Friday, October 30, 2009

The Marvellous Mystery

I've never written a mystery before.

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

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

And paranoid.

How *does* one go about writing a mystery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a very Happy Hallowe'en, all!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Drifting...

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

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

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

Hope everyone has a good Halloween.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What do teens want?

This is a very worthy article for your time outlining a survey of teen reading.

The survey is flawed in a number of places (as outlined in the article itself), but the information contained is very fascinating.
"In an industry without a lot of good news to report, the one consistent bright spot has been publishing for teens. While adult trade sales are expected to fall 4% this year, juvenile and young adult sales are expected to increase 5.1%, according to the PW/IPR Book Sales Index. Although it's impossible to completely break out juvenile from young adult (YA), it is possible to look at expected growth rates for different categories. In the fiction/fantasy/sci-fi segment, where most sales in the YA category fall, we expect nearly 13% growth in 2009, reaching $744 million. By 2013, sales in this segment are anticipated to hit $861 million, a 30.6% increase over 2008."
This gem and more is found at What Do Teens Want?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Do You Believe in Magic?

When you listen to the Lovin' Spoonful croon their hit, "Do You Believe in Magic?", you just have to smile. And when Zally does the re-launch 'cause he messed up? There's a little hiccup of pixie potion dusting the audience. They really do believe in magic.

But when it comes to writing, I don't believe in magic. I believe in hard work, diligence, inspiration, and a good dollop of luck. Not random luck, but that type of luck that favors the prepared. But what about those completely unexplainable moments when lightning strikes and showers of creativity-sparks pelt your fine, writerly skin?

When Uppington posted yesterday about flying monkeys, I had to laugh. And then nod, sheepishly. I recognize the symptom. There are times when our characters make choices within the plot that we authors don't initiate.

This is not voodoo or mysticism or silliness: it's simply the consequence of well-developed characters and an inner editor firmly attached to the balloon of inspiration. We all know that if a character introduced an idea completely at odds with our plot, we'd nix it in a heartbeat. My Eliahna, firmly entrenched in high fantasy countryside, will not be driving a porshe into her stable anytime soon. Regardless of the emblem.

Of course, if I were better acquainted with psychology, I might talk about transferring or projecting. But since I'm not, I won't.

What of your characters? Do they make choices on their own, do things they shouldn't, sneak off into trouble? Or are they all lined up, standing at attention, ready to do your beck and call?


Monday, October 26, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog

We interrupt this blog to talk about the fun part of publishing.

I got to do something really cool today. I got to meet the famous Captain Sully Sullenberger at a book signing at a local Costco. In case you live under a rock, he's the pilot who safely landed an airplane full of passengers into the Hudson River, with only minor injuries. Truly an amazing bit of flying.

He lives about 20 minutes from my house, and has been doing local events, so I decided I should go get some books signed. I got three, one for me, one for my brother, and one for my brother-in-law.

Here's a picture of the book.

















Since there were like 500 people in line, he simply signed his name so he wouldn't be there all night.

















The cool thing for me, was that I got to talk to him about my aviation thriller, "Lost in the Sky". I gave him a personally autographed copy with the following inscription.

Wishing you clear skies and smooth landings

and of course, I signed my name











He absolutely loved it and after I explained the basics of the plot, he said he definitely was going to check it out. I included a business card in the book if he wants to get hold of me for some reason. (Like maybe hooking me up with his agent, hint, hint)

See, he's reading the first part of the book and actually liking it. (OMG, OMG)











What's interesting is that some people look at Sully, who used a ghost writer, and think how come he got X million dollars for his book, written by someone else, and I can't even get published? Or how come Dan Brown makes so much money on his books and they aren't very good?

I agree sales number aren't necessarily the absolute litmus test for whether a book is good or not, but what successful books do is pump money into the publishing industry, and that's good for all of us. When publishers make money on a book, they have more money to spend, and it's a lot more likely they will publish more books from less known authors, like you and me.

So the next time you pooh-pooh a big dollar book deal by a celebrity that you think might not deserve it, remember, the success of that book could help you get yours published.

I'll return next week with a post about writing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog or When is it time to call it quits?


Have you considered quitting your blog?


Lately, I've been considering quitting my blog. There are many reasons, which basically amount to the fact that I have too much to do and not enough time.


I'd be interested in knowing if you have considered doing the same thing, but for the moment I'd like to focus on one little thing that's keeping me going.


I just checked in at one blog. It happened to be Tricia Obrien's. There I found something surprising. She has a nice post on her thoughts and experience with bats and within that description is a reference to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Her description reminds me of a scene within my fantasy novel. It made me consider the possibility of traveling out that way to see the bats emerge as she described.


If I would have quit blogging last week I would not have found that interesting fact, which makes me want to go on an adventure, even though big adventures will have to wait for a vacation time.


