Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Online Friends Not Forgotten

I always find an approaching new year somewhat funny. I live in the corporate world where we exist on the fiscal year rather than the calendar year. Sometime around June, now that’s the end of the year!
I find myself getting reflective because other people are simply being reflective.
One thing that keeps coming into my brain, are writers friends who disappear online.
People disappear online all the time. The job, the family, other interests that come up, it’s a difficult world to persist in.
When a writer goes dark, this is different.
People who love writing have an obvious knack with words. They express themselves with more emotion, and in their expressiveness, I feel I know them better, especially the writers with a natural voice flowing from their fingers as easy as they breathe.
I miss these people. It feels like a friend dropped off the grid. Sure, we’ll exchange email, but what I miss is the way they expressed themselves on any topic, really. This missing is like the occasional itch you can’t scratch.
That leads to wondering: do I do the same thing? I hope not.
As we head into the new (calendar!) year, let us all resolve to set aside some time to connect and grow. The world today is a shaky place, but our online friends are our friends.
Sometimes, the digital divide is not a divide at all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Humble Pie

Denial is not a pretty thing. As I write, snowflakes circle and drift earthward. A cozy, if somewhat alien, lap rug of snow is tugged up tight across the landscape. New paw prints lead from the garden shed to the deck, indicating a depth of four or so inches. What the hell. When did it become winter? Wait. Christmas was last week?

My yet unwritten Christmas missive begins, Contrary to the evidence you're holding in your hands, this letter is not late.


I seem to be floundering in a soupy concoction of denial and misplaced time management. Streams of liquid sunshine and unrestrained laughter float aimlessly down a lazy river. I'm draped across an inner tube, head thrown back, soaking up the shrill cry of a red-tailed hawk, the rugged skyline of pines, the scent of heat on water. I think I must be back in August somewhere. And, dang-it-all, I've lost my interstellar time traveler thingy.

So, no writerly wisdom or blinding wit to amuse you. Just an admission: Not only did I slip off the radar for awhile, but I managed to delude myself into thinking I hadn't. My apologies. I've missed you all.

But, most of all, I've missed that predatory focus that comes with writing.




Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Writing


How did you do over the holidays? Did you get any writing done? Or was it all eating, gift giving, eating, hanging with the family, eating, watching some football, and a little bit of eating?

I actually took some time and got 40 pages typed. As you know I write longhand first, then edit the manuscript while typing it in.

I'm really liking the story so far. I see areas that need improving, scenes that need to be written, but it's coming along well.

I've got almost 13k words typed in so far, aiming for something north of 75k words. It looks like I will have enough from the three notebooks, but I may have to expand a few areas otherwise.

Hopefully next week I'll return with a lot more words.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I got nuttin' today...

Other than to wish all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, a lovely holiday.

Big hugs and a hot chocolate from Germany,

JKB

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Objects in Mirrors

(Apologies for my normal Wednesday post appearing on Thursday, I had a computer go boom. Go boom is a technical term, by the way.)

A year of writing: that’s my summation. In addition to the mounds of hack writing at work, I started and finished two novels from Christmas to Christmas.

How did that happen?

Heck if I know! If I know anything, it is I'm having so much fun writing. And reading! I read twice as many books this year as last. Woo wee!

Woo wee is a technical term, by the way.

I would love to know how your year in writing went. Did you have fun? Were you inspired? Was the struggle between the day job and the writing job a burden? For the un-agented amongst us, how went the search for your professional book fan?

Have a merry book Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Patience Dear Writer


Last week I was excited because I was nearly finished with my latest novel. I could see the end and thought that it was only hours until the first draft would be complete.

Not so fast buckaroo. I worked feverishly on the final scenes right up until the last few pages and suddenly realized, I hated the ending. Instead of one big conflagration where the truth is finally revealed in an exciting finish, I had one sort of medium sized one, and another kind of small one. Not really a good way to end a book.

The last few scenes had taken almost 50 pages, but were a big letdown from the rest of the book. Instead of ending with a bang, the story slowly fizzled out and died. I was so disappointed that I almost wanted to put the story on the shelf and move on. This was the story after all in which I finally found my voice. This was the story with which I felt I would finally be able to get published.

Crap, now what do I do?

I struggled with rewriting it for a day or two, but it wasn't working. I couldn't think of a better way to end it.

So I stopped writing. I did nothing on the story for almost three days. I let the story come to me.

The good news was, that it worked. On the fourth day, I suddenly thought of how the ending should be, and started hacking. I salvaged about half of the 50 pages, but the other half, had to go. You know what they say, sometimes you have to kill your darlings. Those pages were hard fought, but in the end, they had to go.

I finished the new ending today, and it's exactly what was needed. I love it.

So I guess my message is, when the story won't write, add some patience, take a little break, and let the story come to you. Great stories cannot be forced. Sometimes they must be allowed to write themselves.

Have you ever been stuck on a story? How did you resolve it?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What inspires me is...

Jingle bells

So, as I sit here and copy/paste this into Blogger, it's about -10 C and snowing. People hurry through the streets with their noses stuck into their scarves, bundled to the eyeballs and over. But they'll still find the gumption to go to the Christmas market and drink some mulled wine.

I think winter is my favourite of seasons ... but not necessarily my favourite *writing* season. I like to see things outside my window, and with the sun starting to set at 3 pm I only get miserable and depressed. (And that's if the overcast snowy sky even lets you see the sun starting at around 8).

I think my favourite time to write is fall, when everything is golden and smells so nice.

You? What's your favourite season to write?

(and is it SNOWING where you are?)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Article and a Competition

Newsweek came out with an excellent article about how 'Celebrity' is the newest kind of art form. It sounds silly, especially when I write it like that, but the article really does make a strong case, and makes great points about how perhaps the power of film or the power of novels pale in comparison to the power of a celebrity storyline.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/226457

Currently I'm getting my novel ready for the ABNA competition on Amazon.com again. I did it last year and was fortunate enough to place in the quarterfinals with a novel I'd written around seven years ago. This time I hope to get a little further with my newest novel, which I believe is a bit more suited to the competition. Anyone else planning on giving it a go?

Hope everyone's doing well out there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Imaginary Conversations with My Main Character

Lexus: I wanted to talk to you about kissing Nate.
Anthony: Wait… what? You don’t kiss Nate.
Lexus: Exactly. I think at the end of the chapter, I should kiss Nate.
Anthony: No.
Lexus: Why not?
Anthony: Kissing Nate would be selfish.
Lexus: I’m kinda selfish.
Anthony: It’s not very smart.
Lexus: Hello? Brain damaged.
Anthony: Um…
Lexus: What is the real reason you don’t want me kissing Nate? You have to admit, some inappropriate suck-face at the end of the chapter with Nate is a perfect tension device. Plus, Nate’s cute.
Anthony: Fine. I don’t want my readers to think I’m trying to live my high school fantasies vicariously through the boys you are meeting on this undercover assignment.
Lexus: Bouhahahaha!
Anthony: Shut up.
Lexus: Bouhahahaha!
Anthony: God, you’re such a bitch sometimes.
Lexus: Oh man, you kill me. Sorry. Um, sweetie, your readers already think that.
Anthony: Again: shut up.
Lexus: And while we are here, let’s talk about some of your failed characterization.
Anthony: Wait… what?
Lexus: You just finished explaining how the world’s religions were gutted as a prelude to the war, yet I constantly say “Oh my God,” and “God damn!” and my personal favorite, “Sweet Baby Jesus!”
Anthony: Oh. I go into that in book four.
Lexus: Book four.
Anthony: Book four.
Lexus: You haven’t even sold book one yet.
Anthony: Nope.
Lexus: What book is this you’re on now?
Anthony: Book two.
Lexus: Let me see if I have this right. You’re working on a sequel when you haven’t even sold the first book. You may never sell the first book. In fact, the last book you wrote might be your first book and that is in a separate genre.
Anthony: Yup.
Lexus: Wow. No wonder you want to be a writer. What else could you do?
Anthony: Hey now! Don’t be ugly. I know many writers and they are all very smart.
Lexus: Yeah, smarter than you. That should tell you something.
Anthony: You’re being mean.
Lexus: I can’t believe you’re married. What does your wife see in you anyway? Obviously it’s not your intelligence.
Anthony: Hey!
Lexus: Oh, I get it. You’re a big squishy man-softie.
Anthony: Am not!
Lexus: Softie!
Anthony: Shut up! I do manly-man things.
Lexus: Softie!
Anthony: Enjoy your Nate kisses, you hussy. This childish conversation is over.
Lexus: Figured that one out all by yourself did you?
Anthony: …

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Negotiating Christmas

Last year, hubby canceled Christmas. This made me delirious with joy. Instead of busying myself with decorations, Christmas trees, cards, gifts, holiday candies and goodies (like I ever bake), I was able to focus entirely on writing.

