Monday, December 31, 2012

And Another New Year

Happy New Year to all of you, whether you've already celebrated because you're on the other side of the world or not. I hope 2013 is good to you and brings you all you hope for in life.

This is, of course, the time when we reflect on what we've done, set our goals for the coming year, and, quite often, make a series of predictions about what's going to happen in the world. I'm not much for the latter; I have no crystal ball, and I honestly don't understand enough about how the world works to have even a hope of a shred of accuracy over where we're going to end up as a society. And if I try to narrow down and focus on something like, say, publishing, I'm equally in the dark. About all I do know is that paper books aren't going away any time soon. Beyond that? Call me clueless.

But Bonnee Crawford fired the first shot across the bow of writerly resolutions (appropriate enough, given that she's one of those people who is already in the wild, wild world of 2013) when she asked in her blog last week: What is everyone else aiming for? And I thought about it and realize that my goals for this year (as a writer) are pretty much the same. So I took a look back to my first post of 2012, and here is what I found:

  • Get an Agent.
  • Write a New Book
  • Improve, Improve, Improve.
Well, the sad thing is I still don't have an agent. But I've also backed off the query process a bit lately. The overwhelming silence from agents since the first round went out in April is significant. I believe in Parallel Lives, but I think I'm still pretty bad at the querying thing. So I spent most of NaNoReviMo pounding away at my query. Sent out a newer version at the beginning of December, got some rejects, got some more silence, and I'm back in the query workshop. I'd have asked Santa for a new query for Christmas, but let's face it, this has got to come from me. I realize that an inability to create an articulate query could point up to troubles in the manuscript, but I don't believe that's the case with PL. I would not, however, be surprised to find myself querying some of the same agents who rejected PL with Barton's Women.

And speaking of which, that was one goal I definitively met. At the time I wrote my goals for 2012, Barton's Women was still just a glimmer of an idea born of a hurricane. Six days later, in my writer's group, I wrote the first paragraphs. I finished an first draft in August, read and revised, and have it out with some excellent critters. My wife has read it and given me invaluable feedback. So my list for 2013 includes doing another revise round on that one and getting it out in front of agents, too.

As for the new, new book, I mentioned a while back that I had an idea that was floating in my head. Though I've not had that crystallizing "Ah ha!" moment with it, I've decided to try to write my way into it and have made some headway. It's definitely proceeding slowly so far, but it is proceeding. I certainly hope to be able to finish a draft of it in 2013.

Finally, we should always strive to keep improving. This is a tough one, since I am the Doubting Writer, after all, and I'm always going to find my work...not as good as I want it to be. On the other hand, I"m pretty sure that Barton's Women was in better shape when I sent it out for critting than Parallel Lives at the same stage of its life. But I've kept reading, I think when I read, and I'm trying to crit where I can. I haven't read many books on the craft this year, but I'll be honest, a couple of the ones that everyone cites as being Godly have left me kind of flat. I'll have to look into some others and see how they strike me.

And now I've rambled on too long. I wish you all a very happy new year, with good things for you and your family.

And just for fun, here's the Grateful Dead New Year from 1980/81. I cut out about two minutes of the late Bill Graham riding on top of a giant skull to the stage. Happy New Year, all!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Snow Day

And who gets to shovel all that?

Blog closed.

Sorry, guess I should have made that announcement before you made the drive over, huh?

Reminds me of the time I took the Magpie and Catbird down to the bus stop. We crunched our way over the ice-covered lawn, and slid down the ice-slicked street, and waited dutifully in the cold, watching cars crawl past on the treacherous road. After ten minutes, someone slowed, rolled down their window, and said, "You know, school is closed today, right?" Oops.

Enjoy the weekend, all. Here's a few pics of yesterday's scenery.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Musical Monday: The Christmas Song

What a voice that man had.

I think, when I was a kid, I actually liked Christmas Eve better than Christmas itself. It was just so full of excitement and anticipation, but there was more to it than just that. For whatever reason, my family didn't decorate our Christmas tree until Christmas eve. I don't know if it was just a tradition handed down from one side of the family or the other, or something that came about by design or by accident. With three kids to take care of, maybe it was a way of giving us something to do.

But we'd decorate the tree, then eat, then we'd go to church. Odds were good that we'd have a visit after church from my Uncle Joe, who'd stop in for a bit. At some point, we'd end up in the living room with all the lights off except for the tree, Christmas music playing. And as excited as we three kids always were, I also remember those hours of Christmas eve being among the most perfect, and, oddly, the most peaceful of the year.

May your Christmas be perfect and peaceful. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Author Interview: Lisa L. Regan

Well, I figure I woke up and found the world still here this morning, so it's going to be a good day. Christmas is nearly upon us (and from the looks of things, we may have snow on the ground for it for the first time in a couple of years), the Magpie is now home, and I'm pleased to be hosting my friend and newly-published author, Lisa L. Regan here today. Lisa's debut novel, Finding Claire Fletcher, was released to the world on December 6th, from Sapphire Star Publishing Company.

