Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Resolutions!

I love New Year's Resolutions! So of course I'm going to bore you with mine. First, though, I hear a lot of people saying that they don't set them, because they end up getting depressed.

I've been leafing through This Year I Will ... at Borders, and I stumbled across this wonderful bit, which I'll paraphrase:

When we make goals for the New Year, we tend to forget about them (of course, they're not habits yet) and then we look back and say, "Darnit, me! I failed!"

But it's not like that. Evidently, there are three steps in making a new habit stick.

The first step is noticing that you forgot to do the new habit. This step is where we often get down on ourselves and give up. We think that because we didn't even remember the new habit, we surely can't manage to succeed at the new habit. The good news is that this step is crucial to the process, and is actually one step forward. It's progress! It's the first step on the road to making a new habit. We should actually congratulate ourselves when we realize that we forgot a habit! The realization itself is progress!

The second step is remembering the new habit, right before we end up choosing the old habit anyway. Even though we're still not doing the new habit, we at least are thinking of it before we choose the wrong habit. That's better than afterwards, isn't it? Again, we shouldn't get discouraged. It's one more step towards success!

The third step, of course, is when we remember the new habit before we choose the old habit, and then we stop ourselves in time, and choose the new habit. Success!

Another great tip from the book was that there never is a great time to start, except today. There will always be something in the way of our resolution. Sure, New Year's feels like a great time to start, and it's fun, but we should make every day the day we start.

Even after we fall off the wagon.

So I'm temporarily declaring every Monday New Year's Day, until I make all my New Year's resolutions a habit.

That's the other thing I learned from This Year I Will ...: You can't tackle a whole big long list of changes at once. It's too much! So even though I'm posting too many resolutions at once, there are probably some that I may not start to attempt until June.

My New Year's Resolution is to have 1 more number than I had the week before, on my Resolution List. How's that sound? So here's the list:

  • 1.) Practice Yoga 6 times a week: 1 time last week! 1 time more than the week before!
  • 2.) Lift Weights 3 times a week: 0
  • 3.) Practice Forms 5 times a week: 0
  • 4.) Remove dairy, wheat, sugar, and meat from diet: No wheat! 1 item down!
  • 5.) Have sit-down dinners with DH: 2 times! May I say how special these were?
  • 6.) Write 10,500 words a week (4 novels next year): 6,000 - 7,000 words.
  • 7.) Read at least 52 books next year: 1.6 last week.
  • 8.) FlyLady the house: Started shining the bathroom sink this week.
  • 9.) My mantra for the year: Everything gets done in baby steps. Just one more teensy-tiny step!

Disclaimer: The Resolution list may be added to, altered, adjusted, or deleted at any time. ;)

Read more...

Saturday, December 30, 2006

True Crime vs. Fiction

Last night, DH and I were watching NUMB3RS. I was fine with the charred body and the blowing up and even the horrible man that ... well, I don't want to even put the word in my blog, it horrifies me so much. BUT, the show was fiction, so I didn't have to fight a desire to run to the bathroom and throw up.

Then, in the middle of the show, a special report on Saddam Hussein kicked in. We had it taped on the DVR, so imagine me, in bed, pulling the covers over my head, putting my hands to my ears and screeching, "Fast forward it! Fast forward it! I don't want to hear that stuff! I'm in bed! Fast forward it!"

DH says, "But listen! This is important history in the making. I thought you were researching this stuff, anyway!"

I turned into a five year old, thumbs in ears, feet up to force the covers to block the vision of the TV. "I can't hear it I can't hear it I can't hear it I can't hear it--"

He hit the fast forward button, and I was fine. The image of a dead, charred body came back and I was fine: it was fiction.

Why do I bring this up? The other day, Allison Brennan said on her blog that the gals at Murder She Writes were going to try to bring in more readers (rather than writer-readers) on their blog. (Worth a look-see, if you haven't already!) In that vein, she mentioned they wanted to add in some posts about true crime.

Yikes! But that's when it dawned on me. A lot of the readers of thrillers/mysteries and thriller/mystery writing blogs are fans of true crime. I've seen it, but it wasn't until Allison mentioned it, that it connected for me.

That made me think, oh no! I hate true crime. I'm a big wimp and it makes me nauseous. It terrifies me and makes me uncomfortable and reading about it makes me feel like I'm watching something I shouldn't be watching.

Underneath this realization is a little fear asking me (as I commit myself to writing a novel next, little fears seem to be abounding all over the place) how I can write a novel with death and violence in it, if I can't even stomach the news of Saddam Hussein's death?

Gosh, please don't think I wanted him to live. I just hate the thought of him being killed, and something about people dancing just made me a little sick. Dancing! I know that throughout history, people cheered at hangings and burnings at the stake. There is something in that, something that I must suspect is in all human nature and probably even a little bit in me, that horrifies me.

And that same, horrified part of me can't read about true crime, even when I can read and rave over Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

Weird, huh?

I sense that this is connected to a fear I have. I'm more afraid of hurting someone else than I am of being hurt myself. Truly, if I were on the street, attacked, and in a life or death situation, I know that this silly fear could cost me my life. Where does that come from? Why is that? Funny enough, if someone tried to hurt someone I love, then I know I would turn into a mother lion. But until then ...

Maybe what scares me most is that we all have this inner switch. That there's something in humans that will make us cheer at a hanging, or that will make us kill another of our kind. Just writing about it makes me feel nauseous. Since I explore all feelings I don't understand in my writing, I can bet the very thing that makes me nauseous will show up in my novel. Huh.

Read more...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Whew, boy! Happy Holidays!

Today we had holiday dinner. We had the flu over Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, and the turkey won't last as long as New Year's, so we had our holiday day today. Whew. Turkey, green beans and corn, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, cranberry chutney, candied sweet potatoes and rolls. Oh! And homemade pumpkin pie. (I fry the pumpkin in butter before mixing it and baking it ... makes all the difference in the world!)

DH set up a table, and ... get this ... we got to eat dinner at six o'clock! A real, sit-down dinner at six o'clock! Home-cooked and everything!

This is strange to us, because I usually work until ten. We could have a sit-down lunch, but ... it just doesn't work. I realized that it's been a full YEAR since we sat down together and ate dinner. Isn't that sad?

Anyway, two days of cooking, and I'm stuffed within the first twenty minutes. I managed to eat a whole plate, but wow! I don't think I've been this stuffed in ages!

Well, happy holidays, all! There's tons to do between now and when day job starts up again, which is a good thing. I'm not good at the leisurely life thing.

Read more...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Books! Books, books, and more books!

One wonderful person gave me a $10.00 gift certificate to a local bookstore. I love this store: it still has that dusty, musty, old bookstore smell, and the wooden floors creak as you wander through the narrow aisles. It has nooks and crannies. Books are stuffed everywhere, just chaotic enough to make it feel charmed, like somewhere in the stacks could be found a hidden, magical book.

Anyway, as I was wandering through the store today, I got depressed. Depressed! Even bummed and sad. There are more books that I'm dying to read than I could read in a lifetime.

But this is my organizing time of the year, and I've compiled a partial list of all the books I want to read in 2007. I still need a few more. I'm hoping to read two books a week, but it might be one book a week. We'll have to see.

So I'm curious. What novel has taught you the most about the craft? Please leave a comment, so I can add it to my list. I'm looking for novels that I can learn from and dissect and study.

