friends...and do the work

All of the critiques of the rough draft of FJR have been returned to me from the saints that reviewed it. Here is what I have to say about that:

Deb, Ali, Nicole, and John--you guys so rock! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Look, the truth of the matter is, as writers, we jump into something hoping to God that what we're doing will work. We hope also, of course, that we will be able to recognize what goes wrong--if anything--in a manuscript by ourselves. But we just can't. That's where having a good writers group comes in so damn handy.

The good news is, after all their notes and all their hard reading-work, they all pretty much came to the same conclusion. There are two specific scenes that bug everyone.

Here's the news that a lot writers don't recognize:
When only two scenes are off, that's great.
But, that still means you have to adjust the entire manuscript.

I was reading a book called Making a Story (or something along those lines, I'll double check the title later and let y'all know...) and I was in the "Revision" chapter. Basically, the discussion was about writers going on to the second draft...and then to the third, etc....The conclusion was that the first draft is messy but the second draft may be even messier.

Why's that? you ask. It's because a lot of times writers just try to fix the scenes that are messed up, thinking that will fix all of the problems. Generally, it just adds confusion because those couple scenes are not reflecting all of what's in the manuscript now. So the result is this cut-and-pasty thingy but not really a strong draft.

So, I have to thank my friends for saving me a step or two. First, they pointed out the scenes that weren't working and then another thanks to John specifically for pointing what the main issue with those scenes was--and I bet he is not even aware that he did that.

The main issue is the main character. Every other character has pretty defined arcs. My main character, A., is moving around all these people, moving around the situation, but I don't really root her in the conflict while I move her through all these other, layered interactions. The reason everyone nailed me for two specific scenes is because those are the scenes where A. is supposed to come into her own. The reader is supposed to connect with her at those moments...but there is a decided lack of conflict and a lack of her history in those scenes.

What happens if I fix just those scenes?

The story will be off-balance because the history and the conflicts that are presented in the revised scenes will inform the scenes that already 'work'...so the good scenes may or may not work when it's all said and done. Luckily, after brainstorming and reading my buddies' comments, I know I have to re-do the entire thing...but only to make it seamless. Now I know where the problems are. I have a couple ideas on how to fix them and am going through the whole manuscript right now looking for where the stitches have to go.

Drudgery, you say. Nah. If you've put that much effort into a manuscript already, the chance to make it shine shouldn't overwhelm you...it should motivate you, drive you. I'm thinking, in the end, that's what seperates the pros from the amateurs.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Historical Perspective

I just finished reading James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder and in the back of the book is the "P.S" section where there are author interviews and whatnot. Apparently, Morrow spent seven years working on this novel...and many years before doing 'pre-writing'--where he got the inspiration and accrued information.

One thing caught my attention. It seems Morrow felt creeped out by the Salem witch trials. He always felt awkward when visiting the museums about the witchtrials. Considering this is a book about the juxtaposition of Reason and superstitions in the 17th to 18th centuries, I found myself wondering why he would steep himself in all this history to create this novel. Then I asked myself this question:

Why spend so much time on a time period that creeps you out...and not in a good way? The amount of effort that has to be put forth in a novel is strenuous at the best of times. Why work on something that seems, in some ways, painful?

Another question for all you good reader/writers out there:
A publisher has said that yes! he will publish you...but only if you write a historical piece. What time period do you feel you could research and basically 'spend time in' for a decade or more while creating your piece?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Rhythm Interrupted

Apparently Ali has run out of reading material. Imagine! and she hits me with the refresh of shame....

Anyway, there's a very good reason for not posting. Yes, I'll blame the baby. But I'll also blame everything that comes with a baby. Namely: relatives.

There are mother-in-laws, grandmothers, mothers, uncles, cousins, etc. Everyone wants to see the baby. Not that I blame them; my child is gorgeous. However, driving to and fro so that we can show off her beauteousness and entertaining people who don't regularly live with us has thrown off the schedule. I've been watching far too many soap operas under duress, observing far too much of Dr Phil's opinions, and basically feeling like I'm spinning my wheels and getting a whole lot of nowhere.

Which has thrown off my goals.
Which irritates me.
Which makes me sound bitchy when I don't want to be.

