Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Marlena

I’ve been staring at a lot of UNCHARTED lately, which I’m pre-editing before Rhemalda’s editor gets a hold of it (I can’t believe how may times I wrote ‘he knew’ or ‘he thought’ or ‘he watched’—Egad, you’d think I never read a writing blog in my life!)


Not only have I been focusing endlessly on my MS Word doc, but to keep me motivated, I have an amazing painting* of what UNCHARTED's Marlena looks like, by Pascal Gentil. His version is perfect, really, but the more I stared, the more I wished I had a painting of my own—and I haven’t painted in a long time, so I decided to give it a go and produce my own rendition of Gentil’s painting*. I’m posting the process over on my art blog—Unsupervised & atLarge. I actually finished it, so I’m posting my completed watercolor here. Next week I’ll post Gentil’s painting*. I like this one very much, but when I compare it to his, I still kinda like his better. Maybe mine will grow on me…


* Edited to say that I just found Pascal Gentil's Website only to discover his "painting" is in fact a digitally enhanced photograph, which takes a great deal of talent and in no way diminishes my esteem of his work. Oh my, how I'd love to paint many of his subjects! And in a way, it makes me feel all the better about my work.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Breaking Rules: The Insecure Way


One of my biggest writing insecurities is breaking rules. When I started my novels, I went at it all willy-nilly, unaware of rules aside from basic grammar. When I got more serious about the craft, one of the first rules I learned was Show, Don’t Tell. What an awesome new concept! And wow, what it did for my writing!

Eventually I learned that once I knew the rules—why they were there and how they worked—I was allowed to break the rules, with discretion. Okay, I have to admit that scared me a bit. (No need to go into a deep psychological profile here, but even though I don’t particularly like rules, I do find comfort in their safety. If I don’t break rules, bad things won’t smack me upside the head, right?) So, the question is, How do I to know when it’s okay to break a rule?

I don’t know.

But it began to occur to me that there had to be a better way to SHOW fear, or embarrassment, or lust, or anger or that whole gamut of human emotions. I mean, how many different ways can the heart beat fast and hard and the body temperature rise? Is it just a matter of seeing how many clever and convoluted ways I can show an emotion through physicality? And that doesn’t even cover all the extra verbiage needed with showing. Sometimes it’s good to slow down the narrative, but sometimes all that extra speeding pulse, slamming objects and watering eyes bogs down the pace and makes even my eyes roll.

Recently, I came across a new term: Interiority. I don’t know who came up with it, but it's in the dictionary (of or pertaining to that which is within) and I found it on kidlit.com and it gave me a whole new slant on the Show vs Tell rule. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but the concept makes good sense to me. I’m feeling a little less insecure.


This post is part of the Insecure Writer's Group, sponsored by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Non-Post Post

This post is about not succumbing to the pressure to post just for the sake of posting something. If I post three times in a month, I’m doing well. I feel comfortable with that. The biggest obstacle to posting more often is that I never know what to talk about, so I ramble on about the first thing that comes into my head. This also happens in other social situations—and yes, blogging is every bit as social.

Yeah, as I’m approaching someone who I see standing alone in a group, I’m thinking of all the nifty conversation openers I’ve learned through the years—Get them talking about themselves being at the top of the list—but is that what I do? Noooo. I start blathering on about some ridiculous nonsense (usually self-deprecating humor delivered in about three hundred words without a breath between sentences) just to distract both of us from the awkwardness of talking to someone we are only marginally acquainted with, if at all. Not that it isn’t a perfectly legitimate way to socialize—Okay, aside from the wide-eyed, ‘what the heck is wrong with this chick? gawks—it works well in a forget-about-my-dignity, maybe-I’ll-never-see-them-again-anyhow sort of way, and it keeps me from having to come up with something substantial. And if my husband is in the mix, we’ve been known to devolve into a sideshow. The interaction—and I use that term loosely—may last less than five minutes—probably less than the time it took you to read this post. But it exhausts me for the rest of the day…

So, that’s really why I don’t post more often—aside from not knowing what to write about. Any suggestions? Anyone want to tell me a little about themselves so I can practice being a good listener? 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Who Are You?


Imagine you have washed ashore with a handful of strangers on a tiny uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere—stripped of everything. How would you be identified? Visit Rhemalda’s blog to read my first post, and ask yourself, “Who am I—really?”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Sparkly New Title!


I just wanted to give an update on what’s happening with my novel. I’ve had several conversations with Rhemalda, via phone, Instant Messaging, and—new to me—Skype. After the initial awkwardness of seeing and being seen, Skyping wasn’t as scary as I imagined—turned out that the folks at Rhemalda look like my own species (though my face kept doing stupid things in the corner)!

Then there was choosing an author photo, almost as dreaded as the author bio. I have that stuff on my About J.B. Chicoine page right above, but, I don’t know, it just feels different putting that on an Author Page with a publisher. Suddenly all my potential photos look too goofy or too come-hitherish. When I read the bio for my blog, it seems silly, but the one I’ve submitted for my ‘official’ page sounds flat an uncompelling—or maybe it’s just me!

The real fun was picking out my official title! After an intensive, late night IM-ing session between me, the publisher, my editor (love how that sounds) and cover designer, we came up with some strong possibilities. The next morning none of them felt right—then I had an epiphany! Okay, it was more like my husband saying, “What about that one on the original list—but just the first word?—you know, Uncharted. It fits so many aspects of the story and it’s nautical. It’s got punch” to which I said, “Yay Todd!”

So, there it is, officially, the name of my debut novel, to be published on October 1, 2012.

