Tuesday, December 20, 2011


The last few months I have kept myself sane by working on what I term "the prequel" but even it has reached that point where you have to either develop a structure and take the project seriously or keep writing for fun and acknowledge that most of what you have done will later be undone when you try to transform "fun" into a marketable piece.

I never came to terms with this when the final book in my series started kicking about in my mind again, more like an emotional haunting, where I find myself trapped in the characters' angst.

So what does this mean?

I heard fabulous news from a colleague of mine from the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG), Kathryn Craft, whom I respect as a writer and for her diplomacy, wisdom and personality. She signed with an agent at Donald Maass' agency.

She had queried 129 agents prior to the one who signed her.

Meanwhile, other friends wait for news from small publishers, agents and contests. Other friends walk the "Indie" route and explore E-publishing, self-publishing and developing their own small presses.

And then people ask me what I'm doing. I'm sitting on my work.

I am still not confident the concept is 100% and I am close to nailing down what it should be. I want to see more of where the publishing industry is going. When I enter this game again, I hope to have three solid manuscripts and other projects in the works. That way if one doesn't sell, I have two others to hawk. And if the first one sells, I have the material for a multi-book deal.

But the key here is 100%. Because I think-- in anything in life-- you must stand behind it and be 100% confident. If you're not, those you're trying to impress will find your weakness and exploit it and crush you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Revisiting the prequel

I've had a lot of projects, a daughter with ear issues, my own dental care, work hours and economics to contend with... It burnt me out on writing, with productivity in mind, so I let my mind wander and returned to my circa 1978 "prequel" of Étienne's youth and love story.

I've drafted the new first chapter and I like it. I don't feel it's perfect but it's a start. I'll share page one:

Chapter One

Heat consumed Étienne from multiple angles; the sun from Ghislaine’s window soothed his nude flesh and his aching thrust erupted inside her with a rippling whirlpool that chased away the Paris dampness. He offered a tired grunt and savored that moment when his muscles dissolved. She gasped and collapsed against his chest, her body still quivering against his.

He cried. Her cheek pressed against the metal of his identification plaque. The slight tickle of Ghislaine’s long bleached blond hair blanketing him and the soft yet firm push of her breasts pressed against him had punctured the cigar smoke. The telltale earthy scent of Montecristo #4 had fallen when his commanding officer reported that Étienne’s father had died. That was more than a week ago. With the aftershocks of the sex the only barrier between him and his new found grief, Étienne wrapped his arms around Ghislaine and braced for the tears.

His father smoked Montecristo #4 cigars. The cigar smoke had filled the barracks like a protective cloud. It stayed with him as he packed, during the eight-hour, red-eye flight to Paris, and through his brisk walk to Ghislaine’s apartment.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Character cultural relativity

I'm not sure if that's an appropriate title, but this addresses how characters react to each other within the confines of their experiences and their culture. From an email to a friend: "In a way I wanted to tell you this in person,but life's unpredictable nature might make it impossible for us to sit down and have a conversation. I put all my writing away a couple weeks ago. It was frustrating me and not enjoyable so I decided to read, clean my house, and potentially revisit my other hobbies. Just to recharge the batteries. This is always an awesome exercise because it allows the crazy new thoughts to enter your mind. Like my werewolf stories. Then I had a strange thought about Étienne's back story. I have waffled a bit on his history-- at one point he failed his bac (the end of high school exams used for university entrance) and went to work for his father. He and Basilie then represented two avenues to success: him, hard work and her, education/ family background. This is starting to sound like a blog entry. May have to copy it and post. Then I made Ét narrowly pass his exam and make it into a prestigious private art school. And drop out when his father died. So he drove Basilie crazy because she wanted to attend a similar school and couldn't get in and he dropped out! Similar to the kind of jealousy she feels when he gets an O visa to the US and she gets an HB. But that bothered me because Ét probably wouldn't have the academic credentials or the money for such a school. BUT if he doesn't go to school, he'll end up conscripted into the army. Which I always believed his brother was serving his conscription when their father died. But really, Edmond is the one who went to university and has small children so realistically he would have a deferment.  It looks like if Étienne served his conscription, it would have been in 1977, and probably shortly after the independence of Djibouti. Étienne. Army. Djibouti. With me? I do not doubt he would be a lousy soldier, but I think he would be very clever in making social arrangements for the guys, and helping repair uniforms of his peers to avoid the hazing aspects of the military.  And what makes this interesting is according to the sources I could find, 98% of Djibouti women TODAY still undergo severe circumcision/ genital mutilation. And I think being an observer to a culture that does this could make him very pro-feminist. I also think that it would make some interesting conflict with Basilie about the status of women in the world, since she's an educated, upper class European and argue that the world has improved for women and Étienne would believe her a sheltered, ethnocentric brat. Angel"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Writing versus editing

