Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stories Today

I can handle a sore throat. The headache I can deal with--mostly. But the stuffy nose? No way. So I apologize, but rather than show you my whining-wimpy side, I'll just direct you to a bunch of touching stories today.

First, Tess Gerritsen wrote about her first true life confrontation with murder and torture. It's a touching and scary story that hits close to home for her. It's a true story, but you can definitely see why her fiction touches so many people.

Then, Derek Nikitas made me cry real tears when he posted about dedicating his book to his grandfather. Made me remember that we are, in the end, what we mean to other people.

Finally, Elizabeth Krecker reminded me that a little goes a long way, in her post about how just a little thing can prevent a women from being raped, tortured, and/or killed. Definitely worth a read. Turns out, her grandfather is pretty heroic, too!

I have a question for you guys ... just a curiosity. Do you guys know the story of your birth? I'm adopted, so the only story I got *cringe* was that my mom found me under a, er ... bush. LOL. I watched a mother recount the day of her daughter's birth to her on her birthday, and I could tell it was a story told many times. Do you have one of those stories?

Read more...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Musings on Society

You know, if I had a dollar for every time a parent wanted me to tell them that their kid could manage to learn music without practicing, I'd be rich. There is a local music teacher who tells the parents and kids that they don't have to practice.

He's full up with students.

His students aren't learning much of anything, either. He's just taking their money, and I don't have that gene.

You know, I don't care what kids learn, whether it be music, sports, or whatever. But I do care if they learn priorities and committment. Kids don't come hard-wired with anything but instant gratification; we need to teach them the satisfaction and fulfillment of working toward and reaching a long-term goal.

But then up pops the question, what if this isn't their thing? What if they don't end up being concert musicians or professional soccer players or gold medal ice skaters?

What if they do make a committment, and they end up just like anyone else? Think of all that time they missed watching tv! Think of all those video games that they were dying to play! They're going to regret that for the rest of their life!

(Er, was the sarcasm too strong there?)

I hear the worry. What if they invest all that time? What if they invest their heart and soul into the pursuit of a goal that they don't, or even can't, achieve? People look at Sasha Cohen and say, look at all she's worked for! All she's sacrificed! And what for? A Silver Medal???

No, really. People say that.

So is the prevailing attitude that nothing is worth pursuing or sacrificing for, unless you can be the best?

What about all that we learn from pursuing an art form and striving for excellence? It's never wasted time. Excellence, once learned, transfers into every pocket of our life. Studies have proven that children who learn delayed gratification are far more successful than those who choose instant gratification.

And what of--my favorite--the striving? What of the satisfaction one gets from pushing oneself further than one thought one could go? That's no small satisfaction!

Yesterday, a student made it from the beginning to the end of piece. It was easy, and he was pleased. Yesterday, another student also managed to make it through to the end of piece she'd cried over, hated at times, struggled with for weeks, and sacrificed countless hours over. One she thought she couldn't do, one she almost quit over.

You can bet she was WAY more than pleased. She was so ecstatic she practically cried--this time with joy. She wasn't just happy, and she didn't just learn to play the piece; she learned self-confidence. She learned to trust herself and the learning process. She learned that there is no greater thrill than doing something she thought she couldn't do.

Is that a waste of time?

Read more...

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm just a girl ... a girl in love. :-)

Today was the BEST day. Okay, I woke up with a sore throat, was unbearably cold and headache-y in Borders while writing, but it was STILL the best day.

When I started my day job (another self-employed business thing), I worked into it gradually. No business plan, not even a business card. After I had a handful of clients, I decided I ought to figure this business stuff out. I went to Borders, bought nearly everything they had on running a business, marketing, and self-employment.

But I never saved my first dollar. I never took pride in the beginning of something I'd looked forward to. I never noticed my very first step.

When I started writing, it was a lark. An erotic fiction site I regularly visited (*blush*) offered a story contest, and an idea occurred to me. I thought, what a fun idea! I finished my first story since high school, and won honorable mention. Then I expanded it into a novella, and I got a little check. I don't remember it. The idea of making writing a career didn't occur to me until well after my fourth or fifth novella. Then I started dreaming about it.

So again, I missed my first step. I have nothing saved from those early beginnings.

But today, something really cool happened. As you guys know, I'm totally psyched about starting a *real* career. I know I'm kinda doing it, but it's not under my "real name."

Okay, maybe you ought to stop reading, 'cause I'm going to tell you just how uncool and silly I am.

So remember that essay I wrote? I know it's not a big deal, but it's the first thing under my *real name.* Today I got the check! I couldn't stop grinning. DH had to unclasp my fingers and pry the thing from my hands so he could go deposit the money.

You wanna know why I'm so in love with him?

He came back with a box of chocolates AND--get this--the letter and check copied together and FRAMED.

Isn't he the best, most awesome guy, ever? I feel like the luckiest girl alive. No matter how little or far I get in this business, I don't want to ever forget how lucky I am.

Anything you wish you had noticed? Wish you had saved? Any moments that you want to save forever?

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

I choose NOT to believe ...

Okay, here's my naive post, and a little rant. I know I'm wrong, but ... here's the deal:

I want to write about why it's totally awesome to be published. I'm sick of hearing the opposite story. And you know what? I choose NOT to believe.

As you all know, I'm a pennies per word writer--for six years now--so although I know nothing about the "real" world of publishing, I do know something about sitting in the chair every week for 20 - 50 hours. I know something about writing when I don't feel like it, about writing under pressure, even about writing under deadline. I know Schedule C's and double-taxes and writing for money instead of your heart. I know the "pressure grows," but I've always thrived under pressure. I know that as a self-employed person, whatever it looks like you're paid, you really only get less than half after taxes and expenses.

I know nothing about agents--haven't even submitted to one yet. I know nothing about publishers, because I write for two small companies that are run like nice family businesses. One makes me feel good, the other one ... still is pretty cool. I know nothing about 'horrible' reader mail. I don't know anything about promotion. (Until recently, we didn't get royalties. Now that we do, I'm learning.)

I do know something about bad days. (Thank you, guys. You always cheer me up.) I even know something of backstabbing and conniving in the business, so it's not like I've only seen the pretty bits. (May I say that 99.9999999% of writers are THE BEST PEOPLE on earth?) I do my whining, but who doesn't whine a little, even about the best job?

And people who aren't published at all, yet? People who write day in and day out without reader love? Without money? With rejection, even? Ohmigod, they totally rock. I don't care what anyone says, they are the "real" writers. I don't think I would keep writing under those conditions. Who knows, but I don't think so. I know the 'party line' is 'I'd do it for me, for the love of it', but ...

I do love the written word. I also didn't write for six months when my publisher almost went out of business. (I was procrast--, er, researching ...)

But those writers are my heroes. I refuse to accept the current disdain professionals give to those who aren't paid for what they do. The Olympics used to be limited to amateurs for a reason, and it's because doing something for the love of it is a truly noble pursuit. I believe that with all my heart, and I admire anyone who writes for the love of it, and only for the love of it.

So. For all the writers who say it 'gets worse,' I respectfully say, "I choose NOT to believe." And if you're still around on the day that I get NY-published, and I start whining? Tell me to shut up and read this list.

