Thursday, October 28, 2010
School has hit the midterm, which means exams and projects are popping up every other day, even though I only have to classes. I started a new job at a major retail chain who has already scheduled me for more hours that I agreed to at hiring. (A trend I can hope is temporary, but I won't hold my breath.)
I spent a lot of time sick this summer, and it taught me a lot about myself. One major lesson involves the infamous cliché of taking care of myself. This does not mean make sure you eat the right foods and get enough sleep and exercise. I did all of those things and ended up sick because of neglecting myself emotionally. Or at least, that's what I believe.
Medically, at least for now, they might not be able to connect officially the severe anemia I had with the stress I had experienced over the last several years. But anemia and stress do have a link, and the doctors agree it could be possible that the stress caused the havoc in my body that led to anemia. They don't exactly have a test that says "Aha! Definitely! That's it!" because none of their tests for anything are that clear cut.
I've learned new techniques to stave off emotional upheaval from stress. One is designed for the manic, hyperactive me. When things get hectic, I ask myself: "What if this task took twice as long?" Then, I emotionally grant myself that long to get the job done. Maybe dinner ends up getting on the table at 5:30 instead of 5, but I've given myself permission to daydream while stirring the sauce and end up packing less into a day, alleviating that rushed intensity. Even when I'm at my busiest, I've employed this and so far, it hasn't bitten me in the butt.
The second technique involves my new mantra, "Something has to be different." It's about turning around moods that slide in an irritable direction. A wise therapist once told me, "I mean this is the kindest way possible, but when you're overextended, it makes you crazy." So, when I get irritable, I tell myself "Something has to be different." Then I set out to find what I can change.
So, now some of you are saying, "what does this have to do about writing?"
Well, for those of us who have a lot on our plates or a lot on our minds, sometimes, the easiest thing to change is our work. Our writing work. I didn't intend to write this morning. I planned laundry, errands, history chapters and work tonight, but no writing. The stress building in me vetoed that. I need something to be different. And I think the best change I could make today is to push aside the history book and hang out with my imaginary friends. I can take the history book to work tonight and finish reading about the 19th century at work.
For some of us, our hobbies provide an important escape from stress. Don't deny yourself that hobby time-- for writers, this is our writing time, our soul infusion-- or in the end, you'll wear yourself down.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I am a goddess when it comes to meeting word counts, but a poem demands even stricter guidelines. Every word comes under scrutiny. Why did you pick it? What does it say? How does it sound? What else could it mean? These questions all matter in poetry.
What's fun about poetry is the process of distillation. You must think of what you need to say, and compose it in your head, then keep rephrasing it until you hit the right mix. As a consequence, where writers can ponder a scene for an hour while vacuuming, they cannot truly put each exact word together until they sit at the screen or at paper.
A poet, on the other hand, will work those works over and over until perhaps a six-word phrase emerges. Then eventually, those words are recorded. And reworked. But so much of the actual creation can be honed without writing anything down. And that can be really freeing.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
I didn't set myself up with a major list of things to do, because merely needed to be in Paris. The photo at left is me in Étienne's neighborhood.
I didn't waste time visiting his church, his exact address, his office, the house he grew up in or the boulangerie where he gets his bread.
I needed to live in the rhythm of Paris without any distraction before I could scope out these things. I still have a good idea where they are, but I don't need to decide today where they will be exactly.
I like my writing to have authenticity to it, as much as I can provide. So, while I could pick a place and do a surface description, I would rather wait until I could capture the underlying sense of life within a place. The narrow streets, the odors of urine, perspiration, dog poop, wine, perfume, bread and cigarette smoke that makes Paris memorable. The demi-tasse of coffee and the warm brioche or pain au chocolat. The way the vin du table pours perhaps a tad too easily. Cramming onto the subway closer to strangers than I would normally stand with my husband.
Before I return to my manuscript, I am writing a poem to Paris. Perhaps that is how an author should find a setting, by immersing oneself in the streets until poetry comes out.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Last night, Étienne had his Spring 2011 ready-to-wear fashion show and I imagine he shocked the world by starting the show with the models in full burqas. A couple weeks ago, the French legislature passed a law banning burqas under the French policy of maintaining a "laïc" society. The separation of church and state has led to a severe type of absence of religion from everyday life in France, and there are very real reasons why these policies developed.
But, from a practical standpoint, and a cultural/societal one, the ideology in question is not going to work and the law will cause problems.
Although Étienne is not Muslim, he has friends that are. And he sent those models down the runway in burqas to make a statement. He did finally show the clothes, but even then, every model had a headpiece, i.e. a form of the veil, and he made a statement.
I started editing Chapter 21 of Courting Apparitions, and in that chapter, Étienne flies to France. In a few days, so am I, so this is exciting. Our lives overlap. In a good way.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Then we went into the discussion of how bad some of our drafts are.
And I bared my soul.
I went into my closet and grabbed the true second or third draft of the story that morphed into the Fashion and Fiends series. I wrote it in 1993. I used every cliché available and had the Anne Rice-style "misunderstood vampire" angst oozing from every other sentence. Now, my vampires are witches who practice blood magick.
I wasn't even 18 when I wrote this manuscript. It got shelved for several reasons.
1. It sucked.
2. It obsessed me and I could not move on with developing my real life.
3. I had no real life experience so the characters were cliché and two-dimensional.
When my friend, who is also a member of my critique group, saw this manuscript, we had a few chuckles. In the end, she recognized certain elements of my style and certain writing practices that I was good at then and how they're my strengths now.
It took me seventeen years to improve my writing, and those seventeen years brought a literature degree, foreign language study, raising a family, finding more of myself, and lots of reading and writing.
Writers who work together can achieve similar growth a lot faster, but we all travel the same road and have some point struggled with the same problems in writing growth.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Or maybe we think we have a special view of the world, that we can show society as it really is.
Either way, we have an addiction to the idea, to the thrill of manipulating words, and to the freedom of our own expression.
A recent email from a friend who is a bookseller, not an author, caused me to reflect upon what image we send into the community as writers. The email quoted Flavorwire and mentioned that author photographs often portray us as a certain type:
"In an attempt to look uniquely profound yet accessible, or convey some novel combination of deep thoughts with good times, a lot of writers end up looking exactly the same as their peers."
As artists of the word, do our representations of ourselves match what we convey on the page? For some of us, the answer is a stark no. Perhaps we use the written story to express the exact opposite of what we are. But who are we? Visual artists and performers have a great opportunity to live their art, an opportunity writers don’t necessarily share. Some writers may have no interest in being a character. Writing characters offers enough satisfaction.
It’s something to think about. Do we want to blend with our peers? Do we want to stand out?
If we had one opportunity to tell people who we really are, do we want to play it safe?
Who am I? The very question poses a challenge. I had to face this question when I restyled my business cards this summer. A friend picked a template that really gave them color and spice. When we finished them, she added a reluctant “or maybe you want something more conservative.”
I rejected conservative. How often do I play conservative and where does it get me? I am a tad colorful. I can be loud. I am honest, dedicated and dependable. Those of us who have worked/ still work in the corporate world can often feel chafed by the idea of fitting into a mold, trying to be the perfect employee. We have too many ideas for that.
So who are you?
What message do you have for the world?
And, if you had one photograph to convey it, would you should your tattoo? Have the photo taken in your favorite reading spot? Share the spotlight with your muse? Visit a location that inspires your stories?
As authors, we have to sell ourselves as well as our stories.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
My stepmother loves George W. Bush. She is not a fan of Barack Obama. This is central to her identity as an intelligent business owner, a Christian and a conservative. It also was very hard for her to talk about anything with my liberal hairdresser. They both respected each other, but neither could be dissuaded from the gospel of their politics. And they both had a lot of passion about the topic.
Now, before you dismiss this bit of character development by saying, "My character is not interested in politics," let me remind you that we're all political in some way-- even if it boils down to one of two philosophies:
1. The "Why vote? It doesn't make a lick of difference" people
2. The "If you didn't vote for anyone, you can't complain about anything" camp
(a variation of the "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" mentality)
That's step one. Do your characters vote? Why or why not?
Let me ask my mortal characters:
Adelaide~ She votes, primarily liberal, but often forgets elections, can't remember when the primary is, and couldn't tell you who her congressman is.