The other day I remarked on Facebook on the progress I'd made with edits on my first manuscript. I wrote this manuscript in high school and rewrote it seven or eight times in my twenties. I had to, I had no life experience and every time I learned something I saw a new nuance of how life worked that I had to share with my characters. Some people often lament not having caught their writing bug early in life, that they wasted too much time on other things. I remind them that it's hard to be a writer when your so naive regarding the human condition.

Plenty of friends have remarked that I have spent too much time on this project, but I enjoy it, and thus far it has yielded a series of three manuscripts. Now if it makes me happy to work on that series, even when I could do something else... Well, it's my compulsion, my hobby and I do have other ideas and projects kicking around.

They just never have the same pull. These folks are my first born, and as with real-life parenting, I have a learning curve. I have made mistakes, and I can either ignore them and move forward or try to rectify them. Plenty of people move on. Me, I want to fix them. It would hurt too much to know I had it in my power to change something and I didn't.

That said... Another author friend mentioned to me that she loves editing. That got me thinking. I love editing too or I wouldn't do it year in and year out. Do I love it more than writing?


Writing is emotional, messy, surprising and frustrating. Even if you plot, you learn things as you go. You cry. You laugh. You shake. You hit walls and climb them. You know what's going to happen and you don't. You know these people and then you find out that you don't.

Editing allows you to take all that mixed up stuff from the writing process and sort it, refine it and polish it. You get this high that says, "Yeah! This will work." And it's different from that writing high, because the writing high is very similar to a mother with a newborn baby-- all mothers think their babies are beautiful, whether they have conehead, cradle cap or look like a froggy old man. You need to step back and let that baby grow into its skin.

I love them both. I feel more control in the editing process, but I love the emotional roller coaster of dumping words on the page for the first time.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Editing, editing, editing

Perhaps this is a message of hope. Perhaps it's a warning that if you're considering the writing life, then have your heart and mind prepared for the frustrations and thrills of trying to tame the written word.

I revealed my first two chapters to a friend, fellow writer and former critique group member (she's moved out of the area, we did not throw her out). I needed someone to read them, not for a line by line critique but just a general "does it work" idea and to reassure myself that I hadn't edited the manuscript into a mess that no longer made sense.

These are legitimate questions/fears.

She liked them. She had read a recent version of the manuscript a couple years ago and thought the antagonist's motives more clear and his character more believable.

These are the same changes-- to the mythical structure of my supernatural universe-- that I labored over a month ago trying to decide whether these changes would be for THIS series or a book in the future.

A writer has to listen to his/her heart, because those lingering doubts of "what if" would haunt him/her every time a rejection comes in. Maybe I waste too much time writing and editing, but if I as a person am always changing, my manuscripts must change too.

One of the first things you learn in journalism is to save everything you write and to go through it once a year and throw it all in the trash except for maybe your five favorite pieces. You grow so quickly under the routine of professional writing that those early pieces look like garbage. In hindsight, they are embarrassing.

Fiction has similar growth. Whether it be the bad poems an author wrote in high school or a first manuscript, eventually we look back and see the faults. But since I'm not published yet, I can improve these early words and make them something I'm still proud of. I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

September around the corner

Note the generic headline. That means I have nothing on my mind and no idea what the heck I'm doing or writing about. Scary, eh? Blogging for blogging's sake.

School started for me and my daughter yesterday, which means I can expect my free time to either disappear thanks to economics homework or reappear since child heads to school each day. It's too soon to tell.

I have been tweeting more than usual these days, as some old friends have made some new use of the tool and somehow sucked me into it also. That's okay. I guess.

Between my iron deficiency, my child, my work schedule and my volunteer schedule, my writing time has been slim. But I've steadily been reworking the mythology of the novel I've been shopping to agents, Manipulations, book one of my Fashion and Fiends series. The more I work on it, the more I wonder if the friend who suggested to me marketing them out of order might be right.

