Friday, November 30, 2012

Looky, Looky

Well, I've learned a valuable lesson from Monday's post: NO MORE SPIDERS! I can talk about them (I think), but pictures are right out. It's funny how certain animals affect us. Birds? Mostly people are okay with them. Dogs? Cats? Obvious family pets. Turtles? I don't think I've met anyone yet who hates turtles. Frogs, now we're getting into squeamish territory. Snakes and spiders? Now we're into run-from-the-room territory. Lesson learned, no more spiders.

Anyway, my friend and Finding Claire Fletcher author Lisa L. Regan tagged me in this LOOK Meme that's been going around, thus saving me from having to write something else today. The idea is to find the first use of the word 'look' in your WiP and share it, along with a bit of the surrounding paragraphs. So, I've delved into Barton's Women and found the first use of it on page 3, word number 760, according to Word's handy-dandy counting device. The brief scene setting: Kevin Barton interrupts his 16-year old daughter, Kelly, and her friend, Dina, while they're watching The Little Mermaid, to say goodnight. I'll caveat this: I haven't actually read any of this since mid-October, and I'm already finding things I'd like to change. I suppose it could be #1 on every bestseller list and I'll still be saying that. Oh, well.

"No, no, no," he said. "I'm just joking."
"I know," she said. "But I do feel bad. Anyway, I have a track meet tomorrow. Mom is going to pick me up around ten-fifteen."
"Oh, that’s right, I forgot. If you see my brain running around here, throw a box over it and catch it for me, okay?"
Dina laughed. Kelly rolled her eyes again, but smiled. "Sure thing, Mr. Barton."
"Can you get yourselves up, or do you need a wake-up call?"
The girls exchanged a glance. Kelly said, "9:45?" Dina nodded. They looked up at Kevin and said, in unison, "9:45" and Dina added ‘please.’
Kevin snapped off a salute. "Yes, ma’ams. Good night, ladies, don’t stay up too late. You're both looking a little peaky."
He turned to leave, but Kelly said, "Wait, wait, wait." She held her arms up in a gesture that made him think of her as a toddler, demanding to be picked up.
He walked in, feeling a little embarrassed, and hugged her.
"Love you, Daddy," she said.
"Goodnight, sweetie." He straightened and gave a wave to Dina. "Goodnight, Dina."
"Goodnight, Mr. Barton."
As he closed the door behind him, he heard Dina say, "You guys are so cute."
Whatever Kelly said was lost under the sea.

Well, there you have it. Definitely feels rougher than I thought when I sent it out on a test drive. And somehow not surprising that I use the word twice in a short span.

Now it's tag time. I'm pretty sure those I'm hitting up have not already done this; if I'm wrong, forgive me. And, of course, if you choose not to participate, that's fine, too. I can be kind of funny about sharing things when they don't feel 'ready'. Who's it going to be? Let's try....
Bonnee, at The Blogging of an Aspiring Writer

One of my newest followers, Richard P. Hughes, at Writing and Living

And the Golden Eagle, from The Eagle's Aerial Perspective, who kicked NaNoWriMo's butt like nobody's business.

Speaking of NaNo, where did November go? I think this may have been the fastest-moving month of the year so far. I could stand to have things slow down a little bit. I hope you've all had a good month, whether you NaNo'd or not. Thanks, as always, for stopping by and have a great weekend.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting Back Into Things

Well, the break is over, we're getting back into the swing of normal life now. The Magpie has gone back to school after a nice visit. She was anxious to be home, but anxious to return, I'm sure, I remember those feelings well.

For today, I decided to share something I wrote yesterday in my writer's circle. It's a short piece, 200 or so words. Most of the time I write bits and pieces that don't feel like they're going anywhere. Sometimes I write a piece that immediately feels like it's got a life behind a forty-five minute burst of writing. I'm not sure where this one fits. We used as our prompt the first six paragraphs of Jack London's "The Heathen," which has about as great an opening line as I've seen:

"I met him first in a hurricane; and though we had gone through the hurricane on the same schooner, it was not until the schooner had gone to pieces under us that I first laid eyes on him."
That is a powerful beginning, as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, I made a conscious effort to write in an 'older' style, and I like what I've done. Part of me feels like I can do something more with it. The problem is, I have no idea what that is. Anyway, this is an untitled piece. It has not been edited beyond the circles and arrows scrawled around my notebook pages yesterday, so is still rather raw. Here you go:

The storm battered our ship and I sought refuge below, in a cramped cargo hold that smelled of bananas, pitch, and, distressingly, sea water.

