Ernest Hemingway:

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

author blog challenge #29...farewell

What are you going to do to keep the blogging momentum going? What plans do you have to continue your connection with other Author Blog Challenge participants?

Is it wrong to say I actually feel a bit of relief that the challenge is over? Don't get me wrong. I had a great time, really got back into blogging, and met some fantastic writers - and plenty of blogs that I will keep up with now that the challenge is over. But, whew. Looking for a job, trying to crank out another novel, and chasing after an almost-four-year-old full-time is exhausting.

So it'll be back to a couple of times a week. I'm looking forward to getting back on track as to why I re-started the blog in the first place - as a diary of sorts to record milestones and feelings along the road of my writing career. The contest was great - but it effectively buried my goal. I don't want to be a blogger, though it's part of the game, I guess. So it's going to take a back seat to writing. Which is a good thing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

author blog challenge #27 - writers are awesome

First - the best early birthday present ever (other than getting fired) - I got a request from a fabulous agent for the first three chapters of my novel. It's my first ever real request from an agent! Yay.

What has been the best part of participating in the Author Blog Challenge? What are your suggestions for improving the next Author Blog Challenge?

The best part for me was meeting so many great writers and making a lot of connections. I've learned so much in the past month, I don't even think I can list it all. I've added quite a few of the writers to my read feed, so I can keep up with their doings after the contest is over. I have a feeling at least a few of these lovely writers will be in my life, at least online, for a long time. How cool is that?

A big thank you to the lovely Laura Orsini for putting the challenge together. I don't even remember how I got involved, but I'm so happy I took the risk. I haven't posted every day, but I've done a lot more than I would have otherwise.

And, I've learned a whole lot about myself through this process. Not only have I dug deep within myself to answer some of the questions, but it just so happened to take place during a month where my entire world changed. And I got two requests for my novel, one I said I would put to rest if it went nowhere. It's been an eventful month. I have a feeling it's going to be the start of some new and wonderful things in my life.

I feel very lucky today - not only is it my birthday (woot woot - I now round up to forty!), but I'm ready to take on the world. I have fantastic friends, a loving family, and the best husband and daughter in the entire world. Nothing will get me down.

Thanks to all of the participants for your support, encouragement, and advice. Writers are a special group of people - not once have I participated in a group that is so optimistic, willing to help, and give of themselves. One thing is for sure - we can't do it without one another.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

author blog challenge #25 - a few shout-outs

I'm back from our little weekend getaway. Didn't get nearly as much writing done as I would have liked, but I'm dangerously close to writing 50K+ during the month of June. Very pleased. And needed the relaxation.

Back to the prompts...

Time for some shout-outs. This may mimic your acknowledgement page, but whom would you like to publicly thank for their help in creating your book or completing it to the point where it is presently?

The people who've helped me the most along my journey don't read my blog. But I'm going to call them out anyway. First, of course, is my handsome and adoring husband. He's not only allowed me the time to write, but he's been there every step of the way, even when no one else knew. He's listened to me gripe, complain, even rave, and always offers encouragement. That's huge.

Second, my amazing friend (and jewelry-maker extraordinaire) Chris. He's read two drafts so far, and always has great comments. So not only is he fun and talented, he is willing to hash out details and isn't afraid to let me know his real feelings. Can't appreciate that enough.

Third is my best friend Alison. We've been besties since high school...and have known one another since junior high. That's a damn long time. She's definitely my second half, and she was the first one I told about writing (after all, she was part of my Key West inspirational trip). She's been there for all the highs and lows, and always has an encouraging word or a 'what the f*ck!' when things don't turn out as I'd like.

Fourth is a tie between my older sister Mary and my mother-in-law. Both have read drafts and offered comments, and both have supported me along the way. They are two smart, lovely ladies, and I'm lucky to have them.

Last (but not least) is my mom and my other older sister, Chrissy. They're always willing to read anything I give them. They aren't so good with critical comments, mostly because I think they're just so amazed I can write a whole novel, and read them with nothing but anticipation. But heck - it's great to be flooded with compliments every now and again.