Uncharted
Story for a Shipwright

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Publishing Contract!


This announcement actually makes a pretty nice follow-up to my last post on Persistence. I just signed a contract with Rhemalda Publishing for Story for a Shipwright! For a while now, I’ve been on the verge of self-publishing because I love the idea of having complete control over my work. But for my first venture into publishing, I hoped for the support of a traditional publisher. Given my cross-genre issues, and my increasing squeamishness with the Big House Publishers, I decided on the Small Press route. Rhemalda has a reputation for working very closely with their authors, which is the primary reason I chose them. I’m really excited to have progressed this far—follow-through does eventually pay off!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Persistence


So, you’ve heard about writers sending out queries to dozens of agents and receiving dozens of rejections. Rejection is part of the getting published gig. And not just dozens of rejections—I don’t even want to say how many I received over the course of nearly four years. I sent my first STORY FOR A SHIPWRIGHT query in December of ’08 and received my last rejection in August this year. I won’t say how many—lets just round down to 200. And it wasn’t that my query wasn’t strong (okay, probably my first 25-50 were terrible!) or the story was awful. I received an encouraging amount of requests for partials and my full manuscript with a lot of very positive feedback—just no takers. The problem? The market; that and my story didn’t fall into a tidy genre. I was told “this kind of well-made novel is almost impossible to sell in this horrible market”...“especially in these recessionary times.  It's that old thing about deserving to be published, but not yet being published.”

Yeah, it’s been really discouraging. I can’t say that it didn’t undermine my feelings about my novel and my writing abilities—I wondered if all the disappointment and battered self-esteem was worth it. Yet, it seemed that with all the time I had invested, I should follow through on my plan—if I’ve lacked in skill and knowledge of how the industry works and what genres are ‘salable’, I do make up for it in persistence. A large part of me feels the need to follow through once I’ve made a commitment. I’ve always maintained that I will publish one way or the other, and I’ll be proud of that. If nothing else, I know that we writers are a rare breed that combines imagination with commitment and courage. That’s a pretty cool distinction!

My motto has become: Just keep moving forward—and whatever you do, don’t look down!

This post is part of the Insecure Writer's Group, sponsored by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Foliage and Friends


I’m stopping in quickly to say I’m having a lovely time in New Hampshire. The foliage peaked a few days ago and this is the view from where I sit and write. Inspiring indeed! I've been getting lots of writing—revisions, that isdone...


…also, I want to direct attention to Anne Gallagher’s new Regency Writer blog (and not just because the header features one of my paintings—she produces some really high-quality stories! Go check it out!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Confidence and Crit Partners

One of my insecurities about writing (I have many) is that people know I’m insecure about my writing! There is a fine line between modesty—knowing your work has shortcomings—and wimpy lack of confidence. I have vacillated between the two, which is likely apparent to those who have read my blog for a while or read my comments on others' blogs.

Here’s the problem it presents: Since the blog-o-sphere has proved to be my pool of potential beta-readers and critique partners who likely sense my insecurity, I tend to wonder if they sugar-coat their responses to my writing. Intellectually, I know I have chosen them because they have integrity and will be honest—and when they offer suggestions on how to improve, I absolutely believe them. But when they say something nice, I always wonder if it’s just to make the criticism more palatable. Which is stupid, because I know some of my writing is pretty good and commendation is often an effective way to motivate further improvement. Even worse, if most of what they say is positive, I wonder if they think I can't handle the truth, and so hold back on pointing out the negative! (For the record: Yes, I can handle the truth!)

Fortunately, I have found a remedy to this! Time! It takes time to build up a trusting relationship with a crit partner or beta reader. True confidence in someone can only come through experience. It’s very difficult starting out with little or no writerly support—especially if you live somewhere remote and don’t have access to a live writing group (even then, it takes time to build trust). I feel very fortunate after several years of this blogging/writing gig, to have found some real gems! It has bolstered my confidence exponentially! You know who you are..THANKS!

This post is part of a series The Insecure Writers Support Groupyes, a blogfest—sponsored by Alex J. Cavanaugh, to lend support to fellow insecure writers (and that's most of us!).  A list of fellow Supporters can be found at the above link--go visit their blogs for more encouragement...

Monday, September 26, 2011

That Time of Year...


Well, it’s that time of year again! Very soon, we will be heading off to New Hampshire for our twice-yearly pilgrimage. We are trying out something new with internet out there, but it may be a wash and so you may not see me around for a little while…then again…*
So, here is a happy picture to place me in till I get back…


 *I actually signed up for a blog-fest of sorts. Yes, I know it’s highly irregular of me to participate in a group activity. Why, you ask, would I do that? The answer's in the name— The Insecure Writer’s Group…and it’s only the first Wednesday of every month, so I think I can handle iteven if it takes an hour to upload the post through dial-up internet (okay, I may be exaggerating a little...)!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Character Intrusion!

One of the ‘benefits’ of being a pantser—as opposed to an outliner who knows most of the story up front—is that I never know when a character will alter my novel. This happened in Portrait of a Girl Running. I needed a marginal character as a catalyst for added tension; just a supporting player, mind you. His name is Mr. Myles. An unexpected thing happened though. When I set him in a scene with my protagonist, they had this amazing chemistry I hadn’t counted on. They could not be in the same scene together without them carving out an emotional wake. In fact, Myles became not only a major character in the novel (and the sequel) but he also refined the overall theme.

It happened again in Portrait of a Protégé. On a whim, a character named Marvelle* enters the story—and bam! she takes over!

I’ve been evaluating what these two intruding characters have in common.

