Thursday, January 28, 2010


I had a request for more info about my writing group and it coincided with a spot of warmth I experienced concerning my writing friends. So here goes...

Earlier today I was over at my fellow 'Online Writer's Worshop for Sci fi and Fantasy' workshopper Peter Cooper's blog, where my friend Teresa guest-blogged. (A great article on the quiet moment when everything changes, btw. Check out the links to the right) I've critted some of Peter's submissions and vice versa, and Teresa is a very good friend besides being a faithful crit partner.

Published author Kathryn Magendie left a comment about her character's quiet moment and I knew what she was talking about since I'd read her amazing book Tender Graces (about a woman who returns to her childhood home to make peace with the ghost of her mother who gave her and her brothers up to be raised by another woman.) She also happens to be an editor for a lit mag and wrote me a very encouraging rejection letter. Really, I've read it a few times when I was feeling down.

I read my fb friend (and rat afficianado) Hilary's blog about her 13-month effort to find an agent, and she responded to my question about if I should hold off on sending a query letter to a particular agent until after the pitch session I've signed up for. (Yes. Hubby and Hilary agree, so I will wait.)

The point of this is community. It hasn't taken that long (I had a crit-partners-become-friends within a few weeks on OWW) to find people that I can connect with and who are encouraging and fantastic writers and I wish we all lived near each other so we could meet every Tuesday in a local pub and we could call ourselves something cutesy and literary- maybe the Inklings? Sigh. I am not Tolkien and you are not CS Lewis. Not yet anyway. But you are here and I am here and we are writing.

This is how solidarity revealed itself to me.

A year ago, after four months of obsessical (new word. You like?) writing, I had my rough draft. I knew it needed something. Something so literary and metaphorical and streamlined that I couldn't see it through all of the words that had grown up around the idea. I did a quick search and found an online crit group with a free month trial. That sounded good.

I was literally sweating when I posted my first submission. The writing was really rough, but I didn't realize that at the time. (I was actually hoping to get picked as an 'Editor's Choice' that first time out of the stall.) It didn't happen that quickly, needless to say.

I did a lot of reviews wherein I made comments like "This didn't gel with me. Not sure why." And I reviewed others' work, read other reviews of their work just to see what I was missing. This led to a lot of head scratching for me. What does 'get rid of passive voice' mean? How can they not see the character motivation? It's in there...isn't it?

Joining a workshop taught me how to be critical of my writing, to actually read the words instead of staying in the fantasy land of what I thought I'd written. I write urban fantasy, but still. The reader should be transported to a magical place. The writer shouldn't live there.

Hubby and I watched some of the auditions for American Idol last week and Holy COW! some of those people can't sing. I can't sing either, well, maybe in a choir setting, but I know I'm not a front woman. I did a song (Doobie Brothers, "I Wanna Make It With You". I know, TMI, sorry ) karaoke night at a friend's Christmas party and it cured me of any teensy thought that maybe with a vocal coach...Nope. Not even then.

I tried the local writer's group, but genres are so different and nobody else was fantasy (much less urban fantasy). So it's been really neat to meet these amazing writers online- some still drafting or polishing, some agented and some published.

It's taken a while for me to feel like I'm not some crazy-stalking imposter, but I finally got there. I belong here, keyboard on my lap, stacks of chapters print-outs on the floor beside me. Thanks for being so nice, writers. I'm glad we're friends.
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Honey-do List and Empty Verbs

I have a honey-do list, and, unfortunately, I'm the honey doing it.

At this point in my edits, it's impossible to complete a 'fix' without either realizing something I need to adjust for consistency or getting a cool new idea for how to make something a little more believable and sparkly.

Here's the hubby doing dishes.
Too bad he can't take care of editing for me!

I jot down questions about everything from plot to character background, plus scene order, general comments from critiques, and some 'writerly sins' that I frequently commit.

Here's a small sample:

Things to Remember-
Emotion needs to be real to the reader. Allowing the reader time to infer her emotions.
-By slowing down her thoughts, letting more of her physical reaction reach the reader.
-Put the reader in familiar situations and then twist, exaggerate

-Make Lara’s empathy real by showing how it affects her physically and the way her thoughts change
Edits to make-

Is the chunk in the mental hosp with David interesting enough?

Does Lara’s climax w mother go too fast- the chronology is messed up there- is it troublesome that David has so much more time Outside than Mother has in the Home?

Check resolution w/ David’s Mom
The talk- adjust Lara to not be so childish sounding.

Make Lara more engaging in beginning- give her more knowledge of what she wants to do and no power to stand up to Mother.

devils milhopper- crime scene tape, etc.

Rewrite dialogue about Mommydaddyetc. Make girl really angry.

