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'?