Books two (Courting Apparitions) and three (Absolution) are definitely more exciting than book one, and since book three transitions one of the protagonists into the antagonist, I can't help but wonder if I should market book three first and leave books one and two for the story of how this all came to be...

Kind of like Star Wars.

That's lots of run-ons and fragments but... got my thoughts down.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Still editing

I have finished the editing for the first six chapters of the new mythic concept for Manipulations. The chapters are still going at a pace of about an hour a piece and I enjoy them. I've removed a lot of text, having deleted about 20 pages so far. That wasn't my intent, but it will be interesting to see what happens at the end. I will have room to add scenes if I need to. That could work well.

It's got me thinking about the difference between easy edits and laborious ones. I really believe that the easier the edits, the closer to "right" the story is.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I have a few free minutes and an internet signal so I thought I'd make a quick post.

I have edited the first two chapters of my first book, the one I usually shop around. A few weeks ago I thought I had a brilliant concept (and I still think it's clever and sharp) that would improve my villain. Galen has always had weak motivations. What I had in mind altered the entire universe, gave the universe a new mythology and the supernatural rules for my villain would change.

This meant massive rewrites of ever chapter in his POV.

I was willing to do that, but every time I tried I couldn't get the right zing. It required a new first chapter and nothing worked. Nothing had enough suspense and tension. And then I reversed the idea. I had the same idea, making one character a totally different creature, but not Galen.

Galen remains a witch.

His mate becomes something different. Something he is very jealous of.

And that jealous is a pivotal part of his motivation.

Minor edits to the first couple chapters have taken an hour each. This thrills me. It feels like I'm on the right track. I like this because every time I read the original text, I couldn't help but think, "I like this. I don't want to delete this."

My new revisions preserve the original story and its settings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Writing again?

I have been writing again. I have an old romance novel/ghost story in my head that I lovingly refer to as the prequel, as its the love story of my main characters in my Fashion and Fiends series. I wrote half of it, once upon a time, but hit 50,000 words and when things got good, I couldn't keep going.

For years, I had this dead spot.

And then I asked myself two questions: What if we saw her perspective? (The story is told from two view points: the young man falling in love and his dead father.) What if her mom knew about the relationship? (As it stands, they hide their relationship.)

That got me thinking even more: What if her mom encouraged their relationship? Maybe did some matchmaking?

I started this story years ago, before my daughter was born. She just turned seven. And yet, it never occurred to me to include the female love interests thoughts and conflicts in the story.

So I guess my point is, every once in a while you have to look at your manuscript intentionally asking the obvious questions and toying with the answers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More on first lines

In my mind, I've been reworking some chapters in my first volume of my Fashion and Fiends series. Except the more I contemplate, the more I think I'm treading into rewrite territory instead of edit... Is this Galen's story (the villain from Manipulations and Courting Apparitions, the first two volumes in the series) or is it someone else's story?

The ideas I've found make Galen a better character, and I think he needs them unless I'm willing to relegate him to a less-than-my-best status and I don't think I am ready for that.

I opened my file and planned to read the text noting what edits would be necessary if I implemented my ideas. It became overwhelming quickly. So I started drafting potential new first chapters. And today, after six weeks of summer class and no real word gain on any of my personal projects, I wrote this line as my proposed new opening:

The sanctuary trembled on shockwaves of heat, rattling the century-old stained glass, as Galen flung his wooden staff toward his lover. 

Of course, I already want to change "lover" to "sister" and show them doing something naughty in the next sentence.

I suppose the moral of this blog remains to be seen, but I have to reiterate that you have to follow your instincts when you think something is wrong with the text.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I'm supposed to be doing homework.

But I haven't written in this blog for a while and I have something brief that's been on my mind.

Do you give yourself permission to free write?

Every once in a while, when I have the urge to write and either my current projects aren't turning out or I don't have a project (like now), I write something random. And these pieces all start with random questions.

They always end up being pertinent, either in a new or an existing story.

A couple days ago I wrote two pages on the early days of marriage between Basilie and Étienne. I was thinking about their sex life 20 years ago, but it turned out that I wrote a nugget that showed me his feelings when he found out she was pregnant the first time. I felt something for these two I had never felt before.

I have two more questions running around in my brain:
  1. If Étienne and Basilie had met before they met as I say they did, when he was 18 and she was 20, what would the encounter be and where? As if they ran into each other as strangers but never knew... what happened? Was it in a museum? A store? What did they think of each other?
  2. My secondary character of Jules the Chef... Need to explore his backstory. What was his life like in the immediate months before he enters my story?

