Friday, February 27, 2015

Bună zuia!

Earlier this week, I opened up my blogger dashboard and found this:

This, of course, is how I reacted:

Of course, I'll admit I've just been looking for an excuse to put Stevie back up here, but it was pretty much my honest reaction. When I dug a little deeper into those stats, I found another surprise:

Last time something like this happened, it was Latvia. This time, Romania. Why? Who knows? The funny thing is, not all that long ago I referenced Nadia Comăneci--remember her?--in the project I'm working on. Comăneci, of course, was the first gymnast to score 10s in Olympic competition, back in 1976 in Montreal (for pop culture reference, that's also the Olympics where the world first heard of Bruce Jenner). Anyway, I can't explain the sudden influx of Romanian page views, but to you I say "Bună zuia! Good day!"

Other notes: this month, incredibly, is over. Well, tomorrow, anyway. It's gone fast, but also very slow (but I promise, I won't complain about the weather). The temperature is supposed to get to around 30 or so this weekend, which will be very nice. Maybe I'll be able to dig out my mailbox a bit so my mailman can actually deliver my mail.

-The Catbird, I am pleased to say, received her first college acceptance letter last week--whee! Here's hoping for more so she can get this waiting part out of the way.

-The Magpie seems to have decided that blogging about her experiences in Japan is not for her, since she hasn't updated since December 6. She is now more than halfway through her time time there and is still loving it.

-My plan to have my current project in the hands of betas by month's end looks to be thwarted. I've made great progress and cut the manuscript back by around 6,000 words so far, but I have a fundamental problem with timeline that I don't know if I can shake so easily. Grrr.

-I think that's all. Have a nice weekend--and to my Romanian friends, "Vehicolul meu pe pernă de aer e plin cu ṭipari!"

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Musing: A Change In Style

Be warned, this is a top-of-my-head post, so it may end up not making any sense. I know where I'm starting, but I'm really not sure where it's going to end up, or how it's going to get there.

There's a woman in my writers' group who is legendary among us for two things: first, in 40, 45 minutes of writing time, she can crank out six or seven pages easily. She takes ideas and runs with them, and almost always comes out of the day with fully-formed stories or essays that have a beginning, middle and end. By contrast, I wrote maybe 250 words yesterday, and quite often, my work just sort of ends, incomplete, not satisfying (at least to me).

The second thing she does is she writes lush sentences, sentences full of clauses, dependent and independent; sentences that meander like a lazy river twisting left and right across the valley from which arises the sweet smell of hay in the summer, sentences that are packed with tastes and smells and textures so that you can feel the sun on your face when she describes it, or taste the sweetness of summer strawberries. When she reads her work, it can be a challenge sometimes to follow the thread of the sentence, but the journey is wonderful. My first sentence is a poor attempt at imitating what she can do. She does it much better.

Yesterday, she wrote a story recounting an event that occurred in her childhood, when she was ten years old. It involved girl scouts, an inattentive leader, and a rescue from a pond whose ice wasn't as thick as thought. What I found interesting (aside from the story, that is, which was quite compelling) was how much she varied from her usual style in the telling. Instead of sentences that stretched and twisted like a python, loaded with sensory input, she wrote short. Her sentences were quick and to the point, stripped of excess verbiage. There was no struggling to follow the thread of the sentence; it was instantly clear, but no less enjoyable.

After she read the piece for us I commented on how different it was from her usual style, and how fitting it was, given the action. She noted how odd--awkward, even--it felt when she read it. A lot of her work is contemplative in nature, but she's written plenty of other pieces that have action in them, and a lot of those pieces also have her very literary style. This was the first one I really remember, at least in a long time, that's been quite so...punchy, I guess I would say.

One of the other members of the group suggested the change in style was because this was a story she had relayed verbally many times over the years. Telling a story and writing a story are the same, yet different enough in delivery that it makes sense they'd come out different, and I can certainly see his point. I do wonder, though, if some of it had to do with the fact that she was reaching back into a memory of being ten years old, and as a ten-year-old will see the world very differently from a grown woman. I didn't think to ask that question yesterday, because it hadn't occurred to me. I'm not sure if she made a conscious decision to change her style, or if it just came out that way, and if it was the latter, was it because the telling has become somewhat set in stone, or was the product of unconscious adoption of her then-young age. Perhaps I'll raise the question next week.

I hope that all made sense. Have you ever found your style radically changed for a particular story or piece of writing? Please share!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cursing the Weather

With apologies to those of you who do not approve of swear words.

