Thursday, December 31, 2009

That Old End of Year Feeling - Looking Forward

The end of year reflections we indulge in tend to lead to some kind of plan for the future. What do I want to accomplish? How do I want to live my life differently? Better?

After a lot of thought, here are my writing goals for 2010:

--Revise MMG by end of March to submit to group. (Or Jenny may hurt me)
--Rewrite part of TNN not yet submitted by May CWC meeting to reflect changes that will be made to beginning .
--Query MMG (after any changes based on critiques from CWC) by end of July.
--Revise Vesta by end of September.
--Decide on next novel to start.
--Start it.

Looks like "revision" will be the word of the year. Whatever the new novel turns out to be should be a nice break.

That Old End of Year Feeling - Looking back

It's weird. This time of year always seems to make people reflect on their lives. Not just the past year, but the whole thing. Maybe that's why the older one gets, the more melancholy the season. More time to think about. More regrets to ponder. And more sweet memories to recall.

My writing goals for last year were ambitious. And I don't think I actually got all the way through any of them. But--and here's the thing that seems to happen every year--I did quite a few things I never imagined at the beginning of the year. Does it even out? No idea. But there it is.

So, what were my goals for last year?

--Finish revision of MMG in January (or be prepared to throw it in a drawer). Wow, was I harsh or what? It has changed, but needs more.
--Revise Vesta by end of April. She's still waiting until I get MMG done.
--Finish draft of TNN by end of February. I do have a draft done, but didn't make it by February.
--Revise TNN by end of summer. Still working its way through CWC.
--Write rough draft of some other novel that I haven't thought up yet by end of year. Yeah huh.
--Query Dan and other agents in March (only if MMG is submittable, otherwise wait for Vesta). See above.
--Write flash fiction piece for anthology by mid-January. DONE!! Although I ended up not submitting it to the anthology.

What did I do that I hadn't planned?

--Wrote a second flash fiction piece that I like better than the first one.
--Started a dance class that I love.
--Read a lot. A whole lot. See list at left. And that doesn't include the full manuscripts from CWC throughout the year.
--Took on new duties at work that left little time to write there.
--Visited my aunt in Florida for the first time in too many years.
--Several dog-sitting sessions.
--Learned much more about the craft of writing from all the reading I did and from the wonderful people in CWC. That would be (in alphabetical order) Ali, Fleur, Jenny, Mary and Shane.
--Finally redecorated the Writing Room. Yes, I've been planning to do that for a long time, but it happened this year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Relax, Make Your Steps Smaller & Keep Your Feet

Suzanne, my dance instructor, will lead us through a routine several times at a nice, manageable tempo. Just as I'm feeling pretty good about it, she says, "Let's speed it up," and the whole thing just falls to pieces. The secret, she says, is to relax, make your movements smaller and keep your feet directly underneath yourself. And if I can remember to do all that, it works.

When writing a first draft of a story, I don't have much trouble with working in smaller bits. It's seems perfectly reasonable to grab fifteen minutes here and there to dash off a few paragraphs. While it's preferable to have a block of time, I can manage writing in a catch as catch can manner. Maybe because I can smooth things out a bit when I go through for a quick clean-up before I submit to the group. After all, it's just a first draft.

Revisions have been another issue. For some reason, I have convinced myself that I need substantial blocks of time to work on rewrites. I'm not sure why. Probably more as an excuse to not work on them, truth be told. But that excuse goes away today. It's time to take Suzanne's advice and apply it to this part of my life.

What excuses do you make for yourself?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Goals

Obviously didn't get much done on the writing front last month. Didn't even manage to keep up with blogging. I did, however, think a lot about revisions. Not just for MMG, but for Vesta and TNN as well. Neil Gaiman has said, "Thinking about writing is not writing." While I hate to disagree with the great and powerful Mr. Gaiman, thinking about writing is definitely an important part of writing. Especially in the revision process. What's working, what isn't? Which characters are three-dimensional and which are only two (sorry, guys, but one-dimensional isn't possible)? Do I have a well-defined goal for my protagonist? Am I beating him/her up enough? Is the setting visible for the reader? Etc, etc, etc.

I did get my one critique done. This month, I also have only one critique to do. Next month will be the same. So no excuses there.

But it's December, with all that entails. Even with all the days that have things planned, there are more than enough that do not. So, can't really use that as much of an excuse. Dammit.

Three writing goals this month:

--Finish all Christmas shopping/decorating and card sending by 7th and mail packages by the 10th
--Work on MMG revisions
--Complete CWC critique (0/1)

Why is Christmas stuff a writing goal? Because something that like can become a major distraction when I do sit down to write. The old "I should be . . ." [fill in the blank] instead of sitting here.

So, that's it. Ali's is "get stuff done." I like it. What about you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Does This Say About Us?

Words. Big part of a writer's toolkit, of a writer's life. And one word in particular got me to thinking the other day. It's not a big word or a complicated word or a deep word. But those aren't always the ones that get you going.

I was thinking about how creative people get that first gig. What do they have to do to get the job? They all audition somehow, but what are the specific synonyms for each?

Singers sing.

Dancers dance.

Actors read.

Artists show.

Musicians play.

And what do writers do? We submit.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

WPW: Scratching

See Ali's blog for the guidelines for Writing Prompt Wednesday.

The scratching started up again. Under the sink. Where the huge bag of dog kibble was stored. I told him to buy one of those big Rubbermaid tubs to put it in. But no.

I reached back and smoothed the hairs on the back of my neck, the ones that stood up whenever I was scared. I knew what made the noise. Recognized it from childhood. Mice. Back then it was field mice that came in the house to get warm. "They're more scared of you than you are of them," my mother said. Impossible. And now it was late October and the weather had turned cold.

We'd tried traps, all kinds. But the scratching continued. Always when he was at work. Night shift, of course. That's when bartenders get the good tips. He said he believed me. But there was that look.

So I bought a book. Then I collected the supplies: a small cauldron, charcoal, sage for cleansing, a tiger's eye to protect and draw down spiritual energy, black salt to keep away evil (and mice are evil), and a mixture of herbs for banishing.

Early evening on the 31st, I started by lighting the sage and smudging the whole house, all four rooms of it. Then I lit the charcoal and threw the herbs and salt on it. As the smoke rose toward the ceiling (making my eyes water so I opened the window a crack), I clutched the stone in my hand and pictured the mice rising up and away on the smoke. I threw a few more herbs on the fire for good measure.

I awoke to him standing over me. My teeth chattered in the coldness of the room. All the windows were wide open and the ceiling fan spun above me. "The neighbors thought the house was on fire."

The scratching didn't return.

Missed Hallowe’en, though. Rats.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

November Goals

I pretty much rocked October, especially given that it was chock full of extra-curricular activites. I finished everything. Well, everything but getting all the way through TNN. That was due in no small part to doing exactly what I'd said I wouldn't do after it happened with Vesta. After the first feedback session at CWC, I decided to rip everything apart and put it back together --better! faster! stronger!--before the next submission. In a month--right. Please remind me of this when I submit the first part of my next manuscript, whatever that may be.

Time to set goals for November. No NaNoWriMo for me this month. I have tons to revise since Jenny challenged me to put a revised full of MMG through the group soon. And then there's Vesta waiting to be revised as well.

I want to finish the first draft of TNN before I start the MMG revisions. I have maybe 100 pages to go, and there will be a submission due in January. I doubt it will be the rest of the story, but should get everyone close to the end. Of course, the critique for this month. It'll be great to revisit Mary's TF. And then revisions, revisions, revisions. I don't know that I'll finish this month, but I have until the end of March. I, foolishly perhaps, raised my hand on Monday night and claimed March to submit the full.

Should be a busy, but fun month.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Forced Focus

Regular readers of this blog know that I sometimes--okay, often--have trouble focusing my attention on one project. That other one over there in the corner always seems to be more interesting than the one right here in front of me.

Tomorrow I leave for almost a week in Florida. I'll be visiting family and friends, attending a Chris Botti concert and generally relaxing and having a good time. But there will be lots of time on planes and in airports. And I tend to wake up much earlier than anyone else in the family so there will be some time to fill there as well. Which works out, because I have to submit at least 50 pages of TNN on the 26th of this month. I have about that amount already. However, they follow my original train of thought on the project and things have changed since my last submission. Not many days to complete a lot of work. See sidebar for complete list.

While gathering and packing things to take, I found myself wanting to grab the MMG notebook to throw in. And maybe a couple more research books for Vesta. I could take those books I ordered on Prohibition for a future project I have in mind. Then reality hit. All that paper is damn heavy. I'm not going lug all of that through the COS, DFW and Orlando airports. Twice. So, only TNN and only what I need at this moment in time. That, the netbook and my journal? Easy peasy to carry around.

And I will have to focus on the one project, because that's all I'll have with me. Maybe I should go away to write all the time.

Wouldn't that be loverly?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WPW: Fuchsia Feather

See Ali's blog for rules.

I have no idea, but there has to be a good story to go with this....

The woman with the teal blue hat tottered into the cafe on bright red stilettos. The black band around the wide brim held a fuchsia feather that bobbed in time to her unsteady steps. The air around her thick with the smell of espresso and tapas, now blending with Chanel No. 22.

