Saturday, December 27, 2008


Generally, I'm not much of a New Year's resolution kind of person. I hate it when I don't live up to my own expectations. But, where writing is concerned, I feel a bit different. Writing can be, I believe, a goal-oriented activity. And goals and resolutions compliment one another.

I have spent the last year writing and submitting flash fiction, spending time in multiple writer's communities and feeding myself an internal dialogue of self-doubt. While flash fiction is fun to write, and the social aspect of a writer's community has introduced me to many interesting people, none of these activities have done much to further me as a novelist. The main thing lacking this year has been the production of much writing. Mostly, I've felt stuck and frustrated. I've spent time and money trying to get to the writer in me. For reasons that elude me, I've settled into a nameless fear.

Now, I've always been a big one for naming one's fears. A thing without a name has control because we can’t cast parameters on something nameless. Finding definition can cause even the most intense fears to dissolve like a snow flake on the tongue. Where this fear is concerned, my efforts to find a name have fallen short. It's time for me to hang it up and get on with things. So, here is what I resolve for the coming year as a writer, in or outside of the presence of fear.

1. I resolve to think of myself as a writer. I will become the enemy of the inner voice that tells me I am not. I will not ridicule myself for taking myself as a writer too seriously. I will not tell myself that I am making a fool of myself every time I share my writing.

2. My second novel shall be my point of focus this year. I will devote two hours a day, at least three times a week, to working on this novel. I resolve to complete a first draft by the end of 2009. I also have another novel in my head, my first non-YA novel. I will allow it to form and present itself and will stop ignoring the characters who are trying so hard to get my attention.

3. I will focus my writing community activity to one group. I have belonged to a small, intimate online writer’s group for several years now. The group used to be such a source of support for me. We've gone through so many changes, which is natural for groups. Being made up of people, the dynamic of a group is a fragile thing. Several of the more active members have fallen by the wayside, and I allowed that to lessen my own commitment to the group. In 2009, I will put my online writer’s group in the center. The group is hosted by MSN, which is discontinuing the service boards, so we’re in the process of moving the group. When we move to the new site next month, I want to consider that a fresh start. I hope everyone else will view it as the same. I also hope we can add new members who will bring their writing and their critiquing energies into the group as well. For myself, I will post my novel for critique, and I will critique whatever the rest of you post. I need other writers to read my work. I want WSE to become, once again, a place where I can depend on at least a half a dozen people to provide me with honest thoughtful critiques. Even though the number of critiques I receive from careful readers isn't strictly under my control, I will do what I can to foster an atmosphere where that can take place.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Nathan Bransford's 1st Paragraph Contest

Nathan Bransford, a literary agent at Curtis Brown, is holding his 2nd annual 1st paragraph contest, hosted on his blog.

The prizes are either a query or partial critique. Whooeee... I think this is an interesting forum for a contest. All of the posts are public, so we can see the competition, and the comments are also public. The deadline is this Thursday, finalists are to be announced on Friday, and then participants will vote on which finalist will be the grand prize winner.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Center

I’ve always loved that Yeats poem, Second Coming. For me, the first three lines epitomize how I see my life when I drift away from my God concept.

Turning and turning in a widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

The poem says so much more, but those three lines, taken alone, I can apply directly to me. The other day, though, they took on a new meaning for me with regards to my novel. I suddenly realized that my story is turning and turning, getting ever further away from the center, the falconer, me. As the distance grows, I lose the story, the voices of the characters. I need to pull them in and hold them close, I need to listen to them breathing and feel their foreheads for fever. I need to know what they had for lunch and how they feel about the upcoming holidays. I’m the center. If I want them to, they will have things to tell me. If I want them to.

I have to look forward to seeing them the way I looked forward to having my daughter here for Thanksgiving. I have to wake up wondering where they are and what they’re doing. I have to want to ask them out to play.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Why No $30 Agent Session @ Conferences - Reason #1

Agent: Your writing is solid, but the setting didn't quite work for me. It might work if you placed it somewhere dry. Maybe try resetting it in the Mojave Desert, maybe Needles, California in a truck stop under a bill board for grape crush.

Writer: B-but it's a surfing story.

Agent: Right. Keep the sand. The sand works.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Burroway - Writing Fiction

How did a whole month slip by without my posting anything here? I've started a writing class at the UW, and, along with too many other commitments, I'm letting things slip.

I'm getting ready for the La Jolla writer's conference next week, and, at work, I'm slogging through the stuff one slogs through in my profession.

For my class, we're reading Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. It's too bad the class isn't going through the chapters chronologically, because I am also reviewing each chapter in the Craft Corner on Zoe. I've decided to post those chapter reviews here.

Chapter 1 - Whatever Works - The Writing Process

Burroway's first chapter prods us into examining writing as habit. It takes on the stance that a productive writer becomes so out of habit more than talent. Hence, this quote:

Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice. --Octavia Butler.

I got to thinking about my own habits as a writer. I'm given to fits of feeling blocked. I've spent a lot of time and energy, not to mention money, trying to find ways through block. So now I'm asking myself what my habits are. What's my writing foundation? I realized that I have a lot of room for improvement here.

I do a morning exercise every day. First thing, before my brain kicks in, I do the morning pages. For me, that's a ten-minute, timed free-writing. Whatever's in there when I wake up. I seldom go back and read these pages. Last week, though, I did. I finished a notebook and went back to page 1 to see if there was any kind of flow. Most of it was pure dribble. Worthless rants about hating my job, plans with friends, my cat, thoughts about writing projects. Why do I do this, I wondered. But every now and then, I found a few paragraphs that seemed lyrical to me. Snippets of effortless art, that stuff that comes from the place I wish I could go to at will.

Now I'm thinking that maybe being able to go to that place at will, the place where the words flow, is something I can develop through habits surrounding writing. Maybe it's not some mythical, muse-occupied space where only those more gifted than I can go whenever they choose. Maybe it's a matter of developing better habits.

Burroway states:

Over and over again, successful writers attest that unless they prepare the conscious mind with the habit of work, the gift does not come. Writing is mind-farming. You have to plow, plant, weed, and hope for growing weather. Why a seed turns into a plant is something you are never going to understand, and the only relevant response to it is gratitude. You may be proud, however, of having plowed.

The chapter offers quite a list of ideas and exercises.

She approaches block from the stance of it being a tiresome cliché.

What's called writer's block is almost always ordinary fear. --Thomas Wolfe

Well, yeah. But knowing that doesn't make the fear go away. For me, I have to name my fears in order for them to lose control over me. As long as they're nameless, my fears are in charge. But she goes on to say:

I know a newspaper editor who says that writer's block always represents a lack of information. I thought this inapplicable to fiction until I noticed that I was mainly frustrated when I didn't know enough about my characters, the scene or the action – when I had not gone to the imaginative depth where information lies.

Okay. I can see that. I've conducted interviews with my characters and watched them go from lackluster to vibrant and chatty. It seems they are like anyone else...they just want someone to take an interest in them.

Another time when block settles in for me is when my ego is directing my focus.

There is an almost mathematical ratio between soaring, grandiose ambition...and severe creative block. --Victoria Nelson

When my desire for my work to be published is in the forefront of my mind, my audience automatically becomes all the people I'm sure are poised to reject me. Who wants to write anything to them???

Practical stuff, really. And all of it easily applied. I looked at some of the ideas under the section, Exercises, to see how I could modify my morning pages practice and make it more structured. I spotted several things in the chapter that I think will make my practice of writing more productive.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Synopsis on Demand

I just wrote a one-page synopsis for my meeting with an agent at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference I will be attending this November. I surfed around, looking for brief instructions. I figured that what I think a synopsis should be and what others think is likely quite different. So, I did what I most hate doing. I asked for directions.