Each one:
  • has a dynamic personality
  • engages with the protagonist in a battle of wills
  • ultimately has the protagonist’s best interest at heart
  • is considerably older than the protagonist
  • is based—at least partially—on a real person I have known.
I wonder how much this last factor contributes to their strength—that is, to my ability to truly bring them to life in such a profound way.

I’m curious—whether you’re a pantser or an outliner—Do you have characters that enter your story in an unexpected way? Do they refine, or even redefine your theme? Are any of your characters based on someone you have personally known?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Monarch—For Those of You Who Don't Already Know...

There are probably very few of you who follow this blog who don’t know about Monarch, Michelle Davidson Argyle’s debut novel, with Rhemalda Publishing, but I’m so excited for her that I want to post it here. I read it in almost one sitting—very intense. It gave me scary dreams! 


Today is Monarch's official release date! Congratulations, Michelle! 

Michelle is also doing a giveawayyou can subscribe to her newsletter and enter for a chance at a free copy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Time Setting

How much thought do you put into choosing the year your novel is set in? If you write contemporary fiction, perhaps that is a foregone conclusionyour storyline begins now, or in the recent past! And if you write historical fiction, you likely have a specific time in history in which to frame your plot. Sci-Fi is often set in some distant time in the future. Sometimes, though, time setting is far more subjective.

For instance, I would have set Story for a Shipwright in the year I began writing it2008. However, because of an important plot point, I had to take into consideration the significantly more stringent security measures of international travelwith emphasis on provable ID since 9/11. I could not pull off a major plot point unless it was set prior to that event, thus, I chose to open the story in the spring of 2001.

As for Portrait of a Girl Running, I picked the year 1978 because it was the year I graduated high school; I could write about it with authenticity. Also, with the increasing awareness of privacy issues and boundaries in ‘fiduciary’ relationships over the past 30 years, it would have been trickier to establish credibility in my plot and character development, had I set it in present day. Sometimes, even in few decades make a big difference in the attitudes of society in general.

With my WIP, Whispering Narrows, I chose the pivotal year 1969 for two reasons: 1) I remember 1969 as a child, and so does my husband who is a couple years older and whose experience I draw from. 2) The Woodstock Festival of 1969 is a plot feature (at least I think it might be at this pointI want to leave my options open).

What factors do you take into consideration when you choose the specific year or time frame of your stories?  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Formatting Scene Headers

As promised—as if anyone’s as insane as I am about formatting—I shall show you how to make the nice little scenes show up in your Document Map! (if you haven’t read my last post on Chapter Headers, you need to do that first!) Again, this is for MS Word, 03 edition. (I just found out that Scrivener is soon coming out with an edition for PCs—how exciting is that! Thanks Nate!)

Now, go ahead and open your Document Map along with your Styles and Formatting pane. At the bottom of the Formatting pane, from the drop-down menu, click Available formatting. A list of different heading styles should show up.

Place your cursor in the paragraph that starts a new scene and then click Heading 2 (it is likely bold and italicized). This changes that entire paragraph to a heading, but also changes the formatting, which we can easily adjust. At this point, the first words of your new scene will show up in the Document Map under a collapsible Chapter header! Now, highlight the new scene paragraph. You can either adjust the font at the toolbar to Times New Roman, size 12, and unclick bold and italic, or go to Format>Font>and do the same from that dialogue box.

Next, with the paragraph still highlighted: Format>Paragraph>Line spacing>Double, and spacing before and after at 0 pt >OK 


If you like, you can also make the opening paragraph in each chapter a heading—I like to just because I can see it at a glance for navigation. To do this, place your cursor on the first paragraph. In the Formatting pane, click Heading 2 (the one in Times New Roman…). Now it shows up in your Document Map, right under the Chapter. If you had an indentation in the paragraph, it’s gone now, so we have to restore it. Go to Format>Paragraph>Indentation>Special>First Line>.05”>OK. *


When you hit Enter (Return) to begin a new paragraph, you need to format that back to indented, or all subsequent paragraphs will be headers. Simply place your cursor on the next paragraph, In the Formatting pane, click Clear Formatting. Now, go back to Format>Paragraph>Indentation>Special>First Line>.05”>OK. Now, each subsequent paragraph will have a .5” indentation and you won’t have to mess with Tabs. This will also provide you with First line: 0.5” in your Formatting pane, which you can use to adjust any future paragraphs—such as those following a scene, where you’ll want to restore an indent.

If anyone knows a simpler way to do all that, please share!
 
*If you want to know how to get rid of the bold headings from the Formatting in use, you’ll have to e-mail me. Either way, it won’t interfere with anything)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Formatting Obsessed!


Okay, I love formatting! I admit it! Whenever I receive a manuscript or piece of text from another writer, divided into chapters and scenes, I get an urge to format it! I wasn’t always a formatting geek—it came about quite by accident. When I write, I do it in clumps of text, without regard for chapters or scenes. Later on, I go back and add my page breaks and scene changes. Problem was, I constantly adjusted them, splitting and combining chapters and scenes, and then had to go back and renumber everything. What a pain.

Then I discovered how to make my chapters number themselves, and even improved the way I could navigate through my own manuscript. Humor me here...if you’ll notice in the snapshot of my screen, the Document Map panel on the left shows all my chapters and scenes for easy reference. And the Formatting Pane on the right shows only the formatting I have in use. From there, I can adjust everything in my manuscript. If you want to play around, do so on a duplicate or new document. (Be aware, though, that this is for MS Windows, 03 edition. I don’t know anything about the 07 version or Macs—sorry.) And you may want to be sure you have the Formatting toolbar displayed: View>Toolbars>Formatting. I will explain using the menu bar across the top.


