Friday, January 30, 2015

On Full Disclosure

This posting on Friday night thing, it's got to stop. Which means I need to be prepared ahead of time, because the Catbird's "be in school at 7 on Fridays" isn't stopping anytime soon (and I know, as much as I grumble, I'll miss it next year when she's in college). I just don't like posting on Friday nights, but it beats Saturday morning anyway, so I'll just have to deal.

So. Imagine you're at an event. An author stands before an enraptured audience, having read from her brilliant debut novel. During the Q&A, a starving wannabe asks her how she managed to get by while spending the two years it took to writer her novel, since she had no other job. Imagine if her answer was, "I'm filthy rich. I lived off the earnings of my accounts while I wrote this, but things did get tight: I had to sell off a few shares of Berkshire Hathaway (currently trading at $220,000, yes you read that correctly) to pay the taxes on my mansion and vacation in Zurich."

Or, second scenario: Another reading, another debut writer, this one with a gushing review on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. The book is being hyped by his publisher, he's being touted as the next Big Thing, he's getting on Oprah and Fresh Air and morning shows all across the land. A jealous wannabe stands up and asks what has made him so successful. What's the magic bullet? The author says, "Connections. My mother is a Pulitzer Prize winner. My father is the head of the most prestigious literary agency in New York. My Godmother is my publisher. Let's face it, my book is middling at best. It's all in who you know."

What would you think if you were in the audience at either event? Would you applaud either writer for their honesty, or would you frisbee their books at them in hopes of putting out an eye or knocking out a few teeth?

I ask because of this article that appeared in Salon earlier this past Sunday. The writer is very upfront about her own situation: she's "sponsored" by her husband, whose well-paying job provides her with financial security and benefits that allows her to write pretty much full-time. Further, she feels we're not doing anyone any favors if the circumstances that might give a writer a leg up--filthy rich, say, or well-connected (sadly, I am neither of those things)--are not disclosed. People should know these things; it might make them more realistic about their own chances.

Issues of privacy notwithstanding, I'm not sure I entirely agree. In the end, I don't think any of us who are trying to make it in the writing game want to hear that you have to be rich (you don't), or you have to have friends or family on the inside (you don't). In cases like this, honesty may not be the best policy. What say you?


Monday, January 26, 2015

Someone Help Me!

I haven't been able to get Mason's Children out of my head since Friday! Maybe that explains why I was in such a low mood yesterday. I need an earworm.

Nothing really for me to say or do today. My organization sponsored a five mile hike (round trip) to a bog on top of a hill--it was about a 400-foot change in elevation, not terribly steep, and only through about 3-4 inches of snow, but it was a workout--which kind of wiped me out. Sad to say I'm not as young as I used to be, so I was really feeling it yesterday. It turned into a day of doing nothing, but my manuscript was floating around my head like an irritating fly, buzzing in my ear. I just didn't have it in me yesterday, though., and I even skipped out on my writer's group (and, when you get right down to it, I'm kind of skipping out on this blog today, too--I'm slacking all around!)Well, today's a whole new day, hopefully I'll be able to get some good work in on it tonight. I've been pretty pleased with how it's going so far.

Looks like my friends down on the Island are about to get slammed with a couple of feet of snow. We're on the fringe of the storm, which could drop 3-7" of white stuff on us. Some of you are likely in the "Blizzard Warning" zone--be careful out there.

That's all I got for today. I hope you had a good weekend. Now, what about those song suggestions?


Friday, January 23, 2015

Mason's Children

First order of business: if you have a query that needs critting, get thee on over to Agent Carrie's blog, where you could get your query critted by an agent who knows her stuff, AND you could get your first 100 pages critted. Go, go!

Now on to the matter at hand. If you don't know I'm a Deadhead, you haven't been paying much attention. The hint would be the number of times I post a video here, or reference a song. Anyway, I've often been tempted to do a post titled something like, "My 5 Least Favorite Grateful Dead Songs." Why? Because it would be kind of fun, and because, quite frankly, it's a lot easier than picking my top 5 favorite songs. Favorites are changeable, at least for me. Depending on the time of day, the time of year, my mood, or what I'm listening to, the lineup of favorites can shift, with things moving up or down the list, or dropping off entirely. Least favorites, on the other hand, are pretty well cast in stone. Am I the only one who feels this way?