I'm not sure if I found Lisa's blog before she found mine, but I remember liking her style right away. She was immediately relatable. After lots of commenting back and forth, Lisa very graciously offered to read the manuscript for Parallel Lives. She's given me great advice on PL and a few other things, and has been sympathetic and supportive when I get grumbly or insecure. I confess I haven't read Finding Claire Fletcher in its entirety yet. The Wife has it on her phone and she won't let me read it until she's done. She's enjoying it quite a bit so far, but life and Christmas and all that is slowing her down madly, and she won't let me have it until she's finished first. I'm going to have to start stealing it from her in the middle of the night. However, what I have read is compelling, and I've also had the pleasure of reading the first chapter or so of an upcoming Lisa Regan work. Good stuff, folks. Anyway, Lisa graciously offered to answer a few questions for us, so here we go.

First, Lisa, you've been an officially published author now for a couple of weeks. How does it feel?

It's weird, but in a really fabulous way.  The first few days are really crazy.  There were so many messages via email and social media--people sending congrats and kind words.  It was amazing.  At one point, my phone actually just froze.  It was really incredible though.  Then things settled down and now, in some ways, it's like nothing has changed at all.  I go to work, take care of my family, the days are the same.  But then I'll get a message from someone via Facebook or email saying they just finished my book and it was awesome.  Then I'm like oh, right, my book is out there for anyone to read, and I'm completely euphoric! 

Okay, we've all seen the bio, now tell us something about yourself we WON'T learn from reading your 'About Me' page.

One of my favorite things in the world is “tv show night” with my husband.  Depending on the time of year, we’ll choose a TV show that we’re going to watch together and that day of the week becomes a kind of at-home date night.  We watched both seasons of Game of Thrones.  We just finished watching the last season of Boardwalk Empire.  It’s just fun to cozy up with some snacks and be absorbed into a great story line together.  Then we talk about it, make predictions, etc.  If one of us can’t be home the night a new episode is on, we tape it and save it until we can both watch it together.  No show-cheating allowed!

That's a very nice way to spend some time together, and I love that you make sure to talk about it, too. I love origins stories. Tell us about the origins of Finding Claire Fletcher. How did it come about?

I’ve been obsessed with missing children ever since I was 11 and Jacob Wetterling went missing in Minnesota. [Jeffo's note: Wetterling went missing in 1989] That case really captured the attention of the entire country.  I never forgot it.  On the anniversaries of his abduction, the media would put out age progression photos.  I kept thinking, “I bet someone in this country has run into him and didn’t even know it.”  The idea of a random encounter with a missing or abducted person was the premise for FCF.  It just didn’t turn into a book until 2004 when I started writing FCF. 

The idea for the premise was there for years—at least a decade.  In 2004, I was trying to get back on the horse as they say and start a new novel.  I had written an adult novel before that, but it was terrible.  So I was playing around with different projects and premises at that time, trying to find something to write.  Then the first line of the book popped into my head:  “First time in a bar?”  It’s actually the first line of chapter 2 now.  I sat down in my writing chair with a notebook and wrote the first 65 pages of the book in one sitting.  I knew there was a man and a woman in a bar and that the woman had said that line.  It just came out.  Just like that.  I didn’t even have character names.  When I finished, I knew that this was the story I need to write next.

It's funny how an idea--a good idea--can float around in your head for so long before it's 'ready' to be written, and funny how the tiniest thing can trigger it. Has the story changed from your initial vision? 

In some ways, it hasn’t changed at all, and in others, it’s changed dramatically.  The parts that are almost exactly the same as the day I hand wrote them in my many notebooks are the sections from Claire’s point of view.  Very, very, very little changed in those sections—the ones told in her voice—from the first draft to finished product.  This has always been her story, and my initial vision of it and the telling of it hasn’t changed at all from start to finish.  What did change dramatically was the plot of the second half of the book.  Originally the book went much farther into the future than it does now.  Also my bad guy was far more maniacal in the second half of the book than he is now.  Finally, the pacing is a lot different.  I originally had Claire’s story framed by Connor’s search, and now I have the chapters staggered. I think it adds suspense.

Now, Plotter or Wingman?

These days I am much more of a plotter.  Although I had the best time writing I’ve ever had writing Finding Claire Fletcher, forging ahead with no plan at all really crippled me in terms of seeking publication.  It took a very long time to get the book to where it is now.  I think if I had plotted more ahead of time, my journey would have been easier.  So now I begin with a premise in mind, character names, a loose idea of the plot and then I write a few thousand words.  Then I do a plot outline from there and continue writing.  I will reference and change the plot outline as I move along, depending on what twists the actual writing takes.  But now I try to start out by asking myself:  “What am I trying to accomplish in this book?”

We often hear about 'saggy middles' and writers who get 10, 20, 30,000 words into a book and then get lost and discouraged. Did you ever hit a point during the writing of FCF where you thought about throwing in the towel and giving up? What kept you going?

Never in the actual writing of it.  The book came out of me fast and furious.  I couldn’t get it out fast enough.  I was so sad when that first draft was over.  During the lengthy, prolonged, painful revisions there were many times I wanted to throw in the towel.  But Claire’s voice was too compelling to me. She felt so real, and I was haunted by her voice, her story.  I felt some weird sort of obligation to her to see this thing through.

Describe your writing routine, if you have any. Are you a morning writer, evening? Anytime?

