Glutton for Punishment?
Friday, July 31, 2009
Glutton for Punishment?
Thursday, July 30, 2009
I shouldn't have gotten a laptop. I shouldn't have picked up a pen in the first place. At first, it seemed innocent enough—a few scrawled pages in my sketch pad. I wasn't even using a proper notebook. The idea sat for two years, and I didn't mention it to anyone except my husband and my best friend.
I used to wander around the library and take home three or four titles and enjoy the ride. Now I have a list of books I'd like to read, but when I take my kids to the library, I feel guilty about checking one out, because I should be writing. It kills a whole day because I read books in one sitting- whether they are Harry Potter-size, or a compact 150 page YA. See, there it is again. A year ago, I would have called it 'juvenile fiction', the way the library does, but no longer. To the publishing industry, it is YA. I have switched sides.
I harbored the elements of an aspiring writer: a scribbled story idea, a publication in my high school literary magazine—page one, thank you very much—one college level creative writing class, and a feeling that I had something to say. All I needed was a catalyst.
Don't laugh, but the thing that got me was Twilight. I told you not to laugh.
Reading Twilight did three things for me: gave me hope, showed some rules can be 'broken', and broadened my genre.
As I relived the thrill of first love, I thought "I can do this". I saw myself in Stephenie Meyer- a stay-at-home mom with three boys. (I have three boys plus a 'bonus' girl, but the comparison was close enough.) I kept bumping into Stephenie. An interview on NPR. Friends everywhere toted her books. She requested me as a friend on Facebook, er, um, something like that. And then the movie came out and all the girls from church had a party and went to see it. I kept thinking "My idea is that good."
I'd read that third person limited was the way to go for a beginning writer, and I'd swallowed it. After writing twenty plodding, effortful pages in third person, Twilight reminded me that anything was possible, and I could write in first person. (It pained me to throw out those first pages. Now if I can cut a few paragraphs, I feel I've struck gold.) Suddenly, my character was more than a sketch, she was alive. I started writing eight to ten pages a day, crammed into nap time, play time, and after bedtime.
I alternated going to bed after 2 a.m. with waking up before 6. My husband falls asleep about sixty seconds after head-to-pillow, so I would go to bed with him, wait for his breathing to change, and then get up and write. (I told him what I was doing, but he goes to sleep better if I'm there. Courtesy, not deceit.)
Twilight also changed my perception of 'romance'. My grandma read one Harlequin a day when she was alive. She and her sisters would garage sale (garage sale is a verb. i.e. 'I'm going garage sale-ing.') every Saturday and then trade boxes of books when they were done. She had emphysema, so she was limited to reading and watching 'Dallas' (remember that theme song? Ba, ba BAAA. Ba ba ba baa baaa. Got it stuck in your brain yet? You're welcome!) I'd read five hundred romances by the time I was fifteen. No offense to romance writers out there, but I'm not interested in reading another as long as I live.
So, I deliberately avoided romance because I aimed for more of a book-club-quasi-literary novel. But my character needed to discover what makes the brutality of life bearable, and the only thing strong enough is love. And not just any love. True love. I'd-die-to-save-you-and-consider-it-a-bargain love. So paranormal romance it is.
After four months and 400 pages, I finished and started looking around for an agent. I mean, once the thing is written, that's what you do, right? I typed up a query, and sent it out to…Query Shark. Whew! I could have really messed up there. The Shark hasn't gotten to it yet, but I've changed it ten times (not kidding), so it doesn't matter. Somehow, by reading agent's, editor's, and writer's rants, pleadings, and sad stories (no particular order to those!), I made the transition from wanting to write a story to wanting to sell a manuscript.
So now I'm compiling a list of possible agents to query. (I read yesterday that you should have 50. Really?) I'm half-way through my third major edit, with at least two more ahead of me. I'm developing relationships with other writers, searching for beta readers, and honing my editing skills with my on-line crit group. I'm planning trips to the bookstore to find comp novels and will search the author acknowledgements for their agents, and if that fails, their websites are next. I'm developing an online presence. (See, here I am.) I'm working on a short story that I hope to put on my query as a such-and-such contest winner.
But where is the balance? I supervise as the kids unload the dishes and put their own clothes away. They vacuum and sweep, and then I do it again. I sewed a dress for my little girl yesterday and we wove construction paper placemats this morning. But behind the busy work, I'm wondering if the night swimming scene where the MC is trying to evade the helicopter with its infrared scopes and the alligator that comes to investigate is too busy. Everything is going wrong except the weather…maybe some lightning. But then the helicopter…see? Even when blogging, I'm working on my story.
My condition is chronic, but I'm okay with that, because my next book is about this Egyptian woman who stops the flow of the river of time to search for her lost child. That's a career plan…or a terminal illness. It's hard to know which.
What were your first symptoms of being a writer and how did you come to terms with your diagnosis?
Glutton for Punishment?