I've read practically every writing book in the writing section of Borders and Barnes and Nobles, so that leaves learning from novels themselves. I'm starting to think that's a better way to learn. Did I mention enough times how much I love Francine Prose's Reading Like A Writer? By far, one of the best writing books I've ever picked up. It's not in the writing section; it's in the literary criticism section, usually squirrelled away in some corner.

The second thing that depressed me, is besides there being more books I want to read than I can read in a lifetime, is that there are more authors than I can read in a lifetime that are probably better writers than me. Maybe Bernita's post The Great American Novel or JA Konrath's post How Good Am I? brought it out in me, or maybe it's the fact that I'm living the day slow because I'm on vacation and down time isn't good for me, or maybe it's just the truth.

The only thing left, I suppose, is to write something no one has written yet. Somedays, that feels hard. I'm preparing to write my novel; I have two projects to finish first. I'm not sure whether I should write #1 or #2. Number one is one I'm having to work hard to make original. I think it's semi-original, because I haven't read one like it and want to, but ... I'm not convinced it's not already out there, undiscovered by me. Number two is--what's that called?--high concept. Or, rather, medium concept. It's all idea and not much plot, yet.

Writing without the pressure for money and without a deadline is hard for me. I gotta admit, I'm scared. Affirmations, affirmations, affirmations ...

Read more...

Learning from the Masters: Neil Gaiman, Part II

In college, I hung out with a bunch of guys after we all got done practicing. At nine, ten o'clock, we'd all sit around, drink, and listen to recordings. (Or "listen to recordings.") Just a way to relax after an intense day of working.

Anyway, there was a friend of a guy in our group, who would come up now and then. Whenever he did, he'd end up standing in the middle of the room, recounting stories from his past. He was a natural storyteller; even if you'd heard him tell the story ten thousand times, you still eagerly looked forward to the story, because you knew that no matter what, you were going to laugh your ass off.

In fact, even when he'd say the first sentence of his story, a benign, short first sentence that hardly had any meaning at all, you'd start chuckling. You couldn't help it. You just knew that this was going to be good.

Neil Gaiman is like that.

In the first three chapters, there's hook after hook after hook. Layers and layers of them, hooking short, hooking long, and they surface all over the place. When you're reading it, you know that you're in the hands of a master storyteller, and you just can't help but love every moment of it. It's just thoroughly entertaining.

So when he starts Chapter Four with this short, boring sentence, it's not at all boring, and it's so loaded and full of promises, that you immediately grin and want to rub your hands together with glee. You just know that this is going to be good. The sentence is so understated that it's hilarious:

"Fat Charlie woke up."
See? All by itself it's nothing, even cliche. But in the context of his writing, it's like when my friend from college would take his position in the middle of the room, and start recounting his stories.

He does this again in Chapter Five, when he begins with "Fat Charlie was thirsty." But this time he builds on it in a way that's almost like poetry. He starts short, builds on it, and builds on it even more as if revving up an engine before screeching down the street at top speed.

"Fat Charlie was thirsty.

Fat Charlie was thirsty and his head hurt.

Fat Charlie was thirsty and his head hurt and his mouth tasted evil and his eyes were too tight in his head and all his teeth twinged and his stomach burned and his back was aching in a way that started around his knees and went up to his forehead and his brains had been removed and replaced with cotton balls and needles and pins which was why it hurt to try and think, and his eyes were not just too tight in his head but they must have rolled out in the night and been reattached with roofing nails; and now he noticed that anything louder than the gentle Brownian motion of air molecules drifting slowly past each other was above his pain threshold. Also, he wished he were dead."

Hah! Now see, that makes me grin. First, the long sentence almost mimics the overwhelming feeling of pain one feels when hungover. There's no place to take a breath until halfway through, just like there's no relief from the pain and discomfort the morning after. The comma and the semi-colon are almost like the gasps of air one takes in when it hurts to breathe or move.

And then, after the world's longest sentence (okay, not quite), he ends with one of his short sentences. "Also, he wished he were dead." I don't know why that strikes me as funny. It's a cliche, but instead of starting with the cliche, he starts with this rambling, long description that colors the feeling of the morning after perfectly. At the end, he just adds, "Also," which in itself is funny. Also? What also? Also implies two, and after all that description, "Also," is so understated that it's funny.

He adds, "he wished he were dead," which is what a whole lot of writers would have started with, but now it carries more power and weight, because of all that had come before.

In the middle of Chapter Six, Gaiman starts another section with one of his short sentences.

"Spider felt odd."

Again, as a reader, you get that gleeful feeling, like you just know something big is going to happen. "Odd" sounds like "just a little bit off," and the understated nature of the word, in Gaiman's hands, is loaded with promises of big things to come. He goes on, of course, to describe the odd feeling perfectly.

The short, understated but loaded sentence is often found in folk tales and old stories. This is the only book I've read by Neil Gaiman, so I can't say whether this is his style, or whether he is using them to give a myth-feeling to a book that deals with little gods and such. It's something to experiment with, though. Something to add to the tool chest.

Read more...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Year in Review

Warning: This is going to be like a real diary post, with all the icky-squicky inner rambling and self-centered analysis.

So I read somewhere (can't remember where, sorry!), that one should take stock of last year's accomplishments, achievements, setbacks, and failures before setting one's New Year's resolutions.

Writing:
I wrote (and sold!) over 200,000 words in the last 5 months. In the 7 months before that, I wrote about 10,000 and didn't sell any. Well, my publisher was ending their business, and so I decided to write a "real" novel, and I had a read a whole new genre and research a TON. Okay, that's still not a great explanation, but I think I made up for it after halftime. I hope?

In all those words, I made one stupid mistake that the editors didn't catch. (I forgot to delete two sentences of third person in a story I had switched to first person.)

I didn't make a go at my NY-published dream, but at least I improved my skills and paid the rent.

Otherwise, I can feel really good about the fact that I kept pushing myself to dig deeper, and I think that my writing has improved with every story and novella. I hope, at least. I can feel proud that I gave every word my best.

Reading:
In the first seven months, I read and researched a TON. I acquainted myself with a whole new genre! I even fell in love with it. In the last five months, I've at least read twenty books, but in the last two months, I've finished ... one? I've still been reading ... just not finishing.

In the last 5 months, I did start reading smarter, thanks to Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer.

Mental:
The foot thing turned me into a cranky, angry person. I don't like that. I let my anger at the the doctors and their expensive bullshit consume me, and my frustration at the pain, too. I wish I could've been one of those people who are nice and turn even sweeter when faced with adversity. I wasn't.

Social:
I joined RWA, and went to my first writing conference! I met a ton of great people online and in person, and I discovered the blogosphere! I learned a bunch from everyone out there, and I started my own, even posting 100 posts so far.

I lost one friend, for I have no idea what reason. That's okay, she wasn't a close friend, and it may eventually be fine. Like I said, it was a complete mystery. I probably stuck my foot in my mouth, or something.

Physical:
The foot. Enough said. Okay, I'll talk anyway. The first seven months, I worked out 6 - 8 times a week. The last five ... I haven't done so well. The foot. When I stopped working out, I stopped having patience, and I stopped eating well. *sigh* I gotta work on that.

Day Job:
I've managed to take a step back. This is a good thing, because I'm far too much of a perfectionist. The students seem happier without me pushing them so much, and I haven't doubled my white to regular hair color ratio. The students are even improving.