I have none!  I keep a notebook in my purse and whenever I have time (waiting in line at the post office or in a store, waiting at the doctor or dentist, waiting in the car while my husband runs into a store) I will write.  I try to always have whatever I’m working on in the back of my mind so that when I do get ten minutes to pick up a pen, I can get right into it.  Then usually at night when my daughter is asleep and my husband has fallen asleep watching TV, I will pull out the old laptop and work on there.  I just grab whatever free time I can get wherever I have it and use that.  Some of my best work has been written in line at the post office.
What's next for Lisa L. Regan? Do you see yourself continuing in the same genre, or changing things up?

I will definitely continue in the crime fiction/suspense/mystery/thriller genre.  This is what I love.  My new novel, Aberration will be out 6/6/13 from Sapphire Star Publishing.  It’s got an FBI agent.  Then after that will be a Philadelphia detective.  Then I’d like to bring Connor and Claire back as minor characters or intrepid crime solvers in a book with a mystery at its heart.

Wow, thanks so much for being here, and good luck with all of your projects. Merry Christmas, too!

Now, all, Lisa has a giveaway going on in celebration of Finding Claire Fletcher. Today is the last day to get in on it. You can win a $25 Amazon  giftcard, a signed copy of Finding Claire Fletcher, or an e-book version of FCF. All you have to do is go here and leave a comment, but hurry! Signup ends today, drawing is on Christmas eve!

About Finding Claire Fletcher
Newly divorced and with his career in jeopardy, Detective Connor Parks takes solace in the arms of a beautiful woman he meets at a bar. The next morning, Claire Fletcher is gone, leaving nothing behind but an address and a decade-old mystery. The address leads to the Fletcher family home where Claire's siblings inform Connor that their fifteen-year-old sister was abducted from a city street ten years ago and is presumed dead. During those ten years, Claire endured the cruel torture and depravity of the man who abducted her. Paralyzed by fear and too ashamed to return to her family, Claire is resigned to her life as Lynn, the identity her abductor forced upon her. Every time she attempts escape or betrays him in the smallest way, someone dies. Even now, her clandestine run-in with Connor Parks may have put his life at risk, as well as the lives of her family. Connor is convinced that not only is Claire Fletcher alive, but that she is also the woman he met at the bar. Driven to see her again, he begins his own investigation, off the clock and without the police department's consent. He is determined to find her and unravel the mystery of her abduction and odd reemergence. But finding Claire Fletcher proves more dangerous than he anticipates. In fact, it may be deadly.


If you haven't already done so, get it today, because the world is NOT ending today. Have a great weekend, everyone, and thanks for coming by!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sucky First Drafts

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the first draft of anything sucks.* This 'truth' is a great comfort to writers who read their first drafts and want to tear their hair out. "Oh, this sucks!" they scream, while dragging their poor monitor to the window, as if it's the monitor's fault. But then they take to a writer's forum to bemoan the horrible state of their first draft, and someone points out this truth, and they feel better, and press on.

It's liberating, being allowed to suck. It allows one to proceed with some degree of confidence. 'If shitty first drafts were good enough for Hemingway,' we think, 'they're good enough for me!'

As I read a thread over the course of the weekend, however, something started gnawing at my insides. A feeling that some are starting to take to this 'truth' and turn it into a Truth, or that they're looking at it as—dare I say it?—another rule.

But remember this: Just because the first draft is allowed to suck, doesn't mean it's supposed to suck.

What I mean here is, if you draft at all like me, then much of your draft will, in fact, suck. I'm a brain dumper. In my head is a slippery, slimy story scampering around in the dark. It's hard to see all of it. It's quick and elusive. Drafting, for me, is the act of dumping that thing out into the bright light where I can pin it down and examine it. That first draft is full of typos, awkward sentences, and needless repetition. I'll repeat, almost verbatim, the same paragraph in three different places, because I'm desperately trying to communicate a particular idea or theme. Once this thing is on the page and has stopped moving around so much, I'm looking for things that don't suck: believable characters, a compelling plot, authentic dialogue. The prose itself can suck, but these things have to be sufficiently non-sucky to convince me to go on to the next phase, the (hopefully) Quality Wordsmithing phase.

So, I guess if there's any advice in here, it's allow that 'truth' to grant you freedom to write without too much worry, but make sure you've got something good in there.

Looking forward to Friday, when I'll have Lisa L. Regan here—see you then!

*Apologies to Jane Austen. And Hemingway's quote is, "The first draft of anything is shit."

Friday, December 14, 2012


So, I watched a good chunk of the 12-12-12 concert Wednesday night. I forgot it was on, to be honest, and only found it when I decided I needed some brain melt time, shortly after 8 PM. I turn on the TV and there's Bruce Springsteen, looking like he's the one who should be playing a mobster on The Sopranos, instead of his buddy, Little Steven, wrapping up Born to Run. I stuck around for the next four hours, until I was driven away by a deadly combination of fatigue, Kanye West, the truly awful 'Drunk Uncle' sketch, and one-too-many instances of Brian Williams saying, "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a celebrity back here."

