Friday, February 27, 2009

Guess who's done?
I'm done.
Done with the third draft.

Guess who's happy, happy, happy?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

After this is the typo check...

...and the language polish.

And then I'm done and sending out FJR.

I won't lie. It feels really, really, really good to have done all that work and to see an end in sight. Three chapters left! It's noticeably better thanks to all my peeps. I may take a day or two off after all that.

But then it's on with real life....

Next on my to do list (a.k.a. March goals):
1. query letters and synopsis--out to 3 agents in March.
2. a YA submission for UGWP
3. 60 pages of New Novel: La Llorona Novel for CWC
4. finish critiques for all groups

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Now Taking Requests...

...for March's mentor of the month.

Choices are:
1. Lemony Snicket
2. Kate Chopin
3. Edgar Allan Poe
4. Thomas Hardy
5. Janet Evanovich

Monday, February 23, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Christopher Moore Stuff

Went with Shane, John, Oliver, and Ali to see Christopher Moore in Boulder last night. Here are my notes:

1. It's nice to see an author (a successful author, let me add) in the flesh because it proves that mere mortals are capable of having really cool careers.

2. If anyone asks me, at a book signing when the movie is coming out, I'll be irritated. I swear, Moore had to answer at least five/six questions about movies that don't exist while here was a perfectly good, perfectly entertaining (I hope--haven't read it yet...) book that's right in front of them. Books are okay, people! You don't need fancy CG effects in your brain.

3. Two guys--older, trying to look scholarly, I fear that they may have been actual professors from the university but I hope they're just wannabe intellectuals, passed our little group in the hallway asking whether Einstein had showed up because the place was rather crowded. We showed them our books and they go "Eh, never heard of him." (One still asked Moore's name after three of us showed them the cover.) Well, I've never heard of you or your man-boobs either.

4. We didn't win the hat for traveling the farthest because Ali didn't speak up (I tried, but she claims she doesn't wear hats. I guess we know what to get her for her birthday)...and some guy from Wyoming thought he came farther. Hello! Geography people. Pueblo's clear down to almost New Mexico.

5. By the time we got our books signed, I think Moore was feeling the strain of it all. He smiled but was obviously tired. I think, deep down, as much as he talked and dropped the *f* bomb and was all witty, he's just a nerd writer like the rest of us. We're not actors or musicians who have to constantly go out in front of people. We sit at a computer and type stuff and hope people read it...but we may not have the energy to talk to those people all night.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mentor of the Month: Toni Morrison: Work

Seeing as how I’m going back to work today, a little depressed and more than a little pissed that I have to work, I came across this from What Moves in the Margin (the collection of essays that I’m using for our Mentor of the Month sessions…):

'One day alone in the kitchen with my father, I let drop a few whines about my job. I know I gave him some details, examples, but while he listened intently, I saw no sympathy in his eyes. No “Oh, you poor little thing.” Perhaps he understood I wanted a solution to work, not an escape from it. In any case, he put down his cup of coffee finally and said, “Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. At home, with your people. Just got to work; get your money and come on home.”
That is what he said. This is what I heard:
1. Whatever the work, do it well, not for the boss but for yourself.
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
3. Your real life is with us, your family
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.'
--Toni Morrison, “She and Me” from What Moves in the Margin

I may as well have been sitting in the kitchen whining away when I found this passage.

Sometimes what you need to hear comes around when you need to hear it.

But I still don’t wanna go.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

All right, dammit: New Plan.

Didn't get all of the revisions done--forgot to factor in the fact that you actually have to do some new writing when you revise. Banged through a few chapters okay, but had to change stuff I wasn't expecting, who knew there were so many little tidbits throughout that you've gotta catch?

Okay, new plan:
1. Finish revisions by end of the month...even if I have to stay up all night on the 28th.
2. Finish UGWP submission for Sunday.