Monday, June 6, 2011


My brain is writing fiction even if my fingers are trying political theory. I have my first political theory paper due this week and my daughter's dance recital, the dentist and work. I'm not sleeping well, and I'm still recovering from not eating last month so I must admit, I'm tired.

My husband and I have been reading some books. We both started the Dresden Files, which my husband has committed to finishing the series and I'm more or less done after book two. I had series because they get so formulaic. The supernatural mythology in these books is what's fabulous but I've already sensed the formula. Murder + make wizard detective the prime suspect + put him in mortal danger so he has to solve the crime quickly and almost get killed doing it. What changes in each book is the supernatural creature. Which the author (Jim Butcher?) does a fabulous job constructing, I must say. But I'm bored as soon as I predict the formula because that tells me what's going to happen next.

Think about formula in the things you read or write. Do you read series? If so, is there a formula to that author's work?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My last column for GLVWG this term

As I stood before the general membership at the May meeting, I had a strange moment of realization. Every meeting I ask for success stories from our membership, and without fail I receive them. It’s an uplifting exercise to hear the different forms of success and how success differs from person to person.
The end of the GLVWG year and the upcoming election also signals another event that many of us share: rejection season. After The Write Stuff conference in March, the membership as a whole must receive a lot of rejections at the end of May. Count out six to eight weeks from our conference, it brings us to our May meeting.
Every year there’s some good news, but every year at this time many members have a heavy heart. Rejected again. The exact words in the letters and emails change, but the message is the same.
The form letters don’t sting. Writers easily toss those aside easily and forget about them. It’s the rejections that follow requests for partials or fulls that burn, cause doubts. Statements like “Many people will connect with this character, but I didn’t” or “I didn’t like the voice as much as I wanted to” can hit hard.
Many of these statements don’t even make clear sense, because it’s not a conversation. We don’t have the luxury of discussing with the editor or agent what they meant by their words, so it’s like secret code with no real key.
The simplest way to get over rejection is to start a new query and submit, submit, submit. Some people set it aside and continue work on a different project, to let the hurt cool. Some people view rejection as a sign that something’s wrong and set out to fix it.
Unless the agent or editor says there’s basic grammar mistakes, the plot sounds like a cliché or that every character was flat (or equally discouraging remarks), there’s nothing wrong.
An agent, editor or publisher must love the material he/she acquires as much as the author does or the relationship doesn’t work. It’s a tough business. It’s a tough world. Finding that one opportunity or that one person is hard.
Everyone at GLVWG understands.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Besides the poem I wrote about my tooth, my writing time has been limited. I'm formulating a lot of ideas right now on how to revise my manuscripts, who to submit to next and what I'd like to do with my very brief pre-summer vacation. Summer class starts Monday.

I have many ideas and not much focus or energy, so I flit from idea to idea trying to find one that sticks. I have several ideas inspired by The Write Stuff and by the conference's keynote speaker agent Donald Maass. Those are for the manuscript I finished a month ago. I also have some concerns about Manipulations, the book I've been pitching, that I'd like to address. Primarily, the bad guy got tougher in book two and I think he needs to reflect that in book one.

I've resisted diving too far into Galen's back story because of the research I knew it would entail. Today I thought I'd read the passages that relate to his past and see if they spurred any idea of how I could strengthen them. I found something in this:

"A Huguenot couple had lost their daughter to a fever that their eldest son now had. They had traveled with him and his brother from the south of England. Hesper healed the boy. ... When it came time for the family to return to England, and escape the Irish climate, they offered the baby as payment. Or so Hesper had told him."

In my head I heard this voice say, "She lied."

I knew Galen's family were Huguenots from Bretagne (Brittany, the north of France). But what if the whole story was hooey? What if they fled Bretagne for some other reason? What if they left the south of England for the same reason?

I started with a quick internet search via the iPhone and discovered revolts in Bretagne, legends of Ankou, tidbits about the landscape and the language, and now I'm at the college library looking for more.

And Ankou? I haven't researched him here yet but he's Death, the Reaper. A skeleton in a shroud and flat Breton hat with an upturned scythe and an oxcart...

Sometimes with the right research, the story amazingly tumbles together as if you knew it all along.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On Rejection

Monday I broke four teeth and got stitches.

