Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Professionalism, Part II

Spend any significant amount of time reading an agent or editor’s blog, and you’ll detect a common theme: they deal with un-professional people, of which un-agented authors compose a majority of the unwashed masses.

On these blogs and other social media such as Twitter, they will occasionally post what not to do and how to do the right things. This is handholding. They are, in a sense, training the newly connected to the business world of today.

In twenty years (or less!), these agents and editors will not have to expend so much effort in this area, as social media Darwinism sticks a fork in those who are mired in selfishness. The basis of unprofessionalism is lack of empathy and selfishness, which leads to feelings of entitlement. Rarely it is an honest mistake.

Agents, in particular, are at the forefront of this cultural shift, they are dragging the online writer community kicking and screaming to their standards. This handholding is more than a survival instinct--it’s also efficiency. Every person trained to operate and act a certain way touches other people through the same social network.

Purging the malcontents completely, alas, will never happen, but the cultural shift is happening right now. A soccer mom with a gift of the literary, knowing nothing about the book industry, can easily find out how to submit a book project with a worthy novel, and do it without looking like a dork.

This cultural normalization, painful as it is, will be akin to a well-oiled machine. Outstanding writing goes in, books come out, with nary a pile of BS in between. This is the future.

How exciting!

There is another level of professionalism you can obtain, be you writer, agent, editor or other industry person. Some things transcend industries. In a way, the publishing industry is behind the times. For example, the publishing culture is engaged in business behavior that other industries were coming to grips with in the ’90’s. Twenty years ago.

This post isn’t about those things, although that would make an interesting essay. If I had a smidgen of credibility as anything other than a hack writer, I would indeed dive into it, right here on this very blog on a rainy winter Wednesday.

No, this post, long-winded and broken up into several parts (tune in next week!), is about going beyond the advice you see on blogs and such. I assume we, the readers and authors of this blog, all get that you’re not going to send Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner a query to “Mr. Gardner.”

Before I talk to this, let me talk about my day job.

A Digression into the World of the Anthony
I am a consultant in the computer industry. Literally. I work for an international consulting company. I am not an agency temporary, although on occasion I will happily play that role for a valued client. My job is to consult with clients on finding solutions to problems.

I am a project manger based consultant, specifically for software projects. In addition, I have a wide background in business analysis and, the real fun part, research. While we don’t base our contracts (for consultants like me) on an hourly rate, if I translate our fees into an hourly standard, my agency may charge anywhere from $55 to $250 an hour for my services. The upper range is defined by some really hairy stuff, such as IT disaster recovery.

I’m not trying to toot my horn here, but I do bring this all up to make a point. My livelihood, the mortgage, and the food my kids eat--it all depends on my network. For a consultant, the network is everything. It is how we find new business and grow. It is how we have fun and meet new people. It is how I connect with people in my field. It is the fun part of the job. The Network. It pays my bills, let’s me go on vacation, indulges me in my desire for the occasional glass of scotch, and ultimately is the foundation for my leisure time.

The basis of this network is money. I get paid, the consultant company gets paid, the clients spend money on our fees and either avoid wasteful spending based on our advice or spend large amounts of money on a new project, also based on our work.

When you’re talking about lots of people working towards a common goal, with lots of money involved, things get pretty exciting. Sound familiar? It should. It suspiciously sounds like a a certain industry we all like to obsess about.

In this exciting world of software projects and finding solutions to major problems, it is not enough to be professional. A consultant has to excel at it. There are things you only get one shot at. Avoiding shooting your own foot is not a fine art, but cultivating your relationship with people on your network is.

Rule One: Believe in Karma aka, Don’t be a Pimp
The number one rule of professionalism and social media, and networking in particular, has been stated before a number of times: it’s not what people do for you, it’s what you do for people. Unconditionally.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I just prattled on how my consulting network was money based. Yet here I am talking about working for free? What up, dude?

I'm not talking about the benefits of doing outstanding work with minimal fuss. That's a given. If you're lazy, your network will know this. If you do great work on-time and under budget, your network will know this too. That's the basics, and not what takes cultivation effort on your part. Those are the things you do not to get fired in the crappy economy.

You’ve probably heard the message before. In a nutshell, I'm talking about:

Karma.

People can sniff false enthusiasm a mile away. If you don’t believe in the fundamental universal process that good deeds beget good deeds, then consider the other universal rule more grounded reality: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. No one likes to be pimped.

How does this translate to social media?

I’ll take a stab at that question by offering an example: this blog.

When the lovely and talented Alex Moore approached me about contributing to this blog, I spent all of thirty seconds worrying about the time commitment. I almost said no. I have a day job, I have a family, I write, I have my own blog, etc. On my own blog I keep my own schedule, here, I would have to post every Wednesday.

But I didn’t say no. I didn’t say no because Alex asked me. I’ve never met Alex in person, but we’ve exchanged email and chatted quite extensively about writing, my writing in particular. If I said no, she would have understood--all us adults are intrinsically aware of time pressure. She knows I have a family.

But I wanted to say yes. So I did. Not because I want to return the favor, but because I just like Alex. Alex is cool. When you surround yourself with positive people, it’s energizing. It’s electric. It’s… your network!

If your social media network isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

As an aside, I’m glad I said yes. I love reading what the other writers have to say, and I love the comments people leave. It’s awesome.

Next Wednesday, I’ll go over How to Avoid Being an Unintentional Condescending Asshole. Which should be a good trick, considering the whole point of these series of posts is about Professionalism. I hope I can pull it off!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Author Interview & Book Give-Away

Stop by my personal blog for an Interview with author Linda Weaver Clarke and do leave a comment. It'll provide you with the sparkling opportunity to win a copy of her book as well!

Same but Different: Part I

[Author's Note: This post ended up about 70 pages long. So instead of boring you all at once this week, I've chopped it in half: Part I this week, which is really just the intro, and Part II next week, which tells all & sundry how to achieve that ever elusive "same but different" quality in your work.]

Epiphany One: There are two worlds out there: the bright and shiny fantasy world of the reader and the mysterious, hard-boiled detective world of the writer. Both rely on the skills of a gold-panner. As a reader, you sift through bits of sand and quartz, looking for books that take your breath away. As a writer, you sift through bits of quartz and sand, looking for creative ways to steal that breath.