Those are just the people in my real life, though. I can't even begin to thank the online folks who have critiqued chapters, or queries, or short stories, some who have been incredibly influential. The folks in the query group of Writer's Digest have been amazing, and they're always willing to read and comment. When I get too close to the darn thing to look at it critically, they always see exactly what I miss. And I've gotten a ton of great help on You Write On and Scribophile, too. Honestly, when no one else knew about my writing, or when whole novels weren't ready for critique, online folks were my only salvation.

And a huge shout-out to the great writers involved in the Author Blog Challenge. I've met some fantastic people, and gotten some great advice. And, by forcing myself to do the prompts, I've learned a lot about myself and about writing. I'm still wondering how I was allowed into their ranks...

So there you have it. I only hope I can be as helpful and influential in their lives someday as they've been in mine.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

author blog challenge #21 - on being polite and gracious

Well, I figured that since I don't have a job right now (except chasing after my little monkey), I should get back into the swing of the challenge. I'm starting to think maybe working made me focus more since I had so much less time. Not that it's hard to focus. Just that there are so many other things to do.

And I'm going to the loveliest lake (Bull Shoals) to stay in the loveliest cabin (my in-laws retreat) and spend the weekend on the lake sans child with my handsome husband to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary. Needless to say, since it's in the middle-of-nowhere-Northern-Arkansas, there won't be any blogging. But there will be writing. Oh, yes. There is no better place to write than in a remote cabin perched on the edge of a fading mountain overlooking a crystal-clear, spring-fed lake. No ma'am.

Okay. Onto the post:

What is the single best piece of advice you've ever received about the publishing process  and/or what advice would you offer to a first-time author?

Oh boy. I've gotten so much advice over the past few years, all from online buddies/colleagues, mind you. Honestly I don't even know where to begin. Maybe it's about having thick skin. Though I do have thick skin, I have a tendency to fly off the handle without thinking things through. I think one of the best pieces of life advice I've ever gotten is when something upsets you, sleep on it, and go fresh in the morning. Never react right off the bat.

This does apply to writing too. I've gotten some really crappy critiques. My first instinct is to fire off an email telling the person exactly what I think about their nonsense advice. But in the end, it only makes me look like a hothead, and what good is it going to do? If someone accuses me of having bad grammar (which is ridiculous - I'm a grammar nerd) and points out times when I've purposely used a question mark in dialogue even though it wasn't grammatically correct (because sometimes people say statements as questions even if they aren't) then no amount of firing back is going to change his opinion. The best thing you can do is say thank you and move on.

Same is true with agents/publishers. I've gotten a couple of rejections (see this post for one in particular) that were either misinformed or just blah, and of course, my first reaction is to fire off a letter pointing out the things I thought were wrong. And of course this is a very bad idea. A publisher will remember you for being polite and graceful. They will also remember you for being a nasty player. Always opt for the former. And? (see the question mark usage?) There is always at least a smidgen of advice you can use even in the most awful critiques. It's a talent, being able to wade through sludge to find the useful bits. Hone it. Someone took the time to read your writing. No matter how off they are you owe them a thank you.

Of course, with much that's true about writing, it can be applied to the real world. Like when I got fired. I could have blown a gasket, could have told my boss all I thought was wrong, all the frustration I've felt over the past two years, and lamented the fact that I was never offered a chance to voice those frustrations (no one was interested in hearing it). But I didn't. Mostly because I wasn't given a chance (big surprise!). But in retrospect I'm glad. I walked out quietly with my head held high. If given a re-do I would have taken my last paycheck, said thank you, and walked out the same way. Because seriously. Thank you for forcing me to do something I should have done long ago.

So my best piece of advice for a first-time author (I'm not sure what that means, by the way - am I a first-time author since I've not published? Is a first time author one who hasn't completed a novel?) is this:

Always be gracious. Even when you want to rip someone a new one, or maybe even two. Because being gracious and polite is much more powerful than being a loud-mouthed, opinionated hothead.

Point in case - the next time someone really pisses you off in the car (I never get road rage) and you want to yell, honk, or throw the finger, wave and smile. It's an amazing thing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

author blog challenge...and feeling uninspired

I've been feeling uninspired lately when it comes to blogging. And I'm blogging about it. Which is kind of like saying I'm not thirsty while sipping a frost beverage. Maybe it's because most of my energy an free time lately has been devoted to my current WIP. I'm currently 35K+ words in (wrote 5K yesterday alone) and loving it more and more with every word. Honestly, I don't even know what prompt we're on in the challenge...but it doesn't really matter anyway since a lot of the recent posts really don't apply to me as a mostly unpublished writer.

