Ernest Hemingway:

As Ernest Hemingway once said...
'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'

Thursday, February 28, 2013

and so it begins...again

So I'm working on something new. Yes, you read that right - me, having been engrossed in a new job and figuring out life anew, is writing again. A little bit. Just thoughts and random chapters for now, as I'm still reading a manuscript for a lovely, talented, and inspiring critique partner. But when it's done, yeah, it's on. I'm ready.

It's been a long four? five? months, I can't even remember anymore. A long time of rediscovering my worth as a cog in the wheel of the corporate world, albeit a much more tolerable and giving and understanding world than I've been used to for the past eight years. However, while doing so, I've lost myself as a writer. I've worked so hard on becoming (or rediscovering) Jen the teacher, Jen the learner, Jen the...well, Jen the gal who learns from mistakes and works hard to fit into the mold left for her. Jen the writer, Jen the creative, Jen the spinner of tales and molder of words has been pushed to the back of the crowd.

Well no longer. Because thanks to a fabulous member of my now defunct writers' group (a fact we proudly proclaim as we drink and rile our way through the dive bars of SLo MO) who graciously gave me an old Mac that, despite its years, still chugs on much better than my much newer Toshiba, I'm able to tuck myself into a basement corner of my office building and tap out word after word for an hour a day. I'm busy for the first time in my life at work, but at least 3 out of 5 days (and I'm working on four) I'm going to make sure to carve out an hour to stuff my face and clack on the keyboard. It's coming. I feel it.

So this post started out as a way to thank myself and preach the importance of keeping EVERYTHING (even terrible, smelly, embarrassing old drafts) because you never know when it will evolve into the story you meant to tell all along. That's what happened to me. Characters from old novels/drafts are coming together like they were meant to be the whole time, and themes written previously all of the sudden make sense in their new home. I thought of a fucking fantastic beginning, and knowing enough to recognize that I was unsure of the end, have always been unsure of the end, I thought of a fucking fantastic one of those too. And documented it, no less. So I've got a start and an end. And a few great ideas for the middle.

And for the first time I've really thought about perspective. How to tell a story in a meaningful way. When it makes sense to write in first person and when it makes sense to do something else. I'm going to write it about the main character, from many multiple points of view, but never from his. Because his story is scary. I'm not sure it would be good to dive into his head, not first hand, anyway.

Anyway, it's an experiment. One I'm damned excited to start. I'm proud of my desire to try new things, to push the limits. Because yeah, I could churn out romance after romance. I've got a head full of sex and hot men (and a bed...well, one hot mAn, anyway). And I admire people who are cool with that - lord knows, they're making more money than me. As in I'm making none. At writing, anyway.

But I want to write from the heart. I want to entertain, yes, but I also want to shock. And to inspire fear, love, hate, pain, desire, and whatever else. I want my characters to stick with people for a long time. That's what's important to me.

I also want to help people, to share what I've learned. Which may or may not be enough, I guess I'll find out when I try to sell the next one. And probably fail. But I don't care. For the first time in my life I've stuck with something for more than six months (MUCH more), It's been years of hard work leading to this, folks. I know what I want to do. And I'm fucking excited as hell.

Just a FYI, I also worked out so hard the other day I can barely walk. Like I have to physically lower myself into a chair. Oh, isn't it glorious, getting old?

Monday, February 18, 2013

a fantastic read by a terrific indie writer

So I'm unearthing myself from a hole of work, vacation, Game of Thrones (the books), and life in general to promote the heck out of a friend and fellow writer, Julie Frayn. Go get her book Suicide City, A Love Story. I'm incredibly proud to call her my critique partner and to have had the pleasure and honor to read her work and have her read mine, wallow in the difficulty of publishing, and dream of one day being a published writer.

Well Julie, you've done it! I'm so proud of you. Any indie writers out there who feel like helping to promote a talented writer, please go forth and do so!

I hope someday I can find courage enough to follow in her footsteps. And by the way, I love the cover!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

the speed with which emotions are crushed

It's fast. Take my word for it. Two days, to be exact.

