Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Emotions Are You Inciting?

I've been trying to figure out why a story reaches some people but not others. Why you and I could both read the same story but one loves it and the other says, "Meh. It was okay."

Reading a book forces you into another character's head, and they in turn are in our heads, asking us the same questions we ask them. WHY do you believe that? Why would you do that? What on earth are you thinking?

Trying on these characters changes us, and that's part of the pleasure of reading. It's safe. I can follow along with Frodo as he approaches Mount Doom, trying on his courage and determination to do what is right without actually wrestling Gollum for the ring.

Sometimes we'll recognize a character as a kindred spirit. Other characters are more...challenging. Anne Shirley is both to me. When she's yelling at Rachel Cuthbert or climbing a roof to walk the ridgepole, I shrink back into myself. But when she's walking with Matthew in the field or laughing with Gilbert, I'm there, 100%. Why couldn't she just realize she loved Gilbert? Seriously!

I read "Twenties Girl" by Sophie Kinsella a few months back, and it was awful! The MC did the craziest things-like walking into a business meeting and asking a strange man out on a date simply because her Grandmother's flapper ghost wouldn't leave her alone. I was mortified with her! It was brilliant!

I think this is why it's so important to read widely, especially in genre writing. We have to know what emotions readers are looking for. Do they want to be thrilled? Do they want to fall in love? Do they want to live in another world for a while, experience another culture? Do they want to be uncomfortable?

Who would want to be uncomfortable? Lots of people. My hubby and I started watching The Office recently, and cringe through every episode. Steve Carrell gets most of his laughs by making the audience glad not to be him.

Where will your characters go? Will they drag your readers along or entice them?
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Allen Wold's Workshop- Creating a Barbed Hook

Stellar Con part 1- the Allen Wold workshop.

Allen Wold assigned the workshop members to take ten minutes and write a hundred word hook to a story.  I arrived late and Allen took me out in the hall to explain that they'd already started and he didn't allow people who weren't participating to sit in. Did I understand?

Me (all paraphrased, of course)- Absolutely. I'm so sorry for interrupting.

Allen Wold- The assignment is to write a hundred words introducing a character, a conflict, a setting and a hook. We can't have spectators, only those participating can be in room.

Me- Yep. *hangs head, feels mopey for missing out*

Allen Wold- So do you think you can do that?

Me- Wha-at? You mean I can write...in there? In the workshop?

Allen Wold- Um, yeah.

We shake hands and I thank him, then ask him to repeat the four parts, explaining that I didn't realize he was letting me stay.

Allen Wold's thoughts (purely conjecture)- Why else do you think I was explaining the assignment to you!?

So, I got a seat on the edge of the room behind a very awkwardly placed column- awkardly placed as in near the center of the room, so in a way, everyone had a seat behind the column. Then we all listened as workshoppers read their pieces and the panel (Allen Wold, Danny Birt, Barbara Friend Ish, Debra Killeen, and Darcy Wold.) commented after each reading.

Here's my first draft-
The needle presses into my finger as I force it through the canvas. I sway with the waves and pull the material tighter, knowing that however neat my stitches, the saltwater wil rot the canvas, same as it rots the lines on our ship.
A cannonball at my father's feet will pull his body down to the ocean floor, same as it had my mother's two years before. The sharks will feed, but I keep my needle moving.
A hundred words in ten minutes is about ten words a minute- not a big deal, right? I was able to string together 60. It was harder than I expected to write on real paper, plus I was all jazzed up from walking in late and feeling embarrassed. But I though it was okay.

The feedback-

My apologies for not including name tags, but I was listening too hard to take notes on who said what, so if I remember, I've included it, but they were pretty much in agreement.

-present tense, REALLY? Never ever use present tense unless it's completely necessary.

-nice detail with the rotting lines.

-Danny Birt commented that he thought the needle pressing into the flesh was going a different direction (like self-mutilation) at first.

-Allen asked me if I'd ever been on a boat, emphasized how important it is to write what you know. Not, he said, that anything was wrong with my details, just to be careful. He also asked if I'd been shipwreked. Yes to boating- I grew up fishing in the Gulf and Keys on my dad's boat (so, for instance, I know how to disembowel a Florida lobster using his own antennae. It's as gross in real life as you're thinking it sounds.), but no to being shipwrecked.

-Someone else commented that perhaps crabs would be more likely than sharks to eat a dead body on the ocean floor. I think I could support sharks- they are scavengers and sharks are found with rotting body parts in them all the time, and I was thinking that once the canvas bag rots, the body would float (I think it takes six weeks for a body to decompose enough to become buoyant. Or is it six days?) Anyway, I agree that crabs sound more likely.

-Several people commented on the fact that there is no larger plot, nowhere to go. It's a vignette, not an intro to a larger story. True.

The revision- (about 200 words)
The needle presses into my flesh as I force it through the canvas. I sway with the waves and pull the material tighter, knowing that however neat my stitches, the saltwater will rot the canvas same as it rots the lines on our ship. No, it’s not our ship anymore. It was never really mine. 
This crew won’t straighten their backs and pause, waiting for my nod. I don’t have my father’s steely gaze, his iron arms. Excepting me and this mutinous bucket, all he’s left is his blade, too heavy for my thin arms to wield.
I tuck a cannonball gently between my father’s cold feet, though it matters little whether I am rough or not. When they slide him down the board and he lies down with the crabs, he'll feel nothing. I pull the stitches tight, then tie off. The cabin will go to the next captain, so I poke around for a keepsake to take with me. 
There's an old hatbox in the cabinet, and, opening it, I discover letters my mother wrote and other personal affects. I blow my long, tangled hair out of my face. No one nags me anymore to present myself better than a night siren.
My heart doesn't believe that he's gone.
My head believes that crabs must eat, too.
My heart tells me to be gentle with this canvas bundle.
My head tells me to load my mother’s gun.