Well, there are a gazillion web pages out there with advice. And I’m betting most of the writing books I have offer some insight into synopsis writing as well. In the end, I went to Nathan Bransford’s blog and found his blog entry on writing a synopsis. He said what I already knew, that there is no one way to write one.

So, here’s what I did. The only instruction for this synopsis was that it be confined to a single page. I prepared a single-spaced page with three sections:

The Story

The Characters

The Format

I don’t know if this is right or wrong, whether it’s what an agent would consider a good synopsis, whether it will make anyone want to read my book. I especially hope it does the latter.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back It Up

When I was married (about a hundred years ago), my now former brother-in-law took it into his head to write the great American novel. He had saved a ton of money, so he quit working, rented an office, furnished it with a typewriter, desk and safe and commenced writing. The word, typewriter, should tip you off that this was before the time when everyone had one or more computers and this thing called the internet where we could move things all over the world.

The brother-in-law was a smart guy and took himself and his work seriously enough to ensure he had a backup. He made a copy of his work and asked us to keep it in our apartment in the event a fire or something unforeseen occurred to eliminate the original in his office. I think it was an honest to God carbon copy. When was the last time you saw one of those? When was the last time you saw a typewriter eraser? Or a...well, I digress.

Now, it's so easy to have multiple backups of our work and that ease makes it all the more common for us to not do it. Oh, it's easy. I can do it any time. I don't even need to say that, if you don't back up your work, you should. There are a lot of ways to back stuff up, though. One important factor that still holds true from the brother-in-law and carbon copy days is that it's important to have a copy in some geographic location other than your home. We think of our computers going to sleep and never waking up. But loss of home or office is another angle. So, making a copy by printing it out or copying it to a disposable drive or to a second computer is not sufficient.

If you print your work, save a copy somewhere other than where your computer resides. But there is a much better way to handle copies. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is the simplest and most accessible way of moving documents to a storage place for safe keeping. Most internet accounts include storage space. If not, get a gmail account. Google to the rescue. Gmail offers an easy, accessible, free place to store work. You can access it from any web browser, and it never goes away. The question of whether or not we want Google to have that much information about our lives is another question, but for a quick backup of something, just attach the document to an email and send it to yourself. See? Easy.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Midnight Sun - What a Scam!

The only thing I hate more than being lied to is being taken for an idiot. Stephanie Meyers discusses on her web page her feelings around Midnight Sun being leaked to the internet. Understandably, she talks of feeling violated and robbed. She states that she is so distraught that she has decided to postpone the book indefinitely.

Okay, that's when I got a little suspicious. This has publicity written all over it. And it's a cheap shot. The publicist who talked her into this stunt should be fired. First, her reaction makes me picture a two-year-old, flinging herself on the floor, refusing to walk another step. Second, it makes me feel manipulated.

I'm not saying that the book wasn't leaked, although I think that's a possibility. I'm saying that Meyers and her publisher are manipulating her readers by withholding. What's the best way to make a teenager want something? Tell her she can't have it. They're creating greater demand. And it's going to backfire.

She's lost me as a loyal reader. This book will show up, and it'll sell like hotcakes because of the controversy and anticipation created by this event. I'll buy it when it shows up in a second hand bookstore, unfettered by any obligation to provide its writer or publisher with royalties.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who's Telling the Story?

I've been thinking about narrators...the voice of the story teller. I realized something while driving to work this morning. I like conspicuous narrators. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield's wonderful debut novel, starts out like this:

"All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone, heart, mind and soul, ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth. It will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story."

I was instantly hooked. What story will this story teller offer? Can it be trusted?

Memoirs of a Geisha begins: Mine is a story that should never be told.

I find this kind of hook irresistible.

Then there's the frame story...James and Conrad and all the Victorian writers loved frame stories. Some guy in a room with other guys, all in soft, leather chairs, speaks through a cloud of cigar smoke with a brandied tongue and tells a tale so tall, so horrific.

Then there's the collective narrator. Faulkner used this one a lot. A Rose for Emily was narrated by the collective "we." I find myself using this kind of narrator in flash fiction a lot. Not sure why. I like the notion of a story being told by a community or a group. Here's what we saw.

I've been circling around my YA novel for some months now, and the problem is with the narrator. I haven't hit my stride yet because I haven't found a voice for the narrator. I didn't know this until today. I simply knew that I was stuck. But now I know what I'm looking for. I want someone who has a voice like Vida Winter in The Thirteenth Tale. I want someone to begin with something irresistible, like Memoirs of a Geisha. A teen girl, talking to a friend from home, saying, "Sorry I haven't called you back until now. I just didn't know how to tell you everything that's happened here. But, now that I think of it, you're the only friend I have who would ever believe it." Whoopie.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

First Sentence - John Cheever

I was going through John Cheever's short story collection this evening, and I came across this one from O Youth and Beauty:

At the tag end of nearly every long, large Saturday-night party in the suburb of Shady Hill, when almost everybody who was going to play golf or tennis in the morning had gone home hours ago and the ten or twelve people remaining seemed powerless to bring the evening to an end although the gin and whiskey were running low, and here and there a woman who was sitting out her husband would have begun to drink milk; when everybody had lost track of time, and the baby-sitters who were waiting at home for these diehards would have long since stretched out on the sofa and fallen into a deep sleep, to dream about cooking-contest prizes, ocean voyages, and romance; when the bellicose drunk, the crapshooter, the pianist, and the woman faced with the expiration of her hopes had all expressed themselves; when every proposal--to go to the Farquarsons' for breakfast, to go swimming, to go and wake up the Townsends, to go here and go there--died as soon as it was made, then Trace Bearden would begin to chide Cash Bentley about his age and thinning hair.

Whew! Cheever. I wish I'd had you at my elbow in college creative writing classes when that snotty girl with the braces accused me of writing run-on sentences. This story is such a great example of Cheever throwing aside all control. What fun.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Readings and Meeting Other Writers

I like to think about what this online world has done for writers. I suspect I'm not the only writer who spends time alone with relative ease. I don't turn on the radio or TV to have noise in the room or to hear the sound of someone's voice. Alone time is something writers with families crave. It's something that I guard. Sometimes even The Princess is a little too much company.

So, we have our online communities, people we "know" from the internet places we visit. We know slews of people we've never met. I interact with people every day on the internet. It's easier for a socially, er, limited person such as myself. Not that I don't love a good party or enjoy a day out with friends. I'm just saying that it's easier this way, maybe in ways that shouldn't be so easy.

I work with people like myself as well...people who will send an email to someone who sits on the other side of the room. Sue and I sat next to each other and would IM one another to have a private conversation.

So, who are these people I meet online, and how do I know they are who they say they are? People with little internet community experience are often exceedingly skeptical about the friendships formed online. They think of drooling pedophiles and get-rich-quick scammers and ask how I know these people are who they say they are. "They can say anything they want about themselves, and you'd never know if it's true or not."

It's true. The internet is a place where people can be solidly false or unflinchingly honest. They can create a persona and live out a fantasy existence or take a risk and reveal who they really are. What an interesting place.

But writing communities, although we have our share of screwballs, seem to be a place where we can join together and really work on our craft outside the confines of solitude. We can have our work critiqued or reviewed or just read by a variety of people without ever leaving our homes or seeing anyone face-to-face. If we don't like the way someone comes at us, we can simply delete them and move on...except for the brooders, that is.