Étienne~ VOTES. Religiously. Liberal, and because he's French, votes primarily socialist, though does get into the oratory tricks of French politicians.
Basilie~ VOTES and has had a high-ranking political career depending where in the series we're talking about. Despite her Frenchness, she's very conservative. HATES the French social welfare state, and has had a career as a cutthroat businessman in the United States (and a Harvard MBA) so she's a savage capitalist.
Now. Step Two.
Why does this matter?
Character's political leanings (and their religious attitudes/practices) can provide key insights as to how they will treat others.
Each one of the character's above runs into someone begging for money on the streets of Manhattan. They are each alone, so they have no one to impress or influence their actions.
Adelaide ~ gets overwhelmed. Hands the guy some cash. Moves on and feels guilty on and off for the rest of the day.
Étienne ~ Hands the guy all the cash in his wallet and goes to the store and gets him a new pair of shoes
Basilie ~ ignores him.
Now, if they were talking amongst themselves about what had happened... how would the conversations go?
If Adelaide told Étienne that she felt guilty, he would tell her she did the most she could and then he'd go find the guy and buy him a new pair of shoes. Okay, maybe not with the shoes, but it could happen that way.
If Étienne was late for a business meeting because of his outing with the beggar, his staff would murmur and Adelaide would adore Étienne all the more for his compassion.
If Basilie heard that Étienne was buying shoes for homeless men again, she would call him an idiot and threaten to take his charge cards away.
And Étienne would consider Basilie's approach cruel.
On election day, there's some heated arguments in my universe.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
So, there is something troubling about putting those words together, writing those letters and a synopsis. Every once in a while, there's a line that inexplicably feels weak, and you can't label why and you dicker with it. In some cases you "fix" it, in others you merely improve it.
Queries are like waving your arms in a crowd of people yelling "PICK ME!" when everyone else is waving their arms and yelling "PICK ME!"
And I imagine myself, as I peruse the tweets by agents and editors, reading others' queries and snickering or wondering if something could have merit. How can you tell by a letter?
Some interns, agents and editors are picking through the coins looking for treasure, and we all have an idea what we consider treasure.
Everything we all write is treasure. Problem is finding someone who is seeking that treasure.
In the 16th century, salt and gold were treasures. Pepper and rhubarb before that. Everyone-- even today-- will agree that gold is a treasure. But salt? And pepper? Needed to preserve meat for the winter.
Spices, coffee, chocolate, all once luxury goods. As was sugar. Europeans grew accustomed to the new sensation of "sweet" in the 17th century, thus sugar became a treasure.
A diabetic would not agree with that treasure.
Don't lose heart. Even if your manuscript is the "rhubarb" of queries. Which ironically, rhubarb was prized for its laxative qualities. But I'm not saying your manuscript is poop.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I have written about 400 words in Courting Apparitions since school began. I have also written in my journal. I also wrote a 900-word essay on perceptions of North Africa today and the remnants of colonialism and imperialism.
I have edited for clients.
I have read Edward Said and textbooks.
I finally started Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, while my husband reads Mockingjay, the final volume. Suzanne Collins rocks.
I have met with my critique group and "felt" problems with my pacing.
So, all of this non-creative writing activity has left me with time to organize my plot weaknesses and improve those pace problems. Even if merely in my head.
I hear a major publisher has opened up temporarily to queries from unrepresented authors, unsolicited manuscripts. I'm tempted. But part of me is less than thrilled.
I'm torn right now, because I want to write, but I also want to do a lot of other things-- like read. I can absolutely be the disciplined writer. It's hard for me not to write. But after this summer... my struggles with anemia and finally regaining my strength, I'm not sure how hard would be proper to push myself.
That is today's question: How hard should a writer push? Are those self-imposed deadlines and goals really the key to success?
I don't know, but Suzanne Collins is looking might attractive right now.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Today was also my first day of school, my fourth semester working on my second undergraduate degree. To complement my English/French studies my first time, and to augment my career in journalism, I am studying International Affairs (a blend of history, politics, business and foreign language).
(This will relate to writing, but in a round-about way.)
So, I went to my 100-level "History of the Modern World" class today expecting to be bored out of my mind. It's a survey class. Probably lectures. Boy, was I wrong! The teacher was young, a tad crazy, very energetic. I love her.
In my 200-level class on research methods, it looks like we'll be spending the bulk of the semester on one 12-page research paper, topic of our choosing. This should be easy. Especially since I think I know what I want to do.
Between these two classes, I met with my professor from my history colloquium last semester.
This is really no different than how we meander through plots as writers. As writers, one common comparison of writing styles pits those who plot (plotters) against those who fly by the seats of their pants (pantsers). I am 75% plotter with a touch of pants. In life, I am the opposite. I seem organized. I seem to know what I am doing. But the reality is, I'm flying.
Since I am also trying to slow down, have more fun and relax, this has led to some interesting conflict. I have financial resources that may or may not last now that I have been unemployed for five months. I have a child that has reached full school-age. But now my past industry (journalism) is dying...
And I want more education. Like a master's in French cultural studies and/or a doctorate in history (20th century French history).
Without getting into what my professor said, he said one thing really interesting which should apply to writers: "Tell everyone your aspirations." He meant everyone who could potentially help you. Reminder~ Network.
But he also caused me to look at my motivation. I love what I'm doing now, but maybe, by relaxing and enjoying the process I can keep talking to people and find something I enjoy doing (as a career) without immediately making that jump to graduate studies. Isn't that how our characters do it? They might say "I'm going to do BLAH."
But do they? They start to. They get distracted or diverted. They might eventually end up in the place they wanted to be, but we sent them on a dynamic journey to get from A to B. We didn't make it a straight line.
To consider this, I have declared this semester and next semester a time of exploration. I have 2-3 more years working on my degree. So the next one will focus on finding the options. Then I'll start choosing what items I need to do to fulfill some of them. I can take the GREs regardless of what exactly I plan to do. I can take a French class to improve my grammar even if it doesn't fit in my major. Theoretically I could take Spanish as I've always contemplated.
If I were a character, what would the author want me to have in my background, in my current life, to make me the person I need to be for the story about to be told?
Saturday, August 28, 2010
The characters whose argument gets violent.
The sex scene that turns intense in a non-standard way.
Yes, I feel one of these coming.
Some writers write it as a purge and shove it in a drawer. Mine usually end up as pivotal parts of my dénouement.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Last week, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants took me to the circus. And while I thought the elephant was a severely underused character, to visit the circus was the essence of what I enjoyed about that book. The unsavory circus world... the grime, the animals, their abuse...
This week, Peter Mayle has allowed me a trip to Provence in his A Year in Provence. Eh oui.
So, if you're a writer, where does your work take people?
Does it allow them to connect with other people?
Does it allow travel to an exotic location?
Does it teach us something about which we are curious (a culture, an occupation, a religion)?
How do we feel when we get home?
Monday, August 16, 2010
Write everyday if you "want to be a real writer."
A real writer is compelled to write when the mood strikes. It doesn't matter what else is happening. A two-year-old on the toilet who needs help wiping? 9/11/2001? When you have the deep writing bug, you write through things that move you and you write because the idea moves you. You can be moved by life to write. You can be moved by ideas to write.
Writing everyday improves your technique, makes you better, makes writing easier and makes you more professional.
When I am truly working hard, I write 5,000 words a day. If I lose interest and force myself to write anyway, I get 1,000. Or maybe 2,000 but 1,000 might be crap that needs to be edited out later.
Lately, I have written a sentence or a paragraph a day. This refers to my fiction project. I have still written in my journal, to my friends and on my blogs. I am still plotting in my head.
Why stress over the word count when I know without a doubt that once I get the plotting right, and I am ready to sit down and write, I'll produce the 5,000 words, probably in one sitting. So, why stress for a week trying to force myself to do something that will effortlessly take a day when I'm ready?
But, please not, I do open the file, read it and write anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph everyday to keep myself engaged and remember what problems I am supposed to be solving.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
But if I find myself dull, you won't give me a second chance.
Could you be a tad more forgiving?
But, seriously, I have tried setting a thrice-weekly reminder on my iPhone. I have tried writing a blog before I commit to projects.
