Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year--And an Announcement!


Matt Sinclair, a regular contributor to the excellent blog From The Write Angle and chief brain behind Elephant's Bookshelf Press, announced just before Christmas EBP's next anthology (after Winter Regrets, that is). Here's the announcement, ripped from EBP's blog:

Elephant's Bookshelf Press is putting together an antibullying anthology for kids between the ages of seven and twelve. Cat Woods will lead this effort and serve as the editor for the anthology.

Submissions can be told from the point of view of the bully, the victim or the bystander and must be suitable for middle grade (MG) readers. All stories should have a clear resolution that will help readers better understand the impact of bullying and/or help give them appropriate tools to deal with potential bullying situations in their lives. The maximum word count for stories is 2,500.
For the full text of the announcement, and  instructions on how to submit, go to The Elephant's Bookshelf.

I am of the opinion that there are many people who are far-too quick to raise the cry of "Bully!" whenever someone makes a statement they don't like. I also believe, however, that bullying is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. This anthology is a great way to do that, and could have a positive impact on many people. Please consider a submission. That is all, now on to the rest:

Happy New Year, in advance.

Nothing fancy, no resolutions, none of that, just my wishes to all of you for a happy, healthy and successful year. Thanks for coming by and letting me ramble at you, and for sharing your thoughts with me. Be well, and stay safe!

No, this is not a current photo--it's from a couple of years ago

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Awesome Spectacular

Remember back when I wrote about the impending series finale of Breaking Bad, and how I was afraid of the writers/producers giving in to the hype and screwing things up? No? You can read it here .
Anyway, this is on my mind because of the last two episodes of that fabled show from across the pond, Doctor Who.

Two momentous events happened in the last two months. First, right before Thanksgiving in America, the show celebrated its 50th anniversary with an episode called, "The Day of the Doctor". A brief round of applause, please. Fifty years for a non-news program or talk show is insanely impressive (and we'll excuse the 16-year hiatus the show had between 1989 and 2005), and showrunner Stephen Moffat no doubt felt pressured into doing something big. Now, when the episode opened, I had immediate misgivings, as we quickly found ourselves in a long sequence that featured the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) hanging from the TARDIS as it was being dangled beneath a helicopter over London. "Oh, boy," I thought. "This is going to suck." It had the feel of BIG TELEVISION EVENT SPECTACULAR! which meant, in my mind, that it was likely to be big on spectacular special effects, guest appearances, and other Cool Stuff, but short on the stuff that makes for a good program: story.

There were indeed some spectacular effects (well, maybe not spectacular; this is Doctor Who, after all, which can be almost as cheesy as original Star Trek), great guest appearances, and other Cool Stuff, and the story was sufficiently big, if not always sensible (this is Doctor Who, after all), but in the end I was quite pleased with the effort. Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt had great rapport as three versions of the Doctor (and I had forgotten how much I like David Tennant); Billie Piper did a really nice job as The Moment--I'm glad they didn't decide to simply resurrect her as former companion Rose; and it was great how they found a way to pay homage to all the old Doctors. I do have a major quibble with what I feel is a whitewashing of the Doctor, in a way, but this is not the time or place for that. Again, the episode was enjoyable to watch.

And then there's the Christmas special. The Christmas special this year was notable for being the final episode for Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor, and the introduction of Peter Capaldi as Twelve. Did I enjoy it? Ye-e-s-s. But I also felt that the episode succumbed to the need to make it a BIG TELEVISION EVENT SPECTACULAR! In my mind it suffered seriously from Kitchensinkitis as Moffat threw in everything: Daleks! Cybermen! The crack in the wall from Amy's bedroom! Weeping Angels! The Silence! Time Lords from another dimension! ***spoiler alert***Amy!***end spoiler*** The problem was, most of these things were there and gone. They didn't feel like integral parts of the episode's narrative; rather, they felt like things that were thrown in to make the story feel more Epic. It was mostly enjoyable, but I feel that, in their efforts to make it memorable, they failed to deliver on the promise. It was too crowded with stuff.

Well, I suppose we've got a couple of years to think about a proper send-off for Peter Capaldi's Doctor. Maybe they'll be able to apply that old principle, "Less is more."

Did you watch either of the Doctor Who holiday spectaculars? What did you think?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas, Baby!

From the Conan O'Brien show eleven (!) years ago....

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading and putting up with me, and for sharing your thoughts and ideas in this space. Be well!

Friday, December 20, 2013


As you all know, because I keep telling you over and over and over again, the writers' group I'm in is putting out a publication this spring, featuring work done in the group. I submitted four pieces which apparently got passed around among the editorial team. Last week I got an e-mail back from 'my' editor. She informed me that three of the four pieces submitted were selected, made some very brief comments on each, and asked for background statements on the pieces in terms of what inspired me on each piece, what I was trying to accomplish, what I was unhappy with (if anything), etc.

Now, I'm going to admit that my selection process went kind of like this—"Oh, crap, I've got to turn in pieces. Let's see…Oh, this is finished, so that's in. Hmm. That one's finished, so that's in…." You probably get the idea. The problem with my writers' circle pieces is that, by and large, they are just that—pieces. It is rare that I write a complete story in the 40 minutes or so of writing we have each week; it's also rare that I get turn any of those bits into a full story when I get home. Finding something 'complete' is a treat.

The four pieces had the following 'born on' dates (note, I started with this group at the beginning of March, 2011): March 28, 2011, April 3, 2011, July 8, 2012, and October 20, 2013. Which piece was left out of the mix?

Yep, it was the one from March, 2011. It's a short story called 'Five Miles', which is a title I came up with the day I wrote it (What's more unusual than me coming up with a full story in writers' circle? Me coming up with a title for what I've written; titles don't come easy for me). On this particular day I was so fired up about 'Five Miles' that I spent time doing some rewrites at home and even sent it in to a couple of journals. It goes without saying that it was rejected, and disappeared until I was looking for pieces to submit for this anthology.

The other 'old' piece is something called 'Katydid Nights,' whose life cycle I chronicled here and will not delve into again, except to say that it underwent immediate revision (it was supposed to be part of PARALLEL LIVES), and when I cut it from that book, it sat. 'Katydid Nights' ended up spending two long periods in the drawer. It was also heavily rewritten, and viewed by several sets of eyes. 'Five Miles,' by contrast, was read and critiqued only by me, and it did not get a lot of attention at that. As I read it over now, that lack of attention really shows. Lesson Number 1: give it time. And attention.

Something I find especially interesting, though is that the two newest pieces, 'Combat Crawling' and 'One Minute,' received very favorable commentary from my editor, yet they both received even less work than 'Five Miles.' Both of those stories were completely written in the group, neat little pieces that wrapped up nicely. I took them home and typed them up, correcting only spelling—even if I thought, "Hmm, that sentence would work better like this", I didn't make the change. I kind of like to have 'the original' version to look back on, it's a strange habit of mine. Anyway, both of those works, a minimum of a year-and-a-half newer than the other two, were much stronger out of the chute. In fact, I'd say they might even be better unedited than somewhat polished 'Five Miles.'

New writers often wonder if they're getting any better. "How do I know?" they ask. "How can I tell if I'm really getting better?" Well, this is one way: go back and look at your older work. Hopefully, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lazy Blogger

Well, it's official--I'm getting sloppy with the bloggy. I missed last Monday, though I'm happy to say the world didn't come to a fiery end because of it. I was actually working with great diligence on a post that was going to be about the horrible events that took place in the Boston-Pittsburgh hockey game on Saturday, the 7th, but couldn't organize my thoughts properly or coherently. Let's just say that as a life-long hockey fan, it's very hard to see things like that, and there's no justifying it (which wasn't what I was going to do). I do think that everything that happened in that game comes down to three things: stupidity; not believing you're really going to hurt someone (see this post from last year in relations to this); and the truly bizarre sense of honor and the so-called 'Code' that exists in hockey. Anyway, when it came down to it, I couldn't even find some music or anything to put together, and I wasn't going to drag you over here for a "Sorry, no post today" type of non-post.