The next week, I gave myself a rather large second degree burn on my hip.

The day after that, I received this in an agent rejection:

"Thanks for your patience with my getting back to you. I really enjoyed reading MANIPULATIONS. You are clearly a talented writer and I think Adelaide is a character readers will connect with. I also think you’ve developed a really rich story."

Sigh. Form letter rejections are so much easier. 

Back to submissions. Someone needs to kidnap me, give me a laptop and Internet connection with good music... And reward me with food for each query I submit.

Mourning 29

May 2 turned out to be one of my not-so-good days.

As readers of my food blog and my friends know, I fell on a neighbor's bad patch of sidewalk and spit up part of a tooth. I thought that was the end of that. One broken tooth. Turns out I have FOUR broken teeth (one of which was extracted, a rather significant molar) and stitches and lots of pain, ibuprofen and future dental bills with insurance kicking in less than 25% of the bill.

Meanwhile, I'm getting ready for bikini season whether I wanted to diet or not.

It gave me some opportunity to think about the characters in my novel. There is a lot of wounds everyone receives and I wonder if they recover appropriately.

I also wrote a poem, now in it's second draft.

This is the current opening of "Mourning 29":

29's departure brutalized me.
A jolt to the face,
A ravaging of my soul
When a shockwave
Erupted through my jaw
Into my ears and
As I commenced my morning.
Then the pain subsided.
I thought the worst had passed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Can I collapse now?

Yesterday I finished my current round of work on Courting Apparitions, the second volume in my Fashion and Fiends series that I am currently pitching to agents. Well, currently waiting to hear from one agent before I send the next batch of queries out.

I am exhausted, and I don't know whether it's the work-write-school-life balance is out-of-whack (potentially, school ends in TWO WEEKS. Next week is the last week of classes. Finals! Ack!)
 or that odd mental exhaustion that accompanies finishing a project.

Do you experience this? The sense of overwhelming relief and pride as you tie up loose ends and I the pleasure as you think about the good job you did... coupled with a smidge of grief that it's done, because it has been a focus. These feelings leave me tired and a tad lost feeling. It's the lost feeling that motivates most writers to undertake a new project.

I have to survive the school year first.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How journalism builds fiction writers

Okay, first off, the prologue I mentioned in the last entry was meant to say epilogue. You know you're tired when...

Because I don't have many creative thoughts in my body right now, as I rush about trying to finish an analysis of several pivotal French government documents for my Western European Politics class (and I love this project, French geek that I am...), I thought I'd take a moment to talk journalism.

Some writers come to fiction with bachelor's degrees in literature or MFAs in creative writing. Some just dive in with no training. Many writers survive by using their writing abilities in a professional context, and that's why you have so many reporters working on novels in their free time.

Novelist, comic book writer and paranormal mastermind extraordinaire Jonathan Maberry survived for many years on his skills as a professional writer writing things far less exciting than his current projects, but it paid the bills.

And, as Jonathan often says at workshops and conferences, you learn many skills as a professional writer. A journalist on the beat day-to-day learns there is no such thing as writers block AND that there are no excuses for not coming back with a story. I always told my reporters-in-training that if two people stood in the room, there was a story somewhere, even if it wasn't the story already in the editorial budget.

Newspaper reporters learn flexibility. They learn to write whatever comes their way. They also learn structure, often writing to rigid word counts and in short amounts of time.

Newspaper reporters learn to work with others. They work with editors and copy desks, and don't forget the importance of sources. Newspaper reporters learn to ask questions and notice details. Well, at least good ones do. These questions and details can be just as important in a novel as on newsprint. And a good reporter recognizes a good source from a bad one. This ability to weed information can build credibility in fiction, too.

Newspaper reporters respect deadlines, accept input and don't have quite as much emotion attached to to their words. Newspaper reporters can't cry over lost sentences.

And newspaper reporters can craft a decent sentence. A good reporter will have solid grammar and recognize a sentence smothered by purple prose.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Working toward the end

I have three more chapters to revise of Courting Apparitions. And probably adding a prologue.

It was hard to get that far. During this past weekend, I wanted it over.

I've reached some of those points where things still aren't right. My critique group is pointing out flaws that my heart has known for a while... Donald Maass and his wife Lisa have given me ideas of how to strengthen the whole thing... And this means a fourth draft.

These are changes that may impact the ending.

