Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The 21st Century Hunter-Gatherer

The idea that Google is conquering the world is not original, but the idea that in the next ten to twenty years they will invent a nano-sized Search Engine microchip which, if inserted atop your cerebral cortex will provide you with all the information ever posted online, is definitely ridiculous…but plausible.

I got this thought while staring at a big black dog outside my front porch. I’d just driven across the country without cruise control so my mind and right leg were shot. But I kept staring at him, and he kept staring back at me, and I thought, what if he could be smarter than me? Dogs are incredible, as a bunch of you I’m sure know, and if any animal were to conquer us from some kind of surprise- advanced evolutionary attack, I’d want it to be shit tzus…millions of millions of shit tzus.

In any case, I didn’t know what breed of dog I was having a staredown with, and, being conditioned by the 21st century techno-human age, I wanted to Google it.

What if the black dog had Google inside his head?

The two owners of Google have stated very loudly and with aggressive fist pumps that they want to create A.I., but I think the next step lies with ‘The Genius Chip’. Advertised like this…

The Genius Chip works by putting on the two paper thin black gloves and putting your hands together. Next, you tap your fingers together “Like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. Yeees. Excellent.” As your fingers make contact with each other, search pages shoot from the tips into your brain, through electric plosives. You can get high-speed by purchasing a chip ‘no larger than the lead on a sharpened pencil’ and having it surgically attached to your frontal lobe.

Would this invention change everything? Obviously. The fiction novel would die because our attention spans would be reduced to a baby needing changed. Multi-tasking would become a religion, and the phrase ‘A jack of all trades, but a king to none’ would become a mantra chiseled into a mountain. Conversations would end in moments, interrupted by frequent bursts of ‘Ooh, check this out’, or ‘Whoa…cool.’ You’d see streets upon streets of people tapping their fingers together and drooling, the world’s information now inside everyone.

How would the world change in this regard? Personally I think I’d see a large spike of economic growth for a period of thirty years followed by a disease called ‘Recessive Brain Control’ (RBC) which would cause millions to randomly freak out while setting cars on fire and hitting them with very large sticks, purchased online from Green Amazon dot com. After RBC, the human race will fall into a deep depression due to a lack of confidence.

The point I’m trying to make is that I’m scared beyond belief that our human goal is no longer to be happy, healthy and wise, but to become info-driven droids, upgrading our gadgets year after year in order to obtain some kind of simulated bliss. While in Japan, I’d watch everyone on a bus soaked into their cell phones. On the New York Subway, the same, while listening to their IPODs. What makes me so afraid, I guess, is that I am one of them too.

But maybe everything I’m worried about isn’t a big deal. I remember seeing pictures and documentaries of businessmen in the 1920’s, all dressed in the same black suit, all of them reading the newspaper. I’ve read books stating how long people need to ‘stare into the fire’, like tired hunter-gatherers did millennia ago. Maybe that’s the only thing that changes…our fire.

Here’s hoping it never dies out.

Girls, Young Women, and Deadlines

In my mind, I won high school. Much of my writing adore comes from my high school years.

This included Victoria, who had a lot to do with this love. And my self-esteem. There is nothing like the confidence boost when your girlfriend has a hot little mouth and smiling eyes. She was cute and pretty and curvy and and and

And I digress.

My sophomore year I joined the school newspaper. Man, I loved working on that weekly. It ruled. I started out as a reporting squirt, but by the end of the year, I would have both a weekly column and reporting duties.

On the staff were Kevin, five girls, and me. When the year ended and I joined the paper as a junior, Kevin, the wanker, did not sign up. Then it was me and six girls, only four weren't girls anymore. They were young women with figures, boobs, legs and everything.

I snagged the editor spot of the opinions page. I even had my own business cards. They said "Anthony Pacheco: Opinions".

Okay, that's a bit silly but at the time I was on cloud nine. Nothing could shake me--I was in the grove. In the grove, that is, until my friend Derek got me in trouble.

With the other staff. The other female staff. Which was, like, all of them.

Derek, you dork!

So there I was, doing what friends do, we were bitching about various things, whining, really.

I was whining that I somehow became solely responsible for headlines. We had a week to produce the paper. On Thursday, an hour before it had to go to the printer, I would be writing all the headlines.

That was no easy chore. Your headline had to have a minimum and maximum number of characters, in a particular font size. It had to fit on the page exactly. This was before computer layouts, kids. We had to lay it out by hand. Headlines we could actually change the font size and kerning, that was state of the art, let me tell you.

ANYWAY, it seemed I had a knack for coming up with the right words in the right font size. Now I was, bitching to Derek that the pressure of coming up with the headlines at the last minute was getting to me. Oh my gosh, it was PRESSURE!

"That's because," Derek said, "you're the mascot."

"The what?"

"Mascot."

"I am not a mascot!"

"It's like you and six girls. They run you." Derek gave me a look. "You're their mascot. The baby. Little Bro."

"Stuff it."

"Have you fucked any of these girls?"

"No!"

"Breast fondling?"

"No."

"Kissing?"

"No."

"Out of these six girls, didn't you say four of them were hot?"

"Yes, but..."

"But nothing. You're not even getting a hand up a skirt, but they boss you around. Mascot."

"Blow me, retard."

"Is that the headline for page two?" Derek is now a big grin.

"No, that headline says BLOW ME RETARDED DEREK," I said, putting my fingers up in quote marks.

So I bet, you as an adult, can see where this went. And you are right, it went nowhere good.

On Monday, during the staff meeting, where we plan the weekly in a vague, magazine-like way, I brought up that it is not fair that I am doing my column and my reporting and my editorial page (Anthony Pacheco: Opinions) and the headlines. And the girls agreed. But they also pointed out that I have a knack for writing headlines, so it would be helpful if I could lend assistance for the other pages besides my own. I agreed to this as long as we spaced out the layout for the headlines over the course of the week, not on Thursday.

This is not as bad as it sounds. It is actually easier to fill an article in article space then it is to come up with the perfect headline. All news articles are written so the last paragraphs can get cut to make them fit.

But it is bad. It's bad because Derek was a DORK.

So on Tuesday three of the articles needed a headline. I sat there and stared at the layouts.

And stared.

And stared some more.

And that's when it hit me. If I had time to actually think about the headline, I couldn't do it. The pressure of the deadline of sending the paper to the printer in time was a major factor in my Headline Writing MojooTM.

Now I had two girls.

Staring at me.

While I am staring at the pages.

Hating Derek.

"Uh, you know, I can help with these tomorrow no problem," I said. "I gotta run to an interview."

"Okay!"

"Okay!"

Run!

Later that evening, I call Victoria.

"You listened to Derek?"

"Yes, well..."'

"Dork. You have only yourself to blame."

"But, help me out here. You're a girl. How do I get out of this mess... with, um, these girls?"

"Thanks for noticing I am a GIRL. Why don't you ask Derek since he is the GIRL EXPERT? Anyway, Dad has to use the phone. Love you, bye."

*click*

"Ahhhhhh!"

Okay, I can do this.

Wednesday, I arrive to our small little newsroom, late. Not on purpose either, because I actually had an interview.

And there, on the layout desks, are all the layouts.

All of them.

Done.

Waiting for me to help write the headlines.

Now I have six girls.

Looking at me.

Looking at the layouts.

I can't think of a single headline. Not a single damn one! What do I do? WHAT DO I DO!?!?!

"Anthony, you don't look too well," Rachel said. She looked concerned.

"Uh, I don't feel so good." It's true. I felt nauseous.

"Here, sit," said Angela. "You're like sweating."

Megan fetched me a class of water.

Helen actually put the back of her wrist to my forehead. "You're hot," she said.

Sandy went into the first aid kit and then stuck a thermometer in my mouth.

Ann fetched Mrs. Reed, the Journalism Teacher.

"Wow, Anthony, you look terrible. Go home before you spread whatever it is you have to the rest of the staff!"

"I need to help with the headlines." Only, with the thermometer in my mouth, it comes out as "Iul eed to el pith uh ead-ines."

"Nonsense. If you are feeling better, you can come in tomorrow. We'll muddle through until then. Now scoot! I'll call the office."

"99 degrees," announced Sandy.

All six young women and Mrs. Reed look at me. Megan actually puts her hands on her hips.

"I'll drive you home," Angela said. And she did. All six blocks.

"Get well soon," she told me, and then kisses me on the cheek. I practically run into the house.

Oh. My. God. I am a dork. I am the Dork of the Century. I am Ass Dork. Dork Ass Dork. Dork-o-Boy.

When the going gets tough, the tough call Victoria.

"VICKY!"

"Hello, Mascot Boy. When are you coming over, anyway?"

"WHAT IF I CAN'T WRITE ANYTHING TOMORROW? WHAT DO I DO?"

"Oh, are we talking about those headlines again?"