From the menu bar click View>Document Map. A pane opens on the left side.
Now, Format>Styles and Formatting—which opens a pane on the right. At the bottom, choose Formatting in use. Keep that open.

Place cursor where you want your chapter heading. Format>Bullets and Numbering>Outlined Numbered tab>Chapter 1>Okay.

Chapter 1 will show up on your document, likely at your left margin (it will also appear in the Document Map)—probably Arial font, or whatever your default font is. If this is for a manuscript, highlight the words Chapter 1. If a font button is not on your toolbar, Go to Format>Font>Times New Roman. Font size: Regular. Size:12. Now, Center it, either from the toolbar, or Format>Paragraph>Alignment: Center.

Now, highlight Chapter 1 on your document. In the Formatting pane, Chapter 1 Heading 1 + Centered will be ‘highlighted’. Each time you start a new chapter after a page break, click on that and the next chapter in sequence will appear. If you combine chapters or split them, the sequence will be synchronized automatically.

If anyone knows a simpler way to do all that, please share!

Tomorrow, I will show you how to make each scene a heading under the chapter.

Any questions so far? Anything you want me to mess around with?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Real and Imaginary Settings

Setting development is nearly as important to me as character development. I love adding the nuances of a place—the smells and sights, the overall feel. Even if my reader has never been to the specific place or one like it, I want to evoke a familiar feeling or memory they can draw on. It doesn’t matter to me if they see it exactly the way I do, but I want their own interpretation to be vivid.

My stories are set in the ‘real’ world and I make use of actual places, but also the stereotypical—based on real places. Sometimes I use a combination. I usually draw from places I have personally been. For instance, I set Portrait of a Girl RUNNING in an actual place on Long Island—I used my hometown because I could write about it believably. Problem is, my hometown happens to be Amityville. Will anyone be able to use that village in a work of fiction after the debacle Amityville Horror? Alas, I renamed it, Millville. Probably just as well. Yet in the sequel, Portrait of a Protégé, I use real places in New Hampshire’s Sunapee Lakes Region. However, in Story for a Shipwright, I use a composite of stereotypical coastal villages that easily conjure a sense of place in the mind of anyone even remotely acquainted with Maine—I call the fictitious place Wesleyville, named for the protagonist's family.

I think probably the important thing in choosing a name for a fictitious town in an otherwise real setting is to be sure no actual town by that name exists. What other considerations do you give to naming a place?

I wonder how many of you set your stories in places where you grew up—and even for those who write fantasy, do the places you fabricate originate in some place you’ve been in real life? When you’re reading, how much detail is necessary for you to visualize the setting?

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Adult or Cross-Genre?

Once again, I am giving thought to genre. When I start writing a story, the last thing I’m thinking of is what genre will this fit into, or how I can make it fit into any particular genre at all—let alone how I plan to market it. I simply write a story as it unfolds before me. Often, I’m not even sure just exactly how it will develop, or what character may enter and take center stage. This leaves me with a dilemma in the end, when I get ready to submit or query the completed novel

Story for a Shipwright has a strong Women’s fiction appeal, yet it is primarily written in first person from a male POV—a sensitive and insightful point of view, at that. Shouldn’t such a novel have a more universal appeal? In the end, I submitted Story for a Shipwright as Literary/General/Commercial fiction. (Don’t even get me going on the ambiguity of all those terms!)

Currently, I’m polishing a new (rewrite of an old) story. The protagonist is a 17 year-old girl, delivered in close third person. Large portions are from two different male points of view—one 27 year-old and the other 52. There are some high-schooly scenes, but the plot revolves around adult situations and issues. It doesn’t feel like Young Adult to me, though it doesn’t entirely feel like Women’s fiction, either. Then there is that relatively new genre, New Adult...hmmm. Perhaps Portrait of a Girl Running and the sequel Portrait of a Protégé can find a home there...must do further research...

Anyone familiar with New Adult literature or have an opinion on the marketability of cross-genre novels?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pushing Boundaries & Fiduciary Relationships

Fiduciary Relationship—that is, a relationship based on an inherent trust or trustworthiness. I first came across that term while doing research for GIRL RUNNING and PORTRAIT OF A PROTEGE. I found it in the article Sexualization* of the doctor–patient relationship: is it ever ethically permissible? by Katherine H Hall. While these two stories do touch briefly on Doctor-Patient ethics, I was more interested in Teacher-Student relationships, and I believe many of the principles cited in Hall’s article apply.

The fiduciary relationship is based on trust, wherein one party has greater power and thus control. Granted, many relationships incorporate a fiduciary element. I maintain that a healthy relationship distributes such power, contingent upon the assets each party brings to the table; that power is ever shifting. Oftentimes, principles of the fiduciary relationship are manifest when one party is significantly older than the other, though it surely holds true in other ways—such as when it comes to the intellectual, financial and social status of each party.

In my novel, GIRL RUNNING, I’ve chosen to explore the Teacher-Student relationship, particularly wherein pre-existing contact—outside of school—levels the playing field (a bit).

GIRL RUNNING explores the emotionally intense relationship between 17 year-old, orphaned and unsupervised Leila and her math teacher from hell, alongside, and often at conflict with, a blossoming romantic relationship with the track coach.

The author of the above-mentioned article concludes: “…[sexualized] relationships with former patients should not be regarded as ethically permissible except under such rare circumstances.” I believe the same holds true for Teacher-Student relationships. And so, I have attempted to explore that “rare circumstance.”

What do you think? Can such ‘unequal’ relationships succeed, long-term?