All eyes watched as she made her way to the counter. Eyes in young faces. Young faces with single chins and slender, healthy bodies. Most wearing jeans and t-shirts. A few with funky tie-dye skirts and gauzy blouses.

She reached into the banana yellow handbag and pulled out a ten. "A glass of chardonnay, please."

The counter man's sleek muscles rippled under the tight black shirt as he poured the wine. He glanced at the woman and poured a little more into the glass. "Six dollars, ma'am."

The ten slid across the counter, and the woman picked up the glass by the stem. "Keep the change." Another, shorter, expedition--seemingly in time with the jazz standard playing in the background--across the slick tile floor brought her to the table for two in the very back, very dark corner. The chartreuse dress strained as she sat, but she sighed with satisfaction to be off her feet for a time.

Anyone still watching saw her lift the glass in salute to the empty chair across from her before she took the first sip.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's October As Far As I'm Concerned

I usually hold out until the last gasp of a month before I decide on my goals for the next one. But after getting my feedback on TNN from CWC last night, I know I'll need the extra day or two to get where I need to be by the next meeting.

The group did it again. I don't think there was a single suggestion that I didn't think was valid. Even if a couple might have been contradictory, I knew where each person was coming from. And either way would work. It's just down to me on how I want to go.

My goals are listed on the left. As you can see, there is a lot of prep work to do before I actually get back to work on what's next. The time line is going to be tightened, which means deciding where to start the story for the most impact. I'm adding a job for the mother and a family member. I need to draw out a floor plan for each of the 3 (possibly 4) floors in the house so that I don't gain and lose space as I'm doing now.

I would be more frustrated with myself, but I'm learning that this is all part of my process. Would it be easier if I had a clearer idea of what the whole plot was when I started? Well, of course. But I seem to need to write at least half the book before I can really decide what it's about. Maybe I'll grow out of that as a writer. I kinda hope so. But, for now at least, the gang seems to be willing to go along with me.

October is going to be crazy. I have a lot of social events to attend--I know, poor me. There's the trip to visit family and friends in the middle of the month. And we need to schedule Ali's dinner for winning the race. I'm thinking after that, NaNoWriMo is a definite pass this year. Besides, Jenny pointed out that I really need to submit a complete and revised version of MMG to the group so they can evaluate what I've done with the feedback on that. And there are two other novels waiting for revision as well. It doesn't make sense to start something new until I'm really truly done with those.

So, no pressure.

Monday, September 28, 2009

So What Have We Learned?

What did I learn from the recent contest?

--That 3,000 words a day is a lot until someone you're competing with writes 10,000.
--That you don't necessarily have to be "in the mood" or "inspired" to write.
--However, certain scenes are easier (or at least less difficult) if you are "in the mood."
--I'm competitive, but also know my limits.
--That Murphy will rear his ugly head at inopportune times.
--That eliminating contractions bumps word count without a lot of pain. Kidding! A little bit.
--That it can be very satisfying to watch a friend whup ass.
--That writing very quickly helps quiet the Inner Heckler (which I already knew).
--That writing very quickly also may mean losing track of secondary characters, subplots and (more concerning) the protagonist's voice.
--That even with some of the things I dropped along the way, I'm still liking this story and my protagonist very much.
--That when you get in the habit of writing every day, it feels weird when you don't write for a day (which I also already knew, but needed to be reminded of).
--That it's good to have a prize that everyone gets to enjoy.

I'm sure I'll discover more as I continue working on TNN and other projects. It was hard and frustrating at times, but definitely worthwhile.

So, what can you push yourself to do over the next 2 weeks?

Monday, September 21, 2009

What A Weekend/Everyone Should Have Friends Like Mine

And I don't mean "What a weekend" in a good way.

I dog and house sat for two very dear friends. One of the dogs has developed some special needs over the past year. She is blind, but gets around okay except right after she wakes up. She also has IBS. I won't go into details here. Suffice it to say that she often needs to get outside RIGHT NOW and doesn't always wake up in time to do so. Even when she does wake up, she might start in the wrong direction and not want to believe me that I know where it is and it's this way and please, please, please hurry.

Friday night's multi-interrupted sleep was nothing compared to Saturday night's getting maybe three hours total and not more than an hour at a time. Each time she moved, I had to be ready to help her get outside. Even when she was asleep, I had to be aware of whining and tummy rumblings so I could wake her up in time. As I said in an email to Jenny, not conducive to sleeping or writing.

I would finally feel like I might maybe be starting to get a flow or words going and have to stop, deal with things and then try to figure out where I was and where I thought I was going. It only takes a few of these to just kill any desire to even try to put one word after the other. After about ten o'clock Sunday morning, I just quit trying.

There was a point late yesterday that I decided that not only was I going to throw in the towel on the contest, but on the whole writing thing. Why was I bothering? Most people seem to be quite content, happy even, going to work and coming home day after day. They might work out and/or go to movies or plays or concerts. But mostly they work and take care of their homes and families, and watch television. Basically what I do already except that I give short shrift to everything except the television watching, because I write or try to write or think I should be writing.

And then it happened.

I heard everyone's voice in my head. I heard Jenny, Ali, Fleur, Mary, Shane, Nicole and all the rest of the Pirates saying, "What the hell are you talking about? You're making excuses. Get over yourself and get back to work." I heard Carrie saying, "If you don't finish something for me to read, I'll shave your head. You won't even see it coming."

How great is that? They don't even have to be around to give me a verbal--mental?--bitch slap.

It's going to be like starting a marathon, getting out front in the first mile, stopping to have a big lunch--maybe a nap--and then deciding that you are going to try to win it after all. But I'm not throwing in the towel. I may finish dead last, but I'll finish. And I'll have more words of TNN than I had when I started. And that was sort of the point all along.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Own Prep For Word Race 2009

It looks like everyone is getting some of their more mundane tasks out of the way so they don't have to deal with things like laundry and shopping during the big writing race. I should have enough clean clothes to get me through. I'll have to pick up some perishable food items next week, but that won't take very long. I won't be home next weekend (dog and house sitting), so I won't have that weird pull to have everything spotless that I always get when there's something else that really needs to get done. I will be watching a "special needs" dog which could be distracting, but we'll see.

I am going to try to keep some semblance of balance during this. I've been eating a more healthy diet the last few weeks, and I want to keep that going. I will continue my workouts. The Pirates are meeting tomorrow night, and we've all agreed to take a break for that. But I know how to keep the words flowing. I've done it before. There's a kind of muscle memory there.

So, watch the word count over on the left side of the screen, but don't expect much in the way of updates here. I may feel the need to vent or gloat, but if words are being typed, I'd rather they go toward my count.

Game almost on.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Stoopid Stoopid Stoopid

That's me.

Just accepted a challenge with Jenny and Ali. Whoever produces the highest wordcount in two weeks, starting next Monday, wins. The one who comes in last has to buy dinner.

**CORRECTION** The losers go in together to buy the winner dinner. Which makes more sense since the winner is the only one getting something and the losers share the pain of losing.

I still say, "Ack!"
Courtney brought up a good point in her response to my Project Runway post. [And, no, Jenny, I wasn't talking about you.] She talked about how some of the contestants freak out when asked to step out of their comfort zone. Same thing happens on Top Chef. Courtney's argument was that chefs, designers and writers need to be able to step outside their boxes once in a while.

Folks, that's why you see prompts and challenges on this and other blogs from the Pirates. That's why UGWP does round stories. That's why we have played a card game where you pick the cards that you will build the story on. Not because we think that one day Jenny will figure out how to market a Top Chef kind of show involving wrters (although that would be groovy), but because we all get those stray ideas that don't fit into our usual genres. Or maybe we realize that one of our story ideas would work better as a screen or stage play than a novel. Or we really, really want to enter that short story contest with the big prize payout. If those muscles are already warmed up, it's easier to engage them when the time comes.

There's another aspect to what Courtney said. That the contestants are freaked out by the twists the shows throw at them. On more than one occasion, I've said, "Don't they watch this show?" Because they always have twists, often the same ones from season to season.

Which comes back to research. I know I've talked about it before, but it bears repeating. DO the research. Want to submit to the Super Groovy Magazine Contest? First, read the guidelines. Second, look at a recent issue. If they only publish hyper-literary stories between 3,000-5,000 words, don't submit a 7,000 word fantasy piece. Same goes with agents.

Two reality shows about seemingly unrelated jobs that are both, apparently, unrelated to writing. But I've been able to adapt lessons from both into my writing. Are there other shows that have given you insight into your craft? Movies? Music? Something else?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

September What?

Wow! Six days into the new month. Guess I should post my goals, huh?

Getting my submission ready for CWC cut into my roll on MMG, but it needed to be done. I'm pretty happy with the result as I submitted 98 pages--the longest submission so far. I also finished the critique for Mary.

My goals for September are going to sound familiar, but with a twist.

--Flesh out the rest of TNN and get it ready for submission. [I want this done before I get feedback on the first part. Otherwise, I have a tendency to want to change direction based on comments rather than letting the story unfold the way I first envisioned it. I've learned that people can change their opinion of the first bit after they read the rest. And it lessens future pressure when it comes time to submit.]
--Get revised bio to Ali by 9/7/09. Yeah, not much wiggle room on this one.
--Critique Shane's submission.