Holy fucksticks.

This expression has been uttered by my more times than I'd care to admit.

I'm not sure exactly where it came from. I don't know if I heard it somewhere and adopted it or if it just came to me, some clever new way to drop an F-bomb, but either way, it's been in my head quite a lot lately, mostly when I step outside for the first time in the day or come in from walking the dog or something. Holy fucksticks, as in, "Holy fucksticks, it's cold out there!"

I did some digging around and found that, in the 40 days since the calendar turned from 2014 to 2015, we've had 9 days total where the mercury reached or exceeded 32 F. We're currently at 10 days straight of waking up to temperatures below zero, including -22 on Monday morning. Holy fucksticks, it's cold.

(Incidentally, I was just looking at the weather records for last year at this time. You know, the Polar Vortex? Over the same 40-day period, we had 16 days where the temperature was at or above the freezing mark, and a maximum of four days in a row where overnight lows hit the negatives. Interesting.)

But as I look at Facebook posts from people who live in this sort of climate, and listen to the way people talk around here, including myself, I realize there's some perverse sort of pride people take in all this. As much as we like to gripe and moan, I think we like to suffer in it more, and like to tell everyone how much we suffer. I see posts about shoveling literally a ton of snow off the roof (and that's probably literal literal, not figurative literal; snow is pretty damn heavy), and comments about how it was 'only' -7 one night, when the forecast called for much worse.

It's something we northern folk do this all the time. We see films of how a half inch of snow causes panic and pileups in Richmond, Virginia, and we snicker and snort and talk about the time we drove through 18" of unplowed snow. Someone in Florida complains because it's 58 degrees, and we snort. "Tanning weather," we say. "We'd be out doing yard work in shorts!" And when we meet each other in stores and on the streets, we take turns comparing weather. "It was minus 5 at my place this morning." "Yeah? I had 12 below!"

Is it simply a case of "Misery loves company"? Is it a case of "You think you've got it bad"? More likely, there's a perverse sort of pride in it, a way to show how tough we are. What I do know is that when I step outside in a little while to take the dog out, I'm going to say, "Holy fucksticks, it's cold!"

Stay warm, everyone!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Morning This and That

-I continue to do battle with Windows. Each night, my computer automatically installs that one critical update that borks my fonts; each morning, I uninstall it. Hey, Microsoft, I want this update! I believe in your updates! Just give me one that doesn't make my documents an unreadable mess--I've got that part taken care of!

-Speaking of unreadable messes, this weekend has largely been a disaster from a writing perspective. I made almost zero progress this weekend, and this after telling two awesome beta readers that I should have it for them by the end of the month. Performance anxiety? I think part of the issue is I've found a rather thin spot in the narrative that I'm having trouble filling. Or it's a timeline issue. I'll figure it out.

-Whoa TV: my wife and I recently burned through the first two seasons of Orphan Black. Have you watched this? Very, very good show, and Tatiana Maslany is fantastic in her multiple roles. The concern I had rolling through season 2 is how will the show not collapse under its own weight? Convoluted conspiracies can be tough to maintain over the long haul, and they already started losing me a bit during season 2. I definitely recommend it.

-Frustration. Last night I was looking for a paragraph or two I had written with the intention of sticking somewhere in my manuscript. I couldn't find it, not in my notebook, not in any of the (too) many files devoted to the project on my computer. I know I wrote it; I just can't find it. It might actually be in one of my older notebooks. Time to dig.

-Oh, oh, oh! In case you're not aware, Elephant's Bookshelf Press has announced their next anthology. Can you write horror? If so, go check out their guidelines and get writing. Deadline is 6/8/15 for September publication. Go! Go!

That's it for me; how are you all?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Curse You, Windows Update!

A couple nights ago I set one of my anti-malware programs loose on my computer before I went to bed. I wasn't having any particular problems, but it had been a while, and it's always a good idea to do this. In the morning I expected to find the scan results; instead, I found my computer had restarted. I had to dig around to find that the program apparently did its work. As for what made the computer restart? That I didn't know.

Later that night when I sat down to write, I found a strange thing. I could barely see what I was typing. For reasons unknown to me, it looked like my words were being typed on a typewriter with a bad ribbon. By a grandmother who didn't have enough strength in her fingers to press the keys all the way down. The letters looked broken, thin in spots, hard to read. I slogged through on my manuscript as best as I could, but it was kind of hard on the eyes. Meanwhile, I also found that the overall look of my display was different in a hard-to-pin down way. Fonts on my web browser looked off, the size of the browser was off, everything seemed out of scale.