So, why go on? Why not start over?


Because I believe in finishing. I believe in seeing it through to the end if only to prove that I can. Many can't. I want to see if the characters have any last surprises before I retreat to the beginning and impose my will upon them again.

This book has always been my problem child, but now it has merit. Someone had asked me at the conference if I planned on released book two to the world before book one, a tribute to Star Wars, and I had never pondered that. I could.

If I pitched book two to agents, and followed with book three, those books have more excitement and danger than book one. And book one explains why these characters went to so much trouble for each other in more depth. It certainly makes me wonder...

Friday, April 8, 2011


Donald Maass listed action scenes and sex scenes as scenes people skim. Part of this has to do with tension, and heightening the tension and pacing it. Part of it has to do with the expected nature of what unfolds.

I have a process for sex scenes. I write them, and about half way through I decide it stinks and I don't want to go on and I force myself to finish. Next, I read it and cut about 3/4 of the action out. Then I read it again and put other action and some thoughts back in. And usually a finally round of edits for ease of reading language.

But action. UGH.

Those are big battle scenes that we can't model quite so accurately off our real lives. I have sex, but I don't often slay villains or sacrifice young girls to pagan gods.

It's part imagination, part physics, and part creative editing so you don't provide every detail but enough to keep the reader informed and interested.

And lots of danger. I'm working on a big scene right now and there will be more on this when I finally get it right... because right now... it's not

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My class starts in 14 minutes...

My class starts in 14 minutes and I happen to have the laptop, so I'm starting a blog entry. Will I have something earth-shattering to say that will inspire the world? Probably not. But... I made a claim that I would have a renewed commitment to blogging and this is merely an attempt to keep my word.

But this isn't about promises made to any readers I have, but promises made to myself. If I don't make an effort who am I really failing? You? Or myself? As a writer, who do I need to please?

And there lies the point. I know I can achieve what I set out to do, but sometimes in order to do that I need to strip away the eloquence, the excuses and the desire for a big block of uninterrupted time and SIT DOWN TO BUSINESS.

There's my thought for the day.

Have you sat down to business or have you merely made excuses?

Friday, April 1, 2011


I'm making a renewed commitment to blogging. It's not easy with no internet access at home, but here is my pledge and my meager attempts.

At the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group The Write Stuff conference, several fellow writers and I had what could be termed as a brief conversation about process.

How do you write or edit when you haven't any time?

I've heard the stories of writing on napkins at traffic lights, and that it one legitimate (though unorganized) way. I propose three mindsets that can help take those random fifteen minute writing spots and turn them productive...

1. Have a hard copy of your manuscript. It's "old-fashioned" but it can help conquer some of the fractured mindset. This won't help with the writing process but it could jump-start your editing. If you're excited about edits but don't have a large block of time OR have large edits, I recommend the printed manuscript as a first step. Here's why: Before doing any big edits, you need to read the entire manuscript to make sure what you think is already there IS already there. And I don't care what anyone says. A manuscript reads differently in print than on screen. Not better, not worse, just differently.

If you make hand-edits, you can do them in bits and pieces because every time to open that manuscript your scribbles will make it obviously where you left off and what you were thinking. When we delete and add words on the computer, we don't have the benefit of always seeing the starting point. There's no delete on the page. Merely editing symbols.

When you have a big block of time, then you can go back and make all the changes you did by hand. And you will argue with yourself, just like you argue with critique partners, about which changes are warranted. In the end, this will have a strong impact on your edits.

2. Write in your head. Those of us who have worked (or are working) menial jobs have mastered the art of perfecting sentences or paragraphs in your head. Yes, a few words might be the only gain you make this way, but if you fill some of those down moments in the grocery line with playing with a sentence or two, you may find that the environment spurs unusual word choice or comparison. It's a good exercise in memory, especially if you can't write anything down. The best part is you have a starting point when you can sit down and write.