TOP TEN REASONS WHY I'M GOING TO BELIEVE IT'S AWESOME TO BE PUBLISHED BY NY (or at all):

  • 10. People read your stuff.
  • 9. People read your stuff--your stuff!--as entertainment.
  • 8. You get paid to make up shit. If you're still day-jobbing it, yeah, you work two jobs, but you also get a little extra cash. The first few checks feel like candy.
  • 7. You get something back from the writing process, something positive.
  • 6. You get to hold a book in your hand. You get to frame the cover. You get to sign it and give it to friends and family. You get to (if you're lucky) walk into your favorite bookstore and see your work. You even get to market and advertise your business. (I've always loved that aspect of my day job. I like growing businesses.)
  • 5. You get paid for your work, not for the time spent. Some people may say this is a drawback. I don't think so. I like working hard, and I like getting paid for the work I do. When I punched a time clock, I did double the work as others for the same pay. Not fair!
  • 4. Okay, people whine about pay. I make a little bit less than minimum wage when I figure in expenses, but I write quickly. Believe me, NY publishers pay better than what I get paid. I'm not saying they get rich at ALL. But they get paid more than I do.
  • 3. It's true that writing as a business isn't artsy-fartsy, BUT, it can be what you make of it. You can spend the rest of your life striving for excellence. There is nothing that feels better in your heart and soul than devoting yourself to excellence, to being the best you can be, day in and day out... to know that you can keep pushing yourself, and at the end of the day, look yourself in the mirror and feel really good. Even on the worst, most awful days, I feel good. (Note whine yesterday: I didn't write yesterday.)
  • 2. Reader email is totally freakin' awesome! I don't care what anyone says. Send me the worst! (But keep the best coming, please!)

    And the number one reason why it's awesome to be a writer, even if you're not NY-published? Even if you're not published at all?

  • 1. You get to hang out with writers for the rest of your life!

Read more...

Workshop Worries ...

Jessica Faust of Bookends made such a thought-provoking post about the dangers of workshops the other day that I haven't been able to stop considering it. While I disagreed with the last bit of it, I also agreed with most of it.

In her post, Jessica remarks:

I'm often amazed, and sometimes frightened, by the number of workshops authors will attend on how to write. Or the number of conversations I have with my own clients (people obviously having success with what they're doing) on how they can do it differently. Why fix it if it's not broken?

She's right; it's dangerous territory. (That's why I'm not a big fan of the saying, "Kill your darlings.")

We all want to improve. If we don't change, we don't improve. We want those reviews that say "Nora just keeps getting better and better!"

However, if you compare your writing to only your writing, then how are you going to grow? I always compare my writing to someone who does it better than me, that way I can get better, too.

There's also the problem that sometimes we need to get a little worse before we grow. Remember when Tiger Woods changed his stroke? He did quite a bit worse before it clicked, but then he started kicking ass even better.

Are you in a place with your career that you can take that luxury? What are the costs if you don't? Only you can answer those questions. (I certainly can't. My career doesn't have the stakes--yet--that some authors' careers have.)

To support Jessica's point, I have a dear, dear friend that goes to our conferences (day job) and whatever the clinician says, she believes and adopts to such an extreme, that it ... well, it tends to become so right that it's wrong, LOL. She doesn't blindly adopt everything, but when she does ... watch out!

I'm constantly telling my adult students not to think so much, LOL.

I suspect that's why Jenny Crusie got so frustrated that she posted a reminder in the Crusie/Mayer Writing Workshop today that there are "many roads to Oz."

As Jessica said, why mess with a good thing? What if we ruin that which is good about our writing?

Rather than just focusing on one's own work and not comparing oneself to others, I propose an alternate method to try:

  • 1.) Identify your weak areas (or have several other help you).
  • 2.) Identify your strong areas.
  • 3.) Keep strong areas the same, and for the weak areas:
  • 4.) Read and analyze how other authors solve your problem. Try to figure out how they did it. Add all methods to your mental toolbox.
  • 5.) Read/attend workshops to hear other opinions. More tools in the toolbox.
  • 6.) Never follow any rule blindly. When you've got several options to choose from:
  • 7.) Compare their method and your style. Consider whether their method works. Consider whether they even follow their own method. Consider whether their method will work for you.
  • 8.) Try some out; see what happens.
  • 9.) And finally: follow Erik Ivan James's advice: Go with your gut.

Read more...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

10,000 Hours of Practice

A la Bernita: This is The French Spy; or The Fall of Algiers, by J. T. Haines.

I read today (and in many places over the years) that it takes twenty hours a week for ten years to achieve mastery at an art such as music or athletics or writing. Or 10,000 hours, they said.

Someone else famous said that it takes a million words before ... I forget what before. You know, something good.

I'm sure as heck glad I learned this tidbit when I was over halfway through. No wonder writers get discouraged!

*sigh*

Er, sorry. The Big N. I meant to start it three weeks ago, but then a novella took me longer than expected. And then this little short story just wouldn't quit. I swear. It was supposed to be 4,000 words, and it's now a mini-novella of 16,000 words. At that, I was like, no more! I gotta get to my Big N!

But now Publisher X needs short stories and novellas. I feel guilty, because they saved me financially last year. Not to mention, their success is tied with my success, and they are my fallback for when we need money. (You don't think I have this work ethic for nothing, right? 200,000 words in five months is just pure desperation talking.) So I'm writing an email and thinking, why bother with the two weeks of the Big N I promised myself? Why not just jump into the stories and get them done with? Then concentrate on the Big N?

But.

It's been my experience in life that then never happens. And no matter how overwhelmed and impossible a task feels, it will get done, nibble by nibble.

I'm telling you all now--so I'll feel too hypocritical to capitulate--that the next two weeks are reserved for the Big N. This is my dream, and I'm going to write it. I'm excited. I can't wait. (Enthusiasm isn't sounding realistic yet, is it?)

Okay, louder.

I am excited! I can't wait!

I've been mulling this story over *constantly* for the past two months. I need to write it now before I forget half the stuff, and before it goes stale.

And I can't wait, truly. I love my characters. It's time to write a novel, damnit. So. Next two weeks. No matter what. Novel. Nothing else. Period.

Read more...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Most Powerful Image: Jack Bauer in 24

I wanted to post a photo of that moment in the first episode of Season 6, after Jack Bauer is tied to the chair, awaiting more torture and certain death. I want a picture of that moment when he rips the guard's neck open with his teeth, blood gushing from his lips. Even the moment when Jack holds the guard's dead body in his arms, blood smeared across his face.

I can't get that image out of my mind, not after two whole weeks.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don't think I could create that moment in a hundred thousand words. There's something so animalistic about it. Something that gets you in the gut, that makes you wonder if you could do the same thing. Even faced with certain death, could you rip into some guy's neck with your teeth until he dies in your arms?

Holy shit.

(You can view this season's episodes of 24 online!) And hey, if anyone can find an image of that moment, I would LOVE a copy. I want to hang it on my wall by my desk, so I know what I'm aiming for in my writing. I also have a picture of Stephen King on the wall, one of the freaky ones that scare me into writing, and remind me that I can't write superficially. You know, my whole "dig deeper" motto.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter made me gasp out loud. I don't remember any other novel ever doing that to me. It also made my mouth drop open in shock. Until that moment, I hadn't realized that my mouth hadn't dropped open in years.

Question of the Day: How do you make a reader gasp out loud in shock? How do you put a visual in a reader's mind, one so powerful that they can't stop thinking about it, long after they've finished the book?

I don't know, but I know it's got something to do with the gut.

By the way, I officially take back what I said about Greg Rucka's Tara Chace. Who says I won't listen when several people tell me I'm full of shit? *grins* I picked up Private Wars today, and ... holy cow. How can one not be gripped by that opening? I also tried A Gentleman's Game again, and I'm afraid I still couldn't get into it.

It might be the ADD thing. When I'm cheating with cheese and dairy here and there, an author is lucky if he/she can keep my attention for a sentence. Still ... I'll try Gentleman's Game after I read Private Wars. Maybe it'll be better.

Private Wars, on the other hand, is probably worth a later review. In fact, it'll probably be sooner than later. :-)

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ohmigosh ... SO cool! A 1984 comic!

Thanks to Meljean Brook (who has a great new book out, Demon Angel) for this awesome link to a comic based on George Orwell's 1984!

For some reason, the actual webcomic doesn't work me and my browser, but here's the 1984 webcomic.

Here's a video of Chapter One set to Pink Floyd's the Wall. Here's a video of Chapter Two. The music is PERFECT for it! What a great project!

