Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade in Review

On December 31, 1999, I hosted a Murder-Mystery party at my house. My friends and I dressed up in all-out party gear (read: formal wear) and proceeded to have a dinner where we sorted out who was the murderer. It was a silly, fun night. At midnight one of my friends killed the breaker for the room that we were in, plunging us all into darkness.

So, at midnight on January 1, 2000, the idea that the world would plunge into darkness was true for about three seconds.

Before December 31, 1999, I had only written to entertain myself. If I look down to my left, I can open the second drawer and pull out a first chapter of a fantasy novel--of which there are at least eight copies because I started that novel over and over again. On December 31, 1999, I did not take writing seriously, I thought I was going to be an FBI agent.

Somewhere in 2000, I changed my plans. I was playing pool with my best friend, Shelagh, and my mother, Susie, when a woman approached us and bought us pitchers (Pepsi for Shelagh and I, and Coors Light for Susie). Shelagh and I were pretty sure this woman was hitting on Susie, but my poor clueless mother had no idea and we weren't about to say no to free drinks. During the pretty flirty conversation, the woman asked me what I did. As I was recently unemployed, recently graduated, and so very lost, I was about to say 'nothing' when Shelagh said "She's a writer."

That didn't sound like a bad idea. I went to Barnes and Noble and found the Writing/Publishing section. Since I was new to this writing gig, I looked through to see if there was something helpful. There he was: Stephen King. He'd written a book on writing (On Writing, perfect!). I'd never read anything of his before. Figuring that a bestselling uber-writer was probably the best person to learn from (gotta learn from the best, right?) I bought the book and read it all in two days.

King says that I must write. So I wrote.

In the meantime I got pregnant and married. In that order.

Finished a 600+ page novel. I wrote while I breastfed Owen, my son. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I've never written like that before, or since to tell the truth. It was tinged with desperation--I was not happy in my marriage, we were living with a woman with 8 dogs and there were all kinds of lovely surprises in the communal kitchen. (Yes, you can say 'ewww', I sure the hell did.) I was hoping that I would, of course, write a monsterously bestselling novel that would sweep me away from where I was. Me=Cinderella. Writing=Prince Charming.

Well, that didn't work. But in my need to become a better writer, I joined a writer's group at the Barnes and Noble where I worked. The Colorado Springs Fiction Writer's Group is still around and kicking. I made so many friends and learned so much there, including the fact that the 600+ monster should not be brought out without a lot of reworking.

In the spirit of becoming a better writer (and pulling myself out of a marriage that was totally tanking) I decided that I should go back to school. Lo and behold, right when I decide to go back to school was right when Colorado State University-Pueblo started their Creative Writing emphasis with the English major. I met even more friends/influences there. And I learned that there was more to writing than dreaming about being a bestseller. When you decide to write, you decide to become part of a tradition that is long, honored, and sometimes tedious. It's work, and sometimes it's thankless work. Observe the geniuses that have died in obscurity.

Along the way I got divorced, leaving me to take care of Owen. You'd think that maybe kids would suck the dreams out of you, needing things like clothes, food, and whatever else that is really expensive and thus negating the idea that writing is a dream worth pursuing. Owen, however, has always proved the opposite: an inspiration. Because I want him to always, always to follow his dreams, I feel it is important for me to set the example. If I never give up on what I want, then I hope he'll see that, and never give up.

And I got remarried. To a writer, Shane, who gets it. If ever you're with someone who doesn't get it, it's time to go your own way. And if you ever find someone who does get it, hold on to them. This is an important lesson. Because of Shane, I started another novel--the one that's making the rounds to agents at the moment. It's a good second effort, I think.

Then we had Bronwen, a little girl who loves books and singing. She has given me one more thing to fight for.

So, from December 31, 1999, to December 31, 2009, I have accomplished the following with my writing:
1. The very first flash piece that I ever wrote and ever sent out was published by Anotherealm in their online flash section.
2. The very first short story that I sent into a competition, "For Five Miles," placed third in the first annual All Pikes Peak Reads competition.
3. A grand total of 11 short stories published.
4. Played at Editor in Chief for The Hungry Eye.
5. Finished two novel manuscripts.
6. Finished one book-length poem manuscript.
7. Finished countless short stories.
8. Worked with and helped start two fabulous writing groups. (So, countless critiques too!)
9. I read. A lot.
10. Started a blog!

Not bad for a decade that started in the dark. Tonight I think I'll keep the lights on and start the next ten years with eyes wide open and fingers punching the keys.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Critiques Are In

The verdict on Up From the Basement (the poetry book): You must read all of it and it works better.

My UGWPers got a partial submission, namely the Bundy section of the poetry book. The result was that, well, it didn't really work.

The CWCers got the whole shebang and they said the things that were in my head as I was working on it...but that the Bundy section was the weakest.

So, off to work on Bundy with the insight provided from writers who know what they're doing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The last thing writerly thing I'm doing for this year is sending off the package that an agent requested, which is a great thing to be doing. Ending on a high note before the rejections start coming back in for 2010.