"HELP ME! I actually went home sick!"

"Are you?"

"I'm gonna be if I can't put out tomorrow!"

"Ha. Well at least you're not being taken advantage of any more by those GIRLS."

"But but... fine. Abandon me in my hour of need."

"Oh, now don't sulk. My parents and sister are not going to be home Friday night. Come over and I'll make you forget the disaster you're heading into on Thursday."

Now, you would think this would drive me out of my funk, but it does not. I feel stupid for thinking my newspaper friends were taking advantage of me.

At night, I lay there thinking of headlines. I fall asleep well past midnight.

In the morning, my mother knocked on my door.

"Anthony, get up for school!"

"I'm not going!"

"Well, come out for breakfast."

"I'm not hungry!"

"You have to come out and eat sometime."

"No, I don't. Just periodically slip Melba toast under the door. I'll be good."

A few minutes later, Mom actually does slip Melba toast under the door, along with a note:

Dear Anthony,

Go to school, or you're not going

to Victoria's this weekend.

Love,

Your Mother

Oh man oh man oh man.

Fine. I go to school. Then I head to the newsroom at my appointed Hour of Doom, feeling like I am going to barf at any moment. And there, I was met by six lovely young ladies who fawned over me and asked me if I felt better. They proudly showed me the layouts.

All the headlines were there. Except, they were all in the wrong fonts. With the wrong words. In the wrong sizes. They were terrible. Terrible!

"Uh, I think if we change this one slightly it would not, um, uh, have this repeated word that's on this next headline over."

"Okay, what should it say?" asked Megan. She looked at the clock. "We don't have much time."

I read the article in a flash. "Uh, Debate Team Moves to 2nd Place, one size smaller."

"Perfect! Thanks!"

"This one here can be re-arranged. Football Cheer Squad Changes Captains."

"Oooo, that fits better," said Helen.

"These two headlines are going to run into each other when the paper is folded out, so..."

And just like that, my mojoo was back.

Thank God.

The moral of this story?

Sometimes we all need deadlines. Good people will let you do what you're good at. Do not underestimate a group of girls. Melba toast does not make a good breakfast.

And Derek was a DORK!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Five Mistakes Beginning Writers Make

As we all do, I've been spending some reflective moments contemplating writing, the world of writing, and how I can improve my own. In fact, I've been keeping a running record of tactics or habits or actions that I find distasteful in books I read, papers I grade, and even movies I watch. Of course, this doesn't mean that my own writing is immune -- but I'm trying. And being aware is half the battle.

Then, a month or so ago, Amber Argyle composed a post about mistakes amateur writers make. Lady Glamis followed up with a more in-depth post about flashbacks. Since I had been thinking about this very subject, I kept an eye out for like-minded bloggers, and then -- this week -- our very own Diane Gallant discussed writing like a reader and focusing on creating work you, yourself, would like to read. She touched on things she disliked in books, and it prompted me to pull out my list again.

It's time, then, to present my own top five mistakes that beginning writers make. There are, of course, more scribbles on my list, but these are the five that beckon today.

1. Cliche'd beginnings, middles, or endings: I know: the publishing world wants you to write something that is familiar but different. Tough request. But if you don't add that creative twist, that flavor that is distinctly you, you're doomed. I must say that Lois McMasters Bujold completely blew me away with her Chalion series...not only did it feel real and natural and familiar, but she injected intriguing, non-predictable elements.

2. Beginning or ending with a dream. A lot of my junior high students like to use this one. Not only is it 'so last century', but it's also a cop-out. Write strong; you won't need a dream to pull readers into your work or to help ease them out of a bad plot.

3. Head Hopping (vs. Point of View shifts): When one leaps between brains or view points within the same scene, it's not only annoying but it's confusing. You never want to confuse your audience. Yes, I've already posted about this. And then D. M. McReynolds wrote a thought-provoking post and further fleshed out the topic when he guest-blogged for me back in October. I won't belabor the point: suffice it to be said that one shouldn't engage in head hopping.

4. Repetition & redundancy, ad nauseam. My high school art teacher told me to leave some lines unfinished because the viewer likes to engage in the experience as well, becoming part artist and filling in the missing pieces with her own experiences. The same applies, I think, to writing. We readers are not particularly short on brains. I just threw a book across the room where every single action, thought, or plot point was repeated at least five different ways. It's wearisome and, frankly, a bloody waste of a reader's time!

5. Absence of dialogue: I just finished reading a delightful (in potential plot) short story that held no dialogue. I felt bogged down, as if I were slogging through spring mud. Dialogue drives writing forward, injecting action into a piece that might otherwise feel stagnant. It also allows for "show don't tell" if done with a delicate touch. Of course, the pendulum can swing the other way -- but that's another entry on the ever-expanding list.

By no means is this a comprehensive list -- so tell me your pet peeves in the writing world. What drives you bonkers or erects road blocks or sets off the warning bells? Agent Nathan Bransford blogged a bit back about books beginning with the protag staring out a window... there has to be a million things out there that we should avoid. What do you have to add to the list?

Monday, April 27, 2009

To POD or not to POD

To POD or not to POD
that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of rejection,
And by opposing, end them. To quit, to sleep;

Apologies to William Shakespeare....

How many of you have thought about giving up the the battle to find an agent and said to yourself, I'm tired, I give up, I'm going to self-publish.

I see a few hands raised out there.

I think that quite of few people in the publishing industry see Print On Demand as just that, a metaphor for throwing in the towel. The author is just too impatient, arrogant, or otherwise bull-headed to wait until their work is good enough to be published, or realize that they don't have what it takes.

So are you ready to admit defeat and use a POD publisher to print your work? That's how publishing folks are going look upon it.

I know it's not what you want to hear, but in a lot of cases, I think they are right. I would only use a POD publisher (and did) in certain cases.

If you are writing a nonfiction book about a specific area of expertise, and you have a platform on which to sell it, then it definitely makes sense. For instance if you are an expert on financial planning and you regularly give talks on the subject, then everyone of your attendees is a potential customer. In fact you should probably arrange the cost of attendance to be such that each attendee gets a free book.

If you have a specific marketing platform that you can target then it also might make sense. Let's say you are well known in the area of knitting. You publish articles in knitting magazines, and are well known in knitting circles. You have a platform that you can market to. The only caveat is that you will probably have to write stories that appeal to that audience.

So that's the easy scenario. What if your book is literary fiction? Should you POD?

I would say no, UNLESS... you have a strong strategy for marketing it and in literary fiction, that's going to be hard.

My POD book is an aviation thriller. While I haven't written articles in aviation magazines, and am not known in that industry, I did have a specific marketing plan for the book. That is why I used a POD publisher.

I knew that the theme and story of the book would appeal very strongly to private pilots. I targeted the marketing of the book to that audience. I did it by going after the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association). This is a very large organization of pilots who live, breathe, and serve the interests of pilots on a daily basis. I sent a copy of the book to the president of the organization (signed of course) and he was thrilled by the story. He agreed to have the book reviewed by one of their editors and make it available to all of their members.

I don't expect to reach all of them, but even if I reach a few percent, it will have been worth my time as the organization has over 400,000 members.

The review hasn't yet been published, but I will let you know when it happens. Until then, think hard about going POD. It's not for everyone.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Changing Expectations: An Interview with Cindy Wilson





Tell us a bit about yourself and your novel. How have your expectations changed since you set out on the journey to write a publishable novel?

First of all, I just want to say how much I appreciate being asked to do this interview. I love reading about other writers, but not always the great well-known, and well-established ones. I like to hear about new writers, those just in on the game, and hear about their journey to publication. So it means a lot to me that I get to share my journey with other people. Besides that, I love your blog! (Not sucking up, just saying…)


Anyway, I am a wife and a mother of two of the sweetest little girls you’ll ever meet. I feel endlessly blessed to be able to stay at home with them during the days and also utilize that time to write. My novel is titled Through It All. It’s contemporary inspirational fiction. In Through It All, a terrible loss and heartbreaking prophecy lead Shannon Montclaire on a challenging course to return home and battle with the trials of her waning faith. There is a strong Christian theme, including redemption, forgiveness, trust and, of course, a bit of romance (can’t leave that out).


It’s amazing how much my expectations changed as I walked the journey to publication. While I always wanted to write to tell a good story and reach people, I used to do it with an entirely different motivation. I didn't begin writing Christian fiction until I became a Christian less than four years ago. Prior to that I had written half a dozen manuscripts and was working with a secular agent, trying to find a publisher. Then it all changed. Telling a good story was still important, but it became all about reaching people. Making a difference in someone’s life far outweighs making millions or becoming a bestseller.




What's the spectrum of what is labeled Christian Fiction in the bookstore, and where does your book fit in? Are there any particular rules or guidelines for Christian Fiction and your genre within it?