And that's it for this month. Didn't expect that, did you? Where's MMG? I figure I've got about 150 pages of TNN to knock out. Using Jenny's writing math, that comes to almost 7 pages a day in order to be done by the CWC meeting on the 28th. That's NaNo level page count. I think that's plenty to shoot for in one month. Especially one month that's already seen a week go by. And one in which I'm taking on a new tap and jazz class.

With that amount of new writing and trying to get my body to move in new and unusual ways, I think I'm pretty much taking on Ali's challenge as well.

How 'bout you?

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Same Amount Of Time

Project Runway is back. As is a new season of Top Chef. And watching them, I realized something. It takes just as long to make an ugly dress or an awful meal as it does a winner.

I think we, as writers, tend to dismiss bad writing as something that was just "dashed off." No real effort went into it. But that's not the case. Not always. Think about workshops or critique groups you've been in. There seems to be that one person. You know the one. Intense. Focused on their story, or character. They've been working on this manuscript for years. Honing. Reworking. And it's bad. It's really bad. Oh, there may be some redeeming value. He writes good dialogue. Or she can give you a wonderful love scene. But the characters are flat and the situations are trite. There's no music in the writing. You'd rather stick hot pokers in your eyes than read another submission from these people.

But they work at it. They spend a lot of time on their stories. So it's not laziness. I don't think it's lack of talent, whatever that is. So what is it?

Attitude. That "I know better than everyone else" attitude. The unwillingness to even listen to a different opinion. When you've got a Tim Gunn in the room, people, listen up. Because if you listen, he's not telling you to sell out or be just like everyone else. He's saying to step back and really look at what you're doing.

There have been so many people on these shows who are eliminated in early rounds, because they refuse to listen. Their attitude is that everyone else is stupid. If everyone else was just smarter or cooler or more refined, then this person would win the whole shebang. And when they leave, the parting words are usually along the lines of, "At least I didn't compromise my vision." Okay. If that's what is important to you, than go for it. But realize that people wear clothes that make them look good. We eat food that tastes good. And we read books about complex characters in interesting situations.

Now, I'm not saying that a writer should take every suggestion that comes his or her way. No more than a chef or a designer should. That would be crazy. But have a good reason for why you're doing something in a particular way. Be able to defend it with something more than, "because I want to do it that way."

So, if you're going to spend the time anyway, why not write a good book? And listen to your Tim Gunns.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WPW: Grilling

This is my entry in Ali's Writing Prompt Wednesday challenge. See the rules here.

The pile grows. Mostly magazines. Men's Health. GQ. Runner's World. Field and Stream. Seriously, Field and Stream. The man's never been out of Manhattan.

I find a couple Playboys and a Penthouse tucked in the back of his nightstand, and turn to the most rumpled pages. No big surprises. Silicon and airbrushing. These are tossed on top.

And then there's the cookbook. I take my time with the cookbook. Each page is torn from the binding and crumpled, dropped around the perimeter. Certain pages receive special treatment. I tear these into shreds and then shred the shreds.

"Well, it's close, but still not like Mom's. Did you call her for advice? Maybe you should try this one next time. She says even a child could make it."

I click the lighter and hold the flame next to the recipe kindling I've made. The edges catch, quiver and hold the fire. It spreads to the rest. Pages fan, an image becomes clearer, prettier then it blackens and curls in on itself.

That damn paprikash. I'll never have to cook it, or eat it, again.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Masters

Yesterday morning, I watched a couple episodes of Top Chef Masters that I'd missed. There's a big difference between the behavior of the "masters" and the chefs from the regular version of Top Chef.

There have been several challenges on Top Chef where some contestants have stabbed each others backs, sabotaged them during the challenge or thrown them under the bus in front of the judges. Even the ones who haven't openly worked against the others bad-mouthed them in the individual "confessional" segments.

Well, they are competing with each other, right? That's the nature of competition.

Not with the masters. One of the challenges yesterday involved each chef filling a mystery box for another chef. They had to use the ingredients in the boxes to make the meal they would be judged on. Every single chef filled the box they gave away with great ingredients that they knew the receiving chef would love to use. They all said marvelous things about each other during confessionals.

On another episode--during the finals, no less--one chef who finished early helped another by chopping tomatoes for him.

I've seen the same behavior with writers. Those who are unsure of themselves and their talent can be brutal to other writers. They take every opportunity to sabotage and shoot down someone they think of as competitors.

Then there are those who encourage and help each other. Who aren't intimidated by another person with talent. Are they more likely to become the "masters"? We'll see.

Monday, August 3, 2009

August Goals

I feel like I accomplished a lot in July. Although when I look at the writing goals and how I did on them, not so much. Still, in a more esoteric sense, I accomplished loads. Because I know exactly what the final (and it will be my final, if not an agent's or editor's) version of MMG needs. It's right there. And this isn't like the other "I kinda sorta think this is what it needs" moments. I know. It feels great. And I've made great strides in that direction. It may take a little longer than I hoped. But I'll know when I'm done.

Anyway, here are the writing goals for August:

--Rewrite of MMG
--Prepare TNN/KoS for submission to CWC
--Do critique (0/1)
--Rework MMG query template with awesome input from Jenny & Mary
--Finish MMG short synopsis

Easy peasy, right?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Serial Killers: Part II

I tried another cozy mystery series. It had a few problems in Book1, but I could chalk that up to freshman jitters. 2nd book, about the same. By Books 3-4, it only got worse. So, I won't be seeing how she does on Book 8 or 9 like I will with Sookie.

What were the problems?

-Two characters in particular almost always use each other's names in dialogue. "Hi, John, won't you sit down?" "Thanks, Jill. That's nice of you." "Don't mention it, John. Did you find out anything about that clue we found yesterday?" "Why yes I did, Jill. Let me tell you about it." And so on. Annoying.

-She likes her protag too much. I can relate to this. My critique group is always telling me I don't beat up my protagonist enough. But I have someone who tells me this, and I fix it. This girl gets everything she wants. I can't relate to that. She even has a "mean breed" dog that no one ever acts nervous around.

-By Book 2, she established that any new characters coming into the circle of friends would be the victim. If 2 new people arrive, one is the victim and the other is the killer. And it's obvious which is which. So why read past the first chapter?

-Doesn't even come close to real police procedure. The protagonist (not in law enforcement) has nabbed a couple murderers by secretly taping them confessing. And apparently this has held up in court. In the most recent one, a key piece of evidence was buried under debri at the crime scene. The police neglected to search thoroughly so it was found during the owner of the property's clean-up. The item so upset the owner that the protag took it back to her house. Then she called a retired detective, after major handling of the thing, who carried it back to his place before taking it in. Can you say "chain of evidence"? Yeah, thought so.

What could save this series for me? Well, start adhering at least a little bit to the realities of what would and wouldn't be admitted into evidence for starters. Then kill off one of the inner circle. There are now about 6 couples (everyone eventually pairs off in this series) and a few incidental characters (who are married, but the spouse hasn't been seen yet). It's getting crowded. It would shake things up nicely, and make any threat more, well, threatening.

But I won't be around to see it. It's too bad. There was potential there. For a while I'm switching back to other genres. Right now I'm reading The Time Traveler's Wife. Present tense bugged me for about two paragraphs, and then I realized it has to be that way. Pulled in hook, line and sinker. Hope it pays off.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How To A Story Russell T. Davies Style

BBC America showed the 5-part miniseries, Torchwood: Children of Earth, last week. I'm a big Torchwood fan so I was pretty sure I'd enjoy it no matter what. My sister, however, tends be quite indifferent about the shows I choose so I didn't expect much reaction out of her. There's a long story behind it, but she prefers things she's familiar with.

It opens with a mother having trouble getting her child to move. They're on the way to school and the kid has just stopped. Not moving, speaking, nothing. One of the Torchwood agents notices this, smiles at the naughty child and goes about getting to work. The shot changes to two girls sitting at the breakfast table, not moving or speaking. Their father bids them a good day and, without noticing their state, leaves. Then a line of children stopped in the process of crossing the street. As the adults reach the peak of frustration, all the children from all the scenes resume moving and talking as if nothing has happened.

My interest is definitely piqued. We have an opening hook. Why are the children doing this?

As the story goes on, it happens again at recess time. This starts to bring more attention from more quarters. And some of those people seem to know why it's happening. Of course, Torchwood gets involved, and we're off. Interest not just piqued, they've got me.

The suspense builds throughout the first episode. The second episode builds on that with a lovely personal reveal near the end followed by gut-wrenching devastation. Oh my god, how are they going to come back from this? Episode three brings us a little hope, but then dashes it to bits. At this point, my sister says, "How the hell are they going to wrap this up in just two more nights?" Seems as if they hooked her, too. Fourth episode our heroes leap into action, we're feeling pretty good, then they're left in an even worse position than they were the night before. Ye gods and small fishes, they aren't going to fail, are they? Then a satisfying conclusion. I won't say whether they succeed or fail. Just that the ending was right.

There is much more going on than what I've summarized here, of course, but it gives a good indication of how the action and suspense build to the climax. It just keeps ratcheting up with only slight breathers here and there. There's a lot of humor in the series, and it's used to good effect. Russell T. Davies, the screenwriter and man behind the new Dr. Who and the whole Torchwood series, also gives enough backstory through character interaction that those who haven't seen the first two seasons will understand a bit why they all relate to each other the way they do. But much more is revealed about two of the characters than we've known. And it's integral to the story, moves it forward and adds another layer of tension to the whole thing.

