Wednesday, December 23, 2009
But still…you just can’t sleep without replaying those last few scenes. Then you read something like this, and it cements the doubt. ‘Ugh,’ you’re thinking, ‘I’m so sick of this story—who cares about these imaginary people anyway. I wish they'd just get a life and leave me alone.’
Then, not only one reader, but two, hit on the very insecurity that keeps you from saying ‘it’s the best I can do.’
Deep breath. Step back. Talk it over with support team. And it’s back to the drawing board.
Suddenly, those synapses that you thought had exhausted themselves begin firing instantaneously. You no longer care that winter is here for another four months. Amazingly, the bed that felt like your permanent home this morning doesn’t look nearly as inviting as the office chair…
Thursday, December 17, 2009
This year? I’m thinking about it…the rules don’t prohibit querying in the meantime, and (don’t call me a pessimist, but) it’s unlikely I’ll acquire an agent in the first few months.
The big change this year is that the 10,000 entries will be split evenly between "Young Adult Literature" (defined as general or genre-based fiction primarily enjoyed by readers age 12 to 17) and "General Fiction" (defined as general or genre-based literature primarily enjoyed by readers age 17 and older). And, they are accepting previously self-published novels! And, entry is free
Submissions are open from January 25, 2010 to February 7, 2010. The prize? A full publishing contract with Penguin and $15,000 payment is an advance against the royalties. I think last year it was $25,000. And, professional reviewers from Publishers Weekly will provide full-manuscript reviews for novels that go on to the semifinalist round in April.
Either way, it’s something to think about…
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
They told me I had to take off the clothes that Dr. Phelps gave me, and put on another little shirt that tied in the back. New people asked me questions, ones I had already answered. They also stuck things in my mouth, listened to my heart, and hit my knee. Mostly they only annoyed me, but then they wanted to poke me with a sharp needle.
I jumped off the table and shouted, “No! I’m leaving right now!” Then I told Dave to take me to my people.
He took my hand and stepped between me and the others.
“Marlena,” he said in a gentle voice, “you don’t have anyone yet. These people don’t want to hurt you, they simply need to make sure your blood is healthy, and they can’t let you leave until they make sure you’re completely well.”
I took a deep breath and didn’t shout this time. I folded my arms tighter. “I am perfectly well. How would you like it if I poked all of you with a sharp stick?” I didn’t take my eyes off them, and I didn’t budge.
Dave made the others leave for a minute and then took my hand again.
“Marlena, this is something they have to do. It won’t hurt too bad, I promise.”
I wanted to believe him. “Then I want you to do it to me. I know you’ll be gentle.”
“Okay.” He quickly he tied a piece of rubber around my arm. Then he rubbed a spot with something cold. “Ready?”
I closed my eyes. “Yes.”
I cried into his shirt, not because it hurt, but because I didn’t have any people yet.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The characters—the Captain, a young Venezuelan woman, and a Black slave—are shipwrecked on an otherwise uninhabited island, in the late 1860's.
One night, when a full moon broke through clouds, the Captain woke. He lay restless as a beam of light shone in upon him. Rather than idly torment himself, he went to the ledge overlooking the beach. The sparkling water faded in and out of the moonlight as clouds waltzed like bridal gauze.
Before long, he heard the rustling of Mrs. Lawson.
“Finally, a break in the rain.” She sat beside him. “Do you mind if I join you?”
The Captain glanced at her. Although he was enjoying his solitude, he would be hard pressed to find her an imposition. “Please, do.”
“Tell me Captain Wesley—”
“There is no need for formality. I am hardly a captain any longer.”
“William, then,” her voice lilted. “Tell me, what was it that woke you? The moon or your conscience?”
The Captain shot her a startled glance.
“Ah, the conscience,” she deduced. “The conscience is such a troublesome thing—sometimes it betrays you, condemning when it ought not, and sometimes it’s as lenient as an indulgent parent.”
Was she now reneging on her promise not to speak of his culpability regarding her husband’s death? Or, did she refer to something else?
“I have never been a man at ease with my conscience,” he said. “A calm conscience only serves complacency.”
“And the provoked conscience, a handy device to send men to war—to protect and provide for their families. Tell me, what verdict does it offer when family—when children—are left to fend for themselves?”
Her words grabbed at his heart, squeezing blood to his neck. “What do you imply? That it is better for a man to stand back and watch while others defend and provide for his family? That he should coddle them at any cost?”
“You misunderstand my intent. I mean no accusation against you.” She drew a solemn breath. “It is my own past that torments me.”
“Tell me, that I may gain some perspective.”
She turned to him incisively. “You want a woman’s perspective, but I shall give you a child’s.” Her eyes drifted toward the beach. “I was only ten when the caudillo came and took our plantation. I lost my father, brothers and uncles to the civil insurrections of those feudal lords. There was no one left to fend for me.” Her voice tapered, and her next words seemed to come with hesitation. “Had I not been a beautiful little girl, I would still be working the fields of those outlaws, used up like so many of the girls who had come of age.”
The Captain stared at her, aghast.
“Don’t be appalled,” she said. “Things took a turn for the better when I was thirteen. A fine, rich gentleman, visiting Venezuelan plantations noticed me, and it was he who essentially purchased me. He clothed me in the finest French linens and laces, placed me at his table and fed me exotic delicacies, and he educated me at the best institutions. Yes, he took my virginity, but my innocence was already lost. At least he had the decency to marry me.”
Neither spoke for a moment.
“And Tomas?” he asked.
“He acquired Tomas three years earlier, bestowing upon him many of the same privileges.”
“You make your husband out to be quite the philanthropist.”