* just to clarity, neither of my stories contain sex between a student and teacher.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

J.B. Chicoine: Novelist

I just changed my header title from Aspiring Novelist…Practicing Writer to Novelist & Practicing Writer. I’ve finally decided to own up to it.

I’m a novelist, and I have completed novels to prove it. And they’re good, and not just my family and friends say so!


And yes, I am also a practicing writer—don’t you just love the ambiguousness of that statement?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

So, What Exactly Have I Been Doing?

Over the past weeks, I have been spending much less time blogging (a great diversion during ‘writer’s block’), and a whole lot of time writing—finally. Some of that time has consisted of re-writing—not simply revising—earlier work. As a result, I have come to realize something very empowering. I have progressed as a writer!

When I completed my first novel over 20 years ago, somewhere deep down inside—as proud as I was of it—I knew it was crap. I couldn’t define exactly why, but I knew it was. I stuck it in a drawer and there it remains.

Exactly 4 years ago, I gave voice to another story that wouldn’t leave me alone. I hadn’t a clue about good writing, but that wasn’t my focus. I simply had a story I wanted to tell. My husband was out of town for five weeks and I decided to share that story with him. When he called every evening, I read what I had written. I had never felt the serotonin levels spike the way they did the summer I wrote Girl Running. I LOVED WRITING. As an added perk, after 17 years of marriage, I surprised and impressed my Todd.

Then I wrote the sequel, Portrait of a Protégé. Still, I didn’t know the ‘rules’ of good writing and so my words and the story had free reign. When I finished, I loved the story, but I knew my writing had problems—and I had no idea what they were, let alone how to fix them. It was frustrating, but didn’t stop me from writing some more.

So, I moved on. I finished the first draft of Story for a Shipwright two years ago, simultaneous with my blogging debut, and I started to learn and to revise.

Now, I’ve gone back to Girl Running and Protégé. Oh my goodness, what a revelation. Now I can see the problems: I was in love with:
• Long, convoluted sentences: the more semi-colons and em-dashes; and; as; but;—not to mention however and nevertheless—the better! (you see what I mean)
• Big, obscure, eye-rolling words (words that even I can’t remember what they mean)
• Switching POV willy-nilly. Oh my! Talk about head-hopping
• Long, descriptive passages filled with adverbs and other modifiers

• Passive voice and weak verbs
• Pointless scenes
• Back-story info dumps
• Redundant dialogue tags
And the list goes on and on…including my whopping 150+K and 120+K word counts

However, I did find some good.
• Some strong characters with good potential
• Moderately tight plots
• Good, well thought out dialogue, much of it salvageable (even if it was buried in long descriptive tags.)
• Some nicely turned phrases that I could easily recycle
So, that’s what I’ve been up to—writing for the fun of it, finally knowing how to bring out the best in these stories. I am so excited to find joy in my writing again!

…and thanks to Michelle David Argyle at The Innocent Flower who continues to post honestly about the emotional ups and downs of writing versus publishing, helping me sort out my own expectations.

Dumbbell Syndrome

She is sitting. The dry grass bristles beneath her little hands. On either side of her, she can see patches of concrete alternating with dormant lawns all up and down the street of ticky-tacky houses. She’s in a carefree, three-year-old state of mind, thinking only of her playmate a few houses down. She sings her name as loud as she can, over and over. From the house next door, a man steps onto his front stoop. Whiskers pepper his chin and strands of hair hang from one side of his balding head. His face plumps as his eyes squint.
“Shut up, ya dumbbell!” His words startle and silence her.

Although she does not know what a ‘dumbbell’ is, in that moment, she does know three indisputable realities. She is a dumbbell. She knows a dumbbell is not good. And she is all at once aware that everyone else knows she is a dumbbell.

She is immobilized. She cannot cry, though she wants to. She remains perfectly still; perhaps no one will notice the dumbbell still sitting on the grass. She sits there for a very long time.

***
She boards a Greyhound on Long Island, venturing off on her own for the first time. She is headed to New Hampshire to visit her brother. A trip all by herself feels precarious, but she’s doing it anyway. She is eighteen after all—practically grown up. In Hartford, Connecticut, she needs to switch buses. A Vermont Transit Bus parks in the spot where she believes she should board, and so she does.

As soon as she takes a seat, and as she watches the driver ready to put the bus in gear, she is overcome with panic. Is this the right bus? She reads Vermont Transit overhead, but she is headed to New Hampshire. She should ask the driver if the bus stops in Claremont, but she cannot make herself move, let alone speak. Somewhere inside she hears a voice, Shut up ya dumbbell!

For five hours, stop after stop, she is immobilized, never knowing until the last moment if she will ever arrive at her destination.

***
She reads a review of her writing, something she has bravely poured her heart and soul into. Her chest pounds with such discomfort that she stops breathing. She is reading a blur of isolated words strung together with venom. They make no sense and she squints harder, trying to understand. Now, they come into focus. Shut up ya dumbbell!

Lessons Learning

For the past couple weeks I’ve been writing up a storm. I haven’t had this much fun stringing together words since before I started querying. After a long dry spell, depression break, I was beginning to wonder if I’m a writer at all—perhaps this writing thing is just another one of the many projects I have undertaken and completed, and now it’s time to move on. I hated to resign myself to that, butwell, writers write, and I wasn't writing. At all.

There are a number of creative outlets I enjoy and have become proficient at, some of which I have never gone back to, but the two endeavors to which I always return are painting and writing. Art has always had the upper hand. There is something about the visual that allows me the immediate satisfaction of knowing I’ve improved. It’s tangible. I can see it in front of me. I still see the flaws, but the results are good enough to pleasantly surprise me. Being married to an accomplished artist helps—he’s always there, with validations. He’s honest and I trust his opinion.