Overall:
In the end, I'm proudest of the 200,000 words. I'm about to start my very first full-length novel (although I did split an 80,000 word novel into two 40,000 word novellas, so I guess it's not my first, technically). I'm staring at it, wondering how in the world I'm going to get from 1 to 100,000.

The only thing I'd repeat about this year is the 200,000 words in 5 months. The rest leaves room for improvement. Here's to a better year, next year! That 7 in 2007 is lucky, right? It's gonna be our lucky year!

How was your 2006?

Read more...

TBR for 2007

Short Story Collections:

Read more...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I've been tagged!

Kate Sterling has tagged me to fill out the 'Fours.'

Four jobs I've had:

  • 1.) Pizza Maker
  • 2.) Choir Director
  • 3.) Pianist
  • 4.) Writer

Four favorite foods:

  • 1.) Dark Chocolate
  • 2.) Milk Chocolate
  • 3.) Chocolate Fondue
  • 4.) Miso Soup

Four movies I can watch over and over:

  • 1.) Chocolat (Are we sensing a theme yet?)
  • 2.) Shakespeare in Love
  • 3.) The Santa Clause
  • 4.) Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love

TV Shows I enjoy:

  • 1.) Alias
  • 2.) The Unit
  • 3.) NCIS
  • 4.) Gilmore Girls

Four places I've traveled:

  • 1.) Berlin
  • 2.) Las Vegas
  • 3.) Mammoth Cave
  • 4.) Washington D.C.

Four websites I visit daily:

So who's next? Starving Write Now? Anyone else wanna join in on the fun?

Read more...

Shifting Down into First Gear

So it took me a whole day to wind down from 100 mph, a day in which I paced, read blogs, kept walking to the window, and whining to DH about having nothing to do. Christmas Eve was spent with family--a good year, this year, and Christmas Day was SO relaxing. We slept in, woke up, ate, cleaned a little, watched two movies, and then came home and went to bed.

Today, I woke up and worked for a little bit, and spent an hour in bed reading--then dozed off--and then woke up and tried to return a phone call--dozed off--and then read some more.

But, um, I'm supposed to be working today.

It's like my body and mind noticed yesterday, and said, "Hey! This is THE life. What the hell are you doing running us into the ground every day? You think you're going to push us like that again, now that we know it's possible to live life in first gear???"

And my goals are tapping their foot, saying, "Ya' gotta hurry. Only so much time in a lifetime, and so much to accomplish."

Speaking of which, I gotta get working on my goals, while finishing up last year's goals!

Psssst ... that's my little baby up there ... isn't she the cutest????

Read more...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Okay, this is insane ...

I'm bored.

I'm supposed to be relaxing, and enjoying the holidays. I have time off, so I should be cleaning. I should be wrapping presents. I should be finishing Christmas cards. I should be reading.

Ohmigod, I just can't take this. My normal schedule goes like this: Wake up, get semi-presentable, write, eat, go to work, blog on breaks, and then I eat, practice and go to bed. I try to read as long as I can in bed.

True, I have no life.

But now I've got time off. I haven't the slightest clue what to do. Maybe I should go write, but I've been cranking it out so hard I worked myself up into a mini-breakdown. (Okay, mini-breakdown for me means getting depressed for approximately 20 hours.)

So what the hell am I supposed to do? I feel like I shouldn't work while I'm relaxing, and I feel like shouldn't relax when there's work to be done. But if I wait for work to be done, then I'll have a fifty-year long wait. There's always something to be done when you're self-employed.

Oh, f-ck it. I don't know what else to do. I'm gonna go write.

Do you ever feel like this? Sheesh! I feel like a whiny little kid!

Read more...

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays, everyone! I'm so thankful for y'all, and your blogs. Blog-reading is the most fun part of my down-time.

So what are your New Year's Resolutions? I always feel like I forget something important. Sometimes it feels like there's a special sort of magic around this time of year, and I need to wish on everything I want, or else I'll miss the magic.

I've been really lucky lately. I feel like everything is on track, and I just have to keep doing the right thing, giving my very best, and everything will stay on track. I don't know. I almost feel like I'm on a roller coaster (a fun one), and I just want to laugh and yell "Faster! Faster! Faster!" with my arms way up in the air.

My mantra right now, in writing, is "Dig deeper." I want to explore hard choices--those choices we make that have no good outcome, but make us who we are. Choices that are gripping and human and illuminate our character, whether good or bad. Speaking of which, I'm off to do just that!

Read more...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Importance of Writing Shit

I'm half asleep, and after a day of writing my fingers off, I have no idea why I have the compulsion to blog. Maybe because I imagine that I'm kicking back and talking with friends. Or some have pointed out that those of us in professions where we sit and don't talk have a tendency to chatter inanely once they get an audience.

Anyway, some people get writer's block. Some days, I choose not to believe in it. Other days, I growl at it and snarl at it until it goes away. Whatever causes it, I've managed to keep it at bay.

Everybody has to find their own way, but here's how I do it:

1) An object in motion stays in motion: I keep typing, no matter what. If I can't write a page, then I write a paragraph. If I can't write a paragraph, I write sentences. If that doesn't work, then I start writing words that I know I'm going to use, but not in sentence form. There are days when I literally have to shove the writing out, one damn letter by one damn letter.

2) I use fear. I have an unhealthy and irrational fear of going broke. I don't know why, and I don't know where it came from. But I use it to get my fingers typing as fast as I can. Amazing what you can get done when you fear something greater than the thing you're resisting.

3) I skeleton. Sometimes I can see what's happening, but my brain is just not gonna write in sentences, no matter how hard I try. And I can forget about flowing, beautiful sentences. I watch in my head, and take notes. Then I go back, add a detail or two, here or there. I keep going through it, until I (Eureka!) manage a whole sentence here or there. And then I go through again, and start to manage paragraphs! It just keeps ballooning!

4) I never succumb. I type. I embrace the knowledge that I'm typing shit. You know what? The next morning, it's not only EASY to clean up the shit, it's FUN! I can play with what I've written, re-arrange it, and dress it up!

I just can't sit around and wait for inspiration, because it's too fickle for my pocketbook. How do you guys keep writer's block away?

Read more...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

ROFL ... one way NOT to start a novel ...

Hah! Who said that? Edison? That he hadn't failed, but that he'd found a hundred ways NOT to make electricity? Something like that ...

Well, I was just going through my idea file, trying to get the sparks flying between the two hemispheres of my brain, and I discovered a story idea that contained only an opening sentence. I remember writing it, and having one of those gushy-inspired moments. You know, the kind that feel like you're all artistic? They show up at night, and you usually have to throw away most of it in the daylight. Anyway, can you make sense of this? I can't!

One knew the other, but the other knew nothing of the one. In fact, no one knew nothing of the one--except, that is, for the one.

WTF???? Yes, I clearly remember thinking that I had stumbled upon a brilliant idea for a spy novel.

Oh. My. God.

DELETE!!!

Read more...

Writing Away ...

Okay, I managed to pop by some of my favorite blogs, but otherwise, I'm way behind. I think I'm on 40 of the Crapometer. I keep popping by Mark Terry's blog, because that Haiku thing is just so much fun!

I see some friends who pop by here, totally kick ass at writing haiku! You guys are awesome. Just totally awesome.

Evidently, I don't have time to blog when I'm off work. When I'm not working, I don't stay home at all, LOL. No, really, I just have a ton to write this week. Make that a couple tons.

Speaking of which ...

(I'll be back, I promise!)