She laughed. “Oh yes, he loved to conceal his shrewdness behind humanitarian deeds—that was the guise for luring his investors. That and his charisma—why, even you succumbed to it—to the gold, to the esteem.”
The Captain could not refute her words.
She continued, “As for me, I was merely an investment, as good as a title deed to my inheritance, once the Federalists took control again. A stock in commodities. With his beautiful wife at his right hand and imposing, fiercely loyal Tomas at his left, who would contend with him?”
“Did you love him?”
“I suppose I loved him as much as he did me.”
“He didn’t love you—he used you.”
“And there you have it, William. Now can you see?” she glanced at him. “I am left pondering what a person is willing to trade for security—no matter if that security is in the form of esteem, a home, gold, or…” she looked directly at the Captain, waiting for their eyes to meet, “…or love.”
Monday, December 14, 2009
The following excerpt is Samuel's. He's a 32 year-old boatwright, struggling with family responsibilities:
That evening, quite a few guests socialized at the house, so I grabbed a quick sandwich and ate it out behind the boatshed by the old marine railway. We called it the ‘working’ side of the yard, where we hid away the Travelift and wintering boats so as not to ‘clutter up’ the view from the bed-and-breakfast. Its seclusion offered the illusion of privacy, a good place for quiet conversation, or silent meditation. We also yanked out the ‘moaning chair’ beside the back door, when some project had gone to crap—when I’d measured three times and it was still too short. Sometimes Derek and I’d hang out there when guests overran the house. Back in high school, we used to light up a joint every now and then and felt as if we could get away with anything when out of my mother’s sight. Tonight, I just wanted some solitude.
The summer solstice had approached, so it stayed light until around nine o’clock. A little later than that, Billy appeared with a six-pack. I was sure he intended the gesture to soften me up, and I had to admit, it did slightly temper my dread. We each drank our first beer in silence and I waited to see if the next four were mine. When he reached for his second and took a long gulp, I joined him and could feel the alcohol diluting my resentment. He merely stared off and seemed to have no agenda—not that I believed it for a minute, but at least he deferred the pace to me. I took another swig. “How are you enjoying your visit?”
Beside us, fallen over on its side and half-buried in weeds, a dilapidated pram blistered and splintered, long relegated to the worthless, like old anchors, buoys, and decaying lobster traps, now as much a part of the landscape as the boulder into which it was disintegrating.
Tipping my beer toward it, I directed Billy’s attention. “You remember that summer, when I was nine, when Dad helped us build that?”
“Yeah,” he said, pensively, “I remember…but it was Buck who helped us build it.”
“No, man, I distinctly remember Dad—he had on that red hat and a plaid shirt.”
“Didn’t say he wasn’t there…he was. Except, he was passed out in the corner. Remember? Buck was the one who taught us how to use the drawknife…’cause Dad cut himself and had to sit down.”
I vaguely recalled it…remembered how Dad didn’t get up from that chair for the rest of the day. Billy didn’t say anything more about it, only that it was Buck who’d taught us how to build a pram.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Here’s what I’m thinking about:
alpha-readers. They make us feel good and provide the needed reinforcement that moves us forward as writers.
An avid appreciator of art will come along and recognize that the medium is watercolor; they’ll observe that it’s not typical of the ‘genre,' but it seems to work. They may even notice the little bit of reflected backlight on the bottom side of the egg, and say ‘cool.’ But they are just as likely to say, 'what’s left to the imagination?' 'The composition is good, but it feels stagnant'. They are our beta-reader who may not be writers themselves, but know what they like and why they like it.
At some point, a fellow artist with a discriminating eye will come along. They may recognize all the above, but they may also notice the ridge of the copper kettle, how it trails off in distortion just above the spout, and think—what went wrong there? Or how the folds of fabric are overworked and muddy. They may object to the incongruities of the background and foreground. Thus the fellow-writer beta-reader.
Those are the similarities; now the differences, and in my opinion, they’re are huge.
• The painting is finished and I’m never going to go back and change any of it. No revising.
• And here’s a real biggy: How long did it take you to make a decision about the painting? Maybe 2 seconds? If you have a discriminating eye, maybe, oh, say 5-10 seconds—okay, I’ll give you 30. Less than one minute to decide if, in your opinion, it’s any good or if you'd hang it on your wall.
How long did it take your beta-readers to make a determination on your literary work? Especially if it’s a novel? Hours and hours. Not to mention the mental expenditure. We are asking them to trust us for a long ride that may or may not be to their liking.
And here’s a final difference
• What does this painting reveal about the artist? She has an eye for detail. She may have some control issues. Perhaps she likes domesticity and old stuff. Maybe she’s studied art—maybe she’s only read how-to books on painting. What else does it truly reveal?
Now think about how much of yourself you reveal when you write. Ever feel naked? I know I do.
Just sent my manuscript to a reader I don’t know, for technical support, but when he’s done, he's going to know a whole lot more about me than I ever will about him.
Feeling a little naked today…
Monday, December 7, 2009
They don’t advertise themselves as such, but under the premise of ‘takes one to know one’, they’re not hard to detect. I quoted TerryLL aka Terry Lavallee a few posts back, and you tell me if this doesn’t sound like what you’ve read on writers’ forums and blogs:
“The danger in spending so much time burnishing one paragraph is that it shines like a jewel against the less-polished background of the rest of the narrative. It's often the case that the first two or three chapters of a novel radiate brilliance, thence to trail off like a dying comet, finally flickering out in some contrived ending.
The key to a page-turner is consistency, a plausible story, compelling characters, and a driving narrative. As for structure, let terseness be your mantra; pray for brevity. Words are a precious commodity; hoard them.”