Over the weekend my previously mentioned fabulous mom-in-law gave me a bracelet:

Isn't that cool? It's old typewriter keys. And it's perfect, since I am, in fact, a writer. I have to get used to saying this out loud and sharing it with my world. It's easy to do in my head. Not so easy out loud. I AM A WRITER. Four little words; easy to pronounce, even. But for a person who doesn't share much of herself to begin with (though this is changing quite a bit as I get older), it's going to take a bit of work. But hey, I'm just about used to typing one one space instead of two. Maybe it isn't so hard to teach this dog a new trick.

So to everyone in the challenge (and otherwise)...happy blogging. And keep on keepin' on.

Friday, June 15, 2012

one space or two?

So a while back I learned that it's now preferred to put one space after periods instead of two. I filed it away, and continue to use two, because let's face it, it's hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Habit takes over. My thumb just plain hits the big bar twice.

But thanks to a life-changing (or at least really important) post by Writer's Block Admin Services (credit to Robert Chazz Chute for providing the link), I learned that this problem is very easily solved. In Word, using the replace feature, in the 'find' box you type two spaces. In the 'replace' box type one. Hit 'replace all'. Wham. Done. It's that easy.

Sure makes me feel dumb for dreading the task of deleting them all one by one.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

author blog challenge #13

What has been the most challenging part of your book process: writing, building the book, printing, distributing, marketing, etc.? What do you wish you'd known before you began?

So as the challenge moves on, I find myself unable to really answer the prompts, as I've never actually published anything. But I'm going to tackle this one anyway, as I can relate to it on a certain level.

For me, the absolute, hands-down hardest part of my book process so far has been querying. Who would have thought that a woman who can write multiple novels of 70K+ words can't write a 250 word advertisement for said novels? It's insane. I've done a lot of difficult things in my life, overcome at least a few obstacles, and to struggle with 250 words? Maddening.

It's not just the query though. It's the whole [traditional] process of wooing an agent or a publisher. Write a query. Write a synopsis - some want one page, some 3-5 paragraphs, some 1000 words. Write a bio. Know something about said agent or publisher to personalize the query letter. Know where to go in the interwebs to find agents or publishers who work in your genre. Make sure to keep a spreadsheet so you don't query an agent/publisher multiple times, and keep a separate tab for each novel you've queried because if it's been less than six months since querying the agent/publisher with a different manuscript you probably want to wait until the next go-around. Only send ten queries or so out at a time so if you get no responses you know the query stinks and you haven't burned more than ten chances. I mean, what's so difficult about all of that?

Forget the fact that this is all on top of the process of actually writing the damn thing. If someone told me five years ago that writing the novel was the easiest part, I would have laughed. Yeah, right. Talk about a loss of innocence.

Another aspect of writing a novel I've found difficult is actually telling people about it. Because if you haven't published anything, they just nod and say, "Oh, isn't that wonderful." But they're thinking Yeah right. Who isn't? or Good luck with that! When I finally shared my writing with a few friends they wondered why I hadn't told them and told me funny stories about telling their spouses who just looked dumbfounded. Jen? You mean from work? Wrote a book? Like, a real book? About what? I laughed, and then explained to them that I wasn't purposely leaving them out, it's just easier this way. Because when they ask why it hasn't been published do they really want to hear the answer? It would take days to explain the process. And they have actual lives that aren't consumed with becoming a published writer.

So up until now not only have I been writing novels (and poems and songs and short stories and essays), but I've been editing them, learning everything I can about formatting (and apparently thanks to an incredibly helpful post by the lovely Jo Michaels is something in which I'm terribly uninformed), actively trying to sell it, but am also living a double life. In one I'm a wife, a mom, a best friend, a sister, a confidant, an aunt, and a career gal, and in the other, I'm an obsessed, driven, not-so-patiently waiting woman who wants only to share her words with others. It's been quite a trip.