So, when it comes to physically meeting other writers, it's wonderful and risky and exciting. I've gotten together with Jen, whom I met on an MSN writers forum. We've gotten together several times over the past 3 or 4 years, and I consider her to be a keeper, someone I will hold dear always. Now, when I think of her, I don't just think of her incredible talent as a novelist. I think of her smile, the hours we've spent jabbering about writing, and the pieces of her life she's shared with me.

Last night, I went to a reading of a writer whose work I love. Kathy Fish read some of her flash fiction at the University Bookstore here in Seattle. It was so cool meeting her and seeing what she looks like, hearing the lilt of her voice as she read the words I've read so many times. Now, I have her tone, her smile and that sliver of her personality I was able to feel in the half hour we chatted. Two other people from the same online community were in attendance, and it was wonderful getting to meet and connect with them as well. Both of them are editors of ezines I just adore. I was afraid I'd drool or burst into hysterical laughter or fall to my knees and beg them to publish me. I did none of those things, though, and they suffered me with grace. So, now I'll never be able to read their posts without picturing them and knowing their voices. It surprises me how much that changes things. For better or worse? Well, neither. It's just different. Not only have I seen and heard them, but I've now been seen and heard as well. That's the part I don't like. I'd much rather see and hear them without them ever seeing or hearing me.

In November, I'm going to a conference in San Diego, and I get to meet my dear friend, Marie. She has read and supported me with my writing for a long time now, and she's also been the recipient of many a whining session as I've gone through things over the past few years. We're going to be roomies at this conference, and I'm so excited I'm afraid I won't make it to November without wetting my pants. We actually talked to each other in the flesh over the phone a week ago, and it was amazing. She has a voice other than her great writer's voice... I mean a vocal voice. Wow.

Getting to know people on line is safe, but at some point, I've gotta just crawl out of my cave and join the physical world. So far, it's been a hoot.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What are you working on?

I'm working on figuring out what to work on. I'm stuck. It's not the first or probably the last time. But stuck I am.

So, last month, I participated in that dynamite flash marathon and got a handful of new work out. I felt launched, oiled. But then I skipped a beat and lost it like a pebble falling to the bottom of a well.

I have to cut myself some slack because I just started a new job in June, and I'm going through this huge learning curve. But if I wrote as much as I thought about writing, I'd have a series of novels done by now.

I feel discouraged because I've fallen into self-doubt. I'm losing the reason behind writing. A part of me really wants my novels to be published, but I have to tell myself that the goal of publication is not a good motivator. It's quite the opposite.

For example, I have a plot outlined for the current YA novel I'm writing. I'm having some problems, but the story is solid. The book is already written somewhere just under the surface of my skin, and it's beautiful. But here's the problem. The book is about a teen girl who moves to Monroe, Washington with her flaky mother. She's lost, she's lonely, and she hates it here. Then something paranormal happens and her life clicks into place. Then, last week, I finally got around to reading Twilight, that first book in the blockbuster hit YA series. It's about a teen girl who moves to Forks, Washington to give her flaky mother some distance. She's lost, she's lonely, and she hates it here. Then something paranormal happens, and her life clicks into place. Argh!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, there are no vampires or werewolves in my story. But, geeze! Can't you already hear the agents and editors? We don't need another book about a teen girl who moves to Washington, has a flaky mother and is lost, lonely...well, you get it. Where else could I place it, given the great first sentence I've come up with? It was a dark and stormy night. Just kidding.

Then there's the hybrid memoir I've started, written about 30,000 words of and have just realized that the place I thought was a crack in the story is just there to let a little light in. Should I work on that? Again? It feels so self-indulgent. But I like the idea of lacing memoir with pure fiction and playing with ways we try to cast ourselves in the best possible light. Memoir is just begging to be messed with. Memoirs remind me of something my mom used to say, that you can't hit yourself hard enough to really hurt yourself. That whole notion that a protagonist needs to be liked and sympathized with pisses me off. I want to exploit it and write a memoir that has the fantasy, the lies we tell ourselves and shows what I hide when I dress for a party.

Then there's my draft of a book about five lesbians friends who are suddenly all single for the first time in their group relationship. I want to tinker with the ways friendships are so fluid and how the ground can so violently shift when women enter times of change. I have plots worked out for three of the five, and the other two are whispering to me daily, wanting equal time. Do I write, though? Noperoonie.

So, so sum it up, with all this going on, I'm working on learning how to administer an IBM cluster, running SuSE Linux and DB2 in an Enterprise Data Warehouse. I'm learning how to manage Samba mounts and how to format and partition disk arrays. And I'm on the 3rd book of Stephanie Meyers's vampire/werewolf series.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Five Things That Piss Me Off Every Time

  1. Arrogance in the name of religion.
  2. Arrogance in the name of gender superiority (coming from either direction).
  3. Arrogance of the young toward the old, or the reverse.
  4. Arrogance from the top down or from the gutter looking up.
  5. Arrogance.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Flash-a-thon Winding Down

Someone said that one of the flashathons in the past was a month long. I'd be dead if I tried that. This one lasted 2 weeks, and I was able to keep up the pace for the first week, then I started slowing down. I wrote five new pieces, turned one short story into a flash and submitted two flashes that hadn't been workshopped before. I reviewed 76 flashes and became familiar with a whole bunch of writers whose work I hadn't read before. I also got tons of great critiques and reviews of my work.

One of the many great benefits of the internet is being able to belong to a huge community of writers who read and enjoy each others work. I may not have my novel on the shelves of libraries and bookstores, but I am read. What more can a writer ask?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Flashathon on Zoe

Ellen Parker initiated a flashathon on Zoetrope's flash workshop page. The deal is to post a flash a day for two weeks. It'll probably kill me, but I'm going to do it. So far, I've done well for one day in a row. I'm committed to writing new flashes, too, not recycling old stuff, although I did try to rework a piece out of my essay, The Dead Files. I won't post it, though. New stuff only!!!

So, a flash is defined, at least here, as anything 1000 words or fewer. Zoetrope has a sort of silly rule that says a flash can't be fewer than 100 words. How can you put a minimum to flash?

Anyway, here's the real kicker. For each flash you post on Zoe, you have to review 5 flashes by other submitters. That's a lot of critiques per day. But, so far, I've discovered some new writers I didn't know and I'm getting to read a lot more of the writers I already love, so it's a pretty good deal all around. And I get a lot of critiques too. So, we'll see how it goes. In two weeks, I'll probably be flashed out.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Literary Fiction vs Indie Films and Music

Someone on one of the critique forums I frequent wrote an essay, posing the question, why doesn't literary fiction generate the same kind of excitement and discourse that independent films and music do?

Those of us who read small press anthologies and dip into the wonderful assortment of web-zines available right now know that most of the readers are writers. We all know which ones are good, which ones we'd kill to get into, and which ones are so-so. We know which ones are worthy of high-brow literary criticism and which ones are just pure fun. So, why don't people frequent these places in large numbers like the places where indie film and music are offered? What's the difference?'s a big difference. Listening to music or going to a film is usually a group experience. Sure, you can listen to music or watch a video alone, but you can share the experience with someone else and do it together or with a group. Reading is a solitary experience and can only be shared with other people who enjoy solitary experiences.

My friend, John, and I often read stories aloud to one another. We have our ritual Christmas story night during the holidays and often choose something from my shelves of short story collections and small press anthologies rather than watching something from On Demand. I think it would be great fun to have a party where everyone brings a short story not self-written and we read stories, eat wonderful junk, and drink choice beverages, maybe until dawn. That's what kind of weirdo I am.