I figure I've got one more post in me, for Friday, if I can get myself together in time, and then maybe it's time for a break for a couple of weeks. Of  course, having announced that, it's likely I'll have four or five great ideas--isn't that how it often goes? The Magpie comes home today, the Catbird has two full weeks off from school for the holidays, and there is much to do. In addition, my 'personal editor' on the writers' circle book project has been in touch with me--she just sent me my edits this morning, in fact--so I'll have to do some work there. Oh, and I should be hearing from an editor soon from Elephant's Bookshelf Press--I have a short story coming out in their next anthology, due early next year. Woohoo!

Wow, I've linked to myself three times in this post--this is getting like a cheesy holiday clip-show. I'm pretty sure something new is coming on Friday. Thanks for your comments on Friday's post, I will respond! Meanwhile, let's try this:

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Sticky" Books

My friend, Nancy S. Thompson, challenged me on Facebook the other day. The challenge? Name ten books that have stayed with me through the years, without overthinking.

Of course, I'm not big on doing this sort of thing on Facebook. To me, Facebook is  best used for posting funny pictures, and sitting back and making witty comments on other people's posts. Also, I am big on overthinking, so to the blog it goes. Here's my list, which will not make it to ten. These are in no particular order, except maybe the first one:

1. Salem's Lot, Stephen King. I read this when I was about ten years old, a critical time in my life when I was stepping into that nether world between 'kid' and 'teen'. It didn't exactly make me say "I want to be a writer when I grow up!" but it was part of the fuel that burned so brightly when my sixth grade teacher struck a particular spark a few months later. King in general has been a huge influence on me, and this was the one that started it for me. It's still my favorite vampire book.

2. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving. This one may actually be my favorite book of all-time, and I'm not good at picking favorites of anything! It's definitely my favorite Irving book. It's a great story full of unique characters, and Irving hadn't quite gotten so hung up on delivering lectures in literature yet. The book is thought-provoking, frequently funny, and still makes me tear up. There, I admitted it.

3. Ever Since Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould. I first 'discovered' Gould while leafing through Natural History magazines at a summer job. When the new issues would come in, the first thing I went to was Gould's column, This View of Life. Gould was a brilliant scientist who wrote about science, evolution, Darwin, and life. He did this in a way that was intelligent without being pretentious, and never talked down to his audience. Gould's essays could seem to wander off topic, yet he always wrote with a point, and those things that seemed to have nothing to do with the topic at hand always made sense in the end. He was a writer I very much admired, and very much wanted to be like.

4. Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez. Someone loaned me this book many years ago and I loved it so much, I had to buy it myself. This is a beautifully-written account of an inhospitable (for many of us) world, an excellent account of its people and its wildlife, and how land and climate shapes life. This is the sort of writing I aspire to, but, sadly, don't reach.

5. Hamlet, William Shakespeare. It's got everything you want in literature--Great language! Humor! Treachery! Revenge! Hamlet is one of the most maddening characters in literature--you want to grab him by his tunic and slap him around and yell, "Stop dithering and get on with it already!"  You want to run him through for what he does to the hapless Ophelia, not to mention the ill-fated Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Yet that maddening element of his personality--his inability to make up his mind when face with a huge decision--is what makes him relatable. After all, killing a king is not something you should rush into. Sadly, his desire to be certain leads to a pretty big body count of (mostly) innocent victims. My favorite Shakespeare.

OK, I'm done, well short of ten, but that's okay. Now, I had considered trying to turn this into a meme or whatever, but I'm too lazy for that, and I don't want to burden anyone by tagging them. So I'll ask: How about you? What books have stuck with you through the years? Feel free to list them below, or make your own post (and link it in the comments). Have a great weekend, all!

Friday, December 6, 2013

What Do We Want?

I'm back in the trenches, friends, once more fighting for attention, once more hoping my query stands out enough for agents to want to read pages, once more hoping and believing that my manuscript is good enough to bring me to the next step on the road to publication.

As part of the process, I've gone over my manuscript umpteen times, I've drafted and redrafted and redrafted again my query, and I've even done something of a synopsis (though I need work on that, and querying if any one component is Good To Go right there and then is an admitted risk). In reviewing queries--not just mine, but ones on Absolute Write and in various other places--I find one phrase keeps popping up. It usually come right at the beginning of the query, and it has long made me tap my chin and wonder, even as I do it myself:

"I am seeking representation for my novel...."

The phrase has long made me stop and think. I've even drafted a couple of blog posts on the subject, but never posted them for one reason or another (at least I couldn't find them; I did find one other unfinished post in my blog file. It accounts for the sense of deja vu I've been experiencing while writing this). What it makes me wonder is this: Are we seeking representation for one novel, or are we seeking representation for a career full of novels?

I certainly don't plan on being a 'one and done' kind of writer, but I don't know what life will bring me. And, yes, it would look all kinds of pretentious and pompous to start off with a query with a line like, "I am seeking representation for what will be a long and distinguished literary career", or "I am seeking someone who will champion my work tirelessly over the next 25 years." Those kinds of openings would get you hoisted up on the anonymous agent blogs under the heading, 'What Not To Do In A Query'--who wants to see themselves there? That's not the sort of 'in print' exposure I want.

But agents are smart people. "I'm seeking representation for my novel...." is a sort of standard, one that is understood to have "...and any others that I produce after this one" added on to the end. I just get these things stuck in my head every once in a while and have to let them out.

That's about it for me here. How are you all doing? Do you have a phrase (writing-related or not) that always makes you stop and think? Please share, and have a great weekend!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ah, December

This post is coming to you from the Department of the Top of My Head.

IN the sports world, when a team is struggling through a rough patch, every win is treated as something of great significance. "This game is could mark a turning point in the season,"  the broadcasters and beatwriters say. "They really needed this win." It's a narrative that fans seem to eat up, but coaches know that this last victory is only really significant if the team then goes out in their next game and gets another victory, if they build on the performance of the last game. If the team goes out and lays an egg in the next game, or drops five out of the next six, well, that 'significant' win doesn't look so significant, does it?

Writing a NaNo is kind of like this. If you've managed to churn out 50,000+ words in the month of November on a novel, you deserve congratulations--it is a great achievement., one you can be proud of. The question now, however, is what are you going to do with it? This isn't just aimed at your NaNo, but at your writing in general. What are you going to do with it now?

The answer, of course, depends in a large part on what your goals are for writing. Let's assume, however, that you're here on this blog because you're like me, someone who likes to write, and someone who dreams that this writing thing can  turn into something--a published book (or 2 or 10), maybe a career, maybe even fame and fortune. If that's the case, then what you do next is vital. You need to finish the book. You need to let the book rest. You need to go over it again and again, rewriting, revising, rethinking. You need to get it in the hands of people who aren't going to just say, "My gosh, this is great!" because you're their friend/son/wife/whatever, but people who are going to tell you what they really think. In short (not really), now that you've rushed your novel through the artificial growth chamber that is NaNo, you need to let it breathe, let it develop properly. The racing part is over. If you're new to the writing thing, this is a good time to evaluate the process and figure out what really works for you as a writer.

Now, I will share two bits of news from my own front. First, I aimed at getting BARTON'S WOMEN query ready by the end of the month, and I think I'm actually there. Woot! Second, I have been informed that I have had a short story accepted by the fine folks at Elephant's Bookshelf Press for inclusion in their winter anthology, due out in January, 2014. Double woot! How about you? Did you meet your goals for November? Did you NaNo, and if so, did you 'win'?

Friday, November 29, 2013


IN Honor of the recent airing of the Dr. Who 50th Anniversary special, I'm going back in time. This is what I wrote Saturday morning, November 23 on the calendar for those keeping score at home. It was going to run on Monday, but I had a breakthrough shortly after putting these words to paper, recounted here. So here's where I was at:

I'm in one of those funny spots.

My manuscript is sitting here in front of me, open to page 304. There are 68 printed pages left. I have about 600 words to will add in, something I think will make the ending a little more satisfying. The finish line is in sight. My goal: to start querying, with all the excitement, terror and disappointment that that brings. Also the anticipation and, maybe, relief as well.