Onwards and upwards. Keep on truckin'. Don't let fear hold you back. And whatever other idioms exist to describe the process. Hey, I'm much better off and much closer to the end goal than I was five years least that's something.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Liebster Award

Leibster Blog Award

Thanks to Kaye Draper for giving me my first ever blog award. Yeah, that means I'm special. Check out her blog Write Me for great insight, guest posts, helpful information, and most of all, support and camaraderie.

I'm grateful for the award, and for the compliment, but almost hate to pass it on, since participating in these can be kind of a pain, or so I've found out.  So instead, I'm going to call out a few bloggers who have blogs I read and admire.  Here they are:
  • Julie Frayn at Julie Bird - first, because her novel will no doubt one day be a best-seller, so you want to get her on your radar and second, because she'll have you laughing in no time.
  • Jo Michaels at Jo Michaels - she's a fellow member of the Author Blog Challenge, an indie writer, cover artist extraordinaire, and though we haven't exchanged any work yet, a future critique partner.
  • Adam Gaylord at Adams' Daily Apple - his blog is full of great tips, his own work, and a good dose of funny. Can't beat that.
  • Jeff Hargett at Strands of Pattern - I like Jeff's blog because he writes in a totally different genre than me (fantasy) and I enjoy learning about his process.
  • S.P. Bowes at S.P. Bowers - she's getting ready to query now too, and everyone needs a little love while they're querying.
If you guys want to participate and pass it on, here are the rules:

  • Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  • Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you.
  • Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.
  • Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 blogs of 200 followers or less.
Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment at their blog.

And yes, I know these awards are just a shameless way to drive traffic to your blog, but heck, who can't use a little bit of traffic? So get thyselves to these blogs, folks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

rediscovering silence

I'm taking another break from the Author Blog Challenge today to talk about something I rediscovered last night...silence. Silence, you ask? Why yes. Seems simple. But in my world, I'm a mom, a wife, work a full-time job, and most of it is punctuated with music. So silence isn't something I get a whole lot. In fact, I think I lost touch with it almost four years ago when my little monkey was born. There is constantly someone or something yapping in my ear.

As of lately I've been dealing with a couple of difficult people in my life. Like soul-sucking difficult. Like they can easily drain the souls right out of an entire room. Someone totally unaware could be just sitting there and they'd walk in and whoosh there goes the soul. It's been going on for a while, and up until recently I'd been pretty good at dealing with it. Maybe it's gotten worse. Or maybe my tolerance level decreases as my age increases. I don't know.

So when I walked in from work with two cases of free beer (an unexpected, fantastic perk) and my mother-in-law was in the kitchen cooking shrimp fajitas (try and top that story on a Monday, I dare you) and my husband and daughter were out back playing, I decided some down time was in order.

In my comfy pants and a t-shirt, I collapsed onto my bed and lay there, still, under a ceiling fan set to fast speed. So the only sound I heard was the soft hum of the fan. And I realized the almost complete lack of sound was totally foreign. And calming. And soothing. And something my life sorely lacked.

Sure, I sit/lay in silence during yoga class once a week. But my yoga mat isn't nearly as comfortable as my bed. And even that's a lie. I'm too cheap to buy a yoga mat, so it's the gym's. Doesn't change the fact that it's not comfortable. And being in a dark room with other people also sitting in silence and chanty music seems to succeed in only making my brain run on super-speed. Don't get me wrong. I love yoga. But asking my brain to take a vacation is like asking my mom to successfully look something up on the internet. Ain't gonna happen. (Love you mom.)

My brain actually did quiet down on the bed...enough to allow for some productive thinking. Even my toes and feet got in on the party and started to get all tingly. It was lovely. Not going to lie.

So Silence. Been a while. Nice to get reacquainted. You and I need to spend more quality time together. I'd love for a couple of days, but realize this is a big request. Maybe just a few minutes here and there. I had a therapist once tell me the best thing I could do was sit for five minutes every day and do nothing. Maybe he was on to something. Perhaps I should have gone more than twice.

My advice? If you're stressing, or waiting for a breakthrough, just take five. Let me know how it goes.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

critique groups

Before addressing the Author Blog Challenge question today, first I have some good news - I got a request for a full! Yay! It's with a publishing group I admire a lot, too. No way do I think it'll come to anything as I don't think my work is up to par with the other things they publish, but just to have them ask for it is a big step in the right direction.