Anyway, I decided not to do it, largely because I figured it might only actually be fun for me, and, quite frankly, if any of you actually listened to something like Let Me Sing Your Blues Away* you might throw yourself off a bridge, and I wouldn't want to have that on my conscience (At this point, you might be tempted to follow that link. Don't do it. Or at least don't blame me if you do--you have been warned).

But one of those songs that's immutable on the bad list has been worming its way into my brain lately. When I sit down to write, I usually go to the Live Music Archive's Grateful Dead section and click "Shows on this day in History". January, 1970 was the busiest January in Grateful Dead history, and this song appeared in about half the shows. So it comes up a lot when searching this way. It's called Mason's Children, and here it is as performed on January 2, at the Fillmore East, their first song of 1970:


This period was an interesting one for the band, a time of transition. They were still jamming and putting together long blocks of music, but they were also writing more songs with maturing lyrics and, influenced in part by their friendship with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) and their own interests in folk and bluegrass, their sound was changing. In 1970 they released two studio albums, about five months apart, that sounded nothing at all like their three prior studio albums. The stripped-down, almost country sound to Workingman's Dead and American Beauty stood in such sharp contrast to Anthem of the Sun or Aoxomoxoa (yeah, I don't really know how to pronounce that one, either) that they might have been recorded by a different band entirely. In a way, maybe they were.

The band recorded Mason's Children during the Workingman's Dead sessions in the spring of 1970, but by that time they had already dropped it from their live shows after 15 total performances. No one from the band ever said why it went; it might have been that it was too difficult to sing well, though that certainly never stopped them from performing other songs. I suspect the reason they dropped it is because, quite frankly, it didn't fit. Though it was written after songs like Casey Jones and Uncle John's Band, both of which ended up on the album and get radio play to this day, Mason's sounded nothing at all like their new material. It sounded, in fact, like something that belonged on their debut album (listen to this to see what I mean).

As writers, we often have a lot of stuff lying around, clamoring for our attention. The short stories that we intended on shaping up for publication. The novel that couldn't get an agent. The novel that did get an agent, but couldn't get a publisher. These are pieces that we often hold close to our hearts, personal stories, first stories, maybe, and it's always tempting to go back and revisit them--they're good, we think, they deserve to be shared. And maybe we think that when this next thing gets published and does well, we'll be able to leverage our success into getting these pieces out there--it certainly happens. Rather than spend a whole lot of psychic energy or precious writing time on those pieces, we really need to consider something: just as a singer's voice changes with time, so do our voices, and so do the things that matter to us. The themes and stories we were so driven to write about when we were 25 might not feel quite so important two, three, ten years later. The voice may be all wrong. Sometimes we can look at an older piece we loved and think, "That doesn't even feel like me!" Maybe its day has come and gone, and the best thing to do is to leave it alone. Move on to something new.

Have you ever left a piece behind because it just no longer fit? Do tell. Thanks, and have a great weekend!



*I feel the need to point out that, though this song is truly awful, I have nothing but respect for keyboardist Keith Godchaux and the amazing contributions he made during his years with the band.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday? Monday.

Wow, here it is, Monday already and I feel like I just did this. That's what happens when you get off schedule, I guess. This will be one of those disorganized posts, random collections of musings and all that sort of stuff.

-I'm need of more coffee right about now.

-Was back at my writing group yesterday for the first time in a month--it's amazing how easy it is to get into bad habits. While I may not have produced anything usable, it was good to back.

-Stacy McKitrick's Ghostly Liaison is out today--congratulations to Stacy and best of luck!

-The Super Bowl matchup is set--do you care?

-The temperature here actually crept above the freezing mark for the first time in two week--hurrah!

-Currently reading Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. This was Hill's debut novel. Hill, of course, is Joseph Hillstrom King, son of Stephen King. It's interesting to see the stylistic similarities between son and father.


-Jane Friedman had some interesting posts from her time at Digital Book World last week. Check it out!

-I'm definitely in need of more coffee right now.


-I was going to go for some music here, but I can't find anything that quite fits the mood. How was your weekend? See you on Friday!



Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hope in Rejection


A day + late, shame on me. Knowing my schedule was going to be bad this week, I had this post *mostly* written out by Thursday, but my organization's board meeting on Thursday kept me out late, and then I had to deal with a dead cat and having to tell my child about said dead cat (and let me tell you this, telling someone about their pet when that someone is 7,000 miles away bites the big one). Friday morning was getting the Catbird out of the house by 7 for a pre-school activity while dealing with a minor (hah) car issue, all while having the anxiety of doing a new presentation for a group of college students by nine--and then last night we had an Audubon meeting and....yeah, I'm late.