And yet….On Thursday night, after chauffering the Catbird and her friend down to a movie, I had time: time to write, time to revise, time to make headway toward my goal of having the manuscript query ready by the end of the month—and I got nothing done. Nada. Zilch. And I came home last night and thought, "It's Friday, Friday (sing it, everyone); no Saturday morning obligations, I can stay up all night, I can work on this, I can finish it by the end of the weekend." Instead, we caught up on Revolution (I don't know if you watch this show or not, but I'm enjoying this season more than last. Last season, there was just a little too much 'let's travel incredible distances on foot and somehow make it there before the seasons change' happening. This season has our heroes mostly concentrated in one place, and I think that's to the benefit of the program's believability quotient. But anyway…), and then we watched a couple of episodes of Malcolm inthe Middle, which for my money is still one of the funniest TV shows ever, and I went to bed without working on the manuscript at all. And here I am at 8 AM on Saturday, with no obligations, and I'm writing a blog post. What's the deal?

Well, I know two deals. One, the section I'm working on is a problem. I'm at the end of Chapter 21, though on my last read through I noted that it probably should be its own chapter. The section needs to be in the book, yet I started retyping the opening paragraph half-a-dozen times, and it just feels—wrong. I can't put my finger on it. And trying to rework it gave me that itchy feeling inside my head and made me agitated, so I decided to skip it and go watch TV instead. Oh, wait, I actually worked on the query a little bit, but that made my head even worse.

I've been here before, and I think my probem is I'm afraid of is the next step. I like this manuscript. I like the story, I like the characters, and I think it's got potential to sell. But I know that part of the problem is with that potential. Potential. It's like a rock poised at the top of a hill. Potential. Once I release this thing, once I get the query letter written, once I push the rock at the top of the hill, it no longer has potential. It's going to roll down the hill. It's going to smash into things and run over things, but eventually it's going to come to rest somewhere. It could be in the middle of someone's living room or backyard. Or it could come to rest in a field somewhere, unnoticed. Or it could roll into a lake and sink to the bottom. It's a scary place to be, and I know many of you have been there. As long as I keep the manuscript at the top of the hill, it's got potential. It can be a bestseller. It can be a blockbuster. It can be the next Twilight, I can be the next Stephen King. Once it starts rolling, however….

HEY, TIME JUMP, it's now Friday morning, November 29, and I realize something: the idea I just expressed in those last couple of lines is bullshit. As long as my manuscript is sitting on my hard drive it's nothing more than a collection of words. It actually CAN'T be the next Twilight, and I can't be the next Stephen King unless I put my words out there. It's a bestseller in my mind only. I want it to be a bestseller, so it's going to have to get out there. Even then, the chances of it being a bestseller are slim, but I'd rather have the reality than the fantasy.

Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I'm ON the Motherf***er

(Warning note: repeated use of a Very Bad Word)

If you've hung around this space for any length of time, you'll know that Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies, a film I can't get enough of, one that sucks me in every time I come across it on the TV. Aside from the compelling storylines and the interesting way they come together, and the characters that you like despite the despicable things they do, there are all kinds of memorable lines:

"We're gonna be like three little Fonzies here."
"I have to stab her three times?"
"Hamburgers! The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast."
"Zed's dead, baby."

Yet the one line that sticks with me perhaps more than any is that one line in the title, uttered twice. And I always hear it in the cool, gelato-smooth voice of Marsellus Wallace. "I'm on the motherfucker." See below, NSFW (jump to 44 seconds; the code doesn't seem to work):

Those four little words (well, three little words and one fairly large one, anyway) have infected my life on an almost daily basis. Anytime someone asks me if I'm doing something that I'm doing or have done, it pops up: "Honey, could you take the garbage out?" asked while I'm tying up the bag. "I'm on the motherfucker." "Remember, your time sheets are due today," as I'm handing them in. "I'm on the motherfucker." "Dad, do you have ten dollars for [insert school function here]?" "I'm on the motherfucker." Of course, I never actually say it out loud, but more often than not, it's in my head.

On Saturday morning I was diddling around, avoiding my manuscript for reasons laid out in what might have been this morning's post if things hadn't gone the way they did. Suffice to say that, since Thursday night, I'd been avoiding a particular piece because, well, I don't know. It just didn't work, and I just couldn't seem to concentrate on it, so I changed one word on Thursday, none on Friday, and was trying to do something with it on Saturday. But I found myself with that same, frustrated feeling, compounded by the fact I was within seventy pages of the end. I don't like skipping with the idea of coming back to it, so instead I took a handful of printed pages to the bathroom.

Now, I'm not a bathroom reader. I'm not a bathroom talker, either. If I had a smart phone I wouldn't be a bathroom texter or IM'er. I prefer to take care of business, so to speak, but I've also long espoused the idea that sometimes, a change of scenery is exactly what you need. So I took three pages with me, started eyeballing the opening of the chapter, got immediately disgusted with the cliché that opened the section, and then the magic happened. I flipped the sheet over and started writing. I wrote three paragraphs super fast, and was out of the bathroom even quicker than if I had taken nothing in with me (my bathroom vice, and yes, we're already into the land of Too Much Information here, is thinking). When I came out of the bathroom, I was super psyched, super pumped up, because at least part of my problem was solved—with the manuscript, that is. And what was I thinking as I made myself another cup of coffee? You guessed it: "I'm on the motherfucker." Only now it wasn't super-smooth Marsellus Wallace. I all-but ran around the kitchen, getting water, setting up the coffee, putting on the kettle, and I'm thinking (and saying out loud, too), "I'm ON the motherfucker." "I'm on the motherfucker." And when the coffee was ready, I sat down and pounded that sucker out, and experienced the rush and the joy that comes with that burst of creativity.

I'm ON the motherfucker. And I love writing.

And allow me to add one more thing: Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends stateside. Heck, to everyone! Be well, see you on Friday.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Home Stretch

At this point, there’s a week and a day left to NaNo (or just a week for my friends down under)--how’s it going? Are you absolutely insane yet? Ready to tear out your hair or chuck your computer (or whatever you write upon) out the window?

Hopefully you haven’t crumbled under the pressure. Hopefully you’ve managed to keep up enough of a pace so that hitting the magic 50K mark is feasible. More importantly, I hope the experience has been a positive, no matter where you stand on the word count curve. Today, I want to talk a little about something I’ve touched on before, but I think it’s important to remember, especially for any of you who may be in NaNo for the first time: Finishing, and what it means.

When I did NaNo for the first time back in 2010 (wow, it’s really been three years), I got caught up in the ideas of ‘winning.’ What does that mean? Well, looking at the NaNo site now, it simply says, “Write a novel in a month!” Digging further into the website, more specifically it says, “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.” Now, I am guilty on a regular basis of taking things quite literally. For me, a cigar is almost always a cigar. So when I read “write a 50,000 word novel in a month” my brain says, “OK, that’s a complete novel in a month.” This sort of literal thinking played havoc with me as I headed into that final week.

On November 26 I had a 145-page document with a Word word count of 35,000, and I went into panic mode. Panic mode because I had 4 days to finish, 4 days to crank out 15,000 words, 4 days to finish my novel. How the hell was I going to do that?

As a Wingman, I had no real idea of what my story was when I started. I had a beginning, and a broad idea of what happens: slacker type ends up in county jail for a short sentence stemming from a combination of traffic accident (leaving the scene) and insurance (driving without). Further, I knew he was going to get in trouble because of an unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions--he was always blaming someone else for his troubles (in this case, it was a turtle, of all things). But as a Wingman, I can only see so far ahead, and as this was also my first attempt at writing, I was jumbled and out of sorts. I wrote the story very much out of sequence. In fact, I had the beginning, and by this day in 2010 I also had the end in mind (and mostly written). What I was missing was a crucial piece of connective tissue that hooked the middle up to the end. And I had four days and 15,000 words left to put it together. In my obsession to win, I did something quite bad: I shoehorned. Like the Prince’s servant trying to squeeze Drusilla's foot into Cinderella’s glass shoe, I did everything in my power to not only hit the 50K mark, but to ALSO make the two ends of the story fit nicely and neatly.

I'll make it fit!

On November 30 I wrote my final words on my NaNo project. It clocked in around 52,000 words, beginning, middle and end. I had won, and I felt good about it, but at the same time, I knew it was not quite right. As inexperienced as I was in the art of novel writing, I knew this untitled work didn’t fit together quite right. But I was done, by God! I had slain the NaNo dragon! I could proudly claim the nifty little badge they offered and put it...well, I didn’t know where, I didn’t have a blog or anything at the time, so I didn’t do anything with it, really, but I was damn proud to have it.