I still plan on hitting the revisions of FJR this month...sometime. That was the main goal for this month after having the baby. (Who, I might add, is taking my typing very well, though it is probably jerking her head around in a most uncomfortable fashion.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Will She Make It? Take Two

Nah, she didn't make it to the writer's meeting, but I did--all 9 months of me.

However, for those who are interested in life a day after a writer's meeting then I'll tell you the following:

Bronwen Elise Preston was born February 25, 2008.
She was 7lbs 14.5oz.
She was 19.5 inches long.
We're still trying to figure out the hair color and the eyes are blue for the moment.

For those of you considering natural childbirth--you're crazy, an epidural is the only way to go.
For those of you who are wondering if you were one of the lucky ones whose work was critiqued while I was at the hospital...well, you'll have to wait and see.

***

And a side note about choosing reading material when giving birth:

Originally I was saving Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job for the book to read while being induced. I felt humor would be best when dealing with poking nurses, long needles, and gooey general things. Luckily, I started the book early.

Do you know what the opening scene is?

Yeah, a woman dying after childbirth.

Just read the opening chapter of whatever you're intending to bring with you...that's all I'm saying.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Will She Make It?

I have not had a 'writer' fix for two months now. Sure, I met up with the Pirates on the first Thursday of the month, but we didn't do much writing talk (I was too busy being gifted with Pirate Baby Swag...thanks guys!).


Now the Sunday critique meeting is coming up. And my baby seems lodged permanently in my tummy. I have money that says she'll show up on Sunday. That means another writer meeting missed (I missed the first one because of a baby shower) and I probably won't go because I will be induced early on Monday if she doesn't show. This may sound like callous whining...but darn it!


I've not been writing because I wanted to take a break. Now I feel breaked. I'm suffering from crazy writing-withdrawl. It is unnatural for a writer to not be writing. It feels irresponsible. Empty.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I Wanna Print Something!

I've been out of printer toner for about two months now, and that's tragic enough. Today I purchased a two-pack of the toner necessary to get my printer up and running...then tore apart my husband's stash of cables to find the correct ones to connect to the computer (nope, the printer has not been hooked up since we moved!) and now everything is set.

And lo! I have nothing to print.

Printer's block. Who knew?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Villains Unite!

Perhaps I have been stuck at home too long now. So far I think I have watched the movie Underdog thirteen more times than is healthy.

But it's made me wonder about villains. Dr. Bar Sinister is the evil-doer in this particular movie, going toe-to-toe with the wonderous Underdog. Admittedly, even the hero is cartoony but the villain is at least as phony. Yes, I know it's for kids...I'm not that slow. Still.

What makes a great villain? Why is someone like Batman's Joker so scary and someone like Batman's Mr. Freeze so not? Goofy powers? I mean, the Penguin can lean towards the comical...but Danny DeVito's portrayal definitely freaked me out. Then there's Superman's Lex Luther--odd land-grab plots aside, he's a fairly decent villain...definitely maniacal enough to hold attention, if not necessarily scare the pants off of you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Character Sketches: Take Two

So I've been doing the sketches, which is like pre-writing with real writing, and it's taking some adjusting.

I've got the main characters and the main plot for the first book and a 'controversy' for the next book. Over it all I have a vague/hazy idea about what the main, overarching plot should be for the kid's series itself.

However, it is very interesting. I find myself cutting off the development of the vague/hazy idea short every time I get to it because I don't really want to know yet. I just want to know my people. Two of them became especially interesting last night during this exercise.

If anyone out there has done character sketches: how much time do you focus on the history of your character vs. the personality of your character. There's a difference...I've avoided the history because that's been coming up organically and the personality that these guys have will determine how they react in the situations I give them, but it also makes me want to go further into the story at the same time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Thanks to Elizabeth George

I finished reading Write Away, Elizabeth George's take on novel writing. She writes mysteries and her approach is totally different than mine. I'm one of those people who writes and then sorts it all out later. But, being between projects at the moment, and seeing as how I wanted to try my hand at a kids book, I thought I'd try something totally different--you know, as an exercise.