1. Have you considered quitting?

2. What makes you want to not quit?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The withdrawl blues

I. Am. Frustrated.

My internet connectivity has been in and out for days, and this despite repeated complaints to the company (which is Comcast, by the way). Even when I have a connection, it's so slow that it takes minutes to load a single page. Minutes. No exaggeration. We had a spell of disconnectedness over the summer, which got better once we got a new modem, but this time it's something outside the house. Yes, I'm online now - for this moment - but by the time I finish writing today's post, I may well find that I'm no longer connected. It's been going on and off just like that, for days. And this is cable access!

Almost useless.

Thus my frustration level has risen, my time online had grown shorter and less pleasant and... I'm getting things done. Not merely creatively, but in life in general.

Still, I'd trade productivity for a reliable internet connection in a heartbeat. Yep, in a heartbeat. And really, how sad is that? What an addict I've become!

Internet addicts, raise your hands! Raise 'em high!

Friday, October 23, 2009

All right!

Who's with me!

PoloGRRL is DONE and in agent's hands. \o/ This is cause for celebration, mainly because it allows me to prepare for my next book, which I shall write during ...

NaNoWriMo!

That's right! I'm gonna try and finish an entire MG book in the one month of National Novel Writing Month, NOVEMBER!

Okay. Now I have to ask you: who's with me? Who's in NaNo? And if not, why not? I thought through it too, you know...being a joiner, living with the idea that I am participating in NaNo (which I somehow never anticipated doing)...and so on.

I decided, once, just once, to try it. And so I shall. And I'll finish this book in one month, even with the dotty POVs, even with the...particular protags...it has. Oh yes precious. I'll do it.

I'm jaekaebee on NaNo. You on there too? Buddy me, and we can root each other on!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Legos

A momentary pause while I am in the land of Lego, that wonderful little brick my sons obsess over. Legoland, California to be exact.

I didn't have time to pre-post a blog either, I had a major writing assignment due at work and it basically took a week of typing.

All day.

60 words a minute.

For a week.

So, like, when I said I was a hack writer I wasn't kidding here folks. Ha!

Anyway, I took a book on vacation that I loved. It was a fascinating debut novel with a unique narrative style.

Then, in the last one-third of the book, it fell apart when the author started writing about a subject he obviously had an opinion, but didn't know much about.

Now I have to work up to finishing it. If I can.

The beach beckons, maybe a picture later!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Looking Past the Surface: Depth Beckons

I try to explain to my students that the more fully educated they are, the more fully they can understand or appreciate or realize an author's art. After all, one purpose of education is preparing the student to "enter the dialogue" by giving her a background in universal themes, cultural symbols, the hero's journey -- not to smother her with knowledge, but to enhance her vision and to provide her with a 4-D view of the world with all of its textures and shades and scents and illusions of time.

The ones who want to write need to know more.

(A teacher's art is to make the exploration an adventure -- not a beating over the head with symbolism and metaphors and character development.)

Sometimes, it's simply the ability to capture a flavor, weaving it through your sentences. In a story many of you, no doubt, read back in high school, James Hurst accomplished this. When selecting just a few sentences of his, I found I wanted to bring them all to you, but these will have to do. They're from the first two paragraphs of "The Scarlet Ibis":
"It was in the clove of seasons, summer was dead but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree...The five o'clocks by the chimney still marked time, but the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle...

It's strange that all this is still so clear to me, now that summer has long since fled and time has had its way. A grindstone stands where the bleeding tree stood, just outside the kitchen door, and now if an oriole sings in the elm, its song seems to die up in the leaves, a silvery dust."
Sometimes, it's the allusion to cultural or religious beliefs that creates an older, wiser, more deeply embedded echo within our beings. There are many Judeo-Christian references in Western literature that provide a sense of Eden or Judas or a Christ figure, dredging up emotions or understandings even if we can't quite put our fingers on them. In Lord of the Flies, yet another piece you might remember from high school, Simon represents the spiritual being who is persecuted and ultimately martyred for his attempt to bring "truth" (the beast is only a dead pilot) to the masses.

Of course, once you pwn the process, you can tweak to your heart's content: In The Waterboy (1998), we never see Adam Sandler's character make the trek to the north or earn the elixir from the Eskimo healer. But 'Bobby' Boucher still makes the ultimate sacrifice when he chooses to stay at his mother's hospital bed instead of playing in the championship game. He receives the reward of love ("one of the most powerful and popular Elixirs," according to Vogler), and this love, the crime-crazy Vikki Valencourt, remembers the Eskimo elixir and produces it at the critical moment -- reviving Bobby at the last second so that he can win the day.

And yet.

Is it worth the time and focus and study? Does anyone look past the fast action and pretty faces, searching for deeper meaning?