I did enjoy the show overall. I thought most of the musical performances were strong, though I also thought the comedic bits were universally unfunny. The cause is excellent, and I suspect the concert raised a lot of money that will hopefully get to the people who need it the most. There is, however, one question that's been bugging me since somewhere in the middle of the evening. I think it first popped into my brain when they started flashing the 'coming up' promos during stage changeovers:

Where were the women?

There were plenty of women in Madison Square Garden for the show. I saw them dancing, smiling, waving their cell phones in the air. They were at the phone bank, there were at least two who appeared on camera between musical acts. And there were a lot of women onstage, but aside from Alicia Keys, they were backup singers and part of the band. So, where were the women?

Now I know there's a lot of things that go into producing something like this, a lot of considerations that go into selecting the acts. Most of the acts were 'classic' acts--Springsteen, Clapton, The Who, the Stones, Roger Waters--giants in the industry, big box office draws, who appeal to the demographic that I presume is seen as having the most money to give. You're not going to stuff this event with teeny-bopper heartthrobs, because the teeny-boppers can't fork over the cash.

There's also availability. Bruce and Bon Jovi are local guys, you know they're going to turn out for something like this. So is Billy Joel. The Who and the Stones both happen to be touring the US right now, and Sir Paul McCartney can do whatever he wants, wherever he wants, whenever he wants--he's Paul freakin' McCartney, after all. So the biggest women stars in the business today--Adele, Gaga, Katy Perry, Madonna, and I know I'm missing many others--may not have had the right combination of interest, audience, and availability for an event of this sort. Still, the night was notable for what it lacked.

I hate to see these kinds of events, because it means something terrible has happened somewhere in the world, something that has caused suffering among large numbers of people. But it will happen again, because that's just how the world is, things happen. And it will happen again because people want to help, they want to contribute and make things better, and that says a lot about us. I just hope that, when it does happen again, we see a better balance on the stage.


In light of Monday's post about John Lennon, I came across a link to the so-called 'last interview' he did for Rolling Stone magazine, about three days before he was killed. It's a really interesting read, and some parts that struck me as being appropriate for all of us writers here. Check it out here.

That's all for me, have a great weekend, all!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Musical Monday: John Lennon

John Lennon was really my first hero of rock and roll. As a kid I didn't really latch on to any one particular performer. We had our Partridge Family records, of course, and I remember playing Don McLean's American Pie over and over for a  while (and it was a single, so it faded out and had to be flipped over to hear all of the song, for those of you who remember those funny things called 'records'). Oh, and I had a brief love of Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy. But it was the Beatles that first really grabbed me, even though it was six or seven years since they'd broken up.

Now, I'll confess, I actually liked Paul McCartney better at first. Paul was...safer, more immediately approachable. But over time, I found Lennon ultimately seemed so genuine. As glib as he could be in interviews (and we've probably all seen those clips: "How did you find America?" "Turn left at Greenland."), the more you watch and read, the more you realize he laid himself out there. He held fast to his ideas. He wasn't afraid to express himself, he wasn't afraid to say what was on his mind, and he took his share of lumps for it.

I was one of the people who waited with bated breath for the release of his first album in five years. Lennon, after a tumultuous few years in his personal life that included a separation from Yoko Ono and a heroin addiction, gave up the life to help raise his son, Sean. He was emerging from five years of exile. (Just Like) Starting Over had come out in October, raising expectations for the album, and an entirely appropriate re-entry into the world. And then, three weeks after the album's release, Lennon was gunned down outside his apartment.

I don't know what we were watching on TV that night, but I remember the eleven o'clock news coming on, and the report that John Lennon had been shot. I went to bed not knowing what happened, but in the morning, I turned on my radio to my favorite rock station and heard...a Beatles song. I don't remember which one, but it was a Lennon song, and I didn't need anyone to tell me what that meant.

I didn't cry, I didn't stay home from school and bury myself in the covers, I didn't cut school and travel to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, but Lennon's death hit hard. Other rock heroes had gone. 1977 saw three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd die in a plane crash; Keith Moon of the Who died a year later, and Led Zeppelin's John Bonham passed away about a month before Double Fantasy came out. None of those deaths hit me in the same way. Lennon was different. Lennon is different. It's a shame he was taken away so young.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who Are We Trying to Reach?

On Wednesday, my friend Nancy Thompson made her monthly Insecure Writers Support Group post. She's published now, but admitted to feeling a bit of a letdown. Part of it, I'm sure, is the physical reaction to the go-go-go that was her blog tour and the high of being able to go to Amazon and Barnes & Noble and say, "Look, that's me!" At some point, you're just going to run out of steam. But she was also noting how hard it is to connect with readers. Nancy noted that, while writing The Mistaken, she connected with writers, which is great, but she goes on to say:

I didn’t take the proper time to make more connections, the kind I should’ve made in order to help sell my book.  Writers make great friends and give wonderful support and advice, but, for the most part, they're not really buyers.  Readers are buyers

We'll say it again, because it's important: Readers are buyers.