3. Have a plan. If you only have 15 minutes, don't waste too much time reading the last few paragraphs. Hopefully you have some "head-writing" to get you started and write a sentence or two. When you burn out the initial energy of what you had in your thoughts, pause, daydream and write your next immediate thought. This becomes the basis of your next bout of "head-writing" as you debate with yourself whether or not you like it...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Post-conference GLVWG column

Welcome to the Middle

The close of March cleaves a sharp division in GLVWG, those who attended the conference and those who did not. If you’re following the messages on our general membership message board, you’ve read the kudos and inside jokes (“Jon, put that microphone down!”) and the reactions to tips from our presenters and our keynote, Donald Maass.
If you did not attend, you might feel a tad left out right now. If you did attend, you’re probably still super-motivated. If you volunteered at the conference, you might still be tired and suffering from caffeine withdrawal. (And with that, let me thank everyone who served. Tammy Burke and her troops did a fantastic job and from what I saw the board was also very willing to help in any capacity they could.)
I realized something at the conference after Lisa Rector-Maass’ workshop on “middles” and with some augmentation from Donald Maass’ presentations.
We have reached our middles. Not our manuscripts or our characters, but us. We have hopes, dreams, goals, and conflicts. No matter where we’ve come from, what we’ve achieved or what we really hope to do, we haven’t reached our final scene. We all have more to come. We all want more.
According to our presenters, the middle of our manuscripts can always have more. Our middles should have more, too. Not the kind of middle that requires a trip to the gym. Not the kind of middle riddled with strife and catastrophe, although some people certainly have that. Like our protagonists, we must face our middles with more effort, a never-give-up attitude and a new plan in the midst of mounting challenges.
My protagonist would never disappoint his friends or family. I need to give him that same advantage, not to give up on him and his story. By the time I see everyone in April, I think those who attended the conference will have tons of new pages and edits. Those people will be exhausted and smiling.
For those who did not attend, look at the middle of your manuscript. Do the characters experience tension on every page? Do even the secondary characters have small plot lines that weave them into the story? Do you take your characters to places of great loss or joy? You can’t take the comfortable road of storytelling. Not in the current marketplace.
Happy writing and may your revisions be fruitful.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Look at that title.


I didn't have any. Now all I want is to rearrange my entire life to renew my commitment to my writing.

I'm typing this on my iPhone. So, don't expect a long entry but do you want to know what made the difference? Not what, but who...

Donald Maass.

He spoke this weekend at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group's Write Stuff conference and gave an intense two-day workshop. He is dynamic. I was blown away!

And I got a request from another prestigious agency for a full manuscript which I submitted whilE still in the hotel.

More later.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Asking what could happen

I revised a chapter yesterday, and I'm really happy with the results. Twisted things around from the early drafts. I thought I knew exactly where the next chapter would go. Since I was on a hot streak, I went at it.

I hated the result within 1,000 words.

I need a better transition between the last chapter's action and POV character and the next chapter's shift in POV & theme. So, I keep asking myself: "What would this POV character do next? What would happen?"

Now, I'm a big believer in writing it out and seeing where it goes, but I've made no progress that I like.

I realized tonight that I need to list all the things that could happen, even if only a remote possibilty, and select an option from there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The need for an editor

Writers must be readers. This is what teaches us voice and proficiency of language. It also helps with those grammar skills, especially if you chose something that challenges you. You have to read things that are a tad laborious, but nonetheless rewarding. These are the same skills we use in learning a foreign language. And, more often than not, it does not fix our problems but it does make us more aware of them. Sometimes, it's enough to trigger a little voice that says, "this is not right."

That's why we cannot rely on computer spell check and even worse, computer grammar check. I recently completed the first half of a client manuscript where my very talented client knows that she is a very abysmal speller. She also knows she cannot trust spell check.

Her fantasy manuscript is riddled with errors like being executed a "trader" for dealing in "fowl" magic. Yep, can't barter for chickens in this universe.

And today, "he is quiet cleaver, though none here knows how cleaver."

Ah, the work of an editor...

Monday, January 17, 2011

The right place

I haven't had much to say in this blog lately because I've been thinking. I can't even say I haven't been writing, although I did take December off. Since that time, I've only written a chapter in my w-i-p. Yet, the entire time I entered this slow spell, my behavior was deliberate.

I wrote a poem summarizing about 500 years of world history for my history final. (Got a 98!) 

I wrote an extensive paper for my social research methods class titled, "Seducing the Masses: How Haute Couture sells Prestige for Fashion Houses." (Have no idea what the prof thought, other than the fact that my ideas were "highly original" and my final grade in the class was an A- and my exams in the B range.)

I have written some scenes out of order relating to my current fiction universe.

I have edited about 125 pages of a client's fantasy manuscript.

And, since I was not writing my w-i-p, I used the time to read (on paper) and edit (with a pen) the first 280 pages of that late stage draft. I'm so close to the end, but have worked on this project for so long, I wasn't sure how smoothly I had worked all those odds and ends toward resolution.

