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...)