This did not make me popular with the in-laws.

In fact, the Christmas card we received read, "This has been an interesting Christmas." And then it was signed. Nothing more.

On the other hand, I totally rocked in the writing scene. Two straight weeks of Christmas Break. Two straight weeks of unabashed writing from 7 am until 4pm, when hubby got off work. Oh yeah. AM totally doing the happy dance.

So, this year, guilt nibbles at my soul. Christmas isn't about making me happy...

Thus, I am dutifully planning Time with the In-Laws.

How do you negotiate Christmas? Still get your writing time in? Keep peace in the family?

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm So Excited


I am working on the final climactic scene in my latest thriller. Guess what that means? You guessed it. I'm soon going to have a first draft.

I am very excited about this one because I feel like I've finally found my voice. In case there are those of you who don't understand what that means, it's the unique flavor, or style of writing, that comes from you, when you are in your comfort zone. I'm sure there are better descriptions, but that's what works for me.

Some authors have a such a unique voice, that even if their name wasn't printed anywhere on the pages, you would still recognize their work. The ones that I can think of off the top of my head include, Shakespeare, John Le-Carre, and Tom Clancy. (Tom Clancy in the same sentence with Shakespeare?? I'm sure William is turning in his grave... )

So the final showdown scene takes place in San Francisco in the middle of one of the most famous bridges. Anybody want to hazard a guess? It's color is International Orange. It's about 1.6 miles long. It's considered a landmark. Anybody?

OK, you guessed it, the Golden Gate Bridge.

What's interesting about this bridge, is that the middle is actually a fairly safe place to meet someone, if you don't want to worry about snipers taking you out, or bodyguards jumping you. I'm not talking about the roadway, but the walkways on either side.

My protagonist sets up a situation where he rides a bicycle from the San Francisco side towards Marin, and the antagonist rides from the Marin side toward the city. They meet in the middle, and that's where the fireworks happen.

What happens? Ah well, you'll have to wait for the book.

How are you doing with your writerly voice? Have you found it yet?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The unforgettable and the unwritten

Toni Morrison famously said that if the book you really want to read hasn't been written, then you'll have to write it yourself.

No, it's not as easy as she makes it sound, of course. But I think there's a lot of truth to it. Many times I've experienced a faint disappointment with an otherwise entertaining story - a feeling that I might have preferred a different ending, or another middle, or else I would have changed the fate of the antagonist, or the protagonist's past, or another character's principal weakness, or what-have-you, in order to make the story more satisfying. I'm pretty sure we all feel like this sometimes, even though we might thoroughly enjoy the story while reading it (or watching it as a movie).

And I think this is the difference between the story that is entertaining, but ultimately forgettable, as opposed to the story that stays with you forever.

I do realize this is a matter of taste, but to me, some of the elements of an unforgettable story are: a protagonist that is likable and good, a hint of mystery, a plot that reveals layers and secrets and surprises, danger of the world-changing kind, but also friends and safe havens (fantsay fans, think of the safety and cameraderie of Elrond's house, or the cosiness of Gryffindor House) and then, a happy ending with justice served and no loose ends. And even with all of these things present, there has to be a certain story magic that brings it all together. That is the story I want to read.

If only I had that story to read today! Or, as Toni Morrison says, if only I would just write it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

International Agent Appreciation Day

Hey guys!

Today is International Agent Appreciation Day! Brain child of my online buddy Kody, IAAD is designed to offset some of the real negativity that agents get on a day-to-day basis. Agents in general have a very difficult job, and all this negativity just can't be...beneficial. I mean, think about it. They don't get paid unless their writers do! They have to be the bad guy in most all situations, as their writers want (well, most of them do!) their full, unvarnished opinion on most every aspect of their writing process.

So, what makes MY AGENT Marlene Stringer so fantabulously perfect?

**insert fangirl squee here**

So, so many things. She tells me the full truth, she gets back to me in split seconds, she is always funny, warm and her normal awesome self. She doesn't treat other writers that have her as an agent differently than me (and believe me, writers with the same agent do talk!), she answers her queries punctually, she treats writers trying to break in with warmth and sincerity, she tweets pubtips that, if you're following her and have no agent, will help you get one. Guaranteed.

If she's behind, she'll tell you. She has a real life, and she still manages to do everything for everybody. I don't know how she does it.

But a few special things. She does NOT give up. We've been subbing my first novel for a while. And she is still every bit as supportive of my book, my talent, and my career as she was when she first took me on. She doesn't drop her writers. And she sells. Good golly gee, does she sell! In her first year of being on her own, she's done an amazing amount of sells! Debuts, second books, series...the woman is a selling machine.

She sent me powdered donuts and a pregnancy book that actually helped me with my fear of labour. I mean...MAN. *LOVE FEST*

(But as they say, you don't have to take just MY word for it. Check out the other surprises for my lovely agent!


I know you're asking yourself: all very well and good, Jen, but honestly, what does this have to do with me? If you're currently querying and you need to know a little more about an agent, it's quite likely you might find their name in this massive LOVE POSTING HERE.

Ha! See? Just helped you with querying! Quality agents FTW!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

-30-

Ah, winter. A man’s fancy turns to the end of things.
When I think of a good book after the years go by, I can always remember how it ended, rather than how it began (The clever beginning of The Hobbit being a fine exception).
Someone once said a good beginning in a book will keep you reading, but a great ending will sell the next book.
I believe this is true. When I was ten, or something like that (we’re talking decades here, folks), I read Cities in Flight by James Blish (the older omnibus version). To this day, I marvel at that this collection of stories, a great bit of science fiction by a wonderfully talented author.
If you ask me, after all these years, how the book began, I can’t really describe it to you. Ask me how it ended, well; I could talk about that at length. Cities in Flight has such an awesome ending, I believe, if I can recall correctly, it moved me to tears. I was in awe. I was hooked. I was humbled. I wanted more.
Ben Bova is another author of speculative fiction who does the great ending, and I can think of several others.
When perusing writing blogs, one always comes across mounds of advice on how to start your story, but we don’t come across many examples of writers sharing their endings. Which is understandable, who wants to give away the ending to the novel they just slaved over? It’s hard enough putting the ending in a synopsis. Why, how could I give away the mystery’s ending?
But I digress. What are some of the endings to novels that stuck with you, that made you buy the next book, made you ponder and think?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dating Woes: Relationship Building

Pardon me while I'm distracted by the concept of relationships. How does one go about dating in this day and age? I'm not talking about the tweeners or the college sceners. I'm talking about adults, in their 30s, 40s, or older. How do people pick up the pieces of their lives, insulate themselves in resilience, and tackle the dating game?

To put this question in perspective, I spent two hours helping one of my husband's friends fill out his e-harmony profile the other night. I love this man. If I weren't happily married, I would snatch him up faster than you can gobble down cheesecake. He's that yummy. He's also 44, super active, intelligent, and highly organized. He loves his dog and his cat, is generous to a fault, and uses his sense of humor to mask his sensitive side. Although he's certainly logical, rational, and suspicious of emotional outbursts, he's intuitive beyond belief. He would, undoubtedly, kill me for pointing that out. He's a man's man, you know.

Perhaps I'm a little prejudiced, but it would take a very special woman to deserve him, understand him, complete him. And as I'm glancing through his matches, I'm thinking maybe this really was a ridiculous idea. I'm stunned by the number of women who can't live without their "teachers" (what the heck does that mean?) or their yoga instructors. (Just an FYI for all you e-daters out there: Nothing spells cult or crazy like someone who is ultra dependent upon someone else -- AND who includes that tidbit in her profile.) Of course, my friend is just as honest as he is generous, so his profile is the real deal. I'm not certain that is true of the ones I've seen: It seems that many women are actually typing in the profile of their latest harlequin romance heroine. Pardon my cynicism.

Which brings me to novel writing: ultimately, good writing is about relationships. Whether we couch it in terms of romance or war buddies or detective partners, we are exploring the minutia of relationships. These relationships certainly entertain -- but they also teach the reader how to negotiate the rocky paths of her own life, to enhance the strengths, endure the strains, to determine the worth of time, energy, and effort expended in a relationship. (This is, of course, not to be confused with the various forms of pure escapism.) Without the exploration of worthy, gritty, engaging relationships in a book, the reader feels no pull, no connection with the text, no reason to read further. After all, a kick-butt plot can only keep a reader entertained so long.

Donald Maass prompts writers to explore the various sides of a character, to reveal the heroic but also to unveil the less savory aspects of human nature. As writers, we should make Hero X face the least desired facet of his personality or show Heroine Y that the very thing she despises in others resides in her own heart. This complexity not only feels more honest, more realistic, but it resonates with readers. And once these fully developed, dynamic, round characters interact with one another, the relationship quotient reaches another level. Sparks must fly. Chemistry, compatibility, and chaos -- or their opposites -- ensue. Reader is hooked. Writer is exhausted but happy.