I'm a dedicated reader of a number of blogs, a regular participant in the Absolute Write forums, and one thing that comes up all the time is the notion of 'rules'. You know them well: Don't use adverbs. Don't use passive voice. Show, don't tell. Write what you know. The rules have a place, but they cause a lot of problems for new writers who see these rules broken all the time by established authors. And the confusion is compounded when New Writer posts a two sentence excerpt on a forum because they're confused about grammar, and they get an answer that says something like, "Grammatically, you're fine, but I'd be concerned because that sentence is all telling." They then get lectured by four or five people for telling when they should be showing. I hate those kinds of answers because they ignore context, and they ignore the fact that sometimes, it's just plain best to tell.

Now there's a new rule, a rule that is heavily-pushed by industry insiders: "you must have presence." 'Presence' in this case refers at the very least to a website, though preference is given for interactive social media. Like the 'Show, don't tell,' and 'Don't use passive voice' rules, a lot of new writers are taking this to heart, and the result is a lot of blogs out there like…well, like this one, and a lot of writers despairing over what it means.

The problem is that new writers almost invariably blog about writing. There's nothing at all wrong with this. It's a good way to help process and channel the sometimes maddening things we go through, and it's a great way to meet people and to learn and be inspired. I've gained so much from reading your blogs and interacting with you, and from forcing myself to write something meaningful twice a week. Best of all, I can say there are some real friendships that have formed through this effort, and I don't make friends easily.

But Nancy is right. Blogs like hers and mine attract like-minded people, and those like-minded people are mostly fellow aspiring writers. And as Nancy says, writers are not buyers. Yes, when I am published, some of you will buy my books (now we're getting ambitious: it's not enough that I'm saying 'when', I'm assuming multiple books – dream big, or go home!). Many of you will promote it on your blogs and participate in blog tours and interviews and, like ripples on a pond, word will spread of my fantastic contributions to literature – to other writers. Getting the word out to the general reading public is another story.

So, how do we do that? Lisa Regan made a great point in the comments section of Nancy's post: "it's hard to connect with readers when you have nothing out for them to read." What reader (meaning the generic reader, as opposed to the aspiring writer reader) is going to visit this blog? There's no reason for them to come here because I have nothing published, they don't know me from Adam. And if I did somehow find a way to attract them here, well what's there for them to see? A wanna-be writer whining about how he's stuck in the middle of his manuscript, or recounting a crazy dream that relates to how anxious he is about sharing his work. Who really wants to read that? Other writers who are in the same or similar boat, that's who. When I'm published, I would need a different sort of presence, I think, for the benefit of reader readers who are interested in me.

There's a lot of energy being expended on the internet by writers trying to establish presence. My feeling, the longer I'm involved in this, is relax. Blog if you want. Tweet, Facebook, whatever. But don't break your back on any of them on the assumption that it's going to help get you an agent or a publication deal, or that it's going to sell you a lot of books when you do get your deal. Because chances are, you'll be trying to sell yourself to yourself. 

What do you all think? Am I nuts for saying this? Or is there some other way to really connect with and build a readership before you've been published? I really want to know.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Finding Claire Fletcher Launches!

Since starting this blog nearly two years ago, I have met many wonderful people. It's strange to think of people you've never seen face-to-face, or never even spoken to in a normal conversation, as friends, but there are a number of you I feel that way about. It brings me great pleasure to announce that my friend, Lisa L. Regan  is releasing her first novel, Finding Claire Fletcher, today!

Lisa's going to be busy this month. She'll be here for an interview on December 21. For a full schedule, and to earn a chance to win valuable prizes, stop by here!

Here's the short story on the book:

Down on his luck, Detective Connor Parks takes solace in the arms of a woman he meets at a local bar, but in the morning, Claire Fletcher is gone, leaving behind clues to a decade-old mystery. Abducted at age fifteen, no one has heard from Claire Fletcher in ten years.  Until now.  Driven by an unsettling need to see Claire again, Connor sets out to solve the mystery of her disappearance once and for all.

I am really looking forward to reading this, and I'm very excited for Lisa. It has been a long time in coming! 

Where can you buy Finding Claire Fletcher, you ask?

Be sure to stop by Lisa's blog to find out where she is and wish her well! I'll be back tomorrow (I think).

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Musing: Captcha Gone Crazy!

Is it me, or has Captcha gotten a bit … out of hand lately?

Captcha, in case you're not familiar with it, is the verification code you have to enter in order to comment on some blogs, or register for certain websites. I always assumed it was just a jazzy way of saying 'capture', but it's an acronym that means "Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart." Seriously.

Anyway, I started keeping a list back in May of 2012, a list of the strange word combinations I was encountering while trying to leave my pearls of wisdom around the blogosphere. Something struck me about those twisty little things. Mostly, they made me laugh. They also made me think, "I can use this!" For what, I didn't know, but I was compelled to copy them down, certain that I could use them in some bizarre work of fiction yet to be thought of.

sporse nizoe  
sistf manymob   
chicero ptiera

See what I mean? Catchy, aren't they? That last one sounds like a South American nightclub singer.