One of the things George recommends before jumping into the novel writing is a character sketch...a heavily detailed character sketch. Her argument is that if you know who your characters are before you start, then the story will basically tell itself because "character is plot". So she says to sit down with your notebook and write out, in present tense, everything you know or think you know about your main character. When you're done, proceed with the secondary characters.

I did just this and wow! It was actually fun. I took the main character for my kid book and put him through his paces. When I finished, I knew his motivations and drives and his friends. Not only did I get enough for this first book in the series, I pretty much saw the whole series (six books in all) laid out in front of me. Who knew?

The only flaw: Generally I figure this stuff out as I go anyway, and I'm worried that the actual writing (when I get there) will feel less like I'm discovering something...seeing as how I did all the discovering pretty early on. Of course, the only way to know that is to do the writing...but I'm still working out the supporting cast...see my difficulty?

But, if you're feeling like you're stuck and you're a little more left-brained than me, then I would recommend this exercise. It is fun.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

On Being a Professional "Beginner" and The Movie: The Prestige

So, I did not get the critiques done for last month because I wasn't going to make it to the meeting anyway and now I have to do two months worth of short stories and novel chapters. You know what I have found interesting in the pile of work of before me? The amount of beginnings.

What do I mean by this?

I mean that, for a lot of writers, creating the beginning may be the difficult part, but for others it's hard to get past the starting line. There's a lot of revving the engine, and that seems like action, but then you never hit the gas and go, so it's only the promise of action.

I like to think of the trailer for The Prestige when I think about how to structure a story...partly because I like any excuse to think about Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman....In the trailer you hear Michael Caine's voice explain "The Pledge" "The Turn" and "The Prestige." Here is my interpretation to the writing of stories (particularly longer works like novels, I'll use the group's round story to avoid picking on any on person, while picking on all of us...):

1. The Pledge: The opening, the beginning, if you will. This is where you establish who your main character is, what his problems are, and how you're going to solve it (which may or may not be accurate/clear at this point). Basically, you're making a promise to the reader: "You will love this character who is surrounded by a mad cast of other characters (who you will also love) and who is searching for love via his dreams."--My rough guesstimation of the promise made by our group to the reader in our round story. This pledge can continue for a few chapters while you make the world a messy place to live and complicate the problem further...it's a continuation of the same promise and the bigger the mess you make, the bigger the next two parts have to be. Quite frankly, our group made a huge messy promise and now must work its way out...but how to do that?

With "The Turn": This is a mini-climax near the beginning of the middle where the story takes what is promised and brings it all to a head by streamlining all those fragmented pieces. In Emma it's where Frank Churchill enters the picture...pulling the focus from Emma's matchmaking (which is in the Pledge to the Reader part of the novel) and adding the idea that she may need a man herself...initially to be thought of as Frank Churchill himself. It's the biggest new complication that takes all those little ones and sheds new light on them. In the round story, that would be where the will comes into the picture and the contests. Now you've taken the mad cast of characters, threatened them, and now they have to work themselves out. If your situation is messy enough, the sorting out of this turn should take you a while to untangle....Leading you to:

The Prestige: The climax. The be-all-end-all. But here's the trick with the Prestige...all the elements have to be in place to begin with. Jane Smiley in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel discusses the idea that if something is wrong with the end of the book, it's because some key element is missing from the beginning. I can't use the round story for this because we haven't made it to the end yet. Looking at Emma again: the prestige is where Emma finally listens to what Mr. Knightley has to say and it's that he loves her and wants to marry her. Who is Knightley, you ask? Well, he's the guy that was there in the first chapter, spending time and attention to the whole of Emma's family. He's the guy that was her conscience through all the other mischief she was getting up to. In other words: his revelation and her acknowledgement would be the prestige. The key that made the whole thing go together...otherwise it's just about a spoiled girl who learned nothing and went about her spoiled little rich life.

Now that I've gone on, I'm going to go just a little longer...

