Saturday, December 5, 2009

Article about writers

This article on CNN is great. If you haven't read it, you should.

"Battling my Way to a Pulitzer Prize."

My fave quote from it:

You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden.

In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ack - 100 posts?

This is my 100th post. It's being marked by this momentous event.

Screaming Guppy - you have challenged me to a manuscript throwdown.

It's on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pieces of Advice

As I approach my 25th birthday this weekend, I thought I'd take some time to reflect on the best advice ever given to me - advice I've ingrained into myself and which has helped me become a better person and writer.

In no particular order of importance:

1) Act your wage.

Pithy, but useful. And so true. While most people my age are out buying new cars, TV's, and leveraging a house whose payment constitutes 30-45% of their income, I've rented, kept my very nice car my dad gifted me, and paid off my school debt. I don't owe Sallie Mae a penny, and it feels great.

2) Be yourself.

Anyone who knows me will attest that I follow this one. I'm not much of a conformer; I'm a little bizarre. However, I am happy with myself, and that's something many people cannot say.

3) Don't waste your youth; do things you really want to do.

I can't count the number of people older than I who get wistful and tell me not to waste a minute of my life. So I don't; I don't want to be wistful with regret when I'm their age. I enjoy leisure time, but I also put my time into my future writing career, I maintain good relationships, and I attend important events and places.
4) Live in the now with an eye for the future.

Don't let current events immure you and what you hope to achieve, nor should you let your hopes for the future cause you to ignore the present.

5) Writers use lies to tell the truth.

Maybe not advice to you, per se, but it certainly is for me. It's easy to forget why writing is so wonderful when dragged down into the grammar games, but regardless if it's a literary masterpiece or a thriller, books let us come away with a deeper understanding of the world around us.

6) Trust, but verify.

My boss calls this the Ronald Regan approach. Regardless if it means fact-checking for a book, a political candidate's claims, or your phone bill, it pays to monitor what makes it into your psyche.

7) Get your butt in the seat and work.

There's a time for procrastinating and - ok, really, there's never a time to procrastinate, and if we all spent less time tooling around and focused on the job at hand, we'd have a lot more time at the end to have our fun and games. Following this one is hard. It's a work in progress.

8) Patience.

As a goal-setter/achiever, this one is hard for me. The past year has taught me an insurmountable load about patience. Pushing won't always yield the results you want, and may have the opposite effect.

9) I can fix a bad page; I can't fix a blank one.

On my desk there's a lamp I inherited from Suzann Ledbetter. She wrote writing-inspired quotes on the lampshade. I heard this one often enough at our workshop, and it's certainly true. The number of writers who never take the time to finish penning those thoughts deny themselves the pain and joy of revising. Yes, revising is a daunting, sometimes overwhelming experience, but it's like any other large task.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

10) Ask yourself: have I done the best I could today with the given knowledge at the time?

This one is hard for me. We don't make things perfect the first, second or twentieth time around. We don't always have the tools we need to tweak something to just the right balance. And sometimes, it's tempting to say "I don't have everything I need, so I'll put this on the backburner."

Worthwhile projects will always require more changes, better revising, patience, and the ability to let go of perfectionism at the same time. Sometimes you really just have to do your best and remind yourself you can have a better best the next day.

Happy Halloween, everyone. This Halloween baby is going out before digging into the writing cave.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What Happens at OCW stays at OCW...

... Except the information I’m about to share. Let’s hope the shiny black SUV’s don’t roll up and take me away.

I attended to Ozark Creative Writer’s Conference on October 8-10. What a fun experience. An author friend of mine recommended I attend. The three keynote speakers were Susan Stoltz, editor for Women out West, Pat LoBrutto, acquisitions editor for Tor-Forge and editorial consultant, and Doug Grad, literary agent.


The Industry Skinny:


All three touched on digital age and digital book publishing. In addition to reinforcing digital rights needing to be hammered out, how this will affect book sales (consensus seemed guardedly positive), and its impact on the author’s future, the other big point that came up several times was how it’ll will affect the publishing side. The publishing industry itself has been slow to change, and worked hard to maintain the same sort of process they’ve had in place for over fifty years; the digital age is forcing them to evolve, whether they like it or not.


So keep an eye out on how e-books affect payment structure (both advances and royalties), and watch the small publishers – their increased popularity may also be another big future wave.


Non-Industry Skinny:


I made several good contacts, and met many wonderful writers, both aspiring and published. I meandered the town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. They have a fun trolley ride, by the by, if you happen to go there.


Best news: I pitched my novel, and it went well. I'm finishing my revisions now so I can take my next step in January, which is sending some pages on. Here's hoping he likes what he reads. *crosses fingers*

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Neil Gaiman is Tweeting a Book Today

If you haven't heard about the whole Neil Gaiman and BBC Audiobooks America, who are working together to create a tweetbook today with all of their followers, you should check it out. Here's the article from Publisher's Weekly, and on Twitter - you can follow the official picks @BBCAA. The hash is #bbcawdio.

