Monday, June 21, 2010

Cien Por Ciento

To entertain the kiddoes on our colosal road trip from South Carolina to Arizona, I've checked out some great books on CD.

Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit, some Magic Treehouse, some Little House on the Prairie, Judy Moody, Stuart Little, *Kira-kira, *The White Stag, *A Wrinkle in Time, When You Reach me, *Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, When You Reach Me.

*books I haven't read. I know. A Wrinkle in Time. How did I miss that as a kid? Apparently every other ten-fourteen year old loved it. My kids WILL have advantages that I did not, so it shall be written. We did read some amazing books and I'll never forget my mom reading Charlotte's Web to my fifth grade class and weeping. I don't actually remember being embarrassed. And I wept when I read it to my kids. And whenever I read them Kate DiCamillo. Must be genetic.
A-hem. On with the blog. My apologies for keeping you here in the fine print.

By some Magic Treehouse, I mean twenty titles. I guess when I was requesting materials online, those looked really good. Over and over.

I've noticed that when we listen to books, there isn't the same behavioral backlash that we get when they watch a movie. Plus, it makes driving more fun than listening to books. Listening to movies without being able to see the picture is kind of annoying to me, esp Popeye. I can watch it, but to listen only makes me want to gouge my ears  out of my head. Hmm. That's not as poetic as gouging one's eyes out. I tmakes me want to throw our portable DVD player out the window? Yes. That.

And in a shocking development in the field, The Hobbit has flopped. Nobody wanted to continue past the tea party with the neverending dwarf names/stories. I thought it was much more fun to hear someone sing the pub songs than to read them. (That was one of my favorite things about the LOTR movies. Hearing tunes to the songs. Especially in the extended version, when Eowyn sings this dirge...OR Viggo could have been my favorite part of the movies. Hmmm. That's a really hard call. Look at this picture and help me decide.)

Back to the Hobbit on CD. I wish the actor was Brittish. That can add a lot to a story- for instance, listening to 'Island of the Blue Dolphins' was cool because the actress had that Tongan-ish accent and it was just beautiful.

We're over halfway through "When You Reach Me" and that's holding their attention pretty well. I read that book earlier this year and didn't remember some of the mild cursing in it. That's the bad thing about audio books versus reading it aloud to the kids- I can't insert milder words like 'heck'. A good discussion will come of this, right?

And just to let you know of a cool resource, I've listened to some good recordings of common domain books, like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Pride and Prejudice" on, a site where individuals volunteer and record their favorite books. I like to do that while folding laundry or doing dishes.

The Midsummer Night's Dream was great because they had different people reading each part and it was easier to understand than straight reading from the page. I tend to skim over the name of the character speaking, and generally get confused by reading plays. How lazy that sounds. Now you know my secret. I'm a lazy reader.

It's late and we're driving from Little Rock, AR to Veda, TX tomorrow (about 10 hours with a stop planned at the science museum in Oklahoma City, so I'm off to bed. And in case you were wondering, the science center in Birmingham AL was really really fun. We got to pet some sharks and rays and lie on a bed of nails.

Anything to add? Thanks for reading!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Georgia O'Keefe and Writing Smut

I emailed a friend this prelude to a kiss scene, asking if the comparison of her skin to a seashell was too "Georgia O'Keefe".

Georgia O'Keefe, besides being one of my favorite artists, was famous for her large scale oil paintings of flowers, such as these Calla lillies. Her art is incredibly sensual, and one reviewer  saw her attention to flowers as representative of the female portions of the natural world. If you know what I mean. (Which, for the record, caused her to say, "I almost wept. I thought I would never face the world again." But still, the comment stuck and sexuality one of the things that people read into her work.)

In my view, our bodies are beautiful and amazing, but sacred. I wouldn't post pictures of nudes on my blog, but these lillies- aren't they gorgeous?

So I decided I'm comfortable writing in the style of Georgia O'Keefe. I can talk about the lillies, about hands and skin and cheekbones and lips. And that's enough for me. I trust the reader to make the connections, that the emotion will come through.

Here's my Georgia O'Keefe writing. (My protag is an empath whose skin changes color as she experiences her own and others' emotions. She's pleading with Agent Hatton to explain the secrets of mortal life life to her. Her skin turned black as if she were being burned in a fire in a previous scene.)

Agent Hatton looked at me with pity in his eyes, pity and something else I couldn’t name.

“Your body already knows what to do.” His words were soft and intimate. I tried not to think of how they would have tasted to me before. He stepped closer until our toes bumped into each other, but I didn’t move away.

Mother help me, I wanted to lean in.