Now...back to those matches...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Listen to Goldilocks


How do you know when your descriptions aren't too wordy, aren't too short, but are "Just Right"?

If you remember the children's tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, she had to decide a similar issue when she tried the different bowls of porridge. The first one was too hot, the second too cold, and the third one was just right.

So what is it, that makes a description, "Just Right?"

Let's look at some examples.

Goldilocks rounded the corner and saw a strange house by the river.

It's a little short don't you think? It's not very interesting, and doesn't tell me enough detail to make a good mental image of the house. What kind of a house was it? Was it a big house? Was it a small house? What did the river look like? Was it fast moving? Was it lazy and slow?

In this description the porridge was too hot. (I know it's stretching, but bear with me... no pun intended) It doesn't contain enough detail to describe her experience. One quick touch and then you leave, not really knowing what the porridge tastes like.

How about this one?

Goldilocks rounded the bend in the grass-lined black dirt path and a house with three windows jolted into view. The left window was about 6 feet square, with stripes of white metal separating it into 2 foot squares vertically and horizontally. The middle window was about 4 feet square and it also had stripes of white metal separating it into 2 foot squares. The last window was only 2 foot square, and had no stripes. Each window was separated from the other by about 8 feet, with green siding in between. The roofline curved down at the edges to make the house.....

Are you bored yet? I sure am. Yes there is lots of detail so that you can see exactly what the house looks like, but is it really necessary? Do you really need to put all these details up front?

No, you don't. It makes for a very boring part of the story, and one that a lot of readers find themselves skipping over, because they don't need to know every last little detail. They want to find out whether Goldilocks is going to be eaten by the bears or not. This is an example of the porridge being too cold. While an extreme example you get the idea.

OK, so let's try one more.

Goldilocks rounded the bend in the grass-lined trail, to find a strange looking house blocking her path. A rounded roofed structure seemed to melt into the hillside except for three odd shaped windows of varied size. She walked up to the first window, cupped her hands around her eyes, and peered inside.

Is that better? I'm not saying it's perfect. I only worked on it for a couple of minutes, but here's the point. I only tried to show only what was different. Everyone knows what a house looks like, there is no need to describe every detail, unless there is something about the house that is different. In this case the house was built into the side of the hill.

Everybody knows what windows look like. They can be different shapes, but unless it is important for the story, you don't need to describe what they look like. In this case I mentioned that they were odd shaped. Maybe later if it becomes important I can say they were triangular, or circular, or shaped like Mickey Mouse ears, the point is if it's not important to the story, you don't need to spend a lot of time or words describing their structure.

I'm sure with a little more work I can make the description lots better, but the changes would also depend on the flow and mood of the story.

So what do you think? Was Goldilocks onto something?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Me, Worry?

It's snowing here today. Light and steady, and we'll have a few inches on the ground by nightfall.

And of course, this worries me.

And so it begins, this most worrisome of seasons. And there's a lot to worry about. There's heating bills, and electricity's going up. Yep: 30% in January. (Thanks, PP&L.) There's the Christmas bills - no speeches today on how our materialistic society has defiled the holiday - just gonna keep the mouth shut and the Visa handy. Then there's the snow itself... Ugh! And which family member has to drive in it, and who do I have to worry about right now? And so on and so on.

Funny how differently children see December!

I suppose the argument is that worrying does provoke (some) people to act to improve various bad situations, and that's the reason why this state called worry exists in the first place.

But for myself (and I'm guessing a lot of other people) this normal response to threatening situations can go a little haywire. We can over-worry, and about things we really cannot help anyway, and it feels miserable!

So...

Are you a worrier? Do you feel that, overall, worry has a positive or negative effect on your life? Does it prompt you to act at all, or is it just undirected, pointless fear?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Revision repose

Revision repose is (a word I just made up) the book that does not want to be edited. You love it; you’ve written all 60-90k of it; it’s hawt – but needs revision to be the book that you know it could be. Have you ever had that?

I’m currently having this with a book I have finished myself. I love it; the idea is cool, the premise is fresh, and there’s a twist that blows my mind. So why can’t I get through a couple chapters without feeling like I want to take a screwdriver to my eyeball?

Neil Gaiman said of The Graveyard Book that he couldn’t have written it 13 years (or however long) ago because he simply wasn’t good enough to pull it off. I definitely feel this statement – I know the book is special, but I think I’m talking myself out of it daily, the revision. So instead of doing 2-4 chapters daily, as is my wont, this book languishes in revision repose with one chapter, if I’m lucky. I hate it.

I can only take comfort in the fact that I’m getting ½ to 1 chapter a day finished. It’s all I can do. I had originally planned to have this revision done at the end of December (to give to betas in January, and Super Agent at the end of January) but HOLY COW. It really messes with me!

You? Have you ever had a book that languishes in revision repose? What did you do? Give up or soldier on?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Babies vs. Chimpanzees

I just read this incredibly interesting article from the New York Times about how babies might have the innately ability to 'help' someone.

The articles runs about 2 pages, but, at least for me, loaded me up with a few ideas into some stories. The writer of the article does a lot of idea jumping, and it was fun to try and keep up.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01human.html

Hope everyone's doing well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It’s Shameless the Way We Flirt

I used to dislike writing at the local coffee shop. I found it too distracting. Bit by bit though, I learned to tune out the mindless chatter and listen to the delicious dialog going on around me in shameless, literary voyeurism.
One thing I learned is I was hardly (scandal!) the only man (and the occasional woman) to flirt with the seventeen to twenty-two year-old nubile baristas.
I love listening to flirting almost as I love flirting itself. Because we are verbal, biological creatures, it is my observation that some of the best saucy dialog comes from flirting. If it’s one thing I do so very much love, it’s saucy dialog.
Here’s some recent dialog from the coffee shop:
“God, I need some coffee, badly.”
“Oh? How badly do you need the coffee?”
“Very badly.”
“I think the price of coffee has gone up today.”
“What? No, it didn’t.”
“Yes, twenty dollars a cup.”
“Get out.”
“Do you want the coffee or not?”
“For twenty dollars, I want a lot of coffee.”
“We have free refills if you drink it at the shop.”
“I bet.”
“Would you like a muffin with your coffee too?”
“Only if it has butter on it.”
“I can melt some butter.”
“I’m sure you can.”
Delicious, I tell you.
In this era of run amok political correctness, some people avoid flirting even when offered the opportunity, and this is a shame. For the barista and her regular customer, the exchange, which descended into thinly veiled innuendo, left each with a smile on their face.
Flirting. Mostly it’s harmless, sometimes it’s not (such as the time I wooed The Wife Unit). I feel flirtatious dialog is sometimes the best dialog. We’re born to flirt. Some of us are good at it, some of us are not, but regardless, a good pair of flirts makes dialog come alive.
Give me flirty dialog!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Un-Crafting Boredom

Indulging in curiosity is a favorite pastime of mine. Unfortunately, I haven't been gifted with nine lives, regardless of my kitty avatar. Fortunately, this habit has resulted in a great many bizarre experiences -- which result in excellent story fodder.

Well, except for the fact that since truth is often stranger than fiction, all of life must be edited for logic and probability factors. That is, the stories we tell must make sense -- even when life often doesn't.

Like most of you writers out there, I'm a people-watcher as well. Back when I was a geeky little kid, I was the girl sitting on the bench in the mall watching people go by. I was mostly interested in observations on human behavior. (And it is true that if you stare at a person's feet, they'll become uncomfortable and try to hide them.) One thing I've learned by all of this watching is that people bore easily.

The Boring of Humans: It's true. With the advent of civilization, where humans were less likely to spend 24/7 on survival issues, humans learned the craft of boredom. There are many ways to become bored, but the one I found most enlightening was via other humans. If you watch a group of two or more people for long, you will start to see the slightly glazed over looks, the desperate glances around the room, the tapping of feet.

  • Distractions: Unless the story relates to them personally, humans will often start thinking about the coffee pot left on, the price of oil, that strange little girl across the way, watching so intently.

  • Ping-Pong Stories: Worse, humans don't listen particularly well. This is because they're often bursting with a "return-serve" story that is so much more interesting than the one they're listening to. You can tell, too, since they're practically vibrating with the need to spill.