And if you're desiring to be a successful, published writer, you puzzle out the mysteries of the publishing world -- or you get lucky. (And even then, I don't think luck has much to do with it.)

Epiphany Two: For me, the two worlds have rarely met. As early as I can remember I wanted to write books. Not because I was gifted or driven or plump full of plots -- but because I dearly loved reading -- and I was disappointed in many of the books I read. I wanted to be a writer so that I could write the kind of books I wanted to read.

Epiphany Three: The publishing world, I fear, does not want to publish the kind of books I wanted to read as a child and young adult. They want books that accomplish that whole "same but different" concept. It's true. The following example is based on an actual event.

Alex as a Child: I love fantasy. I want to read about fairies, or unicorns, or elves, or magic. But every author I pick up has the arrogance to tweak or change or evolve my understanding of how this magical creature should behave. I just want a plain elf. A reliable one. Leave the freaking elf alone -- concentrate on plot.

Alex as an Adult: I love fantasy. But if I want to be published, I can't write the kind of books I wanted to read as a child. Instead, I must be "different" and build new worlds and craft plausible reasons why elves have elongated ears and weave alliances between elven-kind and dust bunnies.
So, I'm stuck. As a young adult, I simply stopped reading fantasy and science fiction. If I couldn't read what I wanted, I would defect. And I did.

As a writer, what do I do? Do I write the kind of books I always wanted to read? Or do I figure that I was simply an odd child with bizarre reading habits and forsake that goal? Do I choose to write, instead, the books publisherseditorsagents are requesting? And finally, is this a puzzle that only fantasy and science fiction writers must unravel?

What about you? Do you crave a completely different world, blue-hued elven-folk, and tails that talk? Or do you wish for the comfort of a known creature and a spanking good story? Am I alone in all of this puzzlement?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stealing Plots


Do you work hard to make sure the plot of your WIP doesn't copy another story? If so, it's a losing battle. There are not that many plots, and truly unique ones are almost impossible to come by.

There are resources that list all of the different types of plots, and frankly there aren't that many.

Does that mean you should avoid copying the plot of another story? I think it depends.

If it is a very recognizable story, e.g. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. and you copy it too closely, you have a problem. By copying, I mean using the same plot and the same characters. For instance, if all you did was rename the characters, that's not going to work.

However, if your plot is similar, you have different and unique characters, and the characters took the story along a slightly different path, then it's a different story. Add to that your unique style of telling the story, and you have a unique, and hopefully interesting story.

The danger is not making the story different enough so that it becomes too predictable, or making it too outlandish, so that it no longer works within the realm of the plot and your characters.

That's the fine line we writers walk. We try to write stories that seem fresh, yet work to keep them within the realm of believability, and entertainment. It's not easy, or everyone would do it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What stories do Americans have in common?




Do you know what story the photo of the young woman is from?



I've just been wondering about what stories we bloggers have in common, and on a larger scale I've been wondering about what stories Americans have in common.




Here is another image that represents a story that is at the top of my list of stories that we and most Americans probably could discuss, because we have had some exposure to it.


Question 1: What's your best guess on what the two stories are?

Question 2: What stories do you think Americans have in common? In other words, if you were to speak in front of a crowd of 100 people that ranged in age from 14-70 and needed to reference a common story what stories could be on your list to choose from?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A quote a link for today

Birthday party at my house today, so I'm stealing time for a quote...

People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that
you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the
morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter
and you work, and that's all there is to it.

-- Harlan Ellison

...and a link.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Outside your comfort zone

Do you write outside your comfort zone?

I don't mean just new styles of writing, new ways, new words...but new genres too? And do you feel it makes you stronger as a writer?

Me, I'm an MG writer. Straight up MG. But MG covers a lot of territory, and so far I've done literary MG, magical-realism, and slightly more commercial. The thing is, none of these have been through a conscious decision. I get the idea and there's basically no way of saying, "Well, Mr Brilliant-idea-shining-like-a-star, I don't really *do* so-and-so MG."

I just write it. And then revise at will (with the magical realism, this revising process has taken the form of nail pulling, but...who cares, right? All for the greater good.) And each of the books has helped me to grow as a writer inordinately; I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

Which brings me to my current brouhaha.

I don't know how you all decide on your next idea, but mine generally comes when I'm 3/4 finished with the present MS in first draft stages. It sticks throughout the revisions process, and near the end of revisions, I usually know the first sentence, how it'll start, all characters, and a general idea of the first 1/3 of the book.

It's not any different in the new case, except...there are TWO books to revise before I can get to it.

And it's a mystery.

This makes me quiver in my boots. My protag is a boy, of all things (I've only ever done one other boy as protag, which went okay but still, yikes) and there must be clues. And wit. And of course, there are animals in it, which I'm most happy with, but yikes, a mystery.

When I first had the idea (in the midst of an excessively boring bus ride home) I was so excited. But a mystery?

*sigh*

Oh well. This time I'll be further out of my comfort zone than ever before. I must remember my mantra: "It is okay to write a first draft of utter poo."

And you? Do you ever go outside your comfort zones?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Visualize Success! How to Write Back Cover Copy

Many of us unpublished writers have a dose of humility and a smattering of self-consciousness.

I am here to tell you with visualizing your book on the shelf, which is visualizing back cover copy, to knock that shit off.

Your back cover copy is about selling your writing.

Your back cover copy is about enticing a reader to buy your book.

Your back cover copy is competition. You are competing for the hard-earned dollar of an honored reader.

If you cannot write a back cover copy for your book, give it up. I am totally serious. Don’t give up witting if that is what you enjoy, but give up selling your book. You must own this process. Back cover copy is what constitutes the majority of your query. Back cover copy  is what you put on your website. The back cover copy  is your illicit lover. The back cover copy is fairy dust you snort when the pixies aren’t looking.

If you are on the publishing path, you have to want it. You have to want it real bad. You have to look at your significant other one evening, and think, “I could make bedroom eyes here. Or I could write.” You dream about your book. You go to the bookstore, and look at where your book would be, memorizing the author to the left of the book and to the right. You have pretend conversations with the characters in your book.