Writing has been an altogether different experience. Yes, I am one of those insecure artist types, always looking for validation within a very subjective realm. How will I know if or when I’m good enough? And ‘Good Enough’ for what? To impress friends and family? For publication? Will my husband or my sister tell me? Or perhaps a fellow writer. Perhaps an agent, reviewer of publisher?

If I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past few years of writing and blogging, I have learned ten times as much in the span of two months, while writing nothing—while not even being able to read because I allowed it to make me feel even more inadequate. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

• I hate feeling as if I have wasted time with nothing of value to show for it.
• I have learned that ‘value’ is very subjective.
• I’ve learned that the ultimate validation only exists in the form of self-acceptance.

• That the euphoria I experience when fully immersed in writing can not be reduced to words. It can not be measured against the critical eye of another.
• I love my stories, and I love my characters and I love the imaginary worlds I have built.

All of these are things I already knew intellectually, but now I’m finally getting it. I know I will continue to have my moments, but at least I can refer back to this post, where I have declared it to the world…

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Time to Fly

I have been edging ever closer to Internet/Blogger Burnout lately. But in the back of my mind, I have visions of rolling hills, meandering dirt roads lined with Lily-of-the-Valley, the sound of the Atlantic within a two hour drive, the Isabella Gardener and Boston MFA, quiet time for contemplation and writing—and all only a few days away.

Yes, it’s that time of year again, heading to the hills of New Hampshire where the only Internet service is over a telephone line or at the local McDonalds. I won’t be visiting too many blogs while I’m away, but by the time I return, I will look forward to catching up. I may even try to post a time or two between now and then…

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Personality Typology

Psychology fascinates me. It seems to be a common interest amongst writers. I know quite a few of us who even subject our characters to the Jung/Myers Typology Test to get a better handle on who they are as individuals and to keep their behavior in line with their personality type. I have taken the test quite a few times over the years, and even back-to-back, changing answers to questions I could go either way on. I consistently come up as an INFJ, (Invroverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging) with varying percentages. My main characters almost always end up being INFJ’s or INTJ’s. I wonder if it’s just me or do other writers tend to write their main character’s personality very similar to their own?

As a side note, one of the traits of an INFJ is the need for quiet time after intense social interactions. I think this manifests itself in the way that I tend to burn out easily. I can’t seem to help getting over-stimulated in social situations and then feel the need to withdraw, which is sort of what I’m going through right now. For sure, this trait applies to my ‘real’ life, but I am finding that it applies just as much to blogging. I wonder how many other INFJ’s go through these spells…

Friday, April 1, 2011

2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Three years ago I did not have a blog. Three years ago, I did not even know what a blog was, but I had written a novel. I thought, Wouldn’t it be neat to publish my novel, and, to that end, I started reading all sorts of information on the internet. I came across something called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award around the time they were posting the 2008 finalists. I made a mental note and I wrote another novel—STORY FOR A SHIPWRIGHT. With nary a beta reader nor any sort of feedback other than my husband’s endorsement, I entered the ABNA in 2009. Although I didn’t make the first cut, I received my first real feedback from other writers, through CreateSpace Previews.

Shortly after that—nearly two years ago now, I set up this blog so I could meet other writers and receive the feedback I craved. I read blogs, revised, beta-read, revised some more, read some more and entered the ABNA again, with the same, but revised manuscript, in 2010. I made the first cut. Progress. I also received more helpful feedback from two of Amazon’s Vine Reviewers.

Since then, I have queried STORY FOR A SHIPWRIGHT, received some positive feedback from agents, but no takers. Then, the ABNA rolled around again. So, what the heck. I entered the same, further revised manuscript for the third time. This year, I’ve made it to the quarterfinalists—that is, one of the 500 narrowed down from 10,000 entrants. The cool thing about making it this far is that an excerpt of my manuscript—the first 5000 words—is available on Amazon for public download and review.* The best and most precarious part of this is that I will receive a Publishers Weekly Review of my entire manuscript—which you writer folks out there know is normally provided only for published books.

Getting a PW review could be great, if my review is good, and REALLY crummy if I get a scathing review. I suppose that’s why I haven’t posted this news until now. I’m a big chicken. I would rather let the competition play out and then wallow in my disappointment, unbeknownst to any of you. But here’s the thing: I’m so distracted that I can’t seem to come up with anything else to post, and I have an overwhelming urge to gather my commiserators around me so that no matter what happens, I won’t go off the deep end.

*You don't have to own a Kindle to do this! You just need a computer and then download the free Kindle app for your pc. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Still Scratch My Head and Wonder

When I was growing up, a longhaired, mangy white Tomcat terrorized many an innocent housecat in our neighborhood; consequently, it had a price on its head. We called him the Ten-Buck Cat. Whenever our pure white mama cat went into heat, she and the Ten-Buck Cat produced a litter of pure white, long-haired balls of fluff. Around the time that I turned fourteen, two of these kittens found a home with a gracious neighbor lady who taught ballet in a nearby town. Out of gratitude, Mrs. Fink offered to give one of us kids free ballet lessons. None of my three sisters volunteered, but I thought, Well, why not?

At the first class, I stood in front of large mirrors and a handrail in my borrowed slippers, tights that crept down my thigh with each attempted move, and my polyester blouse because I had no leotard. I liked the idea of learning ballet, especially since I had been tagged the family spaz, and understandably so—I have always had poor large motor skills and even poorer sense of rhythm (I can scarcely make it to the top of the staircase without tripping, and I can’t tell you how many line dances I have been banned from).