Although his profile reveals only that he is in Textile Equipment Manufacture, I had a strong hunch he might be holding back. When I posted a quick excerpt from my novel (a sailing race), he responded this way:
“Authenticity is important in a work of fiction, as I've mentioned before, so you should strive to be factually accurate. But there comes a point, when one small detail is heaped upon a vast pile of other small details, that a narrative begins to sound somewhat like a documentary.
One of the most important vehicles to carry your narrative along, and to make your tale tangible and personal, is the imagination of the reader. If you leave no room for imagination, by supplying every last minute detail, the reader is often left on the sidelines, an observer rather than a participant.
Where is the sound of the sails flapping, the whistle of the wind through the stays, the cold spray on the face, the smell of the sea, the thump of the waves against the hull? You need only hint at the visceral, and then let the readers conjure up for themselves those sounds and aromas. When the reader can imagine that cold spray on the face, and hear the whine of the wind, then you have succeeded in drawing the reader into your tale.
BTW, lovely blog.” (oh, I meant to edit-out that last bit)
Now, you tell me—does that sound writerly to you? Inquiring aspiring novelist that I am, I had to ask. You guess right! He has a WIP, a who-done-it set in Seattle, and he’s 80K words into it.
In my Moaning Chair post, I provided a link to Norm Bernstein’s eloquent description (one I found by Googling “moaning chair”). Come to find out, he is a prolific poster down in The Bilge. In fact, back in early 2001, he came up with a plot for a novel about a terrorist cell in the US, and wrote the novel, his first. He was in the process of shopping it to literary agents, when 9/11 happened… and the similarities of his plot line, and actual events, rendered his novel probably un-sellable.
A good time for the Moaning Chair.
These are just two of the aspiring novelists I came across in my short time down in The Bilge. Many more writers co-exist down there—both published and unpublished. Even those without aspirations of becoming novelists often produce posts that are a delight to read (yes Mr. Left, I'm including you in the mix).
In your travels, have you come across writers in unsuspected places?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Due to the nature of this award—and her unflappable optimism—I accept it in all humility. I honestly don’t deserve it—if I do, it's to a fault. Thanks for your confidence in my rehabilitative capacity, Laura. :)
Even more shocking, I shall comply with its rules, which are stated herein:
• Post award on Blog
• Link to the giver of said award
• Award five other bloggers
• Cite 5 personal tidbits about myself
Okay, I’m passing the award onto 5 others known for their honest blogs. I hereby absolve all of those previously awarded (and those not) of following the above cited rules:*
• Bane of Anubis at Bane’s Blogging Blues
• Simon C. Larter of Constant Revision
• Rick Daley of My Daley Rant
• Scott Daniel of 275 Words
• Lady Glamis of The Innocent Flower
Here are 5 things probably none of you know about me:
1. I have a cat named X for eXpendable.
2. I went to parochial school for grades 1-8. They insisted on calling me by my first name, Janice, despite the fact that I was known as Bridget at home. I had 2 identities. Demure, timid Janice, and bubbly, talkative Bridget. They exist side-by-side to this day, but for the record—I do not respond to Janice, so don't even try. (If you went to parochial school, you understand.)
3. We drive probably the only Saab in the state of Michigan. It has 300,000 miles. Every year, we wonder if it will last the winter. It. just. won’t. die.
4. I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, in Manhattan for one semester. That’s all it took.
5. When I was a kid, my siblings and I had clam opening/slurping contests.
*Just the same, I would so like to know 5 personal tidbits about you all, and rest assured, the bloggy police have yet to catch up with me.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The ‘Moaning Chair.’
I know, that's 2 words (unless you include 'the', then it's 3).
Without getting all technical on you, here’s how Mr. Left summed it up for me:
“The origins of the "Moaning chair" is the need to sit down and hold your head from exploding after you spent a day and a half doing something completely bass ackwards. Or completely undoing in 30 seconds that it took you a week to do. The moaning chair often has a cooler of beer and a bottle of rum next to it.”
Here's another great description, by Norm Bernstein.
It occurs to me that not only do boat builders need a moaning chair, but so do we as writers, especially those of us who are in the middle of the learning curve. It’s for those times when we learn a new rule, especially something like ‘don’t use Past Participle Phrases.’ Then we realize (after we do the research so we can figure out what the heck the term even means), that our manuscript is loaded with them. Now we’re paranoid about adding ‘ing’ to any word.
Or when we’ve overextended ourselves on word count—we wrote a 150K YA novel without bothering to find out that 70-80K is the outside limit. Time to kill our little darlings.
And then we start second guessing our entire premise (or a good chunk of it), our characters’ motivations, our writing skills and true potential (or lack thereof).
Oh, what’s the use?...
And I won’t even talk about when it’s querying time and all we get is rejection after rejection, and it occurs to us that it could have something to do with the fact that our ‘Women’s Fiction’ is actually Commercial/General/Literary Fiction, and we just blew our chance with a bunch of agents. (I mean really, who ever heard of Women’s Fiction narrated in first person by a guy?! [I know, I know, don’t rub it in].) Surely, it was that and not all those Past Participle Phrases…
Oh, right, that’s only happened to me…
Probably a good time to pull out the moaning chair, cry our eyes out, then take a deep breath and consider all our options (likely, with the help of that beer or rum). I think every writer’s/critique group should have a moaning chair over in the corner so that when we make stupid mistakes, we can go sit in it and think about what we’ve done.
Yes, the moaning chair is there for pitying ourselves, but it’s also there so we can rest a bit, regroup and clarify out thoughts—it’s where we decide there is a solution, where our writing buddies come over and pull us up (or share that beer), and then we get back to work.
When’s the last time you needed a ‘moaning chair?’