In the critiques I've been doing, I've noticed that the Turn is the most difficult part. There are lots of beginnings and promises being made, but no one is turning all those complications. So there's just the promise of a good story. And, of course, once you've made the Turn, the next hardest part is the Prestige, the pay off, the Turn-take-two as it were. In one case I'm on page 200+ and can't find the turn anywhere--there's a second case that's not as bad as this in that there's 40+ pages, but I'm not sure the problem is being complicated/promised quickly enough. In another case I think we got to the Turn and then turned back to the beginning instead of driving forward. In one more case I noticed that just a small tip of the problem was introduced amongst all the scenery.

I've probably had a little too much time to think about all this. But what are some other opinions out there on how to structure a big story? How can you move past the "Pro Beginner" stage and into the "Pro Finisher" stage?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Let us say "Unprofessional"

All right, so I'm not going to name names, but I have to bitch just a little about a magazine and its submitters that recently created a pain in my ass.

I have a special e-mail address that I use when submitting so that things like rejection letters do not get lost in some random junk folder. Recently I submitted to a magazine via e-mail (being an e-zine, this was the preferred method). Waited the due period of time. Then I received a response.

A rejection. Bummer. But! it's not the first I've received, it won't be the last, and I'll move on.

However, it was a form rejection. In the form of a "Reply All": which means everyone got to see everyone who was rejected and had their fellow rejectees' e-mail addresses. So, of course, one or two of them responded with a "Reply All" and thus began a mad mailing amongst the Rejected. Some comments were funny. Some were pissed.

All were in my professional "In" box, clogging it up.

So, for those of you out there who are running magazines, please try to keep information private (and to note: the editors did send an apology when they realized what happened) and, for those of you who have been rejected, try not to throw salt on the wound and keep your rejection thoughts to yourself...even if they're funny and witty. I've been pressing the "Delete" key for days.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gods Behaving Badly

...and the title is apropos. That's something you don't necessarily see in a book nowadays.

Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips, has a fascinating concept at its core: all the Greek gods, almost the entire pantheon, rooming together in a dilapidated London townhouse. No one believes in them anymore. Artemis, goddess of hunting and chastity, is reduced to dog-walker. Apollo now hosts a psychic show. Aphrodite doing (what else?) telephone sex-operating. As characters, Phillips does an awesome job developing the gods. You see them, feel their pain, and laugh at their fuck ups.

Less so, the mortals that are supposed to carry the story.

I recommend it as a quick, entertaining read. But some of the themes that Gods touches on aren't fully delivered. The question of the power of belief is central to the plot but falls flat at the ending (which seems a bit rushed). There seems to be little to no growth in the pantheon as characters, which is to be expected to a certain extent, but Artemis seems tempted by mortality (a great opportunity to explore the pros and cons of immortality)...and then isn't. The mortals, Neil and Alice, aren't much better. They stumble along before the gods enter their lives, and stumble along after--only with a little more god-power on their side--without feeling the divine.

So, if you want to read something entertaining--you will laugh...it's a guarantee! Ares, the god of war, and Eros, Cupid to you Romans (who has converted to Christianity), are especially well drawn. I'd say Athena was funny, but I didn't understand a word she said. Aphrodite is impressively offensive in a beautiful kind of way. It'll put a smile on your face.

The Bigger You Are...the Harder it is to Write

My belly is touching the keyboard long before my fingers. Dare I say that the amount of typos has increased exponentially with the growth of my unborn baby? But we'll try hard not to blame her for the lack of energy to write, the awkwardness of physically moving toward the keyboard, the fact that every time I stand up I have to pee, or the surprising lack of comfort I find in any given position (standing=need to head to the nearest bathroom, sitting=stomach bumping whatever's in front of me, laying down=whack! and Shane's knocked outta bed...).

I think the hormones are great for developing story ideas--just not the execution. Normally I write stuff out long hand first, but I can't use a lap desk or lean forward over a notebook for more than five minutes.

Ah, well. Less than four weeks to go right?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Mailing Game

Just sent off 11 submissions. With 11 different cover letters. Can we say tedious?

I realize it's important to show the mags that you love and respect them...but I'm worried that after all that work I spaced out and put "I love Gulf Coast!" in the American Short Story envelope. And did I actually stamp all of my self addressed stamped envelopes?

I'm fairly organized as far as submissions go--with Excel spreadsheets and copious notes as I go (to make sure that I have a reasonable shot at any one magazine). Too nerdy? Well, it goes back to that whole presentation thing.