Better, thought I, to protect myself within the strong hull of the ship than to risk being washed overboard or struck by a falling spar. And so I ensconced myself in the midst of the hold, wrapped tight in my bed roll, wedging into the small space between walls of steamer trunks with shiny brass latches. Over my head, bunches of yellow-green bananas hung from a spiderweb of wires criss-crossing the ceiling. Dislodged bananas, thought I, were softer and far more forgiving than the coconuts suspended over the other side of the hold.
Waves pounded at the ship. Timbers creaked and groaned at the onslaught. We rolled left and right, up and down, rocked forward and back, a constant, stomach-heaving motion in all directions at once. I felt safe in my crevice, however, warm in my blanket, embraced by the leather trunks around me, a metal bucket clamped between my knees for emergency use.
Safe, that is, until the first banana spider fell into my lap. Had I known there were spiders, I would have taken my chances with the coconuts.
Photo copyright Natalie McNear
Something I've noticed about my writing, at least when I'm writing in my writer's group, is a tendency to really try and pack the opening paragraphs with a lot of description. When I get into longer works, I think I get better about spreading the description out more. But the short works, if I stretch into five or six hundred words or so, the description is packed in up front, and ends up being very spare on the back end. I'm thinking it's probably a case of mental 'throat clearing', as they say, where I'm using the description as a way to kind of prime myself for what's to follow. A warm-up, if you will. It's something I have to watch for.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed that little bit, have a great week!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Day After

Most of you are not going to remember this commercial, because most of you (I think) are too young. I watched too much TV growing up, and have the kind of memory that allows me to remember things like this. I'd almost think it's a Guy Thing, remembering stupid stuff that is absolutely no use to anyone, except my wife does it, too, only she remembers different kinds of silly stuff, like the color of the carpet in the living room of the third house we looked at in Greenlawn twenty years ago. Anyway, for some strange reason, I thought this commercial was hysterical back when I was [a kid]. It seems strangely appropriate given the big Thanksgiving weekend.

You never can tell what's going to strike someone as funny, do you?

There's not much else to report on here. The Magpie came home on Tuesday. Not being me when I was her age, she's spent her weekend at home so far (I was better about family obligations than some of my friends, but I'd be out the night before Thanksgiving, and just about every night of the weekend), and we've had a very nice time. Writing? What's that? I'm definitely feeling a little rusty right now, but maybe that's a good thing. Anyway, that's all for me for today, I've got some digesting to do. There's still half a turkey and a boatload of sides to polish off. But no Alka-Seltzer in my future - I took them once in my life. Never again.

Have a great weekend, all!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A (Blurry) Glimpse Into My Notebook

I do most of my writing on my computer. I love it. I love the click of the keys, and the way they feel beneath my fingers (I can't type on my wife's keyboard; the keys are stiffer and sound 'clackier'. Blech). I love watching words appear on screen as if by magic.

But every Sunday I get together for what's supposed to be two hours and is often more like three, with a group of writers. We socialize a bit, read from some sort of a prompt, and free write for forty-five minutes or more. When we're done, we share what we've done and talk about it. It's not a critique group, exactly, it's pretty soft in that regard, but it's fun, and it's practice, and every so often, I come up with something I really, really like. But that's another story.

I use a black-and-white composition notebook for this. I like it, quite a bit. It's a nice change of pace from sitting at a computer, and sometimes, if I'm really, really stuck when writing at the computer, I'll take up the pen and notebook and hand write. The change of pace is often just what I need to get unstuck, for some reason. Trying to read my work, however, can be hazardous. Aside from my poor penmanship (and, if I recall, that was always one of my lowest grades back in elementary school), I have a tendency to do stuff like this:

What do you mean, you can't read it? Are you drunk or something?
  And this:

Crummy images, I realize, and I apologize. You don't get the full sense of how much has been crossed out or moved.

It's especially difficult to read to a group of people when you have to follow an arrow around to the backside of the page. Sometimes I use numbers to help me keep track of where I need to go, sometimes I don't. The funny thing is, when I'm in a heavy writing session, I don't edit quite as much as I do at the writer's group. And some pieces at writer's group get far less editing than these two pieces. I think sometimes I just fizzle out early and run out of material to dump on the page. That's when I go back and start playing.

Oddly enough, looking at my notebook, with its cross-outs and its arrows and the occasional margin notes of WTF??? and STUPID reminds me of how much I love the process of writing, of how fun it can be. Maybe part of why I like hard copies so much is because of the reminder of where I've been, and what it takes to get a 'finished' product. The notebook - or any hard copy that's been edited - is like a road map of thought, and I think that's pretty cool.

Do you use a notebook, or write exclusively on computer? Ever have trouble following your self-edits?