Or are those questions pointless -- like asking, "Does anyone truly appreciate oxygen anymore?"

Are all of those elements simply part of the invisible armature that provides support and structure? Beyond the trite, write what's in your heart, is there a higher calling that authors should respond to? Do storytellers have cultural or societal responsibilities that transcend preaching or shoving beliefs down readers' throats? Should even our "beach" reading (or writing) aspire to layers of depth?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where do ideas hit you?


When do ideas come to you? Is there a specific time or place?

Not for me.

When I am working on a new WIP, I am consumed with working out the details, especially if there are puzzles that I need to solve.

I'm not talking about puzzles like those used in the Da Vinci Code. I'm talking about the fact that I need a character to show a particular characteristic, or behavior, and their actions need to seem believable.

It really irks me when an author has a character do something that is completely not how the character would act, but the author has done it to move the story along, or setup some other plot point.

That's why it is so important that all these elements fit together, and also why it's a puzzle that needs to have all the pieces fit together perfectly.

The puzzle pieces don't just come to me as I write. I usually know the ending of my story, and I am trying to advance the story to get there. I need certain actions to happen. I need characters to feel a certain way. Coming up with reasonable explanations takes a long time.

The ideas hit me at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes it is at work, and I can quickly jot them down on my computer, or a notebook. Sometimes it happens while I'm driving, and I use the voice record feature on my phone to record a message.

Sometimes it happens when I'm otherwise busy, doing a set at the gym, taking a shower, or taking in a movie at a theater. Those are the most annoying, because I have to work hard to remember them until I can jot them down later.

When do your ideas hit? And what do you do to make sure you don't lose them?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

HOPE

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.Isaiah 40:31

Cindy Wilson, who has followed this blog since the start, has this Bible quote up on her author page and her blog. I like it. It's one of my favorites.

Lately, I haven't exactly felt like my writing dreams are soaring with God. Don't get me wrong, life is good and I have no complaints, but I just stopped over at Cindy's blog and her web page and somehow seeing the quote made me stop and question where I have been putting my hope.

Where have you been putting your hope? Agents? Your talent? Your mission? Dumb luck?

Right now I am tired, and I have more work to do and family things to do than there is time in the day. Truthfully, I'm lucky to have so many opportunities.

Honestly, I'm tired of thinking about being successful or not as a writer. I have a six year old daughter who wants to get her books out into book stores and I can't help but think that it would be a shame if she let the decision makers affect how she feels about stories and art. I'm going to encourage her to continue making books and help her with getting them produced so that she can share them with her friends.

The moment that her art and stories become about getting published would be a sad day, because right now it's all about her unique vision and style. Plus, the audience that she has right now is composed of the people that she cares the most about. Her stories are already connected to an audience, even if it is a small one.

It might seem like I'm downplaying the getting published dream, but really I'm just trying to put it into perspective.

I guess that I don't really have any great ideas today. All that I can offer is a personal feeling, and that feeling is that somehow I've got my dreams out of whack a bit. Somehow thinking about where I am putting my hope helps me to feel connected to my true purpose as a storyteller, which of course is to tell stories. There's a difference between telling stories and getting them published. All published fiction authors are storytellers, but not all storytellers are published. That does not diminish the dream and it should not diminish the energy of the storyteller.

Best of luck in your writing pursuits and as a kind agent once wrote me I now write to you:

LOOK FORWARD : )

Saturday, October 17, 2009

To plan or not to plan?


While I know that some incredibly creative writers can simply jump into new projects without an outline or even a basic plan, that really doesn't work for me. Oh, I've tried, but for me this just produces a sloppy mess. Much as I'd like to, I just can't wander into the wilderness of an unwritten story equipped only with a head full of inspired images and a few characters who simply march on ahead of me, leaving footprints behind for me to follow (Ray Braybury does say something like about plot being merely the footprints of his characters). No, I just can not operate like that.

For me, a short story requires a bare-bones plan at the very least. A longer work needs a more detailed outline.

Does a preference to plan things out indicate a lack of trust in the creative process? I do wonder about that sometimes.

Does planning kill creativity outright? No, I don't think so, since even the most detailed plan will likely veer to the right or swerve to the left or tumble down a ravine, and end up being a different story altogether. But when that happens, what should a writer do? Draw up a new plan!

So what's your style?

Do you plan, and if so, how much? Or, like Ray Bradbury, do you follow in your characters' footprints as they march through their own stories?

Beta Readers

I'm always interested in what people do with their beta readers. Having just gone through the process again with mine, I'm looking to see what you do with yours.

(I had to think exactly how I'd phase all this for the blog post).

I have three that I'd trust with my book (not including one MG reader that is just fantastic. She - and my husband - are termed my 'end readers', which are different.) and see it before anyone else, including agent. Of the three I expect different things, however, and mostly receive them.