If you don’t want it that bad, this post is not for you. That ego that you check at the door while read’n da blogs? Ya, go get it. I’ll wait.

(la la la, la la la)

Alrighty then. By the way, I am smoking a cigar, sipp'n Congnac, and wearing a Glock 19 while writing this. That’s how ego I went here, folks. It doesn’t get any more MAN than that.

Rawr!

Let’s take it by steps.

Step One: Determine the type of book. Do you envision your book selling as a hardback or paperback out of the gate? For this exercise, we are going to use Hardcover. Because that’s my dream.

Step Two: Find a book, preferably someone else’s, that you don’t particularly like. In this case, we’re going to use Twilight. My wife’s copy. Sorry, honey. Behold! The actual book:


Please ignore the Nikon speed light flashback from the ceiling. I could not remember how to dial it down a notch to give a uniform lighting.


Step Three: Find the dimensions of this book. In this case, 8.2 x 5.9 x 1.7 inches (I got this from Amazon). We’re not interested in the thickness of the book (1.7 inches). For this exercise, girth doesn’t matter.

Step Four: Go into Word, or some other word processor, and under the Page Setup option, choose the Paper tab and change the height and width to the book height and width.


Then under the Margins tab, change all the margins to .25.


Step Five: Save the document.

Step Six: Paste in your back cover copy. Here is mine:

After breakfast, Investigator Lexus Toulouse, ex-soldier extreme, learns she must track down a war-era serial killer.
Before lunch, she finds her Libido Generator is on the fritz, her old warship wants to “get back together” and her impromptu partner, Scott, seems to be displaying very peculiar mental abilities while stirring the odd romantic feelings in her. She doesn’t want odd romantic feelings. She already has four husbands!

Her world spirals out of control when she mistakenly plugs herself into a simulation of the murders. As memories of the war surface, it all comes crashing down on her sanity. She struggles to do the right thing, but if the right thing is bringing back the soldier she buried deep within herself, can postwar Lexus ever return?

By dinner, she is lucky to be alive…

Step Seven: Change the font. My book is science fiction, so I used a nice sci-fi looking font.


Step Eight: Change the paragraph settings. I suggest for Spacing, 10pts After and 1.15” space between lines. Your mileage my vary.


Step Nine: Mess around with the document. Try using a drop cap, bolding certain words, etcetera.




Step Ten: Save the document.

Step Eleven: Go under Print Preview and mess around with the margins. You need to leave enough space for the ISBN number at the bottom of the page. Look at the actual book from Step Two for guidance.


Actual sample margins after adjustment:


Step Twelve: Save the document.

Step Thirteen: Print the document. Don’t worry about finding paper the actual size of the book. Your printer, unless it is stupid (and there are some out there) will print the page using the paper in the tray. The custom paper size was for your formatting convenience.


Step Fourteen: This is the most important step. Hold the paper to the back of the book from Step Two. You can see where the edges are beneath the paper. Does it fit? Are you using a too small of a font? Can you position the paper on the book so the text position looks good?

If the answer is yes, proceed to the next step. If the answer is no, then you must stop screwing around by writing a ginormous back cover copy. This is a real back cover copy. See! It's all for realsies now, it really lives on the back of a book, for you to visualize and think of how many words you really want to cram in there. It has to fit at on the back of the book and it must look like back cover copy for the sake of this visualization exercise. If it doesn’t, then it’s not back cover copy. Fix it. Cut. Or, rarely, add.

Repeat after me: If your text does not look like back cover copy, then it’s not, is it? It’s voodoo. It’s crap. You need to de-crap it. Be honest with yourself: if the font is too small because you just gotta write, you may want to consider that really, you’re not serious about explaining your book in just enough words.

This is what visualization is all about. Picture in your mind that book on a shelf.

But it’s not just about eye-candy. It’s being able to say what you want to say in short-form. Back cover copy. Write the back cover copy. Be the back cover copy. Print the back cover copy out and sleep with it under your pillow. Imagine what it would feel like if Babs from Slave to the Needle tattooed it on your ass. If there are many words, man, that back cover copy is gonna hurt.

If you are happy with how the text looks, the size, the wording, how it is arranged, then go to Step Fifteen.

Step Fifteen: Fold or cut the paper and tape or glue it to the back of the book (this is where someone else’s book you are not impressed with comes in handy).


Option: Add a book blurb:



Step Sixteen: This is almost as important as Step Fourteen. Does your back cover copy sound catchy, as a whole, now that you are looking at it as real back cover copy? It is on the back of a real book.

If it doesn’t look cool

If it doesn’t sound cool when you read it aloud

If you don’t get chills down your spine when you look at it

Start over

Optional Step Seventeen: Get crazy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Character Alchemy

If you follow my personal blog, you know that I've been struggling with a particular character in my latest WIP. Eliahna, the dear, bores me. The problem with that? She's the protagonist.

How, you ask, do you craft a boring heroine? Quite simply, really.

The Writer's How-To Guide on Creating Boring Characters
1. You second guess yourself.
2. You read books on novel writing.
3. You read books on the hero's journey
Interlude: Ooops.
4. You realize that your heroine is not only too kick-butt awesome but she's the heroine you always wished you could have read about as a child.
5. You endow her with weaknesses and namby-pamby-ness and self-doubt so that she's more realistic and sympathetic and interesting
Finale: You realize you really don't like your heroine anymore.

What to do? Well, I tossed aside discretion and, gathering up my ragged courage, asked my blog readers for help. Thankfully, I've received a great deal of excellent advice over the last week regarding this little darling -- and, thanks to my blogosphere friends, the challenge is resolving itself.

The Writer's How-To Guide on Transforming Boring Characters
1. If the character bores you, she will bore your audience. Of course, this rings true. Not only did I know this intuitively, but I was afraid of this. Reading it typed out in the comment section, multiple times, made it all the more real. I couldn't pretend any longer; I had to do something about it.