Brilliant. Just bloody brilliant. Another fine template for how to tell a story. Even if the story isn't a SF/F action thriller. It still works. And it has me pumped to get back to it myself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

If Not Now, When?

As I've stated previously, I've been reading a lot of cozy mysteries lately. The problem I encountered is not exclusive to cozies specifically or to mysteries in general, but it has happened in every one. I think it's something that spans genres. And it drives me buggy.

What is this nefarious writing issue?

The use of present tense words in a past tense narrative.

You might be saying, "Huh?" An example: Betty pondered her relationship with Bill as she stared out the window. She wondered how things had gotten so far out of hand. Bill's phone call this morning upset her so badly, she didn't think she'd ever get over it. But today's blue sky helped cheer her up some. Maybe now she could think things through.

Past tense, right? Pondered, stared and wondered all indicate that we're reading about something that happened in the past. Then "this morning" crops up. Okay, if I'm reading this in the afternoon or evening, I guess "this morning" would be past tense. But it still jars, because I might be reading about that evening and the next day and even a month later within a few pages. The "this morning" I just read about will have happened quite a while ago in the context of the story. Same thing with "today's blue sky" and "now."

Most of the time, leaving out the time stamps can fix it. "Bill's phone call upset her . . ." If it's that important a phone call, you've shown it already, right? So we know where she is time-wise in relation to it. "But the blue sky . . ." "Maybe with a new attitude she could think things through." A little bigger change, but it conveys why she can think better.

It's perfectly fine in dialogue. For the character, it is today. Just not for the reader.

In the big scheme of writing, this probably isn't a huge faux pas. But it bugs me, and I can't be the only one. Do you want to take a chance that the agent or editor you submit to has the same pet peeve?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

WPW: Plaid Skirts

Writing Prompt Wednesday entry:

"Does a plaid skirt make you dumber?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. Do you lose intelligence points whenever you see a girl in a plaid skirt?"

"Oh. Well. Yeah, kinda."

"And why is that?"

"Don't know. Must be something from my teens. Catholic school girls and all that."

"I guess I understand it when you're sixteen, but now . . .I don't know. Seems weird."

"Don't you still get kinda dumb around a guy in jeans and a white t-shirt?"

"Not dumb, exactly. Silly, maybe."

"Well, there you go. Hey, I have an idea."

"I don't own a plaid skirt."

Friday, July 17, 2009


So last night I finished reading From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris. The one that set off my Serial Killer post. Dang it if she didn't pull it off.

After a start that had me worried, she threw a lot of new problems, twists, relatives and other people at Sookie. I won't post any spoilers, but our heroine seems to have made up her mind about all but one of the love interests in her life. I won't say which one, don't worry. She still hasn't addressed why there isn't any heightened senses, etc. after the last infusion of vamp blood, which is (IMHO) problematical. But the new situations have the potential to refresh the series and take it in whole new, and potentially exciting, direction.

Looks like she answered many of the questions she had me asking. Brava, Ms. Harris.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WPW: Enough Like Midnight

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Even now, nearly midnight, the ground is still very warm as I sink my fingers into the earth. The moon is out, just a sliver of it. My favorite to look at, but little help to work by. At least the dirt is soft and easy to grasp. Dark, loamy. Good for growing things. Rich enough.

A strand of hair slides in front of my left eye, and I swipe it back behind my ear, most likely smudging my cheek in the process. It'll wash off easily enough.

Sitting back on my heels, I survey my work. The hole is almost perfectly round; I'm tempted to go back in and find an old compass to check, but resist. The bottom is rounded like a bowl. Three inches should be deep enough.

I set the reason for the hole in it and look at it for a minute--two--three. Long enough.

The dirt sifts through my fingers back into the hole, exactly as it was before. Not exactly, I guess. But close enough.

The ring is out of sight. I couldn't sell it, but I don't want it either. This is a compromise. Unlike him, will it be good enough?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Serial Killers

Nope, not a post about Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy or the Zodiac Killer. Not even a post about my favorite fictional serial killer, Dexter Morgan. It's about a couple things I've run into recently that can kill a book series.

1) Too much success. This can happen with any author. Once they reach a certain level of success, it seems that editors hesitate to edit any longer. Suddenly, the characters act, well, out of character. Interesting secondary story arcs just disappear. Not to mention the typos and grammar errors that go unchallenged. In Book 7, Sookie gains a very handy new ability which is not mentioned at all in Book 8. She also does a lot of thinking that something someone says or does is significant but "can't think about that now, because I'm so busy/tired/angry/sad/you name it," which just feels like a cop out.

2) Overlapping two of the author's series. The appeal for the author, of course, is that it introduces the readers of one series to another series and, she hopes, causes the reader to buy the second one. But doing it wrong can backfire. In book 5 or 6 of the Sookie Stackhouse books, Lily Bard from one of Harris' other series shows up. Crossovers aren't new. They happen on television and in books all the time. However, Lily has undergone some major life changes since the first book in the four-book series. I've only read the first book of the Shakespeare series so it came as a big surprise. And has potentially spoiled my enjoyment of the other three books, because I know how she ends up.

3) The neverending story. Agatha Christie had Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and the Tommy & Tuppence books. But they are each standalone books. It really doesn't impact the reader much if they start with the first book or the fifth. You might be slightly rewarded for knowing a little of the history of Miss Marple and her nephew or how often Poirot teases Captain Hastings for having a preference for redheads, but it doesn't take away from the story if you don't know that.

Enter the method of having a major arc that follows the character through all the books. In the Stackhouse books, the main one is "Who will Sookie end up with?" We have at least 5 possibilities as I'm well into Book 8, From Dead to Worse, which will be my last for a while until Dead and Gone (#9) comes out in paperback next April (or I grab a copy from the library). While it's kept me turning pages until this point, I'm starting to feel it's enough already. With each book, there's the potential for another love interest to show up and further cloud the issue. She needs to make up her mind. I don't buy the airhead who can't decide anymore. She's been through too much--usually because of those men--to not have made up her mind about them.

Television series offer some good examples of the problem. The X-Files should have ended in the fourth or fifth season. Instead, it limped on flipping the roles of believer and non-believer from one character to another and back again, contradicting past "truths" and generally mucking up the works. Lost got a bit lost during the second and third seasons, but has come back nicely now that there is an end in sight. Whereas a series like the various and sundry Law and Order franchises don't have that problem because they are fairly self-contained episodes each week with only minor bleedover from show to show. The CSIs are starting to suffer, because they let in the personal lives of their characters and introduced overarching arcs that are now getting old.

How does a writer deal with this? I asked DB if she had plans for overarching arcs in her series. She does. And she says she's a bit worried about that. She also thinks she might spin off her second and third series from HM when the time comes. Or possibly have crossover books. DB has planned a point for ending the HM series, but doesn't know about D&D or Benny.

I know a couple of you have a series planned. Are you planning an overaching arc? Have you thought about how you'll know when to end it? What will be the signal?

I'm just happy that I don't have to deal with that.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Big Picture

If you're keeping track of my reading this year, you've noticed a lot of books by Charlaine Harris. I used to read a lot of mysteries. A lot of mysteries. Then I took a couple college English classes and fell in love with more literary style fiction. I enjoy the character development and the "pretty" language. Plot isn't as important in lit-fic, and I'm okay with that.

I'd love to say I'm a lit-fic writer. But, realistically, I know I fit more toward mainstream than literary. And that requires a stronger plot. D.B. loaned me a stack of the mysteries she's reading for research purposes. Mysteries are all about the plot. If the plot doesn't work, the big reveal doesn't make sense and the mystery fails. One could argue that the Sookie Stackhouse books are fantasy and not mystery. One could, but one would be wrong. I don't care that they're in the fantasy section at B&N. I don't care that they're full of vampires, witches, were-folk and faires. There is always a mystery to solve. Her other series are more definitely mysteries.

Between reading more plot-heavy books and using some of the planning/plotting tools I've found over the years (including the ones on edittorent and red pencil), I'm getting a better handle on the big picture of my stories. That overall story arc. That can get lost when you write the way I do by coming up with an interesting character, having just a vague idea of what happens and then winging it. I've been trying to do more pre-plotting. Using index cards and such to keep a map of where I want it to go.

My hope is that for future projects, I won't have such a huge rewrite job after the first run through CWC. We'll see. It does seem to be helping with the rewrites I'm working on.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July Goals

Get me--updating so much lately. Feels pretty good really.

In June I didn't meet most of my goals, although I was close on a couple and did get all my critiques done. This month we don't have any submissions to critique for CWC. I'm going to take it a bit easier on myself, calling it summer break.

So for July I have:

--Rewrite of MMG with new-old structure
--Finish writing room makeover
--Do bio for CWC website
--Look up agents
--Write query letter

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Critique Group (And Critique) Love

Last night was another example of why I love my critique group. And it wasn't just that we all were a little slap-happy, running off on tangents and giggling about Vampire Eric.