In the end, I failed.
In the last few days, I've noticed this blog has gone fallow, so to speak, and my recipe blog is growing. While the recipes have faltered with my lack of cooking as of late, the voice and the contemplation about what I eat, how I eat and why seems more reflective and creative.
Here are two recent samples:
Mac and Cheese Taste Test
Although I would like to believe Betty Crocker taught me well the basics of mac and cheese, I do have boxed, processed macaroni and cheese two to three times a month. My husband likes it (as he does my baked mac) and more importantly, it's something he's comfortable making.
As a family, we prefer Wegmans mac and cheese. The generic Wegmans stuff. The spirals. NOT the white cheddar. Not the elbows.
Kraft is yummy, especially that new formula they have out now, but I won't pay their prices. If I pay that for mac and cheese in a box, I'll go with Nature's Promise Cheddar or Anne's Organic. Some of that Anne's organic stuff includes significant vegetable matter.
Even Aldi's generic mac and cheese will do in a pinch. My husband often adds a touch of cheddar to make it more appealing. But it will do.
Tonight, we tried Target's Archer Farm. First off, it was more expensive than what I would normally pay. But we wanted to see if it was worth it. Sometimes it pays to splurge as a treat, and sometimes it just proves you aren't missing anything by buying the cheap stuff.
From "Monday Update" http://angelfoodcooking.blogspot.com/2010/08/monday-morning-update.html
"Carbohydrates. Not including the jam for the PB&J, two of the items in this morning's meals have lots of carbs. Bread, that's obvious. And yogurt, may not seem so obvious. When I had gestational diabetes, I was allotted 3 servings of carbs with my lunch, not including one fruit, and 4 with my dinner.
That's why to this day I make half-sandwiches instead of whole. Because each slice of bread counts as 1 serving, and 13 doritoes/potato chips etc is also 1 serving. If I wanted the chips, I usually skimped on the bread. And I learned that a half-sandwich is just as filling, and depending what's on it can end up tasting really thick, as if you put double meat or cheese on it. I still don't miss that extra slice.
Compare this to yogurt. Because yogurt is made with milk and lactose is a sugar, and then our American palate likes it sweet so we add MORE sugar... A low-fat yogurt that has that thick creamy pudding-like taste had 2-3 servings of carbohydrates. That's an entire lunch worth. For a diabetic pregnant woman (who, by the way, gets more food than your everyday diabetic). And fat free yogurt sweetened with asparatame STILL has 1 full serving of carbs. With that choice, I'd rather opt for a low-fat oatmeal cookie. Probably leave me more emotionally satisfied.
So that's my rant."
And then there's the entry about shopping at Target, another about saving money on CVS.
Once again, I think my intellect is trying to hard when my soul knows the answer. Write what you love and it comes easily.
Monday, August 2, 2010
They always start WAY too long, going through every motion of the encounter and get hacked to pieces. These scenes often research (or merely thought), and not necessarily the "is this position physically possible?" kind (although that happens). Things like if she's 5' 2" and he's 5' 8" does she have to stand on tip toe to kiss him? Can your hand physically bend that way?
The other important part of a love scene is to make sure you edit ALL IN ONE SITTING. Because otherwise, you can miss important details.
For example, I have this:
"Confusion flashed in Zélie’s eyes and her lips parted. She released him, her hand falling to her side. Étienne brought his kiss to her clavicle and then closer to her breast. He spun her..."
Now in the original version that line about her hand falling away was not there, nor was the release. This doesn't seem like a big problem until you realize her hand was in his pants, holding something important for this scene, and he spins her around without letting go.
The reader can assume she let go, but since she's confused, maybe she didn't... and depending, that could be painful or merely lead to some getting twisted up and falling over... You get the idea.
And after you hack the scene down to its essence and have what you like, read it out loud. You may blush, but it's the only way to check how smooth it is.
Friday, July 30, 2010
That is a bad, bad sentence. But let's move on.
Since my friend had a bad day, and I'm very close to that big sex scene, I thought I'd go ahead and write that scene to cheer her up.
In the tarot, there's a card called the Hanged Man. It's not the well-hung man, so get your mind out of the gutter. The hanged man is the guy who always looks at a situation differently from everyone else. If you watched Project Runway last night, he would be Casanova (who thought WAY out of the box) or even Ivy H. (her approach to the project was the opposite of everyone else).
A good sex scene has to have an element of the Hanged Man. If it's merely presenting what happened, it's not enough. If it's merely erotic and graphic, it's not enough.
I've talked in the past about every sex scene doing its job to move the plot, and enhance the character and show us about the relationship we're seeing. But it should also have that special quirkiness that makes it real.
In real life, this happens.
Like the time I asked my husband in the middle of things if he remembered whether or not I turned the oven off.
Or the time things went incredible and my husband thought something was wrong based on an unusual noise I made.
I already have a very powerful surprise for the revision to book three that shows how quickly "the other woman" picked up on a secret fantasy of the male character that his wife never noticed in 25 years together.
And don't even ask about the Tufula Tufts.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
For me, this usually means fashion and French stuff and Paris.
Artists get to explore their dreams in unique ways. Normal people could, but normally don't give themselves permission.
I gave myself permission.
There's a side bit in my story. It's serves a purpose, as an indicator of Étienne's health and... um... self-control. He learns to tap dance.
I have always wanted to tap dance, but I have cerebral palsy so it seems like a stupid thing for me to try and do. My daughter is in ballet and tap now. So, I asked her:
"If you knew something Mommy didn't know and wanted to learn, would you teach me?"
She said sure.
So I bought tap shoes.
And we started lessons. I love it. It took ten minutes for the six-year-old to forget anything else to teach me, so we turned to YouTube and we've started working on Rod Howell's dances classes from UnitedTaps.com.
I'm no Gene Kelly, but tap is teaching me lots of exercises for moving my feet and my ankles. It's also using muscles in my calves that I don't normally use. Which is great for my CP. I wonder if someone would have enrolled me in tap as a kid if I would have better control walking now...
So, it just goes to show, everybody needs to indulge. I've been told I don't know how to have fun, and this summer has worried me that maybe that's true. Tap dance is something that serves no purpose, other than having fun.
Yeah, I can blame Étienne, but really, I didn't need to learn to tap dance for him. I did it for me.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
So is deleting.
A writer must be willing to let go of words, sentences, scenes, even chapters upon recognizing that they do not work. Every word in a manuscript must forward the plot.
Now that I'm deep in the middle of my revisions, I have written, rewritten and started over on some chapters a frustrating amount of times. What motivates me is knowing eventually I will find treasure in one of those rewrites.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
*intentional dramatic pause*
The struggle makes the success sweeter.
A writer friend and a member of my critique group asked me what Étienne was going to do to get his wife back. She wanted to know if he would do something "over the top." I told her no.
Her simple question led me to think about it all day yesterday. When I started to write last night, the words and the emotion and the scope flooded out of me. I've now got the next draft almost done and I'm pleased though I'm missing one thing at the end...
The big, life-altering, mind-blowing, commitment-affirming kiss.
And trying to write something like that reminds a writer of a very big fact. As writers, everything we do must capture a truth of human existence. If this kiss does not capture every magic glimmer of their relationship, then I have failed.
Makes you want to test some kisses...
Monday, July 12, 2010
The American book industry has been suffering. Some people like to argue about eBooks versus traditional books and how it will play out in the marketplace, but the whole argument reminds me of what happened with online/electronic music sales.
Not everyone reads at the same level. I am reminded of this when I read a book in French. Some people like easy books, mindless books. I like hard books. Some people aren't avid readers and a hard or elaborate book might feel to them like a book in French does to me.
But this shakedown of POD, independent, subsidy/vanity press, traditional and ePublishing has made it more and more difficult to determine what is the best fit for each author. I think it the end, more authors will see publication because of the variety. Among these will be good authors too risky for big traditional houses and some too poorly skilled for these same houses.
Editorial staff may play out the same way. Some small houses may not have the money for quality editors.
As if this weren't enough for authors to worry about, I now hear about more and more "contract cancellations" and similar situations where houses cancel the publication of a book.