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Thursday Thirteen Things I Learned #2

As y'all know, last weekend was the first time in forever that I've sat down with a book and been able to finish it in one sitting. Yay! I forgot how much fun that is. Must cut my schedule down!

(Remember this is a learning review; I'm an author trying to learn, not trying to get you to buy the book. Click the book if you want to see what the book is about! And heck, why not get the book, too?)

Thirteen Things I Learned From Natalie R. Collins's Behind Closed Doors
  • 1. Mormons wear special (under)garments. (Okay, this isn't something I technically learned about the writing craft, but I found it fascinating.) See the picture? Look closely. Do you see what I see? Is the female garment actually designed for, er ... easy access??
  • 2.) World-building, world-building, world-building: I've always secretly thought that science fiction/fantasy/horror writers hold some of the best writers in the business. But Natalie has world-building down pat. She not only makes Mormon Utah come alive, she makes it a character in her book.
  • 3.) It's all in the details. See above. I've learned so much about Mormonism, I was inspired to look up what Mormon garments were!
  • 4.) How did Natalie make me read the whole thing in one sitting? No answers for this one, just a question.
  • 5.) Juxtaposition is a cool technique. Just in the first 20 pages, she juxtaposes running from commitment with the commitment of marriage, and then the commitment of marriage with domestic abuse.
  • 6.) Along those lines, opposites illustrate each other.
  • 7.) Even moreso, opposites within a character can create a question and a hook. Why, if Michael loves Melissa, does he insist on knowing her every move? Why does he adore her so much that he’d serenade her, but controls her by constantly calling her on his cell phone?
  • 8.) Layer story into your story. Sometimes I see plot as a straight line, with little subplots that scurry out and come back to join the straight line at their ending. But story is not a straight line, it’s a ribbon with hills and valleys, with curves and folds.
  • 9.) Within those folds, a small story, particularly backstory, can serve to illustrate setting, description, character, and/or backstory. At least two purposes at once is a good thing.
  • 10.) Form: In her novel, each step towards the goal is like its own story.
  • 11.) Surprise endings are hard. After the second or third year of writing, endings became a bit predictable. We all know, by training, that the most obvious choice is not the whodunnit. That leaves the choice that we're being misled about. So what to do? I think a mystery plot might need three or four or five alternatives. I don't know. What do you think?
  • 12.) Heroines can have tons of fears, and yet still be kickass. If I knew how she did it, I'd tell you. Heck, I'd even tell myself. :-) Very cool, anyway!
  • 13.) This book makes me want to go back to school and write a theme paper on patriarchy and Behind Closed Doors. :) (And that's really saying something!)
Links to other Thursday Thirteens! Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!


Read more...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

At a Loss for Words

I sat down today, and I had absolutely nothing to say on this blog. The first thing I thought was What if I've said all I've have to say? and then What if I've written all the ideas I have? What if I have no more ideas?

So I found a picture. The Virgin Reading, by Vittore Carpaccio.

I probably have nothing to say because I just finished doing my taxes. Isn't that awesome? My brain's fried. But this year:

  • I spent 25% of writing income on books.
  • DH and I only argued twice. (About the only time we argue.)
  • I didn't CRY!

Can you tell I'm frazzled? I forgot the point of the above.

Right, I remember: there's always more ideas. There's always more to say.

Everyone has to take their own path, but I know of someone who has finished a novel. She hasn't written anything since then (at least two years ago), and has been shopping it around for two years. It's getting nibbles, and I have no doubt she will publish it.

The thing is, she won't work on her second book. Is she afraid she doesn't have another book in her? I know I was afraid of the same thing after my first story. I was afraid that I had written all I had. It's a valid fear.

If possible, it'd be great to confront that fear before launching a career. And who wants to face that fear of the second novel with rusty skills?

(Don't worry. It's no one here, no one anyone knows, and no one who knows me, LOL. But I don't think she's alone.)

How frazzled am I? I'm going to jump back to the second topic.

I'm done with taxes!! Filed and everything!!! I don't have to do them for a whole 'nother year!!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Read more...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rant ... rant, Rant, RANT, RANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, that is IT! I have HAD it! Up to HERE!

What IS it about Blogger???

If you give me this: weslyixn

I am perfectly capable of typing it back correctly. See? weslyixn

Is that not correct? Compare the two? They're correct, right? Let me double check it, letter by letter.

Yep, still correct.

Why the HELL does Blogger keep telling me I'm WRONG???????????????????

I double check, I triple check, and yet, without fail, blogger tells me I'm wrong EIGHTY PERCENT of the time. I have to enter in that silly little thing at least TWO to THREE TIMES per comment.

I AM typing it in right. I could understand if I got it wrong 10% of the time, or 20% of the time, but EIGHTY PERCENT of the time?

I am RIGHT, damnit!!!!

I. Just. Don't Get IT!!!!!!!

Read more...

Ramblings, Today

Okay, so I'll just be up front. Today I'm going to ramble, pretending I have content and we'll just have to see if I have any. I'm doing my taxes today. (Doesn't that explain it?) I was supposed to do them yesterday. I even took the writing morning off to do them yesterday (a once-in-a-year occurrence), and all I really got done was procrastinating the taxes.

I had a great writing day today, though!

Rambling #1: Jessica Faust at BookEnds made me bark with laughter today. If this is indicative of what they receive, our chances are a lot better than what statistics lead us to believe. (Note my hypocrisy: see Rambling #4) Jessica is always nice, though. Even when she tells it like it is, she's got an air of postivity about her. I like that.

Rambling #2: Bernita has a good post up about writing books. (She always has good posts, LOL.) People say what I'm about to say in music a whole lot, but I don't hear it said anywhere else. Some teachers don't actually do what they teach.

I think the reason is that a whole lot of us don't know what we do when we sit down to write. Someone else would have tell me my greatest strength, because I have no clue. (I'm good at finding my faults; not as good at fixing them.)

It's good to keep in mind that authors often don't, either, even the best of them. That's not to say what they have to teach isn't valuable or worth a look-see, though!

Rambling #3: I want to move to San Francisco so I can go here on a daily basis. Be still my heart! Oh. My. Goddess.

Rambling #4: I gotta be honest with you. I don't have the stomach for American Idol. Kids come in and tell me about how stupid some of the contestants look/act, and they tell me how horrible they are. I'm not sure at what level this bothers me. My gut tells me this is not teaching something good to the kids.

My heart aches for those who have (possibly) put their heart and soul into a dream, only to be humiliated. Can't we treat them with a little more care?

After all, they worked hard to get where they aren't.

At the RWA Conference last year, there was a similar "Idol" with first pages. To be honest, it made me a little sick to my stomach. I can't say that at times, I haven't enjoyed the smug laugh at some stupid mistake, or the desire to point out glaring mistakes in one famous author's work. I can't say that it wasn't satisfying at the time.

But.

I only listened to the RWA Idol on CD -- didn't get to go to the national conference last year. I'm told that they're all awesome agents, and even funny. I felt nauseous throughout the whole thing, horrified that the actual authors were in the audience hearing their hard work ripped apart. Maybe not being present was part of it. I'm afraid all three of the agents got a big scratch out on my list (not that they'll miss me, LOL), mostly because I didn't know who was who on the tape, and ...

I'm told I'd be lucky to have any one of them, and I do know 'they' are right.

Still. Public flogging leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Read more...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why Socrates was so smart ...

Have you ever learned something that was so obvious, so very simple, that you were embarrassed that you'd learned it? Embarrassed that it'd taken you this long to learn it?

I just did. I figured it out last week in one of those a-ha! moments. I woulda blogged about it, but I felt so foolish. I'm not sure why I'm going to blog about it now, except that if I don't remind myself, I'm going to forget. And I'm here to learn, right?

So, with a blush, I have to admit that it wasn't until last week, after I read this post at Murderati and the comments by Barry Eisler and Mark Terry, that it finally clicked for me.

If you want to find an answer, you have to ask a question.