And that's all she wrote for February. I have to get these outta the way because my CWC submission is coming up again and I have I worked on anything new? Not nearly 50 pages worth.

I guess I was just so excited about having the time to work on the book that I underestimated how much work it was. I did get more than halfway through...which is much more than I would've gotten otherwise. And it is so much better, too. Even I, who have been so close to it for so long and was growing tired of it, saw it get better as I worked. Yay team!

That is not to say that I haven't been despairing at points. Recently I've taken to reading the agent blogs and have been surrounded by bad news on the publishing front--so there's been a part of me that goes, dammit, how am I supposed to make a career out of this? Especially when I read posts about the number of submissions that agents are getting. They're gonna have to read through that much more crap to get to my stuff and then they may be too tired to recognize it-or perhaps breathe a sigh of relief because something good finally crossed their desk. (I believe that such is the case for American Idol judges as well, after a while your ears ring with badness, so you want to kiss the good ones. I don't even sit through all the auditions and feel that way.)

Another depressing point is that today is my last day on 'vacation'. Tomorrow, I have to wade through the same ol'-same ol' after having a taste of what my real life could be like. That's really bittersweet. Yes, it makes me want to work harder, but I'll admit, it's really, really depressing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I think I've made up the difference for the earlier slow-start to the revision.

My original plan--which has since been scrapped--called for a synopsis and query letter to be created this week as well. At the end of the week I think I'll have a solid, submittable draft of a novel but 'the package' is not complete.

Here is where my expertise is shaky. I can talk all day about how to develop characters and how to create goodish dialogue and how to write sentence after sentence. But a business letter?

The many agents that have spoken on the subject say that a good writer is a good writer is a good writer. Savvy? If you write a compelling novel you should be able to write a compelling query letter and/or a compelling synopsis. Deep down I agree...if you're good you should be able to do it. But the level of difficulty is different in my opinion, and that's what I think us writers whine about. We just want to do the fun stuff. Not the research papers.

You know how you have writing a short story and a novel are different beasts? Well, a novel and a query letter are even more different. One is a creative endeavour--an attempt to explore the foibles and fuck-ups of mankind. The other is a marketing tool--a sales letter--an implementation of many sales seminars and corporations. (So, perhaps John is the most qualified of us to create a query letter: the MBA Man.)

I have to adjust my writing muscles and I'm feeling the strain, is pretty much what I'm saying. So far, I've started two new novels, am editing a third, and trying to put together a 'sales' package. Three different kinds/stages of writing.

At least my writing biceps should be sexy enough for sleeveless shirts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Revision vacation... going twice as long as I figured it would.

Monday was my first day hitting the revision. First I took my pen and marked up the first four chapters, keeping my list of 'overall' notes close at hand. I marked the pages and then set to retyping the whole thing over again (that's right, I'm retyping the whole novel and adjusting phrasing and using the notes while I'm doing it).

Thanks to my illustrious readers...there's not a scene going untouched.

Most of the heavy lifting is actually happening at the beginning, where I have to plant more of the seeds that I use later.

But I figured that I could do about four chapters yesterday, considering I had a huge block of hours rather than minutes. Oh no. I only got two chapters finished. At this rate I won't be done until the end of next week...but unfortunately, I don't have the block of hours next week.

Still, I will perservere. Now that I know the approximate time to do things, I can adjust the schedule accordingly. I think I have a new plan now...and I'm ahead by a couple chapters of marking up--which was the big time taker. So I can jump straight into the typing bit. My goal on my sheet is six chapters today...and I think I can do it, or at least hit close to it.

For those of you wondering why I'm aiming for such big numbers, I'll tell you it's because I'm taking the advice of readers flat-out. I think I have the solutions for most of the issues that came up.

Funny story: I was going to fight Mary on one point in the opening chapter--where I have Anica trying to beat in three doors. She writes in the margin something along the lines of:
1. front door
2. side door
3. back door
4. back to the side door--the beating of doors is getting tedious
Because she was the only one who marked that on paper, I was going to ignore her. Then I was retyping and going "My God! This is long. I'll try Mary's thing." And I cut out the back door.