“I think that fire is your body shouting at you.” He took my face in his hands and touched his forehead to mine. He smelled of woodsmoke and grass gone to seed. “You don’t even know what you’ve done to me.”

I couldn’t move even if I’d wanted to. His thumbs rubbed in broad strokes on my cheeks and his touch calmed me. I still couldn’t feel what was behind his twisted expression, but the motion itself was powerful in a way I hadn’t expected. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do. You’re the psychic or whatever, but I know when a woman wants to be kissed.” He looked peculiar, but it wasn’t bad, just powerful. “Whenever I think about kissing you, your skin turns this beautiful purple, like the inside of an abalone shell.”

I peeked at my hands; a rich eggplant color was creeping into my fingers.

He released me and trailed his knuckles down my face. “Kissing you was the last thing on my mind, so I know it was your idea, but I should still tell you no.”

I suddenly wished for my empathy to return; I was blind. “What’s a kiss?”

His eyes slid off of mine, down to my mouth and then back up. “Part of the dance.”
I love reading a good love scene that isn't crude. Stephenie Meyer comes to mind- I think she's pretty much the master of not-in-the-room sensuality.

Any thoughts?

And as a bonus, here's one of my favorite O'Keefe paintings, with strangers thrown in for scale. I'm not sure what the clouds represent. Cellulite?

Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Courage to Play

The beginning of my novel has a problem. I've felt something not quite right about it for a long time, and have tried adding characters, new scenes, greater conflict, and those were good things to do, but the problem remains.

I've heard at least ten times from readers- "Once I got into it, I loved it." and "After the first few chapters, it's like reading a different book." But the first few chapters have information that the reader must have, and the tone is going to be different because the world is different.

Mr. Agent's only criticism of my writing (that he informed me of, at least!) was that he didn't connect with the tone. So. There's a problem.

I was fiddling around with the idea of making a prologue, something that would let the reader know that there is a serious love story ahead, I've foreshadowed, but it wasn't enough. Then I read FIRE, by Kristin Cashore, and realized that flashbacks would fit the situation better. I know. Flashbacks have a bit of a stigma, they're confusing, they break up the tension, they're pointless- why not just show the action in real time? But I tried that, and it messes up the tone of the beginning of the novel, when readers are deciding if they like where the book is going.

But what if the difference in tone, each world having very obviously different setting and characters, made it easier to separate what story line we're in? Then it would be an asset to have such different tones.

In 'Fire', all of the flashbacks are focused on the main character, Fire's, relationship with her psycho but loving (to her) father. In the present, the reader knows he's dead. In the past, he's alive. Having a cue like that made it very easy to follow.

So, I've set up my scenes in parallel. For instance, when Lara, my MC is interrogated by the FBI, they ask her about a missing girl, and she flashes back to ther last time she saw her, when Lara was essentially interrogating the missing girl. Both scenes are stronger for being juxtaposed like that. I think.

Yesterday, I reordered my scenes. And though I have a word processor and it's just a matter of cutting and pasting and spending a few hours (like ten) checking for continuity, it felt like the riskiest thing I've done in months. I was giddy and excited to see if it would work.

I'm think it's smoothing out the speedbump of the first few chapters- which were engaging and interesting already, just separate from the rest of the book. If they were awful scenes, then switching up the order wouldn't help, but I think it was just too much at once. Regardless, I won't make a final decision until I've had some trusted readers look over it.

So, if something isn't working, don't be afraid to try something a little different. It might even make things better. And the worst that can happen is you backup your file, mess around and have to revert to the previous version. Oh well! It's worth a try!

Writing a novel is supposed to be creative! Have fun with it and don't be afraid to lose a few hours to an experiment. In an amusing twist, reordering things will make my opening scene the arrest scene, which was my opening scene in my first draft. Hmmm. Full circle?

How do you find courage to try new things? Are you like me and wait until it is completely obvious that something needs to be done? Thanks for reading!
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Partial News

I got back from taking the kids to the pool yesterday and the mailcarrier caught us in the driveway. This is odd because I have a phobia of all things regarding communication- I don't check the mail, I don't answer the phone without checking caller ID, but mostly I just can't find my phone or I've dropped it in the toilet (I did that to Nathan's phone last week. Oops.)

Anybody else identify?