  • Long-Winded Speakers: Sometimes, it's not the listener's fault. There are story tellers who never wind down, who never allow for reflection or interaction or reciprocation. These are the bane of any hostess, since all her guests flee in fear.
Why does any of this matter to the writer? I believe that writers are but the reflections of society and God: we comment upon the broad themes of existence, just as we seek to create. We weave the two acts together into a tapestry of literary art, and we pray that we resonate with our readers. We can only do that if we don't bore them.
Crafting the Un-Boredom:
  • Time for Identifying: Regardless of the fact that we're now "civilized" and few of us contemplate the need to survive on a minute-by-minute basis, we humans are still hard-wired to survive. We listen to stories because we want to find that bit of truth that will help us negotiate our way through this chaotic, confusing, sometimes cold life. This equates identifying: we need to see ourselves in the books we read. If we can picture ourselves as the hero/heroine, we're better invested in the meat of the message -- whether we're vampires or cowboys, zombies or English Lit professors.

  • Time for Reflection: High action, all the time, doesn't seem to fit the concept of "boring" -- and yet, if there is no relief from the tension, readers don't have the opportunity to reflect on the message, find themselves in the plot, or understand the survival tidbit. It's overwhelming. The oddity is this: when writers pull back and allow for a moment of downtime, humor, or even observations on life, readers can respond more fully. We can find the real-world application to our plight in life, become more fully invested in the storyline, and engage once more in the text.

  • Time for Interaction: This is a bit more difficult for a writer to consciously achieve. But it's vital for writers to remember reading truly is a communal event. Survival information is not meant to be hoarded but shared. And when humans find the information they need, they can't help but pass it on to friends, family, and future in-laws. Remember how many of your "new book" experiences come via recommendation? After all, how did Twilight become a phenomenon? It certainly wasn't because readers kept their reading habits secret...
We must pique the curiosity of our readers, but we must also engage them, draw them in, and allow them the opportunity to find themselves in our work. It's occurred to me, time after time of meeting some writers, that we are, at times, the center of our collective universe. Some of us think that we write for ourselves. This couldn't be further from the truth: it's not about us. It's about the reader.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Failure must be an option


As writers we are constantly rejected, even if we sign with agents, have our books published, and sell thousands of copies. In publishing, rejection slips are inevitable. Let's face it, even NY Times Best Selling Authors sill get rejections.

As writers, for the most part, we deal with it. We don't become depressed, crawl into a hole, or bury our head in the sand. We query the next agent, write the next book, and work on our craft. We have to, if we are committed to the craft of writing.

What brought failure to my attention is that I recently noticed (but it's likely been going on for a while) a disturbing trend among supposedly progressive schools. These schools are no longer testing and grading their students. The teacher writes a report at the end of the year discussing how well the student did. Excuse me? The students don't get an ongoing chance to fail?

Failure is good. Failure tells you where you suck. Failure tells you where you need to focus your efforts. Failure can provide the motivation to drive you to succeed. Without failure, you have no way of knowing whether what you've done is good or bad, and no motivation to fix what's wrong. You don't even know what to fix.

The problem that I foresee, is what happens when these students go out to face the real world. I can't imagine how they will feel when reality smacks them in the face. They are likely not equipped to handle it. They probably haven't developed the emotional armor (thick skin) needed to get through it. The end result is that the student may end up being more of an emotional wreck than if they were allowed to fail early in life, and learn how to deal with it.

I'm no sociologist, but I can't imagine this would be a good program to train our next generation of writers. It's likely that when they find out how hard publishing really is, they won't know how to deal with it, and simply give up.

What do you think? Should kids be taught to experience and learn to deal with failure?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Well?

Did you make your NaNo goal?

I did. One MS: revised. 50k words: achieved. This felt very nice for me!

And you? How did you do??

(Apologies for the late night/early morning post!)

What do you write?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving/Black Friday

Recently I had a little success in the Glimmer Train Best Start Competition. They chose my 1,000 word WIP as one of the top 5%, and they're sending me $50, the most I've ever made from my fiction writing. It made my day, that's for sure. I'm not sure when they'll be doing the competition again, but I recommend to anyone out there who hasn't been able to get something printed in a magazine with a circulation over 3,000. That's the requirement.

For Black Friday, my wife and I will be shopping in Spokane. Am I the only one who never knows what he wants for Christmas? My family asks me every year and I never have one thing to tell them. Not one! (Except for the new Lost Season on DVD). I'd love nothing more than for them to corner an agent in a restaurant and show them my manuscript, because landing one seems like the farthest star in the sky at this moment.

Plans for Black Friday? Have a good Thanksgiving? Don't want anything for Christmas? =).

Hope everyone's doing well and is ridiculously full.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm Thankful for Women and Books!

I was going to write a Thanksgiving post but that seemed weird, as it’s Wednesday.

Instead, I am going to write about women! Women and books! Ha ha!

So there I was, arguing with a female friend over books. Yes, I know, you would think someone with as much life experience such as me would know not argue with the fairer sex.

Damn it all, though, she just said something that really grated on my nerves. That’s what friends are for, snark.

But, I digress. Let’s call my friend Sheila. I changed her name to protect the guilty.

We were talking about romance novels, and Sheila flatly said, “I would never read a romance novel written by a man.” What follows is the paraphrased conversation:

“Why not?”

“What does a man know about romance novels? It would be boring. Probably filled with too much sex.”

“What do you mean? Are you saying there are no romantic men?”

“No, I am just saying that a male writer would lack the oomph to write a romance novel.”

At this point, I thought Sheila was guilty of sexism, but she seemed sincere.

“I disagree.”

“Of course you do!”

“Look, writing characters is about experiences, right? So how many women have you romanced?”

Sheila narrowed her eyes. That was her version of the death glare. Plus, we were at work. She was probably wondering if I was hedging my language to avoid sitting in an office with frowny-face HR because someone overheard us talking.

“Are you asking me if I’ve slept with women?”

“No, I am talking about romance. Wooing. You know, courting.”

“Well, none.”

“Ah ha! Well, Ms. Smarty Pants, I’ve romanced more than one woman in my life, and I am here to tell you, they were all different.”

“Are you saying that each woman is different in bed?”

“Will you quit it about sex? I’m talking romance here. Flirting. Drippy stuff.”

“So, what’s your point?”

“My point is, an experienced romantic male writer could write a character-driven romance novel, and I bet the main character would be three-dimensional, above average.”

“So?”

“So, more readers would be able to identify with his characterization because it’s more accurate. Unless, of course, we have the obscure scenario of a lesbian writing a hetero romance novel.”

Sheila did two things. She laughed and she rolled up the spec we were supposed to be talking about, and hit me with it.

“Hey!”

“You’re such a dork.”

“Am not!”

“Look, Writer Man, you don’t get it. You don’t get it at all.”

“What?”

“When I read a romance novel, I’m only indentifying with the main character up to a shallow point.”

“Shallow?”

“In a romance novel, I’m the main character. That’s me. I’m projecting myself in the book. As long as the main isn’t a total bitch or some vapid mouse, the book takes me away. So, in a romance novel, I’m much more interested in the men.

“Oh.”

“So, how many men have you romanced?”

“Shut up.”

“Snicker.”

Sheila, by the way, is a smart woman and the kind of reader an author could only dream of having, she spends twice as much on books as my entire immediate family combined.

I frequently look back on this conversation. Her observation, as an avid reader, was dead-on for the genre she was intimately familiar with (ha ha, get it, romance novel, intimate? Never mind). My assumption was genre differences were more about setting and plot. This was wrong.

This is where I also learned that writing is not easy. Details and nuances are killers. Is it more important to write a rich, literary character that comes alive on the page, or should the writer go for, not an empty shell, but an identifiable main a reader could use to project herself into the story?

That’s when I learned about voicing. I’ve made my decision and skirt the edge between richness and entertainment. My minimalist style attempts to flirt with both, I try to reveal a character’s dimensions only by her actions and what she says, either to herself or other people.

To this day, I’m not sure if Sheila and I were talking about the same thing, but when I insert a character in a novel, man, do I ever pause and think just what I’m doing. There’s character motivation, and then there is writer motivation. Which path do I choose? Am I inserting this character merely to cause conflict, or is she real? Is this someone the average person knows, and does her motivations in the novel actually conform to some standard of reality?

This week, I’m thankful to readers. We, as writers, hear all the time we need to keep up with reading books and blah, blah, blah. This advice has gotten insipid and threadbare. I learn more about writing by talking to well-read people then I ever got from reading. Reading is part of my job, what I do to not epic fail my novel writing. Reaching out to my potential audience and picking their brains?