Thursday, July 23, 2009
A few years ago, when we lived in sunny (irony notice) Evans City, Pennsylvania, I took the kids sledding in the back yard. But the hill from our detached garage wasn't quite long enough. So I build a bank that turned them 90' so they had some room to coast.
This worked great for single riders, but when I put Isaac and Emma in the sled, their combined weight was enough to sling them up to the lip, crush the barrier, and over they went. Down the back side of the bank, down the maybe 60' slope into our neighbor's yard (their yard sat about six feet below ours on the hill).
I was waiting to help the kids up where I expected them to stop, and when their sled took its new direction, I dove to catch them- seriously, it was very heroic, except that I missed- and out came my 'favorite' word as the front of the sled glanced off the corner of the neighbor's shed. Fortunately, everybody was okay, though crying.
I like to use it when somebody slams on brakes in the rain in front of me on the interstate, right when I'm changing CDs. I reserve it for special occasions like these, maybe two or three times a year.
In 'A Christmas Story', Ralphie says about his Old Man, "He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master." I know I'm not in that league, but still. I haven't purposely sworn in eleven years, yet it's so deep in my brain that when I'm in pure reaction mode, out it comes.
My sister told me that she read a study (here is the article http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/13/cursing-and-pain-relief/) that people who cussed could hold their hands in ice cold water significantly longer than people who were asked to say neutral words describing a table. I wonder if the effect would have been the same if they'd said "Oh my heck!" or "Crud" or "Dig-doggety!"
I can say whatever words I like—on a physical level they're just phonemes. Just vibrations in my ear that my mind has been trained to associate with certain meanings. When I say house, an image pops into my mind.
But some words have more than meaning; there is an emotion. Home. Love. Friendship. Affair. Rape. Concentration camp (ok- that's two words, but give me a break). There are real physiological responses to "loaded" words such as these- blood flow, electrical conductivity on the skin, and heart rate all react.
Individuals with copralalia associated with Tourette's Syndrome do not use words to describe a table. How does the brain know what words to spout off?
Why does it matter what ethnic names we use? Does it really hurt to be called a 'cracker'? I knew it wasn't good when somebody called me that in seventh grade in my school in the projects. (Thanks for 'fixing' racial proportions via bussing, Tampa!) Tone matters. Facial cues matter. We associate every experience with its related group, and when a stimulus is applied- when the word is spoken, up pops our past.
Post Traumatic Distress Disorder happens because dangerous or very bad experiences have gotten soaked up into groups of experiences, some appropriate, some not. A gun shot is a reason to seek cover, but not the backfire from a car.
My husband and I were robbed at gunpoint when we were dating. I had driven up to Jacksonville with my family, and he had driven down from South Caroline, and we all planned to go to the Stephen Foster Music Festival (Great event, btw). When Nathan got to the hotel, just he and I went out to Burger King. We were totally naïve and sat in the car to eat. A young man in a Tupac shirt came up beside us and took twenty bucks, less the price of a Whopper. I do not consider myself racist. I couldn't have dated a black man (would you prefer African-American?) in high school if I thought all black people were degenerate or lesser. But when it is dark and I am feeling vulnerable, that experience is back, and I lock my doors. It's a survival mechanism. Thank Darwin.
My church has a little handbook on appropriate behavior called "For the Strength of Youth" (link below) but it applies to all ages. Under language, it lists this scripture "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good. (Ephesians 4:29)" and it says "When you use good language, you invite the Spirit to be with you."
God knows that when my kids are heading down an icy slope straight for the corner of a shed that I'm scared. I'm sure he understands that and that I don't deliberately swear. But what has happened in my heart?
I don't believe that cursing lowers overall levels of anger. Cursing gets associated with anger and loss of control, and the more you use obscenities, the more you remember your anger. And memories are real. They affect us physiologically very similarly to actual experiences.
I believe that the Holy Ghost can be with me as long as I am striving to do my best. I believe that Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father want me to be "one" even as they are one. I know I'm not perfect, and I don't expect to be. But I can be good. I can train my thoughts. I have done it, and it is possible. What God wants from me is effort, not perfection.
The funny thing is that people can't say eight words on network TV (Stop it. I know you're trying to figure out what they are), but it is worse, in my opinion, to use the names of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father without respect. Profanity is just profanity. But using the names of deity as exclamations when the room makeover is revealed, or when somebody breaks a vase is linking our Father and our Savior with the same group of experiences and emotions as the 'bad words'. I wonder what the correlation is between praying, and over-all respect of God's name.
Heck, I bet it's high.
Glutton for Punishment?
Thursday, July 16, 2009
When we were done with our breadsticks and all(and I don't know why every restaurant doesn't give out an Andes mint. Those are so nice.) we headed over to the mall, and passed by the $5 massage chairs sitting in the middle of everything. Instead we chatted with a very informative Brookstone salesperson (did you know that there is a SALE this week on massaging chairs? $150 OFF! I know. I'll wait until you get back.) while he showed me how to extend the footrest to massage the bottom of my feet (it was suprisingly uncomfortable on the back of my ankle).