Shush! Are you rolling your eyes yet? Well, I said I was embarrassed! But until I figured that out, I'd been wandering around thinking I can't figure out this plot problem and I don't understand how to take my stuff to the next level.

Surprisingly enough, as soon as I turned those statements on their head and rephrased them as questions, I started being able to answer them!

Duh!

It got me to thinking, though. In all my schooling, I was only ever told to ask a question during science projects and thesis papers. Which puts me down to about ten questions I asked (aside from the random, little ones) in my whole educational career.

Maybe, instead of assigning a student to answer twenty questions as homework, we should have students come up with twenty questions as the homework. The answering is usually easy, once you've asked the question. And learning how to ask questions is much more important than I was ever led to believe.

My question for the day? How do you, as an author, pull critical readers out of their analytical approach and send them racing through your book as entertained and engrossed readers?

Read more...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

How to Read, the Accidental Post Part III

So I hope I don't have too many readers on feed, LOL, because this post is a bit haywire, today!

Yesterday, I read a book in one day. What a treat! I used to do that on a daily basis, but nowadays, it's so hard to find the time. I feel like I'm working two full-time jobs.

I've been thinking a lot lately about that wonderful book by Francine Prose, called Reading Like a Writer. In it, she covers a lot of the territory that we should be thinking about while reading. She delights in digging into the nitty gritty of sentences and paragraphs, of details and dialogue.

She recommends reading slow.

I have learned so much from that approach, and will continue to. It got me to thinking, though. Bernita mentioned awhile ago that she read fast the first time through to get the overall arc and pacing of the story. (Relying on my memory, here, so forgive any inaccurate paraphrasing.)

I think she's right. In order to understand the structure of a novel, you either need to outline it and break it down, or read it fast. Reading it fast is quicker, and we all know we have so little time. There's always a large stack of TBR's, not to mention the work our WIPs need.

But as I was working on my latest WIP, I realized that we need to also learn how to read like a reader. When we sit down and read through our own manuscript, whether it be a long run-through or just yesterday's work, we have to be able to hold in our head how much we have revealed to the reader. In fact, we need to read it as if we were an curious reader with no preconceptions.

That's challenging when the words start to glaze over. Sure, putting it away helps, but I never have time for that. Maybe a day. An evening. Somehow we've got to force those fresh eyes and that innocent mind.

And while we look for dialogue and technique and sentences and paragraphs while we read other writers, we have to shut off that sort of reading when looking at our own manuscripts. Maybe not all the time, but at least a few times so that we know what the reader is experiencing while reading our manuscript.

Once in awhile, it's nice to shut that part of ourselves off while reading a book, too. Just reading to read, just for our pleasure. Sitting back with a book. No thinking, just relaxing.

Forgive all mistakes above, please. Three drinks and a nice meal, and I'm off to bed. So nice to not work, even if it's only for four hours after an eleven hour workday. What has my life become, when I think getting 'done' at 7:45 is a big treat? Ah well, just had to finish my half-finished accidental post, LOL.

Happy reading, all!

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Warning: Testosterone Overload

I have to preface this post with a disclaimer. I love reading male protagonists. In fact, I've done so all my life, no problem. Fine. No big deal. Most of my friends in college were guys. What's the difference? Guys are fine. I like guys. I love my DH. I have nothing against the male species.

Now, I love spy stories. I love espionage thrillers. But last night, in the middle of listening to The Company by Robert Littel, I couldn't take it anymore.

I suddenly felt that if I read one more male protagonist, I was going to throw up. No kidding. I have absolutely no idea why. I have six books that I'm really dying to read that are excellent, outstanding books. Really excellent books.

But they've got male protagonists.

That's fine, but ... I'm sick of male protagonists in the genre I want to read. I literally feel NAUSEOUS at the thought of reading one more male protagonist. I've never, ever, experienced this in my whole life.

Maybe it's some weird hormone or something.

And I love romances, but I'm sick of the fact that every damn time a woman is the protagonist, she's got to have a romance.

Help! I'm dying to read some real kick-ass heroines. Any recommendations? I guess I can put up with a romance, if need be, but I swear to goodness ... no man rescues the woman plots, please!

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

I wish I were a poet ...

I wish I were a poet. If I were a poet, I could describe the overwhelming, incredible feeling when my "niece" fell asleep in my arms, her head leaning against my breast.

But I can't describe it. I tried. I just have no words.

I know some poets out there; can you?

I missed everyone yesterday! I was gone. Today I'm doing taxes and writing. Ugh on the first, but I want to get to the second, so must run. Hopefully I'll have time to give you a better post tonight!

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Learning from Mark Terry's Dirty Deeds

As most of you know, my reviews aren't reviews, per se. They're more a review of what I learned from the book, not a summary of the book and my impressions. After all, I'm an author trying to learn and improve her craft. :-) Click the book to go to amazon.com for a description of the plot!

I'd hate for anyone to miss out on the VERY SEXY Jack Baer or not fall in love with the coolest kick-ass chick ever, Meg Malloy. A series is made from great characters that you can't get enough of, and although it has a rocky first three chapters, this novel smoothed out into something that I just fell in love with.

Thirteen things I learned from Mark Terry's Dirty Deeds
  • 1. A new Ranger is in town! I now have a crush on TWO fictional characters: Ranger (be still my heart) and Jack Bear (Oh. My. God.). He's strong, sexy, and mysterious: Jack Bear's got it all. He's an alpha hero, alright, yet he has a curiously non-alpha attitude towards Meg that's absolutely refreshing.
  • 2. The female-in-jeopardy plot can be done without making the woman an annoying weakling. True, Meg Malloy is in over her head, BUT calling Jack Bear makes things worse for her. Jack, while oozing alpha sexiness, tends to let her call the shots. This dichotomy is what gives this book its original spark. I haven't seen a character quite like this Jack. And yes, I'm totally crushin' on him, I know!
  • 3. Description must illuminate plot or character.
  • 4. How to Do Description: "She was glaring at me, sullen, but most fish look that way when their lower lip's caught on a hook." (41) This description especially works because Meg's just coerced this waitress into talking when she'd rather not--but she wants the worm (the money).
  • 5. Each character needs a distinctive name, distinctive look, AND distinctive manner of speech. Mark Terry is awesome at this! Lisa, who either skips the subject or starts with 'and' or 'but': "Comes and goes, doesn't tell me what she's doing. I know she skipped class this morning, 'cause we have the same class together ... we're both going to be Interior Designers, you know?--and she wasn't there. And her car's not in the parking lot."

    Reverend Walker, who sounds JUST like a televangelist: "Forgive yourself? In this modern new age, that seems entirely too easy. First we have to forgive ourselves, we say, and everything else will come. But I say NO!"
  • 6. A great nickname goes a long way: Meg Malloy aka M&M. Cute, huh?
  • 7. My favorite bit of writing:
    "I sat there head on my hands, hands on my knees, adrift. I wasn't thinking analytically. I wasn't thinking about how I had assaulted an FBI agent. I wasn't thinking about how someone may have tried to kill me this morning by blowing up my Hummer to scrap. I wasn't even trying to figure out a way to extract myself from this mess.

    I just let emotions wash over me like waves, pretending to be a piece of driftwood, inert and oblivious." (120)
  • 8. A man can write a female character, first person POV, and pull it off. Really pull it off.
  • 9. In fact, Mark Terry sensitively portrays his characters, with respect towards their emotions.
  • 10. Setting can be portrayed with emotional description, even casually: "Jack dropped into the armchair where my mother sometimes curled up and read while Dad did his work ..." The description of the setting illuminated offscreen characters; love it!
  • 11. Alpha characters can behave with beta sensitivity. I think I already mentioned this above, but I'm endlessly fascinated with this Jack Bear character!
  • 12. Not every great series gets published. I hear there's no contract for the next book, which is already written! *whimper* (Does he take bribes?) So go buy the first one, so a publisher will buy his second one! (This book gets great in Chapter Four. Before then, just remember that the girl is over 18 and it's consensual.)
  • 13. I didn't know whodunnit! The more I write, the more I recognize whodunnit as soon as s/he appears onscreen. The plot is well done!
Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Honoring Each Other

The universe is at it, again. I think it's trying to send me a message.