Read more...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Haiku Fun!

Another quickie this morning; I'll post more tonight. Mark Terry, over at his blog, is having a haiku contest. He says:

You know haiku, right? 3 lines, 5, 7, 5 syllables. Write a haiku about writing, post it here, and I'll select a random winner on December 21st sometime after noon EST to receive a signed copy of either THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK or DIRTY DEEDS.

It's fun! I love playing with words, and although I'm no good at poetry, it does make me a better writer. I've taken to reading it every day, courtesy of Miss Snark's suggestion and via Daily Lit in my email, and now and then I write it. Not often enough.

Stop by! I'd love to see a bunch of haikus from you guys at his site! That'd be more of a reward than winning the contest, that's for sure!

Read more...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

You!! Me!!! We're 2006 Person of the Year!!!!

Wow, get a load of that. We're Time's 2006 Person of the Year. Back when I was an idealist (insert big, shit-eating grin here, because I'm an idealist through and through, no matter how frustrated or helpless I may feel at any given point), I used to read a ton of science fiction. This article has more idea seeds than any I've read in a long time.

Oh! Why, you say, did we get picked?

We also worked. Like crazy. We made Facebook profiles and Second Life avatars and reviewed books at Amazon and recorded podcasts. We blogged about our candidates losing and wrote songs about getting dumped. We camcordered bombing runs and built open-source software.

And then, the article goes on to give us some real gems. I wonder what the web will do to our world, over the years? We connect so much online, across countries and land and cities. When will physical location become a moot point? Will countries fight for 'web land'? What if the internet becomes our primary land, and then it crashes?

It's hard to believe that a whole big percentage of the country is still not online. We have a long way to go before the above scenarios could even possibly go. What really perked my interest, though, was this:

2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you're not just a little bit curious.

What I wonder, is how long it will take, to make our world a better place--politically--by means of the internet. What I fear, is how long it will take, to make our world a worse place, by means of the internet.

The world has changed drastically in the last hundred years. Even in the last ten or twenty years, our life has been altered, little by little, by the internet. I barely noticed things changing, but when I look back ...

Somedays, the biggest reason I want to live to see another day is because I want to see what happens next. Today, I wish I could skim forward a few chapters, and see where this "Web 2.0" is going to take us. Does Utopia have at least as much chance as me winning the lottery on Tuesday?

Read more...

When Critique Groups Won't Work ...

Tess Gerritsen wrote a lovely post about the importance of critique groups, and the importance of finding a good one, if you want to improve.

I agree that, whatever you do, you must get your work out somewhere, and have it read. Somehow, a writer has to make that connection between what he writes and what a reader is reading.

I sat in on a critique group once, and I was vaguely irritated by the whole thing. First off, they brainstormed together, which is wonderful. I know a couple people offered to help me brainstorm, lately, and I'm so stuck that I'm very tempted. (This is two projects ahead, btw. This is why I think a few projects in advance, so getting stuck doesn't mean I have to stop writing!)

I don't object to brainstorming together, and I don't object to exchanging ideas. Lord knows, two heads are better than one. Me? I'm suspect of any idea someone else can come up with. Isn't that silly? It's just that, I think that if someone else came up with it, then it's not original enough. That it's not 'me' enough.

That doesn't stop me from coming up with cliche ideas, I'm sure! It just lets me write under the illusion that it's original. If others helped me, I'm sure that they would come up with better ideas.

I don't write for myself. I write to be read. I make music to connect with an audience, and I write books to connect with my readers. I have no idea why I blog, LOL.

Anyway, my problem, is that I'm a people-pleaser. I got reader mail a few months ago, and I ended up writing a whole story based on a small comment she'd made. Not that she'd know it, but I wrote that story to please her. That's just the way I am.

That's why I could never do critique groups. I would try to please every member, and I would chase after their praise like a puppy running after a bone. Pleasing the critique group members would start to take precedence in my mind, and they would become the readers I envision when I sit down to write. (And for someone who doesn't normally think of their readers, this would be a huge check in the Pro column!)

What makes me such a hypocrite is that I've discovered that I love critiquing other people's writing. But it's good that I don't, because I would end up caring more about other people's work, than my own. I'd work harder for them, than I would myself. I just would.

But critique groups can be awesome! What do you guys think? I was thinking, critique groups are probably vital if:

  • The writer is not getting published, even in the small leagues.
  • The writer knows he/she needs to improve, but doesn't know where.
  • The writer wants company.
  • The writer needs that commitment to help motivate themselves.
  • The writer wants to hear how his work sounds from the readers' perspective.

...what else? How do you feel about it?

I have a pacing group that I would swear by. I love them. We just post to each other, every day, how many words we've written. The rule is that we write 100 a day. That's not a whole lot, but every one of us has taken our productivity to amazing levels. I love them to death; they're amazing.

But the critiquing? In the end, it's got to be me and my butt and my chair and my fingers.

Read more...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

For God's Sake, Break the Damn Binding!

Okay, the following is a rant. Read at your own risk.

Okay. So. It all started a few years ago, when I'd hear mutterings about the horrible readers who would break the bindings of their books. True, who doesn't love a shelf full of books that look brand new?

But what about those books that you want to read again? What about those books that you want to keep and treasure for many years to come?

Here's the thing: Paperback books are bound with glue. The younger the glue is, the more flexible it is. If you break the binding every ten pages or so, you'll have stretched the glue while it's still flexible. Years later, after you've read it a few times, pages won't fall out so easily. You can open and shut the book, and the glue has already been stretched to accommodate handling.

But as that book ages, the glue becomes more brittle. If you read the book and didn't break the binding, guess what happens? You open the book, and bam! The glue cracks and big chunks of pages fall out. It may start with one page, but next thing you know, a chunk of twenty pages has to be gently filed between the cover. A few more years, and you lose a page here, one there, and then you may as well throw the book away.

Meanwhile, the less pretty, bind-broken book that takes its place is still holding together sturdily, ready to endure a few more reads and many more years.

So for god's sake, just break the binding, already.

Read more...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Read, Reviewed in 2007

Learning from the Masters Reviews:

Thursday Thirteen Reviews:

Other Reviews:

Read, Not Reviewed:

  • Nora Roberts: High Noon
  • Nevada Barr: Hard Truth
  • JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • Joseph Finder: Paranoia
  • Joseph Finder: Killer Instinct
  • Joseph Finder: Power Play
  • Blood of Flowers
  • Jerry Spinelli: Eggs
  • Erica Orloff: The Roofer
  • Brett Battles: The Cleaner
  • The Mental Game of Tiger Woods
  • Camelia: Saving Yourself by Telling the Truth
  • Larry Devlin: Chief of Station, Congo
  • Larry J. Kolb: Overworld
  • Natalie M. Roberts: Tutu Deadly
  • Claire Berlinski: Lion Eyes
  • Rachel Butler: Deep Cover
  • They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Alphonsion Deng, Benson Deng, Benjamin Ajak, and Judy A. Bernstein
  • Stephen King: Rose Madder
  • God Grew Tired Of Us: A Memoir by John Bul Dau and Michael Sweeney
  • Attitude: Katharine Davis Fishman
  • Karbo: How to Hepburn
  • Tiger Traits
  • The Secret
  • Janet Evanovich: Lean Mean Thirteen
  • Antonio & Jonna Mendez: Spy Dust
  • Diana Peterfreund: Secret Society Girl
  • Meljean Brook: Demon Angel

Read more...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Quickie, today ...

Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known,
Arouse! for you must justify me.

I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a
casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.

This from the great Walt Whitman, via Daily Lit. That is SO how I feel. I scurry out, try to throw in a few words that will give someone a good read, and then run back, looking around, awed at all those writers and artists that are better than I am.

Art is nothing, but what it is in the eye of the beholder.

The Really Nice Person of the Day is ... shhhhhhh, don't tell anyone. She'd be horrified. It'd ruin her reputation. Miss Snark, for linking to this post about an auction to benefit First Books, and for running the Crapometer tomorrow, to help writers who are trying to improve their queries. For being the queen of Snark, she's awful kind to offer so much help and advice to writers.

Man, you know what? I forgot what I was going to write about today. That probably means I should sign off now, LOL.

Read more...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bad Teacher! Bad Teacher!

So, the day before I discovered the book on Mastery, I was trying to verbalize and explain the process of an artistic endeavor to a student. I was trying to explain how one can never arrive at perfection, but there is joy in striving for it. I was trying to say that he should not be frustrated at never arriving at perfection, but be happy that there is still more to strive for.

After all, how boring would it be, if we "finished" learning music or writing or anything? Why continue to practice 2+2=4? We're perfect at that. No sense in practicing saying 2+2=4 for hours every day. That would be very boring, indeed.

I should preface this by explaining that I am a terrible talker. Words jumble. I make no sense. My students are surprisingly adept at learning from me, and understanding what I mean, not what I say. (It's a mystery.) But there are limits, as you will see.

So here's me, trying to teach this important life lesson.

"In art, you can never get 100%."

He nods.

"How boring would it be, if you could get an A+?"

This 4.0 grade-average student nods, with a little smile on his face, like I'm the craziest teacher he's ever had.

"Because when you get to 100%, you see the second floor, and you have a whole 'nother 100% to go."

He looks up at the ceiling, because I'm pointing to the second floor.

"And when you get to the top of that floor, you'll be on the third floor. And you'll have to climb another set of steps!"

He's looking up at the ceiling with me, and I'm getting on a role, because I think I might be starting to make some sort of point.

I stand up. "And then there's the fifth floor and the sixth floor and it goes on forever! We strive and strive for perfection," I say, excited to convey how fulfilling the day to day striving for excellence is, "and we will never achieve it!" I sit down with a flourish, and look at him expectantly to see if he got my point.

He smiles at me. "So it's useless to try?"

One of these days, I'm going to learn how to teach.

Read more...

More on Learning to be a Writer

First, the Really Nice Person of the Day is Roseanne Dowell, who pointed out

Let's Say Thanks, a website that sends cards to the troops over the holidays. Pop by; it's free, and it's a small way to say thanks for putting their life on their line, whether or not you support the war.

Remember how I raved about Francine Prose's great book, Reading Like A Writer? Well, I was at Barbara Kingsolver's site, and I stumbled across this little bit about what Kingsolver learned from Prose:

I spoke of taking a class from Francine Prose in which I learned "about ten basic rules for writing fiction." Well, I exaggerated. From Francine I remember learning three specific, helpful things that might qualify as rules. They were:

  • 1.) Your first sentence (or paragraph) makes a promise that the rest of the story (or novel) will keep.
  • 2.) Give your reader a reason to turn every page.
  • 3.) Keep a very large trash can beside your desk.

I keep learning and learning from that book, and from Francine Prose. She must be one hell of a teacher. Because of her, I can't stop reading "like a writer" and learning TONS from everything I read. A whole world has opened up to me, and I'm not exaggerating!

Speaking of great teachers, every adult who strives to master an artistic skill should read this little book, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard.

If there's one thing I notice in teaching students from littlehood to adulthood, it's that the older we get, the more we get in our own way. Month by month, we add more obstacles to ourselves, through our insecurities and self-doubts. That's even the most confident of us. If we embrace the spirit of a child, with a child-like trust in both ourselves and our instructors, then we will learn much easier.

Leonard talks about finding the joy in the journey and loving every moment on the plateau of learning. He's an aikido instructor, but his writing applies to all art, even athletics. Very inspiring!

Read more...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mistakes ... and Really Nice People

I love my editor, I love my editor, I love my editor.

My usual editors don't really do much editing. Once in a blue moon, they let me see the copyedits. (You'd be surprised how commas and little fixes here and there can change your WHOLE meaning.) I was appalled to read over one of my latest stories, and evidently, I had sent her a pre-final draft, because I had re-written the whole thing in first. Unfortunately, a single paragraph stubbornly remained in third person. I saw it, and was both horrified and mortified.

Yes, yes, yes, I know. We should turn in a perfect draft. I really try, I swear, I do! I think I do a pretty good job of turning clean copy. And one huge mistake like that isn't horrible, amidst the tons of stories and novellas, so far, is it?

I feel like I let out a big, fat fart in a sexy little dress.

So anyway, I'm just saying that I love my editor. We can never quite catch everything, and it's nice to know that someone's not only got my back, but has an eye for making it better. *sigh* I'm in love. (Okay, not that kind of love!) Still, I'm so grateful that I get to learn something out of this! Not only do I feel thrilled and lucky that I get to do it in the first place, but to be able to learn something, too, it's like having my cake and eating the icing, too!

Okay, on the Really Nice People of the day:

First, MJ Rose is having a cool Santa Baby contest on her blog. She's picking the best Dear Santa letters sent to her, posting them on her blog, and giving $100 to the charity of the winners' choice. Isn't that an awesome idea? I wanna do something like that some day!

Secondly, have you read the latest O Magazine? I'm not a Oprah fanatic, not by a long shot. My respect for her has grown and grown over the years, but I still don't watch the show. I do read the magazine now and then.

Well, do you know what she just did? She opened Oprah's Leadership Academy, and I'm impressed. Here's an article on it, and you can read her view in her December Issue of O Magazine.

Okay, my heroes today are definitely MJ Rose and Oprah. I hope I can do something like that, some day.

I hope!

What other people are doing such nice things that I should notice?

Read more...

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Hodge-Podge, Today

In the scheme of things, it seems like the word, "a" is a pretty non-important word. Evidently, it's more important than I thought.

So I was doing more research on my spy novel, and somehow, I have no idea how, it led me to wonder what the exact quote was when we first stepped on the moon. (So relevant, huh? I love the internet far too much. Whatever random curiosity occurs to me, I go clicking away.)

Anyway, my thought was pretty time-relevant. Evidently, they just did a study on the voice patterns or something, because there's been quite a bit of debate as to whether he said the redundant, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," or the more sensical version, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

The first says that mankind took a small step and a giant leap. Oopsy. The second one says it's a small step for one man, but a giant leap for mankind. That makes sense.

According to Ford, Armstrong spoke, "One small step for a man ... " with the "a" lasting a total of 35 milliseconds, 10 times too quickly to be heard."

The "a" was transmitted, though, and can be verified in an analysis using Canadian sound-editing software called GoldWave, Ford said.

So his "a" was said too quick to be heard, but ... really, what counts is what he meant, right? History gets re-written all the time, and I think this is one case where we can give Armstrong the benefit of the doubt.