Have you ever participated in a critique group? If so, how did it work out for you? If not, why have you avoided them to this point?

Have I ever participated in a critique group? Have I ever. For a few years I met with a group of 4 total (including me) a couple times a month. One person turned in a story, or an essay, or a chapter and the rest of us critiqued it. I can honestly say I am incredibly grateful for this experience. Not only did it introduce me to three fantastic people, but it taught me how to be a good reader, how to critique, and taught me that dedicated people are essential to the writing process.

Maybe because of my creative writing classes in college, I've never had a hard time turning over my work. Maybe the fact that all of us in my critique group were new at it, it made it easier to hand over our babies. Either way, I feel fortunate for this. Because everything essential I've ever learned about writing has come from critiques.

I've participated in more than a handful of online critique sites - Scribophile, Critters, You Write On, Writer's Digest, Authonomy (not recommended), and some more I can't remember now. Through these sites, not only have I met some great people, but I've learned so much not only from receiving critiques but from giving them too. Being able to look at another's work in a critical light has done wonders for my own writing.

Needless to say, I'm a critique whore. I'll do just about anything for critiques, for people to read my work and offer suggestions or praise. I love it. Maybe I'm addicted. I'm okay with that. I have thick skin too. Sure, I've received critiques that weren't well thought out, or were mostly crap, but I can honestly say I've gotten very few that didn't have at least one helpful bit in them.

If anyone has questions about the online critique groups I mentioned, let me know. I'd be more than happy to share my experiences with any of them.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

knowledge is power...and fun with rectums

Describe the research process for your book. Did you interview people? Travel? How prominent a role did the internet play? If you didn't do new research, how did you learn what you needed to know to write your book?

Oh, the powers of the continually amazes me. I'm going to date myself a bit, but it wasn't until I was in college that I started using the internet. That anyone started to use it really, other than one of my friends whose dad tested for Microsoft. So I clearly remember the days when I had to go to the library to write a paper...on actual paper, with a pen. Or reference our collection of encyclopedias. Ah, the good old days.

That said, I wouldn't go back. I don't know how instant access to everything in the world will impact the next generation, but I sure like it. One of my characters has pancreatic cancer. So with the click of a few buttons I can find out not only the medical aspect, but the personal one too, by searching blogs. Another one of my characters is in a band, so I can access tour schedules and figure out what city he might be in on what night, and also what it's like for a band in a van on the road (although I got most of my information from watching a behind the scenes Thrice those guys).

In my current WIP, one of the characters grows marijuana. And is arrested for it. I was able to find out when Cali legalized medical marijuana, and what his prison sentence might look like. I can also find out how far it is from San Fran to Sebastopol, CA, and the climate.

I'm not opposed to travel or interviewing people, though, even though I don't have the money to travel exclusively for my writing. I do get to travel a lot though, and feel very fortunate for all the places I've been. That said, I never let an opportunity pass me by. I will be going to Napa next month on a work trip, so I can check out the area then, take pictures, notes, whatever. And I can ask someone I know who rides in centuries (100 mile bike trips) how the process works exactly at the start and at the end so I can accurately describe my characters doing a ride. There are people who can tell you about just have to be willing to ask around. I hit up a guy who writes a Key West blog to ask him some specific questions about the island, even though I'd been there a couple of times. He was more than willing to help.

I want to be realistic in my writing but not overdo it. No one wants to know the gritty details of pancreatic cancer. Throwing in too many medical terms would only be annoying. But at the same time, people have the same access to information as I do, so you don't want to totally bung it up too, and have someone who rides in centuries say 'no way, that would never happen'. It's a fine line, definitely.

Then again, I'm a person who loves to learn - I read everything I can get my hands on and love nothing more than bouncing around Wiki and other sites just to learn about things. I can say with complete honesty that not a day goes by that I don't think of something to look up. Like I've recently become a bit obsessed with Skrillex and dubstep and went online to learn about him and the style. And the other day I was thinking about cinnamon. What does the plant look like? All I knew was the powdered spice and sticks. How does it grow? And as I've gotten more into yoga, I learned there's a technique where one expels their rectum, washes it by hand, and sucks it back in. Amazing.