Yeah, give me more of that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Being Thankful

Forgive this somewhat wandering path I take, today. It's not compact and tidied up with a little bow. But it resonated with my spirit, so I wanted to share with you. Honestly? I had this great little post all primed on the virtue of a winning spirit. But it didn't jive with me. Not sure why. Thanksgiving looms -- and the education world is trembling with the joys of Thanksgiving Break. Yet, as I talked with my students today about being thankful, I was reminded of something my father has said many times over the years:

When you're on your deathbed, looking back over your life, you're not going to remember how much money you made or how many promotions you earned. You're not going to think about the goals you achieved or the places you've gone. You're only going to be thinking about the people who have loved you -- and the people you love.
He's right: the relationships we forge in this life matter the most. And the real world is not the only place where relationships matter. In the books we write, relationships are the glue that hold the pieces together. Regardless of the plot twist or the literary turn of phrase or the tantalizing tension (or delicious tension, for you Romance writers), the relationships the characters form with us and with one another draw us in and make us care. The lessons we learn via the actions, mistakes, forgiveness, destruction, and embraced joy of fictitious characters help us orient our own lives.

Thankfulness, too, is a virtue. When we take the time to reflect upon the the people who matter most and the things that bring us joy, we are being thankful. I am thankful for many things, not the least of which is you, the readers who interact with this blog, who teach me on a daily basis, who touch lives with your words. Happy Thanksgiving Week -- and may God bless you and keep you and cause His face to shine upon you.

I am thankful for:
  • Crisp mornings, when the air is clear and the scent is autumn
  • Translucent disk of moon, rose-petal pink
  • Embrace of husband, his warmth enfolding me without question
  • Brave men (& supportive wives) who sacrifice(d) everything for the "Great Experiment"
  • Imaginative toddler nephew who tells me stories of his own
  • Moments of absolute solitude, perched on the cliff overlooking the ranch
It's your turn: What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do you force yourself to read books?

I'm not talking about forcing yourself to read, but to read certain books. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes I do have to force myself to finish a book.

Most of the time these books are supposed classics, or deemed important for one reason or another. I almost feel that if I don't read them, I am not as literate as I feel I need to be.

However the fact that I have forced myself to read them, rarely makes them worth it in the end. It's rare that the ending makes up for the work of reading the book, and most of the time I am just glad that it's finally over.

Usually the books I force myself to read are deemed literary classics.

There are a number of classics that I truly love, such as Tom Sawyer, White Fang, and Lord of the Rings. I don't feel I'm forcing myself to finish.

The books that I have a hard time reading seem to have one thing in common, they try to be different, just to be different. They have characters that I would never in a million years see walking down the street, but are there to be different.

I understand that characters have to be different, but in some ways they also have to be done in a way that I can relate to them. Coming up with a new character is like coming up with a new flavor of ice cream. You can combine different types of berries or fruit and chocolate to get new and exciting flavors, but if you suddenly add garlic and onions to the mix, sorry I'm not going to eat that. It's different, but it's too different. I really can't imagine myself eating strawberry-mango-chocolate-garlic and onion flavored ice cream, over a filet mignon. Sorry, it's not happening.

I think this is where most of these literary works lose me. I cannot relate in any way to the thinking or acting of the characters and I end up rolling my eyes at their behavior. These works are meant to expand my thinking, but usually I wonder, "what were they thinking?", when they wrote that.

I had a hard time reading Cat's Cradle, I didn't get the point. I forced myself to read Catch-22, but gave up after a third of the way in, because one of the characters ranted about things I didn't care about, and I got tired of it. I finished Atlas Shrugged, but felt it was waaaaaaay too long.

Are there any books that you have read that were forced because they were "important"?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Interesting Secondary Characters

I wanted to share a particularly helpful bit of information I recently learned from an editor I follow.

As you know, I've been revising a MS for my agent, per request. And she had some very instructive, insightful things to say about it, but she pointed out (and it was immediately clear) that certain aspects of some of my characters were not fully imagined.

As you can think, this filled me with chagrin. Those darn secondary characters. They played good parts in the story, but I only showed the parts they played, and not their motivations. And this was hurting the story more than I ever suspected it could do.

So I thought. And thought. And finally I came up with how I could deal with this solution. I made a character sheet for each. I know. Uncool. I always mocked those types of things, but here I am using it. And you know what? It helped enormously.

In fact, I think it improved the story beyond what I had already thought was a darn good one. It was fantastic!

So just for reference, I'm including my main questions here for my secondary characters in case it might help you:

1. Character name
2. Character motivation in story
3. Character conflict
4. Character conflict with POV
5. Character resolution

Hope this helps you as much as it helped me! And tell me - do you do something like this at the end, in your revision process?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Literary Daydreams

Writing sometimes makes me feel weird.

Scratch that. Perhaps writing makes me weird.

It is a known literary phenomenon that some people, after reading a great character-driven story, will start daydreaming about the characters in the book, putting them in new and different situations. People’s minds will start to wander, and, in essence, these books are literally imagination fuel.

I’ve talked to several people who sheepishly admitted to this, and read about it a few times on the interwebs. I used to think this was a writing side effect of letting one’s ego run amok. Now, I know better.

Fan Fiction, the honest kind, not the creepy sex kind, is a good example. Some people just get high on words and can’t come down, so they write on others intellectually property and share it.

That’s awesome, by the way. Many people pooh-pooh fan fiction. I would love to be in a position to pooh-pooh fan fic off my intellectual property.

But I digress.

This internalization of characters is now driving my writing process. If I don’t think about the main characters like this, this is my mind telling me I’ve boofed it. Boofed, by the way, is a technical term.

In a way, I feel blessed. I have an internal boof sensor. If I’m not daydreaming, the main character isn’t working. As a reader, I’ve also started recognizing I’ll daydream about great literary characters, but simply enjoy a “good” book and move on.

Is this making sense or did I go off the deep end?

Daydreaming, by the way, is the brain acting normal in the absence of problems to solve.

So maybe I’m not so weird after all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Capturing Light: Details from a Camera

Details rock my world. I love the feathered edge of parchment, the steam from my breath when out in the cold, the glimmer of light on a cloudy day. I snap a zillion photos of details, zooming in to catch the prism of a water drop on a lotus, the texture of roots poking up from rich blackness, the sheen of polished wood. I always promise myself that I'll include the details in my WIP.


I rarely do. The photos rarely see the light of day. Embarrassingly, several thousand are up-loaded to my computer but unprinted. Another 1000+ reside on my camera. Yet untouched. There's always something more to see, something else to capture.


Tomorrow I head for Philadelphia for a conference. I'm excited. I know I'll spend the rest of the week snapping pictures -- and all for what?


My hope is that all of those views and angles and shimmers and flashes reside somewhere in my head. I may not pluck one out, pristine and unsullied, to insert into a scene -- but the things I see, hear, experience all bubble & simmer in my brain somewhere, ready to be used when called upon. I may not spread the photos out around me, waiting for inspiration, but the act of catching the last leaf on a tree leaves me with something inexplicable. And that's what I try to insert into my WIP.


Where do you get your details? How do you reveal a scene or find inspiration? On another note, what do you do with all of your photographs? (And no, I don't scrapbook!)

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Love Audiobooks

Most of the books that I have read lately, have been of the audio persuasion. Why? Well it wouldn't be good if I had a book balanced on the steering wheel as I drove to work. Never mind that it is illegal here in California to do so, it's also not a smart thing to be doing anyway. It would be very embarrassing to rear end someone because you were entranced by an exciting scene, and not only that, it's extremely dangerous. You could cause an accident that killed yourself and possibly others. So instead of reading a real book in the car, I listen to audiobooks.

It really is a different experience. Most of the books that I read (I still call it reading) are read by professionals that make the reading a performance, not simply reading the words. If there is emotion in a sentence, they provide that emotion. If a passage is conveying a quiet scene, they will read softer. When they change from character to character, they modify their voice, so that you the listener can easily distinguish whom is talking. The effect for me, is a greater enjoyment of the work.

You might argue that the emotion that the reader puts into the work, might be different than what I might experience if I were reading the book myself, and that's probably true. But I know that the reader discusses the book with the author before the performance, to get the true feeling of the book, so in some ways, the experience could be a richer one.

What audiobooks does for me is to enrich what would normally be wasted time, with entertainment and learning. Listening to fiction, I learn how another author dealt with scene, characterization, pacing, and flow. Listening to nonfiction, I learn something new about a topic that might never have explored before. The point is, I get a lot more done with time that previously was used only for mundane tasks such as commuting to work, or working out at the gym.

There are a number of places to get audiobooks on the internet. There are free sites such as librivox.com, but these are usually read by a bunch of different individuals and the quality is spotty at best. Your local library may have some audiobooks that you can borrow, and you can get books from most of the MP3 providers such as iTunes, Amazon.com, etc.

The best provider of high quality recent books is Audible.com. They have different plans for one or two books a month, and there is a monthly cost, but they have an excellent product. I highly recommend it.

So what about you? Do you listen to audiobooks?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Writing as an Investment and Opportunity

According to Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman, who wrote Author 101: Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents, "80% of books that are published fail. In addition, 1 percent of all books sold account for 50 percent of all publishing company profits" (p.6).