Looking back, I see where I went wrong, and I encourage any of you who are staring at the calendar, and staring at your NaNos, and thinking, “How can I wrap this up in around 50,000 words?” to do this: don’t. As far as I know, there’s no requirement to conclude your novel in or close to 50K. Your story might be bigger than that. It might need 60, 70, 90,000 words to be told properly. It might need another month of writing to hit that point, or 2 or 3. Keep working away at it, let it take the time it needs, but don’t grab the shoehorn. Aim for 50,000 by next Saturday, by all means (but don’t abandon your family for all of Thanksgiving, you American types, you), but don’t wind it up with a sudden, “And then the deus ex machina arrived and saved them all and they lived happily ever after until the sequel or I have time to write this properly, the end.”

That’s all I’ve got for today. I hope you’re enjoying your NaNo process, or your revision work, or whatever you’re working on. Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Weekend Updates

Nothing especially organized about today's post, just the ramblings of a confused mind still waiting for his first cup of coffee.

- The high school musical was this weekend, an ambitious one this year: "Les Mis." 2-1/2 months of often grueling rehearsals (the directors of the musical for the past six years in our school are Broadway veterans, so they often seem to forget that these kids are students) really paid off--everyone did a fantastic job with the material. The Catbird was a chorus girl, though she got two or three solo lines and did great! I'll add that a number of the performances were revelatory--I sat there and thought, "Who knew [insert kid's name here] could sing like that?"

-Along those lines, I found it amusing that the school felt the need to post content and language warnings at the entrance and on the program. Of course, there is some 'rough stuff' involved.

- The Magpie came home for the weekend (or, more correctly, we went and fetched her) so she could see the musical. It was really nice to have her back, and real nice to see my girls together. They get along so well.

-Enough of that mushy stuff. You ever notice that, in car commercials (and probably not necessarily just car commercials) where there's a hetero couple driving, it's almost always the man behind the wheel? I do most of the driving in this family, especially at night and in winter (which is roughly 8 months here--okay, I exagerrate), but that's because the girls don't have licenses and my wife doesn't like the roads. I wonder if this is the case in most places. Do share.

-Despite the craziness of the weekend, I managed to get in some decent work on BARTON'S WOMEN, working through about 50 pages of manuscript. Ah, the benefits of getting up before everyone else! It shrank by almost 500 words and one manuscript page, though I'm finding myself struggling with one particular section--not so much in the writing, but with whether the segment belongs where it is or needs to move up from the back of the chapter to the front. I think I can still trim a bit from the front edge of the story as well. I'm about 100 pages out from the end, and am still hoping to start my query by month's end.

-Coffee's kicking in now. Look out.

-Comet ISON--have you seen it? Have you looked? Sadly, we have two obstacles to quality viewing (three, if you count today's clouds): hills to the east that get in the way, and a street light about 200 feet up from my house that's quite bright and glary. I'd like to see it before it's gone.

-A college campus early on a Sunday afternoon is like a ghost town.

-I also got through a number of pages of reading for a friend (you know who you are!). I'm happy to say I'm almost done, and happier to say that it's quite good! I aim to have it for you by Thanksgiving!

-Two weeks ago I turned in five (or six) printed pieces for the Writers' Circle anthology. Yesterday, I e-mailed the project leader four of the five (or six) pieces--I can't remember what the extra one (or two) was. That's pretty sad. There are at least three possibilities. Why didn't I write this down?

-I appreciate the input you gave me on my question of two weeks ago. Your responses made me think quite a bit, and I'll likely have more on that subject when I can devote a bit more time to things.

-And in closing, this one may be a little mellow and melancholy for a Monday morning, but I love the song and I love the performance, acoustic Dead in front of a rowdy Halloween crowd at Radio City Music Hall. See you Friday (I hope)--how was your weekend?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tag, etc.

First, my apologies to all of you. I know you sat around all day waiting for my usual Friday post. Workplace productivity suffered, the market took a tumble, men and women beat their breasts and tore their hair....Or not. Anyway, because I never quite pre-write as much as I want, so that posting is a matter of a few minutes of edit and voila! I ended up running out of time yesterday morning, and I was out of the house from roughly 7:30 AM until around 11:15 last night. Here, instead, is the Saturday edition.

On a second note, I missed the initial announcement, and the day, but my condolences to fellow blogger Nick Wilford on the passing of his son, Andrew. I am very sorry for your loss, and though it's now a day late, better late than never:

Now, last week my pal Lisa Regan tagged me, and while I haven't played along in a while, I didn't have a whole lot else ready to go so I thought, "Yeah, I'll play along." Of course, it turned into a bigger production than I expected, part of why this is coming to you on Saturday instead of the usual Friday. The rules are simple: Answer four questions, tag five three people, and Bob's your uncle.
God, no, not him!

So, here we go:

1. What are you working on?

Well, there are these four questions I have to ask, see, and...oh, right. I think just about anyone who's been reading this space for any length of time knows I'm elbows-deep in revisions for my novel, BARTON'S WOMEN (p. 213 out of 369 and shrinking--Bob would not approve). And now you're going to know why I didn't get this posted. Lisa put in a nice write up of her current project, so I kind of feel obligated, as well. Plus, you've been hearing bits and pieces about this thing for almost 2 (!) years now, and if I  can't summarize it fairly quickly, I've got a problem. (Funny, I had a sheet full of potential log lines for this monstrosity, and I can't find it now. I've also got half-a-hundred query versions floating around out there. This isn't quite the latest query, but it's pieces of it.

Sunspots, Al-Qaeda, the government--Kevin Barton doesn't know why the power goes out in the little town of Harpursville, or why it also takes out phones, cars, practically everything. What he does know is he's got a family to feed, and their food and water won't last forever.

He's also got a problem in the form of Dina McCray, his daughter's best friend. Stranded at the Barton house, the sixteen-year-old helps with everything from hauling water to digging a garden. She's also another mouth to feed, and that puts her at odds with Kevin's wife, who counts every crumb and would love to get the girl out of the house. Then there's David Sobchuk, the man who keeps Harpursville from sliding into every-man-for-himself chaos. He makes Kevin an offer for Dina's 'services', but Kevin's not about to pimp her out for a few bundles of wood and some deer steaks. 

As pressure mounts from inside and outside the Barton home, Kevin must find the power within himself to keep his family together and keep Dina safe. Their survival depends on it.

That's the first time I've ever gone quite so public with this. Gulp.

2. How does it differ from other works in its genre?

And here I play the special snowflake card. On the surface, BARTON'S WOMEN probably looks like Post-Apocalyptic or Dystopian fiction. I don't read either of those as a general rule; however, my impression of both those genres is that there's a lot of attention paid to the world. BW doesn't quite fit neatly into that mold. The emphasis here is on family and the dynamic among the characters. It's a little more literary in style, and I will likely pitch it as 'commercial'.

3. Why do you write?
Because it's fun. It's a kick. I write for the moments when I surprise myself, for the moments when I say, "Whoa, that's good." (yes, even I have those moments) I write because for the moment the light goes on, and I write for the feeling I get when I push back from the desk wrung out, exhausted, weary, but feeling great.

Man, am I selfish.

4. How does your writing process work?

Slowly, hah ha. There's an idea phase where something occurs to me. Something triggers a thought or a question--"what if?" or something like that. There's usually a stewing period (see this post), then something kicks the idea into the front room of my brain.

Once I start writing, it's Wingman, baby. No outlines, no snowflake sheets, no character interviews or charts, no beat sheets. BUT there is a lot of time spent in 'headspace', thinking about things, hearing dialogue, seeing action. When I sit down to write for the day I've spent a lot of time thinking things over, trying to make things fit, putting pieces together so they fit right.

And that is it. So, who do I tag? I tend to tag the same people over and over again. Let's see....