Certainly productive.

Plus, I read. Always good.

Now, the new semester starts in exactly one week and one hour. This leads to soul searching and plotting. I watch the dialogue between writer colleagues and it makes me ponder. For one, a friend of mine who's learning to fence (and using the experience to write better battle scenes) reminded another friend that you have to "want it" and "go get it." One of her friends reminded her that you also have to be in a ready mindset, because doubts will pull you down.

Am I ready? Are you ready?

Another colleague wrote another brilliant blog entry today about how publishing success relates to luck. There's humor and truth in what he's saying. If you want to read it, look for Jon Gibb's blog on live journal "An Englishman in New Jersey." 

For any success, in anything, there's a good deal of "being in the right time at the right place." As strangely lucky as these things may seem, you have to get to a place where you might be closer to the "right place." As for the right time, all you have is now. There's no other time. Unless you're some sort of physics phenom who can build a time machine.

So, where are you going? What are you doing to try and find that right place? Chances are, it's not inside your house. It's not on facebook. What haphazard stumbles we make through life create our luck, and maybe the right place.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January GLVWG newsletter column

There's no way to write a column in January and avoid the clichés of the new year. Yes, I said, "new year," lowercase. I'm not talking about a holiday or festivities because let's face facts. Does anyone keep resolutions? Does anyone put more than a day's thought into what's possible, what's practical and what's not? 
I stumbled about some superstitions that amused me briefly. Apparently it's good luck to wear red underwear in Turkey, Spain and some other countries during New Year's celebrations. The reason we like to make noise and stay up late is traced to the belief that a hearty ruckus will chase evil spirits from our lives and give us a clean start.
And those resolutions... I won't be losing weight or heading to the gym or eating vegan any time soon. I won't be writing every day, nor will I set word count goals like 1,000 words a sitting. Chances are I won't even manage to set my pen to my journal once a day. 
Let me propose a new kind of goal setting for writers that doesn't revolve around time limits or statistics. You know what you are capable of already, and you already know if you'll make or break your resolution. So, let's try something a little less clear-cut, something harder to define in terms of success or failure.
This group provides tremendous opportunities for networking and support, but with that comes the unavoidable comparisons. Some people can write everyday, for hours (I used to, and my average writing session would go 5,000 words). Some can't. We all should. I don't deny that. Someone else might be published, and you're not. Well, an unpublished author doesn't have to worry about marketing like the author with a new book. This are some of the reasons why even at GLVWG, we're not equal peers.
My proposal is to avoid comparing yourself to the successes and to the goals of others in this group. Instead, aim to work more like your favorite author. Do you know the work habits of that person? Can you find out? Do they write longhand or on a computer? Do they have a day job? They once did, I'm sure. How do they balance the demands of life and literary art? What inspires them?
Maybe, just maybe, by researching the habits of someone who's work we admire, whose work we'd love to emulate, we could approach our work with a new freshness and sense of purpose. The motivation would come from our own attraction to words, and those individual tastes that appeal to each of us.
I adore Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. There's a diversity in his writing that I hope one day to achieve. He wrote letters, detailed accounts of what was happening in France not just his personal comings and goings. He wrote accounts of his flights across the world in the early days of aviation. He wrote the classic children's story, "the Little Prince." 
I don't know when or how he wrote, but I know the themes that emerge again and again: responsibility, country, what's right, and how we view the world (especially as we grow older). I know many of the details in his life that made these themes important to him, or at least, I think I know. 
Now that I reflect, I realize that coming from a family of nobility gave him this sense of responsibility toward his wife and his country. This responsibility would restrict his behavior, but in the end he did what he felt was right, what needed to be done, not what would please him. Or so I think. 
As creative people with families and jobs, don't we make the same sacrifice to our responsibilities? Perhaps Saint-Ex can help me balance the responsibilities I have created for myself.
I'll also heed the warnings of Saint-Ex and let my six-and-a-half year old guide me more. Her instructions for today were quite clear. She told me to do no more than five chores. Then, she listed them: tap dance, edit the manuscript I have from a client, write a column for the GLVWG newsletter and cook dinner. Don't count them. It's only four. That's the brilliance of her plan. 
Yes, Saint-Ex may inspire me to a very good year. Maybe I should learn to fly a plane...