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The message said: “For some really good stuff come to the pub. ”
Very mysterious…I mean, how would you take that?
Well, I wasn’t quite sure how to take it. What exactly is ‘The PUB?’ I wondered. Sure, I was curious as all get out, but what exactly would I be getting myself into? I was just too chicken to respond.
A day or so later, I received another ‘private message,’ this time from an avatar I recognized, Mrleft8 (he knows a lot of boat stuff). He said that over at the pub, there was ‘a little bit that might be of interest to me in describing a dive bar.’ He was also kind enough to provide directions. It is located on the seedier side of town—it is The Bilge, after all—so I was still hesitant, which, as most of you know, is much a part of my nature.
Undeterred, I grabbed my paper and pad, smoothed my skirt against my trembling schoolgirl legs, sucked in some courage, and stepped through the door. Surprisingly, it was not as seedy as I expected.
Instead, the aroma of Welsh rarebit and a tasty vegetable soup, chock full of tender bits of assorted roots, stems, leaves, and fruits rushed my olfactory senses. I could smell boneless ribeye steak, grilling to perfection over charcoal, to be served with hand cut fries, and a Waldorf salad. The special on tap was Molson Brador. Honestly, just standing there I put on ten pounds!
The crew at the Pub—including Bobby, who first offered the invite—have built a virtual pub experience...and with only words! Imagine that!
When Bobby asked, “Ok, water, wine, beer what’s your drink? Welcome to the pub,” I was still a little nervous.
Hoping no one else would hear, I said, “Okay, please don’t' mock and ridicule—I drink the cheapest and lightest beer I can find. But I'm open to trying pretty much anything.”
Well, before I could flip my writing tablet open, he placed a frosty beer in front of me with a wink. Some of the locals sat at the bar beside me and started making small talk, asking me where I was from. They were a very congenial lot, and I recognized quite a few of them. We continued to chat for a bit as I drank my light beer, but mostly I just listened.
Then I told them, “I'm just going to sit quietly over here at the table in the corner. You just pretend I'm not here and talk about all sorts of boatsie things.”
I guess I didn’t make too bad of an impression, (although they speculated that I was a green apple martini, or cosmopolitan kinda gal, which I'm not).
They even posted the link to this Dire Straits, YouTube video for me, in spite of the fact that they did not get a special mention on my blog post about Researching at The Bilge.
Incidentally, the PUB boasts the most frequently visited and commented on thread over at The Bilge forum, and I consider it a privilege to hang out for a few minutes here and there.
I wonder, when doing research for your writing, have you ever had to go somewhere that made you a little nervous?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Now, this novel is not about building boats, so I haven’t gone all technical with it—in fact there are places where I think it could stand some expanded and authentic terminology. This, of course, requires more research. I do live in a state surrounded by water, but the likelihood of finding a boatyard engaged in launching a boat this time of year is, well, nil.
Of course there are all sorts of online encyclopedias out there, and I have downloaded volumes of information on nautical terminology and boatbuilding how-to’s. I also love pouring over our subscription to WoodenBoat magazine. And, they just happen to have an online forum for boat builder enthusiasts.
There were a number of forums on which I could have started a thread, but I stumbled down to the bottom of the list and found The Bilge. Honestly, I just love that word, and it seemed to be the catchall for things that don’t seem to fit 'Misc and Boat Related' (although I did end up posting there too).
In case you don’t know what a bilge is, here are two definitions that sum it up:
a. either of the rounded areas that form the transition between the bottom and the sides on the exterior of a hull.
b. Also, bilges. an enclosed area at the bottom of a vessel where seepage collects.
2. Slang. foolish or worthless talk or ideas; nonsense.
As soon as I arrived, they politely informed me that I had probably posted in the wrong place. I felt like a schoolgirl walking into a seedy old dive amidst a bunch of salty, seafaring bilge rats looking up over their pint of brew at the new lad (due to the ambiguity of ‘jbchicoine,’ they though I was a guy).
“Real research is done ‘aboveboard’,” they informed me, as one of the other guys pulled out a chair.
“Awe, leave the lad alone—we should be flattered that he’s even asking our opinion,” he muttered.
All at once, they seemed to realize they had a new audience and the advice came pouring in like—well, like bilge water!
Once I collected enough information to get me started, I posted my rough draft and opened it up for embellishment:
I worked the railway winch, letting out the cable, inching it along the gentle incline as Derek and Mitch walked its length, out the back exit, toward the ramp. The cradle creaked and the cable groaned as the motor whined. Metal rollers screeched on the tracks where I hadn’t greased well enough, but it crept along, stuttering here and there. As soon as water lapped its keel, I took Derek’s place. I figured that if the whole thing were going to crash on its side, it might as well put me out of my misery. At the rate this day had been going, I half-expected it.
This is what I ended up with (still open to embellishment, if anyone cares to do so). I think it's way better:
I worked the railway windlass, releasing the cable, paying it out along the gentle decline as Derek and Mitch walked the Marjie B’s length, out the back doors, toward the ramp. I had coated the cable, chains, and pulleys so heavily in grease that they couldn't screech or groan if they had to. Only the trucks grumbled on the tracks, occasionally crunching bits of gravel as they crept the length of the rails with barely a stutter. Surprisingly, the motor purred without any more misbehavior. Once water lapped her keel, I took Derek’s place. I figured that if the whole thing were going to crash on its side, it might as well put me out of my misery. At the rate this day had been going, I half-expected it.
Here’s a well-expressed response I received from one of the guys, TerryLL:
Not bad, but still could stand some tweaking. The danger in spending so much time burnishing one paragraph is that it shines like a jewel against the less-polished background of the rest of the narrative. It's often the case that the first two or three chapters of a novel radiate brilliance, thence to trail off like a dying comet, finally flickering out in some contrived ending.