It’s amazing to me how broad the spectrum is of what is labeled Christian fiction. I’ve read many books that simply outline a vague belief and then continue on to tell a story. Others, without a doubt, are written from a very strong Christian point of view and it’s made clear in the book. You can find many Christian books in secular bookstores because there is a larger audience for them now, but also because there are many books that can cross over and appeal to readers that don’t typically read books in the Christian or inspirational genre.


As far as particular rules or guidelines, the biggest is the obvious. Write from a Christian worldview. If you look at guidelines for just about any Christian publisher, they are going to specify how important it is to give your characters Christian values or at the very least, have them striving toward or learning of a Christian lifestyle. For well established authors, you may not see as big a theme regarding this, but it’s important for us new writers.


Other guidelines are similar to secular publishing houses. Word counts, writing style, even submitting queries or manuscripts. It’s just as challenging as a Christian writer to get your foot in the door.


Who are the main Christian publishers and what lead you to go with Oaktara? Why do you think your book is a good fit for that particular publisher?

Major Christian publishers include Zondervan, Bethany House, Waterbrook, and Tyndale. There are many more and I’ve been hearing lots about new, small presses that are up and coming such as OakTara.


I was lead to OakTara in an unusual way. After writing my first two Christian novels, I took the first step toward publishing by trying to find an agent. It was a challenge and initially I didn’t receive a lot of interest. I’d been considering submitting directly to a publisher, but knew that most publishers did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. There were a few, however, that suggested a Christian manuscript service and mentioned they read proposals off manuscripts that were accepted to the service. I used The Writer’s Edge and was encouraged when they accepted my manuscript. I heard back from a few publishers but none that really sounded right to me. Nearly a year later, I heard from OakTara. They requested my entire manuscript and thus began a very interesting journey. The first book I contracted with them is not the one I spoke of earlier. But I felt strongly about Through It All being the first novel I published. So, after getting in contact with OakTara, they agreed to contract it as well.


I can honestly say, in the beginning, I thought very little about how good a fit my book was for my publisher. I was shocked at first, because I’d gotten a contract. Amazed, second, because I felt as though I was starting to live my dream. And then…well, I have to admit I was doubtful. I’d dreamed of getting published since I was a young teenager. But I’d dreamed of getting a contract with a huge traditional publisher with a wonderful advance (and attaining all this with an agent). And here I was, agentless, being offered a contract by a relatively new publisher whose major target audience was on-line. This was, to me, almost like self-publishing (minus the fees) but it was hard to see it any other way than, “This is not what I expected.” (And by the way, OakTara is not a self-publisher.) I had to pray a lot and try to leave behind all my prior expectations. I had to try to discern if this was the path God was leading me on. It felt right, albeit very scary, so I went for it.



If a writer was interested in getting published with Oaktara what do you think they could expect in terms of a contract, editing, marketing, and the like?


OakTara is very open and up front about their target audience, their print on demand approach, and their marketing strategy. So if you are interested and have the chance to look at their Website, you can learn a lot. They were quick with my contract and have answered any questions I’ve come up with so far. I have not started the editing process yet, but I expect new information on that soon.


Marketing was (and still is) probably my biggest concern in this part of my journey. Clearly most publishing companies expect new authors to help market their books. But because OakTara is such a small company still, I know doing more on my part will help. They help with the press release and have branched out to offer books at major on-line retailers, such as Amazon.com and CBD. OakTara books are featured in CBD (Christian Book Distributors) catalogues as well, which is huge because they’re a major retailer in Christian fiction. In addition, OakTara helps to place books in regional bookstores around the author. I’m expecting more information on this part of publishing once I get past the editing.




What's your experience in the blogosphere been like?


It’s been wonderful! Had I known how many friends I was going to make and how much I was going to learn, I would have started blogging (or at least reading blogs) sooner. I kept hearing from agents and publishers and other writers that it didn’t hurt to write a blog. That it might help establish a bit of a platform. I finally gave in at the beginning of the year, mostly just expecting that people might stop by and comment once in awhile. That I might be able to talk about my book and someone out there might be interested enough to buy one when it came out.


This is not what happened at all! I’ve been able to “meet” other writers and learn and grow because of them. I’ve been able to share what I know with other people. I get to hear about their journeys with writing and tell about my own journey. It’s been amazing. The people are amazing and their blogs are amazing! The Adventures in Writing blog is one such blog. I love seeing the diversity of posts. No wonder people say blogging is addicting!



What observations or advice do you have for writers?


As far as advice strictly for writing, I always like to say do your research. Improve your writing by reading other books in your genre. Strive to be better. Join a critique group or find someone you trust to read your writing. You will grow from this! You can learn so much from other people, particularly other writers who are in the same boat as you.


Writing in general is such an amazing thing. It takes so much discipline and heart to really write. Not just a short story here and there or a poem every once and a while, but a committed kind of writing. Where you write nearly every day. Where you dedicate set amounts of time in order to produce something specific. Aspiring authors are following their dreams and they’re doing so to reach others. What an awesome endeavor! If writing is your dream, follow it with every ounce of passion you have in your body. You never know when or where something you write will make its mark. Stay straight on that path!




Oh, one more thing, and this is for Anthony ... How do you write a sex scene for a Christian book, based on your reading and/or writing experience?



…I have to laugh (and admit I’m slightly embarrassed) because I wasn’t expecting this kind of question. It does, however, pertain to writers who are interested in writing for the Christian market. I mentioned earlier that publishers have specific guidelines. This topic is one of the things they have guidelines about. Some are more lenient than others but you’re not going to find too many sex scenes in Christian books.


I don’t put sex scenes in my novels. Not because I know it won’t be allowed (okay, well also because of that) but because it doesn’t appropriately represent me, what I write, and what I believe. That said, I love a little romance. I love establishing a relationship between characters. These kinds of emotions show their vulnerability and represent realistic needs and wants. Love exists in real life, relationships are important. Plus it’s just fun to get the giddy feelings of a happy love story. So, there’s hand holding and kissing and…well, I won’t give it all away. Once my book comes out you can see for yourselves!


Thanks so much for the interesting questions!




Comments and Questions:


Cindy would love to take your questions and comments.


Also, I would love to hear about alternative options from you, and by alternative I mean anything that does not limit an author to one of the biggest publishing houses. Why would you or wouldn't you change your expectations from what you started with when you first set out to write?


Think like a reader

Last week I posted on the attention deficit disorder of so many modern readers, myself no less than anyone. I like to read. Yes, I do. I like to be swept away. But....

But, but, but. I'm busy, and every day there are demands placed on me from all sides, and every day there are a thousand things I should be doing besides reading. So it's gotta be story, I said - all story, and nothin' but.

I've been thinking more about this attention problem, and I've discovered this obvious fact: I will be a more successful writer when I condition myself to think more like an impatient reader while actually engaged in writing.

I dislike reading long sentences and tedious paragraphs. Therefore, I must remember not to write that way.

I prefer to read books with lots of "white space" and chapters of ten pages or less. So, I should write that way as well.

What else do I like to find in books? And more importantly with respect to my own writing, will I remember to include these kinds of things in my stories?

I like heroes and justice and happy endings. I like an element of mystery and a satisfying conclusion. I like language and style, too, but not when I feel the writer is showing off, and never in the absence of a good story.

And... what do I hate to find in books? I hate, hate, hate when the bad guys win. I have no patience for desciptions of machines and how they work. I despise writers who use their characters as mouthpieces for their political views. I dislike loose ends. I really dislike arrogant protagonists.

So when writing, I need to be mindful of the things I'm prone to include, but that might turn readers off.

I admit that it's not my habit to write like I read. But without a doubt, my writing will be better if I do, and I suspect this is true for other writers, as well. Think of the question like this: would you want to read your own book? If your answer is anything but an enthusiastic YES, then you need to think more like a reader.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How I got my agent.

Since someone had asked back at the beginning of this blog, I thought I'd post how I got my agent. 

It took: 

- Five finished books before this one, Possum Summer. That's a total of a lot of words, I don't want to count them. Usually a lot of story comprised of backstory. Le sigh.
- Countless bad queries. Thankfully this was before the advent of email so I didn't make such an idiot of myself. I had to mail everything from Europe. That hurt the old bank account.
- Queried two of those books. Had perfectly horrible query letters (although I thought they were brilliant at the time). 
- Joined AW and learned and learned. 
- Was rejected, rejected, rejected. In all, probably over 250 rejections (all books considered). 
- Decided to write the one book I'd had in my head since I was 10, and never wrote because I didn't think I was up to it. Was also not the genre I "thought" I wrote.  
- Edited it and sent it out to my three top agent picks Christmas Day. (Yes, I was one of those). 
- Got the request from all three that night. Sent out partials *except to one that already wanted the full*. 
- Next day, got a request for a partial. 
- Next day, got the request for the full from two best agents. 
- Next morning (this was Monday; all this had happened over the holiday weekend) got the email: I love your book. Let's talk! Other agent said yes, I love it too! Don't do anything without me! Promptly got a phone call from other Top Agent (she was crying) call me, let's work together!
- Then I had a breakdown. *** (see below)
- Accepted one, and now we're subbing. 