This fact shows that publishers are gambling when they put out a new author. Who would gamble with the odds being 80% against success? This begs the question of why bother. Why should we, individual authors, go for it, and why should publishers believe in us?

Well, one word comes to mind--investment.

My brother-in-law and I attended a publishing seminar awhile ago and afterwords I made a comment about how seminars and conferences just seem to drain money, even if they are good. His response was that they are an investment and that any new business would have to put up a similar investment.

Given that he is a successful nonfiction writer and editor, I took his advice to heart. I think the question then becomes one of what kind of an investment are we as writers making. Given the odds, I'm not sure that it is wise to bet everything on the financial investment piece paying off. Perhaps there is something beyond money that we as writers are investing in.

I invest money in marathon events. Why? Because it's a great experience and it makes me a better person. The training and the racing combines to make me a better person than I would be if I did not run.

I think that writing is similar to that. Now, it may be that you want and/or need to make money at writng. Perhaps you even feel a moral obligation to make at least as much money as you have spent on paper, ink, coffee, pastries, and conferences. I sometimes feel that way.

I don't suppose that I have any great answers today, but I am interested to know what you are investing in with your writing if it is something beyond money. Don't get me wrong, money and an author's life are worthy goals, but it seems like there needs to be something beyond that to keep one going when the going gets tough and the money is not rolling in.

What if you did get published, but the amount of money that you made was still less than the amount of money you invested in conferences and the like to get your book out there? Would you still be happy? If the answer is yes, what is it that you invested in that paid off?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writers and their (lack of) money


Are writers especially prone to money woes?

Well, it depends on which writers we're talking about.

But in general terms, with writers one often finds: low and irregular pay, lack of money skills, poor financial planning, occasional creative-type flakiness and risky financial behavior.

That's not only writers, of course... but anyway, here's what John Scalzi has to say in his very interesting blog post on the subject of Writers and Financial Woes.

Read and weep.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

A LInk and What are you Reading?

If you haven't read this already, the link below motivated me to keep sending out my material.

http://www.inkygirl.com/writers-and-rejection-dont-give-up/

Currently I'm plowing through Andre Agassi's Open, which, perhaps thanks to a Pulitzer-Prize winning ghost writers, reads brilliantly in the present tense.

Any books you're reading that you'd like to recommend?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Not All Dead Bodies are Created Equal

I will be the first to admit, murder mysteries used to turn me off, primarily because they were so clich├ęd.
Here’s the modern murder mystery round up that wound find me pulling my hair and tossing the book:
  • Humble but sexy woman with obvious hawtness characteristics gets involved with a dead body because her lover/friend/brother/mom/employee is the main suspect. She has a cat, runs some business around food, or is the happy proprietor of a B&B that barely makes enough money to pay the rent. Sometimes all three.
  • Hawtness has run-ins with the Salty Detective on the case who blames her for “meddeling.” Secretly, these two want to shag, and the reader can practically smell the sexual tension on the page.
  • Instead of giving into carnal desires like normal single people, each has sex with someone else in a bad case of projection.
  • Hawtness finds clues because she is a smart, stubborn woman. Who’s hawt.
  • Hawtness has personal problems as a side plot.
  • The murderer comes for Hawtness because she is too smart for her own good, and monologs.
  • Salty Detective saves the day, but only because Hawtness showed him the real clues, which he was conveniently coming back to discuss, thereby interrupting Hawtness’s impending murder.
  • Hawtness has more celebratory sex (which may or may not be torrid), but not with Salty Detective, because the next book needs to start with some TENSION BY GOD!
Admit it. You’ve read this novel.
I used to hate this kind of book but I have grown to appreciate it for what it is: bubblegum. On occasion, I like bubblegum. Some days I want to mindlessly chomp on something sugary and fun and blow bubbles.
Now, at my house, this leads to a sticky mess because my kids really, really, really, (really) want to blow bubbles and it bothers them to no end that I can blow these monster bubbles and they can’t. So they practice.
Hey, the Old Man is good for something. Sometimes I go for a drive so I can chew bubblegum without explaining for the tenth time it is not necessarily to blow so hard the bubblegum sticks to the ceiling. The vaulted ceiling.
But, I digress.
My problem with these types of murder mysteries was just that: my problem. Instead of appreciating the fun little romps that they are, I just moved on. The Wife Unit was the mystery reader, not I.
Then I started reading one of the WU’s Falco books, A Body in the Bathhouse, by Lindsey Davis.
Wait… what?
This book is good!
That’s when I learned in any given genre, there are sub-genres, and like science fiction and fantasy, there are types of books for every mood. Some are so much better than others are, some are bubblegum and some make you cry your eyes out as they press all your buttons.
The moral of this story, Dearest Readers, is if you pooh-pooh a genre, perhaps your narrow vision needs work, and it’s not so much the genre as a lack of research into finding the sub-genre that interests you.
In the end, I decided I love a good murder mystery, which is not just character driven, but also thought provoking. If it has a great setting, so much the better, and I found out I like the historical murder mystery. I like it a lot.
There is certain purity in a dead body. The stakes are high. Someone died. The murderer my kill again. It’s up to the main character to come to grips with this death and solve the mystery. And boy-howdy (boy-howdy is a technical term), a good book when the stakes are high is the cat’s meow.
My name is Anthony Pacheco, and I thought I would never, ever say this: I write murder mysteries. It’s what I do. I have other book projects, but from a writer’s perspective, seeing the dead body on the floor in my mind’s eye sends chills down my spine. I type as fast as I can, because I can’t wait to find out how the main character solves the mystery!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Clash of the Titans: Woolf vs MacDonald

"As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall."—Virginia Woolf in A Writer's Diary

There are many writing styles out there: Some, like Anthony, have a couple novels hanging out in the waiting room of his mind while he's working like a fevered Ob/Gyn doctor, delivering the current one.

When I think of John D. MacDonald (author of Travis McGee mysteries), who once said that you need to write a million words before you know what you're doing, I think that this method is undoubtedly the best. Give yourself a little shake, metaphorically, and spew writing like the fun, bubbly stuff.

My writing challenge: when I write this way, the revision is a bugger. It takes months years and it's not just plot checking. It's an entire overhaul, from stem to stern.

Woolf's quote speaks to me because this is the way I've decided to write my current WIP. I know this is not "the Way". I know one should write every day (Nulla dies sine linea, my motto). I know one should hack through the walls and build bridges across raging rivers. But honestly? I took a year of planning before I ever sat down to write this book.

The good news: the WIP feels "impending, grown heavy" and nestles uncomfortably against me. Every word written is one released, set free, and -- although I may be deluding myself -- every word feels "right."

My writing challenge: I hate knowing what comes next. However, my last hurdle was cleared with several inches to spare, and I'm harvesting the benefits. Unfortunately, I'll hit my million words when I'm about 80.

What is your writing style? Pros & cons?

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Writing Process

I feel like a dinosaur. I'm still one of those that write my novels using a pen and paper. I've tried to type into the computer directly, but my internal editor kicks in, and I tend to censor myself almost immediately. I feel as if I have to make it perfect right away.

I know, I could probably train myself not to do that, but my process is working for me, so why change.

There are a number of advantages to writing this way, for instance I can write anywhere, literally, and I have. Waiting in the doctor's office, waiting for an oil change, on an airplane with the seat in front of me almost touching the tip of my nose, and I don't have to worry whether my battery is charged or not.


For me, it starts with the right pen. I have to use a fine point rollerball. The one that I use is the Pilot Dr. Grip. I have tried using other types and brands, but this one works so well I don't have to think about it.

I like the fact the way that the ink flows freely across the page, and the contrast level that the gel ink provides. I used to use a pencil, but I found that the contrast didn't always work in all kinds of light levels.

Next is the notebook. At first I used to use composition books because the paper is lined, they are cheap, and again very portable. However what I found is that they are hard to type from. They act like a book, in that they try to self close, so I had to always use a paperweight to keep them open.

I switched over to a spiral bound notebook so that I can lay it flat while I type in the text.

I write the text on the right side only. I just let the words flow out. I try to describe the scene that I see in my mind, from a setting point of view, and what the characters say to one another.

If I decide the scene is going the wrong way, I simply scribble out what I've written, or if I think I might want to bring it back later, I draw a line through it.

In between lines, I will add corrections, or more words, and to the right if there is enough room I may add more dialog, description, etc.

The left side is reserved for notes, points to emphasize later, other scenes, and anything that I may need to jog my memory later. I think this goes a long way to obviate my need for an outline.

Sometimes I may decide that I need a lot more text than there is room available on the right. For instance I may have to insert a part of a scene that I hadn't thought of before or embellish more details of what's already been written . In that case I draw lines where the extra text is supposed to go, and write it on the left side.

