Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Just when...

Just when you think you’re pretty much done, you can’t seem to rid yourself of the niggling doubt about that last chapter. ‘Now, now, it’s just that I don’t want to give up the story,’ you tell yourself. ‘It’s hard letting go, sending my baby off to make her own way in the big wide world of publishing. Stop obsessing and move on.’

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

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Anyone?

So, and Penguin Group are once again presenting the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2010. Has anyone entered in the past? Does anyone plan to enter this year?

Me? I did last year. It was my introduction to fellow writers, where I first received a critique of a small portion of my work through the affiliated CreateSpace preview gallery. It was a wild and wooly adventure. And the Forum over there was a whole ‘nother experience!

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

A Little Bit of Marlena

This last excerpt is 19-year-old Marlena’s account, relaying her personal experience at a hospital, with her new friend, Dave.

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 Captain's Story—Told by Marlena the Peculiar

You'll notice this sample is significantly different from the last. Marlena is the storyteller, conveying it in third person POV. The voice is formal, heavily influenced by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, which is Marlena’s favorite novel.
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

While I'm Waiting...

I thought I’d post three samples of Story for a Shipwright. Three samples, because (as a handful of you already know), there are primarily three voices to this story. Samuel’s, Marlena the Storyteller, and Marlena. For those who haven’t read any of my ‘literary’ work, and may be a little interested, I shall post one excerpt for the next three days.The trick of it is not giving away the storyline.

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

There's a BIG Difference

I can’t help but ponder the similarities and differences between sharing artistic and literary endeavors with others.

Here’s what I’m thinking about:

See this painting? What do you think of it? Do you like it? Of course, that all has to do with perspective. If you were my mother, or even a close friend, it wouldn’t matter if it were stick figures, you’d think it was wonderful. That’s like sharing our literary efforts with family and friends, our 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

Writers Lurking in The Bilge

When I stumbled down into The Bilge, to ask my Question for a Work of Fiction, I had only meager hopes of acknowledgement. After my eyes quit burning and adjusted to the dark, and my olfactory senses deadened, I found that not only had my boat question been answered, but I came across something I had not anticipated.


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.

Here’s another:

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

Honest Scrap Award

My fellow blogger Laura Martone must think I’ve recovered sufficiently from my award-winning-recalcitrance, because she has graciously extended this award to me, (at great risk to herself).

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.