It's soooo much better now. I can't emphasize how strange it is that one little change can bump something up a few notches. The intensity made more sense--no break between the side door being locked and the necessity of throwing a cinderblock. It just moves and that's awesome.

You just can't see things sometimes. Luckily, I'm also at a point in the revision stage where I can't see what else to do to make it better (lucky? how's that lucky?). It means that I can do the work in colder blood. Look at the piece with new eyes and make the fixes a little faster because I'm not fighting everyone's ideas. I can use them objectively. And the retyping thing makes me read every single word again.

Moral of the story: listen to your first readers. They are the ones you tortured with your creation and what they have to say will make it less torturous for future generations.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mentor of the Month: Toni Morrison: Knocking Narrators

"To make the story appear oral, meandering, effortless, spoken--to have the reader feel the narrator without identifying that narrator, or hearing him or her knock about, to have the reader work with the author in the construction of the book--is what's important."
-Toni Morrison, "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation"
from What Moves in the Margin

The reader brings something to the table in the reading of a book. Their experiences, values, even their training as readers (classes, etc.) inform what they get out of the book.

As authors, our job is to create a piece that helps the reader set aside their disbelief and enter the story itself, bringing all those experiences, values, and trainings to bear on the story.

But let's face it: sometimes that's really tricky.

The following are my own, personal observations as a reader where the author and I didn't jive, where, as a reader, I felt the narrator 'knocking about':

  • Sometimes the words themselves get in the way of the reader--for me, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (while I acknowledge the brilliance and creativity), is difficult. Just the magnitude of the words in One Hundred Year of Solitude in particular, makes me read a sentence two or three times. That's a lot of work for me and I can't get into the story. Other books that struck me as wordy: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (though, in all fairness, the structure of that book, with the narration within the narration kind of forces the reader to hear the narrator).
  • The Twilight series--I think I'm too old, or too unromantic for these books to work for me. I hated high school and the idea of winding up as an 17/18 year old forever horrifies me. Meyer sort of redeems herself with Bella's truck (I loved the truck!) and the other vampires' experiences. But I also felt the narration whined a little too much (does he love me or will he eat me?) Whiny repetitiveness gets under my skin. Other books that struck me as whiny and/or repetitive: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
  • I have to say the structure of a novel will get in the way sometimes. Right now I'm reading Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. This novel is about a man living literally starts with him 'coming back alive'. Even the conversations are told in reverse. I'm spending so much time getting my head around what's going on that I feel I'm missing some important elements. I'm thanking heaven for studying literature. Also, I'm too busy thinking, "This author is brilliant!" but that doesn't really serve the story. It's more a reading, is that a bad thing? I don't know, I just hear the knocking narrator. Other books with structure wildness: Nothing I've really read and finished...uh-oh.
And, if I'm being completely honest, I really felt the narrator trying push buttons in Beloved by our very own mentor! Augh! The humanity. But I didn't hear it in Sula, which I really, really enjoyed (well, as much as enjoy can be termed...).

So, it's hard as an author to try to get that sensation of invisible narration. To get the feel rather than the identification.

As I was going through that list, though, it occured to me that who the reader hears is kind of up to the reader. The talent and observation of a reader combined with the talent and observation of a writer. I think when the skill levels are on par, then there's a better meshing--and you don't feel the narrator.

This isn't to say that the writer is excused from doing the work. Far from it. Nathaniel Hawthorne said easy reading is damned hard writing. I think that's kind of what Morrison is getting at too. You have to make it appear seamless. You have to do your best to make sure that the reader's suspension of disbelief is not shaken...that's your job (same as an actor's...if an audience can see the 'act' then you've bombed).