For those that don't want to follow, but are curious as to what Neil's line was (he started the book, with contributors to help finish the story), it was:

Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled & said, "We don't love you anymore."

Great first line, and classic Gaiman.

My trip to the Ozark Creative Writer's Conference went well. I'll be sure to dish out my findings when I get a chance. I'll be coming back to blogosphere now more. Weekly postings should resume now that I have my house mostly sorted.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Honorable Mention

One of my pieces I submitted to a magazine received an honorable mention. Over at Allegory Magazine, if you're interested. Keep on trucking on.

I have a writer's conference next weekend. Work has exploded, and boss has estimated that it'll stay this way through the fall. I might be getting an upgraded position soon at this rate.

Focusing on life and writing. I'm here, promise.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm alive. I'm moving to a house, with the usual packing, unpacking insanity attached. Far more important and exciting is I've also got houseguests this week. My best friend just finished her tour in Kuwait and is back in the states. We're spending some time with her on her leave before she heads to her new assignment in Colorado.

I'm also going to be burying my head in the sand in preparation for a writing conference in October. Spotty communications may become spottier, but don't worry - I'm always lurking.

<3

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Linky for my YA Homies

Somehow, I've gathered 5 million friends who write YA. Not sure how I manage to not find so many people who write adult fantasy/mystery, but hey... that time will come.

Yes. Link. Ahem.

There's an agent looking for MG/YA submissions. Susanna Einstein of LJK Literary Management, and there's a lovely interview with her from the Guide to Literary Agents Series.

Here's a link to the interview. You can get to know her a bit before deciding if you want to query. :)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Comprehensive Book Guide for Writers

One of the most important things a writer does is reading. It is just as vital to writing as the actual act. Besides gobbling up fiction books, though, a writer also needs to keep abreast of writing craft books.

If writing is your career goal, how else are you going to improve yourself without some sort of studying? Studying and practice, those are what will make for good writing. And while I also advocate the importance of having a business hat, this too requires studying.

In hopes of helping my fellow writers on the prowl for quality writing books, I've created a list of books all writers should read. This list is for staples, and is not specifically geared for a particular genre.

In no particular order, I present to you books on writing and getting published.

1) Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King
Recommended by countless critique groups, authors, and agents (oh so many agents), this book cuts away the crap and gets straight to the chase... literally!

Ok, enough with the schmaltz. There's no good way to talk about an editing book, so I'll be brief. Fiction writing is vastly different from non-fiction. There are more rules, and plenty of ways to break them in the name of creativity. But there's only so much rule breaking you can do. In the end, there's still guidelines to keep your writing good. This is that book. If you can only buy one book on this list, get this one.




2) Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Writers need a fine balance of encouragement and admonishment. Of gentle guidance, and ass-kicking to get into gear. This book is all of that. Anne Lamott talks about how it is to be a writer and to make that commitment in your life. Engaging, thrilling, and permission to write Shitty First Drafts (one of the chapters in the book), it's everything you need to remind you when you're bogged down that it's ok, it's normal, and everyone does it, so you must be on track.

Also, lots of sharp wit in here, and I don't know about you, but sometimes I need a good laugh when I'm ready to boot a chapter in the butt.



3) Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

If you're one of those people troubled by punctuation issues, then this is the book for you. The dry topic is tempered by equally dry humor, and gives some great examples to drive the lessons home.









4) An Unabridged Dictionary
I don't have a specific one to suggest, I think that's up to you, but I highly recommend buying or having a free one linked that's unabridged. Why? Because unabridged dictionaries often have the year that the word was entered, so if you're writing a historical piece, you know you can use a word if it was common during that time - this can be important for some writers.

The same goes for having access to a Thesaurus, but since most people have one on their computer, I won't quibble.


5) On Writing by Stephen King

Love him or hate him, Stephen King is prolific. And like his writing or not, King's chock full of sound, sometimes amusing advice. This book is part biography, part advice.

The thing this offers, besides a personal journey, is simple, direct advice for everyday writing habits that establish a routine. I also think many of his points on how he writes is liberating for folks, and yet another constant reminder that we all have different ways of hammering our words out.

It's engaging, and hey, it's not thick. Give it a shot.




6) Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Writing isn't just about the little stuff - it's the bigger situation that's also important. Breaking through on topics as to what breakout novels have in common, this book is incredibly fascinating because it uses all sorts of examples to prove its points on dynamic situations and the commonality in big-selling novels.

With a focus on explaining the commercial success aspect of breakout novels and why these shot to the best seller lists, Maass explains why great storytelling over great writing sells. There's also a matching workbook, which a lot of people recommend, but I've never tried, so I can't verify it's usefuless for you.


If you want to write for a living, read this book.


7) The Career Novelist by Donald Maass

At the risk of sounding like a Maass fanatic, this is another fantastic read for people seriously considering the writing path as their career. Sometimes people are so caught up in the excitement and joy of writing that they forget the practical realities of writing. This is the book to help you gain your business hat.