This is heartbreaking to me. I look at the industry right now and wonder if I really want to deal with all of this. I wonder if the industry will find better footing in a year or two.
Cancellation is happening to good authors... some of whom I know from writer's groups. It's like a death in the family. What do you do but say "You have my sympathy" and "I'm sorry."
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I mentioned about a week ago that Basilie had thrown Étienne out, smack dab in the middle of what was supposed to be revisions to my second manuscript, Courting Apparitions. In order to understand the why, especially since it happened so suddenly and not as part of the drafting process, I went back and read the whole manuscript for clues (and they were there!)
But then I realized, I had a very pregnant woman, under emotional duress, and bad memories tormenting her not only in regards to how jealous her relationship makes her but also the fear associated with pregnancy.
I am now in the process of writing out what happened in Basilie's last pregnancy, even though I only need snippets for the chapter. I have to really understand what happened to her even though I can tell you in a succinct sentence what happened. And I can tell you in a paragraph how it altered her thinking about herself, her role as a wife, and her present frame of mind.
To capture successfully the magnitude and importance, I need to live the details with her, so her emotional state resonates viable and true in the present scene and doesn't fall flat.
To do that I must share her tragedy.
I'm nine pages into this, and it is very very sad, and I suspect it will take nine more pages to get it all down. In the end, the paragraph or bits of dialogue that reference this event from the chapter in question will automatically have the zing they need because Basilie's memories are now my memories and not merely a question of her internal conflicts and motivations.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Not only does it transport me to Paris and remind me of the quirky traits of the French, but it successfully captures the essence of the hobbyist musicians and the complexity and personality of pianos. This is one art I have attempted to understand and even with world music and music appreciation classes. I have never bridged that gap.
Some writers slowly build believable worlds with words, worlds that you accept, but some authors can instantly transport you to the protagonist's side as if by magic.
Thank you, Thad, for the magic.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I found myself inspired to write different scenes for my different characters and as a young writer, I never knew if this would be effective or not.
I started a big binder and wrote every scene on looseleaf paper and organized them in chronological order according to when the scenes happened in the story. This lead to some wonderful scenes, but I never got around to writing the "between bits."
In my current work, I don't allow myself to skip around for this very reason. It feels like I get off track.
But sometimes, when conditions change and you need a fresh outlook or a pause, skipping around on a storyline can help you reconnect with a character.
I have rewritten chapter fifteen of Courting Apparitions three times in the last week or so. Now, to propel myself through the changes in that chapter that made it difficult to write right, I am ALSO writing chapter seventeen.
Chapter fifteen is her point of view.
Chapter seventeen is his.
So looking at both side's simultaneously, even if his chapter is a couple days in the future, is helping me understand her behavior and what she needs to do to make his reaction what it is in chapter 17.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
I thought I knew where they were going/ what they were doing and -- most importantly-- how it furthered the plot.
But then... Oh then... My female heroine (Basilie) did the unthinkable. In her pregnant hormonal state, she has thrown the male hero (Étienne) out! She threw him out five days before the wedding.
This has stunned me so much, that I have written merely a sentence a day.
Don't you hate it when characters have their own plan? Sometimes it works, sometimes you have to reign them in.
Interestingly, my life has gotten similarly complicated, although my husband did not throw me out.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
My characters have money. Most of them work in fashion. I have a main character (Étienne) who likes to shop for shoes: for himself, for his wife, for his employees.
When I mention what shoes he recently bought, it can be an anchor in time. The first novel in my Fashion and Fiends series takes place in fall 2002. The shoes on the main characters' feet support this.
I once had a professional reader chide me for mistreating a napkin. Apparently she collected linens, and felt it was a terrible thing that my main character was ironing his napkins. This is apparently dangerous for old linens. Except these were everyday modern linens. But she noticed, and it killed my credibility for her. (Which in all honesty, I think I deserve some slack on that one since I didn't have him ironing his grandmother's lace. And besides-- he's a fashion designer, a dressmaker, linens aren't his specialty.)
So maybe it's excessive that I spend a half an hour looking for the perfect pair of shoes for my heroine to fight her battles in, but maybe not. I think the details-- if used correctly-- paint an accurate picture of who these people are.
Let's test a paragraph/scene:
They traveled the rest of the way to the car without speaking. Once Basilie lowered her bottom into the leather seat and turned on the warmer for her back, she kicked off her black patent ballet slippers. She massaged the sole of her foot, thankful she had worn flats. Étienne peered to her, then down to the shoes, one on its side, the other clearly displaying its pale innards and YSL logo.
“You scuffed those today,” he said.
“Can you polish them?” she asked. “I’d like to wear them to the party tonight.”
I like that Basilie doesn't mention, even in her own head, that these are Yves Saint Laurent shoes, until her husband looks at them. And even then it's a minor reference.
What's even more amusing to me is that Basilie is eight months pregnant and just survived a sword fight, and yes she fought the bad guy with a sword, and she's not concerned about her shoes but the upcoming party.
And she expects Étienne to polish them, to fix it, so she can continue looking good and feeling comfortable.
I could continue analyzing this, but you get the idea.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Since this is a second draft, that I've changed the trajectory on, I don't want to waste effort doing something in this chapter that doesn't move the plot forward. I have taken the outline I revised and sketched out the chapter as I suggested, but I noted that there's no action in the chapter. Nothing happens. It sets up several items for later resolution, but nothing happens in the actual chapter.
Now, can't have that.
The current chapter is a switch of POV from the male hero (Étienne) to his wife (Basilie). They have all contributed to the successful defeat of the bad guy (Galen).
Basilie has sustained some superficial wounds. The point of the chapter is to establish changes in behavior for Étienne, and to clarify Basilie's mindset regarding her soon-to-be born child, and finally, to establish some family history for Basilie.
This entry isn't necessarily about how I decide to resolve this, but to point out a realization I had of how many of my writing processes are physical. Under doctor's orders, I can't go ride my bike. I can't go shopping. And most painful to my process, I can't listen to my iPod and dance around like a lunatic.
Which leaves naps. Sometimes, when I try to go to sleep, the emptiness of my own head allows new ideas to pop in. Especially if I have been trying to think like that person for a while.
So what would Basilie do after a big fight? Should I pick her up in the ER? I'm going to have to write it out and try different things... But it's also like the way I cook:
Sometimes I look at the ingredients I have and contemplate all the ways to combine them until I hit a successful mix. But sometimes, I can be sitting, eating something completely different and get struck by lightning.
Last night I was thinking about chili, thawing in the fridge. I remembered we had pie crust and chicken and broccoli and various soups... and I had a eureka moment: POT PIE.
And sometimes, writing works the same way.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
In the first half hour, I had breakfast.
The next two hours, between the light phone calls, I wrote a strong draft of chapter 14 of my work in progress, Courting Apparitions.
After lunch I tried to progress with Chapter 15, but the ideas aren't fully formed enough, though I did sketch out the key moments of the chapter.
Next, I started to read one of the submissions for our critique group. I found this one difficult. And here comes my reflection for the day.
As a writer and a reader, I ask works to transport me. That requires three things: character, scene, and craft. I cannot rank any of these higher than the others.
CHARACTER: Each recurring character in your story must have a distinct flavor. His speech, his dress, he mannerisms. We should be able to tell this character even if the author only uses a pronoun instead of a name. That's how clear character development should be.
SCENE: As a reader, I need a sense of place. This involves enough background detail so I feel anchored but not so much I can't keep track of where I am and which elements are important. Smells, sights, sensations of light and dark. What other people are doing. And it must have the rich details, the pertinent details, but not the ordinary ones.
If I form a mental picture and you change that picture later by adding details that weren't there earlier that I made up... Well, I'm going to mistrust my other pictures.
CRAFT: Using too many prepositions, giving me sentences that are too bare-boned and don't have enough pace to keep me moving, or maybe using sentences that don't have that pizzazz to my ear... That will lose me. A great way to measure pizzazz is to read the work aloud. Believe me, you'll realize the lagging parts instantly.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
This disappoints me more than a reader can know.
I have no problem with deadlines, proficiency or finding something to write. This summer, even in its early stages, has taught me much about myself and my art. (Neither myself nor my art can survive well with iron-deficient anemia.) The universe has told me to bring my life to a standstill and rebuild my red blood cells.