At first, they were a source of amusement and mild annoyance, but somewhere along the line, they made them twistier, harder to read. That might have actually been what prompted me to start keeping the list in the first place. Some blogs, it seemed were tougher to crack into than others, and I was curious. Still, they were a mere annoyance, a brief speed bump on the road to commentary. But then they started to change. They started to add numbers.

smsvI 45
spitaggl 13
byaques 14

It was an interesting new wrinkle. And it was also the point where it started to become a pain in the butt. I usually had no trouble with mere letters. But the numbers were frequently hard to read. They were blurry. They looked like grainy photographs of house numbers taken with a cheap camera by a sleep-deprived PI staking out a wayward spouse.  I started guessing, and some of the guesses were so blind I wondered if coming close is good enough - that or I'm getting extremely lucky. I also started getting them wrong with greater frequency, but, fortunately (or unfortunately, if you've been on the receiving end of many of my comments, hah hah) not often enough to make me not leave a comment.

I stopped keeping track of the Captcha codes, but I've started up again, because they just seem to be going crazy lately.

shonees 12636
orldVeq 4519
8931 myUSBus

I suppose it's just a way of trying to keep ahead of the bots.

I remember considering the comment options when I started this blog. Verification on, or off? Comment moderation: yay or nay? I'm pretty sure I started with verification on, because I'm pretty sure someone told me not to bother, that it was an impediment to conversation, and people wouldn't bother if they had to wade through the trouble of captcha. Comments are important. I want to hear what you have to say. In hindsight, it was a silly decision to use it for me, especially because I receive every comment as an e-mail, and I have the luxury of being able to act quickly, should anything spammy or objectionable come in. Maybe if I were receiving hundreds (or even scores or dozens) of comments per post or had thousands of visitors per day, it would make sense, or if I found myself having to clean up loads of obvious spamments each  day. As it stands now, it doesn't make sense for me to keep that barrier up. (On the other hand, I must have crossed some  threshold; twice in the last month I've received offers of free quality eye-wear should I promote some company on this blog – big time, baby!)

Anyway, I think I'll stop keeping track of Captcha codes for a while. At least until they change things up and make it interesting again. Viva, Chicero Ptiera!


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!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Musing: NaNo

Like Hurricane Sandy, NaNoWriMo is bearing down on us. As I mentioned Friday, I'm still not certain if I'm participating this year, though I have checked out my regional forums in NaNoland. There's a lot of NaNo chatter out there right now, so I  thought I'd share a few thoughts on my own experiences with NaNo for the benefit (I hope) of those of you who may be looking at doing it for the first time.

- First, it's about process, not product. A blessing and a curse, this is. Detractors of NaNo argue that NaNo encourages you to write crap. NaNo encourages you to write, period. That's the real point of it: shut down the internal editor, sit in the chair, and write. NaNo's greatest gift to me was getting me in the habit of writing, of establishing a process for writing. If you want to write and have never found a way to get yourself started, NaNo can be a great thing.

- You don't have to finish. By this I mean it's okay if you 'win', it's okay if you don't. 'Winning' NaNo means churning out a 50,000-word novel by November 1. No one says it has to be a complete novel. If you're a wingman like me, you may not know how big your story is. If you're a plotter/planner/outliner, you may have an idea that your novel really needs 80,000 words, or 90,000, or a 120,000. Don't despair. Do it anyway.

Back in 2010, I got too hung up on the idea that my novel had to be 'finished', i.e., that it needed a beginning, middle and end. Over the last few days I racked my brain to come up with a proper ending for my story, and really rushed the ending. It wasn't a bad ending, really, but I may have lost something due to my compulsion to finish. Which leads me to

- Winning isn't everything. It's okay not to 'win' this. For real. Especially if you're a new writer who is trying to get started. The important thing is to establish the habits that work for you. The daily word count tool is a handy way to track your progress, but it's too easy to get hung up on making the 1,667-word daily goal, too easy to get caught up in the obsession of 'winning.' Maybe you can't write everyday. Don't obsess over winning. If you only get 1000 words, don't feel like you absolutely MUST hit 2,334 words the very next day. Relax, breathe, focus on establishing the habit of writing.

- Avoid the 'Dirty Tricks for Padding Your Word Count.' On that section of the NaNo forum, you'll find handy tips like 'if you make a misstake mistake, don't cut sentences or paragraphs, just leave them.' Actually, that should read 'do not cut sentences', because to pad your word count 'do not use contractions, even if it makes your grade school dropout sound like an uptight English professor from the 19th century.' Another good one was 'every time a character walks in the room or speaks, use his full name and title', such as "Joseph Abernathy Caldwell, an investment broker at Goldman-Sachs, picked up the telephone. 'What is happening, dude?' said Joseph Abernathy etc." Every. Time. If you have any thoughts that you might like to pursue publication some day, you probably don't want to get in the habit of padding word count.

Finally, please, please, please remember that anything you do in NaNo is a ROUGH DRAFT. Please do not start sending your 50,000+-word opus off to agents and editors, or even beta readers or crit partners until you've had a chance to read it yourself and clean it up. Do yourself, your friends, and all those agents and editors a big favor and take some time to look it over and honestly go over it. (I will admit I was guilty of pushing to 'win' and using a few 'dirty tricks', though nothing as bad as what I quoted above, but I knew better than to shove my NaNo off on anyone.)

Anyway, that's about all I've got to say about NaNo, for now. What about you? Any tips, tricks, or things you wish you knew the first time you jumped in? Share, share.