One is fantastic for the big picture, the theme, and the motivations. She is harsh, and critical, and I love it. One is excellent for her (isn't it funny, hubs is my only male reader. hm...) on target "this doesn't make sense" bits, and is also unrelenting. The last is perfect for her eagle eye and knowledge of grammar, since mine goes the longer I stay here. My crit group is also great, but they've been excessively busy lately and haven't been able to do much with PoloGRRL.

So going into it, I expect and receive different things from each beta reader. It took me some time to know what to get from each, and I also critique their MS in return. It's a healthy, happy whole which ends up making my books very strong and powerful, as they're all at the same level as I am right now.

Fantastic.

And you? How many betas do you have? What do you use them for, or do you get different things from each as well?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Covers and Fonts

I’m beginning to believe that, if I had read the Da Vinci Code without that glossy red cover full of conspiratorial images, if I had read it in boring 12-point Times New Roman, then I probably would not have cared for it as much and, as a result, not given it a chance to ‘rock my world’.

Covers are almost everything it seems. Check out any Richard Paul Evans ‘gem’, or the romantic majesty of any Nicholas Sparks novel. Or, if you’re into more literary material, check out any Anchor Paperback and awe in how smoothly the pages turn, and how the cover is so classically reflective you find yourself carrying it to the checkout without even having to read any of it. If you do choose to read the words, you’ll notice how seductive the font is, how the letters have been rounded in such a finite way that something in you just has to believe that what you are reading is incredible.

I am a Fontist…that means I must must must write in a specific font: Garamond, to me, is everything. I can’t re-read a story of mine unless I put it in Garamond. Times New Roman seems harder, clunkier even, like an older brother who wears hoodies and sweatpants every day. Courier New (and I shudder every time I have to submit something in this ‘professionally required’ way) to me reads like a fifth grader learning how to print neatly for the first time.

Of course, as we all know, having a good story is everything. Looks only take a story so far. But its these beautiful covers I see (Life of Pi, Water for Elephants, etc…) and the way the printed word looks on the pages, and how at the end of the book they talk about the type (Janson, or some medieval type that you’ll never get on Word) that motivate me to get one out there. It’s a bit shallow, but even smelling the pages of a new book inspires me.

Do you write in a specific font? Are there any covers that you simply must look at when you enter a bookstore?

P.S.-The font on this blog is Georgia...very nice, but a bit robotic, and the letter 'o' seems to be trying to swallow me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Villains over at SF Singnal

I love speculative fiction, and one of my favorite speculative fiction blogs is SF Signal.

They come up with posts like this: MIND MELD: Bad Guys We Love to Hate: The Best Film Villains in SF/F/H (with Various Videos of Villainy) and even better, this: MIND MELD: Bad Guys We Love to Hate: The Best Literary Villains in SF/F/H.

I encourage you to read these two delicious posts.

My favorite literary science fiction villain is the literature quoting book burner fire captain from Fahrenheit 451, Beatty. He, out of all the characters in the book, seems to have the most freedom, and yet he chooses to burn books. Indeed, he seems to be the mastermind of the dystopian society. And, at the end, you wind up sympathizing with him as he makes another choice to pay the fitting price for his misdeeds. It seemed, out of a book filled with self-servicing chacters, he was the only one honest about it.

What a villain!

We here in Adventures in Writing like to post about villains, and read your villainous comments. Halloween is coming up, so before the holiday season starts, get your villain on!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Will You NaNoWriMo?

It's October 13th. We're half way through the tenth month already -- which means we're eighteen days away from November 1st. Eighteen days away from the writing adventure of the year. At least, according to those who nanowrimo...

All I wanna know is 1) Are you planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year? and 2) why or why not?

For those of you who plan to participate this year, check out the Gearing Up for Nanowrimo in Three Easy Steps article.

For those of you who are still going, "Huh?" check out the article or explore the official NaNoWriMo site and see what you're missing.

For all of you haters -- welcome! Give me your reasons, your thoughts, your grief with NaNoWriMo. This is your chance to shine...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Silly Metaphors



This week I thought I'd try something a little more fun than my regular posts. Last week, I quoted one of my favorite metaphors for someone who is not too bright. (I think his cheese slid off his cracker, from The Green Mile).

This week, I thought it would be fun this week to explore a few more that I've heard, and hear some of yours. You realize of course, that the ones you've heard the most you can't use in your writing, because they are common and cliche.

Ok, so here goes. In this first section you'll notice a theme of not having enough of something represents that the person doesn't have enough brains.