Mother needs to explain about the other fruit

Lara delves all the girls before they can enter the orchard.
Watch for and elimiinate when possible:
-over use of: elllipses, dashes, italics, exclamation poits, inner dialogue questions ie- "I wondered if..., Would she faint?, etc."
Wanted to, Watched, Listened, Wondered
Felt, feel
Was, had
Then, For a moment
Thing /something/somehow
Going to be/do
Very so quite really
Usually, Always, never
nice, fine
I've gotten a lot better at not writing things in passive voice, ie- I threw the ball (active) vs. The ball was thrown by me (passive) This frees my mind to work on other sins like using empty verbs.

In first person, empty verbs add a level of commentary between the reader and the experience.
Compare this:
"I saw her hair glinting in the sunlight." (Obviously the character whose head we're in saw this. Just describe what was seen!)
To this:
"Her golden brown hair poked out of her ponytail, each stray hair backlit like a filament in a light bulb against the sun."
Let the reader see through the character's eyes with out reminding them that someone else is seeing, someone else is wondering, someone else is tasting, hearing, and living. So every time I catch a new empty verb I put it on the list. Then when I'm in a mood to reword (very rare!), I use the 'find' function and fix them. Almost invariably, these words indicate that the sentence structure or word choice is weak.

I just started crossing through completed items instead of deleting them and this helps me in two ways- I can see what I've actually done instead of merely thought about (it gets really confusing after 10,000 changes) and it gives the illusion of getting something done! Haha! Really, it helps me to stay on track and reassures me that the novel is improving, however slowly.

How do you keep track? Any secrets to share, writer-friends?
Glutton for Punishment?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conflict in 'Forests of the Heart' by Charles de Lint

We've all read "Grab the Reader by the Throat" and "Conflict on Every Page!" And we all bow to this bit of wisdom: you must force your reader to stay awake all night, even though they have to get up for work at 6 am the next morning. You must thrill them, author. You must take control of their minds and FORCE them to read on! Once they put the book down, they may not return!.

I just read a book that defies those maxims-- or does it?

Cool cover, isn't it?

Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint starts out a bit slow. The opening scene is of a girl, Bettina, asking her grandmother why her mother and sister doesn't believe the old stories--stories of spiritwalking, coyotes giving dubious advice, and the place in between here and the spirit world. No one dies, and the Abuela and Bettina certainly understand each other. But it invites the reader to be part of a relationship where the old spirits are real and dangerous, not because they're bad, but because they are concerned with the land as much as about the people. That's intriguing to me.

De Lint takes a good hundred pages to warm us up, pages where we start to understand the rules of his magic, the myths that turn out to be real. To set the characters into place. And I liked it. I'm sure books like this supply the reservations with half of their tourists, hoping to see a great spirit-walker in the flesh, some ancient-eyed Indio who can turn into a hawk or a spider. It makes me wish that we had our myths back, that we could all believe in the old ways.

But, a thriller it was not. The major conflict is not revealed until the book is about 1/3 through. So it was a little bit of a stretch to trust the author that something will, in fact, happen.

The reader's attention is kept by the many small conflicts- Hunter's record store isn't doing well. He's going to have to let someone go, but who? Miki, the talented Celtic musician who's supporting her brother? And Miki and her brother, Donal, are fighting- he's drinking himself into the grave just like their father did, always angry about the wrongs society has done him and no girl will give him a decent chance. It's too bad he and Ellie, a talented sculptor broke up. And on and on.

Forests of the Heart sat on my kitchen table with three or four other books for about two weeks. I read a few pages at every meal. Some days I didn't get to it at all. But scene by scene I cared a little more and I finished it and loved it. So if you're trying to understand what agents mean about coflict on every page, I'd recommend this book. It's a great example of subtle conflict that works.
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Poet or Novelist?

Here's a quote from a recent critique I received-
 It pulled me forward as steadily as a cord around my waist would have. -Nice use of a simple metaphor! (By simple I mean it's not flowery or overdone, it's visceral and direct). It's especially good because there is something about 'chord around my waist' that implies a degree of coercion, of threat. However, I feel 'would have' at the end, does not work. Consider:
> It pulled me forward as steadily as a cord around my waist.
Hmm.. could we save more words?
> It pulled me steadily forward, like a cord around my waist.
I thought this was a great comment. The funny thing is that I think I worded it specifically to avoid the word 'like' since I tend to overuse that word. (When I'm writing a rough draft I write down every comparison I think of. I don't self-edit too much at that point, and then I whittle down to the very best comarisons, the ones that feel natural and just a teensy bit illuminating. If an idea is too profound, it often is a 'darling' and should be killed.