We critiqued two great submissions last night. The submissions are always great, which is another reason I love this group. I always look forward to doing the critiques, because I know I'm going to enjoy what I'm reading. Ali gave us another installment of her (literally) kick-ass book with the smart-ass voice. Way too much fun, and having to wait until September for the next installment is heartbreaking. Jenny's first installment of the novel she thought would be her under-the-bed book sets up what promises to be a creepily fun ride through a fictional Colorado county.

And as great as the submissions were, we all had a few problems with each of them. No surprise. Even in published works by my favorite authors I can find things that I think would work better a different way. Or I find typos that weren't caught by any of the edits. Something.

Here's the difference between this group and others I've been part of: these two excellent writers accepted the feedback and asked for more. There may have been explanations of "This is what I trying to say," but those were quickly followed by "Obviously, I need to clarify." At one point, Jenny pleaded, "Just tell me what to do!" This doesn't mean that they'll be writing something different from what they set out to write. It means that the changes will help them tell the story they wanted to in a way that readers will get it.

One of my earliest critiques of a short story went fairly well. But the climactic scene was of a man with terminal cancer being told by his family that it was okay for him to let go and die. Just about everyone in the room commented on whether they agreed with euthanasia or not. One person even called it the euthanasia story (I had submitted two that night). When it came around to a friend of mine, he defended it, saying that HE understood what was going on and that I shouldn't change a thing. Of course, I left that night secure in the fact that if this person got it and if I respected this person's opinion (which I do) and thought he was a good writer and editor (which I do) then I didn't need to change anything in my story. But by the time I got home, I realized that I wasn't writing the story for just him or people like him. That if only one person in twenty understood what I was going for, then I failed and failed miserably. I needed to rewrite the story so that it was clearer.

You may not agree with all of the critiques you get. You may get contradictory feedback--even in CWC we don't always agree and that's a good thing. You may think the negative feedback is dead wrong. But don't discount it completely. Think about WHY you are getting the feedback you are. "He just didn't get it." Okay. So why didn't he? Were you unclear? Were your facts wrong? Have you set up a character in such a way that she would never ever do what you've just had her do? That can work, but you have to show the reader a really great reason for her to act against her character. Have you not done enough world building? Sci-fi and Fantasy are not the only genres that require you build the set for your characters to act on. Are those characters realistic whether they are aliens or zombies or lawyers?

None of us write perfect first drafts. Well, some of my colleagues come close and I hate them a little for that. Shhh. Don't tell them. Even they have to revise, though. Everyone revises. At least, the really good ones do. Edittorrent addresses this on her blog as well. [Hyperlink supplied to further impress Oliver]

Embrace the critique! Embrace the revision! I'm learning to. It's not always easy. But you'll be glad you did.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Room

As promised, a picture of the Writing Room before the end of the week. Actually, it's just a picture of the daybed. But you'll get an idea of the wall color. The colors on the bed are reminiscent of my bedroom when I was in high school. The lavendar is not, but what the hell. Bright colors to keep me awake while creating.
I have a few more, but I have to smaller them so they'll fit. And I want to get some after the rest of the shelves are installed and the pictures are hung, etc. Plus the poppets need to take up residence.
That's Spooky on the daybed, and she will tell you that it is her room. The dark blue pillow next to her has a picture of birds at a feeder with a cat looking out the window at them. Her Uncle Ron sent it for Christmas a few years back.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday Writing Prompt

Yeah, I know. It's Thursday. Whatever.

This is my take on Ali's weekly challenge. Here are the rules. The prompt, from Juanita's blog, is highlighted and links to said blog.

I’m STILL waiting for my doll class.”


“My doll class. I’ve been waiting for it for ever so long.” The ragamuffin slumped between the craft store and tiny toyshop, her clothing reminiscent of a Dickens orphan.

The strip mall would close in just a few minutes. Certainly no doll class would be starting now. I scanned the window of the craft store for a class schedule, but found none. “Did your mother go into that store?” I pointed.

She shook her head. “My mother left me here ages ago, but she didn’t go into that store.”

“The toy store then?” I opened the door of the toyshop and strained to see. The lights were dim and no one was in sight. “Hello. Does anyone know this little girl?” I stepped back outside. “What’s your name, sweetie?”

Her head tilted down as if to hide her face. “It used to be Rebecca Louise. But then my mother started calling me Doody Head and Puke Face.”

Disgust for the woman who would do something like that to her own child filled me and almost choked off my next words. “I’m going to call someone to help you.” My cell phone blinked “no service” at me, and there was no sign of a security guard anywhere. “Stay right here, I’m going into the store to make a call.”

I dashed into the craft store. Maybe the horrible mother was inside it after all. At least that was the justification I gave for not just stepping back into the toyshop. The toyshop that felt off somehow.

There were no customers inside, and the woman behind the counter knew nothing about a doll-making class. After reporting the lost girl, I went back outside to wait with her for the police and, I suspected, social services. She wasn’t there. I tried the door of the toyshop, but it was locked. Panicked, I ran the length of the mall, stopping at each of the six other stores. Most were already closed, but the few people remaining had not seen the little girl.

An hour later, the police officer finally seemed satisfied with my statement. “Maybe her mother picked her up while you were calling,” he offered for the fifth or sixth time.

“Maybe.” It was as much as I could manage. I had been watching out the window the whole time I made the phone call. No one had passed the store. And I hadn’t seen the little girl, Rebecca Louise, walk away. But I had my own children to get home to.

“Thank you for your concern,” the office said. “Not everyone would take the time.” He closed his notepad and walked back to his squad car.

I leaned against the window of the toyshop, going over the event, trying to figure out when the girl’s mother could have retrieved her without my seeing it. The interior of the shop was brighter than it had been when I’d been inside. It looked more cheerful as well.

As I gathered my bags, a display near the back of the shop caught my attention. One doll pointed at a blackboard. Three other dolls sat at desks facing her. One had short marcelled hair and was dressed like a flapper. One looked like she’d just come from settling the old west. And the one closest to the door looked like, she looked like, well like Rebecca Louise.

I shifted to see what was written on the blackboard. The teacher pointed at, “How To Find A New Mommy.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How Do You Sing?

NPR again, although it seems to have been a while since I referenced them. This morning, I heard an obituary piece about Ali Akbar Kahn. He played the sarod, a 25-string Indian instrument. Along with Ravi Shankar, he popularized Indian music in the west and influenced generations of musicians.

The journalist talked about visiting the musician in his studio. Kahn's rebuke to students was, "You're singing like a typewriter. Sing like handwriting."

Maybe that's why there's so much talk about pens and other tools on this blog and the ones I link to. If I'm missing the pretty in my writing, I turn off the computer and pick up a notebook and pen. Is there a way to sing like handwriting on a typewriter (or computer)?

Where else in your life can you learn to sing like handwriting?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Writing Books Galore!

Not as in "I'm writing a lot of books," but as in "Holy crap, I have a boatload of books about writing!"

Saturday I put up shelves in the newly painted Writing Room (I think of it in capitals). I need to get some more. My plan was to use those shelves--as opposed to the ones in the family room downstairs or the ones in my bedroom--for my writing books, my metaphysical books and any researchy-type books I am currently using. There are separate spaces for books and journals. I figured I'd have empty shelving for spillover from my to-be-read pile. I figured wrong. The shelves are full to bursting. There will be another trip to Wal-mart.

I have a handful of metaphysical books to add, but I probably have two dozen or more writing books that I still need to schlep upstairs and find a place for. Who the hell bought all these books? Oh, right. That's what I do when I'm interested in something. I research the bloody bejeebers out of it. Correction: I collect research on it, read like mad for a while then jump in with both feet while there is still a pile of research to be read.

The good news? I have lots of resources to tap into. And I now have one place to look when I need a refresher or I'm stuck. It's also a good source of inspiration. Not just the "here's a prompt" or "how I did it" books either. Sometimes just a skim through one of the craft honing books can dislodge something.

How do you go about learning something new? Take a class? Are you a reader? Do you learn by doing?

***I promise pictures of the Writing Room progress before the end of the week. I have to get a cable to upload from camera to laptop. ***

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wednesday Writing Prompt

Ali is at it again. She has started a new weekly challenge. The quick explanation is to take inspiration from any blog using a post made in the previous week. Bold the phrase in your scene, poem, dialogue, etc. with a link to the original blog.

Here is my contribution:

Sure, you can pummel
Vegetables to death, but
Hollandaise is best

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Books Into Movies

We all know that the movie is never as good as the book. Ever. Right? Hold on a sec. That ain't necessarily so.

Recent case in point: Angels and Demons. Now this is your basic summer action flick. Nothing too deep and meaningful here. But it is a fun watch. Tom Hanks is good, as always. And the movie is made just a tad bit more watchable because of the presence of Ewan McGregor, who makes everything a tad bit (or a lot) more watchable. But I digress. Most of the people I know who have read both books think that Angels and Demons was much better than The DaVinci Code. But there were still some problems with A&D. Time lines didn't always make sense. Laws of physics were broken. Etc. The movie drops a ridiculous bit near the end of the book that had me screaming "I call no way!" So, movie better than book.

On Twitter last week, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy of MST3K and now Riff Trax fame were compiling a list of movies that were as good as the books they were based on. My own imperfect list follows. The movies may not all be better than the books, but they are good movies, IMHO.