So while I have been writing, while I have thought of this blog, my body has not cooperated. C'est la vie.
No need to bore you with my symptoms, instead I'll tell you my lesson learned:
No matter how much that project burns within you and feels urgent. It does not HAVE to be done now. Sometimes you want to do it, but life or yourself gets in the way.
In some situations, time management can cure the problem. Sometimes this can help you balance work, school, kids, home, and volunteer commitments and still have time for writing. Sometimes it's better when we slow down and let go of activities or even a self-imposed expectation of how well something will be done. I sometimes do this with the kitchen floor or cleaning the bathroom.
I suppose we can use this in writing, but only on a first draft, because really... in today's marketplace we need to do our best and remain innovative all the time.
In times of illness or family emergency, sometimes we cannot pursue what we want to do. This hurts. The frustration of falling asleep at my keyboard because of anemia is real. So is the super frustration of finally being awake, and then my hands going numb and feeling beyond my control... But frustration merely produces stress.
When this happens, I do something else. Read. Daydream about my characters in a quasi-nap state. Listen to music. Follow the World Cup.
Because we're all in a hurry to "finish," to "publish," to "query," but we must remember... that provides neither happiness nor success.
You can defeat many obstacles by thinking in a new way, persistence, strategy, etc., but stubbornness against certain obstacles wastes time.
I don't remember where I heard it, but it's a lesson I took to heart:
"Try Smarter, Not Harder."
The insect caught inside your car flings himself against the window again and again. He's trying hard. But how many times must he bang himself against the glass before he realizes he has to try a different spot? That eventually he can find the open window if he doesn't keep stubbornly flying into the windshield?
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Tori from my critique group has pointed out some problems with navigation in the Fashion and Fiends country house. So as I'm removing some minor characters, I'm also fleshing that out. Problem is, I have to make sure the details are consistent with the first book. I remember the layout of the house and the important stuff, but for example:
What does Étienne have for the countertops in the kitchen? Granite seems to popular and easy. Marble is too fancy for a country house. I don't remember.
So I started an "Étienne Household" file and divided it by room. Anything I use will go in that folder to refresh my memory later. I searched to answer the countertop question (and I searched the original manuscript hoping the answer was in there, but I deleted that chapter with the in-depth description). I googled and pondered and found other items I had to use in the house. Just had to. Into the file.
But I thought I'd mention, that the Behr paint company has an online paint center where you can select colors and then "paint" them on the walls to see how they look. You can use four colors at a time.
See www.Behr.com for details.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
By the middle of chapter two, I am amazed at how much characterization the dead person (Adelaide) has.
And she's dead.
It's a great reminder of the little things that make a character, and it's not always what that character *says* or *does*.
In this case, the character comes alive because of:
- memories provided by other characters
- nicknames revealed by other characters
- rumors about the character and the circumstances around her
- the stuff she left behind (like a collection of novelty rubber ducks)
- the smell of her perfume
- her pet
This is the same way to develop a character who's off stage. Their car is in the parking lot. Or the book they are reading in on the table. People are more than dialogues and actions.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Is this progress? Perhaps.
Allegheny Beast and the level of detail required for a thorough synopsis have taken all the fun out of my revisions. I decided last week to change the secret army operation in the story to some sort of environmental terrorist organization. In preparing a "character sketch" of that organization, I thought it might be cool to make it a group of college kids who originally went out to the woods to play Live Action Role Playing games. They picked the location in hopes of seeing the Allegheny Beast. But how do you make the leap from role playing geeks to dangerous environmental terrorists?
In my mind, you don't. Since I had planned to submit this manuscript, I have to hash out the details so that I can make the revisions to both the synopsis and the manuscript. But having too many details mapped out, even for revisions, has destroyed the fun of the writing process.
Have I learned a lesson?
I don't like writing with a detailed outline in front of me. In fact, it has ruined this project for me.
I have switched to the prequel to my Fashion and Fiends series, because it's a romance with some paranormal elements. But because it's loosely attached to the series, would I want to market it to romance publishers?
It's Étienne's and Basilie's love story, which happened more than 20 years before the trilogy I have done for the Fashion and Fiends series. But it's still Et and Bas. And yes, I could change the names and some of the details, but part of what makes the story special is that it belongs to Et and Bas.
Which brings into question my goals. See how this begins to fit?
Every published writer says to write the book, polish it, let it go, and market it to agents and editors with the same passion it took to write it. You must have that passion to make it. You have to have the passion to survive the "slings and arrows."
I'm looking for an agent, using the first book of the Fashion and Fiends series in my query. So far, no luck, but really, less than 20 rejections thus far. I'm not sure because I stopped counting. But with everything else on my plate, I've only been half-heartedly looking.
Meanwhile, I thought I'd finish and submit some romance manuscripts since many houses accept unagented manuscripts.
So, do I throw myself whole-heartedly into the agent search? Do I keep pushing in romance? Do I start that YA novel I have kicking in my head? Do I finish the project I was in the middle of what I got this brainstorm (inspired by LA Banks' workshop)? Do I write the short story I have plotted out for a call for stories for an anthology?
But I need a few days to write for fun. Even if I don't have plans for it.
Part of me is discouraged because of the books I read that disappoint me and the books I see coming from small, independent, and electronic-based presses. One author, at a press that markets very well on Facebook, caught my eye.
I went to her web site. The author web site. Her book comes out June 28. On the page on the web site for that book, one of her main characters' names is spelled inconsistently. Now I recognize that it was a simple inversion of letters while typing, but the author should have instantly noticed that and fixed it.
But (believe it or not) I decided to give her another chance. I clicked on the "read excerpt" link. In that passage, the author mixed up "pleas" and "please."
I fully believe that the eReader and the internet have given many authors a place that never had one before. I also believe that many less talented writers are seeing "print" and that's okay, because readers also have levels of proficiency. No one enjoys a book written above their comfort level.
But basic typing? And an editor who's paying attention?
I still want that.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I enjoyed it, and it had a bit of unsuspected intrigue. By the end, I was tired of all the attempts to have "different" sex. The premise was a spinster asks someone to educate her in intimate matters, and they fall in love. (My problem was that nothing her tutor suggested ended up making her uncomfortable. In any way, physical or emotional. But anyway...)
So after finishing that and enjoying the rain storm, I found myself inspired but I was away from all the computers and didn't feel like searching out a pen/paper. I used my iPhone to write a few random paragraphs, and although they didn't fit any of my projects, they felt good.
Now I want to write more, but what?
Saturday, May 29, 2010
I would love to blame it on my health or the stress of not having a job and not making ends meet.
But excuses don't fix problems. I am wallowing and I hate myself for it.
The only cure for what ails me is a couple hundred or thousand words.
Has my quest to write a marketable manuscript destroyed the love?
all my stories are marketable. So, WHAT story would be inspirational AND fun AND hot?
And who's buying?
Some quality time with the iPod and something that makes writing a crazy game. That's the ticket!
Friday, May 28, 2010
To make matters worse, I didn't write anything.
This morning I've already revised a few lines of my synopsis.
But it's hard "to get moving again" when you've already "let the ball drop."
How do you get motivated?
Any way you have to.
Make incremental goals.
Try a different project if the old one has you burnt out.
Write messier than usual/don't be so strict with yourself.
Monday, May 24, 2010
In daily newspapers, you're lucky if you get 15 minutes to walk away from it.
In weeklies, you can build a day or two into a story's timeline to give it time to breath.
A synopsis is no different.
In this case, a friend asked to read mine. He's sent me the suggestions and I haven't opened the email yet because even though we had lunch and I know some of what it says, my fragile ego can't bring myself to open it.
(That is a BIG run-on, consider it reflective of my nervousness in this project.)
We're talking about Allegheny Beast. Over laughs and pizza, my friend Bill, my husband and I brainstormed changing the "villain" from the oh-so-cliché evil military compound to a paramilitary operation outside the government, or an evil pharmaceutical company, or a terrorist cell plotting biological weapons.
This is what is must feel like to work with a team of writers on a TV show. The ideas get bigger and better.
Now, why on Earth would I take a finished manuscript I had planned to submit to a major romance publisher's paranormal imprint and decide at the last minute to change the villain?