The key to a page-turner is consistency, a plausible story, compelling characters, and a driving narrative. As for structure, let terseness be your mantra; pray for brevity. Words are a precious commodity; hoard them.
Gotta wonder if he’s in the biz. To be honest, they’re all rather articulate—eloquent even—for a bunch of ‘bilge rats’ (their term, not mine).
For me, hanging out at The Bilge has been the next best thing to the boatyard.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
So much riding on so few words. One shot at getting it right.
I suppose I could research ‘How to Write a Short Story,’ the way I researched writing a novel (after the fact, of course), but I have the feeling that would be just as overwhelming.
Then I read a quick post by Scott G.F.Bailey, over at the Literary Lab (sponsor of Contest). He simply said, “Something has to change in a story. You don't need to supply all the formal elements of exposition, rising conflict, inciting incident and reaction, climax and the like, but something has to change or happen or you don't have a story. If there is no event in your story, you likely have a non-story. At least that's my take on it. My minimum standards for a story are that you must have the following elements: 1. An actor 2. An action.”
Sooo, if I just operate on that premise, I won't have to do gobs of research. I’ll just write it. What do I have to loose, right?
Nothing…except that there has also been a lot of talk over there at the Lab about honesty in writing, (in fact, Lady Glamis plans to do another post on that this Thursday), and I realized that my short stories (yes I have 2 candidates) make my stomach do flip-flops when I think of anyone reading them. Oh the dilemma—do I put myself out there? Well, realistically, no one but the Literary Lab Trio will read either of them, so I’ll be safe—relatively. But what if...OOooohhh there goes my stomach again…
Of course, this post is all about talking myself into doing it.
Are there any of you other brave souls who plan to, or have submitted a short to the Genre Wars?
Thursday, November 12, 2009
It was while familiarizing myself with QueryTracker.net, and I subscribed to their newsletter, that I ran into The Blog again. Hmm, maybe the Blog is friendly after all, I thought. Why not give it another go?
I clicked on a few of the links in the newsletter—hmm informative—intriguing…
I found helpful and manageable suggestions. Too late to apply it to my entry for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award submission, but that’s okay.
Then, as I skipped from link to link, I had a breakthrough—I read a post on The Innocent Flower directing me to the Public Query Slushpile. Since I hoped to query over the summer, I bookmarked it.
I went back to the Public Query Slushpile to figure out how it worked. I clicked on ‘Submit Queries Here’, which kept bringing me to the comment section. I had no comprehension of what commenting entailed, and it’s embarrassing to admit how many times I hit that, hoping for a different page to come up. That’s when I finally understood that I needed a Google account and a profile. (Writing the profile was a whole ‘nother obstacle.) It took weeks to get up the nerve, but I submitted my query for review. I received very helpful and supportive feedback, and Rick Daley even said something nice about the pages I submitted (even though I turned out to be a compilsive revisionist). Just what a neo-blogger/writer needs to muster courage.
I knew that when it came to my writing, I wanted—needed—help. I live in a rural area and love being at home, so joining a writers group seemed unlikely. Then I bumped into my pal Laura Martone, a fellow aspiring novelist willing to exchange critiques. I also started following Scott’s blog because, I thought, wow, this guy is going to write a novel over the course of a year, and he’s going to do it right here so I can watch. In fact, I could—get this—follow his blog so I know when he posts something new. Wow! What a concept!
I guess the rest is history. Now the hard part is coming up with things to post on my own blog. I’m just so curious. How and when did you come across the Blogshere?
Monday, November 9, 2009
Although I suffered limited internet access, I was still able to correspond with my beta-readers, and can’t tell you how much I looked forward to getting their chapters. Not only that, I received incredibly helpful feedback on my work. Thank you Scott, Susan, Bryan, and Laura.
I also want to acknowledge Lady Glamis’ post, Going Dark, over at the Innocent Flower. Michelle, I’ll miss your frequent presence on so many blogs, but I respect, no, admire your decision. I have confidence that you’ve got your priorities straight, and you’ll reap the benefits and blessing—not only in your personal life, but also in your writing.
Time to unpack...and then read, read, read...
Saturday, October 17, 2009
While I miss reading my favorite blogs, and I miss commenting, the seclusion here on ‘The Hill’ has also been very refreshing. With few obligations, I’ve had concentrated time for revisions, in a pastoral environment that rivals a private rehab center and spa combined.
Imagine long walks down the stonewall lined road, gold and crimson set ablaze by shafts of early morning sun. Breathe in the crisp aroma of decaying foliage while rustling through fallen leaves.
That was last week; now imagine a constant barrage of siblings and old friends, trying to remember just how long it’s been since I’ve seen any of them. I have been visiting without letup for days. Consequently, I have so little creative juice running at this point that I can barely write this blog. I am, in fact putting forth the effort, because in ten minutes, we’ll be heading off to the Manchester area, to my sister’s, who has—imagine this—high speed internet, where I can upload this post; if only I can sneak away from siblings I haven’t seen in I can’t say how long.
Friday, September 18, 2009
All at once, my diaphragm is in my throat and I’m breathing deep, allaying the burning sensation flaring through my sinuses. My vision blurs, and then the sensation passes. In comes in waves like that, has been for the better part of a week as I daily observe a new set of strangers reenacting the horror.
At the same time, a member of someone’s family embraces a newcomer, there in the hallway. I stare through a window as they cling to each other and begin to sob. I’m viewing tragedy on a split screen. My eyes are upon them as I eavesdrop on the impassive receptionist who answers a teenage boy. I switch to watching them as he repeatedly rakes fingers through his hair, nodding continuously. He’s breathing rapidly—I wonder if he’ll hyperventilate.