Shy as I was, I had great ambitions of improving myself. I braved the gawking stares of advanced students, with all their grace and poise, in leotards that fit and flaunted their feminine curves while I wore a Triple-A bra that caved in on itself beneath my loose-fitting blouse. With encouragement from Mrs. Fink, I tried to improve my moves every week, but in all honesty, I was pretty awful. I couldn’t seem to control one, let alone coordinate all, of my body parts.

Then, Mrs. Fink announced The Recital. I had not bargained for that! And then I found out I had to dance the ‘Icicle’ with the ‘little’ girls. I assumed it was because I hadn’t progressed enough to perform with the more advanced students. But no, it was a matter of costuming. Because of my flat chest, I had to wear a stretchy, ‘little girl’ leotard, rather than the satin, princess-seamed outfit of the developed girls.

I wonder now why I didn’t simply quit. Did I feel some sense of group responsibility? I knew I didn’t have the drive to be a real ballerina, and I knew my instructor could see that. So why put myself through such humiliation? Did I simply lack the courage to tell her, ‘No, I don’t want to participate?” Why not admit to her and myself that I was much happier on my own, writing and drawing? Perhaps, if I simply didn’t think about the outcome, I could go out on center stage and prance about like a gangly winter icicle, and no one would notice that I was a good two feet taller than the other little breastless icicles.

Even now, I often wonder at the forces that have driven me, that allow me to take on challenges that I don’t feel equal to. As a little girl, I never had aspirations of being a ballerina, but when I saw an opportunity, I was eager to embrace the possibility. I suppose I still like the ‘idea’ of an endeavor, and I might set out on a journey simply because I want to know and understand the process and possibilities. Often, it leads me to places I had not calculated—hadn’t even thought to calculate. Sometimes, I stumble upon wonderful experiences, and sometimes, I feel utterly paralyzed at the prospect of public humiliation, but I can’t seem to bring myself to the point of backing down. I also wonder at other writers’ and artists’ journeys, and what drives them to forge ahead. Did you start out with a specific goal? or has the journey been your focal point?

By the way, after weeks of making myself ill in anticipation of The Recital, Mrs. Fink called and informed me it had been canceled. Apparently, the recital building burned to the ground. I can honestly say I had never been so relieved...I went back to my drawing and writing, and never looked back.





Friday, March 18, 2011

Distracted

I just can't seem to get my head into writing these past couple weeks. I don't know, maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are just about to put our house on the market--I mean for real--like we need to be ready to up an move, cross country, really soon...Then again, it could take months and months, but the last time we listed a house in a down market, we had a buyer in a matter of days, and then life took on a rythm of another pace altogether.

So, anyone know of anyone who wants to buy a gentleman's farm and an arsty house?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Inner Critic

As writers and artists, we have one. I never realized whose voice it was—telling me that my work wasn’t good enough, that I needed to stretch beyond my comfort zone. She actually sprung out of my subconscious and took form in one of my novels, though I didn’t recognize her as such at the time. She hovers over me, whether I’m painting or writing…

Let me introduce you to Marvelle, by way of an excerpt…

Leila hunched over her work, sitting before the garden’s centerpiece, a Grecian maiden perched in a dried-up fountain. Spanish moss grazed the greenish patina of her shoulders, glowing in the gradient light of late afternoon. She loomed as guardian over Leila. Her watchful eye seemed to alert the artist to unwanted attention approaching from behind.
Sensing an intrusion, Leila arched her aching back and quit with her paintbrush. She pulled the paper block to her chest. Cocking her head, she met an old woman’s piercing eyes.
The matron frowned, folding her arms and taking an abrupt suck from her cigarette. Standing less than five foot, the well-into-her-eighties matron swept a strand of white hair up and poked it into the knot crowning her head. She drew a long drag from the cigarette that doubled as a gesturing baton, leaving a thin trail of smoke. “Well?”
Leila wondered if this might be Marvelle. She clutched her work even tighter.
The old woman flicked her butt to the grass. Grinding it under foot, she thrust out her hand with all the authority of God.
“Don’t be ridiculous, child! Let me see!” Her smoker’s voice chopped with a Bostonian inflection.
Taken aback, Leila glowered at the encroachment while sizing up her opponent. A long, loose-fitting tunic hung from a buttoned neckline and square shoulders, covering most of her shapeless trousers. She looked well on her way to the grave, and yet Leila hesitated to disobey.
Crooked fingers snatched the tablet and held it at a distance, then brought it closer to her spectacles. “You’re overworking it, child.”
“Yeah?” Leila stated, regarding what had always been obvious to her.
“And you’re including too much detail.”
“I like detail.”
“That’s fine, da’ling, but until you can make your point with a few strokes you have no business with detail. You haven’t earned the right.”
Leila’s attention darted from fierce wrinkles to her own disappointing efforts. Was this feisty and officious bit-of-a-woman the ‘dear old soul’ of whom her had grandmother spoken?
“Your perspective, however, and proportions are impeccable. Perhaps you ought to stick with sketching, and not waste your time with paint.”
“I like to paint.”
“Could have fooled me. You look as uncomfortable as a cat in a shoebox, and your work is as passionless as a peck on the cheek.” She wielded the pad as though swatting mosquitoes, and then shoved it back at Leila. “You can’t tell me you’re happy with this.”
“I wasn’t expecting a great work of art. It’s just a pastime.”
“Rubbish! What prevents you from greatness?”
“What?” Wide-eyed, and then with a squint, Leila sat erect.
“Fear—that’s what! When you’re ready to own up to it, come and see me, da’ling.” With that old woman spun on her heal and jauntily headed back toward the house, belying any readiness for the grave.