Another thing the essay tied in to is the flickering on the horizon about the changing publishing industry. It's going to all change, and very soon. Well, not soon enough for some and too soon for others. Everyone's clamoring right now to guess what's going to happen. We have new devices like the Amazon Kindle and every software developer with an imagination (and that's most of them) trying to come up with a reader that can integrate into other hand held devices. Have you noticed that the screens on cell phones and other hand held devices are getting bigger? There's the wave of Japanese text message storying and just all kinds of stuff. Publishing companies are starting to fear Amazon because it's harnessing technology and forcing them to strain out of their neolithic mind sets. Amazon's also making some pretty monopolistic moves, but that's another story. The thing is, publishing is going to change completely because reading is going electronic.

Every time I say that, someone says, "Well, I'm never going to stop reading the printed word. It's never going away." It may not go away, but it's going to diminish. one writer of this forum said a few days ago that some of her readers of erotic romance say they never read anything but e-books anymore. Right now, romance, erotic romance and sci fi are popular in e-book form, but it's not far off for everything else to click in on this. It will change the way publishing operates in such a way that the Random House or S&S stamp of approval might not carry same meaning it does now.

Everyone's wondering how writers are going to get paid, how will publishers fare, what are new ways of promoting and finding audiences. Right now, e-book publishers pay way higher a percentage in royalties than the New York giants. Sure, they sell the books for less, but it still comes out to more. Pertinent to the essay that prompted me to write mine, though, is how the landscape will change for literary writers. Vanity presses have, indeed, damaged the rep of e-publishing. People have confused self-publishing with e-publishing. So, the question is, how will e-publishers establish a reputation of only publishing quality? I think the answer is that they must continue to be the gatekeeper. Houses with a reputation for publishing only quality works will attract readers who are more discriminating.

I hear such mixed opinions about kids and reading. Ask a children's librarian if kids are reading, and they'll tell you yes, more than ever. YA is a hot genre to write in right now. Teens, especially teen girls, are gobbling up books like crazy. I wish there were an enthusiastic e-publisher of YA, because I'd go that route with my novel in a heartbeat.

The inner struggle writers have between writing literary vs. mass consumption will never go away, but the method writers use to find readers will soon turn a corner that will change everything for everyone, and, once it turns that corner, it will never look back.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


The first conference I attended was the Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference. The first year, I didn’t meet with an agent or editor because neither of the works I had in progress felt far enough along for me to discuss with anyone. Also, I was just getting the lay of the land and was learning what these conferences were all about.

My first conference experience was everything I wanted it to be.

First, I got to spend an entire pre-conference day in a memoir writing workshop with Maureen Murdock. I felt so in step with her when I read The Heroine’s Journey because of her friendship with Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell turned my life in a new direction when I met him. Maureen proved to be a sensitive and insightful workshop leader, and the eleven other women (only women signed up for this) just added to the overall experience.

The keynote speaker that year was Sara Paretsky. I was so excited at the thought of meeting her. V.I. Warshawski is my all time favorite sassy female dick.

The official conference began on Friday, and that evening, a local pub and bookstore hosted a couple of great ice breaker events. Conference attendees gathered at the pub over pitchers of beer and an open mic where writers could read poetry or flash fiction or selected excerpts. The bookstore set up tables for board games. One of the games was a cross between creating crossword puzzles and scrabble. The game was played in teams, and agents, editors, and writers of all descriptions grouped together to extend their word play agility. I opted for the bookstore games. Between rounds, conversation flowed in a relaxed atmosphere, free of expectation. Acquaintances were formed that lasted through the weekend.

As I attended subsequent conferences, I noted that, for many of the writers in attendance, the expectation was high. They wanted to be discovered or found. However, there was a not-so-invisible line between those in the professional, established positions and the wannabes. Those who had the coveted power to discover and snatch the quivering wannabe from the dregs appeared to have other things on their minds. They tended to group together with other agents or editors, the established writers formed their own huddle, flashing smiles as they autographed books, only to return to eye-rolling amongst the other real writers. Once I sat down at a table where Robert Ferrigno sat alone. I knew that he and I had come from the same town in California and wanted to ask him several things, like how living in Belmont Shore had contributed to the writing of Horse Latitudes or how long he’d lived in Washington and what had brought him up here. He literally rolled his eyes at me, and answered in monosyllables until a romance writer came over and rescued him from me. “You look bored,” she said. He growled and nodded. Okay…time for me to move on back to the corner with the other nobodies. I learned my place right and proper.

That’s not to say they’re all like Ferrigno. That experience stands out in my mind because he was just so openly affronted by my disregard for his position at the conference relative to mine. I’ve had some great conversations with writers as well. Nancy Kress is a wonderful writer to have at any conference. She’s a great teacher and workshop leader, and she likes talking to writers of all descriptions. I felt as though she honestly enjoyed visiting with us. Sara Paretsky, Steve Martini were also a pleasure to spend time with. My all time favorite writer event was with Leslie Marmon Silko at The Room of Her Own writers retreat for women. That week-long retreat stands alone among events for writers as the greatest thing a writer can do for herself.

After I finished my YA novel, I made two appointments at the Whidbey Island Conference. I wanted to meet with an agent of YA material. And I wanted to meet with an editor of a major publishing house to discuss the premise of my memoir. The agent said that the story line of my book sounded intriguing and asked for a partial. She returned it within the same week I sent it with a standard rejection note. The editor sat with her arms folded across her chest, obviously wishing this morning would end. The expression on her face said, “What.” Not a question. Since I knew from the moment I walked in the room that she felt the entire process of meeting with unpublished writers was a waste of her time, I found myself at a loss for words. Without unfolding her arms, she said to me, “Adoption memoirs have been done before and are boring.” I thanked her for her time and waited for her to thank me for my thirty dollars, which she didn’t.

Overall, the game night stands out as the most productive event I’ve encountered at a three-day conference. The biggest obstacle conferences have to overcome is the tension formed by the fledgling writer’s desire for a break, versus the established folks aloof and guarded posturing.

We can all read Miss Snark. I don’t need to have someone stand at a podium and tell us about all the annoying things we do to cross over. I may be alone in saying this, but I am not the kind of person who excels in acting like a simpering puppy in need of a pat on the head. I don’t like to kiss ass. Sure, I want to be published, but I want it to be because my book is something someone wants to represent and not because I pant and shake like a Chihuahua any time someone with New York connections crosses my path. Maybe I’m still extremely naïve. I do know that getting published is sort of like getting struck by lightening. As a writer who workshops my work, I’ve read a lot of work by unpublished writers, and there’s just a whole fucking lot of unbelievably good stuff out there. There’s also a lot of drivel. I understand the challenge agents and publishers face in finding the right manuscripts. I know that there is a lot of great work out there that will never see a bookstore shelf. Where conference are concerned, though, ice breakers like the game and pub night and small groups where people sit around a table and talk about some aspect of writing with a single professional are the two most valuable activities a conference can offer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Smokelong Anniversary

The new issue is out and full of fun, friends and surprises!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

E-pubs, OMG

I'm seeing so much buzz and fear about e-publishing, as in the Kindle vs. other devices and how is the publishing industry ever going to keep from dying. I think this all started with the recent BEA. I have a feeling this has happened before...I don't know, maybe when...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino has a new book coming out in July, Real World. I added her to my list after reading Out last fall. I know. The title, Out, sounds like a political thriller about a gay hazing. After reading the book, I never figured out what the title, Out, meant in relation to the book. Must be one of those times when east doesn’t quite translate into west. But the book was fascinating.