2. Cut her, kill her, or revision her. Wow. Those were some harsh words. Unfortunately, true as well. I took a portion of Gramlich's advice: I decided to re-vision her. And then I took some of my own advice: I beat her up pretty badly. In fact, I went back to her childhood and beat her up there. How evil is that?
3. Make her integral to the plot. Stu mentioned that Eliahna was simply a plot device. Once I thought through the abuse I had piled on her head as a child, the plot itself became clearer. As did her motivations later on in the novel (that I had already plotted out). How bizarre is that?

What about you? Have you created characters that bored you? How did you resolve it? How do you craft characters you (& your readers) care about?

Monday, September 21, 2009

You asked for it. Now what?


Agent feedback. Most beginning writers will crawl across a field of cut glass on bare hands and knees to get actual agent feedback, but what do you do when you actually receive some? Do you blindly do what they say? Do you ignore it as if they don't know what they are talking about? (not recommended) Or do you analyze what they are trying to say and heed their advice given your own constraints? Let's look at some scenarios and I'll give you my opinion.

1. You only get one piece of feedback and it's craft related.

Example: Your characters aren't deep enough, or your descriptions don't evoke enough emotion.

In this case I wouldn't question the advice and just do whatever they said, right now. If you need to hone a skill to do that, then that's what you need to work on.

2. You get one piece of feedback and it's story related.

Example : The love interest between Han Solo and Princess Leia needs to come out much earlier and they need to get married and have kids.

This is tougher. It can change the entire face of your story. You are lucky that the agent spent the time to provide the feedback, but now you have to analyze whether or not their suggestion fits with your overall goals for the story, or not. It could be that the agent wants you to change the story to something more along their tastes. That may or may not fit with your skills, and goals.

If their comment makes sense, then by all means heed the advice. If it doesn't, then maybe that agent isn't right for you.

3. You get multiple pieces of advice.

Boy aren't you lucky. It means that you are getting close to being published. The fact that multiple agents are providing feedback means that you are generating interest, but something still isn't quite right.

Again, heed the craft advice and take the story advice into consideration with your goals.

4. You get conflicting pieces of advice.

Oooooh, this one is hard. I doubt that you would get conflicting advice about craft, but it could happen. If this is the case you are again dealing with agent taste, and you are left to your own judgment about what makes sense.

It's more likely that you will get conflicting story advice. There's no easy answer other than to weigh each piece of advice against your own skills and goals, and see which, if any, match up.

Agents know what makes a book sell. Most of them have been working with books for many years. I think that in general you should heed their advice. However just make sure that the type of books they sell are what you can deliver.

What types of agent feedback have you received?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Living in Different Places and Writing about Different Places

Have you ever moved from one place to another place that is significantly different?

Can you identify some of those cultural differences? And, by the way, by culture I am talking about everything from linguistic differences, to values, to architecture. Pretty much anything and everything goes.

How's this relate to writing? Well, I've been getting used to the move from Washington state to Minnesota, and I've been noticing how many things involve me adapting. And it's everything from how things work in the Twin Cities area to how things work at the particular college that I now work at.

This got me thinking that taking note of how this kind of change works in our lives can inspire authentic character descriptions and inspired world building ideas.

I've lived in five different states and more cities/towns than you would care to have listed. I've also lived on a sailboat, as well as in a house, and in an apartment.

So, here's a list of some things that I have noticed. I'd love to read about your observations and experiences. Connections to how such observations and experiences could relate to writing are welcome, but not required.

1. The Mayo Clinic block

There's a mini-city in the middle of what feels like rural Minnesota to me, and it reminded me of being in the heart of down town Seattle, but there was a significant difference and that difference is what could be interesting for a world building idea. The Mayo Clinic (which is an expansive facility) is connected by underground worlds of commerce and sky bridges that are stories high. I walked from hotel to Mayo Clinic to another grand hotel. It's all connected in such a way that when it snows no one has to go outside. There could be thousands of people walking about within three buildings in this mini-city and no one on the streets.

I could imagine a self-sufficient fantasy world designed to protect people from harsh environments. It's been done before of course, but something about walking around this place made me realize I was in a different world from the outdoor campuses I have grown used to.

And, if you were wondering, I was in Rochester for a teaching conference, not as a patient at the clinic.

2. The Loop System

I've commuted on the freeways and highways of L.A. and Seattle, but I must say that I find the road system in the greater Twin Cities area to be much different. It's described as a loop system, because you can follow a couple of the main roads around the outer edge of the cities and loop it. What happened to the grid system? To me (and here's the point for writing) it feels like somebody threw a handful of spaghetti on the ground and decided to design a freeway system off of the resulting pattern. I've never driven on so many high-speed roads that weave in and out of each other, crisscrossing just like a chaotic splattering of spaghetti strands would cross over each other.

Also, I've recently heard about two upstanding (remarkably admired people) that have died because of decisions made in cars. One person (and this was in Vancouver Washington) was killed by a car as he rode a bike.

What are the different responses we have in our culture to that and what are the different responses that a fictional world could have? It seems to me that we accept dangerous road conditions as a fact of life. I remember risking my life to get across Wilshire blvd in Santa Monica, whereas, in some small towns people go out of their way to waive as they drive by. Different places have different ways of driving.


3. Racial Mixing or Not

I hesitate to bring up this topic, but it is one of the major things that defines a place. I've lived in places where racial mixing is the norm for schools, families, public places, and friends. I can also say that I've lived in a place where people mixed in campus classrooms, but when it came time to join social groups the trend was the opposite. I even did a road trip in this region and ran across a sign indicating that people who were not of the dominant race of the area were not welcome.

4. Orientation by Environment

I've lived most of my life on the West Coast. Living in a flat and land-locked state now I find that I miss the way that I orient myself to the mountains and large bodies of water, like the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan De Fuca, and whatever bay happens to be near by.

I wasn't really aware of the importance of this orientation until I talked with a fellow writer and his wife about living in Minnesota and living in Seattle. It turns out that they have lived in both places too and the guy who is from the Seattle area said that he always felt lost because he didn't have a large body of water to orient himself by. To make maters worse, there are lakes in every direction.