I have to first nod to two great posts today that sparked my blog post today. Evidently, I can't seem to come up with anything of my own this week, LOLOL.

At Magical Musings, Michelle asked, How Real Do You Feel? And then Robert Gregory Browne posted about remembering that even though we're still striving, at one time we envied where we are today. Good point to always remember.

While I pondered those posts, I opened my Daily Lit dose of Emily Dickinson in my Inbox, and this was the poem of the day:

The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.

If I thought two blog posts were the universe sending me a message, the poem confirmed it!

Anyhow, it all got me to thinking. Sometimes we don't respect each other enough in this business. It reminds me of martial arts. We are all beginners at one time, and as you advance you are responsible for helping the 'lower belts' as you were once helped. This doesn't just propagate a helpful and respectful environment; teaching something helps you learn it better.

Beginners are wonderful for their enthusiasm. Their naivete is a blessing, truly. Remember those days when you'd sit in front of the computer, toying with a paragraph, changing a word here and there? Delighting in the different shades of meaning in each word?

That enthusiasm is contagious, and we should allow that enthusiasm to infect ALL of us. We should be grateful for that enthusiasm!

What about writer's block? I, among others, often cry, "Just write already!" But really, how can you learn to overcome and work through writer's block without actually facing it and experiencing it? Maybe instead of yelling "just write" all the time, we should be a little more sympathetic. Who hasn't been there?

And then there's the professional amateur stage, where you're working your ass off, but you're not published yet. Dreams are still alive, but you face a TON of rejection. You're working DAILY in the face of NO ENCOURAGEMENT! No satisfaction of seeing anything you write in print, no satisfaction of a check in the mail. If there's any stage to admire most of all, this is it!

Then there's the kinda published stage. Since I'm in this stage, I have to say that I think this stage is a blast! You're writing regularly, producing, stretching yourself, getting checks, getting reader feedback ... it's awesome! About the only drawback is that you struggle with feeling like a "real" writer and wishing you could find your book in Borders. But sheesh, you'll get there if you keep working! I suppose the good things about us is that we're professional, but not jaded or whining too much, yet! (Except me, LOL ... I whine too much!)

After that comes, I suppose, the midlist stage. These folks have SO much to offer by way of experience and helpfulness. They seem to feel the pressure to get on the bestseller lists and keep their career alive, but boy, do they help out the authors in other stages. We should understand their pressures (and not say 'but you're published!' every time they vent), and be darned thankful at all they do for us! Their generosity is an example!

Finally, comes the bestseller stage. I don't know much about this stage, but I'll give it a shot. They seem to withdraw a little. They're looked up to, but they tend to run into lots of jealousy and pettiness. Even scary-reader stuff. They've paved the way for us. Although they tend not to teach so much, their writing usually teaches us a whole lot, if we care to study!

(Of course, there's the Nora/Grisham stage, but I know NOTHING about that, LOL.)

Sorry for the long rant. I just think we should appreciate each other a little more, at all stages of the game. I hear people look down on the different stages a lot, and I don't think that's kind or just. We were all there, and hopefully, we'll all experience each of the stages.

Respect and helpfulness; you see it all the time in the best of this business. I don't want to live in--or even look at--the other side of this business.

Happy writing! And yes, we're ALL real writers!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Intentions and Process

One of the commenters here (I'm sorry, I can't find you, but thank you!) referred me to The Secret a couple months back. I never got around to watching it (meant to!), but then I picked up The Secret book.

The Secret, summarized, is that what we think and intend creates our own experience.

What does that have to do with writing?

I've mentioned that lately, it seems like the whole blogosphere has been writing posts for me, on exactly the issues I'm struggling with that day. (I know, of course, that they don't even know I exist, LOL! It's just that uncanny sort of coincidence that makes you start to feel like the world can read your mind.)

For example, I'm struggling with a plot issue in the Big N. I came home from writing and what do you think I found?

Over at Murderati, Paul Guyot talked about his process in tackling his first novel. After a great post, a great discussion in the comments sections ensued, including a fascinating comment by Barry Eisler on his process for his first novel, Rain Fall, and a very helpful one (which I'm going to try in an hour) by Mark Terry.

My process tends to change a bit with each novella. (I just kick out stories. No process in them.) With this novel? I have no idea. I waffle between psyched and terror in the pit of my stomach (I'm not kidding!).

Most of my terror stems from the fear I can't finish it. So I decided to go the intention route: I know my ending, so I'm going to write the ending. After all, if I write the ending, it will make real my intention to finish this thing, right?

I'll just look that fear right in the face and smash it. Maybe then I can write the novel in peace, LOL.

And maybe the universe will lend a helping hand again.

I'm endlessly fascinated with other writers' processes. What are yours? Have you ever tried the 'ending first' method?

(Funny enough, Avery DeBow wrote about endings while I was posting this!)

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Damn! I'm inspired!

People sometimes complain about the challenges of the slush pile. Today, Mark Terry blogged about the difficulty in catching an agent's or editor's eye today. Sometimes this is amidst of complaints about the business, and sometimes not. While I hear the frustration and how discouraging this business can be, I'd like to an alternative interpretation.

The state and existence of the slush pile can drive our writing and our genres to a higher level.

The other day, I noticed that Robert Gregory Browne's release is in a couple weeks. I was trying to figure out if I was going to get it right away or get it on my next Borders Rewards Day, so I went and read his excerpt.

Wow. Tight. Rhythmically perfect. Not just from word to word or sentence to sentence, but the overall pacing of the conflict over the first 14 or so pages. (That's all that's in his excerpt.)

Top that off with a kick-ass concept, and you've got magic.

And only a few days--weeks?--ago, I was blown away by the vivid world-building of Marcus Sakey, with his perfect details in the excerpt of The Blade Itself. (I finally made them dig his book up in the back! I'm sure I'm going to be blogging about it!)

Last year, I popped by and read Marc Lecard's excerpt from Vinnie's Head. What voice! It's quirky fiction with a capital F. In our seemingly recent quest for realism in novels, I miss those Fiction novels.

(Note to self: "they" are right when they say one needs a website up as SOON as the deal is announced, or at least within weeks. And second note to self: have an excerpt up.) Only three killer authors have excerpts up!

Look what these talented folks are doing for the thriller genre! The competition and the difficulty in breaking into the market has pushed the standards up quite a bit. An established author doesn't need to outdo himself quite as much as a newbie; a new author, in order to get published, almost needs to be better than what's come before.

As I've always contended, we need each other to push each other to higher and higher levels. An author alone can only improve himself so much.

Speaking of an author alone, there's a great (albeit loooong) article in The Guardian, Fail Better, about (among other things) how readers are every bit as responsible as writers for making great literature. Great article!

When I first saw Killer Year, I thought, what a nice idea. What a nice idea for these new authors to be mentored by these great writers. What a nice idea for them to get together and blog.

But these authors--these Killer Authors--they're really pushing the thriller genre to the next level. They're breaking the four minute mile.

I am so very inspired. I feel grateful for the amazing standards and the difficulty in getting into and staying in this business. It's definitely making me a better writer! Now let's just pray it makes us all good enough to write great books!

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ya' Gotta Have Heart

Erik Ivan James gave me a very good and gentle reminder yesterday to focus on the words my heart wants to write. Very good reminder, especially from a man who can write with such heart!

He's so right, too!

It makes me wonder how I'm perceived. See, I blog to learn. I know I sometimes come off as knowing what I speak of; it's a bad quirk from teaching so long.

That doesn't mean what I write is always true. And I'm really waiting for you guys to tell me I'm wrong. I really am! I want to learn, so I don't mind changing my opinion (or defending it, really).