Stacy McKitrick
Patrick Stahl

Please note, if this is an inconvenience or bother, or you don't participate in these sort of things, you are under no obligation to participate. Otherwise, consider yourself tagged! Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Musical Monday: Kaleidoscope Heart

Another entry from the marvelous Sara Bareilles. The video is jumpy (no, I wasn't the one who shot it), but man, can this woman sing. And hearts do have colors, don't they?

I appreciate the input I've received so far as far on Friday's post. Please, keep it coming! Blogger is not exactly great for dialogue, but we can manage a discussion of sorts. I will follow up on that a bit sometime in the near future. Hope you're all well, and had a pleasant weekend.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Question...

...for my writerly friends out there, specifically those of you who have been published, who have people reading your book(s), who might actually be receiving some form of fan mail:

What question is most frequently asked of you by your readers?

And when I say 'readers', I'm not talking about people like me, i.e., someone who is working on joining you on the 'published author' side of the line. I'm talking about actual readers, people who don't necessarily read with one eye on sentence structure or character development, people who aren't parsing your words because they're reading to improve their own writing even as they read for enjoyment. I'm talking about people who read for the sake of reading, goshdarnit, people who have no ulterior motive other than enjoying a good story. What is it they want to know?

Earlier this week, agent Rachelle Gardner did a post over at her agency's blog about privacy, and she talked a bit about the connection between reader and author. That made me ask a question in the comments section (one that she hasn't answered yet, though I've found her to be responsive in the past), which I'll repeat here:
  "Does the average reader really care that much about making connections with authors beyond what's on the page?"
I really wonder about this, hence I asked the question, and hence I asked the question of my published friends up top. See, here's the thing: when I finish a book that I really enjoyed, I don't immediately hop on to social media and seek the author out. I don't look for their website, or their twitter feed or stalk their facebook page. What do I do? I move on to the next thing in my To Be Read pile. If the book is by an author I've never read before, and that book is more than a couple of years old, I might go to the web to see if they have something newer--which will probably lead me to Amazon or Wikipedia, maybe an author's personal webpage. But even if I do go to said author's webpage, I'm not off to follow on twitter, etc.

Am I just a holdover from a bygone era, a dinosaur in a world of mammals? Am I totally off my rocker? Does the average reader really want something more than just a good book from a favorite author? I'm curious what you all think about this, and I'm curious about your experiences with actual readers (who are not writers).
Yeah, this could be me.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think. Meanwhile, how are your NaNos or other projects going? I hit chapter 10 in BARTON'S WOMEN last night; it was a slow night due to other things happening, but I've shaved about 1500 words from the manuscript so far--and I still like it. Have a nice weekend, all.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Project

An interesting project has finally come up and started rolling.

As I think I've said before, I'm part of a writers' group that meets at a local arts center every Sunday. It's a nice group of people. We have fun, and once in a while I actually produce something worthwhile ("Last Man Standing", published this past summer, was born in my writers' group, as I think I have said).

The director of the arts center has been talking for at least a year now about trying to publish our work in a book. As it stands, we've already had 'featured writers of the month' in the newsletter the center puts out. The book idea has largely not gone anywhere--we are not publishers, by and large, and she's too busy. So for the last year or so the talk would surface from time-to-time, but it wasn't going anywhere. Until now.

Yesterday we sat down with a person who is a new employee of the center, a young lady who has a freshly-inked piece of sheepskin in the field of creative writing and publishing, and is in charge of making the book happen. She handed out a production schedule, we talked a bit about what needed to happen, and when it needed to happen by, we talked contracts and rights--and then I had to leave for a potluck dinner for the Catbird's Cross Country team.

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about the venture.

On the one hand, it's always nice to claim publication, isn't it? This will not be a paid gig; I will not make any money off this, but that's okay, even though I want people to pay for my writing. Also, this will be a self-published book. As of now, our Editor-in-Chief is looking at Lulu for printing. As all of us will be involved in the project, this is a great opportunity for me to learn about the process, should I ever choose to self-publish. It's a low risk situation for me, submitting a few short pieces that likely wouldn't see the light of day anywhere else, anyway. And, of course, it's a way to show my support for what I think is a great organization.

But I am the doubting writer, so I have some doubts.

First, I am a notorious non-completionist when it comes to writers' circle. Most of what I write in the circle are fragments, bits and pieces of things picked up from here and there. Some of them are fun, some of them could be good, but most of them are not. The things that really grab me, the ones that I come home excited about, and actually do more with, are things that I aim at publication. And it often takes me time to get there. "Last Man" was initially drafted in about a week. It then sat for over a year before I dusted it off and started playing with it again. Yesterday, I printed out five pieces that I thought were kind of fun, that I thought had potential for this book. Two of them were pieces I submitted here and there, the other three were things that I liked well enough, but never polished to a high shine. To get all of them ready, I'm going to need to spend more time with them, and time is in shorter supply than it had been.

Second, I do have to say I worry a bit about quality. There were eight of us around the table yesterday, most of whom have been in this group for at least a year, some for longer. The skill level varies greatly. I'm no Tolstoy, but I do consider myself one of the better writers in the group (Yes, I actually said that; can you believe it?). At the risk of sounding like a complete ass, I worry a bit about having my work surrounded by things that may not be as good, quite frankly. There's a fear that someone may buy this book, read a story or two, and throw it against the wall--after putting all the contributors' names down on a blacklist. There, I said that, too. Could this hurt me in the long run?

No. I suppose that's my fear for the day, my doubting self coming up to the surface. This will be an interesting look at the book production process from the inside, and now that I've vented my fears, I can move forward.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Unsolicited NaNo Advice

I feel uniquely qualified in offering up unsolicited advice for all of you intrepid NaNo'ers out there. First, I've 'won' NaNo, so I have a good idea of what it takes to complete this Herculean task. Second, I've lost NaNo, too, so I feel quite confident to call myself an expert. I've also been known to dispense NaNo advice in the past (I think this post is particularly good if you really need it after we're done here today), so there you are. Anyway, here we go:

As you go forth on your NaNo journey, remember that there are more ways to win than pumping out 50,000 words in 30 days, and that you can lose NaNo by not meeting the goal, yet still win. It's all in the journey and what you learn from it. So while you're mainlining your coffee or Mountain Dew or green tea and plugging in your daily word count to watch the histogram rise, keep in mind there's a bigger prize at stake than a novel in a month.

Wasn't that simple? Have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Musical Monday: Lily Kershaw

Heard this song on the radio (yes, that's right, the radio. Yes, I had to stream it, but there actually are stations out there playing new music!) last week and really liked it. This track is from Ms. Kershaw's debut album. Melancholy mood music for a Monday in late October, it seems. Enjoy.

Lot's of talk out there as October fades away about NaNoWriMo. Once again, I'm in the NaNoNoNo club. The long-awaited read-through of Barton's Women is done and I've started in on actual revision work now. My goal is to have this bad boy out on the query trail by the end of November. It's only a couple months later than my plan, but everything in its own time, right? Anyway, given my schedule right now I don't have a lot of free time, and I need to get BW out the door sooner rather than later. If you're doing NaNo, best of luck and have fun! Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

You may have noticed the fluff-to-content ratio here has been high lately. Part of it is due to the time thing: since I have less writing time now, I'm putting in less time drafting posts in advance. Come Monday and Friday mornings I'm scrambling to complete the the half-formed thoughts I had a few days earlier, or I'm just completely winging it. At the same time I'm also a little burned out on the whole blogger/forum thing. I'm not even reading posts with the same...verve...that I was a couple of months ago. A break may be in the offing, though I'm not quite there yet. Or maybe I am. We'll see.

Had quite a bit of fun at my Writers' Circle yesterday. I blew off the prompt (a bit from an essay by the late Stephen Jay Gould) in favor of responding to a comment one of my fellow writers made, and ended up with something that was fun to write, and fun to read (except for that one spot where I couldn't figure out the word I had written). It actually seemed like it would loan itself to a bit of experimentation in form, using twin storylines written side-by-side, though I didn't have time to quite finish the first half, so I never got to the second half. We'll see where it goes, or if it goes.

That's it for me, how's everything going for you?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stupid Little Truths

Almost two years ago (Really? It was two years ago already? Yes, yes it was) I wrote about truth in fiction. At that time, it was the poignancy and truth I recognized in the source material of the local high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. The point was that there were large truths about relationships between fathers and daughters, between tradition and change. 'Fiddler' works so well because it's a case of fiction revealing the Truth, and it's something the best fiction should aspire to.