Then I'm off to critique for UGWP and I'll be done for this year. Satisfying check marks all around.

How are you ending your writing year?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Finished! or, What Happens When Deadlines Disappear

Through November I wrote like a fury to get the poetry book done in time to hand to my writer's group so that I had some readers before I reworked and sent the manuscript into the contest for January.

In two/three weeks I banged out almost sixty poems. Then I hit a snag with Gacy and asked could I please have another week to write thirty more--simple right? After I'd already done as much the weeks before you'd think that one more section wouldn't be rocket science. You'd think. But you'd be wrong.

It took me almost three weeks to finish this section. I say it's because it was more difficult for me to get "in touch" with Gacy, but it's probably because I'd begged for time, gotten it, and then thought "I need a little bit of a break, I'll get back to that in just a little bit. And a little bit more."

When the pressure was off, the pen/typing slowed down. I think this is a common problem for writers, and the real reason the first novel (or couple, as the case may be) takes forever is because we have all the time in the world. There's no one behind us saying "Do this now or your fired!" It's only our own hopes and dreams that keep us pushing those words along the page.

Sorta sad that hopes and dreams don't push us quite as hard as that fire-breathing boss.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Time for a New Look

Coming up on the end of the year it is time for a face-lift.

To your right we have a painting by Frederic Bazille, a French Impressionist who worked with Monet, Manet, and all the other great painters of the day. In fact, they're in the picture, along with French author Emile Zola. This is called Bazille's Studio: 9 rue de la Condamine.

I chose this painting (it's probably my favorite of all time) because it's a study of a group of artists working and discussing what they do--I'm a big proponent that works of art cannot be created on a solitary desk in the middle of nowhere.

So the theme of this coming year will be: what I can learn from other people. There's much to learn and I'm off to learn it!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Here's the thing when you're writing about men who lie: they lie.

The Bundy section of Up From the Basement was more difficult to write than the Kemper section because Bundy was more of a liar (or possibly, not as good of a liar) as Kemper. Kemper gave details that were consistant across the material that I read/looked up/listened to. Bundy was pretty obviously a big fat liar, but a fairly good one, so some things from the "mythos" of Bundy hold up against some scrutiny.

Gacy was a big fat liar who wore clown masks. Nothing he says matches anything that he said earlier. Even about work at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Hello? It's a fast food restaurant, not the United Nations. He makes me dizzy and I can't get a good grasp on what aspects I want to hit on regarding him.

There are some startingly good images that pop into my brain from his interviews and photographs, and that's generally enough to kick off a poem. I just want more than that and it's frustrating.

I know, Ali. I shall now just shut up and write.....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

As the end of the year approaches, I'm trying to sort out what I accomplished, what I didn't, and the why behind both so that I can better plan next year.

What I did not accomplish and why I think I didn't:

I did not finish either rough draft that I intended to. That kinda stings since I had a whole freakin' year to work it out. Why?

Partly the usual suspects: work, family, a great television season that slowed me down in spite of DVR.

Partly because I was (and still am) stuggling with certain aspects.

La Llorona is difficult because I'm trying to challenge myself into writing a little more literary than I normally do--because I need to pull off a certain effect and I think that particular style will serve my purpose. While it's slower going than I anticipated, I feel that the writing is stronger here than in anything I've written yet. Nowhere to go but up, right?

The Line is tricky because while I think the concept falls under the auspices of the "High Concept of Fiction", it also requires world-building because it's set about 150 years into the future and that creates its own level of change--which I do not have a handle on as yet, making it harder to proceed. So after I set up a Bible (thanks to Ali for the suggestion....) then I will type through with flying colors, I'm sure.

Then there's the part where I didn't accomplish what I set out to do because, well, I accomplished other things.

Like writing a whole poetry book from scratch. Who knew? (I know, still not done, but no worries, it will be!)

Like finishing a submittable draft of Following Julia Roberts. And getting two partial requests after sending out 20 queries (check off that goal why don'tcha?). That's a 10% request rate, and that's pretty good right?

Plus all the critiques that I finished--and learned from. Thanks for it, guys! It's like opening a present every time I pick up new reading.

On to sorting out what I'll do, but probably not, for next year!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

JePoWriMo: Day 33

You thought JePoWriMo was done because Mo stands for Month, right?

Wrong.

I'm still not quite finished with my serial killer poetry book. (That was my magical epiphany that I kept secret to surprise my CWCers.) It's so cool!

So the first part is about Edmund Kemper (also known as the Co-ed Killer), the second part is about Ted Bundy (I don't think I need to tell you who he was) and the third part is on John Wayne Gacy (also, I think, I don't need to tell you much about him). It's called Up From the Basement--it's exploring what happens when these guys come out into the world.

I've banged out the first two parts and am now working on Gacy. And I'm having a hard time with him, even though he's got some really, really whacked out things to write about--hello? A killer clown? That should write itself. Guess I just need to keep plugging along.

I'm trying to keep Ali's advice about finishing strong topmost in my head. Though, when I'm done with the Gacy section, all effort will go to starting the New Year strong.