That sensation returns; I have scrutinized them long enough.
Loud accusations break the din, as a young man—he’s dressed like a gangster—jabs his finger at a mousey girl with an infant on her hip. I hope it’s her brother and not the child’s father. I wonder if the scene will escalate, and they’ll have to call security, like they did several nights ago. I don’t watch for long—I don’t want to see him strike her. All of this is bad enough, but I don’t want to see the violence on top of it.
I fiddle with the purse in my lap and close my eyes, but only for a moment. I can’t help but put a face to the new whisperer. First, I see balloon-like booties on his feet; he’s dressed in green with a surgical mask hanging like a bib. I watch their feet as he escorts the pretty young woman into a tiny room behind me; on their way, I see her hands tremble.
This is indeed, some bizarre variation on voyeurism.
I decide at this moment, that I don’t like tension. I don’t like drama. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like the realization that when I write, I will tap into these awful, private moments, into the nausea, at some strangers’ expense. This is what writing has done to me.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
It’s behind glass in my living room. Most adults avert their eyes in utter perturbation, yet children seem to absorb it without any long-term damage (of course I never stick around anywhere long enough to know for sure).
Comment if you wish—it will be without immediate repercussion.
When given sufficient time to analyze and weigh all things against reason and conventionality, I am capable of acquiescing. Therefore, I am accepting a roundabout award from Strange Fiction, and re-thanking Lazy Writer for the same award last week.
In view of the aforesaid, I shall, with all humility and sincerity, now nominate the following for the Splish Slash Award:
Laura Martone :)*
The Literary Lab**
Do what you wish with the award!
*While I'm at recanting: I shall now use emoticons only when commenting at Laura Martone, so that she knows when I'm teasing. ;)
**I notice, and I find it oddly heartening that the latter seems not to post awards that I’m certain they must have received.
Monday, August 31, 2009
I received this commenting award a week ago, and was re-awarded by one of my awardees, Laura Martone—that means I have to nominate another 5 great commenters. So, I’m breaking 4 rules here by nominating 1 this time around. It goes to Scott, who from the time I posted this blog has offered helpful critique on my writing. He has been incrementally posting his WIP, Last Full Measure of Devotion, on 275 Words, One man, One Year, One Novel. Curious about how other writers proceed, I started following his blog from the start, and it has helped me develop a more discerning literary eye, and connected me with a writer who has an acute technical eye. He is gracious and cordial, always appreciative. So, Scott, this award is inevitable…do with it what you wish, just know that if you accept it, you have to give it to 5 others!
Next, Susan Mills, aka Lazy Writer, just nominated me for this 'Splish Splash' award, for my dazzling (not my word) blog. I accepted it with these self-indulgent words: “Thanks Susan…I guess I never associated the word ‘dazzling’ with my blog. Mostly I think of it as utterly self-indulgent (okay, well, there was that one post on embedding hyperlinks, but I think I was only patting myself on the back—again, self-indulgent. I think I should start a self-indulgent award…[I digress; again, very self-indulgent]) Anyway, thanks for the nice award.”
My obligation is to nominate 8 others with this award.
I’m in a quandary…8 others? Eight?
I follow some really interesting and informative, even entertaining blogs; but Dazzling? Surely, I’m just being too literal here, but words mean things. Do blogs actually dazzle? Do they overpower the vision of by intense light? Hmmm…maybe it fits in with definition 2. to astonish with delight. Or 3. to shine brilliantly. Or maybe 4. to excite admiration by brilliance…
And here's another thing: It just seems to me that as writers, especially ones who are supposed to veer away from excessive modifiers and melodrama…Well, do I have to say more?
I think I do.
I think whoever thought up these awards, and those who pass them on with such generosity are far better individuals than I am. I will accept the award in the kind and genuine spirit it was offered, because—as #3 in a family of 7 children—I am just so happy to be acknowledged by anyone.
Maybe I just need an attitude adjustment.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A brief exchange I had with Strange Fiction got me pondering my ironic side, and thus irony in general, and why I love it so.
/uy"reuhnee, uy"euhr-/, n., pl. ironies.
1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.
2. an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.
3. the incongruity of this.
Not to be confused with its close cousins SATIRE and SARCASM; while all three indicate mockery of a person or thing, IRONY is exhibited in the organization or structure of either language or literary material. It indirectly presents a contradiction between an action or expression and the context in which it occurs. One thing is said and its opposite implied, as in "Beautiful weather, isn't it?" said when it is raining. Ironic literature exploits the contrast between an ideal and an actual condition, as when events turn out contrary to expectations.
SATIRE, also a literary and rhetorical form, is the use of ridicule in exposing human vice and folly. Jonathan Swift wrote social and political satires.
SARCASM is a harsh and cutting type of humor. Its distinctive quality is present in the spoken word; it is manifested chiefly by vocal inflection. Sarcastic language may have the form of irony, as in "What a fine musician you turned out to be!", or it may be a direct statement, as in "You couldn't play one piece correctly if you had two assistants!"*
That said, I love Irony. In many ways, I epitomize the word. In fact, it is irony that makes this one of my favorite photographs.
It’s also the reason why I can’t seem to make myself use the ever-popular emoticon. They are so handy for conveying subtleties, clarifying intent when commenting. But for me, they would seem to suck the irony out of my words. I can’t help it. I like to leave people scratching their heads.
*from Random House, Webster’s College Dictionary.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Here’s the thing of it; I don’t have much in the way of helpful insights to offer here on my blog (trying to do better with that), but I do read a number of blogs and generally read every one of their comments. Many of them are thought provoking.