Things to consider: where do I get insurance now that I'm an independent businessperson? How do I market? How do I know when my books make enough to live off of? Unfortunately, lovely words don't always pay for shelter and food. And it's hard to write when your stomach is rumbling. It also has a nice basic query letter explanation.

The best part about this book? It's free. The linked title above is a direct link to the PDF download on Maass's site. Or if you're hesitant to click, go to his website and then click on the link.


8) How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman

Noah Lukeman is another esteemed agent who has written prolifically on the writing industry. Many people recommend his books; I honestly haven't read them so I can't in good conscience recommend them (yet). However, he does have this fabulous FREE download on Amazon shorts about query letters. Again, the push here is professionalism and learning to query with a discerning eye.

Please, don't bother to buy anything about how to write a query letter. This 74 page PDF will take care of you. Promise. And if you feel like it didn't... well, hey, it was free.



9) Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Guide Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty





I'm sure you're getting tired of the grammar books, but I couldn't let this last gem slide by unmentioned. Grammar Girl uses some great mind quip (mnemomics, for you word junkies out there) to help people remember those annoying grammar rules you can't seem to keep in your brain. She also runs a Podcast show, and there's a cute interview on Amazon with the author.




10) Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz



Nowadays, it's not just writing that's important. Being marketable is just as important to a publisher. It all comes down to the bottom money line, and if you've got an established base to promote your book to, you look that much better. This book will help you figure out a way to promote your book without sounding like a slavish bathroom scrubber door-to-door salesman.

This is all about building a platform you can always spring from. Building a fan base is one of the most important things you can do for your career.



I might add a few books later - I got a few at home whose titles I can't remember offhand. If you guys enjoy this list, I'm going to do another post about reference books for writers. Seeing as research is so vital, it deserves its own post.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Busy Busy

I find myself reading over blogs far too much, and with juggling my revision schedule and work, this isn't smart.

Going unplugged for 1-2 weeks. I'll come make the blog rounds when I'm back.

<3

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Less Blogging, More Editing

I've finally kicked myself into gear, and I'm working hard on revisions. I'll have the first pass done by October, then comes the polishing round. I hope to work on polishing while submitting to agents, but given the constant talk of how picky agents and editors are right now, I don't know if that's a good idea. I'll reevaluate my novel when my first pass is done.

Ahh, the ins and outs of the publishing world.

Editing is my bedfellow for the next few months, for myself and my crit buddies. I've loads of projects to keep up on.

I promise to let you know I'm still alive.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Blogs to Watch, Links, and Friday (huzzah!)

Friday mish-mash time. I don't know about you, but I work a full-time job to support my writing addiction. Good thing paying out for paper, printer ink, highlighters and pens is pretty cheap.

Mostly.

I didn't buy a crate of highlighters. Heavens no!

So. Ahem. Links and fun things! Nathan Bransford's post on Thursday covers/links the three big published articles on the e-book pricing debate. Since publishers have been mum, people have decided to take the questions to them. Take a look - the articles are good.

A new blog that started this week by a person who works in the sales department of a major trade book publisher. We readers have been promised information and explanations on how acquisitions work. My favorite post so far has been the one about Bookscan, which is used to comp a writer's sales numbers and determines if your future works will be purchased.

Take a look also at this nifty PDF about the companies that participate in Bookscan (it's about halfway down, and it's the only PDF link in the post. Sorry, but can't figure out how to get my own PDF to load and my eyes are burning tired). It's recent as of January 2009.

A blog that isn't new but one I just started reading is by Andrew Zack, literary agent. Another good industry blogger, I quickly found.

I have more PDF's to share, but I need to figure out a document viewer thingie. No time this morning. Need to get the car into the shop, give kitty her meds, hit work, finish revising my chapters for the week, plan a cookout, buy highli - er clean house...

Notice sleep doesn't come in there. Sleep is for the well-established author.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Keeping the Publishing Dream Alive

And now I'm back to my regularly infrequent posting!

I have some links for you today. First, my critique buddy Missye passed along this interesting article - 7 ways to keep the publication dream alive. Although I'm surprised at one of her comments (the one about not having the book completed before she queried agents - you can't do that anymore), the rest of them are insightful and a good reminder of the totality of writing.

I don't know how many people here are aware of Women on Writing, but they have a fabulous website with online articles every month - valuable reading, for sure. There's a really interesting article on there about the Shrunken Manuscript. I was thinking how incredibly useful this would be with things like figuring how much space is devoted to a certain character, etc. Take a look at it - for a large overview of your novel and being able to distance yourself like that - it looks useful.