And, welcome to the scary world of my always-on brain. Try getting that image out of your mind.

Friday, June 08, 2012

I couldn't put it down!

I'm going to take a break from the 28 day writing challenge prompts to pose a question. Recently, a few lovely folks finished reading my novel. Not only am I extremely grateful for the feedback, and to know people enjoy it, but I'm happy to have shared this bit of my life with them. They knew I wrote, but never saw anything. So that feels good.

Anyway, here's my question.

When people read your novel in a few days, saying they absolutely couldn't put it down, how does that make you feel?

Obviously it makes me happy. To have someone read and enjoy - devour, actually - my work, it's fantastic. I'm a fast reader, so I know what it's like to read a book really quickly. Of course I read everything like this so I can't really answer the second part of my question.

If it reads that fast, is that a bad thing? Does it mean my novel is too simple? It's contemporary fiction, so it's based in the real world, so there aren't any new worlds to learn or new vocab or anything like that. There really isn't much to pore over other than the decisions made by the characters. So does that mean it leads itself to quicker reading?

I'm torn. On one hand, of course it makes me happy to get this kind of feedback. On the other hand, I worry it's too simple, too straightforward.

What do you guys think? Anyone have this experience?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

28 day blog challenge #6

Quick status update - even though I dropped out of BuNoWriMo because I didn't want the pressure of writing a novel in a month hanging over my head, as of today I'm 17K words into my new WIP. At this pace I will be done by the end of the month. Scary stuff.Describe your outline process for your book. What do you do to stay organized?

Yes, I skipped from #4 to #6.  Somehow I got ahead in the prompts and this gets me back on track.

When I started writing, outlining wasn't on my radar. The thought didn't so much as cross my mind. As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm glad about that. It helped me get started without bogging down my thoughts.

However, as a more seasoned writer (note this does not translate to 'published' or even close - darn queries), I find it impossible to write without one. Mostly because I have a million ideas and don't know until trying to outline whether or not one will even stretch out into a whole novel. That's where I start, with a very rough outline, with one or two sentences per chapter.

Once I've determined that it'll be a good length, I move on to character sketches. Note that before even starting an outline I've probably run through entire scenes in my head, dialogue and all, so I have an idea of what the characters look like. Finding pictures on the internet of actors/musicians/anyone else with a bevy of pictures from which to choose, I describe the character physically and historically, including any bad habits or tics (because what good character doesn't have a tic or two?), and insert the photo as a note in the margin (I use word). I find it much easier to write a character if I have a physical representation of her. Getting all of this out before writing is huge for me. That way it clears my mind and allows for better writing and world-building.

I learned this, by the way, from a tip I got while studying for my series 7. I made a cheat sheet, reproduced it by hand numerous times, and the minute I sat down in the testing cube, got it all out of the way first. That way my brain could focus on important stuff, not little things like formulas. Passed it on the first try. Yeah, I'm a nerd. That was some great advice though.

Next comes the outline. Sometimes I outline the whole thing, sometimes less. I generally don't start a novel though unless I know how it's going to end - not that it doesn't change on occasion. Sometimes the characters surprise me and do things not quite as planned. Anyway, once the outline is in good form, I insert it into the beginning of my word manuscript as a note, so it will put itself in the left margin and I can refer to it directly while I'm writing. Very handy. Again, the less I think about little things, the better my writing.

Note that none of this is set in stone, not the characters or the outline. I frequently amend, change, and add on as the story chugs along. Also, knowing what's coming allows me to plot out the chapter/scene ahead of time in my head, which works out well.

Off to insert 'voice' into my too-synopsy query. The fun never ends.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

28 day blog challenge #4

Where were you when the idea for your [first] book was initially ignited? Who was the first person you told? How did they respond?

It's day four of the 28 day blog challenge. That's four days of blogging in a row. For a person who blogged twice a week at best, this is a first. I keep telling myself I don't have to do this every day, I can skip one now and then, but so far I've really loved the prompts and I've also loved how they've made me look at myself as a writer/reader in different lights. So onwards and upwards!