The bloggers I’m awarding are ones who have made me feel comfortable. As a general rule, they graciously acknowledge each comment left on their posts. They even comment here at times (some with amazing consistency). I do not take for granted the time spent making your followers and commenters feel welcome.
Not to mention the fact that you stop by and baffle the echos here on my blog.
Susan Mills, A Walk in My Shoes
Lady Glamis, The Innocent Flower
Bryan Russell, The Alchemy of Writing
Weronika Janczuk, * Home Weronika Janczuk
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Here’s a possibility…
A handsome young artist attends a soiree, where he notices a pretty newcomer. Alas, his scorned lover befriends her, thwarting his attempts to make her acquaintance.
Some time passes, during which he works to perfect his art. He hears she marries, and so does he.
More time passes. His marriage dissolves, as does his satisfaction with his painting. Consequently, he undertakes a study of an American Impressionist, copying his loose style, even replicating some of his work.
Through mutual friends, he hears about the young woman, that her marriage blew apart.
Maneuvering providence, he places himself in her company. He studies her face and falls in love with her countenance. Inspired, he returns to his studio and paints all night…
Of course, she marries him—how could a woman resist a man who, from memory, paints her face on a masterpiece?
...And they live happily ever after.
Sometimes real life situations inspire the best stories. I know there are many out there…
John Singer Sargent’s Mrs Henry White, with some alteration.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I have seen a number of bloggers add a hyperlink in their comments, and I think, how cool is that. Problem is, I don’t know all the HTML lingo, but I had a hunch that comments are translated from that code—they just have that look about them. That is surprisingly intuitive for me.
So, on that premise, I decided to experiment…
I tried it out in a comment on my Unsupervised and at Large blog, and it worked
This is how I did it:
I type out my comment in MS Word (I always do this anyway—it often catches my spelling errors and allows me to use my ever so beloved em dashes). This is also where I embed a hyperlink, using the ‘Insert’ menu, hyperlink; or right click on the highlighted word/words and choose hyperlink from the popup menu. It shows up with the nice blue line now, so I know I’ve succeeded.
Next, I go to my Blog Dashboard—New Post. I copy and past my comment from my Word doc. in the Compose window. I switch to the Edit HTML window.
Next, highlight and copy all that funny looking text, then, finally, paste it in the comment box of your choosing.
And, you can apply italics and bold lettering!
I know this is the Dummy’s way of doing it, but what can I say?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Weronika, this is such a nice gesture…what was it my mother was always telling me..oh yes, “Just say thank you when someone offers a compliment—don’t try to convince them why you’re a big ninny and don’t deserve it.”
The rules are as follows:
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award. Did that…
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. Okay, here it is...
Laura's Simple Pleasures
A Walk In My Shoes (I know she’s already got one)
Weronika's Novel-in-Progress (I know this is re-gifting, and I hereby absolve you of any obligations stated herein.)
Elana Johnson, Author (I don't think she has this one…)
I know this is really cheating, but if I add any others, it would be disingenuous. These are the ones I have been following for a while; I enjoy their content and actually leave comments when I feel moved. I’m sure that in time, I will come to enjoy some of my recently added blogs, but I don’t want to come off sounding obsequious—so for now, I shall refrain.
Seven things about me…
I don’t have a lot on my profile, because I’m kind of a private person—and, it’s true, I hate the thought of boring people.
1) This one’s easy, because there’s a link on my blog—I’m a watercolorist.
2) This one’s also easy because there’s an additional link on my blog—I’m a watercolorist who hasn’t finished a painting in over a year.
3) I’m relatively new to blogging. The first time I entered a comment on some forum, (back in March) I freaked out and couldn’t sleep until I deleted pretty much everything in my profile.
4) When people meet me for the first time, they think I’m gregarious and funny. They don’t realize that I simply get over-stimulated in social situations and then need a great big nap afterward.
5) My husband and I have moved quite a number of times. People think we have wanderlust or that we’re running away from something. The truth is, we’ve simply been left unsupervised for too long.
6) I had a nightmare once, where ‘They’ told my husband and I, “We’re sorry…It’s been brought to our attention that you have exceeded the ‘Lifetime Quota for Marital Bliss’. The two of you must separate immediately!” NOOOooooo!!!!
7) I used up all my best material writing this list.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
You know, like, Leila says, “It’s all about me!”
Kyle rebuts, “Hey, girl, you’re not the only one with a dysfunctional family.”
“Oh, yeah?” Ian interrupts, “Quit being whiny brats, you don’t know conflict till you’re a 27-year-old-coach in love with a student.”
“What’s the big deal,” old Artie interjects, “at least you’re not getting killed off in a month…”
“Would you all just shut up and wait your turn,” Myles shouts, “she’ll get around to resolving all your piddley issues if you just give her a little peace and quiet!”
“Thank you,” I say to Mr. Myles. I know I’m supposed to be the one in control, but ever since he showed up, I seem to have no voice of my own.
I love Mr. Myles…
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Here’s the gist: Socially awkward Lars lives in a garage apartment beside the house where his brother and his sister-in-law live. It becomes evident that he has gone fully delusional when he accepts their dinner invitation, and arrives with his ‘date’, Bianca—she is a life-like version of an ‘inflate-a-date’ doll. The entire town becomes involved in an effort to help Lars work through his delusions.
What really struck me was Bianca’s effective character development, facilitated by Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider’s great acting.
Amazingly, with the help of Lars, his family and the townsfolk, Bianca takes on a whole personality and life by means of their ‘interactions’ with her. In the end, I just couldn’t believe that I was crying over a stupid manikin! Honestly, if you want your perceptions of character development challenged, watch this movie!