My writing must go up a level. It really must. I can't do that magically or by talent; I've got to shove and kick myself, push myself off cliffs and put myself in situations where I have to get better or die (well ... close enough, LOL).

So you guys, coming here, talking, and letting me conceptualize, communicate, and organize my thoughts and ideas is ... ohmigosh ... I can't even say. Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I truly mean that.

I'm a pantser and a heart writer, believe it or not. So I come here to force my brain into analysis and to try to grasp and understand and de-mystify the mystical stuff we writers do. I know I have to study the greater writers, but I struggle with how. I struggle with picking apart what makes something work or not work in someone else's novel.

I ... er, need to get smarter.

(Reminds me: David White, another Killer Year author, talked about memory and writing a novel in his blog. Definitely another of my challenges!)

So you know me, I'm always tackling my shortcomings head on. That's why I'm here. And of course, I seem to be here to ramble, too. :-)

Where was I? The point of this?

You guys get my technical thoughts. My heart? Well, that goes into my writing computer. My problem?

My brain works on this computer, and my heart works on the other. I can't seem to get them to work at the same time. How do you guys do it? How?

Maybe it'll have to be the same as I am with music. I can't really apply something to the piece I learn it in, not if it's a big technique or big change. I have to learn it so well that it becomes ingrained, second nature, and so I can do it without thinking. So I have to pull this analysis out of ... er, and then I have to stuff it into my subconscious.

I can't think and do at the same time.

How do you do it?

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The Limitations of Goals

My productivity the past two days has been disappointing. I don't know what's up. Should I make up excuses?

The Big N starts on Monday, I'm spending time thinking ahead.

I've been researching. I'm just taking it easy before the big push.

I can't think of anymore. Why can't I think of anymore? Probably because none of them are true. The truths is, I've been distracted.

Worse than that, after I put in my bare minimum, I've been letting myself get distracted. (See! Proof for you! If I ever sound like I'm lecturing on this blog, it's because I'm lecturing at myself. Just look at yesterday's post!) I've reset the daily minimum from 100 to 1,000, although if I have more than two hours, I demand at least 2,000.

But heck, I can do so much more than that.

I literally get to 1,003, and stop. Or I get to 2,006, and stop.

Must dig deeper. Must be better. Must improve. No more today, because I've got lots of work to do. Boy, do I have a lot of work to do! The Big N starts Monday!

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Friday, January 12, 2007

The Cost of Procrastination

I grew up in a tv household. My dad watched TV downstairs (and read during commercials; he was a voracious reader), and my mom watched TV upstairs (and read, but I don't know when). They'd come home from work, eat, and then watch TV.

Mind you, they worked. They were parents, and they ran me around and stuff like that. But my childhood impression of them was intractably linked to the television. In my young mind, I was given the impression that their life's purpose was to watch TV. After all, that's what I saw them doing the majority of the time that I actually saw them. (I couldn't see them at work.)

Think about that. What impression do you give your children?

Why do I bring this up? Because children these days ... boy. It sometimes breaks my heart, the time they put into their iPods and their Gameboys and their Wii's and their Television-watching. It's no wonder children think being a celebrity is the most important thing in the world. The time children rack up doing these sorts of things ... people just don't notice it. How often do you hear that children are scheduled to within an inch of their life? (Well, they are, it's true ... but more time could be found for some ...)

Think about it. When you die, are you going to look back and think, "Darn! I missed that TV series, Friends!" Really? I mean, I watched it religiously, but I can remember very little. It seemed so important at the time, to be in front of a TV on Thursday nights. But what do I remember from those years? What did I take away from those 52 hours I spent each year?

Procrastination has reached an all-time high, because of the prolificness of distractions today. And it costs, boy does it cost.

Aside from the financial drain that comes from productivity loss, "it makes people poorer, fatter and unhappier." The more gadgets, the more procrastinators. Of college students, 75% consider themselves procrastinators!

Of course. Our society has become obsessed with instant gratification. Come on, America! We're Americans! We're supposed to be strivers and achievers, people with work ethics that bring to life the American dream!

And I'm not really talking about work time; we work harder than most other nations. At least, we work more hours (in our hourly, clock-punching obsessed workforce).

It's the time we're away from work. Are we really doing what's important to ourselves, or are we putting it off? How important is TV? (Oh yes, important! I love to watch a good show ... but not 2.6 hours a day.)

I love writing, I love words, I love reading. It's been my experience that talent is overrated, and hard work is underrated. Despite that, if you look to all the great talents--even Mozart--they worked their heinies off. For some reason, people like to throw their hands up in the air and say, "he's got talent, what can you do?"

So many people seem to be under the impression that talent is skill without practice.

Dear dog.

I don't believe that. An art requires much work, much dedication, constant study, constant discipline, and always striving for excellence. Even Mozart said that there was no great work that he hadn't studied multiple times.

The best writers? They all say, read, read, read. Study what you read; learn from what you read. Not one of them say "read this book on writing or that book on writing."

Sure, writing books are INCREDIBLY helpful. But ... at some point, I have to learn how to study the REAL books. The writing books can do it for me, but I need to learn. So I keep trying and trying.

And I'm often complaining that I don't have enough time in the day. Well, after reading this article on the cost of procrastination, I'm tempted to practice what I preach. I tell the kids, "Ask yourself: is this who I want to be? Is this activity important to who I want to be when I grow up? Is this activity going to make me a better person?"

I ask myself every night, when there's only a couple hours left in the day, if I've done everything important to myself. Have I progressed? Have I worked on the most important things in my life? Have I become better?

Somedays, it makes for a busy two hours in the day, but ... I want to go to bed every night, knowing that I made that day important.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Learning from the Masters: Neil Gaiman, Part III

Finally! Finally, finally, finally!

I finally pushed myself all the way to the end of this novel. Don't get me wrong; it's not that it isn't a page-turner, because it is. The problem is, sometimes it's just so good, that I want to go back and re-read!

So how did I read Neil Giaman's Anansi Boys?

Well, I read Chapter One three times. And then I read Chapters One - Two. Then Chapters One - Three. And then Chapters Two - Four. And then Three to halfway through the book. Then it was Chapter Four ... and I kept on trucking all the way to the end.

Crazy, huh?

I set out to study the craft of this book, to understand how it was put together and how it worked. (Hence, this isn't really a review review, but a trying-to-learn review.) ((And double parantheses ... I accidentally pressed Ctrl + S while typing this, and it published!! I press Ctrl + S about every other sentence when I'm writing. I guess the habit is sticking!)) So sorry, if you're on feed!

Anyway, I had a hard time understanding this structure. The beginning and the end are intricate mazes of hook upon hook ... extraordinarily well-crafted fiction. I love the pacing of the beginning and the end so much that I'm aiming for that same feeling of counterpoint in my novel.

The middle is what confuses me. The middle is like any other novel, with long arcs and not as tightly or intricately woven. While the beginning and end are short little hooks and threads, the middle contains long lines that aren't so ... compressed.

Is this just the convulated way in which I read it? Did anyone else feel this way?

From a structural standpoint, it makes sense. I see most things in terms of music, and this reminds me of a Sonata, in a way. In the beginning, you get all the motifs. In the middle, you develop the motifs into longer musical ideas. In the end, you repeat the smaller motifs of the beginning.

And how does the structure of the novel relate to the following quote from Anansi Boys:

Stories are webs, interconnected strand to strand, and you follow each story to the center, because the center is the end. Each person is a strand of story.

I have more questions than answers today. The pacing and hooking and intricacy of the beginning remind me of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.Please don't misunderstand; Neil Gaiman is worlds above Dan Brown in craft.

But the one similarity (and I suspect this is why The Da Vinci Code sold so well) is the intricate pacing. The way the book jumps from interesting to intriguing, with hooks all over the place that arouse the curiousity, as well as plain old well-crafted story.

I hesitate to say more because--please don't laugh at me--I feel like I need to read this one more time, all the way through (preferably in one sitting) to really get a grasp of the structure. So I'm asking more than telling ... what do you think of the structure?