Since October 30th, I've send out forty queries for my current manuscript. That's way more than I've ever sent out - because I've queried before, you see. This is my sixth time. How depressing is that? Anyway, to date, I've gotten six nos, and thirty three nothings. You do the math. Doesn't quite add up, does it?

One is missing. Because I got one yes. Holy crap, right? One lovely agent with fantastic taste asked to read the whole doggone thing. Not the first few chapters. Not the synopsis. She asked for the whole kit and caboodle. And boy, was I excited. Not as excited as I've been in the past (I've gotten two requests other than this one - TOTAL), but I think the hurt and rejection sneaks up on all of us after a while. So sure, I hoped for the best. But deep down I knew. Not because this novel isn't good enough, but still. I just knew.

I got the 'no thanks' today. Ugh. I mean, thanks for reading so fast, dear agent (she asked for the whole thing on Friday), but you could have let the dream reign for a bit longer. She did call it Charlie Kaufman-esque, which is something, I guess. I mean if you're going to get rejected you might as well get vaguely compared to Charlie Kaufman.

You know what's sad, though? I'm not even all that upset about it. Mostly I'm sad that I have to continue querying. When will it be my turn? It's just this stupid feeling of defeat that's tiring. It sucks all the want and will right out.

It won't last long. This six month period of not being able to write much has only fueled the fire. My new job is good. It's overwhelming at times, and maybe a bit suffocating, but overall, it's exactly what I need. It pushes me past my limits of comfort on a daily basis. I need that. Because it's too easy for me to let laziness creep in, to be content with the status quo. So for the first time in my life I've really focused on work. For now. Also, I don't have a laptop at the moment, nor the funds to buy one until after Christmas. And it's too hard to write at the desktop in the living room.

So for now, I'm reading all I can get my hands on, and enjoying it. I'm sending out a query or two a day. And I'm furiously taking notes whenever something pops into my head, which as it turns out, is mostly when I'm driving. Why hello, Officer. Who, me? Texting while driving? No way. Scribbling in a notebook propped up on the steering wheel while navigating with my knees? Well...

Anyway, that's my update. Not that anyone is still reading. And I didn't really want to spend valuable time writing this, but as I've mentioned before, this is for my girl, so she knows why I curse at the computer Those are big girl words, baby, not little girl words and spend time sitting here instead of playing Polly Pockets (well, let's face it, even blogging is preferable to playing Polly Pockets. Damn rubber clothes).

Charlie Kaufman. You don't say. I once did a writing style test that told you what popular authors your writing most resembles, and it spit out Chuck Palahniuk. This novel in fact marks the first I've written from the male POV, and I think that POV will stick (this deserves another post, on another day). I've always been drawn to transgressive fiction and surrealism. Maybe I need to harness it a bit more.

Keep on keepin' on, ya'll.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

oh such a very bad blogger

Oh man. I don't even remember the last time I posted. Because? I got a job! A great one. I'm really excited about the possibilities.

On the other hand, it leaves me little time for anything else other than my family. I'm editing my novel, so I do have time for that, since it can come with me. But writing? Ha! So forget about blogging. For the time being, at least.

Keep writing. I've learned the very important lesson that it comes before all else (well after things that pay the bills, anyway). Because what good is blogging, or marketing, or social media in general if you don't have anything to share with people? So get out there and do it. I wish you all much success.

Ta ta for now.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

query. say it. now wash your mouth out with soap.

Ugh. Go ahead. Say it like a bad word - I do. Query, query, query. I've read so many how-tos, so many sample queries, I've even spent quite a bit of time critiquing them. And still, I have no idea how to write them. I honestly wonder if I'll ever know. I think one day I'm just going to get lucky, and that's it. I won't print out the query and hang it up as an shining example of what's good and right. No, not at all. Because on that day the worlds  will just happen to line up the right way and that's it.

I've submitted queries to a handful of sites, and come back with none of the same comments. In fact, most of the time the comments are in direct contradiction. I've had my writing chewed up and spit out and stomped on, sometimes in a helpful manner, and sometimes not. And let me tell you - nothing gets me more than a bunch of know-it-alls sitting around and tearing the hell out of a query just for sport. Yes, those sites exist. It's nauseating to think at one point I actually thought they were helpful.