It was during this conversation that I realized that one of the openings I have used from my novel was the character orienting the reader to the physical and cultural environment: the islands, the mountains, and the desert beyond the mountains. Her's was a port city. Travelers came from the world beyond and brought their different ways.

5. Ways of Speaking

I've heard many different ways of speaking, and this ranges from dialect and accent, to being direct or indirect, red-neck or politically correct, military or anti-establishment.

One of the stranger things I've been noticing recently is how people will sometimes suddenly and intentionally switch from the nondescript newscaster type style, which is familiar to me, to a heavy Minnesotan accent, which you might have heard in the movies.

Another example of code-switching is from my experience in Yakima, Washington. Many of my students from there have linguistic roots in Central and/or South America. On occasion, they would introduce an idea in Spanish and then (if needed) restate or explain it in English. People seemed to respond well to this in the classroom, but I've heard people off campus in Yakima and people in L.A. complain about not being able to communicate with people they needed to because the worker did not speak English. You might have guessed that such complaints were made in frustration and accompanied by statements that people ought to speak English in America.


Well, my experience with people that read this blog is that we have highly intelligent and sensitive readers who can handle discussing such potentially explosive topics. Please speak from your experience and allow others to do the same with the idea that opening up about what we have experienced about different cultures can help us to be better writers.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Generating Story Ideas

If you’re looking for ways to jump-start your creative engine and maybe even generate some rudimentary story ideas, here are a few things you might want to try:

1. Start with an interesting character, and move them into an incongruous setting. A fruit-seller on a planet that is being evacuated. A clock-maker practicing his craft in the shadow of a tall volcano. A woman who became old sewing the colorful banners men carry to war.

2. Even better, invent a difficult dilemma for your character: A toy-maker is asked to make a replica of a dead woman for a grieving and very wealthy client. A street musician throws her first coin in a fountain and a fairy emerges who tells her to give up music. A lamp-lighter finds the emperor’s lost child under a lamp post.

3. Can’t come up with two ideas to cross together in this manner? Play dictionary roulette. That is to say, open the dictionary at random and point to any word without looking. Do this twice. Then write a story-starter in one or two sentences. It works like this: Reindeer/contradict. A young woman rides a reindeer to an isolated fortune-teller, who contradicts what her father’s house magician has told her about her father’s health. See how it works? (Can you cheat at dictionary roulette? Of course you can! But try to be creative with what you get, first.)

4. Think of a minor character from a book you recently read or a movie you saw. The more minor the better! The girl who sold tickets at the game – who was she yelling at on her cell phone when the protagonist only wanted his tickets? What’s her story? What about the owner of the little bakery where the antagonist liked to get his breakfast pastry? Or the ER nurse who bandaged his bullet wound? All these people should have stories of their own – stories in which the main characters of the original book or movie are so minor that they barely register.

5. Read your favorite magazine, and use one of the articles as a springboard for a story. Halloween cupcake recipes? Once a year, a baker serves sweet treats for the children of his neighborhood, to protect them from the spirits that will inhabit their parents during the night. Advice on buying a used car? A man down on his luck buys a used car and finds it comes with a new identity, and a higher price than he thought.

Inspiration is everywhere. Stories are everywhere, too, and the methods listed here are just some of the ways you might try to capture them. Even if these methods don’t provide you with your next story, at least you will have exercised your creative muscle, and maybe you will feel inspired to write your own story. Good luck!

Friday, September 18, 2009

The little things.

Everytime I start to get somewhat discouraged with my progress in my writing life, I get a little lift.

A boost, so to say.

The last two weeks have been hard for me. I've got two books finished, first drafts, both of which I'm quite proud of. I had to decide who to revise first, and the amount of work I was looking at (while the new idea simmered over like beans left too long on the stove) was just...overwhelming. Depressing, really. (And you think there's no pressure once you've got your agent? If anything, I feel like there's more. But that's another post.)

And then to think, still gotta get the betas on it (beta readers are worth their weight in GOLD), and then my MG betas, and then...to the agent, and then more waiting. Then the whole pregnancy thing, and work, and everything. Whew.

It was just getting to me.

But last night I got my latest boost.

You see, I met Neil Gaiman. And then I shook his hand.

Let me back up. I found out via Twitter that Mr. Gaiman and his lady-love, Amanda Palmer, were gonna be in Berlin one night, and Frau Palmer was going to give a free bloddy show. I like Mr. Gaiman's books, but moreso his attitude: always friendly, always successful...he works full time as a writer, is funny and writes such diverse things. Brilliant.

We couldn't pass it up!

So after eventually finding the hole-in-the-wall warehouse where it was located, we were there. And the first two gigs were going, it was fun to be out in Berlin. And then I saw him.

First thought, "Dude! He's so SHORT!" But the fluffy hair was there, the nose, the ever-so-slightly ratty suit jacket. It was him. I had a meltdown. I started grinning like a freak, but wouldn't go near him. I mean, he probably gets this all the time, right? And then he was walking off, a bit later, and I had to do it. I walked up behind him.

Me: Mr Gaiman?
He turns and looks at me, surprised.
MG: Yes?
Me: Hi, I'm sorry, but can I just shake your hand?
MG: *blinks and grins* Sure. What's your name? (He has really. great. eyes.)
We shake hands. His is normal and warm, and mine is cold and sweaty. LOL!
Me: I'm Jennifer, a writer and I came to see you and Amanda. You just made my year.
MG: *grins bigger* Well that's great.
Me: Thanks again.

I walk off.

Grinning.

From ear to ear.

He waves and carries on as I look behind me the once. And then I got to hear Amanda Palmer and she's freaking brilliant. And looking at these two, the ones that make a living from their loves, I thought,

I can do this too.

boost

Thursday, September 17, 2009

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck, a writer I loved as a college student and still do, was interviewed twice by the Paris Review, once in 1969, and again, in 1975. The dates aren’t important, but the content of what he said in each made me get back into my novel again with some new, different energy.

From a Paris Review interview in 1969:

“The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through—not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can't be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible.

So many times, as I write, I hit this bottomless pit of possibility, and that is when the world of distraction swoops in and takes me again. Steinbeck, with this quote, is saying that that’s okay. We need to not give ourselves a hard time…ever. We are alone too much and too often to give our only audience—ourselves—a hard time.