American Thanksgiving is this week.  I have much to be thankful for this year, and am looking forward to the Magpie's long weekend home (not her first time back since August; we brought her home for a short stay a week and a half ago so she could see the school musical; we kept it secret from the Catbird, and man, the look on her face was priceless when she saw her big sister). For all of you, be safe and be well, and happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Today I abdicate to Offbeat Mama. Not because I don't have anything prepared, but because this particular shiny caught my eye and had to be shared. A link appeared on The Magpie's Facebook page Wednesday night, a gift from her high school English teacher of the last two years (an amazing teacher who did much for Magpie's confidence and growth in that time). I followed the link and thought, "That was...lovely." Lovely is not a word that rolls easily from my fingers or tongue, yet it absolutely fits. Here's a snippet:

I don't want my girls to be children who are perfect and then, when they start to feel like women, they remember how I thought of myself as ugly and so they will be ugly too. They will get older and their breasts will lose their shape and they will hate their bodies, because that's what women do. That's what mommy did. I want them to become women who remember me modeling impossible beauty. Modeling beauty in the face of a mean world, a scary world, a world where we don't know what to make of ourselves.
 "Look at me, girls!" I say to them. "Look at how beautiful I am. I feel really beautiful, today."

It's an important reminder. Confidence, self-image, self-esteem, so much of it starts in the home, and if we give our kids a solid foundation, it will make them better able to withstand the pressure that comes from their peers, and from society as a whole. Go to Offbeat Mama now and read the post. Whether you're a parent or not, whether you're a woman or not: Feel beautiful. Be beautiful. Model beauty.

Have a great weekend.

EDIT: I must add that the book trailer for Lisa L. Regan's Finding Claire Fletcher debuts today - check it out!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Pep Talk

Be brave.

Take risks.

Tell the story you want to tell. If it means ruffling a few feathers, ruffle them.

Don't apologize for your work, and don't hold back in your query. Don't hide the uncomfortable or controversial beneath twisted layers of plot and names and places.

I read a query letter this weekend that showed great promise. Unfortunately, the writer was afraid to highlight the grittier elements of his story. He downplayed them, hid them beneath piles of extraneous details. He was afraid.

Don't be afraid.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Carts and Horses

What are people thinking lately?

If you're not familiar with Query Letter Hell, it's a section of the Absolute Write forum where you can post your query or synopsis and get it shredded, along with your ego, by anyone with an Absolute Write account. It's like Matt's QQQE, though folks at QLH are less likely to soften the blows (the people at both places are motivated by the same thing: the desire to help writers turn out winning queries). At any rate, last month two different writers posted query letters in the span of a week that had one amazing similarity: they were both for books that had already been published. The letters went up, and no one noticed the sig lines with pictures of the book, or the link to Amazon.

The first letter received a good amount of critique. If you've ever spent any time critiquing another writer's work, you know it's a time-consuming process; this querier received a great deal of thoughtful, constructive criticism, criticism that took time and effort from each of the posters (and was met with flippant-bordering-on-rude replies from the querier). Someone finally noticed, and said, "Hey, this book has already been published!" and the thread got locked. The second one arrived a day or two before the first one got shut down. This one was noticed much quicker, did not get as much feedback, and died on the vine.

My question: What gives, people?

The time to query is before you publish the book. Say it again: the time to query is before you publish your book. Publishers generally don't want books that have already been printed. Not unless you're selling books at at the rate of Amanda Hocking or E.L. James, in which case, congratulations, they'll probably be coming to you with a query of their own. - Ian Britton
I'm all about dreams, folks. I'm writing these stories because they're in me, because I love to write, and I want to share them. Part of that dream is to get published (traditionally), have people read and enjoy them, and, yes, make money. In my Big Dreams I'm on book tours and talk shows and NPR (yeah, I know I've done this before, forgive me for repeating myself. At least it's not a bathroom scene.). If I call it a Goal maybe it doesn't sound so silly. Anyway, within that framework of dream is a reality built on knowledge of how the system works. Yes, there are people who go from self-published nobody to members of the Millionaire's Club, but the reason we hear so much about them is because of how rare it truly is. Can it happen? Can you turn a self-published book into a Big 5 deal, movie rights, and millions of dollars? Sure. But if you're trying to do it that way, if you're trying to use self-publishing as a short-cut to riches and fame, you're going about it the wrong way. Especially if you're book is not really, really good.

HUGE congratulations to my friend Lisa L. Regan, who has revealed the cover for Aberration, her second book, which will be released in June. Head on over to her blog to take a peek. She also received printed copies of Finding Claire Fletcher, which will be released in less than a month. I will have an interview here with Lisa next month, watch for it.