Researching my spy novel has been kind of funny, lately. Watching all the news lately has felt more like watching Austin Powers, than reading about Vera Atkins. I read a really funny article that I can't find, that said with quite a bit of horror, that spies were all about uncovering secrets. The journalist wrote this as if it would be a surprise to readers, that spies go out into the world to recruit locals to betray their country. And then he interviewed the CSIS someone, asking if Canada's intelligence officers did such horrible things, and the director evaded and said that they mostly do counter-terrorism work. (Uh, yeah, sure. I believe you. Especially the other part of that "mostly.")

It all struck me as funny. I wish I could find that article again, because it was one big "duh!"

Spying is a funny business. Right now the public seems fascinated with spies, we want spies to save our country, but then we recoil in horror when we discover that spies manipulate, betray, lie, and cheat in order to serve their country. A spy's motto is probably "the ends justify the means." And yet we keep pressing for better intelligence from the CIA, but, uh ... please, let's make the means politically correct.

Read more...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Question on social book catalogers

This is killing me. Have you been to Library Thing? It's a "social book cataloger."

Kinda cool, huh?

Okay, not as interesting as I want. But one day, a few weeks back, I stumbled across a really cool one, that gave you a page that actually looked like a bookshelf, and you could list all your books there.

I'm just trying to find a way to keep track of the books I want to read, and the ones that I've finished. Right now, I'm not so much into sharing. I just want a place where I can keep track of all the books scattered around my house, and the ones in that list in my head of books I want to read.

I can't find that cool site! I googled and googled, entering various words in different combinations, and I couldn't find that silly old site. It had pretty neat graphics, and although it wasn't the best site, it was visually the most interesting.

So anyone seen it? Know where to find it? I found it through linking on someone's blog. I can't even remember what it's called!

Read more...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Konrath's Pimping

I was over at JA Konrath's blog today, and he has a great post about pimping other author's books, when promoting your own.

Coming from the music field, I have to say that there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that comes close to the success of word of mouth. Maybe getting on tv, but I don't know anything about that arena.

See, I think as artists, we are always striving to be better. Part of that striving to be better is really saying, deep down, that there's a part of our craft that we'd like to improve. And if it has room for improvement, it's not perfect.

I always say that art is striving for unattainable perfection.

And so, when I'm selling myself, that little voice in me is always thinking, "But this part isn't so great. This bit could have been better. I could do that a lot better." It brings out all my fears and insecurities and worries.

Because I don't want to misrepresent myself, and if I have just the teensiest little fault, I hate to say, "Buy me, I'm good."

As Tess Gerritsen said, "Pimping for one's friends is a lot easier than pimping for oneself!"

It's so much easier to gush enthusiastically about a friend that you know kick's ass at their craft. It's so much more honest and you don't have to push away your own insecurities.

That's not to say that one SHOULDN'T be able to sell their own stuff. It's just not a skill I'm all that good at.

My point, though, is that I've spent most of my career getting other people gigs, rather than myself. I can think of ONE gig that I got myself, for myself. It just doesn't work that way.

I don't know if it's karma, or what, but you can't go wrong, pimping others. What goes around, comes around, and there is plenty of room for everyone.

Read more...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Finding Your Voice

Lessons I learned from my editor today? (She's a genius, ohmigod. She's SO good!)

No matter how small that niggling voice is, telling you that something isn't working, that voice is correct. It somehow manifests itself obviously and loudly to an editor. Any problems you wrestle with, correct, and are not quite 100% satisfied with, WILL be picked up by the editor. Any change that you make, pre-editor, that seems to be the right thing to do, but doesn't feel right, will be noticed by the editor.

Ohmigosh, she's fabulous. I'm actually excited to work on this essay again!

Okay, new subject: I'm having a crisis.

I'm curious. Your voice? Is it first or third? Do you feel like you've found it? Do you like it?

The other day, at Erica Orloff's blog, she talked about Developing Your Voice. Finding your voice feels great! It's like suddenly all the stopgaps open up, and everything feels so natural and easy. It just fits.

Or so I thought. I haven't been admitting it to myself lately, but my voice has been changing. I keep stepping back in horror, reading it again, and wonder if I'm sounding too write-ery.

See, I started out writing first person. I forced myself to re-read some of my first stories, and I was a little surprised that it wasn't embarrassingly awful. Then I switched to third, because, you know, I was supposed to.

That seemed to work, I guess. I stopped thinking of it as a decision. I never re-evaluated it.

Then I wrote something in a chick-lit-ty sort of first person. Wham! Everything flowed out so fast and easy! I felt like I was "in the zone." Now my third person sounds stilted and weird.

But all of a sudden, my third person started sounding stilted. After my brief plunge in the depths of chick lit writing, I went back to my normal stuff. And all of a sudden, I developed a problem.

My first person sounds like a man.

I tried turning her--it--into a man, and it was too easy. It admired the women. It admired the woman in a decidedly male way. It talked like a man, thought like a man, and even moved like a man.

What the hell is up with that? It's freakin' scary! I swear, I'm pretty darn sure that I'm heterosexual, and that I like men. I mean, I have all my life. I like their chests, no their presence. No ... I like when you stand next to them, and they're emanating that male sort of ... droolness. Pheremones, maybe?

Although, I think women's bodies are more beautiful than men's bodies. Still, that doesn't make me a lesbian, does it? And why can't I seem to get a female voice down?

I'm starting to think that it's because I don't feel like a woman inside. I feel like a girl. When I was young, I felt very old, but the older I get, the younger I feel inside. (Outside's a different story.)

Am I the only one in the world with this feeling? This writing stuff is so hard, somedays!

Read more...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In the words of our Presidents

I've been thinking about what I want from my next president, and about what I've admired in past presidents. I had to do a little research to confirm my thoughts. What's happened in the last decade or so?

Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809): "One man with courage is a majority."

James Monroe (1817–1825): "National honor is a national property of the highest value."

John Quincy Adams (1825–1829): "America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government."

William Henry Harrison (1841): "But I contend that the strongest of all governments is that which is most free."

Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865): (Can I only pick one?) "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

James Abram Garfield (1881): "We can not overestimate the fervent love of liberty, the intelligent courage, and the sum of common sense with which our fathers made the great experiment of self-government."

William McKinley (1897–1901): "That's all a man can hope for during his lifetime—to set an example—and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history."

I've always admired Woodrow Wilson, maybe especially because of his idealism. Without idealism, how can we move forward? How can we imagine--and then make--a better world?

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)

"Some people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world."

"We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers."

Herbert Clark Hoover (1929–1933): "A splendid storehouse of integrity and freedom has been bequeathed to us by our forefathers. In this day of confusion, of peril to liberty, our high duty is to see that this storehouse is not robbed of its contents."

Dwight David Eisenhower (1953–1961): "There is nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence and energy of her citizens cannot cure."

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1961–1963): "The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly."

"And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Richard Milhous Nixon (1969–1974): "I like the job I have, but if I had to live my life over again, I would like to have ended up a sports writer."

James Earl Carter, Jr. (1977–1981): "Our American values are not luxuries but necessities—not the salt in our bread, but the bread itself. Our common vision of a free and just society is our greatest source of cohesion at home and strength abroad—greater than the bounty of our material blessings."

Ronald Wilson Reagan (1981–1989): "America is too great for small dreams."

George Herbert Walker Bush (1989–1993): "I want a kinder, gentler nation."

William Jefferson Clinton (1993–2001): "If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes."

George Walker Bush (2001–): "Recognizing and confronting our history is important." (Er ... take your own advice, Mister President ...)