Now, one last thing. Depending on how things go here, I may be back on Friday, I may not. We made out pretty well with Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last year as far as our power (I think it was out for a day); I fully expect we'll lose it some time today. How long it will be out is the question, hopefully not too long. I know at least one regular here is in what looks to be the direct path of the storm. Good luck, be well, be safe.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Week That Was

This was a funny week for me here at the Doubting Writer. For the first time in a while, I didn't do a whole lot of actual writing. I put the finishing touches on Barton's Women last week and, gasp!, turned it over to my wife on Saturday. When I was not out of the house (cross country meet on Saturday, Writer's Circle on Sunday) I was predictably on edge, especially when I sat on the couch reading Before You Know Kindness (I like it) and realized my wife was reading my book at the same time.

She started it Saturday evening. By Sunday afternoon she had read 2/3 of it, and said she didn't want to keep reading. This would not seem to be very good news, except it was: she didn't want to keep reading because the situation was making her uncomfortable. I asked (about the only thing I asked while she was reading) if it made her uncomfortable because I wrote it, or if it was because of the situation itself. She said it was the latter. Fist pump! I elicited feelings! Yes! She finished the book in the wee hours of Monday morning, 368 pages in less than two days, and I was able to carry on a meaningful conversation with her about it (Though I often did so from another room. Picture me getting up to take a dish into the kitchen, making coffee, picking lint of my sweater, moving, moving, moving). She had more meaningful things to say about this one than she did with Parallel Lives, and I am grateful for that. Now we wait to see what other readers have to say.

But, as I've said, I've done very little 'new' writing. This must be one of those down phases where my brain needs to regroup and recharge. Instead, I pulled out a short story I finished over the summer, Last Man Standing, polished it up, and sent it off yesterday to a few short story markets. I'll spend some more time over the next few days looking for others. Short story submissions are time consuming, that's for sure.

Of 'new' writing, all I did this week was a short bit at my writer's circle on Sunday. It wasn't much, about 400 words of a conversation between two people that I think might be part of The Next Project. Of course, I don't know if it is or not. Right now, The Next Project is still the germiest-germ of an idea kicking around the back room, and that brings me to the next question: NaNoWriMo.

I'm still on the fence about NaNo. While I 'won' by hitting 50K in 2010, last year I never really got out of the gate (in fairness to me, I spent the first two weeks or so trying to push Parallel Lives out the door, so that shot the month for me). I don't think I even had a real idea heading into last year, and that's the problem this year. The Next Project is still waiting for that Special Something, the catalyst that will allow me to do this:

I'm faced with an interesting question for this. Do I take what little I have of an idea for The Next Project and just start now? I am a discovery writer, after all, and I usually start without too much of an idea of where things are going, but the monster is usually moving a little more on the table when I do that. The Next Project may not be far enough along for me to do that, and I hesitate, for fear of spoiling it somehow. Like, say, picking up a brain from Abby something. On the other hand, it gives me a chance to try working in a new way, to try experimenting a bit. I have six days; I could still give The Next Thing some thought and maybe, maybe, come up with an...outline. Yes, I said it, I could come up with an outline. We'll see. Still, it will be nice to get to work on drafting something new again.

Something of interest I saw today. If you don't read Jane Friedman's blog, take a look at today's entry. She also links to a presentation she did in Germany last month, The Future of the Author-Publisher Relationship.  Thought provoking stuff, though I know better than to promise a post inspired by Ms. Friedman's ideas.

Finally, Hurricane Nancy is still roaring through the blogosphere. Make sure you stop by Nancy's blog and find out where she'll be on the next stop on her blog tour. I had a great time interviewing her, and thank you all for your comments. Until Monday, have a great weekend!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Author Interview: Nancy S. Thompson

Today I have the pleasure of a Doubting Writer first: an honest-to-God Author Interview! Nancy S. Thompson officially made the jump from 'aspiring writer' to 'published author' last week when her thriller, TheMistaken (Sapphire Star Publishing), hit the streets. 

"Obsessed with revenge following the violent death of his pregnant wife, Tyler Karras pledges the woman who killed her to sex-traffickers in San Francisco’s Russian Mafia.  In exchange, they’ll finally let his brother leave the business for good—with his debt wiped clean and his heart still beating.  But when Tyler mistakenly targets the wrong woman, he’s forced to protect his own victim from the very enemy he's unleashed, and the Russians are holding his brother as leverage to force Ty to complete their deal.  Caught in a no-win situation, Ty must find a way to save himself, his brother, and the woman, but with the Russian Mafia, even two out of three makes for very long odds. "

A gifted writer, Nancy has been a regular reader and a valuable commenter here for a long time. The Mistaken is 'a good story well told.' It's tight, fast-paced and exciting, and Nancy puts her characters through hell. In addition to her skill as a writer, Nancy is a great reader, with an excellent eye. Her insightful comments and critiques have helped me improve greatly. Best of all, over the past year we've gone from being just blogging buddies to actual friends, and have shared the blessing/curse of sending a child off to college, but now I'm trampling on the interview. Here we go, please welcome Nancy S. Thompson!

Tell us something about yourself we WON'T learn from reading your 'About Me' page.