And if you haven't read it, what is the most intriguing, intricately plotted (along with well-written with developed characters) book that you've read? I'd really love to study it!

That's how I want my book to feel, but I question whether this can be pulled off in first person (one POV) or not. What do you think?

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The Wonderful Thing About Resolutions

I had a tough decision to make recently. The decision is made ... and yet, I still hesitate. Why do I hesitate? Is it the money? Is it the niggling feeling that I might be wrong?

I first made the decision not to go ahead because of my New Year's Resolutions. It was so easy to look to those for guidance. Lori Armstrong over at First Offenders very recently talked about those people who live by a quote.

Life is easier to navigate with a compass.

I held my conundrum up to this year's compass, and it didn't fit. I want to Live Real. I suspect my hesitation lies with the character herself.

But I am not my character. I don't want to be her, and as a matter of fact, I have to crawl in someone else's skin. Do you ever catch yourself making a decision as your character, instead of yourself?

My quote was "must be better," but only because I'm always chanting it to myself. *giggle* Believe me, I have reason. :-)

Maybe that's what bothers me ... the "must be better" compass is pointing towards revisions, but the "Live Real" compass is pointing towards not making it Christian Erotica. And so the compass is going wacko.

Do you have a compass? A quote you live by? A North Star? Do you consult it? I'm just curious.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Great Self-Experiment

I hear a lot of talk about writing and such phrases as, "If you want it bad enough, you'll write every day." The underlying message is that if you aren't writing every day, then something's wrong with you, like you just don't love it enough.

I disagree.

We're humans, true, but we're still animals with simple animal instincts. We still seek what's pleasurable and avoid what's not pleasurable. Sure, sometimes the above assumption is true, sometimes if we're not writing every day, then we don't love it enough.

But I still don't buy it. It comes down to pay-off. When you put in the time and the effort, what do you get out of it?

When I first wrote, I won honorable mention in a little contest. It felt awesome! Then I did three little stories just for fun, and posted them on a yahoo group. People were nice and encouraging, and I had another "carrot." Then I got a few pennies; I wrote short stories, so the pennies came quickly.

Definitely great motivation.

Don't get me wrong, I truly love writing. I've grown a little, and now I get a kick out of yelling at myself for three hours, and then finding at the end of three hours, that I pushed myself to grow (just a teensy bit) as a writer. I get a kick out of telling myself I did a little better than I thought I could.

But there's days where it's just a job. There's days I sit down, I put in my time, and work. The next day I have to make it better, but ... it's just work. I do it because I want the reward. Sure, I love writing and find it incredibly fulfilling; it feels so right, like I'm doing exactly what I should be doing.

Motivation isn't something that's there or not. Motivation is something you DO to yourself. We have to approach ourselves as we would a science experiment.

Instead of feeling guilty or worried that we're not motivated, we should analyze what we did, how we did it, and what we got out of it. Then we should play with each of those variables until we settle on what works for us, what motivates us the most.

Yes, it's true that a huge desire will overcome most obstacles we set for ourselves ... but why not make it easy for ourselves?

So what pay-off do you get from writing? What little rewards do you give yourself to help you stay motivated?

I allow myself to read a page or two of a book after every couple hundred words (usually non-fiction). When I get 1,000 words done, I let myself wander the store and look at books. When I get stuck, I go look at Nora's books and remember her commandment: just write. When I need inspiration, I read a short story.

I just cringe when I see statements that say if you're not loving every second, you shouldn't be doing it. Nothing is like that. It's like parenting. Of course it's rewarding, of course they're your everything, but ... of course there are times when you're not inspired. Finding the way to write when we're not inspired is the key to turning our writing into a daily discipline.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

New Year's Monday + Got High Concept?

I've learned so much from your comments on blogging and author websites. Thank you! JA Konrath has a post on blogging today, excellent as usual. I forget: even if we delete something from a blog, it's cached out in google-land.

Before I talk all about me (which you can feel free to skip), I wanted to share that Lori Wilde's Got High Concept just came in the mail today. Yay!

Nora Roberts doesn't need high concept. Stephen King doesn't, either. I think it sure helps. Dean Koontz always has high concept; just go stand in front of his books and read all the blurbs. It's an education! (Does anyone know why Dean R. Koontz became Dean Koontz?)

Does high concept do anything for you? It does make me try a new author, or make me pick up a book that's intriguing. The book has to deliver, but ... it's a help.

It's a workbook that walks you through the creation of a high concept idea, and may I say? It's absolutely fabulous. I've read nearly all the writing books out there, and this little thing is even better than Donald Maass's workbook, although this only deals with the high concept, while Donald Maass's workbook takes you through character and all sorts of other goodies.

When I saw this book talked about on Alison Kent's blog, I was skeptical. I wanted it, because if the workbook delivered its promise, then I knew it would help me. I took a $25 chance (expensive, but she puts it together herself), and I am sold. Excellent, excellent workbook.

She helps you brainstorm ideas, walks you through three different methods to come up with a high concept pitch, and she even gives you tons of little advice throughout.

I think it's impossible to get from the beginning to the end of this book without a high concept pitch and a clear idea of your plot. It's so good, that I told myself I just might buy one workbook for every book I do in the future. Here's her blurb on it:

Would you like to propel your manuscript out of the slush pile?
Razzle-dazzle editors with your high concept story?
Trigger publishers to open their wallets?
Rush readers into stores as soon as your book is released?
Impress the media? Stimulate industry buzz?
Jump-start foreign sales?
Earn a bigger advance?
Inspire Hollywood to come knocking?
Then GOT HIGH CONCEPT? is the workbook for you!

Warning: Another of those me-diary posts follows. I'll be blogging later today or tomorrow on Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys and its structure. If you've read it, let me know your thoughts. I struggled to understand the structure. How did the pacing work for you?


Happy New Year 2006!

Anyway, I think the New Year is a process, not a day, LOL. Today's my day I've set to re-evaluate my week. One more babystep forward:

  • 1.) Practice Yoga 6 times a week: 2, but we're in Stage 2 of this habit, LOL. (I'm remembering I'm supposed to do it, just not choosing to, yet. At least I'm remembering I should do it!)
  • 2.) Lift Weights 3 times a week: 0
  • 3.) Practice Forms 5 times a week: 2
  • 4.) Remove dairy, wheat, sugar, and meat from diet: No wheat! 1 item down!
  • 5.) Have sit-down dinners with DH: 3 times!
  • 6.) Write 10,500 words a week (4 novels next year): 8,000 words
  • 7.) Read at least 52 books next year: Finished 1.
  • 8.) FlyLady the house: Kitchen under control!

And just to remind myself:

  • 1) Live outside the window.
  • 2) Give everything.
  • 3) Ask more.
  • 4) Dig deeper.
  • 5) Live real.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Wizard Behind the Curtain

Since we've been trying to figure out what we like in an author's website, I was curious about a blog.

To be entirely honest, I was, at first, put off by Laurell K. Hamilton's blog. I'm not sure if it's just that I wasn't ready to see the author behind her vivid worlds. She really lets you see herself. At first, I was put off by the couple blogs where she was a little depressed (I forget why, it was awhile ago).

BUT, I now love her blog. I love that she puts herself out there and she's honest with her feelings. I love her dedication to posting and her willingness to share her musings with her readers. I think that kind of emotional bravery is admirable.

What do you think? Someone 'around town' was just worrying about what he posted on his site. I think he was just starting a new blog, and he was worried about what to post and what not to post. I understand that, too. At our local RWA meeting, someone mentioned that if they found out that they disagreed with their politics, then they wouldn't read that author anymore.

That's a little harsh, but it's not the first time I've heard something to that effect.

Vaspers made a great post about the 15 Risks of Blogging.

You know it's been one of my New Year's Resolutions to stop being too nice, and to start being more real. Give myself permission to be human and all that. I admire people like that (I'm not, but I'm trying.). I'm trying to do that with blogging: just be real.