The idea for my first book (the prompt only said 'book' but I added first since I've written more than one...even if my flash drive is the only thing that knows this) came to me in Key West. Two of my best high school girlfriends and I went there for a long weekend instead of our ten-year high school reunion...great decision, by the way. Not sure why it hit me then. Maybe I was inspired by Ernest Hemingway's ghost...or maybe just because the island is so lush and haunted, and drips creativity (or maybe that's just the humidity).

Anyway, since I was small, I've always made up stories in my head. I had trouble sleeping and my older sister told me one night to do this and lo and behold it worked. And turned me into a daydreaming addict. In my head, anything is possible. Honestly, for a long time, it was much more appealing in there than in the real world. And at times still is. I've often thought I'd be a raving lunatic if not for that escape.

I took a long hiatus from writing of any sort other than journaling until this trip. Something stirred inside me. The day I got back I sat down at the computer and banged out a good bit of a novel - a horrible, unstructured, self-indulgent thing, but hey, it was a start. And in retrospect, a good way to start. I tell people all the time if you want to write a novel just do it. The more you write the more you'll learn, and though it might be terrible, it's something to build upon. At times I envy those days, when the only goal was to tell a great story, not worry about form, structure, querying, agents, etc.

I told only my husband. In fact, for a good number of years he was the only person who knew anything about my goals and dreams, my passion, outside of my writing group. This was before I took the class, before joining my fantastic writing group, before knowing a single thing about what I was doing. I can't remember his response. I mean it was eight years memory's taken a big nosedive since then. Out with the old (and unimportant), in with the new, right? Only so much room in that thing. I do know he's since become my biggest supporter, my one man cheerleading squad, and at times my only link to reality. He's put up with a lot and stood strong. So his initial reaction doesn't matter (though he probably just humored me).

Over eight years, that novel has gone through no less than four entire re-writes (with other novels/stories/essays/poems/songs mixed in) and only two things have stayed the same - one character and the setting, Key West.  It is now being read by a few fantastic folks while I retool the query and prepare to send it off into the world. My baby. This is it though - if it doesn't go somewhere, it's getting shelved. Eight years is a long time to spend together.

Honestly - you people have to be sick of me hogging your feeds by now. But I'm loving this escape. Anything is better than what I need to do, which is work on my query. Gah.

Monday, June 04, 2012

28 day blog challenge #3

Who is your favorite literary character?  With which literary character do you most relate?

This is incredibly tough.  When someone asks questions like these, my head spins.  How can I possibly narrow it down?  I'm going to try.

As for favorite characters, my number one is Jay Gatsby from, you guessed it, The Great Gatsby.  I'd probably lump all of the major characters in this novel on my list though.  He's hot, self-made, tragic, and so stylish.  In other words, he's perfect.  My favorite heroes always need rescuing.  I have no idea why.  I have literally never in real life been with a man like this.  Maybe that's the issue.  Plus, the novel takes place in the twenties, my all-time favorite decade.  In a time full of excess, debauchery, and innovation, romance and tragedy are bound to come head-to-head.

Second on my list is Edna Pontellier from Kate Chopin's The Awakening.  This is a novel I left off my favorites list in my last post.  Absolutely one of my all-time favorites.  Again, it embodies everything I love in a novel - unconventional relationships, a struggle to fit into conventional society and life in general, death, and a gorgeous setting.  The fact that this novel was published in 1899 still blows my mind.  I haven't read it in a while, and writing this post makes me want to do nothing but go and re-read it.  Edna is so relatable, shares many of our struggles, and had a huge impact on the modern feminist movement.  Again in 1899.  It's remarkable.

I'm not even going to tackle to which literary character I most relate.  I'm still trying to figure myself need to go comparing myself to others.  That's a very scary thought.

I'd love to hear about everyone's favorite characters and maybe add a few must-reads to my list.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

28 day blog challenge #2

How do the things you read impact your writing?  What do you love to read?  What do you avoid reading at all costs?  How would your writing change if you read more of the things you typically avoid?

I'm kind of a book whore.  I'll read anything, as long as it's well-written and free of grammatical mistakes (ahem - see posts below on a certain trilogy).  One thing I can say is that I've always loved to read.  I started reading when I was three.  I read everything I could get my hands on, from choose-your-own-adventure books to The Baby-sitters Club to my mom's Danielle Steele novels and anything by Stephen King.