*** Don't ever, ever let anybody tell you it's great to have more than one offer. It was worse than *anything* I'd gone through. How do you make that sort of decision? In my case, I asked writer friends; went through AW for all the information I could find on them, wrote down pros and cons, and decided after all that based off my gut decision. It was so hard. But the choice was the perfect one; I couldn't be more happy with the agent I decided upon. 

But if you wanted the short answer to this question, it would be perseverance. And patience. And optimism. Getting back up after a devastating no. It didn't happen overnight, for all that it looks like it did. It took five years of gradually learning and doing before I got this far. 

But if I can do it, you can do it. No problem. :)

(ps - if you have any particulars you'd like to hear about, let me know in the comments...I'm here to help you and support you all, more than anything. Pick my brain! Well, what's left of it.)


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Story Chain

I've read in magazines how groups of writers get together and one of them writes one chapter, and then a different writer writes another. I never understood why, but after hearing from a friend how it opened up new avenues of possibility with his novel, I started thinking differently.

So, if you have the time, I thought we could start a kind of sentence/story chain. It'd be interesting just to see the choices other writers/readers make and if or how the story ends. No rules, really. Well, I guess at least one sentence that does something for the story, either moves it forward or gives it dimension, would be good. 'He coughed' is, um...yeah.

I guess I'll start.

Jamie walked out the front door of his house, waving goodbye to his mother. He had a sack of clothes over his shoulder and a black suitcase in his right hand. As he walked up the sidewalk, he wondered...what now?

Indeed...what now?

Do with Jamie what you wish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kindly Do Not Speak to Me of Writing Pain

Some people say they have a high pain tolerance. Mine is certified.

Repetitive strain injuries used to be associated with tennis players and other enthusiastic sports peoples. Back then, it was just becoming known that doing something as simple as using a computer mouse the wrong way could hork the nerves in your arm (and hork is a technical term).

Geek extraordinaire I was, I fell prey to an odd type of nerve problem. I used that mouse eight to ten hours a day, the wrong way.

So, when the going got tough, the tough went to see a neurologist. It was obvious I had an inflamed nerve in my arm. My primary care doctor would poke at it and I would go OUCH MY GOD DON'T DO THAT AGAIN OR I WILL KILL YOU, YOU HACK!

But I digress.

The neurologist spent the appointment frowning. Soon I was on designer anti-inflammatories. This was a code phrase for "expensive as hell". Literally, I would count the pills to double check the pharmacist's work. I had no co-pay, but still, the thought of a $3.24 mistake grated on my nerves. Get it? Nerves? Grated?

Never mind.

ANYWAY, the specialist sends me to yet another specialist. He wants to know if I have a nerve problem or if I am totally screwed with un-repairable nerve damage. Little did I know my neurologist HATED MY GUTS. For he sent me to a man, a man who TORTURES the INNOCENT for a living.

I show up to my appointment to this specialist. I need an ENG. Not an EKG, but an electro-nerve-graph appointment. Boy howdy. I just should have given a Seattle bum a twenty to kick me in the nuts repeatedly. I am sure that would have felt better.

My first inkling something was wrong was a woman being led out of the appointment area by two friends who looked quite angry. This woman was crying. She had also peed her pants. Most of me felt really bad for her, the other part started to finally clue in that my insurance company was just about to pay $450 to have me tortured for an hour.

So in I go. After I tell the receptionist I am stopping by the men's room first. She nods wisely.

This neurologist is a mild-mannered looking fellow. Young and good looking, even. He explains the procedure to me: he is going to attach a probe to one end of my arm, and another probe at the other end. Using electric pulses, the probes will measure the time it takes for the nerves to conduct electricity from one end to another. These graphs then blah blah blah blah. About this point my brain goes:

RUN YOU FOOL YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE ELECTROCUTED!

But, actually, it doesn't sound that bad. To his credit, he mentions some people find the procedure painful. If it got too bad, we could stop, but he did not recommend it. We would have to start over some other day.

Hey, I'm a tough guy. How bad could this be?

My next inkling something was very amiss is when Dr. Young Man Torture Head "attaches" the fist probe to my arm. "Attaches" was "jam a sharp needle with a wire attached to it into my skin until it touched a nerve".

Literally, I about puked my guts out right then. Then oh no he DOES IT AGAIN. The second probe is a couple of inches away from the first.

"You're doing great," he assures me. "We're going to start the test. The shocks will grow in intensity. Don't worry if your arm flops about, the probes won't come out. If you feel faint, just lie down."

Oooookay. Maybe that was the hard part.

Zap.

Well that is not too bad.

Zap Zap.

Ow.

Zap Zap Zap

No, really, ow.

Zap Zap Zap Zap!

Oh, please, no!

ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP!

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, I WILL TELL YOU ANYTHING!

"You did really well," he says.

In which I reply: *whimper*

Now he takes the second probe out and, and, he jams it into my arm again, this time a few mere inches away from the OTHER HOLE IN MY ARM WHICH IS NOW BLEEDING.

He puts a band-aid on this wound. Thanks doc, you're all heart, really you are.

This process repeated until the second probe was sticking out of my shoulder. I latch onto the fact this torture session is almost done. I used that to focus. It is my center. Mentally, I am the Master. Ommmmmmm.

"You did really well, most people at this time start crying," he says. "You have a high pain tolerance".

Well fine. Take that damn needle out of my arm, you, you, BAD MAN you.

Ommmmmmm.

He shows me the graphs. I remember nothing of this, of course. They look computerish impressive. Which is nothing to me now, because I am going home and shooting my computer.

Ommmmmmm.

"Okay, now we'll do the baseline."

Omm---ack!

"The what!?"

This does not sound good. Not good at all.

"We need to establish a baseline by running the same test on your other arm."

"But there isn't anything WRONG with the other arm. It feels fine!"

"Right. That's the good part. It lets us compare the blah blah blah blah blah blah with the blah blah blah. Right now your charts look fine, but without a baseline we won't know for certain."

"Fine."

And just like that, I am tortured again. At the end of the session:

"I don't see any damage, but your neurologist and I will go over the results together."

"Okay."

"You did great. You're well beyond the average in pain tolerance."

"Okay."

"Any questions?"

"Okay."

"Uh, you can put on your shirt and go now."

"Okay."

So I walk out. On my own. The reception area is devoid of patients. I remember the other woman and check my pants. They are dry. For now.

I get outside, and no sooner does the sunlight hit my face then I am on my hands and knees puking my guts out. Hurl hurl hurl hurl, goes lunch, breakfast and any meals prior, including the fish sandwich I had three days before, right into a handy bush.

Somehow, I have managed not to puke all over myself. But I can't muster the energy to get up. So I crawl, literally, to the car.

That is when I notice I have an audience. A man is looking at me with deer-in-the-headlights eyes. He turns to a woman next to him.

"I'm not going!"

"Harold! You have to go. You've been complaining about the pain for a month!"

RUN HAROLD RUN!

This comes out as wheeze, wheeze, wheeze.

"Screw this!"

"Harold, Francine was a nine pound baby with a big head and we got to the hospital too late for me to have an epidural. Remember? Huh? Remember that?"

"No!"

"Stop being a baby!"

Somehow, I manage to get into the car. Harold, the poor man, is doomed.

So, do not speak to me about how sometimes it's painful to write. For you know not what you speak, no sir no ma'am. And I never, and I mean never, used the mouse improperly again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To Conference or Not to Conference

The Writers Conference beckons, a seductive voice calling your name, the whispers of fame and fortune and fearless agents tantalizing your ego. Your entire body arches toward it, drawn as if by the radiant sun. But you hesitate. Torn, you ask: Is it really for you? Are you ready yet? Is it worth the time, money, energy, and steel-toed boots crunching your soul down?

I can't answer those questions for you. But I can tell you the thoughts that wandered through my head as I packed up my things last summer, ready to head home after a 3-day writers conference in Seattle, Washington.

The Cons:

1. It is expensive. The Pacific Northwest Writers Association holds a conference that costs $395 for members. Plus hotel. Plus most meals. Plus airfare or gas or train ticket.

2. The sessions are good but not "blow your socks off" good. Who knows: perhaps I'm jaded since I attend so many conferences for my profession. Regardless, I walked away from some sessions with excellent information, and I sat through some where I was working hard to find that something.