If you haven't signed up for the free newsletter from Poets & Writers, you should. There's a wealth of good information, and even the print magazine is cost effective. They've got an amazing interview with editor Jonathan Galassi. It's fascinating - a real insight into the publishing industry.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Book Market and Agents

Thursday, June 25th

“When I’m dead, I hope it may be said: his sins were scarlet, but his books were read.” – Hilaire Belloc

Marketing

Lots and lots of information, but again, the highlights:

  • editors never focus on the positive reviews, but only negatives. This is what affects future sales.
  • #’s of books sold: 70% is non-fiction, 30% fiction
    • 48% of fiction categorized as romance
  • Market breakdown: Amazon – 30%, B&N – 20% Border’s – 10%, independent bookstores – 10%, and the remainder divided between big boxstores/regional chainstores.
  • Only 6-12 people nationwide decide what you read/what’s out there.
  • Window/aisle displays in bookstores are bought and paid for by publishers
  • No one knows what makes a book a bestseller.
  • Do your research: look at similar books to see who publishes what you write.

The writer’s conference runs from March through October. It’s a good way to better your work, pitch to agents/editors, and to make contacts. Each genre offers an annual conference.

We all start as unpublished; we all start with the same blank page.

The key information to take away from here is not only do you need to think about what you write, but also be cognizant of the marketing you will be presenting to; it is, after all, an industry, and you need both your creative cap and workplace hat to sell your work.

Friday, June 26th

Getting an Agent

  • The AAR is a great place to start looking, but is by no means mandatory.
  • Never accept an agent who charges reading fees.
  • You need to establish some sort of business relationship with your agent, and make sure it stays business, even if you’re fond of each other.
  • Author’s Guild is worth being a member to.
Most of our information came from a handout, so I didn't write too many notes; there's a plethora of good information about agents; use your sleuth skills to deduce who's on your shortlist to contact.

Now that our two weeks away from the real world have gone by, I have to slip back into a routine. I know that part of working on my novel is intellectualizing, but I want to write. I just hope I don’t have to rewrite 3,276 times.

I mean, geez, that’s what a synopsis is for.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Synopsis

Wednesday, June 24th

Synopsis Day! I could tell how much all three of us looked forward to the day; we all champed at the bit, and the class was extremely informative.

Ok, a synopsis. They help:

- Discover plot holes/what doesn’t work.
- Discover if subplots are needed for either word count or story.
- Helps identify elements needed for research.
- If something doesn’t work plausibly (i.e., a plot corner), go back and fix.
Note: don’t use coincidence to fix this – too contrived.
- This doesn’t include character corners. These can be written out of; a plot corner cannot.
- Majority of novel still won’t be known despite it being written, so no loss of creativity is involved.
- A synopsis is part of the proposal – so you might as well write it now instead of later!
- When you’re new, it’s used to sell your first novel. When you’re established, it’s used to sell a piece before it’s written.
- It helps with chronology.

Important: a synopsis isn’t written in stone. If you write it and the story goes down a different path, you revise the synopsis.

I realize a lot of people dislike writing a synopsis, but after having written DT, I wish I'd used a synopsis - it would have made all of the problems I didn't realize all the way through clear. Especially with a mystery, there are certain expectations and it's particularly easy to utilize a synopsis. I'm going to use synopsis from now on with future novels. The worst that happens, even if I end up hating it, is I only waste an hour or two - well worth it when you consider it takes about a year/year and a half to complete a novel (And that's if you're plugging along steadily!).

And honestly, I'd rather rewrite a 3k long document rather than my novel everytime I realize something needs to be revised - then you can follow the change to its logical conclusion.

Here's the other thing - the standard for a synopsis to a publisher is 1 single-spaced page per 10k words. I realize many agents aske for a much shorter one, but if you have a 8 page document, you can pare it down to three pages. This all goes back to scale and scope. Each differently sized document that agents request can always be distilled from what you have; it's far more difficult to look at you 90k novel and go "Shit, how do I get three pages out of this?"


I have a second writer’s class I take on Wednesday nights; we did an exercise about detailed descriptions using eyesight only (I liked our other senses work more, but this was useful), and we called about scale – what size we use when describing something; the difference being based on the focus of the writing. We then had to write to both a 50 sentence and 7 word sentence about our life. My seven word sentence:

“No Mom, I don’t like Kansas.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Backstory

Tuesday, June 23rd

Today we talked about backstory in class. Our teacher said it’s one of the most boring classes we have, but the reality is she has to talk about the boring stuff so we can write the exciting stuff. Otherwise all you got is a big steaming pile of poo.

One of the points we hit on today is backstory needs to be released through controlled, small active events within the story. My favorite phrase: “We don’t need a long, musing story bit about the character.” This reminded me of the romance writer’s dilemma (I want to credit Donald Maas with this story). Romance writers often bemoan how their sales don’t climb the charts, but many of them, when faced with a character’s dilemma, sit their characters down and muse over tea. And then they wonder why they can’t break out or up in their genre.

I think the talk about backstory is incredibly useful; it’s a point that I drove home to myself with my very first attempt at writing my novel; woof. You can talk about backstory until the cows come home, but it’s another case where the proof is in the pudding. I think my biggest problem isn’t being convinced to take huge chunks in, but practicing weaving small bits in. So many things that we do in writing take time; I feel glad that it doesn’t make me feel exhausted thinking about all of the writing work, but rather I’m becoming more focused and excited again.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sensory Description

Monday, June 22nd

Today topic in class was sensory description, and what a day to discuss it. I was afraid my own sweat and dry mouth would distract me during the writing down the senses exercise. But it didn’t, and today I learned one of my most important exercises that will help with my rewrites. Here it is:

Write about your character as if they’re blind.