There's another kind of truth that can be found in good fiction. It's one I'm a big believer in. Unlike Truth with a capital 'T', I think of these as 'stupid little truths.'

You know you've encountered them--stupid little truths are those small, seemingly inconsequential details in a work of fiction that make you nod along and say, "Yeah, that's it, right there." I love it when I get something back from a beta reader and find a comment that says, "That's so true!" or "You nailed it!" And I love finding them when I'm reading someone else's book.

Red Hot, Godzilla-sized
New writers are constantly warned not to load up on needless detail and unnecessary verbiage. "Use the fewest words possible," we're told. "Keep your word count down. If it doesn't reveal character or advance the plot, dump it." All good advice, yet  stupid little truths fly in the face of this advice. Unlike Chekhov's Gun, stupid little truths may not be especially important to the story, yet like a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, a few drops of Red Hot they add so much to the story.

One of the masters of stupid little truths is Stephen King. King peppers his work with stupid little truths. I always think of a short, simple quote from Needful Things: "But the real reason he'd gone was the one most bad decisions have in common: it had seemed like a good idea at the time." The line feels a bit like a throwaway. It's part of a passage that establishes the character of Alan Pangborn, top lawman in the doomed town of Castle Rock. Is it necessary, that line? No, I don't think it is. But I also remember the first time I read it, and how it made me smile and think, "Yeah, that's it, right there!"

Another great stupid little truth comes in King's massive book, IT. In the opening pages we meet six-year-old Georgie Denbrough, who is tasked with getting something from the basement for his older brother, who is bed-ridden with the flu. Like many six-year-olds, Georgie is petrified of the basement. There's a scene of perhaps 12 paragraphs in which Georgie does his best to get this thing from the shelf four steps down the cellar stairs. He's there, clinging to the door frame, fumbling for the light switch, and while the damp smell of basement rises to meet him, his fear of some horrible creature in the basement rises as well. It's perfect, and it captures neatly an experience common to so many children, though it's not strictly necessary. It's a little over one page out of 1100, a handful of paragraphs out of thousands. The Denbrough basement plays no other role in the book, and while Georgie himself looms large as a motivator for his brother's later actions, he himself will be dead by page 15 (since King tells us this on p. 5, it's not exactly a spoiler). George's fear of the basement is not needed; it's unnecessary verbiage, the sort of detail that we might be tempted to keep out of the book in favor of streamlining and minimal word count, yet it's a stupid little truth that adds so much to the reading experience. 

Would we miss it if it weren't there? Of course not. If his editor had said, "Steve, this whole bit here should go," and King had said, "Yeah, you're right,"we never would have known. But it's there, and it enriches the reading experience.

Granted, Stephen King has a lot more leeway than many of us. Still, there's room for 'stupid little truths', and, I think, need. What do you think?

"Hot Sauce, Big & Small" from Jeffrey Krohn's photostream

Monday, October 21, 2013

Musical Monday: Change In The Weather

This Musical Monday is brought to you by Mother Nature, who has seen fit to flip a seasonal switch in this little corner of the world.

First, a shout-out to the Catbird and her teammates and coaches on the cross country team--they won their conference championship meet on Saturday! 

On Friday at the office I noticed the wind had picked up. On occasion, our door would rattle, and every couple of minutes you could hear wind rushing through the trees. Inside, though we've had to put the heat on a couple of times, it was pleasant enough. Unlike my house, the place I work is pretty tightly put together, so there are no drafts flowing through the space.

I opened the door and stepped out into what looked like a classic fall day: blue sky, a bit blustery, colorful leaves spinning down—but the thought that crossed my mind came straight out of Ned Stark's head: Winter is coming.

We've had cold weather before, this year. Our summer kind of ended in mid-July, temperature-wise. It first dipped into the thirties weeks ago, we had our first hard frost in mid-September, and I woke up to sub-freezing temperatures at the beginning of this month, so it's been coming for some time. Yet there was something different this time. The feeling was different, and the smell—autumn is the smell of woodsmoke and mouldering leaves. It's rich, aromatic, almost spicy. Then there's a winter smell, cold and clean. This was the first time, even with those occasional, very cold nights, that I've gotten that smell, that same feeling. Winter is coming.

Here's John Fogerty, the primary brain behind the classic sixties group, Creedence Clearwater Revival, with his solo song, Change In The Weather. Something I find interesting is the lyrical similarity between this song and something like Bad Moon Rising, though Bad Moon's rather foreboding lyrics are set off by bouncy, peppy music. Enjoy!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Random Thoughts on a Friday

It's not yet 6 AM and I'm still working on coffee number 1. I was out at a board meeting until late last night, the Catbird needs a ride to school around 7, i.e., well before the bus, and I have a charter dinner to attend right after work. So, yeah, we're on a random thoughts Friday thing.

*Heard a song on the radio yesterday where the singer was singing about 'rolling down the windows.' Do any cars come with hand-cranked windows anymore? Yet we still say we're 'rolling down the windows' not 'buttoning down the windows' or 'gliding down the windows.' I wonder what we might call it if the first cars had had power windows....

*After attending a couple of big, invitational-style cross country meets over the last few weeks, I have to ask: In all the history of recorded music, have we really not gotten anything better to play at the finish line than We Will Rock You and the theme from Rocky?

*That scene from Rocky may have been the birth of the 'sports training montage' so perfectly skewered by the guys at South Park.

*Speaking of cross country, I saw some very nice things happening at a couple of those races. Long after the bulk of the runners had crossed the line, I saw two girls out on the course, separated by about 10 feet or so, both obviously struggling, but one in worse shape than the other. The second girl stopped. The lead girl looked over her shoulder, stopped, and started encouraging her. "Come on," she said, waving her forward. "You can do it." And the second girl pushed on. They were from different schools. A few minutes later, another girl came struggling along. She was surrounded by girls--from a different school--who had competed in an earlier race. These girls were cheering and encouraging her to move on. It was so nice to see this sort of behavior in a competitive environment.

*Board meetings are really interesting places for looking at interpersonal dynamics, let me tell you.

*Depending on where you live, you may be seeing a sudden increase in ladybugs. They may be all over your house, or flying around in great numbers. Do not be alarmed! There is a species of ladybug that overwinters en masse, and they're looking for a good place to do it.

*And as a public service announcement, autumn is a big time for deer-car collisions. Be careful out there!

*Congratulations to Carrie Butler, on the release of her second novel, Courage--good luck, Carrie!

Well, it seems the first cup of coffee's done and I need to knock on a door to wake someone up, and since I have to be out of the house in about 45 minutes, it seems like I'd better get on with my day. Feel free to share your random thoughts below, and have a great weekend!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oh My Gosh, It's a Day to Write!

Well, while Columbus Day doesn't have the cachet it did when I was ten years old, I'll happily take it as a day to write. And after spending the last hour or so struggling with a particularly difficult post on the recent brouhahaha over Lorde and her song, Royals, I've decided to shelve it for another time and spend my writing day either writing (I'm thrilled that the good folks at Elephant's Bookshelf have decided to push the deadline for submissions for the winter anthology back by two weeks) or reading to revise. Oh, and there's a manuscript to continue beta-ing for a friend.

How are you spending your Columbus Day?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Being Heard Over the Band

A week ago tomorrow (no, that's not awkward at all, is it?), we ran an event. Let me first say it went pretty well overall, thank you all for your comments and best wishes. Let me also add that I barely got through this week. Monday afternoon, I felt the scratchy throat coming. On Tuesday, I made it to work but probably should have stayed home. Wednesday and Thursday were better, and today is better still, though colds have a tendency to linger, and I still feel a bit like I'm under water. Anyway...

The event was pitched to me as an 'awareness raiser'. It wasn't a fundraiser, but we didn't want to lose money, either. What we wanted was, to borrow a phrase from the movie, Slap Shot, "Let them know we're here." To that end we had our name on everything that went out--the posters, the press releases, the ads in the paper, the ad on TV. When it came to setting up the event, we had more tables than anyone, and had the primary place in the exhibit tent. You couldn't swing a dead cat around this event without seeing our name somewhere.