  • He's one card short of a deck
  • There's a couple of slices missing from his loaf of bread
  • Somebody didn't fill his gas tank all the way to the top
  • I think his stepladder lost a couple of steps
  • He's a few french fries short of a Happy Meal
  • I think his IQ would have to rise to reach room temperature
  • He's a walking argument for birth control
  • He's got a big hat but no cattle
  • He's as bright as Alaska in December
  • I think he's knitting with only one needle
  • I think that boy's one board short of a porch
Then, there's the theme of something not working quite right
  • I think somebody forgot to engage his transmission
  • She doesn't have both oars in the water
  • He's definitely got a couple of screws loose
  • I don't think his brightness control goes all the way up
  • His elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor
  • He couldn't pour water out of a boot with instructions written on the heel
  • His head whistles in a cross wind
  • I think his mind wandered off and forgot to come back
  • I think his Slinky has got a kink in it
  • That boy is so dumb, blondes tell jokes about him
And of course my new favorite
  • That boy's two chapters short of a novel.
Do you have any favorites? Have you ever used one in your writing?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shakespeare's Got Game!


Do you see the old lady, the young woman, or both?
I was just flipping through Stephen Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and ran across this image. I've seen it many times before, and know that there are two completely different images within, but for some reason I could just see the old lady.
I kept trying to see the young lady, but could not. Arggg!
Thanks to Covey, I can tell you what Einstein observed. "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."
Are you stuck on seeing things with your writing one way? Are you stuck on just the old lady or just the young lady?
Beyond that, how could we make a shift and see new ways of writing?
Well, Alex made a comment about Shakespeare in her last post that has stuck with me. She basically said that just because she can identify the genius of Shakespeare that does not mean that she can write like him. Well, what if we could? Go ahead and laugh, but what if we could steal a move here and there?
Back when I was a kid at basketball camp I watched a film where one of Magic Johnson's moves was demonstrated. I could see it, and then (at least at the school age level) I could do it. Same principle applied with soccer. Identify the move, practice it, do it. Cool.
The odd thing is that I happen to know a bit about how Shakespeare was schooled. He learned rhetorical techniques, ways of wording things that sound cool. I'm talking about figures of thought and figures of sound. Shakespeare learned the moves and then put them to use.
Here are my challenges:
1) Report back on if you can see the old lady, the young woman, or both.
2) Report back on what you think Shakespeare's genius is.
I remember a line from Romeo and Juliet that goes something like this, "My only love, my only hate." There's contrast and there's irony. There's so much going on in so few words.
Here's another shot at identifying something inspiring in Shakespearean plays. The characters are well orchestrated. By that I mean there is a strong contrast between the cast of characters. Take a Mid Summer Night's Dream. Puck (the trickster faery) is humorous and youthful, compared to the vengeful Oberon (King of the faeries). Titania (the queen of the faeries) is powerful and beautiful, but Bottom is an ass, literally. Puck uses magic to give the guy a donkey head, and uses a love potion to get Titania to fall for the ridiculous human. There's so much irony and contrast going on within just these few characters. You could identify it within each character within the play.
I'm going to add one more thing, and make it brief. Shakespearean plays make cool tragedies. I can't say that I've read that many great American tragedies or seen that many great tragic movies. How does he pull it off? He shows how what people believe in can be their undoing. Again, there's irony.
I'd say that the heart of irony is that what is shown is unexpected; it moves in the opposite direction.
Perhaps by practicing some of Shakespeare's moves, we can put them to use too. What do you think about that? Genius may already be within us. It might just be a matter of finding a way to express what is already there.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Just for Fun...

Have you ever wondered where writers write? I know I have!

Do you think having a quiet place apart would help you produce more and better fiction?

Friday, October 9, 2009

A long and convoluted trail of misery.

That has been the name of the game for this title. The title of my new WIP, that is.

Normally I know three things when I begin a book: The first sentence, the basics of the plot, and the title. And when I say normally I do mean all of the books I've ever written. Even when I was five. (And Rabbit, Where is the Moon? is a LOVELY title when you're five!!)

While I have finished revisions on PG and sent off to beta readers (well within my timeframe still!) and begin to contemplate the revisions for FS, the title of the new book has eluded me. Not so the plot, or the characters...wherever I'm at, whatever I'm doing they're there, standing silently or walking past the corner of my eyesight. It's rather like being haunted, really.

But I digress.

*twitch*

So yesterday morning on the way to work I was desperately thinking...what do I call this book? Because I cannot begin it before I have a title! At this point, I was even willing to settle for some so-called "working title" (and yes, I know editors change the titles and hey, if they buy my book we can go that route but I need something I like for right now. Or, starting November).

Once I got to work (oh, the beauty of being at work! And I can't believe I just said that) I was sufficiently busy to not worry/obsess about it any more.

And that's when it happened.

A major plot point exploded in front of my eyes in a burst of rainbow coloured and puppy-dog breath scented sparks. Voila! And then ....