Anyway, that reminded me of a book that was recommended to me called Nice. I can't find it anywhere, so I must have the title wrong, and I don't know the author. It's about a woman who is SO nice, that she can't bear to break up with boyfriends. She doesn't want to hurt their feelings.

Finally, she finds it easier to KILL them, rather than break up with them. From my understanding, it's dark humour.

I wanted to add it to my TBR for 2007, but I can't find it! Anyone heard of it?

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Author Websites--Help!

Well, it's time. You know I'm not one for self-promotion, but I have to build a website for my psuedonym (don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to go there! I have two bits between this and my pseudonym because I couldn't keep a secret to save my life!) But it's time for a website.

May I ask a question or three?

  • What makes you go to a writer's website?
  • What do you like to see on a writer's website?
  • What makes you go back?
  • Which author websites are your favorite?

Here are some really awesome ones:

  • JA Konrath's website is chock full of tips and information and a wonderful blog. Seriously, his website is bulging at the seams with content.
  • Cherry Adair has the coolest kick-ass website ever.
  • Marcia James has a funky design--I love all those curly q's!
  • Sherrilyn Kenyon's is cool, too!

One thing that seems to be lacking in thriller websites is what's coming next. I had to write four authors and ask them when their next book was coming out, so I could put them on my list for next year! This issue only seems to pop up with thriller writers, so I don't know if it's a genre thing or what. Romance websites almost always have the publishing list for the next year or so.

Off to write!

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More on Professional Jealousy

Professional Jealousy seems to be the topic de jour. Over at Murder She Writes, Allison Brennan adds her thoughts to the subject and links to Dr. Sue's great advice (as always) on MJ Rose's blog.

Every time this subject comes up it drives me crazy. I've always contended that I love my jealous feelings, that they push me beyond my self-imposed limitations and let me know what I want.

But maybe I'm not feeling jealous. I've never looked at someone else's stuff and thought that mine was better, so mine should have the same acclaim, or be published in New York. I never, ever compare down.

Dear dog, I don't want to launch a career with better than what I think is 'bad.'

When I went to conservatory, I remember telling the guy in one of the interviews that I'd rather be the worst musician at the best school, than the best musician at a mediocre school. (I got my wish, LOL -- hopefully I changed that after a year or two!) The point is, if I'd gone somewhere where I was the best, where would that have taken me? I would've improved a little, but very little. My skills as a freshman in conservatory compared to my skills when I left? Big difference. Huge difference. Not as huge as it should've been, but ... I improved.

Remember the four-minute mile? Everyone thought it was impossible to run a mile under four minutes. Everyone tried for years and years and years, and no one could do it. Roger Bannister did it in 1954, and then all of a sudden, many followed suit.

If you can't see someone do something better than you, then you're going to be going for something you've never seen done before--a task that's incredibly difficult. Once you see it's possible, it'll be much easier.

We become what we look at. If we read stuff we think is bad, and we compare ourselves to what we think is bad, then that's going to be as good as we'll get.

Maybe it's because I've lived in the music world all my life, where everything is subjective. I'm comfortable with subjective judging and subjective comparisons, because it's all I've known. With music, you have to be perfect first, and then better. And then, if you're extraordinarily better than perfect, an amazing talent that just leaves people breathless, then you can have a sure win.

I've always thought of that area above perfect as artistry, although plenty of amazing talents have shown great artistry below perfection.

Other than that? It comes down to luck.

I think most art is similar in this regard. Read and compare yourself to the best writers you can find, make your skills as perfect as you can, and then try to be better than perfect. All while allowing yourself to write imperfectly, so you can get through that darned first draft and not stumble over writer's block. ;-)

But I don't compare down, I compare up.

It not only keeps me humble, but it gives me a guiding light, something to strive for, and the knowledge of what I need to work on to improve. Who has time to compare down? I'm too busy looking up, and hoping to be as good as them when I grow up.

In the end, it's like golf. The only person you're really competing with is yourself. Sure, I'm "jealous" of my top ten list to the right, but do I wish them to be worse writers? No! Because if they were, I would be worse, too. That would be sad. If I 'beat' someone today, I pray they'll beat me tomorrow. Then we can drive each other, and our art, to a higher level.

We need each other, we really do.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Learning Writer's Review: The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey

Okay, you're going to think I've gone off the deep end, but I'm going to review the first bit of Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself.

I hop over the to the Killer Year 2007 blog quite a bit and tend to read each of the authors' blogs, too. (Okay, I just program them into my reader.) So of course, they've been posting and trying to build buzz for each other (which is a wonderful thing to do). I've added them on my TBR 2007 list, but that's about it.

But the buzz is getting to me (in a good way), after this review at Murderati, and the New York Times review.

I went and read the excerpt of The Blade Itself here, and ... wow!!! I was blown away! I just had to talk about it because his book is due out next Tuesday, and because ... wow!! He is what is called a Hot New Talent!

We don't hear much about world-building in thrillers, but ... Marcus Sakey's got that nailed. It's in the details: details so vivid that you can see everything like one of those gritty gray-blue movies starring Sean Penn, details so fascinating and real your disbelief won't even notice that it's been suspended, and details so particular to character that within the first sentence, the two starring characters instantly come to life. To quote:

The alley wasn’t as dark as Danny would’ve liked, and Evan was driving him crazy, spinning the snub-nose like a cowboy in some Sunday matinee. “Would you put that away?”

“Keeps me cool.” Evan smiled the bar-fight grin that showed his chipped tooth.

“I don’t care if it makes you feel like Rick James. You shouldn’t have brought it.” Danny stared until his partner sighed and tucked the pistol into the back of his belt.

Okay, I couldn't help but quote a little more than the first sentence. I mean, it's so good. At first glance, the first sentence seems to pale in comparison to many of the attention-grabbing first sentences that have become par for the course in publishing, lately. But at close analysis, this first sentence packs a wallop of information.

First, "the alley wasn't as dark as Danny would've liked" tells us that Danny is cautious, he's not particularly thrilled about what they're about to do, and they're about to do something that requires darkness--probably something illegal. Look at all we've learned about Danny in the first third of a sentence, without any actual description of him!

Then we learn that "Evan was driving him crazy," which establishes conflict between Danny and Evan. Now, within the first half of a sentence, we have TWO questions: What are they about to do that they shouldn't do? Why are these two partnering to do something one wants to do, and one doesn't?

The last third of the sentence illustrates both Evan's character and the world in which we are about to dwell. I didn't know what a "snub-nose" was, so I had to read on to figure it out in context. See what I mean about details? That's one of those details that sounds and feels real. It shows us a world that we don't know and brings it to life.

And Evan's character? He's "spinning the snub-nose like a cowboy in some Sunday matinee." Well, he's casual and unconcerned, playing with his gun. He's not worried about the alley. He's not even worried about carrying a gun. We can even picture that cowboy in a Sunday matinee, the one that blusters and swaggers, causing problems for everyone. Too cocky for everyone else's good, and way too ready to draw that gun and use it.

We see him playing with the gun, and we have our third hook. For me, I had this sinking feeling, like "Oh sh-t. He's gonna use it. I just know this is going to go all wrong."

That's one hell of a first sentence!

After that sentence, Sakey doesn't lighten up. Every single sentence is as jam-packed and well-constructed as that first one. We're not just watching a train wreck, we're getting layers. Each character has fully-developed conflicts, emotions, and motivations.

And those details, man, those details. Makes me want to go do a TON more research. Check out how he describes a bad cop, and notice the little details he drops, like the "bristles of a street sweeper" for lock-picking. Notice how you can tell that Danny is listening hard into the night, aware of the sounds for fear of things going wrong. Isn't it amazing?

I'd go into it, but look at how long this post is already, and I haven't even gotten past the first sentence! Dear dog, I want to quote the whole darn thing to show you! Will you go read the excerpt and tell me your thoughts? Two heads are better than one, as they say!

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