For all intents and purposes, Marvelle could be standing over my shoulder as I type, trying to form a story. She always sees the flaw, but I think she also sees the potential.

Is your inner critic ‘cruel…but fair?’ Does she ever allow you any peace or gratification?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Notes from Underground Anthology

The Literary Lab presents Notes from Underground Anthology!

This is particularly exciting for me because it contains my first published work, entitled Four Words, and puts me in very good company with 23 other accomplished writers.

Four Words is a short story based upon a scene from one of my novels.

Thanks LitLab for this opportunity, and all the hard work that went into putting together such a beautiful publication!

 Purchase a printed copy through CreateSpace or Amazon, or for your Kindle through Amazon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Standing One's Ground in the Face of 'Cruelty'

My husband is an artist who likes to study and then ‘reproduce’ paintings by American Impressionist, John Singer Sargent**. He often takes liberties with the subject, though I knew Lady Playfair (ironic name) would require a whole lot of liberties. It's also worth mentioning that if Todd doesn’t care for the face, he substitutes one he likes.
 
Lady Playfair
Since we are both artists, he expects me to provide honest feedback as he goes along—as I expect from him when I’m painting. Although he selected this subject for the color and contrast, I was not fond of his choice—it reminded me too much of Halloween. I didn’t say anything because I wanted to see how he would address the dowdy matron’s figure. And address it he did—or shall I say, re-dress, starting with her foundation-wear…

As he often does when he copies a painting, he works the body first and leaves the face blank. In this case, that was good, but bad at the same time—I had nothing to focus on but her torso; specifically, the arms that hung from said torso. (Though the body itself did provided some animated discussion and amusement.)
 
Faceless Jackie
We stood in front of his easel, sipping pinot noir. In a calm rational manner, I said, “Oh! My! Gosh! Look at the length of that arm! What’s the matter with her? Are you trying to make her look like the result of interbreeding? Oh, that simply won’t do—you need to fix that right away!”

“The arm is fine!” Todd insisted, though I think even he could see that the original looked long. He justified his stance. “Singer Sargent tends to elongate.” He refused to change the glaring problem, and all I could focus on was “Jack-O-Lantern Woman's” freakishly long arm.

Yes, it’s true, every time I looked at her, I brought the offending arm to Todd’s attention. “Well, leave it that way if you must, but you are surely not going to hang that freak on our wall!”

Yes, I was ‘cruel…But fair,’* as he and I often say….

Then, one night, he didn’t come to bed for hours and hours…He must be doing that ‘cosmetic surgery’, I thought, feeling all smug and satisfied. When I woke the next morning, I didn’t even notice the arm—he had painted a face on Jackie-Lantern… "Oh. My. Goodness!—she’s perfect!”

Yes, I still see the arm, but when I look at the painting, all I really notice is her beautiful face. She’s amazing to me!

Jackie Lantern
Moral of the story: Even under the most brutal of criticism, keep forging ahead—something wonderful may happen!

Sometimes, the whole can make up for even a glaring flaw... 


*Monty Python, The Piranha Brothers

**There are some nice prints of John Singer Sargent's work here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tagged...

I was 'Tagged' by Yat-Yee Chong to answer these 19 questions, and then tag 4 other bloggers, so, here goes...

1) If you have pets, do you see them as animals, or are they members of the family? Pets. Too many of them have ‘joined the circus.’ We named out last pet Expendable—and he was!

2) If you can have a dream come true, what would it be? To feel as energized at 1pm as I do at 7am—Oh, and there is that publishing thing…

3) What is the one thing most hated by you? The way this whole world system is set up

4) What would you do with a billion dollars? I don’t like to think of that much money. I sure wouldn’t keep it and I sure wouldn’t tell anyone about it.

5) What helps to pull you out of a bad mood? Sleep, music and time to myself.

6) Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone? Well, more happiness in giving than receiving, right?

7) What is your bedtime routine? Nothing out of the ordinary

8) If you are currently in a relationship, how did you meet your partner? I saw him around for a long time—I guess after his brother married my sister we finally met.

9) If you could watch a creative person in the act of the creative process, who would it be? A fellow watercolorist

10) What kinds of books do you read? Non-fiction, literary fiction, the Bible, Bible-based publications

11) How would you see yourself in ten years time? Busy taking care of parents and grandbabies

12) What's your fear? Is that assuming I have only one?

13) Would you give up all the junk food for the rest of your life for the opportunity to visit space? I’m not all that crazy about junk food, and space fascinates me, so, Heck Yeah!

14) Would you rather be single and rich, or married and poor? The later, for sure!

15) What's the first thing you do when you wake up? Go downstairs and make coffee

16) If you could change one thing about your spouse/partner, what would it be? He wishes he had more hair—I’d give him a full head of the great hair he’s already got! (I’m actually quite fond of him as is)

17) If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be? When I switched school systems in 9th grade, I also switched to the name I was called at home—it was very confusing to many people. From now on, I think I’d just stick to the one I’ve got

18) Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done? That all depends upon how that special person feels about it.

19) If you could only eat one thing for the next six months, what would it be? Ciabatta Bread!

And now, I tag...
PJ Lincoln at PJ Writes
Jerry at Gently Said

Nate at Sometimes The Wheel Is On Fire
Glenn at Differences with the Same Likeness

...and maybe I'll pick others, later...

...and here's question for anyone that cares to answer: Which of the above questions would you find most difficult to answer?