The beauty of majoring in English Lit in college is that I read a wide variety of books.  A few of my all-time favorite writers are Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Bret Easton Ellis, and the poems of Dylan Thomas.  I know I'm leaving some off.  That's okay.

I'm definitely drawn to books/stories about unhappy people struggling to find happiness, or stories shunning normal, traditional life, and they've got to have a good dose of romance - the more unconventional the better.  That's not to say I don't love a trashy romance, or vampires, or even YA on occasion.

But I definitely hide from steampunk, dystopian, and fantasy.  I will not read anything with fairies, trolls, wizards, dragons, or whatever else is out there, I don't even know.  Not a fan.   I'm also not a fan of comic books.  It's not the stories, it's the way it's laid out - I find it hard to sit back and get lost in a comic like I can with a book.  I also dislike greatly books with characters that are too good to be true.  I don't want to read about muscular, heroic men and rich housewives with perfect husbands and perfect children.  Ge-ross.

I find something in everything I read to improve my writing.  Even if it's one tiny thing, like a word I decide I'd like to use.  I really don't think my writing would change at all if I read the things I avoid.  My writing tends to be a lot like the writers I most admire (not that I'm comparing myself IN THE LEAST) in that they're based in reality, and they're about real people with real problems.  The main characters sometimes aren't conventionally likable - but they're special nonetheless.  And often the books take a bite into culture and society at large.  The characters in The Great Gatsby are essentially a bunch of spoiled assholes - but they're so fantastic and tragic.  I want to be them and feel sorry for them at the same time.  That's what I love.

If I could even write something half as good as The Great Gatsby or The Swimmer I'd be one happy lady.

How about you guys?  Who is the author or book you hold in the highest esteem?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

28 day blog challenge #1

What kinds of classes, programs, or workshops have you taken to hone your skill as a writer?  What sorts of exercises did/do you use to improve your craft?  Have you ever taught a writing class or workshop?

Where to start?  In college, I majored in English Lit with a specialty in creative writing poetry.  So in addition to lit classes, I took three poetry workshops, and one fiction.  I don't know why I majored in English.  Back then I would have told you because I love to read...great reason, right?  Now though, I think it happened for a reason.  I've been writing not only fiction but poetry for a very long time...since elementary school, really.  I recently found a book I wrote in elementary school in a notebook (yes, that was before computers).  'Book' is a loose generalization.  It was fiction, but without any sort of structure.

So in college I was a moody, depressed, eff-the-world-poet.  I holed up in my dorm room at night listening to music, smoking pot (sorry mom and dad), and writing poetry.  Freeform - I shunned any sort of structure.  I even won a contest and had to read a poem in front of an auditorium of people and made the cover of our school newspaper.  Nice, right?   I think I won $100 too.

I went dormant for a while after college - for like five years.  It was after a trip to Key West with two girlfriends when I was 28, and also after a good friend committed suicide that I decided to dive back in.  Key West inspired me.  The minute I got back I dove into a novel - the first draft of my latest completed novel, and my baby.  To hone my skills, I took a class at the local community college, where I got my first taste of critiquing (outside of college).  I also met three fantastic individuals who were interested in forming a writing group after class, and for three years I think we met every two or three weeks, sharing stories, critiquing, hashing out the rules, and becoming great friends.  Even though I'm the only one still writing, we're great friends to this day.  It's amazing how close you become to people when you share your writing, and at the same time, share a little bit of your soul.  I owe a lot of what I know to that group.  I even still keep in contact with one of the teachers (who happens to work with my brother-in-law - STL is such a small town embedded in a big city).

We read short story compilations, talked about them, did writing prompts from a book geared towards teaching the fundamentals, and generally supported and encouraged one another.  We even read stories out loud at a local open mic night - a fantastic and scary experience.  I've saved all of my writing from that time, and it's really interesting to see how much I gained from the group.

I've never taught a class, but I'm an active member of a few critique sites on the internet, and also love critiquing queries (not sure how good I am since I can't sell a novel, but that's another story).  So though I don't formally teach, I love sharing what I've learned with others, and also love learning from other people.

Well, that's my class experience in a nutshell.  A very big nutshell.