I’m struggling to figure out how to describe it. Out is a complex, feminist thriller in the Conradian tradition. How’s that for a description? The book tells the story of four women friends who work the graveyard shift at a box lunch factory. Their personalities are so different I wondered how they ever hooked up, but they work well together. The story takes off when one of them, a sad waif of a woman, steps out of her passivity and accidentally murders her husband during a fight. The women work together under the leadership of Katori to dispose of the body. The narrative is omniscient, giving us a “too much information” view of each character’s thoughts and activities around the events. And Kirino crosses taboos which make us cringe while they compel us to read on.

Even with the omniscient point of view, the story belongs to Katori. She’s the instigator, the one who is both driver of and driven by the events in the story. She has a grim double who haunts her and moves ever closer until they meet at the climactic conclusion.

I see Kirino as a rising star. Her work is deceptively hiding within the current boom of female crime fiction writers in Japan. I predict she’ll trace the same path as Raymond Chandler and remain obscured within this pulp fiction genre until someone discovers her significance. She’s prompted me to do two things. I want to check out other Japanese women crime writers, and I can’t wait to read Real World.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is E-Publishing an Option?

Today, I did a little research about e-publishing. Specifically, I wanted to find what firms publish YA and whether they looked like stable businesses or shingle on-a-fireplug operations.

After taking Maya Reynolds’ class about the publishing business, I decided that I may have been too hasty about e-publishing. I lumped it in with all the vanity presses and self-publishing scams as a route that would do more harm than good. But Maya explained that, although she had gone the traditional route, with her book being published by an imprint of Penguin, two of her friends started out by having their books e-published. The e-pubbed authors earned a much higher royalty than those who go through the traditional houses. Traditional houses pay a royalty of 12 – 15%, whereas e-pubs pay an average of 45%. Maya said that, while she was toiling in search of an agent and a house to publish her book, her friends were enjoying royalties from their e-published books. In the long run, they were picked up by traditional publishing houses and ended up being published in print copy at about the same time as Maya’s book.

When Googling the search phrase, e-publishing, I came up with a bunch of questionable hits. The top hit,, is a business selling services to ecommerce businesses. In other words, it sells internet marketing tools. Most of the sites I found focus on Romance novels. Some offered a mixed menu, but all focused on Romance or Erotic Romance, with Sci Fi coming in a distant second. Finally, I modified my search phrase to be “e-publishing YA” Here are some of the ones I found:

  • Samhain, - not accepting ya right now. Mostly romance
  • Ellora's Cave – Erotic Romance
  • Loose Id – Erotic Romance
  • Awe-struck – once did YA but not anymore
  • Wings e-press – Guidelines discourage books with sex (which would rule my YA novel out). I didn’t see anything to indicate that they were a Christian publisher. They may have been just trying to discourage erotica. They also have a problem with anything to do with alternative lifestyles, which I take to mean anything gay. That kind of put me off, and certainly eliminates my other novel in the works. Overall, they are the best option I found for my YA novel…well, the only one, really. They’ve been around since 2002 and have a full staff.
  • Writers Exchange – This looked like an established publisher. Again, mostly romance, but they publish a variety of genre. They didn’t list YA but had a note on their submissions page stating that writers could query about anything they don’t list. Their web site also has samples of the contracts they have with authors and a lengthy essay about the difference between them and vanity presses. They pay 60% in royalties.

With all of the e-pub sites, I was concerned by the sort of fly-by-night appearance of the web pages and their merchandise. The book covers were the sort of thing you’d find on the cover of an Ellory Queen magazine. Covers offer lots of torso shots and scenes of women being swept off their feet. The web pages all looked like they’d been put together with Frontpage on someone’s home computer. I didn’t see any web pages that looked as though they had been professionally developed.

All-in-all, I’m taking a step back. I think that e-publishing is going to explode in the next 2 – 5 years. It’s not there yet. My guess is that, way after the barn door’s closed, the traditional publishers will realize that this is a viable, low-risk method of selling books and will include it in their fare. It might make getting published a lot easier, but will include a whole lot of material that will never see a marketing dollar.

I’ve got my ear to the ground, though, for that break-out e-publisher who gets it right and bursts free from the crowd with long strides. Someone’s out there developing it right now. I can just smell it.

In the meantime…just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. I’ll continue to shop for an agent via the traditional route.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

First Sentences

We’re told that first sentences are supposed to hook the reader. In a short story, especially in flash, the first sentence is critical. I’ve been going through some of the short story anthologies I love and looking at the first sentences of some of my favorite writers. I’m not trying to make a statement or anything. I just found this an interesting exercise. I can see the differences in style just by looking at the different sizes of the sentences. I would have included Henry James or Garcia-Marquez, but I didn’t want to make this entry too long. Here are some of the ones I looked at:

Raymond Carver:

In the kitchen, he poured another drink an dlooked at the bedroom suite in his front yard.

A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house.

Vera’s car was there, no others, and Burt gave thanks for that.

John Cheever:

There is no sense in looking for trouble, but in any big, true picture of the city where we all live, there is surely room for one more word on the diehards, the hangers-on, the people who never got along and who never gave up, the insatiables that we have all known at one time or another.

You may have seen my mother waltzing on ice skates in Rockefeller Center.

The last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station.

Mary Gaitskill

When he saw her on the way to work in the morning, he ignored her, even though he hadn’t seen her for four years.

Stephanie wasn’t a “professional lady” exactly; tricking was just something she slipped into, once a year or so, when she was feeling particularly revolted by clerical work, or when she couldn’t pay her bills.

The typing and secretarial class was held in a little basement room in the Business Building of the local community college.

Jhumpa Lahiri:

The noticed informed them that it was a temporary matter: for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M.

Eliot had been going to Mrs. Sen’s for nearly a month, ever since school started in September.

They discovered the first one in a cupboard above the stove, beside an unopened bottle of malt vinegar.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Led You To Your Novel

Someone on Zoetrope posed this great question..."What has led you to your novel?"

The first novel, the one I've finished, Giving It Over, lots of things. I was adopted, and I was a teen mother. My first daughter was conceived the same year that abortion became legal. I gave birth to her when I was fifteen. Those elements of my past give me a great interest in adoption, as an institution, and teen pregnancy.

I was grappling with some ideas for a YA novel and had a whole idea formulated in my head, but I couldn't seem to get into it. I don't remember what led me to this realization, but I discovered that my problem resided in the fact that I didn't care about my protagonist. I didn't love her or hate her, so I couldn't breath life into her. I asked myself what kind of character I could care about.

Around this time, Lynn walked out of the mist and started telling me about herself. By mist, I mean that mysterious place where characters come from when writers least expect it. Lynn was fifteen, pregnant, and was living in a house for pregnant girls who were going to give their babies up for adoption. She talked, I wrote. The story was just there. All of the characters were just there.

I get pissed off when people assume that this story is autobiographical because it deals with the subjects of adoption and teen pregnancy. The stories of the girls at Harbor House are not my story. Yet each of the girls is a facet of me in some way. Lynn the whimp, Melody the sassy jr. dyke, Lupita the silent one, Rebecca the hard-assed slut, Jenny the healer. They're all me. They're all teenaged girls who are pregnant and are among the first to make a choice about whether to terminate or complete their pregnancies. They're all part of the big County system that existed to harvest babies before abortion became legal.

So, I almost feel like I can't take credit for that novel because it didn't feel like I wrote was just there, waiting to be plucked from the branches.