Which leads me to another thing he said to The Paris Review in 1975:

“Writing to me is a deeply personal, even a secret function and when the product I turned loose it is cut off from me and I have no sense of its being mine. Consequently criticism doesn’t mean anything to me. As a disciplinary matter, it is too late.”

This state of mind is healthy. If you are submitting that book and you are on to another, and the book you’re shopping is something that you seem disconnected toward, then that’s perfectly okay. In this day and age, all you have to do is click on the television, or the internet, or turn on a CD, or watch a movie, to see thousands of moments at their absolute climax. We do not have to be 100% passion, all the time. We do not need to be ‘on’ all the time, and sometimes, at least from what I see in my generation, all I see around me (myself included, sadly…) are showmen, or performers.

Sometimes, there is no passion, and that, at least for me, is something I need to remember can be a good thing too. Because those moments might at times be the most honest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Poll Recap

Last week I ran a little poll and wow! What great responses!

There are 87 formal blogger account followers to the Adventures in Writing blog. While there is not a one-to-one correlation, 42 people responded to the poll.

34 of us are aspiring, non-published writers, while 8 of us are published.

27 have finished writing a book, 10 have just started, 4 are half-way done and 2 are almost done. WOW!

Then we have 2 writers who are not book writers, or are lurkers.

Beyond this short little poll, I asked for:

* The working title
* Genre (where it would be in a book store)
* Back of the book blurb
* What you enjoy most about writing

About half of you who took the poll left comments.

This tells me, and the other authors of this blog, a number of things. Mainly, it highlights we have a small, but vibrant community of writers, and some of us have broken through “to the other side.” Awesome.

My favorite part of the poll was the comments by far. I loved hearing what everyone is working on!

Thank you all for responding and stopping by our little slice of the intetwebs. The comments and responses are helpful; for example, next week, I’ll talk about my totally ego-centric, but massively fun way to come up with your book-blurb.

Yours,
Anthony

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Writing Past the Wall


What do you do when you have nothing to write? nothing to say? no spark of creativity begging a bit of tinder and a breath of air?

[There are some this never happens to; there are some who never admit to it; and there are some who mock those who suffer through it. There are also those who abuse it. If this describes you, feel free to skip this post.]

I have several remedies, myself, depending upon the project, the time of year, my mood...

1. Sometimes I write, regardless. I set a word goal and meet it, regardless of the flotsam I turn out. The purpose is quantity, not quality, and the goal is simply to slog it out. Keep writing until I find my rhythm again.

I know Vince Lombardi says that only perfect practice makes perfect, but I ignore that for the time being.

2. Sometimes I let it percolate. This might sound like a cop-out, but it's not. At least not entirely. The human brain is amazing, and left simmering on the back burner, your story may just find its flavor. I don't rush it -- I just sift through thoughts and sensory experiences and play with story lines.

Eventually enough falls into place that the story or chapter or plot piece gushes out, and my hands are merely the tool, trying to keep pace.

3. Sometimes I write poetry. I focus on language, brevity, impact, the senses. I don't write for others or post my endeavors or secretly hope to someday publish a packet of poems. But I focus on quality, on falling in love with words again, on writing.

4. Sometimes I blog about it. I approach this, most often, obliquely, not wanting to complain or whine or rail against the writing gods. Or bore my readers. Something happens, though, when I do finally put it down in black and white. Answers pop. Plot lines untangle. I find a trail, sometimes faint, which I can follow -- and it's always surprising.

5. Sometimes I read. When all else fails (or, more likely, when I'm feeling rebellious and unwilling to try), I read. I start with mindless drivel and work up to something I'd like to eventually emulate. I start by just trying to immerse my brain in something other than "work" and end up analyzing character and plot and subplots and conflict. And, more often than not, I'm inspired to return to my own writing.

Unfortunately for this post, my problem of late is not of the Wall but rather of the Obstacle. As in "must go to bed" and "must go to work" and "must eat" -- because, for whatever delightful reason, the words are rushing forth and I can barely keep up.

I hope I suffer from this problem for a long, long time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Religious Writing Experience


This morning I had one of those writing experiences that could best be described as religious. I woke up to the sound of crashing, rumbling thunder, loud enough that it shook the glass in my bedroom windows. I got out of bed, poured a cup of coffee and laced it with my favorite vanilla creamer. I microwaved a buttery croissant, grabbed my notebook and pen, and headed for the front porch. As I sat munching on the croissant, and sipping coffee, I took in the sensory experience of the morning.

The air smelled as if it had just been just been born. It was fresh, brand new, and a tinge of ozone tickled my nostrils after every strike. Light raindrops pattered on the leaves of a low bush, the minute impacts causing each of them to tremble almost as if they were shivering from the cold.

A fork of lightning shot across the sky, spreading out like gnarled fingers as it reached for the ground. A few seconds later the sky was ripped apart, as if two giant sheets of paper were rent in two. The thunder rolled and echoed across the valley, each echo becoming lower, sounding less like a crack, and more like a muted hollow tone. I sat in awe of the pure power of the display.

I took a bite of the hot croissant, a sip of coffee, and put pen to paper. The pen seemed to move as if it had a mind of its own and soon I had more pages in one sitting than I had written in days before.

You might think this sounds strange, as in most places thunderstorms aren't that unique, but here in northern california they are. If we are lucky we might have one thunderstorm a year. Most years we have none.

To someone who grew up in South Dakota where thunderstorms are the norm, they are one of the things that I miss the most. While I don't want to move back there, the memories that they evoke are almost as fresh as the air after the storm. They remind me of playing in the rain with my brother, the youthful exuberance of getting a little too close to a tornado, and sitting on the porch talking to my father, as the sky put on its fantastic show. It was a morning that I'm not soon going to forget.

You need to write every day, whether or not moments like this occur. When they do, and I'm sure they will, make sure you take advantage and enjoy them to the fullest. I know I did.

Have you ever had such an experience? Where was it? How did the writing that day compare to your normal writing?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Have you survived too much to do and too little time?

Wow! It's nice to read so many great posts.