This isn't "let's make a few edits" or "tweak a character," this is major overhaul.
Yep, I'm crazy that way.
Like it wasn't enough to flip-flop genre, let's change characters too.
Such is the artists' life: You can't run from the impulse when your gut and your heart agree you'll have a stronger, more marketable manuscript.
For the record, this is not the same as the perfectionism I feel when I try to get Étienne's "frenchness" right in the Fashion and Fiends series. This is a change that improves the marketability of manuscript, not just me trying to be authentic.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Having complete these pesky detailed outlines for three other manuscripts, you'd think it'd be easy.
Writing never is.
The trick to writing a decent synopsis is to remember you're proving your storytelling abilities, not merely outlining your novel. If you proceed in a "this happens" "and then" format, it sounds like a middle school book report.
But unless you have a gift for these things, finding the right voice for a synopsis can be tricky. It needs to evoke the mood of the genre, capture your craft skills and reveal what happens in the book, in a way that makes agents and editors want to read the book.
I don't have the answer for how to achieve this, but a synopsis is a detailed pitch followed through to the end of the book. So, I like to think about how the words sound when I'm typing them focus on flow, clarity and brevity.
Since this latest project is a paranormal romance, I have to focus on not only the murder mystery, not only the supernatural elements, but also the love story. And, being me, I need to find a way to write it so it doesn't seem sappy.
In my case, for the Allegheny Beast project, I've constructed a reverse outline to guide me with the synopsis. I've taken the manuscript and made an outline of what's actually in the story. Now from there (and yes this is time consuming and that part of it makes me crazy) I'm creating a detailed synopsis that has everything in it that I think might need to be there.
It's currently 924 words, and I expect another 500 before I finish. I'm not going to submit something that huge with my first three chapters. This will be my starting point to edit. Those of us who hail from the newspaper industry prefer to start with too much and whittle down than risk putting a story in the news hole and have blank inches staring back at us.
And we're not afraid to delete words. It's part of the process.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I have a tendency to make lofty goals.
The scary thing is: I usually achieve them. This time I did not, and the "failure" was intentional. I could very easily transform this manuscript if I lock myself in my office and write 24/7 until it's done. Author Molly Cochran might even encourage me and say that's a good thing, if it gets the job done and moves me further toward publication.
But selfishness is not a problem for me. In most areas of my life, I can be selfish. I also can be altruistic, but it's not natural for me. Blame it on my Taurean side.
I want to be a productive writer and a good mom. This is no different than dilemmas other people face. Some people balance a "real-world" career and writing. Some people balance jobs and hobbies. Some people struggle with the right blend of family vs. community/volunteer commitments. I think a politician faces this dualism daily. A politician (or a celebrity?) has a private and a public life.
So while I have undertaken this project because I think the market is right for it, I also need to NOT make myself crazy. If I strive to hit a self-imposed deadline and succeed, have I put forth my best effort? Will a week or a month make that much difference in the long run?
You could argue that markets change rapidly. Well, if that's the case maybe I've already missed the boat. Or maybe, if I get my manuscript mailed on Friday, it arrives in X place on the manuscript pile and gets on the desk of editorial assistant Ms. I-Hate-Werewolves, whereas maybe if I send it on Monday, it ends up in Y place, and Ms. I-Live-For-Shapeshifters reads it. You never know. Luck factors in greatly in this game.
I joined PLRW (the Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers, our local chapter of Romance Writers of America) because my stories have always been relationship-driven and I know I can do this. I resisted because most of my stories have realistic (unhappy) endings. But if I can still tell the same story, make the main characters overcome with a happy ending AND sell it, who cares?
It's about hope. A good story gives up hope for humanity.
I had meant this entry to be an entry of what I've done on the manuscript lately. Yesterday I listened to some of the editor podcasts from Harlequin. I'm interested in their Silhouette Nocturne imprint. I'm having trouble with the synopsis. I can't decide how much detail to put in.
My friend Tiffani encourages me to write it as detailed as possible before I decide.
To that end, I'm revamping my manuscript outline to have a paragraph for each chapter. This is something way more organized than I usually do.
I also have concerns that my heroine doesn't have "good enough" supernatural powers. So I beefed them up, which in turn heated the conflict. Of course, I'm starting to worry I've tread into the area of major rewrite as opposed to edits, but comes with the territory I guess. Though I also must remember part of this exercise is to practice "production writing," the kind where I expend my energy selling the text and not tweaking every last word for literary perfection.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Whenever you're working on a project, trying to change the essence of what it is-- in this case changing a manuscript from suspense to romance-- leaves you open to intimate errors. An intimate error is an error made not because you've failed to do the research or build a compelling character. It's an error that you overlook because you have grown too intimate with the subject matter.
In my case, I wrote a new chapter one and moved the old chapter one to chapter three. I forgot to move the exposition from that original chapter one to the new chapter one.
This is a key reminder of one of the prime editing rules for any type of project. Always read what's on the page and track where it is and where it belongs.
After you read something 1,000 times, you start to see words that aren't there.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Then I can submit.
So, I was in the middle of changes based on the input from my critique group on Chapter Seven of Courting Apparitions. And in my head, I'm still working on Chapter 17 of Courting Apparitions (it's a sexy chapter and I'm in the mood). Plus while walking to school, I decided to edit the beginning of the manuscript of Courting Apparitions to edit out Adelaide's parents.
So, with just that, I have two projects underway and seriously something I'm actively working on:
1. Courting Apparitions, the second volume of my Fashion and Fiends paranormal chick lit series
2. Allegheny Beast, my former paranormal suspense about to become a paranormal romance
But I still want to work on the historical paranormal YA set in 17th century Ireland. And the post WWII werewolf short story.
I think this is a time to devote energy to whatever project feels like I'd be most productive on... and make sure I devote extra effort to the project that I think I can sell.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
So, to spend the day with the gracious and humorous L.A. Banks (and have a fantastic dinner with her last night) can indeed inspire.
She, like her friend Jonathan Maberry, has an incredible energy about her. They share a philosophy which feels so right for anyone in any field: Stay true to yourself and stay positive. Whatever energy you expend into this universe, send positive vibes. Never jinx a project with your own negative thoughts.
Some highlights of the day:
- Ask yourself questions about your work. How is it different? What are the hot trends of the marketplace and how does my book fit? Can my project fill a void in an underserved market? What current movies are similar to my project?
- Find new communities to expose to your work. Have your writing group and/or critique group help you brainstorm marketing opportunities? How can multimedia trends serve you?
- Work conferences to find new communities and to have face time with agents and editors.
- If you're not sure what regional dialogue sounds like, call the local Wal*Mart.
- Don't underestimate the sense of smell.
- What is not said is as important as what is said.
- All classic stories follow the model laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
The beauty and agony of working with other writers in a critique format is when other people are right.
I leave these critique meetings feeling energized about my craft, but when they articulate problems that either I didn't notice or I thought I had fixed, it can be demoralizing. That is part of the process. And once you establish a relationship with your critique group, you learn to lean on certain members to find certain things.
You can rely on me to nitpick about tight sentence structure. One member of our group is what I like to call a visual reader, because she seems to visualize every detail in her mind and will let you know if anything seems out of place or confusing with the logistic flow especially with moving people from place to place. Another member seems very into verbs.
They also have opposite tastes when it comes to some things, which is good, because it shows how some readers will like what another reader doesn't.
But mostly, they start poking around in a chapter talking about the tension and the action and sometimes I realize, I've missed the boat as the author. That my text, which so clearly has a mission in my mind, has fallen completely flat on the page. Other writers will know what I mean when I say that sometimes you write something beautiful, with no particular flaws except one: it doesn't move the story forward as you intended. Then, the reader might ask, "Did I miss the point?"
As an author, I've had several experiences where people said this about a scene. So, I look at it and I read it. Removed from the creative impetus that spurred it, I no longer remember why it seemed so perfect. I cannot say why I wrote it.
And so it must go. The scene gets deleted. Or, as might happen with this manuscript, characters get deleted.
Yes, I am starting chapter 14 of Courting Apparitions, my second serious full draft, and my critique group has pointed out that some characters aren't adding anything.