After I get the text written, I type it all in. For me this is the most difficult part. It's the part that I enjoy the least. I could probably hire someone to do this, but here's the deal, I do a lot of my first pass edits when I type it in. I don't just type in what I've written, I try to make sure that by the time I've typed it in, it is a pretty darn good first draft.

When I sit down to a writing session, I start by re-reading the last few pages so that I can get into the flow of the story. While going through I find and fix things, so that when I type it in, it's close to what I want, but still maybe not perfect yet.

After I get the entire manuscript typed in, I print out a copy, get out my red pen, and start editing. I make all the changes, and go through it a second time. Then, I put the manuscript on the shelf for at least three months. I will go through it a couple more times after that, and it's finally ready to build a query letter, and start the selling process.

So did I convince any of you to go back to writing with a pen and paper? Yeah, didn't think so.

But, how does my process compare to yours?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fear

"Fear is never a good counselor and victory over fear is the first spiritual duty of man."
- Nicholas Berdyayev

What do you think of this quote?

Do any of your characters have a spiritual victory over fear?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Waiting on unrevised work

So you write a story. You know it needs revising, but you can't stand to read at it any more. You've read it a lot already. It's too familiar, too present. You know you can't revise it in that state. You set it down. You'll come back to it when you've grown some distance. You know, when the story cools. When it's not so new.

A week goes by. A month. Two months. Nine. The story's cool now. It's stone-cold. It's also - ahem - older.

So are you.

But still you sit and still you wait, without excuses now.

Bah! A sign that you will never go back to the story!

A sign that you are just another lazy, unserious bum, lacking dedication and afraid of hard work!
Of course, I am describing myself here, but I'm guessing (just guessing) that maybe this is not an uncommon thing.
Come on, guys, 'fess up. Who has been sitting on an unrevised story for months or years? And how do you feel about it?
Personally, I feel awful. Just awful. Now where did I put that remote control?

Friday, November 6, 2009

One week down.

Well?

How are you all doing on your NaNo projects? Your writing, even if you were working on a not-so-new MS or a completely brand spankin' new idea?

Here is the NaNo girl, come to stare at you until you confess to me.

O_O

I kid, I kid.

Actually I've had a very interesting time of it here lately. My agent got back to me at the end of October and had a request: could I please revise a particular book she had in her possession.

Of course, said I.

And then I wondered about PDS: what would happen to my Sparkly New Idea as I revised the older one? Would it sit quietly? What would I do about NaNo?

Happily, it all works out. Since I am revising hefty chunks of the old MS, plus writing the new MS at the same time (It sounds insane but it's not) I'm managing to get twice the work done in half the time.

So at the end of November I might very well have a completed revised MS as well as an almost finished new MS. Which I love with the fury of a thousand lifetimes; one I haven't loved this much since the MS that got me Super Agent.

Okay. Enough.

And you? Where you at?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Magazine Submissions

How long is too long?

Just a question to anyone out there about how long to wait before contacting a magazine? 4 months? 6 months?

Two literary magazines, quite reputable, have kept my stories for both of those times. Should I just accept that they perhaps rejected it and forgot to inform me? Or is there still hope?

Just wondering if anyone out there has gotten an acceptance after six months of waiting? Or any stories (frustrating or inspiring) about submissions to a lit mag would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Eighty Percent

I have very supportive friends and relatives when it comes to writing, and these people, weirdly enough, ask me if a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I find this a very odd phenomenon. Clearly, NaNoWriMo is mainstream.

With that said, I don’t do NaNoWriMo. I already am a very prolific writer. Literally, for me to write a novel, all I need is time to type. That’s it. I can go from start to finish along my meager, but effective, outline. When I am done with my current work in progress, I have two more novels waiting to get out. I come up with complete ideas and outlines faster than I can type.

By the way, this drives me absolutely nuts.

But I digress. This is why I do not do NaNoWriMo. It serves no purpose for me. A novel, for me, is twenty percent writing, and eighty percent editing. The editing gets me. If there were a NaNoEdMo, I would seriously consider signing up for that!

When we took a poll, many of you responded that you had indeed written a novel. I am curious: are revisions such a brain-chore for you?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining. I love the revision process. If I was to measure the brainpower required to revise versus the brainpower I expend to write, the revision process requires more thought and skill.

What say you? Reply with your thoughts on revising, and, if you are NaNoWriMo-ing, how it’s going!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Archetypes: Unveiling the Mentor

Idly contemplate your life, and you'll find an entire cast of players who are neither star roles nor simple cameo bits. Woven through your days on planet Earth are a variety of individuals who are not only vital to your development as a person but who also play roles that are recursive in nature.

I contend, of course, that each of us lives the hero's journey -- not once but many times -- and that each time we choose wisely or duck past a Threshold Guardian or pwn an exam or interview we complete a level. There are people with whom we come into contact, share a portion of the ride, or even battle against. Ultimately, however, Life is all about the hero with a thousand journeys.

Writing, on the other hand, is not. Joseph Campbell, through his research, identifies the hero with a thousand faces who meets all kinds of entities along his journey. These are not hard and fast rules but rather a way to organize that reveals the patterns of storytelling. Understanding them allows us to break the rules, tweak them, apply a feminist lens or a Freudian one, or whatever pleases us.

Carl G. Jung, who believed that the dream world sprung from the collective unconscious of the human race, called constantly repeating characters or energies archetypes. And this is what I want to focus on: the archetypes that people our WIPs.

Archetype: an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. Within your WIP, you undoubtedly have an archetype or two. I'd like to introduce you to one of mine.

But first, one should note that there are as many archetypes as there are flavors of ice cream. And, yes, some are nutty. Christopher Vogler, who amended Campbell's work to more closely align with the writer's journey, identifies the most common and useful archetypes as the following:

  • Hero
  • Mentor
  • Threshold Guardian
  • Herald
  • Shapeshifter
  • Shadow
  • Ally
  • Trickster
The Mentor: If you've read my personal blog recently, you know this concept of mentor has been coloring my thoughts of late. Here, however, I'd like to focus on the mentor within the pages of a book.
Every time I teach The Odyssey, I notice that Odysseus' son, Telemachus, is aided by a character named Mentor (who is, in fact, Athena -- the goddess of wisdom!), and I wonder: which came first, the name or the word? Well, wonder no more. Vogler tells us that the word did indeed come from the story. Campbell's name for this "figure who aids or trains the hero" is Wise Old Man or Wise Old Woman (39).
According to Vogler, the Mentor represents the god within -- the part that is connected with all things -- who is there to protect the hero or tell her right from wrong. Often times, mentors are former heroes who have survived the journey and are now passing down invaluable information to the fledgling one.
The Function of a Mentor:
Mentors serve important functions as well: they teach, give gifts (usually ones that have been earned by the hero), invent needed items, serve as the hero's conscience, motivate, plant ideas or props for later use, and, sometimes, initiate the hero into the mysteries of love and sex.
Examples that populate our cultural stories or mythologies include the fairy godmother or Merlin or Obi Wan Kenobi or Jiminy Cricket or James Bond's "Q."
Types of Mentors:
  • Dark Mentor: can be used to mislead the audience (and the hero); often a decoy to lure the hero into danger. Rather than motivating, this mentor can actually become an obstacle.

  • Fallen Mentor: still on the hero journey himself; usually experiencing a crisis of faith and has fallen far from grace. This character often parallels the hero in his own journey.

  • Continuing Mentor: the butler or the boss in a series or trilogy; they can give assignments or set stories into motion.

  • Multiple Mentors: when one just isn't enough! usually this tends to be a series of training steps that the hero needs to undergo; each mentor will focus on a different aspect.

  • Comic Mentor: tends to be in romantic comedies; often provides advice that seems wrong at the outset but turns out to be just fine in the end.

  • Mentor as Shaman: healer who can help the hero in her vision quest to another world.