I have a big problem with eye cues, and I use them everywhere. I’d never thought about it, but if I do this, thinking about sensory perception is suddenly much easier.

Talk about a facepalm moment.

The senses that are used most are sight followed by hearing; least used is taste, touch, and scent.

Not a whole lot of instructing, but the follow-up of writing a short story in thirty minutes drove the exercise home. Senses make even a boring story marginally better.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dialogue

Friday, June 19th

Ahh, dialogue. One thing I’ve realized about dialogue is I can learn something new about it no matter how many times it’s discussed. Dialogue is so hard to get right; not only does it inflect character, intonation, and information, but it also lends to immediacy. Dialogue has so many parts put into it – word use, accents, etc – that perfecting dialogue is tricky; particularly since dialogue can never be as loose as real dialogue, but is a brushed up, carefully worded construct similar to real speech patterns.

Honestly, I could talk at length about it, but the only thing that makes for good dialogue is lots of practice.

I received Jan’s feedback on Devil’s Tongue today. Although I enjoy and appreciate the critiques given me, it was fun to sit down to fresh stories by other writers and critique them. I love editing pieces, both line and content-wise. I learn so much about myself as well as the writers that by the end I felt like I knew Jan and Marcia better than before. Both of their backgrounds shine so clearly in their writing styles. Jan focuses on detailed, vivid description, and Marcia tends to write in a more editorial, journalism sort of way. I hope both of them keep working on their pieces and clean them up; I’d love to see them in print.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Making a Character Sheet/Plotting

Wednesday, June 17th

Today we did my favorite exercise to date. I’ve added it to my tool arsenal for future works. It’s a character quick fact sheet, consisting of the victim, villain, primary suspect, and hero. You can use this tool for more than mysteries.

We talked about clich├ęs, and the differences in who-dun-it versus how-dun-it. I’d never realized there was a how-dun-it; it’s one of those things you don’t consider until someone points out the obvious to you. I think that’s what CSI (both the show and the books) falls under.

I’ve learned a lot about what’s good and not good for an author to do watching the afternoon talks. I assumed somewhere in my illogical brain that talking about writing is next to writing for writers, and that this would transfer into many fascinating afternoon talks. I’d forgotten that as much as we all love writing, it doesn’t mean we’re all speakers. Another lesson learned.

I went home and looked around for the police citizen’s academy; they’ve got one for St. Louis County. Success!


Thursday, June 18th

Today’s talk in class focused on plotting. Lots of points hit home with me, and I had a ton of highlight marks scattered throughout my notebook. One of the things I wanted to take out of this class, besides a bit of inspiration to get me back in the grind, is to get me back to remembering the basics of writing. I’ve worked hard the past two years pumping my fiction skills up - part mechanic and part business – and sometimes you get lost in the whirl of it all. This has helped remind me of what’s important, and where to cut the crap.

Some of my favorite points that stuck out today:

- A synopsis is key to determining whether a plot is a plot, or an idea that will fizzle throughout.
- No matter how many books you write, we all start at the same place.
- “What if” are the two most important words in writer’s arsenal.
- When you add a sub-plot, it must be resolved well ahead of the main plot, or else the main plot loses its drama.
- In endings, your protagonist must choose between two alternative courses of action that force them to make a decision.
- Hope/fear = suspense

One thing that we talked about today reminded me of something funny shared with me by other fantasy writers. We talked about the importance of pacing and how characters need a chance to breathe as well as the readers.

In fantasy writing, there’s a tendency to stretch the impossible, and I don’t mean by magical means. There’s a Fantasy Novelist’s Exam you can use to check and make sure you’re not guilty of stupid tropes within the fantasy genre. My favorite, #56, is: “Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Writer Workshop - Characterization

Tuesday, June 16th

My teacher, Suzann Ledbetter Ellingsworth, is using her 20 years of writing experience to educate us. Now that I've dinged her Google Alerts (Hi Suzann!), let's talk about characterization.

"A good novel tells the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author." G.K. Chesterton

Class continues to educate and impress me. Today’s talk was about characterization. Some of the highlights:

- fiction exists to entertain & inform
- Don’t beat symbolism over a reader’s head
- Three-dimensional characters are vital
- Write forward, learn about characters from beginning to end.
- Don’t confine characters to a box


I didn’t realize how much us talking about mysteries in class would help. After talking with Suzann after class about my project, I realized something significant for me – I’d always looked at this as a fantasy/mystery, but Suzann looks at it as a mystery with fantasy elements. She mentioned Devil’s Tongue would probably be marketed as a mystery since it has a larger market. I’d never thought of it that way.

Also learned that licensed PI’s have to remain within the bounds of the law. Thank goodness I was corrected of that error before I made a big oopsy.