So, they are between Chapters 7 & 8, and I have made the decision to remove Helen. But I'm not going backwards now. She will no longer exist from this point forward and I'll fully remove her in the next draft.
Hopefully we fix Pierre and Jules. There's been some rustling that they don't belong, they feel extraneous. They shouldn't be. They earn the right to be salvaged. But poor Helen, she's gone.
No matter what your project, you have to be willing to dismantle something that's not working, no matter how beautiful it looks.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
In 2004, a French author under the pseudonym (or shall I say nom de plume) Michel Thaler published a 233-page novel called "The Train to Nowhere" in which he used no verbs. For the Francophiles, the French title is "Le Train de Nulle Part."
Wikipedia cites it as an example of a "constrained novel." Apparently this movement has other authors with other self-imposed restrictions, including a book called "Void." "Void" does not use the letter E.
So my thought for today is this... How creative are you? Can you write under restrictions? Do you need freedom or can you handle rules? In my view, we all think we have total freedom as artists, but as soon as we hear "tips" or "rules" that might help us get published, we adapt the ones that make sense to us.
Too many prepositions.
Too many adverbs.
Too many independent clauses linked with a conjunction.
Too many run-on sentences.
Sentence structure that does not vary.
Too much passive voice...
Sample from the text of the Train to Nowhere:
Quelle aubaine ! Une place de libre, ou presque, dans ce compartiment. Une escale provisoire, pourquoi pas ! Donc, ma nouvelle adresse dans ce train de nulle part : voiture 12, 3ème compartiment dans le sens de la marche. Encore une fois, pourquoi pas ?
Fool's luck! A vacant seat, almost, in that compartment. A provisional stop, why not? So, my new address in this train from nowhere: car 12, 3rd compartment, from the front. Once again, why not?
Saturday, May 1, 2010
I wrote 300 works on it yesterday, got some positive feedback from several friends, but my husband was the first to point out I have no "hook."
So I started the next stretch of the story keeping an eye out for that potential hook, and I got an additional 125 words before my daughter woke up.
The reality is, especially as a mom, first drafts stink because you never get a chance to sit, write and focus. Writing becomes disjointed and grabbed in brief minutes when you can, where you can.
Like this blog: some days I write long, well-thought out entries and some days I present a few scattered sentences. Today is a scattered sentence day, because my mommy obligations are at the forefront.
It's really no different for writers who work for time or have other commitments (like those deep in the process of marketing their first or current book while writing the next). The reality is you keep writing and you can't make excuses.
The werewolf story proceeds, even if 100 words at a time. I will fix it later, once I have a first draft to fix. It's easier to fix a first draft than to create a story out of nothing. The author with a bad first draft has already surpassed the writer intimidated by a blank page.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Apparently I am not alone in my thoughts. I don't remember exactly who Graham Greene was, but I remember he had a book in my travel writing seminar in college that I very much enjoyed. I want to say it involved a trip to Africa.
Writing is a form of therapy; how do all those who do not write, compose, or paint manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in the human condition?
From today's "Advice to Writers" at http://www.advicetowriters.com/
And I thought to myself: well, there's no reason why I can't write something for that. Even if just as an exercise in finishing a new project for a specific purpose. Always a good lesson. Creative people sometimes forget how to complete an assignment that's not muse-driven.
I now have several pages of notes in my journal about a werewolf in post-Liberation 1945 Paris...
Sunday, April 25, 2010
2ND WARNING: Author has had three cups of coffee
Sometimes, as authors, we view our stories and our plots with the detachment of an outsider. I'm not saying we don't get lost/caught up in our stories, because we do. What happens is more like worrying about making sure we get the road to lead where we want it to that we don't pay attention to the actual path.
I was editing a chapter today. In that chapter, Galen the bad guy is coping poorly with the fact that the now-dead ingenue from the previous book (Adelaide) has possessed him. To add insult to injury-- to use a cliché-- Adelaide has noticed a young man her age and her lust has left Galen with an erection. Galen gets into his car where his mate and fellow witch, Flidais, laughs at him for his predicament.
Now the basic road map for this scene required that Galen and Flidais drive from Point A to Point B. I got the sense upon reading it, that Flidais would do more than laugh at him. I spent the next 24 hours contemplating whether Flidais would give him a hand job or a blow job.
One of my friends suggested a little bit of both. But that didn't seem right. As a writer, I typically can write through big problems. Little problems like this, or even smaller ones like what the characters had for dinner, can halt my progress for hours.
Today, I labeled why these things often stump me. It's not because of the sex acts. It stems from not thinking inside the character's head. The chapter I'm writing comes from Galen's third person limited point of view. I pondered the problem as if Galen had a say in which sex act Flidais performed. Which, he could ask, but he doesn't.
As soon as I considered the conundrum from Flidais' point of view, I had to weigh the magical consequences. In that case, a hand-job seemed vulgar and like a waste of male essence. She might try that if she wanted to weaken him or merely distract him. I think she would perform a sex act for her own gain. In that case, what can she receive?
In my series, any sex act has a supernatural weight to it and it all means something. Feminine power must be given, not taken. Masculine power must be taken. Sex, in the male/female intercourse variety, adds something to the universe and provides energy that can fuel rituals.
The answer became obvious, Flidais had to give Galen a blow job because she needed a shot of masculine power and that was an easy way to take it.
The moral of the story:
If you're stuck at a point where characters have to make a choice, make sure the characters reason out the problem and chose according to their motivations, not yours. Don't confuse the POV character's preferences with the character who is actually the one in control of the choice.
Friday, April 23, 2010
When I asked her why they were spending so much time on the phone she informed me that they were getting married. Tonight.
"You're stealing MY Frenchman," I told her.
"Mommy, he stole me," she replied.
"I don't think his wife will like that," I replied.
"Well, I can't help it. He told me that he loved me."
"There's your first mistake. Never believe a Frenchman when he says he loves you."
"And he kissed me."
"We're not talking 'bisous' here, are we?"
"No. And he said, 'I won't ever let this kiss stop.'"
"That does sound like Etienne."
I think I'm going to have to use that line.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
By the time I graduated from college I had more than 100 journals of all shapes and sizes.
I used to number them in the corner, every new one got a number on the inside cover. I stopped this process and I wish I hadn't. It made it easier to put them in order and easier to label exactly how prolific I'd been.
I kept pretty detailed journals during my pregnancy. That changed with the birth of my daughter. Then I journaled when I could, but no longer with the intensity or the frequency that I used to. It got to the point, and this was recently, that my journal entries would be a weekly affair instead of the breaking news format I used to follow.
With some of my recent health issues, I thought I needed to return to as-needed journaling. I wanted to record everything I'm thinking and feeling in order to connect or perhaps disconnect my physical and emotional problems.
I have done this for about three weeks. Maybe four. I'm worrying that these entries are clinical, full of my rants and fears, and make me look like a basket-case. But then I see a glimpse of the old me, and the old journals, with hastily scribbled items like this:
How many thaws from frigid winters
until a heart can no longer be reached
with the frayed and weakening stems
of dandelions held by the tiny hands
of strangers' children?
And I do think that journaling has redirected my attention from social media and also put me more at peace. Now, if only I could make the time to resume my bicycle rides and do some yoga, I might regain some real peace of mind.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Last week, the Library of Congress announced that it would archive "tweets." Let me repeat this: The Library of Congress will archive tweets.
What does that say about the American written word?
What does that say about the pace of our lives?
What does that say about our desire to read?
With my background in journalism, I can say just about anything in 140 characters. In the newspaper industry, we call this a headline.
So, I say nothing more for or against Twitter. Any new technology for connecting people has the capacity to improve our lives. I can't help but think we're breeding a generation of voyeurs and exhibitionists who see life as a performance and not something to share with those around us in that old-fashioned, face-to-face kind of way.
Yet, I also think it's really cool that I can monitor all sorts of people from all around the world, potentially with interests similar to mind, without having to say hello and introduce myself.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
1. I don't believe in a journalism major. Journalists must have broad education or at least an intelligence that allows them to question and receive information. The craft of writing is part talent, part experience and part having the right mentors. I don't think journalism professors are the best mentors. The fast-paced universe and the breadth of topics that appear in a journalist's world are constantly in flux and an academic at a university has lost touch with this and cannot train a journalist for this.