When he had helped us, he moved on to help a lady in a wheelchair find the perfect handheld back massager. We sat there through the entire 'refresh' cycle, and my lumbar region felt great.
Then we walked to Waldenbooks, and I engaged for the first time in a time-honored writer tradition. I don't actually know if other authors do this, but I bet they do. I found the spot on the shelf where my book will go. I didn't actually scoot the other books over to make room, but I can see it. I wonder if it works in my favor to have a "B" name, instead of a middle-of-the-alphabet name. It's a good thing I got married because Kennedy is stuck on a bottom shelf, far removed from the ends.
I have always felt something like nostalgia and anticipation with books. Walking through our main library-all four floors of it- I see the rows and rows of shelves, thousands and thousands of books waiting. One neat thing about the old system of card catalogues was that the little card would come out and get stamped, and you could see how often that book had been checked out. It always seemed sad to me when it had been years, like a girl that nobody asked to dance. Or for the boys, like the last one to be picked for the kickball team. Now we just scan the barcode-the kids love to do that, and then proudly carry their own books-but I wonder how long that book has been waiting for someone to flip it open, to read the first few sentences. To turn to the middle, check out what's happening a hundred pages in. to connect with something enough to take it home and have a little chat.
So I love bookstores and libraries and garage sale books and thrift store books and books I borrow from my mom, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and whatever friends are silly enough to trust me to give a book back. I do get them back, it just takes awhile.
Now I have the added pleasure of imagining MY books on the shelf at Waldenbooks. I'm not so interested in imagining my book at a garage sale, but I suppose that happens to everyone.
Dad was patient enough to listen to me go on about how the publishing company contracts with the bookstore over who gets on the front table, and if the cover is facing out or the spine. And how most people can't tell more than half the time when someone is lying (even law enforcement is only right 56% of the time, unless you're secret service super-agent. They are right 98% of the time. Isn't that interesting?)-according to my research for my book. And then I gave a synopsis of my book, and he listened. And he asked a few questions about Lilith (one of my characters) and the legends about her. And then he realized that Lilith on Cheers was a hint by the writers about what kind of woman she was.
A little bit ago, an guest on Nathan Bransford's blog wrote about the dream of writing, about that perfect day. I have had so many, but today was perfect in its way. Hanging out with my dad, getting a free massage, talking about the sea turtle sculpure table we saw, or the teak root bench (gorgeous and competitively priced) and how one day he wants to sell his house and buy a sailboat was enough for today. Plus, he promises to sail up to Charleston, SC. I'm going to take him to the bookstore when he gets there and show him my book on the shelf.
Glutton for Punishment?
Friday, July 3, 2009
How have I reached these *dizzying* heights of editing? Practice and effort.
First I remember that other writers are just as invested in their work as I am in mine. I love what I've written. Every misplaced comma and dangling participle and mixed metaphor.
How can I love this ugly baby? It's kind of misshapen, and I dropped it on its head a few times, but I don't see that. I see what it is becoming. I see it the same way my little girl fixing her hair reveals her to me in the distant future getting ready for her first date. She's six, so I imagine her in pigtails, but whatever she does with her hair, I KNOW she'll be gorgeous. Everybody loves their baby, and I try to show respect for other people's ideas and creation.
Everyone has strengths. When someone reviews my work, I try to listen first. I've been told I use passive voice too much, that I've too much description, that this phrase is awkward, this is funny, but slows things down. This is funny, but makes the characters seem too adolescent.
Those comments usually confirm a thought so fleeting that I lost it. Anything that I already kindof wondered about, I nod my head to and start typing.
Some times a reader will miss details- like when Lara fell, and a reviewer asked me a few paragraphs later how she ended up on the floor. Even if the words are there, the comment alerts me that there may be a problem. I might need to start with a new paragraph so that the fall is not lost. I may need Lara to say, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up." Even if I don't change anything, it's good to take a closer look, because what confuses one person will likely confuse others, too.
When I review another person's post, I go slow and note anything that pulls me out of the story. I usually read the submission two or three times, and then I reread my review to make sure it's clearly worded. Then I post it.
THEN I learn. I read the other reviews on that submission. This is the best thing I've done. It helps me to name those niggling issues that I recognized but couldn't verbalize. It has taught me things I didn't know that I didn't know.
A few reviewers have been so thorough and right-on that I have reviewed their work, just so they'd return the crit. My crit group has personal info, and if I need someone who has law enforcement experience, I look for someone with that background. When I wanted some guys to read the chapter I'd written from a man's POV, I reviewed some posts by men. I got the crits from men that I wanted.
I try to email everyone who reviews my submissions to say thanks. Sometimes I ask for clarification, or explain something they commented on, but mostly I email because when I started thank you emails, it helped me see the workshop as a friendly place where people are trying to help each other. This has led to some repeat reviewers, and a few wonderful, amazing, faithful crit partners, whom I wouldn't trade for gold statue replicas of themselves...You get it, right? A good crit partenr is worth their weight in gold.
Thanks to Teresa, Aleta, and Kristen!
Glutton for Punishment?