I want to be considered professional, so I have to behave professionally. But aren't professionals allowed a little leeway if they lose focus for a second? Have you guys ever had a situation where you forgot something important--for a presentation, or a class, or a submission?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

American Idol and How to Present Yourself

I admit to being a fan of the one and only American Idol--but it's probably not for the reasons you think. In my opinion, anyone looking to go into a job interview, or make a presentation, or even send out stories would do well to watch the show and figure out what *NOT* to do.

For example:

The next-to-last girl who auditioned in Philidelphia (we shall know her henceforth as Princess Leia...you know who I'm talking about) is my prime example for this, because she makes my point for me.

Throughout the audition process she emphasizes that she is 'different' and a 'goofball' and how the show 'needs a change'. Well, first off, she's imitating someone and not being unique at all--Carrie Fisher she ain't. So, there's no actual change being initiated by her anyway...just weirdness.

Secondly, her big beef is that the "Idols" that went on through with golden tickets were 'all alike' and if she'd used make-up, etc., then she would, of course, have gone on. Here is where she makes my point for me: professionalism is KEY. Even in a whacked-out audition situation like Idol. Yes, the girls who wore make up made it through--they were well-groomed and presented themselves seriously. Princess Leia kept repeating that the judges need to 'get past appearances'...but here's the trick, honey, they don't. It's your job as an artist, as a professional, to give them no excuse to say no.

That's true for being a writer as well. Tonight I've been working very hard on putting together submission packets--letter writing, etc. I've gone through a ton of paper looking for typos, looking for goofiness that could distract the very busy editors (read: Simon, Paula, Randy) and give them the reason they need to pass on my stuff. Here's another clue: I won't be printing the stories and/or letters out on purple paper with Star Wars logo.

Keep watching the show...take notes...we might make fun of the "Idols" (how's it goin', Sanjaya?) but quite a few have the talent and the ability to present that talent. That doesn't make them cookie-cutters. That's the difference between fifteen minutes of fame and fifty years of it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First Book 'o the Year: Emma

Today I finished my first book of the year: Emma, by Jane Austen. An oldie but goodie.

However, it took a second book that I just began reading today (Write Away by Elizabeth George) to remind me why Jane Austen rocks, even for someone who has been dead for...well, for quite a while.

In the first chapter of George's book she discusses why character is story. Her argument is that you must know your characters and what makes them tick before you can tell a decent story. Do you know their motivations? Their drives? She emphasizes her argument with a list of characters that you remember long after you put the book down. A couple of Austen's characters are mentioned and it made me think automatically of the book I'd just put down.

Every character in Emma has their own motivation for doing what they do.
Emma: Match-makes because she is bored and needs to feel useful to her friends...it's really the only way to pass her time, until she realizes that real happiness is right in front of her.
Mr. Knightley: Lectures and pesters Emma because he loves her. His 'odd' behavior towards several of the characters is obviously a jealous reaction.
Mr. Churchill: Secretly engaged to Miss Fairfax and must keep the secret or lose his fortune and any hope of a future with her.
Miss Fairfax: Reserved behavior in order to protect her secret engagement...anger at Churchill for not understanding in some cases.
Harriet Smith: Just wants someone (anyone!) to love her...
Mr. Woodhouse: Refuses parties of pleasure out of concern for their health...nothing malignant in his personality, just overly bossy concern.

And that's just the tip of the ice burg. Now throw all these characters into one room together and let them interact. There's the story. Austen is so astute--she knew each motive for each character and did not reveal anything until it came to a crisis. I think that's part of what makes her writing still so interesting today. Her people are recognizable. In every flaw, in every argument, in every misunderstanding, it is very easy for the reader to see real people...people that we know.

I think this is what Elizabeth George was getting at in her chapter about character. You can't just let the characters meander around on stage and then stumble on something cool unless you know what they're about. It's less about the ideas in the novel and more about the people. We don't read to be taught. We read to be entertained. And people are always the most fascinating form of entertainment.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Working on New Stuff: Weirdness

It's weird to be working on something outside my comfort zone.

Novels for adults=Fine. I can handle that. So far I've finished two first drafts. I could put in as many curse words, as much violence, as much sex as I wanted.