The biggest part of me that's in both of my novels is my idealism, or hope maybe. I want to believe that love is a force underneath all the bull shit, and that it can prevail in our lives if we just summon up the courage to let it in.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Self-centered day...

Ever read the posts on PostSecret and wonder if they were sent by someone you know....

...and that the message is written to you?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hospital Corners

Yesterday, I took stock of all the pieces I’ve written for the 2nd YA novel (working title now Hospital Corners). I was surprised to find that I was further along than I realized. I mean, I’ve known that a great many details were in my head. I just had no idea how many of them I’d written down. My goal this week is to type all the pieces that are hand written in all of the notebooks and organize them into some kind of order. Then I need to figure out where the gaps are. I’ll be like Emily Dickenson stitching together her poems, written on little pieces of cloth.

I wrote a partial outline last week, and I need to finish that as well, take it out to the end.

I hope I can get through a draft of this thing before I have to go back to work. Still looking for a day job and, as much as I need to find one before money runs out, I am really digging not working right now.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Giving It Over to Giving It Over

I’ve just completed Maya Reynolds’ online course on Everything You Need To Know About The Publishing Industry, and it was a well spent twenty bucks! Maya broke the course into the three branches of the industry, publishers, book distributors and agents. Her insights and research helped me to regain the confidence I needed to relaunch my efforts to find a home for Giving It Over, my YA novel.

For a while, I’d been thinking that I should just scrap GIO, and chalk it up to a first effort. But several things converged to push my ass off the seat. Maya’s class gave me information about approaching agents, and it offered information on a branch of publishing I had poo-pooed in the past. I want to look into the option of e-publishing. Marie contacted me and told me that she wanted to read GIO again. Out of the blue, she sent me an email saying that she hoped I hadn’t thrown it on the shelf. Okay. Then Papercuts blog had this entry today. Burning bushes.

The Plan:
  • Give it another once over. It’s been a while since I’ve read it. I am betting that I’ll see it a lot differently now that it’s had time to settle.
  • Post it on Zoe for a critique.
  • Look into agents and e-publishers. I tossed e-publishing into the same bag with vanity presses and POD publishers. I thought that going that route would damage my credibility as a serious writer and close doors to ever seeing my work printed or distributed by the biggies. Turns out I’m wrong. I need to give e-publishing a closer look.
  • Create a package, including a cover letter and synopsis and have those critiqued.
  • Remember what Maya always says…EVERYTHING TAKES LONGER THAN YOU THINK.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Memoir Reading and Writing...

I started reading memoirs back when I decided to try writing one. I love memoirs. Good ones seem as though they were easy to write. They seldom reveal how difficult it was to put those words down on paper. My own efforts at writing a memoir have taught me that they are very difficult to write.

The memoirs I enjoy tell stories of lives lived. The good ones offer a balance of story and lessons learned. I do not enjoy memoirs where the author is so full of himself that he just can’t bear to let us go through life without knowing just how great he is. James Frey and Augustan Burroughs are two such memoirists. Their memoirs don’t display people who are learning anything in life. Rather, they present themselves as the ones from whom we could all stand to learn a few things. They’ve landed on this planet with all the answers. Now, if only the rest of us would recognize that. After all, they’ve generously supplied us with their brand of truth.

I read in an article on Critical Mass that Lillian Hellman’s memoir, Pentimento, possesses a questionable story line. However, the writer of the article said that she is worthy of forgiveness because the memoir is written with such beautiful prose. Pentimento is next on my reading list.

Some of the memoirs I enjoyed are:

  • Color of Water
  • The Glass Castle
  • The Woman Warrior
  • Lucky
  • The Unreliable Truth
  • Jill Kerr Conway's memoirs
  • Mary Carr’s memoirs

My favorites, though, are:

  • Autobiography of a Face and Truth and Beauty, which must be read together in that order.
  • Out of Africa, because I adore Isak Dinesen.
  • Living to Tell the Tale by Garcia Marquez. Either his memoir is a total fabrication or all of his fantastic fiction is based on his real life. I can read any paragraph in that book and see a wholly developed story within it. He's the man!
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir for people who love books. I read it and Lolita and The Ambassador and The Great Gatsby as part of the journey, and it was a wonderful experience.

I feel gratitude for these memoirists for the way they've shared themselves with me, whether the events of the story are fact or not.

I've tried writing a memoir, and it ain't easy. I kept returning to the question of, "What's my point?" Okay, so I’m an adoptee from the 1950s, when adoption records were sealed. I don’t know much about my origins, and never will. So, the theme could be what? Living with the unknown? It’s so not Hollywood. Then again, there is that Hollywood element, because of the circumstances. I was a foundling, discovered when a woman opened her car door one October morning. The car was just a few blocks away from the entrance to Paramount Studios. In fact, you can see the gates of the studio from the apartment building. In the other direction, the Hollywood sign looms above like a voyeur.

The Hollywood sign gave me the idea for writing the memoir as a sort of hybrid. Yes, there’s the story a girl’s life from childhood in southern California through her teen pregnancy and marriage at age fifteen. But what’s the point, Nancy? And beyond? But sprinkled throughout are the fictional stories the girl creates to give herself a sense of origin. These stories are all called Fade to Black, and each one is a flash of how she might have come to be in Mary Couch’s car back on that frosty morning in October of 1957. But what’s the point? And what’s so interesting about what or who I’ve become?

We all think our stories are interesting. When I was working my freelance writing business full time and marketing the heck out of myself, I can’t tell you how many people approached me with the pitch, “I have an incredible story, and I want you to write it for me. We’ll share the royalties.” So many people out there want to tell their story. But what I came up against writing mine is that it is hard to tell a truthful story.

None of us want to cast ourselves in an unfavorable light. We all want to tell the story of being a victim or of prevailing over adversity, where we are in the right and evil oppressors hold decks stacked in their favor. Does anyone want to read a story about a girl who grew up to believe that no one belongs to anyone, that family as we see it is an illusion. That we all must find our own families and sense of place in a world that tells us to be loyal to blood no matter what? Does anyone want to read a story of a girl who has babies very young and then leaves them to pursue her education? Can I ever find the heart and the courage to tell the real story? I left my husband in 1984 to find my own way, and I left my daughters with him. When I left, I watched my husband and mother close and lock the door behind me, effectively keeping me out of their lives. If my daughters were to read this, they would scream that it is a fiction. They believe that I abandoned them. They will always believe that I didn’t want them in my life. Believing that holds up the structure of the myth and drama they’ve created around their own lives.

But my story is my story. I can hear Ginger saying, “It’s always all about you, Mom.” Well, yes. My story is all about me. The good, the bad, but my truth. The things that allow me to get up in the morning and face another day, and the things that haunt me at night. The things that make me dance and the things that make me pull the covers over my head. Life takes a lot of courage, even for the most ordinary of us. No one’s going to knock on my door and say, “I’m your mother. I’ve finally found you.” The UPS truck isn’t going to pull up with a notice that I’ve been written into the will of some famous producer from the 1950s who knocked up the wardrobe girl so long ago. But the fantasies continue. I’m a fiction writer, so the fantasies will continue. That’s the easy part. The truth part is what’s hard. Maybe I’m making it more complicated than it is. Truths are often simple.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I just signed up for an online workshop on Everything You Need to Know About Publishing. The workshop is presented by Maya Reynolds. I’ve followed her blog sporadically for the past year or so. She’s a consistent great source of information about things happening in the publishing industry.

The workshop will cover the three branches of the industry:

  • Publishers
  • Agents
  • Booksellers

I’ve done some research on my own, but I still feel that I have a long way to go.