... and then ...

... my Title came to me. And it's possible that this is the Coolest Title I've ever had, and I've had some good ones (she says, modestly). My only concern is whether it's too witty or not (as it's a direct play on said plot line and normal mystery tropes), but hey, I live dangerously around here.

So.

Say hello to my newest endeavor (beginning in November, and yes, I'm doing NaNo just so I can meet some other Berlin peeps, but if you're doing it too add me as a writing buddy - I'm jaekaebee there) :::

Panic at the Dog Show: A Florence & Bo Mystery

(Extra huge bonus points and german chocolate for those that figure out the reference).

And you? What comes to you first about a new WIP? What must you have to start it?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Words from Authors Who Have Come and Gone

Hemingway has been quoted ad nauseam, his bottom line voice perfect for post-it notes attached to the computer. Lord knows there have been a lot of other writers who've said profound things yet been ignored, perhaps their entire life. Still, I believe the interview exchange below is helpful on whatever journey you are involved in at the moment, be it 'finding time', writing, editing, revising, or just plain going insane.

The interviewer was George Plimpton.

Interviewer: Would you admit to there being symbolism in your novels?
Hemingway: I suppose there are symbols since critics keep finding them. If you do not mind, I dislike talking about them and being questions about them. It is hard enough to write books and stories without being asked to explain them as well. If five or six more good explainers can keep going why should I interfere with them? Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.

Interviewer: How complete in your own mind is the conception of a short story? Does the theme, or the plot, or a character change as you go along?
Hemingway: Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you make it up as you go along and have no idea how it will come out. Everything changes as it moves. That is what makes the movement which makes the story. Sometimes the movement is so slow it does not seem to be moving. But there is always change and always movement.

Interviewer: We've not discussed character. Are the characters of your work taken without exception from real life?
Hemingway: Of course they are not. Some come from real life. Mostly you invent people from a knowledge and understanding and experience of people. Interviewer: Could you say something about the process of turning a real-life character into a fictional one? Hemingway: If I explained how that is sometimes done, it would be a handbook for libel lawyers. (132)

Interviewer: Finally, a fundamental question: namely, as a creative writer what do you think is the function of your art? Why a representation of fact, rather than fact itself?
Hemingway: Why be puzzled by that? From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Professionalism, Part III: Social Media Edition


Last week we talked about social networking, networking in general and the all-important networking rule: karma and the related Golden Rule.

Here, I want to talk about something obvious, to me anyway:

American Politics: You’re Doing it Wrong
Political commentary is a big problem with social media today, and this problem directly relates to professionalism. As in the lack thereof.

Where do people fail with social media and politics?

Blogs: For the most part, blogging is good. People seem to grok their blogs are forever, and thus avoid pissing off segments of your social network.

Facebook: Facebook is rife with unprofessional political commentary disguised as “my personal view.” There are also many people who link to bad things.

Twitter: You would think that Twitter, with its 140-character limit would be a little better than Facebook, but it is not. What happens are snide comments about subjects people think they know, but don’t, and, worse than Facebook, links to even more bad things.

FTC Disclaimer About My Politics
I'm neither a Republican, nor a Democrat, but you could consider me conservative in economic policies. If you’ve followed me this far, I’m a researcher and an analyst. I look at things with a different slant, and that includes politics, American politics in particular. I’ve plugged myself into the online social media networks of several political movements, even movements that I find very distasteful.

What does that get me?

Well for one, a headache. As it relates to social media, I have an outsider’s view. And that view has taught me a lot of what people say in social media on politics is crap.

Why People Suck at This
What is crap? Crap in social media, while talking about American Politics is:

And the number one, and I mean the number one mistake in talking about politics in social media by far is:

  • Linking to websites with the above problems

For example:

  • Commentary and then linking to a website to make it a point against the current Administration, while other posts on this site state President Obama is not an American citizen (“birthers”).
  • Commentary and then linking to a website to make a point for the current Administration, while other posts on this site go into graphic detail on why Sarah Palin’s recent son is really her daughter’s baby (“Sarah Palin Derangement Syndrome”).

How this Problem Bites People in the Tushie
In my prior post, I talked about karma and surrounding yourself with positive people and how the Golden Rule relates to professionalism.

The inverse is true. People avoid forming business relationships with these people:

  • People who show a distinct lack of empathy for a different viewpoint: translation, you are a difficult and negative person
  • People engaged in personal attacks, blanket statements, ad hominem attacks or straw man arguments: translation: you are a difficult and irrational person

Many people don’t even shutout the negative consciously. It is a natural reaction. It’s a natural reaction to gravitate, professionally, to other professionals. Unprofessional behavior has the inverse reaction.