This is my conclusion on the nasty, abhorrent query. If the novel is written well and the story is enticing, then assuming the query is written in the same vein, it'll be fine. You'll get some rejections, yes, but you'll also get some interest. Because if the story is good, and the query reflects that, then a fantastic hook won't matter. If you end it with a question, that's okay. If it's a bit too long or too short, again, you're fine. Do those things help? Sure. But I'm a big believer in the idea that if an agent refuses to read my query because I end it with a question, or because it's fifty words too long, then I don't want that agent anyway. What a miserable SOB.

Stay within the general guidelines of course. Don't write a five hundred word query. But I've written enough to know that if the query gets no bites, then it's not the query. It's the novel. Too many times I've sent out queries to no avail only to realize it's my manuscript that needs major work, and the query reflects that.

Bottom line? Don't stress about the query. Worry about the manuscript. Have people read it and really give you helpful critique. Don't be afraid to ask. This is your baby. Don't take a chance on sending queries on a manuscript that hasn't been critiqued only to change it and realize you've used up all of the agents on the top of your wishlist. Spend your energy making sure your manuscript is fantastic, well-written, and formatted properly. I guarantee if you succeed at this your query will be just fine.

And if no one wants your baby? Well, then go indie. But if you do that make damn sure it's ready. Because even worse than sending out a query for a manuscript that needs work is actually publishing it. Yikes.

Of course, this all comes from a woman who hasn't published anything. So as usual take it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

some suggested reading

Last week the lovely and talented Julie recommended a book. It's 'Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View'. I probably would have thought harder about buying it, but it's $2.99. In the end, I'm glad I did.

Though I knew most everything in the book intrinsically, I'd let some of these techniques and practices slip by the wayside. It's a fast read, and doing the exercises is helpful. I'd been trying to express to a few critique partners the importance of writing this way, but didn't have any type of terminology for it. I called it 'active' vs. 'passive' writing. 

So for example, let's pretend we're writing a story from Bob's point of view. Instead of saying 'Bob saw Mike hide the mustard.', we'd say 'Mike hid the mustard.' We're seeing the world through Bob's eyes, right? If the point of view is written correctly, then we already assume Bob saw Mike do it. It takes the reader out of the action and separates them from the inner thoughts and sights of the main character by adding 'saw'. Or 'heard'. Or 'felt'. So in essence, you're deepening the relationship with the main character and his/her point of view by putting the reader directly inside his/her head.

Not to mention, using words like 'felt' is lazy anyway. 'Bob felt happy.' It's the age old lesson of show vs. tell.

Anyway, this post turned into a quick lesson about a common mistake made by writers instead of a recommendation to go and buy this book. Will it change your life? No. But it will make you look more closely at your writing, and that's never a bad thing. 

And besides, if you expect something that costs $2.99 to change your life, well, then you're beyond my help.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

words to live by

Recently heard this in an Amos Lee song:

But sometimes,
We forget what we got,
Who we are.
Oh who we are not.

And sometimes, I hear lyrics that simply kick my ass. I've heard this song quite a few times, but the words didn't resonate until today. Maybe it was just the timing, maybe now they make sense in a way they didn't before.

I mean, lots of times we forget what we got, mostly because we're too distracted with what we don't got. Expensive cars. Big houses. Designer wardrobes. It can be very hard to see the forest for the trees.

I rarely forget who I am, though after my recent job situation, it can get a bit hazy. It's hardest for me to remember that something good is right around the corner. I sometimes tend to wallow in the present, in what's not happening, only to wake up and have my dreams come true. But for me, remembering who I am is the easiest part. This only came, however, after at least thirty years of having no idea. Comfort and content often comes with a price.

But it's the last piece that kicks my ass. Because yes, often times we forget who we are not.

I don't know, maybe it's the fact that I'm critiquing the work of a few lovely, talented ladies, so I've got critiquing on the mind, but lately it seems I'm constantly amazed at the good it's done me in my life to be able to accept criticism. To be able to admit mistakes. To be able to realize I have bitten off more than I can chew at times, pretended I could do it anyway, and failed miserably.