On the short fiction front, I’ve been submitting something each day to the e-zines and have started tracking submissions and rejections. I think that it might be a good idea for me to create a couple of databases, one to track short fiction submissions and one for agent queries for my YA novel.

Actually, I am having a total geek-fest today. I started a subversion repository through my web host and downloaded Eclipse. Now, I'm backing all my writing up using this version control software. This was prompted when my laptop sort of wheezed the other day. I realized that I haven't been backing it up. Yeah. Me, not backing something up. So, I tried to ftp the major folders to the server where I have my shell account. The ftp software they use, well, she don't work so well. Then I noticed that they have subversion. Heh, heh, heh. I thought, that's how I'll do it, treat it like a software development project. Well, it is a development project of sorts. So, there's nothing to compile. It's a pain setting it up, but I'll always be able to keep the lastest versions backed up now, and I'll be able to revert if I need to go back to an earlier version. Cool beans.

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Problem Turns Out to be My Head…Again

I’m having a little problem concentrating. Whenever I sit down to write, I’m all over the place. The one place I’m not is on the page. I can’t seem to go into The Zone no matter how much I want to.

So, typical me, I try to analyze why this is so. If I could just figure out the source of the problem, I could break through and get back to the bliss of writing.

Yesterday in my meditation class, the topic centered around being in the Now. As I was meditating and sat firmly centered in the Now, it came to me. My head, as usual, is the source of the problem. It thinks that it can solve problems by going into the past or effect outcomes by dancing off into the future. Oh, gee, Nancy. Stop struggling with publishers, and write the friggin book. That struggling with publishers part is purely in my head. I haven’t had any real exchange with publishers. Sometimes the focus is on finding an agent. Slow down, partner.

I’ve written one novel, which is now languishing. The YA one. I’ve decided that I need to let it settle for a bit. I think it may have some sex scenes that are too explicit in places for a YA audience, but I’m not ready to turn it into a mainstream novel either.

In the meantime, I have a new novel to work on. The outline is semi-complete. The characters are starting to talk amongst themselves, and I am missing it because my head is spending time anywhere except here and Now. When Marsha said yesterday that our creativity resides in the Now, I thought, Oh.

I shouldn’t be surprised to find out that my head is the source of the problem. It always is. I once heard a speaker talk about it and say that his head is convinced that it can kill him and keep on living. Anyone who understands that, as I did, knows how dangerous it is to let the head be in charge.

Okay, so time to regroup. As always, the answers come when my house is in order. Being here Now, not in the future, not in the past. Here Now. Proceed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Meaning of Sun Day

It’s a beautiful day outside. What am I going to do about it? Here in the Seattle area, a blue sky is something we catch like surfers catch waves. Especially this time of year, we go through our days, waiting for our set. Rain, rain, rain, rain, sun, rain, rain, sun, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, sun, sun, rain…. When the sun comes out, everyone gets perky.

I’m in a complete fit of excitement and stress because there are so many places I want to go while the weather is nice, and I just can’t decide. I want to go somewhere and write. It can’t be too far out there because clouds could roll in at any moment and obliterate the sun. But it can be somewhere away from the sound of traffic.

  • Spenser Island?
  • A bike ride to Redmond for lunch and a sit by the fountain?
  • Bike ride to Snohomish for a sit at Wired and Unplugged?
  • A jog around the lake and a trip to the pool before sitting lakeside with a notepad?
  • A hike up to lower Wallace Falls to sit near the roar of the water at the covered picnic table?
  • A drive to Deception Falls for a walk in the dewy woods and a sit on the bench in a fairy forest?
  • That bike ride Terri told me about that runs between Gold Bar and Index, where there are flat rocks by the river to have a picnic?
  • Those cliffs by Deception Pass with a view of the San Juans and all the way to Canada?
  • That cafe by the water on Whidbey Island with the wonderful lobster bisque?
  • My back yard?

Okay. Gotta go. Writing to do.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Does It Ever Get Easier?

Okay, time to break out the big guns. I’m not working at a day job right now and so have all kinds of time to write. But am I writing? I’m doing a lot of thinking about writing, but not much actual work. I have the idea, the outline, the characters are starting to whine, so what do I do?

Here’s the deal. It comes down to making a commitment. I’ve written a novel, and now I know what it takes. I know that a big piece of myself went into my first novel. I’d love to see it published, but, even if it never is, I am so glad I wrote it. The novel was a journey into my imagination and was full of magic. But it’s also a piece of me.

This next novel will command an even bigger piece of me. I already know it. I’m frozen because I am afraid. Can I tell this story? Can I tell it honestly, without regard to the audience? Can I bind and gag my internal editor long enough to let it flow and get it out?

Quite simply, I must.

I need to keep moving. I need to do two things. First, I need to finish cleaning and organizing my house, create a space to write. I realized today that the clutter around here contributes to my inability to concentrate. Or am I just making another excuse? No, I think it does.

I was having my hair done today. For me, hair dressers are all better than the best of therapists, and they’re only about a third the price. So, I was having my hair done today, and I was trying to explain this to her. She didn’t get it, but she listened. I said that to start a novel and not finish it would be like starting to build a structure in your backyard but never finishing it. Every time you go outside, the friggin thing is out there. You have to walk over it every time you go to get in your car. It’s big, it’s messy, and it’s loud. As I was talking, I suddenly had a flash in my head of the clutter of my house. There are papers everywhere. I’ve started to clear it up and organize it, but I haven’t finished. It’s in exactly the same state as the outline of my novel. The outline is well underway but it’s lying in files and in my head like the fragments of paper all over my house.

I told Terri to cut my hair short, and I resolved to go home and move through the tasks in front of me. Debbie Strom always used to tell me to just do what's in front of me. Amazing how simple that is and how well it works.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Boycott Amazon

Because of the Amazon/Booksurge ultimatum, I have elected to boycott Amazon. Here are some great places where you can order books online and live an Amazon-free life just like me:

Third Place Books
Elliott Bay Book Company (also a great site for book browsing)

I know that there are tons of other private bookstores in the country that warrant our business, have userfriendly web sites and will ship books anywhere. These are the ones I know and have used. I am pleased by the thought that Amazon may just be the force that prompts us to return to the small, private booksellers. I know, I'm a daydreamer. Nice thought, though, huh?

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I came across a film telling the story of Truman Capote’s research and writing of In Cold Blood, Infamous. The film was excellent and had an incredible cast. Signorney Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabella Rossellini.

Sandra Bullock plays a wonderful Harper Lee. The movie is sprinkled with documentary-style interviews. She has two is serious, tear drawing monologues that are the best performance I’ve ever seen of her. She isn’t staged to look beautiful or glamorous, but, of course, she still is, with those clear eyes that will make anyone believe anything she says.

Toby Jones, who has played small parts in so many countless movies, is a picture perfect Truman Capote. The movie is geared to show how the writing of In Cold Blood broke Capote’s spirit, and Jones makes the perfect model for this. He begins light and caricature-like, but finishes as a tragic, broken, but very real figure.

It’s impossible to see this movie without comparing it to Capote, which came out just the year before. I, personally, liked Infamous much more. The cast, the acting, the depicting of the story, the focus on Capote were all better. Both were wonderful, but Jones comes in with no need for a photo finish. Combined, the films show us that there is more than one way to render horrific vulnerability.