Finally, I must be on to something, posting about potty scenes. I eyeballed my stats for the week and was shocked, shocked I tell you, about the number of page views The Potty Post has gotten. Now I just need to figure out why….

Anyway, have a great weekend, all. See you Monday.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Musing: The Potty Post

I've been looking for an excuse to use this forever. If you're a fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus, you know they were quite fond of repetition. Repetition, in fact, is a staple of good comedy. The sequence above occurred three times in about a ten-minute span of an episode called 'The Buzz Aldrin Show'. They arrived at it in different ways, and in the third instance, the fictional show's title sequence was interrupted by an apology for the 'constant repetition in the show,' immediately followed by the same apology, to great comedic effect.
Repetition is a great tool in comedy. On a micro level, i.e., at the sentence and paragraph level, it can be a great writing tool, as well. A repeated phrase or word can really drive an idea home for a particular piece. It can also be used to establish mood or rhythm or pace.
It's also interesting to look at repetition on more of a macro level. Writers have a tendency to repeat themselves across the body of their work. Stephen King has a thing for finales involving town-consuming explosions and conflagration. Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool and Empire Falls both involve absentee and irresponsible fathers, great small town dynamics, and freakish driver's education accidents. It's mostly fine. Some authors can forge a career exploring the same themes or using the same setting. The problem comes when people feel like they're reading the same book over and over again.
I found a strange bit of repetition in my writing: bathrooms. In the last two years I have a lot of scenes that involve actual bathrooms or the act of excretion. I don't go into great detail about bodily functions, because that's never the point of the scene/story, yet my writing over the last two years seems to have an inordinate amount of bathroom type of activity. I did a quick tabulation and came up with the following:
  • I have referenced bathrooms or had an 'excretion scene' nine times in five works (2 novel-length, 3 shorts)
  • One short story from my writer's circle took place entirely in an executive washroom
  • Five scenes occurred inside, four took place outside
  • Three of the outdoor scenes either mentione or described in some level peeing; in contrast, only one indoor scene had any mention of urination at all, and one indoor scene involved someone throwing up. Apparently, in my world, no one needs to go number 2
  • Several of the scenes involve a character having a moment of clarity (call it an 'epeephany'), as if the act of clearing the junk out of a bladder served to clear the junk out of his brain as well.
A psychiatrist could probably have a field day with this; I, however, am at a bit of a loss to explain it. These scenes are in there because they work and help the story along. Could they be rewritten to take place somewhere else, in some other setting? Maybe. Should they be? I don't know. I'd hate to be known as the guy that writes all the bathroom scenes.
It's made me curious, though: do you find yourself using similar themes, scenes or imagery from book-to-book, story-to-story? Does it ever worry you?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meet The New Boss...

...same as the old boss.

Last year, YA author Peggy Eddleman started something new. NaNoWriMo about to take off, but Peggy wasn't ready to write; she was in the middle of revising. So she threw an idea out there: 

"We could REVISE 50,000 words in November. Or, we could make a different, personalized goal that fits with our needs better. FINISH revising. CUT a certain amount of words. ADD a certain number of words. Work on the revision letter I just got from my agent. :) EDIT a certain number of chapters. Whatever works. We just each decide what our goal is, then WORK LIKE CRAZY TO GET THERE. And have fun while we're doing it!"

And so, NaNoReviMo was born. A group of around 20 or so folks who were not ready to WriMo joined together. We kept in touch through the month of November (and beyond) via e-mail. We reported our progress, providing advice and encouragement, and generally cheered each other on. It was fun to be part of, and nice to know we were not alone, that there were others who were struggling with the finishing process known as 'editing'. Even though I claimed I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo, I ended up spending more of my November NaNoReviMoing (anything can be verbalized, folks) PARALLEL LIVES.

Tara Tyler's great badge! Roar!
A year later, I'm back at the same spot.

While Barton's Women was taking a rest back in August, I re-read Parallel Lives and made some notes, found some things that didn't sit right with me. It's not huge, in terms of words (i.e., I'm not talking about tearing it down to nothing and starting from scrap; this isn't a complete rewrite), but it could be huge in terms of agent response, which has been underwhelming so far. I found some troubling gaps and holes that need repair, which in turn will lead to a stronger query and synopsis. The goal is simple: by the end of the month, have the novel revitalized and ready to go (again) to a refreshed list of agents. Simple, right? By the time that's done, I'll be ready to take the revising tools to Barton's Women, and, hopefully, the Next Thing will be firm enough in my mind to start writing. And NEXT November, with any luck, I'll be revising THAT one.

What about you? Writing, revising, or something else? If you're ready to revise, consider dropping by Jessie Humphries' blog to add yourself to the list, and join the ReviMo fun.

Have a great weekend!