We as a people are taught we can do anything. You want to be an astronaut, princess? Well then go for it! The world is your playground. Don't get me wrong. We all want to teach our children that with hard work and dedication there's a chance you can do anything you want.

But to me, the much more valuable lesson is teaching them that they have limitations. Try things, and if it doesn't work out, then try something else. My daughter wants to take ballet lessons. And let me be clear - she's four. So she didn't ask me. But she loves books about ballet, shows about ballet, so I offered the possibility for her to take classes. So we'll try it. I'm not sure how good she'll be, or that she'll even like it. Or heck, maybe she'll love it. As a parent, it's my job to give her options. But it's also my job to guide her if it isn't working out.

She might want to be a cowboy when she grows up. I can giggle with her about it, talk about what the job might be like, but in reality, I'm going to steer her towards a more realistic occupation.

Because a big part of life is realizing who we aren't. And a big part of that is asking for help when we get to a task that isn't part of who we are. And realizing that there are people out there who are better than you at some things. All too often we let our egos get in the way, let our unrealistic definition of the 'American Dream' cloud our judgement. 

The most important thing in life is realizing when we fall short. And asking for help. And learning everything we can from that help, making us better in the long run. Be humble. Learn from others. Don't get angry when people offer constructive criticism, or suggestions, or help in getting you back on the right path.

If you approach the world with open eyes, open ears, and open hearts, well, then you're doing it right. And it's going to show in your friendships, your work, and everything else.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

book release!

Today the lovely and talented Jo Michaels released Mystic: Bronya, the first in a series of novellas. I bought it this morning and am very much looking forward to reading it on vacation later this week. If you're so inclined to help a fantastic indie writer, go here to like it and tag it. And buy it if you want an entertaining and inspiring read. Go now! And check out her other writing while you're at it!

Friday, August 10, 2012

I've been a bad, bad...blogger

I haven't been around a lot lately. Which is a good thing, mostly. I've been cranking the words out, a very good thing. It takes some motivation to sit down and do it, but once I do, the words just don't stop. And after almost two months of not much at all, jobs are now coming out of the woodwork. I think I'm going to be in the position of having to choose...which is daunting in a very different way than having nothing at all.

We're talking about choosing my life, in a way. Forty hours a week is a good chunk of it, plus commute, of course. My last job was a really bad situation. I don't want to end up with something like that again. On the flip side, money doesn't exactly grow on trees around here. All I hear anymore is concern from loved ones about why I don't have a job yet. ALL THE TIME. I get it. They're concerned. But it's a big decision.

Mostly, I don't want to settle. For the first time in seven and a half years my fate and destiny is in my hands (well, mostly). Do I go with a job that will have a lot of flexibility but is a very (very) small office, where I'm going to know everyone's business and vice versa? Or with a big corporate conglomerate where I'll be able to go to work, do my job, and go home without having to worry about personal stuff? Or somewhere in-between? Do I pick on salary alone, benefits, flexibility, location, or the job itself? See what I mean? It's a lot to think about.

I'm thankful, no doubt about it. It's just such a big decision. But I think a night with my hubby tonight to discuss things and a night with friends tomorrow (who were both in the same boat as me job-wise) will do the trick. Having people around who know me totally, and who understand all the decisions is so fantastic. I'm a really, really lucky lady.

So that's my update. Hopefully everyone else is cranking right along too!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

on critiques (yes, again)

I can't say it enough. I love critiques. I love critiquing. I can think of nothing that's inspired my writing more than critiques and critiquing. Whether I'm critiquing a novel, a chapter, a story, or even a poem, it's like crack to me. I can't get enough.

While simmering in critiques for my last novel - the one I'm thinking of self-publishing - the proverbial faucet turned on. Hard. Where my ideas and inspirations lately have been few and far between, I spoke too soon on another blog about always sleeping well, and barely got a wink last night because of them.