I have not talked much about the submission process. For the uninitiated, 'submission' is a word that, when used here, means shopping a manuscript to publishing houses. Querying is what the writer does to land an agent, submission is what an agent does to land a publishing deal. Anyway, my reasons for not doing so are three-fold: first, there's a chance that an agent, encountered with my manuscript, might—just might—look me up and find this blog. And if they find this blog, maybe it's not a good thing to see tales of a manuscript that's ten years old and has been rejected scores of times and revised hundreds more (NOTE TO EDITORS: THIS IS NOT THE CASE! MY MANUSCRIPT IS A THING OF GENIUS AND YOU SHOULD MAKE A HUGE OFFER RIGHT NOW!). So I suppose I have this sneaky fear that something like that might make an editor who is on the fence fall off on the wrong side. Of course, they might cruise through some of my other posts on here and run like hell, anyway.

Second, like querying, there's a lot of downtime while the manuscript is being considered, and there's only so many times you can post videos of Tom Petty singing "The Waiting."

Third, as mentioned above, the submission process is handled by Carrie and I figure the best thing I can do is get out of her way and write the next one. It also seems (wait, this makes four) that the best policy for the most part is to say, "What happens in Submission stays in Submission." (that sounds kind of...kinky...doesn't it?) So that's my policy.

Until now.

At this point, I have suffered several rejections. And while rejection hurts, I've received some very nice compliments from the editors, compliments that they don't really have to offer. It's overall encouraging.

But what really drove me to this was a recent thread on AW. The person who started the  thread was upset that their work--which they were pitching as literary--was being viewed as a Dystopia. The problem, of course, is that Dystopia is dead.

Now, this person's plight is one I can relate to. One of the themes of feedback that Agent Carrie has relayed to me is that Dystopia is a tough sell right now. It doesn't matter that I don't consider my work a Dystopia; I'm not the one who has to place it on the shelves in the bookstore. Here is what one agent had to say:

"Unfortunately, the market's already pretty saturated with dystopia, and I don't know that this will distinguish itself from the horde."

Woohoo!

Wait, this is not encouragement, is it? On one level, no. On one level, the editor is essentially saying I'm good, but not good enough. Those are not words you want to hear, or read. However, there is an underlying message in this, and this one should be encouraging. Essentially, if you write it well enough, if you distinguish it from the horde, you have a chance.

The encouragement here is that if you're writing Dystopia, or teenage magicians, or sparkly vampires, or any other genre whose day has come and gone, you don't need to give up hope, or re-write it to fit whatever you think is hot right now (actually, if you're writing for what's hot right now, you're probably already too late to ride the wave). What do you need to do? Write it better.

I don't know about you, but I find that comforting and encouraging. How about you?


Monday, January 12, 2015

Hannibal Says

"Quid pro quo, Clarice--comment on my blog, I'll comment on yours."


Doesn't social media feel this way sometimes? Someone has just left a comment on your blog; a new person has just signed on as a follower--what next? Well, the way a lot of people see it, you should just jump on over to their blog and leave a comment for them. And follow them, too. Quid pro quo, as the not-so-good Dr. Lecter would say.

It makes sense: this is social media, after all, and the point of it, as far as I know, is reaching out and connecting with others, which is exactly what happens when we follow and are followed. But I don't like that sense of obligation, that pressure. Am I alone on this? Do you believe we should automatically follow our followers and comment on our commenters?

ADDITION FOR THE SAKE OF CLARITY, 1/13/15:

When I used the phrase "comment on our commenters" I meant it as in going to their blogs and commenting on their posts. As I read over the comments here and looked again at that last line, I see I was not clear about that. I absolutely agree that if someone makes a comment here, they deserve a response, and over the last couple of years I've played around with different response methods--the nested reply to each comment, the personal e-mail response to each comment, and the currently-in-use method of gang replies. I sometimes miss people, but I try not to. So. Do you feel that someone leaving a comment on your blog means you should automatically go to their blog and leave a comment on their most recent post? Thanks for reading and commenting, and sorry for the confusion.


Friday, January 9, 2015