3. It's daunting & nerve-wracking. Agents and writers, editors and hopefuls litter the floor, halls, and banquet rooms. In mass quantities. You never know when you're going to be cloistered in the elevator with an agent. (Yes, it really does happen.) And you never know when you're going to be flattened by a more aggressive hopeful. (That doesn't happen so much. Honestly. People are generally kind and helpful. Thankfully.)

And honestly? I walked away thinking, "I'm glad I attended, but I'm not sure it was worth it." I'll go home and huddle in my hermitage now, thank you.

It wasn't until a couple of weeks eased by that I realized the wealth of experience I had walked away with. Because of those sessions, because of those talks with agents and editors, because of those budding relationships I made with other writers, I now knew what questions to ask. I knew what to research. I knew how much my pitch totally sucked. But even better, I knew how to fix it.

So, my advice? Follow your heart, of course. But after that, do attend one. At least one. There is no one single event in the Writers Conference that makes it worthy or valid or perfect. (Unless, of course, agents mud-wrestle for you, but that's another story.) The synergy, on the other hand, is overwhelming and the lessons last a lifetime.

For those of you who have attended conferences, did you have similar experiences? nightmares? joyous accounts? Which conferences were the "best" in your opinion? the "worst"?

Monday, April 20, 2009

How's Your Elevator Pitch?

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself alone in an elevator with a famous literary agent and they asked what you were working on? Would you lock up? Would your knees start knocking? Would you have an answer?

It's something that each of us writers needs to have for projects that are complete or near complete. If it is a work in process, then you might not even know yet, and it's probably too early to talk about. But for anything that's worth a query letter, you need to have a few sentence description about the theme of the work.

That's the key, the theme. It's not the complete plot, all the characters, the entire back story. It's just a quick description of the theme set in such a way that you peak the listener's interest and they want to know more.

For instance you wouldn't want to say:
It's about this guy named Frodo who lives in the shire, and he's got this friend Sam Gamgee and they leave to go find Mt Doom cause they need to ..... Well he has this ring that ....
You've already gone a few sentences, I haven't heard what the book is about, and by now I'm probably wondering what I am going to have for lunch.

Here's my latest.
It's a novel about a blinded woman's struggles to get away from her controlling husband even though he just restored her sight.
Now I didn't say anything about the fact that the woman's name was Ellen, her husband is William, she has a friend name Jesse who's a biker chick, that Ellen decides to get her own bike and go riding with the girls. But aren't you wondering why she went blind, how her husband controls her, and why she's still trying to get away even though she can see again? The story is quite complex, but when you boil it down to its essence, the theme is a blind woman who can suddenly see again. That's what you need for your story. A quick description to set the context for your listener to ask more questions.

They may ask the character's names. They may ask where the story takes place. They may ask a number of things about the story, the point is, now you have their attention and your answers are helping to put the story in a framework that they can quickly understand.

So let's go back to Lord of the Rings. I haven't worked on it very hard, but here's a quick attempt.
It's a trilogy about a member of a diminutive race who overcomes tremendous odds to destroy a magic ring whose power threatens the known world.
Work on your elevator pitch, and be ready to answer when someone asks. So what are you working on?

No really, I want to know. What are you working on?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

There's More Work To Be Done In The City

Tears warmed my eyes and seeped through, unexpected tears.

It had been nearly half a year since I’d been to church. I’d turned into the guy that goes twice a year, if that.

This service surprised me by the way it opened. It was painfully real.

Slides of people suffering flashed across the screen: a homeless child held by a homeless mother, a photo ripped in two—lovers lost to divorce—and best of all a big slide of a building with a sign that advertised LIVE NUDE GIRLS, LIVE NUDE GIRLS. Never thought I’d see a sign like that inside a church.

After the multimedia presentation we sang … and the power of the words surprised me. A voice stood out from the worship team. I thought him brave, a father of a son that is my daughter’s same age, a father of a son who fell victim to divorce. I’d seen the worship team singer at the day care where my kids go, and I’d heard him at the coffee shop opening up to friends. I knew his divorce story, but I had never heard him sing before.

So, with a father who had something to sing to God for, and with a congregation of many people I didn’t know, I sang words that surprised me: “There’s more work to be done in the city …”

I wiped the tears and cried some more because it had been so long since I opened my heart to God in song; so long since I’d thought about the cities we all live in with the hope that we could do something to help those who have been broken by life.


I yawned through the sermon and wouldn’t want to sit through it again, but I’d go back again in half a year; I’d go back to sing and hope that God would break my heart again.

I should go back again, and I should go soon, but I don’t want to yawn and yearn for something more than words I already know. I’d rather pick up a shovel, spend time with a hurting friend, or stop to listen to the mentally challenged. Amy and Harold, two stray cats who wonder the streets of my town, will talk with anyone who will listen for as long as they are willing to listen.

I don’t want to yawn in church. I’d rather talk with a mom about playground bullies and listen to why she would teach her son to hit back, even though she’s always believed in turning the other cheek and working things out. I’d rather talk about the tough issues and do something about it than sleep on Sunday. But man I miss what happens when a song opens my soul to God and I hope.

There’s tears deep inside me that I can only cry for God. I’d forgotten about that. Those tears surprised me and I wish that I could cry them now. I wish that I could cry a tear for every moment of pain until I am healed. Yeah, I’m still broken. Not homeless, not divorced, not so many of those tragic things, but there’s playground bullies in the world of big people and they’ve beaten me up bad. I’d like to fight them back. But, I’ve turned the other cheek. Now, years later, I’m still feeling the brutal kick in the ass. Yeah, there’s still work to be done in the city.


The sand box is a nice place to be. I’d like my sand box to start in Monterey California where my parents and grandparents lived. It’s a place where I have fond memories. I’d like that sandbox to stretch up the coast all the way to the rocky shores and grey skies of Oregon. I’d like to remember where I am from. I’d like my sandbox to continue on and wrap around the West Coast of Washington and onto the shores of Puget Sound, where I have lived many years as an adult. I’d like to let my feet sink into the wet sand. I’d like to watch the sun paint grey clouds red as it sets under the cloud cover, and I’d like to pray again.

I’d like to pray that God would let me walk on water. I’d like to walk down the West Coast. I’d like to show the world what hope can do. I’d like to show myself that there’s more to life than a pay check. I’d like to show my kids that God can do miracles.

I’ll settle for time with them in a coffee shop though, or the park, both are good places to be together. I’ll settle for hugging my kids and listening to them about the sand box and the rocks they climbed and jumped off of.

There’s so much work to be done in the city: the streets, the church, the schools, and the sand box.

God let me cry and not forget the day when I was five and my face was rubbed in the grass by a playground bully. Don’t let me forget I never told anyone. Don’t let me forget that I need to look for the work that needs to be done. Let me cry for the sake of others’ pain. And encourage me to do it more than once or twice a year.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I am an impatient reader

I really am. I want the story. I want to love the characters right away. I want to be surprised by the turn of events, and awed by the ending. I want to close the book wishing for more. I will skim the boring parts of any story, especially if a character spends three pages tying a rope to a boat, or building a fire -blah, blah, blah.

This constrasts with the way I write, which is slow and cautious, thinking about details of movement, setting, gesture, consequence even in the first draft. When a character needs to tie a boat or build a fire, I will spend an hour -or three- online, happily researching ropes and boats and the ways of building fires (for example).

This is not mere work avoidance. Well, okay, it IS that, but it's not ONLY that. There's a compulsive need to get the details right, even if I -the writer- am the only one who really cares. Yet I'm aware (even based on my own reading habits) that it's a fatal mistake to bore a reader.

Writer Elmore Leonard famously said that while writing, he always tries to "leave out the parts that people skip."

I'd be interested in hearing the points of view of writers and readers alike. Where do you locate the line between necessary story elements and unnecessary, uninteresting detail? Do you skim certain types of detail when you read? And do you include these same kinds of detail when writing?

Friday, April 17, 2009

My dog ate my homework...

..as a kid. Lots of times.

I'm coming to you. Did you daydream? Draw? Write? Read? Did you try to stay away from it? There's a reason I'm asking. I'd like to know your process...how you flesh your ideas out...how you work as a writer to bring your story to the surface

I did many of the above, even before I was 'technically' a writer and it was okay to daydream. I was a problem in school because of my daydreaming tendencies, and no homework was turned in bare on the sides - I doodled and drew over everything. My school (back in the day, I am SO OLD) was way into corporal punishment and I got spanked like fury *all the time*. Horrible. 

So I'm looking for your opinions. How did you handle your imagination? **

**Sorry this post is so short. I am at the end of a first-draft MS my agent is very excited about, as am I, and it obsesses me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Competitions....Arrgh? Or Woohoo?

Recently our writing group read through the top 3 prize winners in a local competition and were dumbfounded how they won. The first prize story we, after re-reading twice, couldn’t really comprehend. So I figured, ‘oh, perhaps they liked those abstract artsy stories that purposely make you feel slightly foggy the whole time'.