Harry S. Truman said, "A politician is a man who understands government. A statesman is a politician who's been dead for 15 years." Chester Alan Arthur said, "If it were not for the reporters, I would tell you the truth."

To that, I quote the young, idealistic boy who once said, "Say it ain't so, Joe!"

Read more...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rhythm

It's snowing here! Oh gosh, but if it isn't gorgeous.

Okay, I promise this is going to be about writing ... eventually.

In music, I've studied the "greats" a lot, even the little greats, the ones who just make a career out of mostly performing. I've thought, what sets them apart? What makes them so successful?

It's a heady feeling, performing. You spend hours and hours working on your memory, praying the notes and the fingers don't fail you musically. When you go on stage, you hold the audience's attention in the palm of your hand.

Except, sometimes you've got to earn it. Sometimes you have to pull the audience out of their daily lives and into your music. And once you have that attention, it's a very precarious thing, especially in today's shorter attention-spanned society.

Up on stage, if you lose the flow or the rhythm for a nanosecond and you're listening to the audience, you can literally feel their attention slip from your control. If one note is placed late, if one phrase loses its momentum, BAM! They're gone.

But boy, when you can get through a whole piece--a whole recital, even--with the audience riding along, it's amazing.

I've noticed that some performers never get to the point where they even listen to the audience to feel that control. The good ones do. The ones who can make a whole career out of performing? They are absolutely impeccable with their rhythm. They NEVER get even a split second off of the flow.

In writing, I've noticed the same thing. The huge bestsellers have great characters, great stories, and great writing, but they also have impeccable rhythm.

I urge my best pianists to 'listen' to the audience and pay attention to their rhythm. Now I gotta do the same, in my own writing!

Read more...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bring it ON!

I believe in reincarnation. I also believe that in each life, we have a lesson to learn. I've always wondered what lesson I'm supposed to learn in this life.

I think I'm figuring it out.

Have you seen those movies--or even in real life--the people who, when someone punches them or kicks them, get back up with their fists raised, ranting, "Hit me again! Fucking hit me again!"

I always felt SO sad for those characters. I thought, Sheesh. They must have had a horrible life, be so broken down, that they would actually beg for someone to beat them down more. How sad is that? Just asking for more pain? More torture? More sadness?

I'm starting to believe that I didn't get it at all.

I have three goals in life: write 100 novels (am I crazy??); a secret goal; and earn a black belt in taekwondo. (I won't complain about a couple degrees to that, though.)

But see, these three goals are incredibly important to me. I always thought that drive was something forced, something one needed to muster. That's not right, either. It's something you discover, and once discovered, there isn't a thing you can do to tell it to shut up. It's a flowing thing, an enthusiastic thing, a happy thing.

So y'all know I'd finally gotten my foot fixed. I've lived through three months of pain. It's getting better, but now my women's class in the mornings has been canceled.

At least I can still go 1 - 3 Saturdays a month.

And today? Well, someone rear-ended me. I thought, no big deal. Hurts a little, but no big deal. Now I can't move my neck, it hurts to talk, it hurts to chew, and it even frickin' hurts to swallow. My back is killing me and I'm so totally nauseous.

To my surprise, I got pissed this evening. My first thought, after the accident, was that now I can't go to taekwondo tomorrow (I hadn't received the email confirming that I couldn't anyway, yet). My second was, oh no. Now I've got to miss seven hours of writing time this week to take care of the car, and to go to the doctor.

That's when I got mad. I felt like I bounced right up, fists raised, actually looking forward to the fight to get what I want. Not because I felt so broken that I wanted to be hurt more, but because I was really looking forward to kicking some ass outta my obstacles and winning my goals.

What lesson do you think you're supposed to learn, this time around? I'm thinking that I'm supposed to learn to keep trying until I succeed, no matter the obstacles.

So about the possibility of me failing to achieve my goals?

I gotta tell you, life, universe, whatever ... over my fuckin' dead body! And I mean that literally. Bring it on!

Read more...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Growing as a Writer

There's a little voice in my head that never stops saying, "Must be better!" Is this a me-crazy thing, or is this something that everyone hears?

Francine Prose wrote the best book on writing that I've read, Reading Like A Writer, tying with my other favorite Stephen King's On Writing. When I started Reading Like A Writer, I actually teared up and all but started to cry. It reminded me how much I love the written word, and writing. It gave me permission to read slow, over and over, and unlock all the mysteries the book has.

I've heard so many people say that you need to read, read, read to be a writer. Lately, I've felt such a pressure to read an enormous quantity. "Know your genre," they say, and I walk through Borders, wondering how the hell I'm going to read all these books! And how much is enough?

Truth is, you can never read everything, even if you read two books a day.

So stopping to enjoy a chapter, and reading it several times, is new to me. And reading Francine Prose's "permission" to do so, just overwhelmed me and made me start to cry. For happiness, or relief, or something.

Reading Like A Writer is definitely a book to treasure as a tool to learn how to write better.

So I'm taking my time with Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, because I have a lot to learn from him, I sense. I've also decided to start approaching my reading by deciding what I need to learn most, as a writer.

Maybe you know how much I love Emily Dickinson. I picked up a Rumi book, and realized (partly because there was a Dickinson poem in the foreward) how very similar the two poets are. Short, vivid, and poignantly insightful. They say a lot with so little.

Miss Snark suggests reading poetry before writing, every day. Interesting, and I like that suggestion. A very wise suggestion. I like to exercise that word muscle; it takes practice to find the right word when you need it! At least for me.

I've decided to start writing a little poetry, everyday. Nothing I'll share, but I think it will help me become a better writer.

Anyone do anything else, to become a better writer?

Read more...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

There's fun ... and then there's fun.

Whew! I finished the essay today. I'll tell you all about it when I get the "for sure" we're going to use it. Don't worry, I'll tell you if they hate it, but I'm just neurotic about not jinxing it. It sure feels good to get it done. I believe that was the hardest thing I've ever written. I'm still in the just-finished-it-hate-it stage, but ... at one time I thought it was good. I loved the idea.

After I read my stuff twenty million times, live with the research for ages, write and re-write and edit, think about it hours every day, then I hate it. After some time passes, I read it again, and it sounds like someone else wrote it, and it doesn't seem so bad. :-)

Anyway, I was thinking today how the circumstances of our life affect our personality. One of my good friends walked in the other day, took one look at me and said, "Ohmigosh, your foot isn't hurting anymore, is it?" While I stared at her in shock that she guessed, she said, "You look happy and you're smiling!"

*cringe* Evidently, I've been a bit of a pinch lately.

Just like, after I finished my essay today, I realized how much hard work non-fic is for me to write. It took me until Jade's reminder to remember that to incorporate my enthusiastic spirit in the essay. And gosh, I really love this anthology and was tripping over myself, dying to get in! I love the subject!

Just a few days ago, I was growling at someone using the word 'fun,' and how it's not always fun, and you gotta keep writing.

Er, well, after I finished the non-fic, I realized how much I miss the fun of writing fiction.

Fun is good. Personally, I still like the words fulfilling and rewarding better--I read fun as a bit flippant--but ... one needs to write with the heart and a playful spirit, at times.

Well, what is it that Bridget Jones said? "Oh, for Christ's sakes. It's only a diary. Everyone knows diaries are just full of crap."

Read more...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Learning from the Masters: Neil Gaiman, Chapter One of Anansi Boys

After spending HOURS today wrestling with the Christmas tree (and no, those cool-looking trains that go up in the tree do NOT work--too plastic and flimsy!), here I am to talk about the first chapter of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys.