This was NOT our polka band
Yet at the end of the day, I don't know that it worked. Oh, we had a couple hundred people come out, and most people--attendees, exhibitors and vendors--seemed to have a good time, but as an awareness raiser? As a generator of new memberships? Not so much. You see, it seems the principal draw on the day was--wait for it-- the polka band.* Yes, that's right, the polka band was the big attraction. They were a rock-n-roll polka band who have been around for years. A lot of people came specifically for them. I talked to people who said things like, "We saw them in Norwich last night," and, "These guys are great; I follow them all over." It was like talking to Deadheads back in the day, except these folks were even older than the band. These people came down, they paid their money, and they spent almost all day in the entertainment tent listening to the band (and there was some dancing, too). The good thing is they left happy; the bad thing is, they probably have no idea who we are as an organization.

And so I find myself thinking of the struggle of writers. Whether we're agented or not, self- or traditionally-published, or not yet published at all we hammer away. We write the best stories we can and we send them out, or we publish them ourselves. And we try to build a name. We blog and we tweet and we Facebook, and we do this even if we're fortunate enough to have a publisher that puts time, effort and cash into promotion and marketing, and we do even more if we don't have that sort of publisher. We even do it when we don't have anything published, because we hope it will pay off some day. All in the name of recognition and sales. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

In looking back at last weekend's event, and thinking over much energy (and money) went into pulling it off, part of me thinks the best approach is to let the organization's works speak for themselves. Rather than creating an event specifically to get our name out there, maybe we should just go on doing what we do, and send out press releases when we do something noteworthy. At this point, I'm no longer sure about the connection of this post to writing, except that the powers that be tell us we need to start building audience, name recognition, and--dare I say it?--platform before we're published. That way, when we have our book launches and cover reveals and all that stuff, people will say, "Oh, I've heard of him! Let me check that out." It's a nice idea. The problem is, until we get to that point, we're just one person of many trying to be heard over the polka band.

Have a great weekend, all!

Image of the Bavarian Sauerkrauts
*I should point out, while it's kind of fun to make fun of polka, the band was actually very good, and the music itself--the traditional and non-traditional polkas both--are quite catchy.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Musical Monday: Neil Young

Wow. I'm much more tired than I thought. I should know by now that it's the day after the day after that leaves you feeling like you got hit by Miley Cyrus and her wrecking ball (not to fear, folks, Cyrus's video is not forthcoming from me; but did you see the words of advice from Sinead O'Connor to Cyrus? Good stuff, and possible fodder for a post--but not today).

No, I'm going in a different direction. It's funny the way our brains make connections, how thought follows thought, often in an orderly, progressive matter, and the links that are sometimes made. Yesterday afternoon I was washing up some dishes, and thinking. Not thinking about the event, for the first time in several days, but thinking about writing. More specifically, Sunday afternoon is my Writers' Circle day and I was in pre-thinking mode, which I sometimes do on Sundays. Sometimes I go in completely devoid of ideas and follow the prompt, or whatever catches my attention, other times I go in with some kind of pre-existing idea. And a phrase came to me. Where it came from, I don't know, but it involved wind and a keyhole (no, I did not have Stephen King on my mind), but that seemed like too much of a cliché, so I kept thinking.

So I stood at the sink with my hands in hot, soapy water, thinking. And by the way, hand washing dishes is great for thinking about writing. It's something to do with your hands that doesn't overtax your brain, allowing for good flow of thoughts--oh, how all of you with the industrial-strength dishwashers that don't even need a cursory scrape of the stuck-on food bits envy me. Anyway, I discarded the wind through the keyhole idea, but kept thinking on wind rattle a door in its frame. And I 'saw' a person, a woman, sitting in a darkened room, watching the door. It's windy, the door is almost breathing in that way flimsy doors sometimes do on a windy day. She's got a shotgun in her lap. As she's watching, light starts playing around the edges of the door, as if someone's approaching with a flashlight. Who? I don't know. Why? Don't know. But I see this woman lift her shotgun, settle the but against her shoulder, and level the barrel at the door, one eye squeezing shut, her finger curling on the trigger, waiting. And then, in a perfectly logical way, a song lyric followed: "Daddy's rifle in my hand felt reassuring", and the spell was kind of broken.

Way back in the day, back when this song was new, back when rock radio wasn't compartmentalized into styles of classic hits (we have two 'classic rock' stations in our area; one tends to favor a slightly harder edge that includes almost constant dosages of Led Zeppelin; the other is a little more mellow, and feeds us a lot more of things like Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young), and the Eagles. Neither station plays this song as far as I can tell), this song was all over the radio. I haven't heard it in years, but it's a great one, in my opinion. One of the remarkable things about it to me is how visual it is--I can see this poor kid standing on the docks, rifle in hand, with this big boat--and his doom--bearing down on him. And it's got character building, too. Think about what you learn about this kid and his family in a few short verses. Young is a brilliant songwriter, and it's amazing to think that he's been at it for somewhere around 50 years now.

Anyway, that's that. I'll add that my event went quite well from my perspective. I have a buttload of stuff to unload from my van today, some post-event wrap up to do, and then I'm probably going to sit at my desk and think, "Now what?" I'll find something. How was your weekend?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pseudo-No Post Friday

There is no post today, and here's why:

At the tail end of July, I was hired by a local organization to fill a position on an interim basis. The previous occupant of said position was not up to the task. I was brought in because I know the boss and the boss knows me, and she was pretty confident that I could step in and hit the ground running. Also, I was available right away, and, finally, I was interested.

Now, the biggest, most pressing 'to do' on the 'To do' list I found when I started was to plan an event. I've been around plenty of events. I've planned parts of many an event, but I've never really run one from stem to stern. Naturally, I said, "Yeah, I can do that" when it came up in discussions about the position. As Dr. House says, "Everybody lies." Not that I was lying, because I did indeed know I could do it. It's not my favorite thing in the world, to be honest, and I take solace in the fact that this event is pretty much a one-time-only thing. I wouldn't want to do it all the time, and if the director of this organization said to me, "Hey, we're going to turn this position into 'Event Planner' and your going to do five, six, seven of these a year, do you want the job?" I'd probably say, "No, thank you" and run screaming from the room.

Well, the event is upon us. It's tomorrow. There's a lot to do today, there's a lot to do tomorrow, but I'm almost to that point where I have to completely let go and let things happen. I have the people in place, the logistics taken care of, publicity has been done. Today is setting up the site, moving things from one place to another, making sure I really have the people in place after all. But I can't control the weather and I can't control the whether: the weather is looking like rain (it's an outdoor event), and the 'whether' is whether anyone is going to show up or not, or whether they're going to be happy with what we're putting on.

Hey, it's a lot like writing, isn't it? You pour yourself into your book or your story, and when you think it's ready, you release it to the world in some form, and it's out of your hands. Of course, by Sunday, my event will be over. There will be some cleanup and a final report or two for the board and the bosses, but unless the event is either a way-beyond-expectations success or a disaster on the scale of Heaven's Gate, I likely won't hear of it again (it was proposed as a one-time-only event). A book that is being queried can keep bringing heartache, hope or joy weeks--even months--after the 'event'.

How about that? I started this with the intention of saying, "Sorry, no post today, kinda busy" and ended up with a post. I hope you all have a great weekend, and I hope to be posting with a little more...cohesion next week. Be well!

Monday, September 30, 2013

And It's Over

Last night saw the final episode of Breaking Bad, a show I heard about for two, three years before I finally gave in and started watching it, a show that I found to be a complete, grab-you-by-the-throat experience. In its five season run, I don't think I ever found myself thinking, "Well, that episode was kind of lame." My attention didn't wander, I didn't feel like it got lost and started wandering aimlessly, it never really lost forward momentum--or, if it did, it was so well done that I didn't notice.

I approached the last few episodes with nervous excitement, and a sense of impending doom. That sense of doom was not so much for the characters and their potentially ugly fates, but for the show itself. Good endings are hard to get right, and when you know your show is serious water cooler fodder, and that millions of people will be tuning in and talking about it afterwards it's easy to choke. Executive Producer Vince Gilligan and his team of writers did not choke. They gave us an ending that was both fair and appropriate given the characters and where they were on their personal journeys at that point in time.