I know now exactly how to fix my last novel. And not only that, but how to strengthen my current novel. I have new tools in my toolbox (to steal an image from Stephen King - yes, Stephen King again), things to rely on when I need to make changes, and things that will become standard fare in deciding on whether an idea is good and how to frame it well.

I'm inspired again. And I couldn't be happier. And I owe it all to the kind, wonderful writers who critique my work, and also the tolerant, patient writers who allow me to critique their work.

Of course, this isn't the first breakthrough I've had with my last novel. Not even close. Which makes me wonder if it won't be the last. But that's okay. Because you know what? I've learned so much with each new draft. It just keeps getting better and better. So if it takes a few more rewrites, so be it. I'll continue to learn, and to grow. And who better to learn from than my fellow writers?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

feeling out of balance

So as I've been slowly working my way through Stephen King's On Writing, it's been my goal to write at least a thousand words a day. I've been fairly successful at it. The problem is, when I get past a thousand, I quit. Which is good, in some respects. A thousand words is a decent chunk when you've got a life going on around you. When you don't - aka no job - it's a crutch. I could write a lot more.

But there's Mad Men on Netflix instant view. And the Game of Thrones novels sitting on the end table that my mother-in-law dropped off the other day. And Simply Ming on PBS. And the novels I'm reading and critiquing for a few fine folks. Oh yeah, and my little monkey wanting to play Candyland or Chutes and Ladders or maybe eat some lunch.

It's like once I get to those thousand words, no matter how much I say I just need a break, and will write more later, it usually doesn't happen. I'm sure there's an easy fix. Like make my goal two thousand. Or three. Easy, right?

The thing is though, I think those other things are creeping in so much because I'm feeling out of balance. I don't have a job. I need to figure out health insurance. I need to think about who I'm going to bother next to get a job. I need to think about filing for unemployment. There's a lot going on in my head, and it doesn't leave a lot of room for much else. Once I force myself to sit down and write it's fine. It flows well. It's easy to crank out a thousand words. I tell myself over and over, this is your time to write, to figure out what you want, but it just causes more stress and anxiety.

My last job was full of issues and problems. But I felt a sense of balance there. I liked the work, liked my co-workers, had a good relationship with my boss (or so I thought), and worked great hours. The balance was great. I had a great life at home, and a chance to get away and be my own person, too. I didn't have to worry about so many things, so it was easier to focus on writing when I needed to. Writing was a joy.

Now though, it's a chore, forcing my mind to push through the other issues and barriers and focus on writing. I know it won't be this way forever. And I'm trying to make myself see that in a world of chaos, writing is one of the things that grounds me. It's one of the things that's constant, always there, always waiting for me to come back. And that is comforting.

Oh, if only I could make even a little bit of money with my writing so I could maybe get something part-time and make it work. Wouldn't that be the life?

Does anyone else feel like it's hard for them to write when their life is out of balance?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

deathly afraid of self-publishing

Okay, so after getting to know a handful of people who have self-published and reading numerous blog posts on the subject, the idea is fresh in my mind. Still - I can't push the button. First, because I don't know nearly enough about it, not about formatting, marketing, etc. I have the resources to learn. I just need to carve out some time to do it. And that's hard to do when I'm taking care of the monkey full-time, working on another novel, and helping others with their writing. This is so cliche, but there just isn't enough time in the day to do everything I want to do.

More than anything though I'm worried beyond belief that I'll put it out there, and it won't sell, or it will get bad reviews, or that basically it will be my downfall as an author. Because that's what's so scary. Once it's out there it can't be taken back. So agents and publishers will be able to track it down FOREVER. That's a damn long time. I know, I know, it might get good reviews too. That's the thing. I don't know. Anything is possible.

As those of you who've been following for a bit know, I've submitted my novel to numerous agents, presses, whoever will take it, basically. I've gotten one request from an actual, real-life agent, and she passed. I've gotten two request from indie presses - one passed (though that was a previous version) and one still has it, but I'm not holding out much hope.