Director Craig Gillespie defines Bianca, solely by the use of supporting characters. That got me thinking about my own characters; about how much more efficiently I can reveal them by their interactions with each other as opposed to narration and rumination.
Now, as I rewrite Girl Running, I’m looking for all those places where I can breathe more life into my ‘imaginary friends’.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Two paragraphs instead of five. Have I been too extreme?
During those winding down hours, long after paraphernalia-laden and sunburned city-dwellers headed home, Leila too started for the beach parking lot. Disregard for July’s midday sun now showed up as sunburn, evoking the feeling of seven years ago—being ten again, eating gritty peanut butter and jelly, digging sand out from around the elastic of her swimsuit. Racing her daddy in the sand was fun compared to her ten-mile jog, but the fatigue of it was one of the best sensations she knew.
In the emptying parking lot, sprays of sand stung her legs and whipped strands of hair from her unraveling braid. That’s when she caught sight of her little blue car sitting without neighbor, jarring her from bittersweet memories. As she approached the passenger door, seagulls overhead called out and dashed toward the ground to fight over someone’s leftovers, discarded beside what was obviously a flat tire.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Bear in mind that although I have revised the beginning in order for something to happen in the first pages, this is still a rough draft. (To be honest, I’m only calling it rough, in case any of you readers are thinking, “Wow, this is really rough…”) As my first serious attempt at a novel, I had much to learn. I have cut out a lot of the exposition, and deleted much of the explaining before and after the fact. I’m not saying I cut it all, but I sure would appreciate knowing how I’m coming across.
Also, if anyone enjoys playing sleuth: What do you gather about each character from what is supplied in this first chapter.
Chapter 1 (deleted)
Monday, August 3, 2009
In the meantime, I’m preoccupying myself with my first viable novel, Girl Running. I ‘completed’ it a year ago, and have learned a great deal since then. So, why not apply all that learning to what I still consider a good story with great potential. The biggest challenge will be trimming nearly 50,000 words off 150,000 to better fit the Young Adult genre. Maybe I’ll just call it Commercial Fiction, instead.
I couldn’t wait to see it in print, and bound a few copies. Perhaps I’ll even post a few pages…
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Bernoulli’s principle: The combined forces which generate lift in aircraft. In a literary application, we essentially rely on those first words to generate enough forward motion in our story to get it off the ground. We need to give the reader confidence that we will deliver them safely to a destination without a crash and burn.
She is a staunch reader of the first paragraph in books that catch her interest. If it is convoluted, cliché, not utterly easy to follow, or sounds pretentious then it has taken a nosedive and she puts it back on the shelf. “I’m willing to commit time to the journey, and if that first paragraph gives me confidence that I’m in good hands, I’ll read on,” she told me.
Based on that principle, I have rewritten my opening paragraph countless times.
As a side issue on this topic of opening paragraphs and offering critique on them: when I read the feedback provided by others, I am amazed at the authority with which it given. The writing qualifications of the reviewers, on so many of these blogs, spread across the entire spectrum of writers. From unpublished novelists (like me) on over to those with numerous credentials and published works. Yet very often, the feedback is consistently good; in view of it, I can return to the excerpt I just read and see exactly what needs tweaking. I’ve learned how to improve my own writing by means of it. I think it must be no small task, developing that critical eye. I'm still honing mine. When I read someone’s work, I am far more inclined to see what I like in it. Perhaps that’s just my nature.
Very soon, I will be swapping manuscripts with a fellow novelist who is at approximately the same stage I’m at. I’m a little nervous—okay, a lot nervous! I know I will find plenty to like about her work, but will I be up for the challenge of offering helpful critique? We’ve agreed to have a list—an agenda of sorts—as to what we specifically want; I hope that saves me. I wonder how many of those other bloggers out there are in the same boat.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Then it happened. The crash.
Normally, I back up everything on an external hard drive, (or in the case of my WIP, at least on a flash drive or my PDA) but, of course, before I could, my computer seized up…the big blue screen overtook me with a wave of nausea. Initially, it was all about denial. Then my husband confirmed it, and so did the Computer Hierarchy. The hard drive crashed, with all my stuff, inaccessibly locked away.
Not too long ago I would have freaked at the thought of loosing MS Money files and pictures, but my first and foremost concern is for those 1000 words. It’s crazy and sobering. How has my life become so wrapped up in a box? So embroiled that a crash feels like a life threatening illness. Yikes, kid, get a grip! And the guilt! Would fellow bloggers think I was ignoring them?
The upside is, I have a good friend who is a computer whiz and seems to feel as if he has some vested interest in my mental/emotional stability, and told me he could fix it—probably…
In the meantime, I’ve learned that I CAN do something other that type and read other peoples’ blogs. I sewed a slip cover, made lovely complementary pillows, and altered a pretty linen dress with a bateau neck and mother of pearl buttons down the back (it’s been waiting for 4 years). The most shocking thing I did, (and I say shocking because it’s quite out of what has become my character), was to invite a ten year-old to my house for the afternoon. (Admittedly, she is more like a mini adult than a kid). We cut lavender in my garden, strung up the stems for drying, and then made an antique lace sachet for when the buds are dried. Not only that, I got out my watercolors and we painted a vase of them!
I was so inspired that I took a long look at one of my watercolor works-in-progress and actually gave some thought to what layer I would next wash over it.
During all that, my husband (now realizing that the computer has kept me pharmaceutically free for the past few years) researched and purchased a laptop, which I am writing on, right now. I anticipate that it will save me when we return to visit family in October, but for the rest of this week, it’ll do the trick.
Now—to go and make the call I have been putting off. I hate to nag a working man, but I have to know…has he resuscitated my baby?