I checked my display settings and monkeyed with them for a while, tried adjusting window sizes and zoom levels and it did nothing. Finally, while poking around, I discovered that Windows had done an automatic update, which was what caused my computer to restart.

Now, I'm actually a big believer in this process. I've seen what happens when you let a year or two go by without doing those updates, and it ain't pretty, because some of that stuff is pretty important. My wife feels otherwise, but she can do what she wants on her machine. I go for the critical updates, but leave out a lot of the optional ones (especially for stuff like Silverlight, which Microsoft is constantly trying to get me to install, which I won't on principle). This policy has not led me astray--until now.

I don't know which update did it. I ended up restoring my computer to the last save point before things went wonky--which just so happened to be about two hours before the computer updated itself. Problem solved! Last night, though I did not have my most productive night ever, I was able to actually read what I was writing. Everything looked normal, and I was happy.

Until today, because Windows updated itself again sometime in the wee hours of the morning.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

UPDATE: After posting this, I did some more digging, but did not have time to update until now. My search led to this thread on, which included this:

Known issues with this security update

      After you install security update 3013455, you may notice* some text quality degradation **in certain scenarios.*** The problem only occurs on systems that are running Windows Vista SP2 or Windows Server 2003 SP2. Microsoft is researching this problem and will post more information in this article when the information becomes available.
 I uninstalled the particular update and things are fine once again. See you next week!

*it was hard not to
**like, almost unreadable
***pretty much all of them

Monday, February 9, 2015

Musical Monday: The Blues Brothers

Funny how life works. For reasons unknown to me, I found myself thinking of The Blues Brothers--the actual musical act, not the movie; I've never seen the movie--yesterday morning while scraping snow off my driveway. I was thinking how at first it seemed like a novelty, a gag for Saturday Night Live like John Belushi's Joe Cocker at Woodstock bit, or Gilda Radner's punky Candy Slice, but that they were actually a really good musical act. I don't know why I was thinking about this; just one of those random things that pops into a brain and stays for a bit.

Later in the morning, while eyeballing Facebook, one of my friends posted a status update. She was watching The Blues Brothers (the movie) and commented about how much she loved the film. Strange brainwave, right? So I did some searching around and found some clips. Here's one from New Year's Eve, 1978, at Winterland in San Francisco:

And yes, that was that Paul Shaffer, for those of you who watch David Letterman.

Not a whole lot else to say about this weekend. At some point in the near future I'll have to set foot outside and see how deep the snow is and determine if I can get to work (school is already closed)--maybe I'll get a writing day!

How was YOUR weekend?

Friday, February 6, 2015

How I Met My Agent

As I mentioned last week (or maybe it was Monday, which would make it this week), January saw the anniversary of me becoming an agented writer, as it was late last January where I signed on the dotted line with Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency. I have very much enjoyed working with Carrie thus far and am quite hopeful that 2015 is the year that I will join the ranks of the authors who are sold and are in the publication pipeline. So, how did it come to pass?

On the surface, it's not all that different from the typical story: author writes book, author searches for agent and queries many, is rejected by many, finds agent. But there is a little wrinkle in this story.

Back in the spring of 2011, I was finishing up the first draft of a manuscript (PARALLEL LIVES) and learning about what it took to get published. I was, I admit, operating under the delusion that I would soon have a deal and be published, but then I re-read the manuscript and crashed to earth. However, I did start combing through blogs and author sites and agent sites and Query Tracker and Absolute Write and on and on, and for Christmas that year I received a copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents, and a year after typing ### at the bottom of my manuscript for the first time, I was ready to start querying. By then I had amassed a list of agents to submit to. Carrie was on that list. Her agency had a good reputation, and from what I had seen of her online presence, she had a good personality and was still a new agent building her client list. Some people may not be comfortable with new agents; I had no such qualms. It looked like she was doing good things, and doing right by her clients.

A note about the list: the list was generated primarily by finding agents who took what I was selling, and then priorities were built based on sales record, reputation, and personality. Personality is a tough one, because there are a few agencies out there that have no web presence at all, but have a great reputation. It's also tough because I remember submitting to one agent who looked really good, but afterwards, I found some of her twitter posts and found myself wondering if this was really a person I could work with.