Allen Wold explained that there's a difference between a hook and a barbed hook. A hook catches the reader's attention and makes them want to read on. A barb turns everything you thought you knew upside down and compels you to continue. It's a flip in perspective, a flip in meaning.

That's what I've tried to do here. The girl is mourning. She's preparing her father's body for burial at sea. She's vulnerable. She's weak.

But she has a gun.

I get what the panel said about present tense being so hard to pull off and usually unnecessary, but I don't know that I'm going to do anything else with this story, and I didn't want to bother. Is that sad? I did try to switch the POV to third person past, and that POV didn't work- the emphasis on "our" was too involved to translate into third, so I left it.

And check out Teresa Frohock's piece from this workshop- it gives me chills! She was asking for anyone else who participated to send her a link, so there may be more on her blog from other participants.

Any thought on hooks vs barbed hooks? What's the best hook you ever read?

PS- I'm sure you're all just as upset as I am about the earthquake in Japan and the tsunamis. If you are looking for a way to help, consider making a donation to LDS Humanitarian Aid. Because they are staffed by missionaries and the church provides buildings and warehouses, 100% of the donations reaches those affected in a disaster. Supplies are distributed to all in need, regardless of religious affilitaion and usually in conjunction with the Red Cross and other secular and government organizations.

The cool thing about LDS humanitarian aid is that they preposistion caches of food, water, and medical supplies all over the world, so wherever a disaster strikes, relief isn't far away (which allowed them to be first responders after Hurricane Katrina and after the Haiti earthquake, among others.) Plus they use Paypal! You can set up a monthly donation in any amount if you want. That's all. End of message;)

Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, March 7, 2011


Teresa Frohock and I at StellarCon35. Look at our awesome name badges! This was the first time I've met somebody in real life that I knew from the computer, and it was easier than I expected. It took my brain a few minutes to get it, but I was able to connect all of the openess I have with my email buddy to the real person standing in front of me. We had a blast, but we did not get thrown out of any workshops for snickering too much, as I'd hoped.

I attended the Sat. session, including the workshop with Allen Wold (except for the half hour I missed bc I was late! A.W. was terribly nice about it and let me join in), a Quickwrite panel where teams of writers were given prompts and passed a notebook around, a workshop on making compelling bad guys, and *most* of a character development discussion.

I'll post a little about each class every day this week. But for now, know that I had a great time and thought the convention atmosphere was way more relaxed than the writer's conferences I've been to. And cheaper. Way cheaper. ($30 for a weekend of writing classes beats the heck out of what the SCWW charges for their conference. StellarCon didn't have agents, but if you're just looking to connect with writers and attend some classes on craft, it was great.) If you write fantasy or Sci fi, it might be the way to go.

Plus the people watching is out of this world. And mail-clad. And leather-girtled. 

Happy Writing!

Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stepping Out, a Plug for Miserere, StellarCon, Query Stats

This is a week's worth of blog posts in one...
I spend a lot of time at the library because it saves a TON of gas to hang out there until preschool is over. Plus I actually write at the library instead of blogging, etc. Despite this, I don't know the librarians very well. I'm all business on writing days, and when I go in with my kids, we're such a circus show that I don't talk to the librarins except to alert them to the pages that the kids have pulled loose, flaps they've torn, etc. So today I decided to change that. (Have I mentioned that I'm an introvert? This was really busting out for me.)

I told Dee the librarian that I'm a writer, and if she thought there was any interest, I would be happy to volunteer to teach a class on getting started. Basically to direct people to some of the resources that have helped me & answer questions on the basics. I also gave her a few chapters so she could judge for herself if I have anything to offer. I wrote, picked up Jojo from preschool, and we went home.

I had an email from Dee waiting for me asking to read the rest. So we'll see. Maybe they'll take me seriously and we'll do a small class. Not sure why, but teaching is a lot of fun to me, in a way that chit-chatting has never been, and I'd like to give back a little.

Also, I'm so excited to be going to StellarCon in High Points NC this weekend, where I'll finally get to hang out with my good friend, Teresa Frohock. Her book is available for preorder on Amazon. Check out my review.

Pretty cool cover art, isn't it?
And in other news, I've contacted an editor, who is going over my first couple of chapters. Hopefully this will alert me to any issues I need to fix throughout my manuscript, such as my love for variations of "seemingly." We're also looking at the query, since I didn't get the response I was hoping for this round of querying.

What's that? Sure. Here're my query stats:
30 queries sent.
12 rejections

4 partial requests
2 partial rejects

1 full request
1 full reject

Which leaves me with 1 partial out there, and 1 partial I haven't sent yet. And one query to resend because the agent usually responds to every one, and she's well past my query date according to the comments left on Query Tracker.

Anybody else getting crazy ideas out there? Any costume ideas for my first con experience?

Have a great week!
Glutton for Punishment?