The talks today weren’t what I was expecting by a long shot. No offense to the speakers, but a talk about meditation and playing word games, and a paper analyzing history isn’t exactly shoptalk. I hope the others are more interesting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New from the Super Secret Writer's Workshop

**Begin Transmission**

-crackle- Things have been busy and I've just managed to escape. My apologies for the delayed response, but I can only give eyewitness accounts. Handouts will commence as soon as I find access to a scanner.



Monday, June 15th

The first day of our writing institute. I can’t really call it a conference; workshop is a better term. The keynote speaker, John Dalton, was fabulous. I don’t usually have a need for an inspirational speech from a writer; I figure I make my own inspiration whenever I sit my butt in the seat. His website has a wonderful story that, if you're feeling a bit down about getting the novel done, is a great read. However, having started my new position in OT has made things a little hectic as I figure out my job. I’ve been so tired for the past three weeks that my usual work ethic has gone down the tubes. This is my chance to recharge and think.

John Dalton's Contrary Writer's Rules, as mentioned in his keynote speech:

1) It takes time to develop your work.
2) You can learn a lot from workshops, but you have to learn the most important ideas on your own.
3) Books are often boring.
4) The best writers are all nerds.
5) There's cause for hope.

In class we focused on the writing industry and making writing a career as a whole. We talked about how non-fiction is a great way to break into the writing field and establish contacts while making cash. It also teaches a writer about marketing, focus groups, and forces a writer to learn how to research.

Important distinction:
*Non-fiction talks about fact.
*Fiction uses lies to tell the truth.

I enjoyed the reinforcement about research, as it’s hard to remember that you can only fake so much in fiction. Don't be afraid to talk to experts in a field to get an accurate account of how things are done in the field. Right now, as I started rereading my police procedural book, I’m trying to figure out how much I can “bend” without outright breaking rules in my novel.

I love research. :o) -crackle-

**End Transmission**

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Exercise in Violence

For my writing workshop. Sharing an experience of violence you've experienced/witnessed.

When I faced my opponent in the ring, the fact that he was six inches taller than me was the only thing running through my mind. It didn’t matter that we were both fresh green belts; the fact that they stuck me with Legs didn’t bode well for the upcoming match.

We bowed, but my eyes never left him; all I could think about was how to outsmart him and hope he tired faster than me. I remember the first ki-hap, then the rest was a blur of circling, jabs and kicks.

I landed the first hit; a solid kick to the side. The whistle blew and the flags flashed my way; one sweet point on my side. He won the next point, but he was tiring. I knew I could win.

I punch him square in the chest twice, enough to make him wobble even with the pads on. No whistle. I glanced at the ref in shock, blocked a punch and kicked his off-side. No whistle; no flags.

Even though it wasn’t fair, I couldn’t think about the ref. Sweat trickled into my eyes. I wiped it off, and that’s when the first low kick blazed towards my shin.

I didn’t remember how many of those dirty blows hit, but my friend outside the ring said she counted forty. All I remember is the searing, agonizing pain as my shin swelled an inch and the referee didn’t say a word. I scored one more point before I started limping. Legs scored the final three points for victory as I hip-hopped around the ring. No calls from the ref for intentional blows, no time out or disqualification. What’s a kid to do when their degree-ranked heroes disappoint them?

Your Conference Spy, Reporting In

**Missive**

My mission, which I have chosen to accept, is to infiltrate the two week writer's workshop known as Summer Writer's Institute. My goal: to obtain information for the good of writerdom.

Any information obtained will be reported immediately to said writers brave enough to follow this blog. Be on the lookout after Monday, June 15th, for important messages.

This messages will self-destruct.

**End Transmission**

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What Are You Doing for Your Writing?

Writing is like anything else you love and cherish - you have to exercise it, give it a chance to grow and mold itself into the best it can be. If your writing is worth it to you, then it's vital to give it the same care and attention of anything else important in your life.

I start a small 1 credit writing workshop this Wednesday that goes through August at my university. In addition, the countdown to my two week writer's workshop has begun. Just 5 days until I get to spend two weeks of incredibly productive creative time around like minds. I can't wait. Some people may think it's weird to use vacation to take a class, but hey - they take vacation for all sorts of things I wouldn't bother going to. Baseball isn't important to me (sorry, Dad).

For my writing, I'm grooming it with some good classes and giving me the chance to actually write. May-June are hell in the finance world, and it's been difficult finding time to write this month; rare for me, but it happens.

Make sure you do what it takes to take care of your writing, whether it be taming it down to a schedule despite its protests or letting it take a sip of whiskey and see what happens.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Writing Advice is Hazardous to Your Health

/dusts off her small box and climbs on top

Ahem. This rant, writers of non-repute, is for you and your incessant received writing advice.

There is a thing called too much advice. If you're on your first draft, if you haven't taken the weed whacker to the selection, or had a chance to finish the arc to see where it goes... how can you get advice that's truly valuable? Good advice about a story is precious, and requiring someone to validate your writing every chapter won't help you accomplish anything except angst, and we writers have enough of that.