2. I love to write. I didn't want to ruin that by writing all day long.
I was right. I spent four years in public relations and publications. Then, I moved to my journalism career. I wrote an average of ten stories per week for years on end. Sometimes I did as many as twelve or fourteen.
By the time I got home at night, I had no words left for me. I have given them all "to the people." I didn't want to read words. I didn't want to write words.
The pleasure had gone from them.
I remembered this recently when a friend of mine recently finished her honors project for her bachelors degree. She lamented to me that her brain had been in "research mode" so long that she looked forward to returning to her creativity.
And I understood.
Many of us who write creatively also use our skills professionally. This can hinder productivity. It is important to do something you love as a career. It is important to have skill in what you do. But any career that involves creativity in its day-to-day life will drain you.
So you must be careful.
If I ever get the chance to write my novels and stories as a career, that means I will no longer have that as a hobby (and perhaps could return to having hobbies that involve putting my photos in albums, gardening or oil panting). But if I use those skills in my next career: for press releases, articles, whatever... I have to weigh if those things add to or detract from what I want to do with my words.
If the New Yorker calls and wants me to go be Adam Gopnik in Paris, I am there. If the AFP (French Press Agency) calls and wants me on staff, I'm there.
Other opportunities? Depends how badly I need the money. Depends how much of my soul they demand.
In America, we don't sell our souls to the devil, because corporations so gladly take them off our hands.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
My first exposure to Jonathan had to be in March 2008, at GLVWG's The Write Stuff, when I attended his query letter workshop. He was the keynote for the conference that year and the theme of his talk boiled down to write anything they throw at you and you can build a career. I oversimplify a tad, but the man lives by that motto.
He has fun with his work, and it seems like whether it's a GI Joe prose series to accompany a comic storyline, his novels or his zombie YA book, he's willing to tackle it.
When he walks into the room, he has so many practical ideas on how to build and market yourself as a writer, you might feel exhilarated and overwhelmed all at the same time.
I remember from two years ago, he told us to query up. He told us to start with all the dream agents, the big agents, because we didn't deserve to sell ourselves short. What's the worst that will happen? They say no. But maybe you will hit it big.
Today he talked about social networking in that same kind of light. Connect with people bigger than you, treat them as a colleague in a professional manner. Interview writers bigger than you for your blog. Use Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.
And keep it positive. Because more kids want to play in your sandbox if you're positive. And Jonathan believes in the power of putting positive into the world.
It works for him.
And honestly, his enthusiasm is infectious. Now, if only I can find about six more hours in a day.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
So, since I lost my job and pitched to a literary agent in the same week, let's also get the car inspected and go to the doctor for a physical.
Now I have a $700 car bill, am waiting on test results for anemia, and working with a psychologist to see if I have general anxiety disorder. Just the fact that there is such a thing as "general anxiety disorder" that effects a large segment of the American population amazes me.
Could it be part of the problem is our lack of connection to anything other than our material lives? We all seem stressed out about money, jobs and stuff and I don't get it. Why? I'm a victim of it as much as anyone. But why? If I lost my house would my family really let us go homeless? If I couldn't afford food would my friends and neighbors let my daughter go hungry?
But yet... these fears exist.
(I promise this will get to writing.)
In the 19th century, after the industrial revolution, many writers and visual artists addressed the potential hazards of modernization. Many writers like Zola and Sinclair took the naturalist route and described what they saw in detail and when you read these works, like Zola's experience of the Hausmann-influenced Paris, I feel like we've never dealt with these issues. Not yet. More than 100 years later.
Gauguin's solution was to live, paint and frolic with the natives in tropical paradise.
And I think people today are no more "screwed up" than people 100 years ago. A nervous person 100 years ago might lock herself in the parlor with a book, or work in the garden, or get sent to the sanatorium for a "rest," but would more of us be more at ease if we had a more natural rhythm of work and rest?
150 years ago everyone had some connections to the land. If they didn't grow their own food, their neighbors grew it. They understood the limits of their universe and had a connection to ever part of their lives. We're detached. Our food comes from grocery stores. Our fuel comes in tanker trucks. Our clothes come from malls. We hit switches and lights come on. We type words on screens and send them to other people with the touch of a button.
Our ancestors understood their needs and how to fulfill them. Our ancestors worked and slept on schedule with the sun and didn't have a snooze alarm.
I've connected this with some 19th century writers, but how does it effect our writing?
Until Monday, I thought I was a naturally nervous person, that it was part of who I am and I had to deal with it. Monday I faced some of the reasons why that's not true. Monday I had to inventory some of my demons and realize how they effected me. And this wasn't done in the safety of the psychologist's office. This hit me like a sledgehammer several hours later. And I'm still recoiling.
But I also realized that the struggles my characters go through are quite literally the same struggles that I go through. I downright torture Étienne, and his turmoil is a veiled commentary on what I've faced and how I feel about my life.
We all do it. If we don't use our characters to vent or explore our emotions, then we give them the opportunities we want or we let them chase our dreams.
Writing. Ultimate psychotherapy.
What are you writing?
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Oh my... the car's brakes and inspection cost almost $700. We have $100 in the checkbook for food and unexpected bills and it has to last throughout all of April. I have lots of schoolwork due and my textbooks for my seminar are still in the car. I hope I don't overdose on iron. I have a doctor's appointment Monday and I think I'm looking forward to it. Sh*t, tomorrow is Easter. I forgot.
So, I'm in the shower. And instead of these things I'm thinking:
Galen sits on the bench drinking coffee. A cute guy walks by. Adelaide, now dead and cohabitating Galen's body with him notices. Would she have the power to prompt a sexual response in his body? If so, what would it be? What would Galen think? And since she later uses her powers to assist impotent Étienne, maybe she should inadvertently cause something now we foreshadow that she can *ahem* assist the male anatomy.
Which also brings to mind... What kind of guy would Addy find attractive? Would he be a hip, young, American Étienne?
Friday, April 2, 2010
Sometimes you have to neglect your children, your life, your job.
And those of us who spend our lives being way too serious need to hear that.
I finished my agent submission Tuesday night and emailed it. When I should have been in class.
I allowed myself to work on a scene five chapters away because my emotions seemed drawn to that scene.
And I promised myself I would make time for writing. That no matter what happens, I will give myself 30 minutes to an hour of writing time a day.
Because I need this.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
I got a request for synopsis plus three. That's pretty standard.
I freshened up my synopsis. (The agent's web site does not dictate a length for the synopsis, and I opted not to go with either my one page synopsis nor my five page, I edited a new 2.5 page synopsis.)
But I'm striking out on the query.
None of them sound right. I feel extra pressure since I did so uncharacteristically poor at the pitch.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
My favorite author speakers were Jordan Sonnenblick and Molly Cochran. I also pitched to an agent, and let's just say she was a fabulous speaker and warm person, but I fell down on the job.
I let Étienne and his posse down.
Now, I'm not naming the agent because I know what a mix of factors lead to an agent accepting your manuscript: the right market, the right blend of personalities, that agent has to believe in your prose as much as you do (okay, probably more)... I'm not naming her because if she rejects me, as is statistically likely, I don't want anyone to say she's mean, or a bad person, or stupid.
On the contrary, I'm inclined to believe this person's a saint, because I did a terrible job at my pitch. I salvaged it enough so she requested a synopsis and the first three chapters so she's either a big saint or my ideas have some merit.
But let's talk positive.
What did I learn?
Jordan Sonnenblick mentioned a great technique for checking your character's dialogue. He suggested taking different colors of highlighters and using one color for each main character and highlighting just their dialogue in your book. Why? Because if some one read nothing else but the dialogue would that character's personality/characterization materialize?
Molly Cochran listed techniques to finish your novel. Luckily, I do most of them. But listening to her talk about "writing fast" and "allowing yourself to write [a first draft] badly," I let her pivotal advice sink in. Have a regular writing schedule. Even if it's only 30 minutes per day. Set this schedule based on your own goals and your own priorities regarding writing. Allow yourself to be selfish and write.
That made me realize:
I need to reorganize my priorities in life.
Not just in writing, in everything.