Now, there are many different approaches you can take to sending queries. Mine was to release 10 of them at once, then I was going to release roughly five more each month until I got an offer or ran out of names (hint: I'm not sure it's possible to run out of names; there are a lot of agents out there). I didn't quite stick to that plan; there was a little more space between query batches, and that space included continued research, continued query revising, and much angsting. I did not actually query Carrie until December of 2012. Somewhere between unleashing my queries on the agent world in April, 2012 and December, I found Carrie's blog and started leaving comments. You may remember this causing me some doubt (of course it did)--will it look like I'm sucking up? What if I leave a really stupid comment, or accidentally offend? Blah. Anyway, it turns out in this instance, it was a good thing.

About a month after querying Carrie, I was rejected. A form rejection. Ouch. Ah, well, part of the process, pick myself up by the bootstraps and carry on, right? However, as spring wore on, I was facing a depressing reality. Two queries in that first batch of ten received full requests. Both were rejected, one without any particularly helpful comments, the second one after 9 months with a note that essentially said, "I didn't get to read the whole thing, not for me, sorry." Other than those two fulls, I was like Charlie Brown on Halloween:

Naturally, feeling rather bad about the whole thing, I did what any writer would do: I blogged about it.

It was only a passing reference, a short note that said, "Maybe it's time to bury this." I honestly didn't know if it was the query, the pages, or something else. And then it happened. A few days after, an e-mail turned up in my box notifying me of a new comment.

"Jeff, have you ever sent this to me? If you want to email me the query and first 3 chapters I'd be happy to take a look and provide feedback if you'd like it!"--Carrie Pestritto


Who even knew this agent was reading my blog? Not me, though when I looked at my followers, she was down there in that sort of "hidden section" of followers, along with my wife and one of my closest friends--who knew they were reading this blog, too?

Now, as they say, my momma didn't raise no dummies (although when I sent the query to Carrie, I told her she had in fact already rejected the query, so maybe she raised one). The query and chapters went, and Carrie sent me some feedback on both the query and the first chapter, along with an invitation to send the first 100 pages once I'd done some work on it.


Naturally, I put off my current project in order to fix up PL. I sent it, thinking, "Yes, this is it!"

No, this was not it.

Carrie rejected it, with some helpful feedback. It wasn't quite right, I don't think she even  got through all 100 pages (or she stopped commenting after a certain point, recognizing a sinking ship of a manuscript), but again she offered to look at it again if I ever did a substantial revision, and she told me to send my next project directly to her e-mail, skipping over the Prospect Agency's online submission form. We had an exchange or two about PARALLEL LIVES, then I backed out the door, not wanting to abuse the relationship. I should also point out that at this point I developed an even larger degree of stage fright about commenting on her blog. I decided to continue doing so. When the manuscript formerly known as BARTON'S WOMEN was finally ready for query, Carrie got it, and the rest, as they say, is history. It's been just over a year and I like the way Carrie works. She's doing a great job, is pleasant and positive, and I'm confident that we will have a long and productive relationship.

That's it, that's the story. Note that I'm not suggesting you go out and start spamming your prospective agents' twitter social media sites, but interaction can work out. Also, it's another good reminder that you never know who's reading. That's it, have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, February 2, 2015

This And That

Coming to you live from the snow-covered hills of upstate New York....

-A lot of second-guessing over Pete Carroll's decision to throw on 2nd down from the 1 yard line with 2 time outs. Interestingly, no one is second-guessing his decision to throw for the end zone with 10 seconds left and no time outs at the end of the first half rather than take the almost sure 3 points of a field goal. I actually understand his thinking on both plays, though if I'm coaching that team, there's no way Marshawn Lynch doesn't get the ball from the 1.

-And here's something: why on earth would you celebrate scoring a touchdown in what is the most-watched event in America (the world?) by pretending to take a dump on the field? What part of your brain is compromised if you think that's a good idea?

-I'm trying to think of more to write so I don't have to go out and shovel. 

-Lost in the shuffle of Super Bowl week is the 1-year anniversary of my signing with Carrie Pestritto at The Prospect Agency--I might actually do a "How I Met My Agent" story at the end of the week. I am thrilled to be working with Carrie, and we're pushing for a successful 2015.

-At roughly 25% in, my current project has shrunk by 3,000 words. I love it when you can make a chapter or scene more substantial by adding to it, and still have the overall word count come down. Some day--and that day may never come--I'll learn to write it right the first time. Of course, if I did, I'd deprive myself of all this fun.

-I can ignore the snow no longer--have a nice week, everyone!