Important Note: This is review from the perspective of learning how to write. As such, I have to include details that might spoil some of your fun. Maybe. This book is so good, I doubt it. Still, be forewarned!

I have to mention, first, that I'm absolutely delighted by the dedication page. I won't spoil it for you, but pick up the book, take a peek, and I think you'll be delighted, too. :-)

First Line:
"It begins, as most things begin, with a song."

He starts pretty grandiose, with a little bit of poetic prose that establishes the world since the "beginning," but then he jumps straight to introducing us Fat Charlie Nancy's father. He is a CHARACTER! Hah! Over the top, quirky, but completely recognizable. The way he sets up and describes this character is amazing. Essentially, we watch a whole bar re-energized, all because Fat Charlie's father walks in.

"The second time he got up to sing, he ruined Fat Charlie's life."

I love this hook. Neil Gaiman uses hooks so well, that you can't help but be pulled into the story. And he never just lets it lie with one hook. In the first chapter alone, there are so many hooks I lost count, and each one is bigger than the last. Fine storytelling!

We meet Fat Charlie, and then we learn that Fat Charlie's father's names for things stick, in a little tiny story. It's almost as if Neil Gaiman writes teensy stories that are satisfying and complete, and then he threads them into the big story arc with little hooks, everywhere.

As soon as we're told the story about Fat Charlie's father's power with names, we're hooked by, "That was far from the worst thing about Fat Charlie's father."

What's surprising is that once we learn what is the worst thing about Fat Charlie's father (he's embarrassing), we're skeptical. Rosie, his fiance, (who seems to be a conduit for the reader's emotions, because I always thought the same things she said) challenges it. The more he explains, the more we're charmed by Fat Charlie's father. We believe and understand how Fat Charlie feels put-upon to have such a father, but at the same time, we're as enamored by his father's escapades as everyone else.

Somewhere in the story, after the delightful stories of his father, we briefly see a stranger. We know nothing about him, but we know he's important. One paragraph, and we're hooked.

That hook must surface in a future chapter. I like how he does one hook, then another, and then another, and some hooks are addressed and answered immediately with another little story, and other hooks surface several scenes later. I've never thought to do that! I just hook to the next chapter. Must learn!

Another hook ... at the end of the story-telling section, Fat Charlie calls an old neighbor to ask his father to the wedding. After he learns he's dead, and how (but we're not told--yet another hook!), he can't speak. Rosie thinks he's too grief-stricken. The truth? "He wasn't. That wasn't it at all. He was too embarrassed."

We learn how Fat Charlie's father died, and then we hear birds and songs again (see how everything has such satisfying form? Like music! Repeating the beginning, closing all the circles, leaving some open as hooks? I just love it!)

He ends the chapter with another, bigger hook. "Later, when birds something to be afraid of, Fat Charlie would still remember that morning as something good and something fine, but also as the place where it all started. Before the madness; before the fear."

See, a lot of people would have started with that hook. He didn't. He made the whole first chapter one huge hook, with lots of little hooks on it.

I wouldn't have needed that last big hook to keep reading. The storytelling is so lively and interesting, and the characters so fascinating, that I would have kept going no matter what. The last hook? It sweeps me off of my feet, into his world.

Reading this, I can't believe how few hooks I put into my stories. I don't think I ever layer them like he does; it's a very effective technique. I'd be surprised if anyone could read the first chapter and not finish the book.

The form of everything just thrills me. It's so musical. I love short stories, and each of his memories are like a little tiny short story, with a beginning, middle, and twist. Then a hook. Rinse and repeat. Very effective.

I'm gonna have to try that, sometime!

More later. I'm going to go settle into the tub and enjoy the second chapter ... again. I can't remember the last time that I've enjoyed a story so much, that I've re-read chapters before going on, because I don't want to get to the end. I want to read this story forever!

It reminds me of Narnia. I've read the books at least eight or ten times. When I was in fifth grade, I sat on my bed and bawled for two hours straight, because it wasn't real, and there were no more books. :-(

Oh! I almost forgot. Nowhere, in this first chapter, do we learn Fat Charlie's father's name. Another hook? Or a way to increase the bond between the two characters? Interesting ... time will tell, I suppose!

Read more...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Fun, and Domesticating the Muse

Remember the other day, when I talked about how we all have hot buttons or issues that make us see red, and can even make us irrationally argue with someone who was just making a light comment, or a joke?

I have two: teaching, and the word "fun."

Believe it or not, the word "fun" just makes my blood boil. Please let me side-track a moment:

"The only things that can teach writing are reading, writing and the semi-domestication of one's muse." ~Stephen King, from the Washington Post article on the Writing Life.

Today was one of those exhausted days. I don't know why. Last night, I couldn't keep my eyes open to watch a tv show. This morning, the alarm went off for a full 15 minutes before I even woke up (something that hasn't happened to me since high school, eons ago!) and while I was writing at Borders, I dozed off twice. (I woke up when my head dropped, LOL.)

The wonderful thing? I got 1,000 words written. Yes, I'll probably need to make them a bit better tomorrow, but they're pretty close to what I would have written if I'da been awake. It did take me three hours instead of an hour and a half, but still, there was something so reassuring about the fact that, no matter what, I can get words out on the paper.

Even during the bad days.

On my myspace blog, someone mentioned that they don't write, if they aren't having fun. That's great! That's fine! Nothing wrong with that, if that works for you. And that person probably didn't mean it in the way I interpreted it. Remember, I get completely irrational at the word "fun" and start ranting and raving like a lunatic.

But see, the muse isn't going to get semi-domesticated if we don't feed it daily. If we want to make this a career, we've got to develop a good, solid, working relationship with that "one small animal, sometimes quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes. It's a scruffy little thing with fleas and often smells of whatever nasty mess it's been rolling in. It can never be more than semi-domesticated and isn't exactly known for its loyalty..." (Stephen King)

So why, after what seemed like a sidetrack, does the word "fun" make my blood boil?

Because fun is fleeting. Fun is a moment. Fun is a rush, a wonderful, great rush, but it's a feeling. You can't turn fun on and off. It's not a thing. It holds no intrinsic value.

You can pursue fun with everything you've got, and you know what you've got at the end of the day? A feeling of emptiness. Have you ever seen kids get a little depressed after Christmas? Bored after all that "fun"? Ever hear yourself say to a daughter or son, "How can you be bored, with all the new toys you got for Christmas!" How about, as adults, those "fun" one-night stands? Exhilarating, exciting, and fun (usually). How do we usually feel in the morning?

Empty.

Once fun is done, it's done. There's nothing left except empty. And the more you try to pursue fun, the harder it will be to get, and the more difficult it will be to hold on to it.

But if we work hard, if we give our all, and if we strive for a rewarding experience (allowing for tears and decidedly not-fun moments); if we strive for fulfillment of our potential and destiny, then those moments of fun will happen much more often.

And when the fun moment passes, we have an incredible feeling of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. It's not only rewarding, but it's a way, way, way better feeling than "fun."

It was once argued, and I pretty much believe it, that the downfall of a society comes when said society becomes obsessed with self-pleasure and self-gratification. Let's teach our kids rewarding, not fun. Let's teach them the feelings of pride, fulfillment, and accomplishment. Let's teach them the joy of quality and excellence and virtue.

While we're at it, we can remind ourselves, and save our society!

Read more...