I know how you feel when you have a WiP. The excitement and madness of writing down your heart's thoughts and your head's emotions. The thrill of racing along with your protagonist as you're swept into their story is beyond compare. And who can blame you? For you, the story is crystal clear.

You've written your first chapter, or perhaps the entire novel, and that little voice, the who's so proud of your work and yet desires some advice speaks up. It tells you to get out there and get people engaged in your piece. Perhaps a Hooked contest over at Authoress's blog, or a writing forum; maybe even the coveted writing group.

To see if you're you're headed in the right direction, of course.

I mean, it was written for you and others to enjoy, right? A little advice and some compliments in one go - how bad could it be?

Let me give you an example from a fellow writer I know. She's a good writer, is free with her writing advice and time for others, and has a wonderful WiP that's shaping up nicely. My friend recently relayed an incident to me where she asked for people in this writing blog group she's in to give her critiques on her WiP. She got 18 people giving feedback on the entire thing.

18 - gosh, she must feel incredible, right? So many people came and gave advice on her piece! And as it turned out, she had several people remark on the same thing, and did find something useful.

The problem, however, was that verbal flood overwhelmed her. While some of the advice was good, just as much of it wasn't. There were people who didn't know how to act like professionals, and there were so many specifics that by the end she felt like she had to please everyone. It became frustrating and depressing to read - knowing when to not listen to unprofessional people still doesn't stop you from feeling down about it.

I know many people say the advice helps them to improve their writing, and I'm not saying advice should never be sought - it should only be sought after you've put it through the wringer and your writing is ready to be viewed by the public for final tweaking. Stephen King calls those people Ideal Readers; an apt phrase.

The thing is, until you've had a chance to sit and sweat over your writing a few times, any adivce you get will be moot, as you'll end up changing the whole darn thing anyways.

Another example: a second friend of mine recently had the first part of her chapter 1 put up for critiques on a board. The dozen or so comments that followed were about as useful as an umbrella with a hole in it. Vague comments about how they didn't like or liked it, with only one person pointing out any specifics was a total wash from her. She knew her first chapter needed some work, but all she found out was that it didn't work for most people. Oh, and the place two people wanted her to start at was trite and overdone for her genre.

If you take the time to sit with your story and look it over, you can figure out yourself the extensive rewrites you'll need to get the much-valued second chapter. All the advice in the world may or may not give you ideas and help, but it'll be their ideas, not yours. Your piece is your creation for so long before people start putting their mark on it - go through it at least twice on your own before delving to the outside realms.

You yourself, and the fact that you stuck your butt in the seat every day to finish the 60k-200k monstrosity is validation. Every day you go back and chip away at the boulder of a bad scene, or use your plot hole shovel, or wield those slice and dice knives - that is validation.

If you need permission to brag, you have it. Less than half of the people who say they'll write a novel end up starting it, let alone finishing a first draft.

When that voice starts speaking up, smack it with a stick. I'm serious. Advice is always a two-edged sword, and putting a piece out somewhere that's not ready to go will give you bad jujus.

Patience, young padawan. You'll know when the time is right to pass out those copies for others to read. Find those ideal readers, the ones whose advice you can trust won't steer you off into stereotypes or change your writing style.

Your writing and you - the best duo in the world. Keep it that way.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's in Your Work Binder?

I hope everyone had a happy Memorial Day weekend. Mine was filled with so many gatherings and events that I didn't get any relaxation at all, which has culminated in being asked if I'm ok at work because I'm stumbling around like a zombie.

Speaking of zombies - one of the things I did this weekend was play Left 4 Dead. If you're interested in playing online with me (computer), send me an email! Guppy and I kicked zombie ass. Laura Croft has nothing on us. Unfortunately, we need some more practice as the undead before we can win. Boo.

Despite the weekend insanity, I got two chapters completed over the weekend, and I started on a third. I also submitted a Character Chat for Carpe Mousa's weekly challenge, and she liked it enough that she posted it. If you want to read about justice from Blanche's Perspective (my main character from Devil's Tongue), it's there. :) She also gave me a blog award - thanks Danyelle! It's been such a pleasure getting to know you and your characters. (Psst - am I supposed to put the award on my blog? :3)

I also sent a piece of flash fiction to three different magazines. I'm starting to look at places that allow simultaneous submission for magazines since most of them have a 3-6 month turnaround. Yikes folks. I know editors are busy, but so are we writers.

While submitting, I found a really fun "time waster" at New Myths Stuff - The Excerpt Game. You have to create an account to play, but it's really fun. Each is the opening excerpt from a book - some of them are really famous, others are extremely bad. You get to rate and comment on them and see what others put as well. A fun exercise for people who like to fret about hooks.

I stole this link from Pub Rants, but this Washington Post article on Homeland Security using Sci-Fi Writers to help with future planning is awesome. You've got to read it.

To my fellow writers: Blog if you must, but remember to write! Don't get sucked into the intertubes.

P.S. I feel a small writing rant percolating. It may or may not come to fruition. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Holiday Weekend, Whoo!