For instance, from my first draft-
“Get a hold of yourself, Lara,” I chided myself, as my mind sought for the hurricane windows, trying to bolt them down in time to face the storm raging inside my sister.
I even had some people comment that they liked the hurricane windows, but I realized it was something that my MC would know nothing about. But mainly is distracts from the story.

I read somewhere (I looked and can't find it again. Drat.) that Paul Simon was complimented that his songs were like poetry. He was asked which he considered himself: a poet or a songwriter. He said something like- If there's a choice between changing the words to fit the music or the music to fit the words, I choose to change the words. I'm a songwriter.

So, the metaphor may fit the mood or make sense, but it has to be secondary to the story.
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, January 18, 2010

*Checks Watch*

Time has stopped.
My good friend and crit partner Teresa has my entire manuscript and is reading it mainly for plot issues.
I have a pitch session with a real live agent at the Atlanta Writer's Conference in May, and suddenly I have a deadline. I can't be content to edit some here, take a week mulling over this scene, or try a new ending again.
I must have my manuscript ready so that this situation is possible:
I hand my query letter to Agent 001 and he glances over it. A small smile plays across his lips. "So, tell me more about how Lara is vulnerable from her empath abilities." He gets out a pen and underlines my name. He jots down something next to my contact info.
"I'm glad you asked that because that's the basis of her inner conflict. For example, when Lara is arrested, the agents are very aggressive, so she feels the same way. She has to talk herself out of attacking them and at the same time she's horrified because she's a very gentle person," I say. Was that okay?
And Agent 001 will ask me, looking deep into my eyes, if the manuscript is complete.
Back off, dude. I'm married. "Yes," I say. "Here it is. I have 20 pages, 50 pages and the full manuscript available. Limited time offer. Act now.. "It is."
"Hmmm." More notes on my query. "So, send me twenty pages. It sounds interesting. I see you went to the University of Florida. How about Billy Donovan getting another championship? Go Gators."
"Um. Yeah. Go Gators." Why are we talking about the Gators? Who cares? Talk about my book! Books! I've spent a year and a half of my life writing this pile of wood shavings! Ask me a question! "I mean, you still miss guys like Bonner and Haslem and Miller, but life goes on."

So, there's a lot to prepare for since I won't be able to google any sports names during the pitch. Just being able to talk coherently about my book will be a big accomplishment. I mean, there's a reason I'm a writer! And, Teresa, if you're reading this, thanks for the interest in my blog, but get back to work. Kidding. Of course I'm kidding. Totally kidding.
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Introductions to blog friends

Hey. I was checking out the friends of my blog and realized that I have personal relationships with less than half of you. Which is kind of exciting, not to discount the value of my physical-presence-friends. Part of the point of starting a blog was to meet new people, so I have this happy feeling of "It's working!" I want to know more about you, so if you'd like, please give us an introduction.

I live in South Carolina, am a full-time mom and full-time writer. I've made the transition from thinking that maybe one day I'd like to write to just doing it, and I'm in the next to last round of edits (I hope) on my novel before I send out query letters to agents.

Every good biography includes an embarrassing story, right? I'm trying to think of one I wouldn't mind sharing...okay. This is gross, but not too bad. When the husband and I were dating, we were playing Scattergories at my Dad's house. So you roll a 26 sided alphabet die, and you have to come up with examples in certain categories that start with that letter. Double word scores are possible- like stores that start with K=Krispy Kreme gets two points. So the die roll was K, and the category was food or restaurants maybe. And I said 'King's Kabobs'. Which is a real name. At the Sarasota Renaissance Festival it was right next to 'The Queen's Buns'. See, I'm not making this up. But Nathan (now husband, then boyfriend) didn't buy it. They voted me down and I only got one point. Totally Unfair. The next category was car parts and nobody could think of a K car part. Except Nathan. He said 'King's Muffler' and for some reason it struck me as funny. I started laughing too hard, and then I was choking, and I couldn't stop choking. I threw up all over the table. There was a distinct green pepper odor since I'd had a lot of peppers in my salad. The room had cleared in a nanosecond, but my stepmom came back and helped me cleanup. I remember Nathan was a teensy bit reluctant to kiss me that night, but we still got married.

You don't have to share an embarrassing story, but feel free to tell us about your blog, your writing, and whatever else we might like to know about you.  
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lazy or incompetent?

Most of the reviews I get on my online writers workshop are very thoughtful and helpful. But I've gotten a few over the last *gasp* (Has it been ten months already?) ten months that were not very insightful- I 've gotten the impression that the reviewer rushed.

I've learned a lot in that time, and I'm sure that some of my earlier crits were modestly helpful at best. I know of at least one crit where I apologized for not being much help, but explained that I'd read some of this person's critiques and she was so good, would she mind taking a look? And she did and her review was extremely helpful.