Thanks to everybody who voted and posted comments on Anthony's latest post. That was really cool. It's nice to see how many people are out there and to read a bit about what they are working on.

Also, Alex's post really cuts to the heart of what is on my mind right now--TIME.

Yeah, there are those people out there that make the excuse of not enough time seem like no excuse at all. Thanks for the reminder, Alex : )

So, seconds ago--speaking of time and how we manage it--my six year old daughter brought me a butterfly that she designed on paper with shapes and colors that inspire me. It's cut out and she even stapled on antennas. It awes me to see how creative she can be, and it does something that I don't quite know how to put into words, because I am her dad, or papa. It makes me feel how important my presence is. Sure, she creates to create, but she also creates to share. And it's the same with my three and a half year old son, and possibly somewhat the same for my 140 students. The bottom line is that part of the way I spend my time involves being there to read, see, and comment on the work of others. I teach, and I inspire, and I am glad for that role in life.

Somehow, as of late, I have been putting in extra hours in a new job, and doing what I can to make sure my family gets the quality time they deserve. Right now (the last few weeks especially) my writing time has diminished. Oh, I forgot to mention little things like getting ill with the stomach bug that seems to come with fall and the new school year. I'm better now, thank goodness. Now I just need to make sure allergies don't get me down.

So, here's the bottom-line. I've got writing goals, but I've also got many other important priorities, which seem to be on urgent mode right now. HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED THIS??? How did you work through it???

I'm not panicked. I know that I will be back to those writing goals when the time is right, but I don't want to wait a month, or a season, to continue making progress.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Art: Quantity vs. Quality

Here is an interesting story regarding the supposed conflict between quantity and quality.
In their book Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland describe an experiment conducted by a pottery instructor. This instructor divided students into two groups - a "quantity" group and a "quality" group. The first group would be graded according to the sheer amount of pots they produced over the course of the semester, without regard to quality. The second group would be required to produce one single pot, and would be graded according to its quality.

At the end of the semester - lo and behold! - the pots of the highest quality were produced by the quantity group.

Is it the same for all areas of creative endeavor, do you think? Is it the same for writing?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Music Rec's

I’m beginning to realize the full importance of music on my daily writing routine. Without it, I stare, I wonder if I’m hungry, if I finished all the chores I needed to finish, if the door is locked, if I need to take out the trash, etc…then, once music comes on, particularly with several songs, I’m ready to go.

I don’t really have anything writing-related this week, but I do want to share a few post-rock bands who are primarily instrumental yet have a vibe about them that allows me just the right amount of creative freedom.

The first is Explosions in the Sky. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltQqPJ5A2BI

And the second is primarily a song: Edge Hill, by Groove Armada. Be patient for the first two minutes, then it just becomes beautiful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEAhRhjtK58&feature=related

If you like this genre, Sigur Ros is excellent as well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doc1eqstMQQ&feature=related

I was hesitant in sharing music, since it feels slightly off-topic and self-indulgent, but seeing as how I found my now favorite band (Muse) because of someone in the past randomly letting me borrow their CD, I thought perhaps it might help get the sparks going.

So…does anyone have any bands out there that they listen to? Or perhaps classical, jazz? Or maybe stone-cold silence?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Poll Time

Who are you?



Have far have you gotten?



If you could, please leave a note in the comments about your work in progress:

** The working title
** Genre (where it would be in a book store)
** Back of the book blurb
** What you enjoy most about writing

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Hero

John Michael graduated from Harvard Medical School with an M.D. in 1969, by which time he'd published four novels, one garnering the the Edgar Award. He published three more novels that same year (1969) -- and it was the second one that established him as a best-selling author. You may have heard of The Andromeda Strain.

Okay. Let me repeat that: while attending medical school, Michael not only wrote numerous books, but he got them published.

I'm in awe.

When I start thinking that I haven't any time to write, I realize that it's just a matter of priorities. After all, I, too, have twenty-four hours in a day...just like Michael.

What about you? Who are your writing heroes and why? What have they done to appear herculean in your eyes? How do you gain strength from their courageous battles?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do Great Writers Intimidate You?


Have you ever read a book that you thought was really great and said to yourself, I couldn't do that? I'm not that good of a writer.

If you said no, I can see your nose growing.

I recently read "Dead Sleep" by Greg Iles and said exactly that. His characters were deep and emotional. The plot and story were great. I felt completely intimidated after I finished the story, because I knew I couldn't have written it as well.

But I can write other stories. My stories may not be as good as his right now, but with some practice, maybe they can be. If not, I have heard from my readers that they are entertaining, and isn't that what we are after all? Entertainers?

I'm working on my characters. I'm working on my pacing. I'm working on creating an emotional response in my readers. When I get good at it, my stories will probably be good. I can't say that they will be great, but I'll be happy with good.

So, are you ever intimidated? What are you trying to improve?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Writing and the seasons


I have noticed that my writing moves in cycles of productivity and stagnation, as I guess might be true for many other people, and possibly for other areas of creativity as well.

For me, those periods when I write a lot and those others during I which I write very little seem to be about the same from year to year. For me the most "stagnant"periods are (roughly) August-September and January-February, while the most productive are April-July and then October-November. Though honestly, this probably has more to do with changes in my personal schedule than it does with the changing quality of light and the temperature outside, but there it is.

So I'll put the question out there. Would you say that your writing is affected in any way by the cycle of the year? And if it is, do you make any attempt to manage these changes?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Writer tools

I have a computer ... a white Mac laptop, named Gunther (in jest by my husband, but it stuck). On that computer I keep records of all my ideas, my three finished MS, and smatterings of others.

I am an incredible jackdaw-collector of beautifully bound small notebooks. Empty notebooks. With lined paper. I love writing/thinking/drawing in them, expanding and contracting things for ideas.

I have a blue leather pouch where I keep my favourite writing pens (all one type, only black, kthx!) with my 2 drawing pencils and extra leads, as well as my favourite eraser. And I have a favourite drawing pad that I use when the creative urge takes me there.

For everything except my notebooks, I have one favourite of them all. Sort of like the ring...from LOTR. And I use that favourite until it's all used up. These are my tools.