--The Lord of the Rings
--To Kill A Mockingbird
--The Godfather (in which the movie dropped an icky unnecessary storyline about a bridesmaid and her. . .uhm. . .attribute)
--The General's Daughter (read and then seen because of Jenny's shortlived Book/Movie group)
--The Secret Life of Bees
--Black Hawk Down
--The Bone Collector
--Pride and Prejudice
--Brokeback Mountain
--The World According To Garp
--The French Lieutenant's Woman
--The Hunt For Red October
--The Harry Potter movies, especially the more recent ones

I know I'm forgetting some. There are also movies that I really liked, but didn't read the book so those aren't on the list.

Anyone have some to add?

Monday, June 1, 2009

June Goals

May seemed like such a long month, yet I didn't really accomplish much writing-wise. About 25 more pages of MMG revised and 25 pages of TNN in pretty good shape for submission this month. Not a lot. But I did a whole bunch of other good stuff. Got back into the habit of writing Morning Pages daily. Started practicing banjo again, complete with sore fingertips on my left hand as I get used to holding down the strings. Really cleaned out the writing room, even the scary closet. And moved the chest of drawers downstairs so there is now room to set up bookshelves. All in all a productive month.

Plans for June? A lot of the same old/same old with a little twist:

--Rewrite of MMG with new-old structure (75/??)
--Rewrite 2nd 25 pages of TNN for CWC
--Prepare short story for submission to magazine
--Do CWC critiques (0/2)
--Finish writing room makeover

I've been flirting with the writing room redo for two years now. There has been this niggling around the sides of my mind saying that I shouldn't get a new writing room until MMG is ready to send to agents. Well, that's horse hockey, as my mother used to say. If I want a redecorated writing room, then wanting it is all that's necessary.

The extra challenge is in getting a short story to a point where I feel it's ready to submit to a magazine. Regular blog readers know I'm not comfortable with shorts, nor am I ever really happy with any of them. So this is a biggie for me.

What do you feel you don't do well that you'd like to do better? How about working on it this month?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

CWC Rocks

Once again the anticipation was worse than the actuality. Everyone had the same problems with Vesta as before (and they really, really, really don't like Zack), but there were so many great suggestions that I'm excited about the possibilities. I especially like when someone suggested a change that I'd already thought of. Or when I said, "I know that I need to have this person at this event," and the whole table would bounce and say, "Yes!" Jenny said the bones are there, they just need fleshing out (which is how I tend to write). Mary said she likes the toys I've chosen to play with. How great are those comments?

Jenny posted about our critiquing in the dark. It seems crazy now that no one suggested we stop, but why would we? We still had a critique and a half to go. How could we short change Mary and Shane like that? I think it says something about why I love this group so much. Although there is friendship above and beyond our writing, when we're at CWC, it is all about the writing. There is a bit of small talk, but when it's time for business, that's it. We have Pirates and Sunday dinners and other gatherings for the other stuff.

Now it's time to start revisions of TNN so I'm ready to submit next month. Be aware of my usual shortcomings in the back of my mind, but let this one be what it needs to be at the same time. I'm just glad I'm not submitting a first draft this time around.

Monday, May 25, 2009


can be a good thing or a bad thing. Case in point: CWC tonight.

I'm looking forward to hanging out with the gang. Enjoy their company, their intelligence and humor.

Not looking forward to my critique. Since the last one was pretty dang bad and the submission being critiqued tonight is the end of the same manuscript, I know it will be just as bad if not worse. Why didn't I change it before submitting? Because I don't want to revise until I have all the feedback and have some time to think on it a while. Decide what I'm going to do.

From now on, I want to avoid submitting works in progress or even a completed first draft. Those are supposed to poorly written and submitting them just helps fuel my already highly tuned sense of self-doubt. Which gives me about a month to work on my second draft of TNN.

But at least I'm prepared for the worst tonight. I hope.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Filing Cabinet Thing

Over at Jenny's blog, she talked about how Fred's death hit her and about how he left "file cabinets full of stuff."

Since Fred's funeral last week, I've thought about those file cabinets. They seem to always be on the periphery of my thoughts. Jenny has dedicated herself to accumulating her own cabinets. I'm struggling with the idea. You see, while I didn't know Fred nearly as well any of the others, I was the closest to his age. How many years did it take him to produce what is in those files? How many years did I waste not writing anything?

Intellectually, I know that I can't get back those years and that worrying about them is counterproductive. But the death of a friend isn't an intellectual exercise. It's all about the emotions. So this last week I've been trying to get out of my head and go with my gut. Let myself do whatever seems to be the thing to do at the time. Writing has not happened. At all. No new stuff. No rewrites. Not even Morning Pages. What I've tried to do is get some of the things done that nag at me while I write: clean out the spare room that is supposed to be made into a comfortable writing room, lawn work, other cleaning, etc. And I have done some of that. I also spent a whole day watching the first season of True Blood. I went out to see Star Trek yesterday. I may do dinner and another movie tomorrow.

But today I am writing. This entry--the first one in a couple weeks--is one example. Morning Pages are being made up. And the pages for rewrites are on the table next to me. I've decided it doesn't matter how much I have time to produce before I finally call it a day for this lifetime. Just that I do. That I keep doing this thing I love and not let anyone or anything deter me. That I also listen to my heart as much as my head, if not more, so that I continue to have something to write about. I want to remember that sometimes writing means doing something else. That you never know what will be the catalyst for a story or a character or a setting. That first and foremost a writer must live in the world so she can observe it, because that's what we really do. We observe and report. It's just that there's a lot of other things that go on between the observation and reporting.

I hope some of Fred's work is published. As much for his family and friends as for him. But another legacy he'll be able to claim will be the inspiration he's been to group of writers in Southern Colorado. Here's to a lot of overflowing file cabinets.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taking Ali's Challenge Plus

Fred, a member of the Sunday Group, passed away over the weekend as the result of a stroke and the complications that followed. He was a highly intelligent, funny, odd and just plain nice man. Ali's May Challenge is in Fred's honor. It is simply to learn something new just for the pleasure of learning.

One of the last times I spoke with Fred was right after I read Dante's Inferno. Although I stated that I understood how it had stood the test of time and the artistry and craft that went into writing it (see post in archives), the mere fact that I didn't enjoy it appalled Fred. He seemed to take it as a personal affront. So, in Fred's honor, I will finish The Divine Comedy this summer. I also picked up a copy of the Poetic Eddas and will read them over the summer as well.

Rest well, Fred.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Merry Merry Month

I don't know that anything uber-special has ever happened to me in May, but if I were to name a favorite month, I think May would be it. It's usually a pretty month. Trees and flowers are budding, the grass is turning green (before it dies in June when I fail to water it), the birds are chirping, etc. etc. It's a transitional month, and I like the transitional seasons. It might be interesting to go back and see if I am more or less productive in May.

The goals for this month are posted at the side. I've added a couple more things this month. The first is to write Morning Pages daily. Which is how they are supposed to be done, but I have been slacking off big time. I know I write more when I do my Morning Pages. It could be that they really work. It could be that Julia Cameron has completely brainwashed me. I don't care. They do the job. When I can get all the gunk down on the page--the page that is meant for the gunk--I don't have to deal with it when it's time to actually write. So Pages daily again.

The second unusual entry is to practice banjo at least twice a week. This is another creativity booster. It's fun, even though I have to work at it. It's creative, but in a different way. While it takes time and patience to improve, I am at least good enough to plunk out a recognizable tune or strum chords that I can sing along with. In other words, instant gratification. Writing does give a tangible result--"I wrote 10 pages today!"--but it's a tangible result that can't readily be evaluated. I may think it's brilliant, but it might be veering off into a deadend direction or fails to move the story at all. Or I can think it stinks, but then realize after the whole thing is done that this was the pivotal moment in the story. With music, it's ephemeral but immediate.

I'm also going to start the cleanup of TNN for submission in July (I think it's July, we're doing some rejiggering). In any case, I don't want to wait until the last minute. So we're getting that party started.

So, is there something you can do that's fun and creative but has nothing to do with writing? How about giving it a try this month?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Taking My Own Advice

So, yesterday I packed up my bag with a couple different notebooks and journals and headed to It's A Grind for what Ali calls out-of-the-house pages. I was disappointed at first because the place was packed with Sunday after church and Sunday not so much church people. Only one table left and that one in the middle of the room. But I slung my bag into a chair to hold it and went off to order my coffee.

A few minutes later, I was so deep into my Morning Pages I almost missed the woman bringing me my triple Nutty Cow (hazelnut latte). Finished morning pages and pulled out a very pretty journal that I hadn't written in since last October. That surprised me. I think about that book all the time, but it seems that thinking about writing really isn't writing (Neil Gaiman was right). I looked around the coffee shop, wondering what to write about. I hadn't brought any prompts with me and couldn't think of any that sounded interesting. Then I spotted a guy who bore a slight resemblance to Stephen Fry, the actor and King of Twitter. That was all it took. Several pages later, I had what could turn out to be a fun short story with a little work.

As I sipped my coffee and looked out at the beautiful Colorado day, a woman sitting by the window asked me, "Are you writing a book or just writing for yourself?" "Both actually." We chatted for a while. She's from Michigan, too, not far from where I grew up. Then off to King Soopers for some healthy-ish food for the week.