Then we read the second one, in which the author successfully (?) used six different similes comparing the main character to different kinds of animals, ranging from a bird to a dinosaur. ‘Maybe the judges knew the person’, I thought.

And then, third place, which actually was our favorite, a Southern sounding tale about a father-son relationship. The one thing all of three stories had in common were locations…a certain shared setting. So before I flick away another few dollars, I’m going to make sure I…
1) Check the history of winners.
2) Check the judges and read their biographies to see what they lean toward.
3) If it’s a local competition, will they favor regional writers, or at least writers writing about the nearby locale?

Anybody have anything else? Or perhaps any stories to share about experiences in competitions.

And by the way, Anthony…man it’s tough going after you. =). Great sex post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How Not to Write a Sex Scene

Okay, here we go:

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted. What I was trying to say

"Here's your americano, Sir."

Did she have to call me sir?

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted, Sir. What I was trying to say..."

She was interrupted by the door opening

...coffee shop invasion of the Catholic High School girls...

What was I writing about, again? Oh, that's right, the sex scene.

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted, Sir. What I was trying to say..."

She was interrupted by the door opening, and Keith's secretary walked in with a coffee tray, looking like a Catholic High School girl, complete with plaid skirt and

TWEET: This new lacy bra sure looked good but damn it all, the wires just aren't doing it.
less than one minute ago from the web

@writing_hussy Did you have to go there? Someone of us are trying to write.
in reply to @writing_hussy

Yeah! I don't need smut while I am writing smut.

@anthony_hw I got pictures on my blog
in reply to @anthony_hw

Wait... what? Click click click.

@writing_hussy LIAR
in reply to @writing_hussy

@anthony_hw It's like shooting fish in a barrel. ty for the hit! :-p
in reply to @anthony_hw

@writing_hussy ...
in reply to @writing_hussy

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted, Sir. What I was trying to say..."

The door opening interrupted her, and Keith's young secretary walked in with a coffee tray, looking like a Catholic High School girl, complete with plaid skirt and a modest blouse. Only the blouse was unbuttoned to where you could see her lacy bra

Vibrating!

Phone!

At the wrong time!

Anthony: "Hello?"

The Wife Unit: "Could you pick up some half-in-half on your way home?"

"Uh, sure."

"Great! Love you, bye!"

"I love you too!"

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted, Sir. What I was trying to say..."

The door opening interrupted her, and Keith's creamy-skinned young secretary walked in with a coffee tray, looking like a Catholic High School girl, complete with plaid skirt and a modest blouse. Only the blouse was unbuttoned, her black lacy bra obvious.

Jill stood up, feeling silly introducing herself while sitting down. She accidentally knocked open her purse at her feet she forgotten about and the contents spilled onto the floor, including her vibrator.

Keith and the secretary look at the floor, and then her, each with a raised eyebrow.

...and in comes a woman's bicycle club, with painted on tight shorts ...

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted, Sir. What I was trying to say..."

The door opening interrupted her, and Keith's creamy-skinned young secretary walked in with a coffee tray, looking like a Catholic High School girl, complete with plaid skirt and a modest blouse. Only the blouse was unbuttoned at the top, her black lacy bra obvious.

Jill stood up. She always felt silly introducing herself while sitting down, but in doing so, she accidently kicked open her purse and the contents spilled onto the floor, including her vibrator. It rolled across the hardwood, coming to rest against the wall with a small thump.

Then, nightmarishly, it started vibrating, the normal small hum replaced by an angry buzzing from the vibrating plastic on the hardwood.

Keith and the secretary look at the vibrator, and then her, each with a raised eyebrow. Jill blushed, bent over, and shoved the contents back into her purse and fetched the vibrator.

"Wow, you really have a nice ass," they secretary says, setting down the coffee tray with a grin.

"I, uh, ride my bike a lot," Jill said, her face hot, wishing she was somewhere

"Another americano, Sir?" This from a new barista, instead of young, perky and raven-haired, she is now replaced by a young, perky, blonde.

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted, Sir. What I was trying to say..."

The door opening interrupted her, and Keith's creamy-skinned young secretary walked in with a coffee tray, looking like a Catholic High School girl, complete with plaid skirt and a modest blouse. Only the blouse was unbuttoned at the top, her black lacy bra obvious.

Jill stood up. She always felt silly introducing herself while sitting down, but in doing so, she accidentally kicked open her purse and the contents spilled onto the floor, including her vibrator. It rolled across the hardwood, coming to rest against the wall with a small thump.

Then, nightmarishly, it started vibrating, the normal small hum replaced by an angry buzzing from the vibrating plastic on the hardwood.

Keith and the secretary looked at the vibrator, and then her, each with a raised eyebrow. Jill blushed, bent over, and shoved the contents back into her purse and fetched the vibrator.

"Wow, you really have a nice ass," they secretary says, setting down the coffee tray with a grin.

"I, uh, ride my bike a lot," Jill said, her face hot, wishing she was somewhere else.

Jill looks up from her laptop, and notices the shop is growing dark because the barista is letting down the blinds.

"Oh, I am sorry; I didn't know you were closing!" Jill stood up and started cramming Keith's damn report into her laptop case.

"Actually, I closed ten minutes ago," she said, her voice creamy, with a hint of...

Jill startles as the barista grabs her wrist. She looks up and the blonde's eyes are hungry. The barista has hungry eyes.

"I see the way you look at me sometimes," she said, pulling Jill close and kissing her.

Jill can't believe she is being kissed! The sudden hand on her butt spurs her into action, and she pushes the barista away. "Wait, I'm not..."

The blonde latches back onto her with surprising strength. "Do you want some sugar with your espresso?" she asks, while slowly sliding down Jill's body, hand suddenly up her skirt, tugging at

Damn it! I have to STOP coming here to write!

Jill looks up from her laptop, and notices the room is growing dark because the barista is letting down the blinds.

"Oh, I am sorry; I didn't know you were closing!" Jill stood up and started cramming Keith's damn report into her laptop case.

"Actually, I closed ten minutes ago," she said, her voice creamy, with a hint of...

Jill startles as the barista grabs her wrist. She looks up and the blonde's eyes are hungry. The barista has hungry eyes.

"I see the way you look at me sometimes," she said, pulling Jill close and kissing her.

Jill can't believe she is being kissed! The sudden hand on her butt spurs her into action, and she pushes the barista away. "Wait, I'm not..."

The blonde latches back onto her with surprising strength. "Do you want some sugar with your espresso?" she asks, while slowly sliding down Jill's body hand suddenly up her skirt, tugging at

Jill gave Keith a whimsical smile. "Busted. What I was trying to say is yes, I skimmed your report, but I promise to give you feedback soon."

Keith frowned. "I need your input tonight, or it will be too late. How about we meet for coffee, say at eight at the late-night espresso bar downstairs?"

It was Jill's turn to frown. Was this another ploy from Keith to get under her skirt?

"Okay, deal," she finally says. What trouble could she get in at the coffee shop, anyway?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Art of Being a Writer

The beautiful thing about life is that it slows for no man. Or woman. It's complex, chaotic, full of facets and detours, with a pearl of a lesson nestled in for anyone paying attention. And if you choose not to pay attention or take that lesson to heart? No worries: No hurt feelings, no pouting or stomping off angry. Life doesn't take it personally. It just keeps on striding forward.

My life the last two weeks has been no different than yours. Different minute details, perhaps, but essentially the same ol' story: hubby sick, exploded water heater, taxes, minor basement flood, car troubles, cat wounded, taxes, truck troubles, Easter celebrations, taxes, meetings, parent-teacher conferences, birthday plans... oh the list goes on and on.

So, I'm wondering: what do you do when you haven't got a spare moment? How do you keep the pace or stick to your writing pact? My own writing motto, scribbled on a sage green sticky note and stuck up above my computer reads, Nulla dies sine linea. Never a day without a line.

There are plenty of methods for writing and staying focused. For example:

1. Word Count: Lots of folks I know set word goals, including yours truly. It varies from person to person, but I've heard of any where from 300 - 1000 words per day.
2. Publicly Set Goals: Uppington often sets public goals and invites her readers to do so as well. She intertwines a perfect measure of accountability and encouragement.
1. The Kiser Method: Write a novel in a year, with specific goals for each month and word count goals for each day.

But what I'm really curious about are your tried & true methods for sneaking that bit of writing into your day -- even in the midst of the storm. How do you quiet your mind? How do you scrape together consecutive minutes? How do you hush the world around you and block out the myriad of urgent cries demanding your attention? How do you write?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Does it help to meet agents in person?

How much does meeting an agent in person really help? Should you spend thousands of dollars and travel long distances to meet one?

I don't think so. That's been my experience, and that's what I've read on agent blogs.