Fairness is an important part of getting it right. If there's one quibble I have with the ending ***MINOR SPOILER, but no major plot points*** it's that Walter perhaps got too much of what he wanted.***END SPOILER*** If I say that, however, it's because there was a part of me that was screaming out for justice, But justice and fairness are not the same thing, and I think 'fair' was better.

What say you? Did you watch Breaking Bad? Did you think the end was fair? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, if you comment, remember that not everyone may have watched the ending yet, and tag your comment for potential spoilers. Thanks!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Didn't I Write This Already?

The problem with being a writer like me is that, upon re-reading my manuscripts, I find places where I repeat myself. A character may make a statement in chapter 1, and then she makes the same statement in chapter 5. I suspect this happens because my little old subconscious thinks this statement is really important. It might be part of a key theme of the story, and my brain is trying to make sure I get it out. The result is very similar passages in several places in the manuscript. On reading, I'll often get to the first instance of one of these passages and think, "Hey, I think I say this somewhere else." If I'm very lucky, I'll have a pretty good idea where in the manuscript the second (and third) instance of this is, so I can jump ahead and write myself a note. "Same as on p.77," I'll write. "Pick and stick!" That means pick one spot for this idea, and stick to it. Of courses, I'll frequently find myself in rewrites thinking, "Hey, this is really important" and I'll start writing that same idea in almost that same way in another place. Oy.

The problem with being a blogger like me is I often feel like I've posted on the exact same topic, using the exact same words as I've done before. I'm in a permanent state of Deja vu. I sit down to write a post and I think, "Wait, I've written this before." Quite often I have; the big question, though, is Did I post it?

I have a folder in my writing folder called, imaginatively enough, 'blog'. Within that folder are subfolders: 'posted' and 'pictures'. It should be fairly obvious what those folders are for. And then there's the loose, unconsolidated part of the folder. It's stuffed full of word documents with meaningful and meaningless titles like, "freudianslip", and "scombrid" and, appropriately enough, "repetition." Some of these documents, like "Extendocharacters", should be moved into the 'posted' subfolder. Some of them, I can't be sure. Did I post 'repetition' or not? What about 'more harm than good' or 'External validation'? If I open those documents, the words seem awfully familiar, and why shouldn't they? I wrote them. I just can't remember if I posted them.

The problem is there are only 91 documents in the 'posted' folder. According to my blogger stats, as of today I have made 253 posts--see the problem? Now, there wouldn't be a perfect match anyway, as some of my posts are strictly music videos or goofy little images relating to my state of mind on any given day, so those don't get dumped in the 'posted' folder, because there is no corresponding document. And some of those 91 documents may have two or more posts contained within. And sometimes I write purely off the top of my head, as I'm doing now. Finally, some of the unconsolidated documents that have turned into posts--like 'Extendocharacters'--have a second post on a different topic as part of the document, some other idea that was working up that I wrote directly in that document rather than start another.

I look at my list of posts and keywords, and that's not much help, either. Titles don't always indicate what's contained within, and they don't always jog the memory enough for me to say, "Oh, right, that's what's in there." And my labeling system is pretty much a joke--half the time, I don't label them anyway! So I sit down to write because something has been tickling at my brain for a while, and I feel like I've written it all before, and I go back through the posts and through my files and, after much searching--I can't tell. It's clear I need a new system, and so I turn to you, my friends: How do you organize yourself regarding your blog, so you don't end up posting the same thing over and over again?

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Musical Monday: "New"

For once, some new music, though it's from an old source, and has a very familiar sort of sound. Kind of appropriate for our first full day of a new season.

I love fall. One of the things that's so great, aside from the colors, is how much everything seems to change from day to day. Of course, every day is something new, but it's really evident in fall.

Of course, there is one bad thing about fall: with the kids back in school, colds start spreading. Within the first two weeks of school, the sniffles and coughs and low grade fevers are passed back and forth among the kids, and then on to everyone else, and sure enough, I've got one. It's not too bad, and I'll get over it fast, but bleah.

How are you all doing?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bits and Pieces for a Friday

It's Friday morning, and I'm once more not ready with a well-organized, deeply thought out topic. I have ideas, mind you, but I don't have as much time during the week as I used to so it all kind of gets put off and we end up with this sort of loose collection of nonsense. Here goes.

-Well, it finally happened. The spammers, the bots, the spam-bots--they've gotten to be too much. This week alone, 8 Anonymous spam-bots tried to leave comments on the blog. They go in blogger's built-in spam filter, but they also come straight to my e-mail. I decided against 'no moderation' for a reason--I hate when I can't see the comments other people have made on a blog while I'm leaving my own--and I allowed anonymous posts for a reason, but no more. I suspect once the bots realize they can't leave their little self-promotions for virus inducing websites here, they'll go away, and the recent boom in visitation will come back down to normal levels. I hope the change doesn't cause any issues; if it does, leave a comment (hah hah!). Actually, if you want to leave a comment on this or other blog posts but can't, check my profile, my e-mail is there, and send me a nasty-gram that way.
Hoochie mama, that's a lot of spam!

-Interesting posts this week from Chuck Wendig and Stacy McKitrick on reviews this week. Now, if you've read this before from me, feel free to skip to the next block--maybe there's something new there. Everyone is free to make their own choice about whether to review or not, and how and what they review. It bothers me quite a bit, however, that people who do review feel like they can't always be honest in what they're saying. If you don't like a book, there should be no fear whatsoever that the author or their legion of fans is going to come after you, or launch a smear campaign against your own book when it comes out. As I said there, it's outrageous that people get outraged when their books (or their favorite books by their favorite authors) get less than four or five stars.

I find myself thinking of a routine I saw done years and years ago by comedian David Brenner. He was talking about mosquitoes, and how horrible it is to wake up in the middle of the night with that nasty little, whiny buzz in your ear, the sound that a mosquito is closing in for a bite. But, noted Brenner, it's the male mosquito that buzzes, to attract a mate. Male mosquitoes don't bite. "So," said Brenner, "if you wake up and you hear it--bzzzzzzzzz--just turn over, go back to sleep, it's nothing to worry about. But," he said, and paused. "If you hear nothing...."

I think you can figure out the implication of that.

-Jonathan Franzen made the news for a 5600-word rant against e-books, Apple, Amazon, and Jennifer Weiner in the Guardian this week. Ironic, considering his new book is available as an e-book from Amazon. See Porter Anderson for a great round-up on this.

-And for my own technology rant: yesterday I made a phone call for work, reached my target, introduced myself and why I was calling (the guy I reached is no stranger to my organization). He let me get through this spiel, then said, in a very impatient, snippy way, "I'll have to call you back. I'm in a meeting." This last was said in a way that made it sound like I had a lot of nerve, bothering him while he was in a meeting. I was properly apologetic and professional (I strive to be like Mr. Pink, if you know what I mean) and hung up without taking more of his time, but after I did, all I could was, "If you're in a meeting, why the f*** did you answer the phone?"

-I'm beta reading for a friend, and loving it. Not just the story, not just the fact that it's out of my genre (and, truth be told, I still struggle a bit to figure out what it is I'm writing), but the fact that I see things that will help me. Word choices, sentence and paragraph structure, pacing--once more I say, if you haven't beta read, you should. Help others while helping yourself.

-More on the writing front, I'm working on a short for the next anthology from Elephant's Bookshelf (and here's a great interview Matt Sinclair did with Richard Pieters, author of one of the stories in Summer's Double Edge), and, slowly but surely, I've been cracking into BARTON'S WOMEN.

That's it for me, how's it all going for you? Have a great weekend!

*Spam wall by Freezelight

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Quote

"The Beatles haven't got any magic you haven't got."--John Lennon

It's easy to be discouraged by the works of others. "I'll never turn a phrase like that one," you think. "I wish my descriptions were as lush and full." When we read a finished product, those phrases, those descriptions, those characters seem so natural, so easy, so the result of talent or genius. Talent plays a part, yes, but there's no magic there--there's hours and hours of work, determination, grit, experience. In the end, you want it to look easy, to look like magic, and to be magical for a reader.