Yet Another FTC Disclaimer: Some people are political commentators. That’s what they do with social media. That’s their platform and job. I’m talking about people like you and me, not people with seven-digit-hit-counters with a platform and vast audience, although, those people are sometimes guilty of a lack of empathy and irrationalism too.

What I'm Not Saying
I'm certainly not saying that we all should be politically sexless. What I'm trying to point out, like some things in life, the easy way sometimes is not the best way, and inserting your foot into your mouth or talking out your butt has consequences.

A More Positive Approach
A way to win people over to your viewpoint is a rational argument, even on social media, is to engage in professional behavior, even while dealing with the negative.

  • Do you articulate your viewpoint properly around moral and ethical considerations?
  • Do you have empathy for the opposing viewpoint?
  • Is your commentary shrill pieces designed around “ditto,” or have you an opinion, one you have researched) based on end-to-end thinking?
  • Did you base your viewpoint on a persuasive argument with foundations in logic rather than rhetoric?
  • Have you read/seen/watched/experienced the book/legislation/movie/movement your post/update/tweet covers?
  • Should you be spending your efforts on an entirely separate outlet such as your own political blog, separate from your personal blogs/Facebook/Twitter?
  • Are you preaching to the choir?
  • Are you preaching?
  • Are you aware of how people perceive the websites linked in your commentary piece?
  • Have you even considered the opposing viewpoint at all?
  • Are you being a bully?
  • Are you being elitist?

Notice how I didn’t say:

  • Don’t rant
  • Don’t be snarky
  • Don’t be sarcastic

Social media is supposed to be fun. And sometimes, okay, more than sometimes, a good sarcastic, snarky rant is just what the doctor ordered. Especially ones that show the Emperor has no clothes.

The Professional’s Rule of Thumb for Political Commentary on Social Media

Don’t tell me I should consider your opinion, show me.

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Same but Different: Part II

I sat in a conference audience, listening to a panel of literary agents discuss what they were looking for, the types of queries they were accepting, and any personal quirks they might have. The most honest, by far, was the lovely Alice Volpe of Northwest Literary Agency, Inc. She said, and I quote, that she "accepts anything that sells."

I burst into nervous laughter, surrounded by a sea of adventuring writers, who also nurtured dreams of publishing. Their laughter, too, though just as genuine as mine, was nervous.

How does one gauge the pecuniary worth of an unpublished novel?

There is an entire debate raging over the "write what sells" vs. "be true to your gut" methods, and, while I suspect that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, I've little desire to embark on a discussion of something I also suspect resembles a dead horse.

One key, one of many on a jangling and massive keyring, is the tried and true Same but Different method. It's easier to provide examples than steps, but I will try.

1. Have a brilliant idea? Tweak it.
2. Have an idea no one has ever thought of before? Tweak it.
3. Suddenly inspired to write about fairies/faeries/fah-rees? You got it: Tweak it.

Fortunately, I've recently read a couple of books that are perfect examples of this: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson and Wings by Aprilynne Pike. I read them both on the same day -- they're both about faeries. And, oddly enough, neither reminded me of the other. In fact, they were completely and entirely different. But the same. Well, you get it.


1. Dying faery world; human world secondary
2. Faeries are born of eggs
3. There are no male faeries
4. Faery protagonist is kick-butt, defiant, and unraveling the mystery of the dearth of magic within the faery-world.
5. Ultimately (and I ruin nothing), it's pleasant to see yet another difference: instead of humans being the evil in the world, this particular view holds that the two species are essential to each other's creative health.


1. Normal girl who doesn't want to go to school; threatened faery world secondary
2. Girl discovers she's not human but a faery --> but faeries are plant material, not flesh at all
3. Male faeries impregnate female faeries through pollination, which has nothing to do with sex. Sex is just for fun.
4. Trolls are trying to take over a faery kingdom, and need access to the "gate".
5. Although girl is key, she finds herself in the midst of a battle she knows nothing about.

After reading these two books, things started to fall into place for me. I started to get this whole "same but different" idea. And I started to realize that what annoyed me as a kid is essential in this world of publishing. Because, oddly enough, it's the "different" ingredient that often drives the conflict. And, as you know, conflict is the story.

[Author note: I thoroughly enjoyed both of the books and urge you to check them out.]

How do you view "same but different"? Is there something I'm missing here?

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Can't Wait For Winter


You think I'm nuts don't you? You think that the cheese must have slipped off my cracker (credit The Green Mile), but I do have a reason.

Is it because I want to shoosh down pristine ski slopes at a breakneck pace, split the snow draped pine trees that stand like soldiers guarding the trail, leave a wake of freshly packed powder that falls to the side like a solid mist, feel almost in command of my speed, but not fully, as I hang my life over the edge of the chasm, then haul it back when I regain a semblance of control?

Nope, that's not it.