I've met a number of agents in person at writer's conferences and I've always found them to be very charming, and interested to listen to what you have to say. They really are looking for the next J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King. It is a business in which they are trying to make money after all.

And there's the rub. If they were just doing it for fun, or just publishing books for people that they liked, then getting to know them personally would probably have a lot more impact. But it doesn't, because at the end of the day they evaluate every work with a filter that asks, how much money will this book make?

It's a hard truth, and probably not one that most of us want to hear, but it's a fact of the business.

Does that mean that you shouldn't go to writing conferences? Absolutely not. I think they are a great place to meet other writers and attend useful sessions.

Does that mean that you shouldn't spend a lot of time and money to make special trips to meet agents? Yes, that's my point. If it's close to you and doesn't cost much, by all means go, but if not, concentrate on making the writing great. It will have more influence on getting published.

So what do you do if you meet an agent at a writing conference? Become a sponge and suck up everything you can. You won't believe the types of information that you can pick up just interacting with agents.

Learn what genres they like, but also learn about their hobbies and other interests outside of their job. You never know when that might make a connection. But you see the problem with that last statement, right? You never know. The chances are slim. It has happened, but it's almost like winning the lottery.

So while I'm not going to spend a lot of money, or a lot of time to travel to meet agents, especially ones that don't represent my genre, when I have one within reach I'm going to suck out every bit of knowledge that I can.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

THE BEST AND THE WORST FEEDBACK

The best feedback propels you and your story forward in positive ways. The worst feedback is like pulling on the emergency break while racing down the freeway.


The Worst Feedback

1. No Feedback

Honestly, the worst feedback is no feedback at all. I’d rather a friend just said I did not like this or I did not like that than make excuses about time. That’s just plain depressing.


2. Imbalanced Feedback Exchange

I meet a talented writer at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference. We agreed to exchange feedback, which we did. Problem was that the guy was much more interested in getting feedback from me than taking the time to give feedback. Now, I must say that he did give some feedback, but the whole exchange didn’t really work out because it was an imbalanced feedback exchange. This ranks at the top of my most disappointing feedback exchanges because I liked the guy quite a bit and I could see how he was using my feedback to improve his writing, which was exciting.

My response to this experience is not what you might have guessed. I was angry and frustrated for quite awhile, but now I am much more open to the idea of just giving someone feedback and not expecting something back. Sounds strange, but reality is that most people don’t have enough time to make their own projects work. If I like someone’s work and I like them, I would actually consider providing feedback and expecting nothing back.

With that said, a part of me still hopes that karma might kick in and someone, possibly someone else, might do me a favor sometime in the future. Believe it or not that kind of thing does happen. There are good people in the world and I’ve been lucky enough to have benefited from their generosity.


The Best Feedback

People have given me feedback via email and in person. I’ve even been lucky enough to have a handful of published authors give me feedback. I am tempted to search through the records to bring forth the actual words they used that were so wonderful and helpful. But, memory is a natural filter. We remember what is important. So, I will paraphrase some of the helpful words. I think that I will also insert some of my responses because what makes feedback useful is that you can use it. Sounds obvious, but not all feedback results in actual change.

There are two kinds of changes that I’ve noticed feedback can result in: Change in details (small stuff) and change in plot or the direction a scene goes (big stuff). So, I will break it down by small stuff and big stuff.



Best Feedback on the Small Stuff (Details)

1. Where did the glasses come from?

There is a scene in my story where a character lands on the edge of a cliff and his glasses slip off and fall down into the abyss. I just laughed my head off when my reader asked where the glasses came from. I knew then that I had to go back to the opening scene and include the glasses in the early descriptions.

That was a quick and easy change.


2. The raccoons aren’t all called Raccoon are they? Sounds too much like a fable.


Here again, I had to laugh. The reader made me see what was obvious. I have one Fate Changer raccoon who is active in the story, but he is, or was, a member of a brotherhood of raccoons. It simply did not make sense that they would all go around calling each other Raccoon. They must each have a distinct name.

Now, I am sure many of you are thinking no duh, but I like myths and fairy tales where characters are simply called by their animal name: Raven, Eagle, Turtle, … So, it seemed just fine to do the same.

Well, my fantasy novel is not a fairy tale and readers don’t approach it that way. So, once I found a name for the character it made him feel much more human, which is a good thing for an animal character.


Best Feedback on the Big Stuff (Plot/Scene Direction)

1. I don’t believe they would do that. It’s just too dangerous, given their culture.

In my novel, two women need to help a foreigner save a girl who may soon be killed or transformed into something not at all human. Problem is that these too women will be punished severely if they are caught.

My reader’s comment about the danger and the culture they are a part of sparked a change in my perception. I immediately saw that one of the characters, who highly values tradition, would not risk everything to save the girl. I really did need to make a change when it came to her. But, the other woman, who has long suppressed her rebellious side, would risk everything. This “I don’t buy it” feedback was great because these two women, who took the same name because they mated with the same man, needed something to help distinguish their characters. The reader’s comment helped me create a turning point; it helped me create a new conflict within a scene that more clearly defined the characters and upped the stakes. Also, rewriting the scene allowed me to help the reader understand why one of the women felt absolutely compelled to risk everything.

The new conflict created a new direction and a new momentum that carried through the rest of the story, all the way to the end.


2. Like the intro, but it needs more urgency.

The very start, the first words of a story, are the most challenging. So many things need to happen: setting, character development, imagery, conflict, tension, urgency.

This simple comment helped me to revise with a purpose. I didn’t want to eliminate too much of the imagery, but I could cut to the chase and get to the points of urgency (which I had already created) sooner.

By the way, this insightful reader had pointed out where I had created urgency. She just wanted that kind of thing sooner. It’s nice to have feedback that both points out things that work and things that need to be worked on.

This last point (urgency) is still on my mind and I am actually considering putting what is now chapter one second because that may make it so that the reader has even more of a sense of urgency. It would be built in big time before they even read word one of what would become the second chapter. I ran this by my latest reader and will find out what he thinks today.

I’d love to put more examples in, especially the flattering stuff, but it’s time to wrap things up.


Final Thought

The bottom line is that bad feedback puts on the emotional and creative breaks, but good feedback propels you forward with a purpose.

There are so many more good and bad examples that I could have included, but I bet everybody else has great examples too. What’s the best and/or worst feedback you have received?

You are Yorgosh, emperor of Vrog! Be him! Make us believe!

Writing in the first person has its special difficulties: knowing, but not revealing, the end from the beginning; limiting a story to only what the narrator knows; finding a believable narrative voice, etc... But first-person narrations, if done well, can be among the most enjoyable to read. That is, imho.

In the introduction to his Nebula-award winning novelette "Two Hearts," Peter S. Beagle states that he was unsure of his ability to effectively enter the world of the story - that is, until the main character entered his head. In his own words:

I locked onto her voice, the voice of this nine-and-a-half-year-old girl
who was telling the story from the first sentence, and I just followed her. It
was one of the very rare occasions where I felt from beginning to end that I
knew what I was doing. (Quote from Nebula Awards Showcase 2008)

The reminds me of Patrick's post from earlier this week where he talked about method writing and "being the character." I think this is the same thing that Beagle was describing. In fact, it sounds as though the writer is chanelling the character.

I believe that this kind of close identification between a p.o.v. character and a writer is necessary for a good story. First-person narrations, of course, but not only these.

So, writers, do you feel it is necessary to establish identification with your characters - first person narrators or otherwise? And how do you do it?

Friday, April 10, 2009

All my knowledge, I'm giving it to you...

Heh. 

On Fridays. Thank goodness I don't need to do it everyday. We'd be so bored. 

Lately, I've run into many different friends that are having the same problem, and I wanted to address it here. I know many that are reading this blog are querying. And I am totally on your side. Whatever I can do to help, I'm here. 

But have you thought about what you want in your agent beforehand? All kidding aside, I know that a large number of people *raises hand, I was here too* when preparing to query go to querytracker, or agentquery, enter in your criteria (YA, MG, Whatevs) and, printing out the list, go from there. This dreck about specially selecting the agents because you love them would give you five agents, and what happens if they didn't feel the same? What would happen when you have more than one offer (and that is a story for another time)?

Not to ramble (HA! Alex, tag!) my statement is this: from my own agent experience, as well as those friends I mentioned above, I can tell you that there is one sentence you need to keep at the front of your brain when you talk with an agent: 

COMMUNICATION IS KEY. 

It is KEY. Think about how you want your agent to respond. Do you want hand holding? Do you want somebody you don't feel afraid to ask any question to? Do you want to be left alone? (Heh, I can tell you on your debut submission, you will likely not want this!) Do you want your emails to be answered within a day, or a week, or a month or h*ll, even just answered? Do you want to be able to call?

What I don't want you to feel is, after the sale and you've got one, you're afraid to contact that person. Or that person can't be arsed to contact you back. It is a *working* relationship...how would you feel if your agent in turn was afraid to talk to you? 