  • Inner Mentor: seen most often as a code of ethics or a long dead entity whose advice still lingers.
Volger says it well: "Mentors provide heroes with motivation, inspiration, guidance, training, and gifts for the journey. Every hero is guided by something, and a story without some acknowledgement of this energy is incomplete. Whether expressed as an actual character or as an internalized code of behavior, the Mentor archetype is a powerful tool at the writer's command" (47).
Mentor Applied:
In my Conscripted series, I have a character who serves as a mentor to Eliahna. He is a healer who trains her, adds to her knowledge, and sets her on a vision quest. In fact, he provides many skills and tricks she'll need later on just to survive her journey. But he also serves as a dark mentor, one who betrays her, holds her captive, and destroys her ability to trust. He dies a horrible death at the hands of another victim, but he will haunt her every decision from this point forward. Thus, in the ways that matter, he is very much alive.
Eliahna's new abilities, tainted by this experience, will be used for good -- but she will always question her ability to recognize evil. And because she cannot trust, she latches on to weak individuals who need her healing and her help. In the ordeal or "all is lost" stage, she realizes that she has followed the path of her mentor, sans the capture and rape, because she cannot set her newly healed free. Unwittingly, she has ensured their dependence upon her -- and this knowledge nearly destroys her. How is she any different from the man who betrayed her?
I wrestled with this idea of dark mentor for quite awhile, actually, wondering if it was too much or over the top or even doable. It made sense in my head, it worked on paper, but I was skittish about audience response. (I know, I know: one shouldn't write with such concerns popping about one's head. The subconscious is a delightful thing, untamed and unrepentant.)
Who are your mentor characters? Do they serve multiple functions? Do you have multiple mentors? Minor or major? Do they influence the hero's character development, motivations, or decisions? Pick one from a past work or a current WIP, and please leave a description of character, role, function in the comment section.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stressed


I am in the middle of my new WIP and feeling extremely stressed. This work is by far my best, and I want to finish it. I feel like I've finally found my voice, and I just want to let it flow, but my day job is getting in the way.

I cannot afford to quit my day job, or worse, lose it, so of course all of my effort has to go to getting things done at work, and that has been my focus for quite a while.

As most of you probably know, my day job is as a software engineering manager. I lead a group of engineers writing tools for a new chip. We have a huge opportunity in the short term if we can showcase our capabilities to a massive semiconductor company.

I've been pushing the guys really hard to meet the schedule, and I am starting to see some signs of burnout. This is the worst possible time, because our deadline is approaching.

My boss meanwhile, has been relentless in hammering on us to meet the schedule. Since we are a small startup, it really is a make or break effort.

As I'm writing this on Friday afternoon, I'm looking forward to the weekend, to at least a few hours of uninterrupted writing, but we'll see. The weekend presents it's own set of family challenges.

I really feel that this work is going to be the one that I finally break through with, and I think that's what is stressing me the most. I want to finish it.

Given the current market conditions, it's probably just as well that it isn't done today, but I want to make sure that I'm ready when things finally turn the corner.

Any of you feeling stressed to finish your latest WIP these days? How do you cope with it?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

7 Reasons to Continue Blogging



I've been running on low fuel lately. I felt like I needed to start chucking the cargo out of the plane in order to make it to the next refueling station, but what I found was that comments left last week helped to refuel me midair. Thanks to everyone who left a comment!
I've decided to continue on, at least until the new year.
Here are some reasons that I have to continue with blogging. Perhaps they will help inspire you when you get to feeling like you are running low on fuel and need to lighten your load.
Seven Reasons To Continue Blogging
1. Talented and Inspiring People in the Network
I've benefited by reading the blogs, poetry, and stories of others.
I've also benefited by seeing how people use images and talk about taking them.
Everyone who leaves a comment and posts about the struggle to continue on with writing, and makes little victories, is an inspiration.
2. Opportunity to Write for a Live Audience
There's nothing so depressing as having nobody read your stuff. I love the feedback from others and the ability to improve my writing style based on how people respond.
I don't post creative nonfiction or stories often, but I've been encouraged as a writer because of those times.
By the way, I've loved reading other people's short stories and creative pieces. Anthony's bit on stalking the pro golfer stands out as one of the funniest things I've read in a long time.
3. Depth of Communication and Interconnectivity is Possible
The mere fact that I can refer to Anthony's funny story (or anyone else's really good post) shows that depth of communication and interconnectivity is possible. We, as bloggers, have the opportunity to surpass magazine writers because of this interactivity. We can go deeper into issues if we bounce off of each other and carry on a conversation or friendly debate.
My favorite part of blogging is when posts and/or comments take an issue or experience deeper and deeper.
4. Opportunity to read posts that are humorous, hopeful, exciting, agonizing, joyful, or informative
Jen's latest post on writing a mystery made me feel excited, because I could feel her excitement. Patrick's latest post triggered a feeling that is a mixture of hope and agony. It is great to have a manuscript in the hands of an agent, and agonizing to wait and wonder what will happen as each day passes in silence. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about.
5. Agent/Industry Advice
I've read some good agent and industry advice on this blog and others. I've even had an agent (who has stopped by and posted a couple of times on our blog) send me an email that gave me the name of an industry person who has an interest in the kind of stuff I write. That was exceptionally cool of her, and shows how good natured people can be when you network in and communicate professionally.
6. Opportunity to Inform, Entertain, and Inspire Others
I may or may not succeed at getting published. That's not 100% within my control, as other people get to make the decisions, but I can say that some people have moved me by telling me how something that I wrote made them feel or interested them. Connecting with others through my writing, which includes informative blogs and creative nonfiction posts, is rewarding.
I suppose that if I felt that connection more I would feel more highly inspired to blog. I sometimes wonder what it means when I see just two or three comments on a blog post, whether it is a writer from this blog or elsewhere. It could relate to the quality or form of the post or it could relate to how connected one is with other bloggers. What do you think?
7. Blogging is an Evolving Form that Appeals to Fast Paced Readers
I want to continue learning the form. Sometimes I stick to the guidelines I've read, and other times I don't. It is interesting to see what works and what does not.
Failure to connect with readers teaches lessons, as does connecting.
Lady Glamis and Alex have both posted exceptionally good advice on how to blog. This advice, and the experience of blogging, has helped me to develop a new style of writing which extends from the blogosphere to the memoir I am writing on a decade of running and not.
Bottom Line
In the end, getting refueled midair is what matters most. The irony is that the way blogging works it's not all about how good of a writer you are. It's also about how good you are at refueling others. That's an area that I can certainly improve on. I need to be the fuel plane, as well as the jet.
Questions of the Day:
Notice what I did not put on the list: building a platform. Do you think it should be on there?
What do you think? Which of these reasons resonates the most with you?

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Marvellous Mystery

I've never written a mystery before.

I had no idea. No idea it could be so much FUN to PLOT! And OUTLINE! The MADNESS!

I knew I wanted to write this book, and it appeared to be a mystery. I'd read many a mystery in my Middle Grade (and after) days, back when you know, they didn't involve dead people. I don't like the dead people bit. But when I realized that the book I had in my head (PDS) was actually...a mystery, I was tickled.

And paranoid.

How *does* one go about writing a mystery?

They're an entirely different beast, to be sure. One with so many things that have to come together right, but not too right too right away, or everyone could see the bad guy.

I love to write about the bad guys getting it and the good guys winning. I like that.

Anyway, I got to lookin' for definite things, and found many excellent links that broke some down for me. I also got to thinking about those mystery books I loved so much when I was a kid. The THRILL of figuring it out! Leafing back through the pages when I was finished to see if I could find clues that might not have been there in black and white, but sneaky!

And OH, some of those books were tricksy! So now, with clues, and red herrings, and subliminal hints, and plot points, and super-fun naming of characters and EVERYTHING in my head, I'm almost ready to go. (!!!)

But guess what. I'll be working off an OUTLINE. An OUTLINE! I know, right? For a pantser this is rather a horrible thought, but I do believe it's necessary. All these clues, all these subliminal hints, these red herrings and that one VERY tricksy villain are gonna keep me on my toes!

So...you? Did you read mysteries as a kid? Any particularly tick you off, or really get you going?

And a very Happy Hallowe'en, all!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Drifting...

Recently I've been drifting back and forth between ideas for novels. In other words, I'm deciding how I want to spend the next six months of my writing time. It's been difficult, simply because I'm incredibly hard on my ideas and I keep asking: 'Is this idea worth the time?' I've written 6 full-length novels already, and the requested full of the last one I completed has been sitting in an agent's computer folder for three months, as I wait to hear what she thinks. The longer I wait, the less confident I get, simply because, whenever I hear about a writer landing an agent, it's usually, 'She called me one week later', or 'Three weeks later, we had a deal'. I'd love to know a story of someone who sent a full manuscript, waited ten months, then the agent said 'YES!' and the book was published soon after. Anyone know any? =)

So, anyway, I'm drifting...hoping I'll be able to dig into one of my novel ideas and make it sing. I'm done with outlines...in my case (and I'm sure other, more professionally productive writers, use outlines and write awesomely, so grain of salt) they have poisoned my last two ideas. An outline almost seems like flying over some ancient place in a helicopter, if that makes sense. There's no thrashing through the jungle, or sweat dripping off your face.

Below is a quote that I feel very fortunate to have found. It definitely lifted my spirits

Hope everyone has a good Halloween.

"Really, in the end, the only thing that can make you a writer is the person that you are, the intensity of your feeling, the honesty of your vision, the unsentimental acknowledgment of the endless interest of the life around and within you. Virtually nobody can help you deliberately -- many people will help you unintentionally."
- Santha Rama Rau