Is it because I want to savor the crunch of snow under my boots on a deathly still morning, the way below zero temperature biting at my nostrils as I suck in a breath, and stare at sunlight sparkling through crystal clear ice covering the spindly branches of a birch tree that turn it into a living gem, more beautiful than the largest royal embellishment?

Nope, that's not it either. It never gets that cold out her in California.

Is it that I want to strap on a set of ice skates at the edge of a clear frozen lake, and enjoy the metallic hiss of blade meeting water as I glide over the bluish white surface, a wisp of quarter sized snowflakes dancing in my path, stopping once in a while to catch my breath, only to hear the frightening cracking sounds the ice makes as fissures rumble like thunder.

Nope, not even close.

What I am waiting for, is more time to write. You see for me, summertime is filled with way too many distractions.

There are lawns that need mowing, friends that want to go motorcycle riding, other friends that want to go bicycle riding, picnics with the neighbors, hiking trails with the wife, days at the beach, wine and cheese festivals downtown, car shows, air races, motorcycle races, baseball games, the list just goes on and on.

I enjoy every one of these activities, but sometimes I still hear a small voice telling me, "you didn't write your 1000 words today."

But it's all good. Activities are slowing, and the rain is coming. Soon I'll be sitting with pen over paper and the words flowing like a river. I'll fill notebooks with my thoughts and silence that small voice.

Now if I could just find the remote to turn off the TV.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How could a competition be used to open up your story world?

I just finished watching people running in the Twin Cities Marathon and started wondering about how endurance events might play out in the stories of people who follow this blog.

Would it be an event the main character takes part of or an event that they see, which functions more to establish what the world is about?

Would the event focus on the top performers or would it encourage people of all ages and abilities, as does the Twin Cities Marathon?

What would the rewards and punishments be for winning and losing?

Bottom line is that I'm interested in hearing how you could hypothetically use an endurance event or other form of competition to help develop the world of your story or establish another element of fiction, like character, conflict, epiphany, or theme.

So, fire away ... How could a competition be used to open up and establish your story world?

----
By the way, thanks for all the comments last week. It was interesting to see the results. Here are some summary conclusions that I made (based on the comments) about stories Americans have in common.

1. British authors have had a strong influence
2. Seemingly innocent kid stories are at the top of the list of being the most powerful
3. Stories that go from book to film are at the top of the list for connecting Americans
4. Literary stories that are required in high school climb up the list
5. Stories that are remade to fit contemporary interests climb to the top of the list

I might revisit the results for a future post. It is interesting to see that stories that are about a given moment in history or about a particular place did not dominate the list. In other words, the universal stories seemed to beat out the situational ones.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Is creativity a "joyful struggle"?



Deepak Chopra says it is. He also says attachment to the outcome hinders the creative impulse.

According to him, the creative process has nine steps:

Intended Outcome

Information Gathering

Information Analysis

Incubation

Insight

Inspiration

Integration

Implementation

Incarnation

Normally, I'd be a little skeptical about the description of a process where every step starts with the letter i, but never mind. Upon reflection I find that I mostly agree with these steps, except that I think sometimes creative types use the word "incubation" when "procrastination" would be more accurate, and sometimes it's best not to wait around "incubating" in the hope that insight and inspiration will show up, but to go ahead and begin integrating and inplementing without either.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Revisions on my mind...

...I could almost put it to a country song.

So editing is coming right along! And I've gone and done a horrible thing, (perhaps).

I've emailed The Wonder Agent that I'll have her the completed (revised, betad) MS on Wednesday the 21st of October. It's tight, but I think I can do it. I need a cutoff date for this book.

There's a time where fidgeting and fidgeting over the same words becomes sort of useless, and I believe I'm slowly reaching that point. My goal is to have zero (0) misspelling errors, accurate punctuation (for sometimes I am a bit heavy with commas) and a cohesive, lovely narrative. Thanks to the eagle eyes of my beta readers, everything is falling into place.

This weekend and next will be completely devoted to lovely said MS, and during the week as well. I've finally cut and added the major chunks I needed to, and now it's just down to final polishing and critting.

So that's where I am in this crazy process. I know some of you in a post some time back told me how you're doing on yours. Where are you at now? Have you gone forward? Are you setting yourself a time frame, or just rollin'?

And, of course, HAPPY FRIDAY!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

10,000 hours

What a great series of posts this week. If you haven't gotten a chance to read the last week under this, please do. They're excellent.

As for me, I only have a link to share. Recently I've finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and some of the ideas in the book, like the 10,000 hours theory, made me put in perspective just how hard one needs to work in their art.


Of course, there's natural talent, but, as the above article shows, it only takes you so far. In fact, natural talent may not really be much of a factor at all.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as 'god-given talent'? Or could it all be done by obsession, focus, and repetition...and, well, luck?