This is bad, bad, bad, IMO. ***

There are going to be tons of stupid, stupid questions (no matter what your agent *loves her* says about stupid questions, some questions are just stupid, and I'm okay with that) that only they are qualified to answer. I mean, you don't want to go to some agent blog and ask them, right? Why not get it from *your* source of all agenty goodness? 

That's what they are there for. That's why you're paying them 15/20% (standard). 

Please think about what you want from your agent before it becomes time to choose. 

***In the event you are too Americanized to be able to contradict/confront/speak with your agent, I recommend you come and live with us here awhile in good old Germany. You will be speaking your mind and sticking up for yourself inside six months...because nothing teaches you that you are your own best council like an Irate German disagreeing with you. 




Thursday, April 9, 2009

Method Writing

I remember taking an acting class many years ago and being told to feel everything you can about your character, to get inside their head and feel as much as you can through their eyes. Naturally, I've read a lot of writers deliver their own interpretation to this idea: "Oh, well, it's not MY book, it's the characters. THEY tell the story."

A few years back, after years of rolling my eyes, I started believing as much as I could into my characters. In truth, I did three things I believe have helped my writing considerably.

1. I imagined being the character.
2. I read my prose out loud to someone.
3. I stopped worrying about the nitty gritty.

#3 is what I want to last comment on. I have read so many books by professionals talking about active voice, be 'immediate', start your book with a hook, instant instant instant! Don't hop heads, don't put too many character names in one sentences. Of course...the list could go on and on, but I believe it's all a bunch of bull. If you successfully enter your character's mind, a story will develop naturally.

Though I am almost always anti-advice when it comes to all things writing, I think this is broad enough to be slightly helpful.

Who really knows for sure...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Stalking Michelle McGann

Back before I knocked up The Wife Unit (and knocked up is a technical term), and subsequently stole her sports car (one of the best roadsters ever made) and she regulated herself to the Mommy VanTM, I used to play golf.

Not exactly by choice. The Wife Unit was an avid golfer. We're talking golf club membership, golfing trips, the works. In order to be able to talk to The Wife Unit and her friends, I decided to take lessons and learn how to play.

Before starting to play, here's how conversations used to go. Picture, if you will, The Wife Unit and her golfing buddies, with me on the side:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah boobies blah blah blah.

And now, after golf lessons:

Blah blah golf blah golf blah boobies blah blah golf.

This was a huge improvement in my information intake.

But I digress. An interesting thing about golf is, it can be all consuming. One dry winter we played four days a week. It was awesome and the memories of smacking that stupid little ball around, feeding the wetlands with other stupid little balls, is something I treasure. And damn it all if I wasn't getting exercise in the bargain. And a cart would come periodically, in which you could purchase booze on your tab you would only have to see once a month. Beer. Liquor. You could even get a fucking martini.

Hell yeah, I was getting into to golf, big time.

But I digress again.

Back to the consuming part. I starting watching golf on TV. We signed up for the Golf Channel, and the Golf Channel was all about playing the Ladies Professional Golf Association tournaments when they were not on a network channel (which was rare).

So I'm sitting there actually watching a complete golf tournament on TV for the first time, and there on the screen was a tall blonde.

In cute little pink shorts.

Playing golf.

And she was hot.

"Who the hell is that?" I ask The Wife Unit.

"That's Michelle McGann. She's pretty, isn't she?"

"And young..."

"So gonna smack you for that one."

"Oh, sorry, did I say that out loud?"

"Pisht. I love her hats," The Wife Unit confesses.

"Mmmm... she's wearing a hat?"

SMACK.

Anyway, my interest in golf grew right then. Blonde Bombshells playing the same game I was playing just tickled me pink.

Then one year, Michelle McGann wrote a book, the The Complete Idiot's Guide to Golf. I loved that book. In clear language, it explained so many things that I was just not picking up in my martini fueled lessons. Then I found out she was going to be at the Safeco Classic, the same tournament my wife was going to be at, volunteering. I formulated a plan right then:

Michelle McGann was going to sign my book.

I've never met a book author, much less a professional golfer. I had signed books in my library, but not a book I personally had one sign. I decided I would attend the tournament on Saturday and Sunday, and have her sign my book on Saturday.

"What if she doesn't make the cut?" The Wife Unit asks when I tell her of my master plot.

"STOP. You are ruining my thirty-second fantasy-come-true meeting with Michelle McGann! Don't say things like that, it isn't nice."

"He he he."

Saturday rolls around. And, there, on the practice putting green, is Michelle McHottie.

Oh my God oh my God oh my God

Michelle is teeing off.

Oh my God oh my God oh my God

Michelle is at the second hole.

Oh my God oh my God oh my God

Michelle is taking a drink of water out of her water bottle.

Oh my God oh my God oh my God

Okay, around Hole #3 I notice these ladies move with a purpose. Smack that ball, move on. At a fast clip, with no pause and no break, and no audience interaction.

Wait... when is she going to sign my book?

SHE MUST SIGN MY BOOK!

I am not one to panic, but when the going gets tough, the tough head to the golfing tournament equivalent of a help desk. Only this is in a tent.

"Yes?" asks the older woman who looks like she has been playing golf for forty years.

WHEN IS MICHELL GOING TO SIGN MY BOOK?

"Is there something we can help you with?"

"Uh, I have a book, that, uh Michelle McGann wrote, and I was wondering when would be a good time to ask her to sign it."

The kindly woman giggles and gives me a wink.

Yeah, busted.

"Michelle signs autographs right after the 18th hole."

"Oh." Okay if my brain was actually thinking, I could have figured that one out.

"Is that your book?"

"Yes," I say, and hand it to her.

She smiles after she looks at it. "I think Michelle will be quite happy to sign her book. I haven't seen anyone here yet with it."

Her smile is infectious, and I return it. "Thank you very much!"

"It's a hot day out, don't forget to drink liquids."

Hueh. It's hot alright. It's Michelle McHottie hot!

I maneuver my way back to following Michelle all over the golf course. At the turn, I notice something that I should have noticed before. There are other people following Michelle. I can tell because they watch her every move.

Only, these people are all girls.

Young girls.

Teens and Tweeners, in fact. A few even look at me like I am intruding in their Michelle McGann watching.

And that's when it hits me.

I am a stalker.

I am stalking Michelle McGann.

Well, shoot. You girls can just go suck on eggs. I'm going to have my damn book signed!

After the last hole, Michelle does indeed pause to sign autographs. Only "pause" is a mild description, it was more like "held hostage by my rabid fans". A queue forms, and I am in it. In front of me, girls. I look behind me, more girls.

Oooookay. I'm not just a stalker, clearly, I have moved down to Uncle Pervy territory.

However, Uncle Pervy, while quite and reflective, is not shy, merely observant. I notice an interesting crowd vibe. These girls are in wide-eyed wonder at the exquisitely talented and beautiful Michelle McGann. They quietly hand her things to sign, Michelle signs them, and they quietly leave. It is a silent ritual of autographing.

Ha, sit down girls; let me show you how it's done.

And here I am. At Michelle.

Oh my God oh my God oh my God

I hand her my book and she beams a big smile. Instead of driving me down into a tongue-tied social abyss where all these girls are currently wallowing, I feel honest warmth coming from the woman, and it loosens me up.

"I wanted to thank you for writing your book, I found it very helpful," I say, looking her right in the eye.

"You are quite welcome! What is your name?"

Oh my God oh my God oh my God

Michelle is stunning in person, but now up close and personal, her voice, oh man. It was low and measured, one of those sexy women voices you encounter rarely, a voice of feminine sultriness mixed with brandy while nibbling on dark chocolate. That's what Michelle sounds like.

I suddenly realize I am mere seconds from looking like an idiot (just like it says on the cover) by not answering.

"Tony."

She writes something in the book, and hands it back to me.

"Thank you very much," I say.

"You're welcome," she purrs.

Oh my God oh my God oh my God

I beat feet away from the girl crowd, and I see I am actually getting glares from some for daring to speak to their Goddess.

HA!

Quickly I abscond behind a big cedar tree, and open my book to read what she wrote:

"Tony,

Swing for success!

Michelle"

It was the first book I had someone sign for me. I walked 18 Holes and braved the Teen/Tween Fan Club of Doom. And I talked to her. In person.

My library has many signed books, but this one is special to me. I don't play golf anymore (two kids shifted The Wife Units interests and we sold the golf membership). While not swinging for success, I was inspired in a different (non-stalking) way, to write something someone, anyone, would someday enjoy. I am doing my best to write for success.

And you Teen/Tweener girls? Yeah, I owned you. When confronted by the person you are stalking, be sure to say "please" and "thank you", and your Goddess may grace you with a smile, as long as you buy her book and read it.