When I got home, I took my bag into the writing room, pulled out the draft of MMG and started on rewrites. I had fun with them for the first time in a while. Actually liked what I was producing. Seventeen pages that sound like me. Not like a pale imitation.

I rock.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shortcuts Make Long Delays

As you may have noticed, many of my friends are writers. Very talented writers. The links for some of them are at the left (in the current template anyway). And they all work at their craft to make it better. Some are at the point of putting their babies in front of agents.

One friend recently entered a contest with a big prize--publication by a major publishing house. Pretty cool, huh? This friend made it through the first cut but did not make it to the last round. Bummer. And I would be bummed, too. Think about all the steps you could skip just by winning this contest.

That's the dream, isn't it. Not having to do the slog. You know the one. The seemingly endless querying of agents. Realizing after you hit the on the email to Agent A that you've left in the opening paragraph that relates to Agent Z. Getting rejection after rejection. Then a request for pages. Which turns into a rejection. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then finally getting the agent only to have to go through it all again with editors.

It's why we go to conferences and put ourselves through pitch sessions. Or join social networking groups in order to maybe possibly meet Agent J (or his cousin) or Editor M (or her mother's neighbor's best friend's daughter). Anything to get us closer to the person who will say yes without all the other nonsense. And it's why we enter contests.

But I'm beginning to suspect that writing is like other things in life. Most of us have to do the slog. Write. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Query. Submit. Query. Submit. And while you're querying and submitting, you're also writing and rewriting other things.

The only shortcut I see is to keep writing through the disappointments. Because if we let each and every setback stop the process for a few days or a month or a year (and that has happened to more than one of us), then it just becomes a longer and harder slog. With the feeling that even more is on the line. The little successes can interrupt the flow, too. Oooh, Agent S asked for a full. I'm going to send it off and celebrate by not writing anything until I hear back, because she might want some big revisions and I want to be waiting by the phone. Uh huh.

Maybe the biggest revelation in all of this is that, for me, the writing has to be an end in and of itself. Maybe that needs to be the goal. Not nabbing an agent. Not getting published. Writing. Just for the sheer joy and necessity of it. Publication can be the extra sprinkles on top. Because if I don't love the writing, why am I doing this? There are easier ways to make a buck. Other things I enjoy doing in my free time. And focusing too much on that end of things can make me forget why I started doing this in the first place. Because I love putting one word after the other and seeing what they create.

Not that I don't want the sprinkles.

And whipped cream.

And maybe a cherry.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Synchronicity Again

I've been having a rough couple of weeks. Nothing major. No health issues or big money woes. Just a sort of malaise. An "I suck at everything" feeling. I get this once in a while. Lots of negative self-talk and such.

Mentioned my mood to Jenny and Ali before the CWC meeting last week, and Jenny said she'd been in a bad mood. Sort of an "I suck at everything" mood. Now we both know we don't suck at everything, but when one of these moods sets in, it's not about what we know but what we feel.

The next day I took a few of my trusty index cards and put together a set of affirmations. Positive responses to the negative things I'd been telling myself about myself. Started reading them a couple times a day. Unfortunately, my first few times through that nasty little voice answered each one with the nasty stuff I'd been telling myself. But repetition helps silence that. After a while it does help. So does letting myself relax. Doing other things I enjoy.

So, imagine my surprise when I check out Pat's blog and see a whole post on the dangers of negative self talk and some suggestions on what to do about it. Sometimes these things are just out there in the air.

And, if you're convinced that you too suck because something didn't turn out quite the way you planned or wasn't done when you thought it should have been (my personal suckage trigger), go over to Courtney's blog and listen to J.K. Rowling extol the virtues of failure.

By the way, YOU certainly don't suck, especially not at everything. And I'm realizing that I don't either.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Clearance on Poppets

What's a Poppet?

Obviously, you don't follow Neil Gaiman's blog then. That's where I first learned about poppets and became hooked.

A poppet is a little (usually about 2 inches tall) sculpture by an amazing artist, Lisa Snellings. They are extremely cute and just a tad bit creepy. "Grotesque," says Giovanna. "In a good way." There are a couple who wander around my house. My first, Little Red, sits on my desk at work to inspire me in those moments I have to do something creative. She--I'm convinced that this one is a girl--waits patiently for me to acknowledge her. But sometimes she she draws my attention when I wasn't expecting it, trying to get me to "do the work".

The sale is this Saturday, March 28th on Lisa's eBay site Lisa's Store .

You can check out Lisa's other artwork (wish I had more disposable income, but I did just find out she does layaway) at Poppet Planet .

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Clearing Out

Over the weekend, I cleared out a lot of the junk that has accumulated in The Blue Room. The Blue Room has acted as guest room over the years. It was the room where I kept the cat's dish out of reach of the goofy little dog who used live with us. Then, after my sister moved in, it became my writing room because I could no longer get to the desk in the family room downstairs (my former "office"). But most of all, it's been the junk room. The room were things are thrown when one doesn't know where to put them. Or where bags of Christmas gifts and decorations and such go to live until distributed accordingly.

There is still some clutter in there, but I can see most of the floor and get to the daybed (no desk or chair) without tripping. So that's all good.

I think I've also been doing some mental de-cluttering. Last week I quickly whipped out a new structural plan for MMG. I like it. Talked it over with a couple of the Pirates on Monday night and got thumbs up. Ready to rock and roll. Only I wasn't. I needed a couple days to let the last version settle. To live with the new plan and let go of all the stuff (a multitude of stuff, really) that is now gone from the story. It needed to go. Desperately. But that doesn't make it any easier.

Now, thinking about proceeding doesn't give me that little twinge. It's okay to start at what used to be page 110. Not everything from before that is gone, but may appear in an altered form somewhere else. Such is writing and rewriting. Things morph.

The pages are stacked next to me. The purple pen is ready. Tally-ho!

Monday, March 2, 2009

March Goals

Recap of February:

--Finish this rewrite of MMG (400/400 pages)
--Clean up enough of Vesta from NaNo to submit this month (DONE)
--Do CWC critique (1/1)
--UGWP critiques (3/3)

Not bad at all, after the change to "this" rewrite of MMG. Yes, it was a lot of work accomplished. And, yes, it was still disappointing to not be done with the damn thing. But that's the way this game goes. Without further ado (or whinging) here is the plan for March:

--Do rewrite of MMG with new-old structure
--Do CWC critiques (0/2)

I know UGWP critiques are not on the list. I hope to be able to do them, but I won't beat myself up if I don't get them done. I kind of knew the return to Sunday group could turn out to be temporary. If I can keep up great. If I can't, it's time to finally call it quits. Love the people, that doesn't make more time in my month.

What Happened?

Thank you for all the suggestions on great well fillers. I'll definitely put them to use on another day.

My well refilling weekend went a little like this:

--Appointment with wonder hairdresser and first reader, Carrie.
--Spice of Life in Manitou Springs for a breakfast bagel and a latte. Did some morning pages (not, officially, writing) while listening in on a table full of photographers who did not appear to know each other well.
--Wander through Manitou, surprised by how many shops have changed to an opening time of noon from ten a.m. Went into a bead/jewelry shop that advertised everything 50% off of their already wholesale prices. Must really be catering to tourists brand new in town. Prices were off the charts.
--Stopping in Old Colorado City to go specifically to Holly Berry Needlework shop and Mystery Sleuth. Bookstore is now a noon opener. Picked up a cute knitting book and a little knotwork kit. Yarn for pattern I particularly like in the book was $9.00 a skein. The pattern took 15 skeins. Will shop elsewhere for yarn.
--Went home and watched a few of the shows I taped last week. Burn Notice just keeps getting better.
--Did a lot of piecing on a quilt top that was started a while back and then abandoned for whatever reason. Lots of little pieces probably had a lot to do with it. One more good session should get the top together. Then on to the funnest part--quilting.
--Started knitting a hat. Interesting pattern. I'll let you know how it turns out.

That was about it for Saturday. Watched a few more videos in the evening.

Sunday turned into a finish laundry, knit and watch Lord Of The Rings on TV. Worked fine for me.

Time to set goals for March and then get to 'em.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Well Filling

It's that time again. Time to top off the well. It's not empty--far from it, in fact, but I find it sometimes helps to take a break and pour a little more in before it goes dry. This weekend is reserved for that.

I've hit a point on the MMG revisions which is good, but potentially labor-intensive. My first inclination is to dive right in with no break between the last go-round and the next. But I have finally learned that that way lies madness. I have a good head of steam because of the new ideas. Is it enough to get me through all the messiness in the middle (or the "muddle" as Giles Carwyn calls it)? Don't think so. Hence, the fill up. [Even though that brat Jenny is done and ready to submit and my three competitive cells are all fired up about that, too.]

What is the plan? That's the beauty. There is no plan. I believe there will be music--because there's always music in some form. Perhaps quilting, which I haven't done in a coon's age (just how long is that, I wonder). Baking may be in order. Hiking always works nicely. Some fun with polymer clay? Cleaning out the blue room. Doesn't sound like well-filling, but more room and less clutter certainly help things along.

Of course, by telling myself I can't write at all this weekend, I have made myself ache to put pen to paper. But I shall be a stern well-filler.