When it works, and the author and reader are working in tandem, when they meet in the middle--the author building enough of a reality where the reader can relate--that's when the goosebumps happen. When the reader goes "Cool" and can bring it back into their real life...that's just awesome.
Any ideas on how to make that happen? Any books where you just went: 'Cool'?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

HarperPerennial taking short stories

So this is pretty darn coolio for those of you who have a loose short story or two laying around...

HarperPerennial is accepting short story submissions for its Year of the Short Story. Check it out. They've got big names so I'm not commenting on the odds of a story being picked up...but hey! there's nothing to lose.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Writing two things at once is a tricky, yet energizing thing.

Right now I'm working on an adult novel, very serious and leaning into the magical realism, and a YA novel, leaning toward the alternate future/adventure, kind of story. Two very different things.

But I'm having fun and writing the two together is pretty entertaining and kind of schizophrenic. When one starts draining me, I switch to the other. My brain twists and turns to catch up. I'm writing two pages a day--one for one book and one for the other. And it's fun. I highly recommend the trying of it for those of you who have been plugging away on just one thing for a while.

Eventually, one of these will demand more of time--especially when revision comes up--but for now I'm just cutting loose and that feels good.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mentor of the Month: Toni Morrison: Posing the Problem

"It [a novel] should be beautiful, and powerful, but it should also work. It should have something in it that enlightens; something in it that points the way. Something in it that suggests what the conflicts are, what the problems are. But it need not solve those poblems because it is not a case study, it is not a recipe."
-Toni Morrison, "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation." from What Moves at the Margin

In her essay, Morrison discusses the role of the novel through history and what it means to African-Americans in particular--as a tool to show how to behave. Jane Austen and her novels of manners show that if you behave properly and true to yourself, you get the hot man and the big, stinky riches at the end. Books like Madame Bovary tell women that if they are promiscuous and devious, then suffer the consequences. I'm just using the most obvious examples, Morrison makes her point in a much more subtle and artful fashion (which is why she's the mentor). But the point is pretty much the same: novels have traditionally been used as a behavior pointer...not a self help book, but a presentation of cause and consequence. Nowadays, I think that's still true, but the writing has become slightly more subtle.

Multiple writers have talked about the 'What if' question(Thank you, Stanislavsky for teaching actors this mythic phrase) that helps them come up with a situation. "What asteroid hit the earth at the same time a couple was about to get divorced?" "What if...a kid comes into a school with a gun but the clown scheduled to show up in the first grade classroom stops him?" From these kinds of questions, you begin developing a novel. But the avenues you choose make the difference between a novel that works in a beautiful and powerful way and one that just preaches at you.

Depending on how you present the problem in the first asteroid/divorce example, the novel could read like a cosmic anti-divorce punishment straight from God. The clown stopping the gun-toting kid could read like all people need to go to clown school to be true negotiators. Now, this 'points the way', like Morrison suggests the novel should do. But I don't think she meant to preach at people. That's what pundits and, well, preachers are for.

I say that if you take the 'What if' question that you start with and explore it, then the novel will point its own way. Does the asteroid landing in the couple's backyard force them to act as a team for the first time in years? Does it kill one of them and the one that's left have to deal with guilt/consequences? Does the clown represent a wholesome kind of humor that can heal, vs the teasing kind of humor that will drive a kid to kill? Or is the clown so frightening that the kid is 'scared straight'?

Our job as writers is to pose the problem, ask the question, and then let the novel grow from that--the direction will choose itself. And it's also our job to look outside our own opinion and try to include that, we have to approach the problem from all directions as best we can. Again, approach the problem, not the solution from every which way. Various solutions will present themselves within the course of your particular novel. So the solution for that one situation will be honest within the novel...but not necessarily in real life.

I think that some writers need a lot of novels to truly explore a problem that's close to their hearts. Hence why there seems to be a lot of repition among certain writers' works. They haven't approached the problem enough to feel satisfied that it was explored.

Pose the problem, ask the questions. It will point its own way.