I hope ya'll are gonna have as much fun as I'm going to this weekend. A birthday Rock Band party, a Memorial Day/birthday bash cookout, zombies all weekend, mocking the Guppy into playing Zork, and general writing shenanigans for zee novel will ensue. I'm going to finish through Chapter 9 this weekend. I've got an awesome character chat challenge to do.

Has anyone else noticed that there hasn't been much blog activity? You can tell the sunny season has started; everyone's out enjoying the time, and guest bloggers are popping up like crazy.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hooray!

I've been accepted into the Wash U Summer Writer's Institute for June! The best part - I don't have to pay for it.

*happy dance* Two weeks of solid writing and learnin'. I'm pumped.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Facebook: Obsession and Hiatus

I recently took 30 days off from Facebook to see if it would affect my life. I got a lot of interesting comments about it. Some people thought it was amusing, some said I needed to learn to moderate myself, and others were horrified as they clutched to their e-page (you know who you are). Some people are addicted, and need a clue.

Let me start out by saying my decision wasn't a freakout reaction, nor because I spent hours on Facebook a day. I did notice my FB activity increased the previous month, and I was checking it intermittently throughout the day to see what my friends were all doing. My choice wasn't because this was bad, but rather because I wanted to see what a change-up in my routine would do to me and my time.

I spend a lot of time reading/interacting online - Facebook, Blogger, Xanga, Livejournal, news, IM, World of Warcraft, online writer's groups... the list goes on. Thankfully, I haven't bit the Twitter bullet. My friends who confess to following tell me they can get sucked in all day on the T-Train. I'm sure anyone reading this blog can admit to spending a decent amount of time jacked into the internet for one purpose or another.

My decision to change up my time was because of the simple fact that it is the changes to our routines, the small things that give us enough shake-up to remember we can do so much more with our time. What I needed was a change in perspective. When I stopped looking at Facebook, I realized that I wasted time with some blogs that aren't really of any fun or use; so I deleted them, and I added others I found more interesting. I started looking at my writing projects again after several months off from any of my own work (long story, but I had serious work problems and the death of two friends). I was reminded of how I wrote the first draft of my novel in just two and a half months, and that there are so many things I want to do in life.

Just as important as perspective, I meditated on time. I know time is a human construct, but I think measuring time helps to see what we can achieve in a given timeframe (like our lives). Looking at one of my friends who passed away this fall - he was 21 and died of liver cancer in four weeks. There's nothing like having a friend pass away who's younger than you die so quickly and slowly at the same time. It was hell, and sometimes I still can't believe that he's gone.

Yet one of the things Tommy did was encouraged people to reach for their goals and achieve something with their lives. Mostly he meant it, sometimes he was a little sarcastic about it (when you work as a martial arts instructor, you recognize the dropouts fast), but he was there for people no matter what stage of the game it was. I don't mean to turn this into a sob fest, but when you see something that shocks you and reminds you of your humanity, time becomes something precious.

I'm not going to save the world from giving up Facebook, but I did gain some perspective on what's worth my time. I quit my old job, started a job that's a better fit for me (for now), and I'm making plans with hubby so I can write fulltime in a few years.

Although I have to admit, I'm grateful to have Facebook back because I kept missing invites from people. ;o)

On a lighter note, I got accepted into grad school for the master's program in Personal Financial Planning from the University of Missouri. I'm hoping to have my own business in a few years, so I can do that and writing from home as my career. I get my classes paid for by my university, so it's a win all-around.

I won't stop writing OR revising. Promise. I got some people out here that want to read Devil's Tongue. And I want to finish telling her story.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Blackout Over

My blackout weekend went extremely well, and I’m pleased with my novel progress. I didn’t get 30k written like I’d originally hoped because I ended up spending more time with the executive summary than I anticipated. This is a good thing, though, because it means that this rewrite is concise and will get a lot more done with a lot less deletage down the road. The writing hang-ups are done, banished by a roadmap to needed changes to produce the end result.


I finished 10k and a really detailed summary. Rewriting sections that sucked also took longer than I expected.

The best part is feeling excited and motivated about working on Devil’s Tongue again. I can’t wait to get this rewrite done so I can go though again to start fiddling, because after fiddling comes beta readers/submission time.

For those who’re having problems wrapping their minds around their project and are stuck in a rut, here are two great posts on how others handle their rewrites by Lady Glamis and Liana Brooks. For me, rewrites haven’t been an issue because I’ve never had to rewrite a novel before – it’s a totally different process than a short story. However, when you have 90k project (give or take), you have to combine both logic and creativity for a huge stretch, and that’s hard if your two sides of your brain don’t want to collaborate. I found with this that I had to do some mental bargaining to get my ducks in a row.

I’m still participating in the Writing Throwdown, although I’m going to revise my original goal now that I’ve got a different plan in implemented.

Jess – I know you can’t wait to read it. You’re going to love the changes I made.


Promised Facebook post will be either tomorrow or Wednesday, barring a visit from Murphy.