So what tells you it's time to take a break? And what constitutes one?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Last night was our CWC meeting. Fleur was "up the creek" for a full YA novel. Even though we all enjoyed it and LOVED the protagonist, there were suggestions all the way around. As there always are. That's what the group was created for--to make us all better.

What impressed me was not just how well the story already worked or the amazing ideas that flew around the table on how to make it even better. The really impressive thing was Fleur's reaction to all this input. "This is great!" she said with a huge smile. Either she needs to try out for Theatreworks or she really meant it. I think she was genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to revise using (or not) the ideas we gave her.

And that's a good writer, my friends. I'm trying to get there. I realize that rewrites are necessary. I'm getting better at them. And at taking criticism. But I can't say that I ever feel so freakin' joyful after a critique session. Especially right after. Maybe a few days later when things start to sink in and balance out a little it doesn't sting quite so much. And that doesn't mean I want the others to take it any easier on me during critiques. That won't help me.

Hanging out with other writers is always a learning experience. I learn from their work, from their critiques of my work and of other people's (published and aspiring). And I realized last night that I have learned and am still learning from their reactions to feedback.

This IS great!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I just finished cleaning up my CWC submission for February AND the one for April! I am officially ahead for once

How groovy am I? Pretty damn groovy, I'm thinking.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And Now For The Rest Of The Story

My post of yesterday was an attempt at humor in the face of a crushing realization. Like Jenny, I realized that my rewrite wasn't quite where I wanted it to be. As I told her, if she was depressed over not finishing in a week, I should be on the point of suicide. How long has this been going on? [And to make matters worse, that damn song is now stuck in my head.]

Anyway, yesterday afternoon was a bit of a rough one, until I hit the fuck it moment. Not as in throw in the towel and take up botany, but as in it's taken this long so why not take a little longer and really get it right. Once that sank in, lots of great ideas for improvement of said tome flooded in. Not sure I even got them all down, they were coming so fast. And ideas for other works in progress, henceforth referred to as WIP.

This shouldn't take months to fix. Weeks, maybe. Today is take a breather, make more plans for what to do and clean up Vesta for CWC next week. Then back at it tomorrow for the last 40 pages of MMG just like nothing happened. Saturday will start the new rewrites. So we're still looking at March for sending queries. Not bad.

Note to self: Don't ever title anything The Last Rewrite.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Revision is the Mobius Strip of writing!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Respectfully Disagree

I've been pondering this post for a while now. Partly because I've been busy at work--a good thing in these times. Partly because I've also been busy with rewrites on MMG--an extremely good thing. And partly because I wasn't sure how to put it without maybe stepping on toes.

But I think have the time and a way of doing it.

Jenny posted about King's interview where he says that JK Rowling = good writing while Stephanie Meyer = bad writing. She questions who gets to make those decisions. Then Fleur posted about talking with her students about the same thing. Her final conclusion for them was that if they like it, it's good.

I have to disagree with that. There is a reason that in a previous time--not that long ago, really--critics were a rarefied breed. There just weren't that many around for books, art, music or movies. Why was that? Burly, hairy men standing guard at the gates to keep out the riff-raff? Well, in a way. The bodyguards however were education. A specific kind of education. These critics knew about movies or books or music or art or whatever else they were critiquing. It took time to learn about each art form and what the structures and standards were. And, also, to learn what was new and cutting edge. What broke the rules in an interesting and deliberate way and what just didn't have a clue.

Now anyone with a blog and the inclination can post a review of anything they want. See previous posts for examples from this author. Doesn't matter if you don't know a comma from a coma or a landscape from a landing strip. You have an opinion? It's call a critique.

Now, I can say whether or not I like something. And I have every right to that opinion and to post it wherever I want as long as it doesn't stray into libel. But liking something and knowing if it's "good" or not are too different things.

Case in point: I may love Big Macs. (I'm so-so on them, but do get the occasional craving). Does that mean they are an example of good cooking? Absolutely not. They fill one up. Can be tasty with enough tartar--I mean special sauce to cover up the cardboardy beef and wilted shreds of iceberg lettuce. But no one needs to study for years to figure out how to put one together.

There are movies that are not acted, written or filmed particularly well (The Cutting Edge comes to mind) that I watch every time they're on television. I can chew through some pretty horribly written mysteries when I've read too many heavier, and much better written, books in a row and just need to chill out for a bit. So there are examples of things I like that I know aren't particularly good.

Then take Dante's Inferno. As stated previously, I struggled with it. Called it 17th Century Burn Book. But I recognize why it's lasted all these centuries. Well, partly because of the religious aspect, BUT the structure, the artistry, the attention to detail are all amazing. I get it. I just didn't like it. My not liking it doesn't make it any less than what it is.

I think a better way to put it is: "If you like it, that's okay. It's sometimes enough just to like it. That doesn't necessarily mean it's well-executed. And just because you didn't enjoy something, doesn't necessarily make it bad. You may just need to learn a bit more so you understand why it's considered great. May not make you like it any better, but it just might."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We Got Fleur!

Just a quick one to say that Fleur is now blogging. Check her out at:


Monday, February 2, 2009

Ack! Goals, Again.

It feels like I've just written the goals for one month before it's time to do it all over again.

How'd I do for January?

--Finish really really rough draft of TNN (DONE)
--Rewrite MMG (About 1/3)
--Write flash piece for anthology (Did 2)
--Read first book in Divine Comedy (DONE)
--Do CWC critique (1/1)
--UGWP critiques (3/3)

For February?

--FINISH rewrite of MMG
--Clean up enough of Vesta from NaNo to submit to CWC this month (added)
--Complete CWC critique
--UGWP critique

It's a short month, what can I say?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frustrating and Fascinating

This is one of those days when we all cannibalize each other's blogs. But it's a good topic.

Revision. Or as Jenny says, re-vision. Looking at your work in a new way. It sucks. It revitalizes. It hurts. It inspires. It's both frustrating and fascinating.

Another Jenny comment was that we have to write the stuff that needs to be cut later. I found that helpful now that I'm about a third of the way through MMG rewrites. I'm slashing and hacking, and adding and tweaking. And all the while thinking "Why didn't I realize that I didn't need this crap?" But I did need it. I needed to write those words because they were what led to the words that I'm keeping. If it hadn't been for the 15-page funeral scene that was cut, I wouldn't have the cleaning out the house scene which stayed. If I hadn't written Thanksgiving (cut), I wouldn't have done Christmas (stays).

The good part of a critique group, especially one as thorough, talented and honest as CWC, is that you find out what didn't work and what did. The bad part is that you tend to hear the same things 4-5 times. And it starts to feel like water torture. Just that drip drip drip of what was wrong--because none of us are egotists so we tend to gloss over the what worked part. Which can turn into the feeling that nothing worked. But in Ali's case--as in all the stories that have been submitted so far--only a tiny portion of the whole didn't work.

What I'm going to take away from this discussion is the re-visioning of revision. Look at MMG with new eyes (because, frankly, the old ones were getting pretty tired of the story and that can be death to the process).

And, Ali, do ignore Juan.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Because Neil Asked

The one Coraline trailer he really likes.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


There have been so many things going on lately. Big things like our new President. Little things like knitting gloves. Things in between like a birthday party for my favorite 4-year-old. I keep thinking I should have enough material for a long, deeply thought-out post, but the truth is that all of this stuff just seems to crowd each other out. One minute a party is asking for attention. The next it's the idea that double-pointed knitting needles are one of the greatest inventions of all time.

I'd claim ADD, throw up my hands and have an excuse for not getting anything done, but we all know that I can focus like a laser (almost typed Lazar) when I put my mind to it. I think what the main roadblock has been is that the BIG thing has occupied a lot of my thoughts in the last few weeks. What it might mean for the country, indeed, the world. How high hopes, including mine, are and how that is going to both help and hurt Mr. Obama. Because we are a nation inflicted with a form of ADD. Yes, we're going to support him. Yes, we're willing to wait. Yes, we know it'll be hard work and what can I do to help. And, wait a minute? Didn't he say he was going to fix the economy? No, I don't remember saying anything about being willing to sacrifice and be patient and helping out. So that worries me a bit. But this isn't a political blog.

All I can think of to say about knitting gloves is that it's near instant gratification, unlike sweaters and afghans. If the cat agrees to sit on the arm of my chair instead of my lap, I can knock out one a night. You'll see my running count on the side bar. She's not cooperating. But the rhythm of knitting is soothing, therapeutic even. And double-pointed needles are a wonder. The knitting just goes round and round, seamlessly.

Elizabeth is a wonder. Not that I'm biased at all. Cute, smart and funny. Mostly funny. She can be so serious one minute and a complete goof the next. And she's at the age where she's making up stories. They go from first person to third to second within one sentence. Her cast of characters gets unwieldy and she drops characters without warning. But they are exciting tales of giant girls with green skin who climb mountains with Ariel and Belle (pronounced Bell-le). Somehow we never seem to reach the end of the story. And I think that's a good thing.

Facebook never ceases to amaze. Just a little over a month on it and I've reconnected with people from former jobs, other social networks (I guess that's what you'd call the old AOL MST3K message boards) and from high school. And here's a question: How can I not remember a guy from my graduating class when there were only 125 kids in it? Weird.

So that's the update for this week, such as it is. I'll try to be more focused next week. We'll see how that works out for me.