But I got a review last week that had very little detail- I doubted that the reviewer had spent more than five minutes reading AND critiquing. For contrast, I usually spend at least an hour. Sometimes two if it's someone I crit regularly with.
I read part of this person's own submission and it was okay. Not great, but they weren't completely lost. So I checked their other critiques to see if mine had been an anomaly. ALL of them were ten lines or so, all drivel.

I still didn't want to not return the crit, so I suggested that they spend some more time with grammar and spelling and eliminating typos so that reviewers could focus on the real stuff- plot, characterization, etc. And I recommended some good books on writing. I did not read the entire submission- not more than 300 words of it.

Did I do right? I guess that this person wants basically free critiques. And there are some people who gave real critiques in response to her empty sentences. Which is a shame, in my opinion. You shouldn't be able to get something for nothing in a crit for crit workshop. Not every critique is going to be awesome, but I want an honest response. That is valuable. "Dialogue was great. Setting was nice. The plot moved nicely." is not really helpful. A new writer who is still learning is totally welcome to crit me and I'll be glad for their feedback. But I get annoyed if the person is capable of more.
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Literary Agents- mars or venus?

While searching on, I realized I am more comfortable with the idea of a female agent. They don't have a male/female sort button, btw. Then I wondered why I feel that way. Be prepared for some Freudian self-analysis.

In high school and college I was more comfortable around men. That might still be true- Perhaps it might be that I hate to shop, don't feel naked without makeup, like to go fishing on my dad's boat, and love camping. I usually arrange things so that hubby is putting up the tent and I'm building the fire. I would rather drywall than mop (but who wouldn't?)Now that I have kids, I have a lot in common with other women, but I didn't feel that was true for a while.

I dress up and wear makeup several times a week- even today, when I'm not going anywhere except dropping the kids off at school. And I don't like watching a lot of sports, including-don't tell- my kids little league games. They like it, so I take them, but I'm much more proud of them when they finish a good book or do something unusually kind for each other.

Perhaps it's some strange subconscious thing with being married and 'off the market'- perhaps now that flirting is out, I don't know what to say to guys. Yet the feeling is remarkably similar to how I feel about having a female OB/GYN.
I've had both male and female doctors. It wasn't exactly more embarrassing to have a male doctor, but I never forget that he was a man. My work-in-progress is an urban fantasy romance with an empath main character and I wonder if a man could really get it. Letting someone read my story feels vulnerable and I'd rather have a woman inside my head. According to my research into detecting lies, women are better than men at white lies, so maybe I want someone who will be able to tell me things in a very nice way, more concerned with my feelings than the exact facts.

But I wonder if I'm quicker to shut out a woman's criticism than a man's. And I'm afraid of a woman being 'witchy', and I would never expect that from a man. I have this notion that men tend not to take things personally or hold on to past mistakes like women may. Whether that's true or not, I don't know.

I don't value crit partner's and teacher's and workshop member's critiques differently based on gender. I value it based on usefulness. And I've had no problems working with men or women in various areas of my life. So why do I think it matters? Does anybody else care what gender their agent is?

This prejudice aside, what really matters? Does it matter that an agency only has contact info on their one-page website? (are they unprepared for the digital age that has already arrived?) Email query or snail-mail? (emails are deleted so easily. Does a piece of paper linger in the hand longer?) What if the one-web-page agency accepts 50 pages of the manuscript? Is that positive or negative? (I'm thinking that it would be nice to know that SOMEONE has 50 pages that I wrote, but how much of that actually gets read?) Would I be comfortable with an agent who sells erotica? Would we be able to work together?

I think I want a newish agent in an established agency. Although, let's face it, I could see myself being desperate enough to press my hand on the cab window as they drive away, mouthing 'call me!' with my hand in the phone sign at my ear. I'm not a stalker yet, but maybe one day.

Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown did a podcast with her client, Jon Armstrong, in which she describes some of the hilarious/scary things authors have done- well beyond accosting an agent in the elevator. It made me feel rather rational and balanced, for a writer;)
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christmas Break

I'm back and I found some really great books to keep me busy for the many hours I spent in the car and sitting next to my husband during bowl games.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selzin
This book was like a picture book but really thick and lots of words. The pictures tell the story equally with the words. Here's a link to the opening sequence. And a link to Brian Selznick doing a sing and dance routine from a high school production resembling Alice and wonderland. It gets more interesting around five minutes in, but the whole thing is a disturbing morality tale. The point is, I think, that authors look good in purple tights.

Harry Potter 6 and 7 (rereads, but fun)

Time and Again by Jack Finney (good, but somehow not satisfying. Didn't care about the protagonist enough. He dumps this very likeable girl for no reason. Otherwise, great book.)

What books have you made it through recently? Any to recommend?

Glutton for Punishment?