Well, I just spent the last 2 years working very hard to get my son ready for college.  That included advocating a tough curriculum, SAT prep, college fairs and tours, filling out online applications, composing engaging essays, and scholarship applications.  It was a long, difficult process, but it paid off.  Not only did he get accepted to 14 universities, he was also offered and accepted several scholarships to his first choice school.  Plus they gave him 2 years of college credit, so he’ll graduate in May 2014, saving him time and me a great deal of tuition money.  My son is my proudest accomplishment.

That's an exhausting process, I know from experience. Great news, though, that he'll go from freshman to senior in basically one year!

I love origins stories. Tell us about the origins of The Mistaken. How did it come about?

Before The Mistaken, I’d never written anything in my life, and I’d never aspired to, either.  But for some odd reason, I had this idea pop into my head one sunny spring afternoon.  I was cruising around in my little convertible when a new song I’d recently downloaded—Thirty Seconds To Mars’ Hurricane—started to play.  Two lines in the chorus intrigued me:  "Tell me, would you kill to save a life.  Would you kill to prove you’re right?"  It made me wonder, what could drive a decent, law-abiding man to commit a violent crime, and could he ever be the man he once was?  Then than darn muse, who I’d never met before, started whispering in my ear and wouldn’t shut up until I started writing it all down. 

Ah, the power of music!

I'm also a sucker for process. Describe your writing routine, if you have any. Are you a morning writer, evening? Anytime?

I love to write anytime of the day.  If I can, I’ll start in the morning and write until it’s time for bed.  Unfortunately, my husband does need some tending to, so I have to take breaks to prepare dinner and eat and shower, and all that.  But often, I forget.  That’s how absorbed I get with my writing.  Drives my husband nuts!

For me, there's usually a certain time period that has to pass between inspiration—the moment where an idea first strikes—and work time. Quite often that involves a degree of synthesis between two or more ideas, and sometimes it involves actively thinking over something. When you had your first burst of inspiration for The Mistaken, did you go home right away and start writing, or did you have to give it some more time? How long?

There wasn’t much time at all between inspiration and actively writing—maybe a few days.  I started jotting down a very extensive outline while I watched TV in the evenings.  That outline proved to be a great roadmap, from which I rarely strayed.

Which seems to answer my next question: Plotter or Wingman. Err, Wingwoman?

That’s a tough question.  I’ve always thought I was a plotter, hence the outline.  But when I really think about it, that outline was really more like a first, handwritten draft, sans dialogue and setting.  All the story elements were already there, the plot and characters.  I just had to expand to go from about 100 handwritten pages to 380 typed ones.

Sounds like a plotter to me. But, the more I read of other people's process, the more I think it's just a matter of degree.

When I first had my inspiration for Parallel Lives, it was going to be a very different story. During a very early writing session, I had an 'Ah, hah!' moment that changed everything about it. Did you have any moments like that while writing The Mistaken? Has the story changed much from your initial vision?

Actually, no, I always had this one particular story to tell, and I stuck with it from outline to finished draft.  There was one part, a dream sequence, I chose to leave out, but all in all, the story never changed.  Of course, as I began working with critique partners, the story evolved to include more detail, more layers to the plot, but essentially, it always remained the same.

The story emerged slowly over four weeks.  As that blasted muse dictated in my ear, I wrote furiously, trying to keep up with her.  But I will say, she started telling me the story in the wrong place.  I revised it later on, so it all began with an exciting turn of events which sets everything else off.  But besides adding more layers to my characters and one minor element to the plot, nothing else really changed from the first word to publication.

We often hear about 'saggy middles' and writers who get 10, 20, 30,000 words into a book and then get lost and discouraged. Did you ever hit a point during the writing of The Mistaken where you thought about throwing in the towel and giving up? What kept you going?

Perhaps it was the rookie in me, but no, I never got discouraged.  I simply sat down, day after day, from morning ‘til evening, for about two months, until the story was done.  I never got blocked because I had that outline.  You see, I never wrote The Mistaken with the idea I would pursue publication.  It wasn’t until I was finished that I thought I might have something good on my hands.  I will say this though: I do fear that roadblock on my second novel.  I’m almost finished with the outline, but I’m not quite there yet.  Hopefully, it will see me through like the first one did. 

Ah, a second novel -- so what's next for Nancy S. Thompson? Do you see yourself continuing in the same genre, or changing things up?

My next project is the sequel to The Mistaken.  Poor Tyler and Hannah are about to go through a whole new round of hell.  I’m about seventy-five percent done with the outline for that, and I really need to get back to it.  It was disrupted when my edits came in, then I had some family drama, followed by all the lead-up to my launch, and now I edit books for my publisher’s other authors, so that takes up a great deal of my time.  But come November, I am so ready to finish up and start the actual writing.  

I, for one, am looking forward to reading this! Thank you so much for you time, and best of luck with The Mistaken.

One final note, Nancy is having a giveaway. Everyone follower who comments on Nancy's blog over the next two weeks will be entered into a drawing for an ARC of The Mistaken and a bookmark.  Five runner-up winners will each receive an e-book copy.  Winners will be determined using and notified via email. And, finally, Nancy is also over at Carrie Butler's So, You're a Writer... today. Be sure to stop by there, too. Thanks for visiting, and enjoy The Mistaken.

Wow, Thanks for coming by and good luck!