The thing is, it's not a genre that is selling right now. It's not YA, fantasy, dystopian, etc. Or is that just what I tell myself to make all the rejection seem better somehow? I've let a handful of people read it, and they've all loved it. But they're my friends and/or family. Can I really take their opinions seriously? I know a big part of marketing for self-publishing is knowing how to categorize it or 'tag' it. I don't know how to categorize it. That's been my biggest struggle so far I think.

Bottom line, if I'm going to do this, I need help. I take risks, I have no problem doing that. But so much is on the line. I want to know for sure that there's at least a shred of a chance that it will get a good review or sell at least a few copies. I need people I don't know well to read it and tell me what's wrong (big picture). I need people to help me categorize it. I really think it could sell - but I want to be as best prepared as possible if and when I take this leap. I have a few ideas in mind of where to go for this help, but if any of you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

what if? and my big duh moment

So I'm not quite done with Stephen King's On Writing yet but while reading it last night I stumbled into an 'a-ha' moment. According to Stephen King, stories should start out as 'what if' situations.

Duh, right? Seems easy. Not sure how this idea has escaped me all these years, but somehow it has. Mostly my stories are based on my fantasies (I daydream way too much) that I change around enough so as to not resemble my life in any way. Lots of times I work the whole thing out in my head before I even write one word. I see now how this isn't the best way, not even close.

One of his 'what if' examples:

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? This is the 'what if' for 'Salem's Lot, of course.

'What if' is how he starts a story. He builds from there. In fact, he's very against plotting, something I've convinced myself is necessary for the past few drafts. I'm reconsidering. Because I think plotting (or detailed outlining) is why my current work is just about finished in 50K words, about 25K short of my initial goal. Because I stick to the plot instead of letting the story emerge.

Like I said, duh.

The plot to this novel is already clear. It just needs some serious padding. It's interesting - when I've disregarded the outline a little bit and made it up as I went along it flowed much better and seems more coherent. Thankfully it fits the 'what if' test - What if a young man finds out his dad isn't dead after being told all his life that he was? The hows and whys and whos are all variable. That is to say they can be changed up and the 'what if' still exists. I mean seriously - a light bulb turned on in my head. This makes so much sense. Leave it to Stephen King to say in so few words something that completely changes my life.

I've tried to apply the 'what if' test to my other novels, and not-so-shockingly, it doesn't work. What if a woman's husband dies, and she falls in love with another man, but can't deal with it, and becomes an alcoholic, and gets involved with her husband's best friend, and well, you get the point. The main 'what if' - woman's husband dies - isn't strong enough.

And how about this one? What if a woman's boyfriend goes out of town, and she falls in love with a musician, but doesn't do anything except be his friend, and then he calls to say he has cancer, and dies, and well, again, you get the point. What if a woman falls in love with another man isn't strong enough. Not even close! I'm laughing right now. It's the oldest plot line in history, right?

I think a standard part of my new process is going to be starting with 'what if' and working from there. It will be the very first thing on my new 'facts' page. I'm going to wing it from now on and make notes on major plot points and factual items as I go along (so I don't forget and have to hunt through the manuscript for information).

Do any of you start with a 'what if'? Honestly, how did I miss this?

Thank you, Stephen King. All of this just reaffirms that you are my hero.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

a little taste of my writing

Jo Michaels posted an interesting challenge via Facebook. Instead of answering it there, I'm going to answer it here. It's a good blog topic, especially since I've never shared my work. And, most of my friends on Facebook aren't writers, so it won't be as appreciated there.
Post 7 lines from the 7th line down on the 77th page of your novel.

Here goes:

Mom leans down to hear the barely five-foot woman better. Officer Penny repeats the question. Mom says no, but looks almost offended, even though she’s probably just overwhelmed.
"Standard procedure, ma’am,” says Penny as she pushes open the door. “Believe me, the invasion of privacy doesn’t end there.”

When the thick door closes they’re in a bare room with black cages and concrete walls. Penny sits at a metal table and tells Mom to sit across from her.

“Okay, we’ve got a form here for you to fill out and sign. It’s just so we have all of your information on file saying you’re an approved visitor, yadda yadda yadda. I’ll give you a minute.”
Interesting idea. This is from my work-in-progress. I'd love to see more from other writers.