Ms. Mailcarrier handed me a big envelope and somehow I didn't see it for what it was. A returned partial. The rejection letter inside surprised me- I don't mean that I wasn't prepared for a rejection (we all know what our chances are with each individual agent, right?), but somehow I hadn't realized that getting my pages returned to me was an answer all by itself, so I was still wondering what the letter would say. I won't wonder again;)

Mr. Agent was very kind and gentle with my ego. He wrote, "You're a good writer," (and how awesomely nice is that?) but that he didn't quite connect with my tone and then he did something amazing- he recommended that I contact two other agents. Which is cool, cause now I can use his name in my 'why I'm querying you' paragraph. What a huge boost to have him willing to attach his professional opinion to my work, even though he doesn't want to represent me. I truly appreciate it. 

I'm not ready to send out my queries- I only pitched to Mr. Agent because I happened to find out that he would be at a nearby, inexpensive conference, and I'm still incorporating my beta readers' comments. But, I felt that the fifty pages I sent were in really good shape, so at least I have no regrets.

I expected to be disappointed, and I guess I am, but this doesn't feel like a personal rejection (although I did get a little teary-eyed when I talked to my sister. She assured me that this was good for me, because I haven't met with a normal amount of rejection- I'd always been the one to end relationships and then my husband and I met so quickly that I missed out on rejection there, too. Isn't she sweet?)

Seriously, though, I wonder how I'll know that I'm picking the right agent instead of just accepting the first one that smiles at my MS. I want a lifetime relationship with my agent. I want to make beautiful books together and for someone to care about my stories as much as I do. Thanks for all the encouragement, blog friends. It's been nice to have people to share this ride with that have been there.

Now that I've had my first taste, I doubt I'll be talking about my specific querying efforts...unless I have some really amazing news.

I'm adding page tabs at the top, and if you're interested, you can read my first chapter. Thanks!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Prolific? Not so much.

I bet it took longer than six months for Tolkien to get this map right!
And where did he learn to write like that?
Oh, yeah. He invented a few languages and the most fully developed fantasy world ever.

I've been slaving on my WIP for a year and 8 months. I will say that at the beginning of that process, my understanding of structure, voice, POV etc. was limited to what I learned in high school. My high school english teachers were amazing, but still, there's a huge learning curve. Things like passive voice and the really real rules for commas were a mystery to me. Don't tell, but I still overcomma after the word 'but'. 

My WIP started out at as fodder for that box under the bed that every writer is required to have. Mine might end up in a box under my bed, on top of my old charcoal sketches of cow skulls (classic art class stuff!), but it's mostly better now.

My idea changed. Characters got older. The stakes got higher with every rewrite (still happening!). I renamed half the characters. Ok, all of them if you go back to my very first attempts. Everything has changed from my initial concept, except for the essence of my protagonist and her character arc. I just had to figure out how what situations would cause her to grow how I knew she could.

This took a long time. Not the ten years it took Susanna Clarke to write Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but it's felt really long and a bit circuitous.

I don't want the next book to take so long. Please, please, please, Second Story, don't be so hard to pin down.

I've been told that the secret to that is Outlining *enter heavenly choir*. Check out this awesome post on plotting over at Teresa Frohock's blog. She organized in a way that I can only dream of and a fabulous writer and friend. I fully expect to see her books in stores in the next 2 years.

I've been told (no link, this was at a writer's conference) that research is the key, that if you do your character sketch and research your setting, that the story will unfold like a beautiful flower. Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but that was the general idea.

It's been said that using personality profiles, interviewing your characters, and drawing pictures of them will help you to know them better.

I've even heard of a novelist who starts every book by drawing a detailed map and fitting the story to the map.

I'm not sure which of these ways will work for me. Right now I'm trying research, and my brain is boiling.

How do you develop a niggling idea into a full plot?
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Something about my eye and the Ball.

Doesn't she look uber-patient?
Maybe if I wore robes, I could be patient, too. Would pajamas do?

I've checked my email no less than 500 times in the last two weeks, starting before prospective agent #1 would have received my 50 page partial submission. And now it's been almost two weeks. Not that long, I know. And there was a holiday, and I'm sure he has tons of stuff to keep him busy.

Wait a second. 
I have stuff to keep me busy too!
Back to editing I go. But I wonder...hang on a second.

Okay. I'm back. I have a great deal on airline tickets+rental car+hotel, but nothing literary or agenty in the  inbox. I need to get done and send out some query letters so I won't care so much about the individual responses.

So, I've started some research- there's a two foot tall stack of books I've checked out from the library and the details are blowing around my brain. I've only read a small chunk of one book, but it's still a start.

And I have some notecards with possible scenes for The Sequel that I've been carrying around in my purse. I need more hours to figure this stuff out, not less. Right. There's absolutely no need to be impatient. 

How do you deal with waiting? I know I'm not the only email hound.
Glutton for Punishment?