But it's so weird writing something geared toward a younger crowd (my guesstimation puts it at around 8ish-12ish years old, the middle readers, before teen angst hits them really hard and all they want to read about is curse words, violence, and sex).

The story is good. I'm diggin the story. I like my characters and I really like the fact that more characters jumped out almost immediately--surprising me with their importance to the 'simple' story I thought I was telling.

My only real issue is shutting off the "Editor" brain. There's a part of me saying "Ooooo, gotta watch it...kids are going to be reading this." I have to remember that J.K. Rowling totally earned the word "bitch" and that was geared toward a younger crowd (argue at will...). And I was recently surprised by another word on the first page of The Higher Power of Lucky, this last year's Newbery Award winner: scrotum. Who knew?

Has anyone jumped outside their 'comfort zone' before and found it really odd? Not bad, necessarily, just...weird?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Title In Question

Recently, one of my good writer friends has been having trouble coming up with a good title for her young adult novel.

Recently, at a critique meeting, one of the critiquers said that she did not like the title of my book...that she would not pick it up off the shelf.

Burn? you ask.

Eh, a little. I still think my title is appropriate for the book, but I can see her argument. So I've been trying to think up a couple alternative ones if it has to come to that (read: if future agents/editors don't think the title will work).

It's nice to know that this 'title trouble' is not a recent epidemic. We should take comfort in the fact that George Eliot had about six different titles set for Mill on the Floss and that she is not alone. Emily Dickinson was apparently so stressed out about titling her poems that she didn't bother. Ditto Shakespeare's sonnets (though there's a rhyme and reason to his order...)

Anyone else have trouble with titles? Generally I don't have much of an issue finding one that I like...but pleasing everyone else is kind of a pain.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Unpacking Books

It just goes to show that people do not care about your stuff as much as you do.

I've been unpacking boxes upon boxes of books. Normally, this is not a burden for me because, in most cases, it's like discovering the books I've meant to read for years all over again. Sometimes it's like saying hello to new friends.

Now, due to my current 'preggers' condition, the packing of the books fell to well-meaning relatives. My mother, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, husband, and various nieces and nephews did the book-packing. Unfortunately, not a single soul of them knew my organization theory behind the books. First editions had their own place, Harry Potter had his (in theory, I've been reading those off and on throughout the year).

As I unpack now and put the books on the shelves in a haphazard manner that makes me want to cry (and I really do want to cry, it's not an exaggeration) I find myself getting even more frustrated. It's not only my own system that is out of whack, but Shane's books are mixed in with mine as well. Instead of greeting old friends that I selected and found a place for, I am confronted with these weird strangers: yearbooks that don't have my name in them, brochures to places I've never been, programs to shows I've never seen, and books that I wouldn't pick up if left to my own devices are now mixed in with my old, sloppy favorites. To be honest, it's like finding a stranger's underwear in my own underwear drawer.

This is not Shane's fault. It is no one's fault. The group that packed did a ton more than I could have. However, I'm disoriented. Does that make sense? I'm used to Stephen King being here on this shelf--the Gunslinger series all together, the Series of Unfortunate Events all together, first editions there, mass market paperbacks here, and the non-fiction section right there. The map is all backward. And don't misunderstand...I have probably upward of four hundred books total and I knew where every last one of them was supposed to go. Now I can't even find them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Goals for 2008

All right then, time for the big goals for 2008:

1. Revise and submit FJR
2. Complete rough draft of Children's Novel 1.
3. Complete rought draft of Children's Novel 2. (It's a series.)
4. Complete rough draft of La Llorona Novel.
5. Complete rough draft of Members of the Club Novel.

All in all that's 260,000 new words by my guesstimation, and revising...which I really like doing. Definitely some stretching going on, but I think it's totally possible. Even with a new baby demanding attention.

Aside: Actually, when my first kid was born, I got a whole lot done. I mean, what else are you going to do while breastfeeding? It's not like you can fold clothes and clean the house. Paper is light. Pens are not large.

(Yes, Ali. I'm sure you knew I was going to make a list...I wanted it to be the first entry for 2008 though, easier to flip to...)