But why did they make this movie on the heels of the other? There must be some kind of bizarre Hollywood story behind this. I didn’t know about this film when it was in the theaters. Yet, Capote had excellent press. Strange.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On the Road Again

Life can turn a corner any time. Mine just did. My contract job has ended, and now I have time to write and read and do some of the things I love to do. I also have to find another job. The challenge is keeping the wolves at bay well enough so that I can write and make some progress. I have millions of things that I could do with this time, and I can’t afford to let fear of the future take over and rule my thoughts and energies.

Ideally, I’d love to find a job that doesn’t take 50 – 70 hours a week of my total focus. The last one did, and my personal life and interests fell off the edge.

While I’m looking for a job, I can also work on the following:

  • New novel
  • Queries for agents for completed YA novelSubmit flash pieces and short stories to various pubs
  • Write flash
  • Create application package and curricula for teaching writing to WA State schools
  • Book reviews
  • Blog

No shortage of work. I want to maintain a healthy daily schedule to include the list items above, as well as exercise and organizing my home. I’ve already started with my office. I have a mountain of paperwork to organize. I can’t use any of the information I have unless I can find it. Once my office is organized, I can revisit things like the information I gathered from the retreat I attended last July in New Mexico. I have contact information for the people who’ve dropped off my radar, and lots of good direction on a variety of things.

I sense that this could be a turning point for me and my career. I can see it as an opportunity rather than a hardship.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

24-hour Short Story Contest

I’ve signed up for the 24-hour short story contest, put out by

The story topic is announced at noon, central time, April 26th, and we’re off! Only 500 applicants are allowed. There’s a $5.00 entry fee. The 1st prize is $300 bucks and publication on writersweekly.

Why am I doing this? Because it’s my idea of fun, that’s why. I can’t resist the challenge of writing to a prompt. Being prompted or pushed is sometimes the best way to get something on paper. I love, which has a quarterly prompt of a first sentence from which writers must create a story. I’ve only submitted one, which was summarily rejected. But I’ve written stories to several of their prompts. I love that they say their inspiration for the first line prompt is from the movie Out of Africa. In the movie, Meryl Streep/Isak Dinesen says that she likes to tell stories but someone must always supply the first line, and it can be absolutely anything. One of her dinner guests concocts a twisty, incongruous line, and she runs with it, mesmerizing them with the way she can create something of beauty from something meant to stump her.

This 24-hour short story prompt will either be a romp or a pile of rubble, as these things to. We’ll see.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Candy Store

Oh, happy day. I’ve found the candy store.

This is the place to go for all of those books I’ve always meant to read but have never gotten around to. I’ve always meant to read Jane Austen. I’ve never gotten around to reading Little Women, either. And I can always revisit some old favorites like Jayne Eyre. Good stuff!

I’ve noticed that the Gutenberg project frequently comes up in searches for references from books. For example, the other day, I was googling around to find the passage from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio about the sweet, twisted little apples. Google handed me the Gutenberg copy of the book. Whereas Google’s own online book project hands over only portions of books, Gutenberg consistently provides the entire text.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Ruins the Movie

I reviewed The Ruins a while back on this blog and blimey if they didn’t make it into a movie which is showing right here in my own Monroe, Washington!

I’ve never tried to write a screen play and haven’t even thought of doing it, but I love to see how books have been adapted. This one hits the cliché status of book better than. The book wasn’t written for deep thinkers. No one will ever publish discussion topics on it for book clubs. It’s a quick-read horror story.

Nevertheless, in my review of it earlier in this blog, I did present what I thought were a couple of interesting angles. The movie didn’t have them.

Even though I’ve never thought of writing a screen play, I have to admit, I’ve thought about whether or not my novels or stories could be adapted. I can see my novel in my head in a cinematic way. I can’t think of a bigger compliment than to have someone say that they want to invest the time and trouble to make my book into a movie. Well, I guess the biggest compliment someone could pay me at this point would be to publish the sucker. No lack of rich fantasy life here!

I met Robert Ferrigno at a conference once, and he said that he didn’t regret that none of his books had been made into a movie. He was satisfied that the studios had offered, saying that they give him a big fat check while they went off to think about it for a bit. He gets to keep the money whether they decide to get in bed with him or not. That’s movie talk.

I suppose I could live with that too.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Perchance to Dream, Perchance to Write

I love to sleep because I am mesmerized by my own dreams. I don’t like leaving the dream world where everything is so vivid and seems so real. Memorable people bubble up to the surface from hidden deep pools only to be forgotten by noon. The dream world seems more real and makes more sense to me than the waking one some times.

I think that writing is a world that touches the same place as dreams. Sometimes when I am unable to write, when I feel blocked, I think that it is because the similarity between writing, really going into that zone and dreaming are so close. But going there while awake feels like losing some kind of control over wakefulness. When we sleep, we’re not self-conscious about our dreams. We don’t say, it’s okay to lose control and drop our guard because we’re asleep and this is a dream. Yet we do let go in order to sleep. Somewhere in me, I trust that I will wake if danger comes my way. After all, we don’t have any choice about sleep. We must do it. And to sleep means to dream. Perchance. So, dreaming doesn’t have the same thing to overcome. We don’t say, I’m having dreamer’s block. But with writing, it really depends on what’s going on in my waking world. When I’m stressed about money or work, it’s a supreme challenge for me to let go of the conscious world and go into the zone. In the zone, I don’t see what’s around me anymore. I see the story. So on days when going to the zone would be the greatest relief, it becomes a big challenge.

It’s the most wonderful place in the world when I can let go and enter it. But it’s also a great risk to enter this place. I do not have any control in there. Anything could happen. What if I’m in there with my subconscious, and it indiscreetly blurts out something I’m not supposed to know? There’s no turning back from knowing. Yes. There’s great danger and great pleasure in the zone.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ya Got Trouble in River City

Has Indiana always been so morally, um, confused?

Indiana has a new law that requires bookstores to register with the government if they sell what is considered "sexually explicit materials." The new law, H.B. 1042, was signed by Governor Mitch Daniels on March 13, and calls for any bookseller that sells sexually explicit materials to register with the Secretary of State and provide a statement detailing the types of books to be sold. The Secretary of State must then identify those stores to local government officials and zoning boards. “Sexually explicit material” is defined as any product that is “harmful to minors” under existing law. There is a $250 registration fee. Failure to register is a misdemeanor.

My first thought was How do you spell unconstitutional?

Who gets to decide what is harmful to minors? And how is this determination made? What about magazines, TV, movies? Is sexual material evil but violence okay? Geeze, Indiana, get a grip!

Then I thought of that song from The Music Man, Ya Got Trouble, and am now wondering if this musical might have been making a joke about something to which I have spent my life being ignorant. Re-reading the lyrics of this song, where the singer warns against the dangers of allowing a pool hall into the town so that he can introduce and promote his desire to start a marching band, I thought, hmmm. Has Indiana always been morally retarded?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Technical Writing or Writing Technically

Is technical writing really writing? I'm looking for a new day job, a new contract, and I am targeting technical writing jobs. When I was writing a software manual a while back for a major software company in Washington, I asked myself and others whether there would be anything left for the real writing. I found that there was. I always have room for real writing when I am excited about a project. Bottom line...writing is what I do. I read books, and I write about them. I write flash, short stories and novels. I can also write technical manuals, training materials and the like. But are those writing. When I worked at Microsoft, I decided that it wasn't. At least writing there wasn't writing. Every sentence, each keystroke was scrutinized and edited beyond recognition until the work I did became the antithesis of mine. I couldn't claim it, I couldn't see me in there anywhere.

Real writing is mine. I can claim it and see myself in it. The characters are me and not me at the same time. I feel charged and motivated. Even though I am the writer, I can't wait to see what happens next. That's writing.