What are yours?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tips from Kurt Vonnegut

Since Vonnegut has always been one of my favorites, and considering how it's difficult to come up with useful advice to all of you out there, I thought I'd post a list that made me feel better after I read them.

What's posted below comes from this link:

http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/538

_________________________________________________________________

Kurt Vonnegut created some of the most outrageously memorable novels of our time, such as Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast Of Champions, and Slaughterhouse Five. His work is a mesh of contradictions: both science fiction and literary, dark and funny, classic and counter-culture, warm-blooded and very cool. And it’s all completely unique.

With his customary wisdom and wit, Vonnegut put forth 8 basics of what he calls Creative Writing 101: *

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Joss Whedon is my Master Now

Everything I learned about snappy dialog I learned from Joss Whedon.

Urban Fantasy!

Cordelia: I don't mean to interrupt your downward mobility, but I just wanted to tell you that you won't be meeting Coach Foster, the woman with the chest hair, because gym was canceled due to the extreme dead guy in the locker.

Buffy: What?!

Willow: What are you talking about?

Cordelia: Some guy was stuffed in Aura's locker.

Buffy: Dead?

Cordelia: Totally dead. Way dead.

Xander: It's not just a little dead, dead?

Cordelia: Don't you have an elsewhere to be?

***

Willow: Buffy has a really important date.

Buffy: Owen!

Giles: All right, I-I'll just jump in my time machine, go back to the twelfth century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy for a few days while you take in dinner and a show.

Buffy: Okay, at this point you're abusing sarcasm.

***

Xander: Y'know, this might go a lot faster if you femmes actually picked up a shovel, too.

Giles: Hear, hear.

Buffy: Sorry, but I'm an old fashioned gal. I was raised to believe that men dig up the corpses and the women have the babies.

***

Anya: The power of the Wish made me a righteous sword to smite the unfaithful.

Xander: Well, hey! Good luck with that. Hope it works out for you.

Anya: You know, you can laugh, but I have witnessed a millennium of treachery and oppression from the males of the species, and I have nothing but contempt for the whole libidinous lot of them.

Xander: Then why you talking to me?

Anya: [averting her eyes] I don't have a date for the prom.

Xander: Well, gosh! I wonder why not. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with your sales pitch?

Anya: Men are evil... Will you go with me?

Xander: One of us is very confused, and I honestly don't know which.

...

Anya: When I lost my powers I got stuck with this persona, and now I have all these feelings. I don't understand it. I don't like it. All I know is I really want to go to this dance and I want someone to go with me.

...

Anya: Look, I know you find me attractive. I've seen you looking at my breasts.

Xander: Nothing personal, but when a guy does that it just means his eyes are open.

Anya: Whatever. Look, do you wanna go with me or not?

[Xander's eyes lower for a second, then flick back up to Anya's face.]

***

Olaf: You do well to flee, townspeople. I will pillage your lands and dwellings. I will burn your crops and make merry sport with your more attractive daughters.

Science Fiction!

Wash: “Yeah well, if she doesn’t give us some extra flow from the engine room to offset the burn through, this landing is gonna get pretty interesting.”

Mal: “Define interesting.”

Wash: “Oh god oh god we’re all gonna die?”

Mal: “This is the captain. We have a…little problem with our engine sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then…explode.”

Jayne: “We’re gonna explode? I don’t wanna explode.”

***

Mal: “Kaylee, this is a place of business. We can talk about Simon-”

Kaylee: “When he’s four worlds away? Or the Alliance gets ahold of him and River?”

Mal: “That ain’t my worry. I gotta finish this job, get us another one. Can’t do that carryin’ those two.”

Kaylee: “How can you be so cold?”

Zoe: “Cap’n didn’t make them fugitives.”

Kaylee: “But he coulda made ‘em family. ’stead of keepin’ Simon from seein’ I was there. And I carried such a torch! And we coulda…goin’ on a year now and I ain’t had nothin’ twixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries!”

Mal: “Oh God! I can’t know that!”

Jayne: “I could stand to hear more.”

***

Mal: "Are you offering me a trade?"

Jayne: "A trade!? Hell, it's theft! This is the best damn gun made by man. It has extreme sentimental value. It's miles more worthy than what you got."

Mal: "What I got? She has a name."

Jayne: "So does this!" (caresses the gun lovingly) "I call it Vera."

Mal: "Well, my days of taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle."

***

Zoe: "No one's gonna force you to go, Jayne. As has been stated -- this job's strictly speculative."

Jayne: "Good. 'Cause I don't know these folks, don't much care to."

Mal: "They're whores."

Jayne: "I'm in"

***

Jayne: "Shiny. Let's be bad guys."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Writing Opportunities

There are writing opportunities galore out there. (And yes, we are all working hard-core on our WIPs. But sometimes, distraction is...seductive.) It's true that many of these opportunities come with a price tag or are entirely questionable, but there are a couple with prestige. I've gathered some of my favorites and listed them below.

To my fellow females: A Room of Her Own sponsors several contests and retreats, but the cherry on top is the Gift of Freedom. Although 750 women applied this last go-round, the one lucky winner receives $50,000 in order to pursue her craft.

To my fellow sci-fi / fantasy writers
: Regardless of your views on his religion, one of the elite writing contests of the day happens to be sponsored by L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future. Many leading science fiction and fantasy authors have earned their first laurels -- and major recognition -- as semi-finalists, finalists, and winners of this contest. Big names in the field (like Orson Scott Card, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Anne McCaffrey to name a few) also make up the panel of judges.

Note
: for you budding artists out there, check out the Illustrators of the Future contest for new & amateur artists worldwide; $1500 in prizes awarded quarterly.

To my fellow apprentices: Clarion (San Diego) & Clarion West (Seattle) are intensive 6-week summer workshops designed to polish you up in the field of sci fi & fantasy. Applications are available in January and December, respectively, for the 2010 workshops. Odyssey, also an intensive 6-week fantasy writing workshop, is held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Although pricey, scholarships are available. And, as Colleen Lindsay noted: acceptance & attendance in either of these programs is significant; do include such information in your query letters.

Now it's your turn. Enlighten me: What are your favorite writerly distractions?