Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the subject of critiques

I've been sort of listlessly following Idol this season, partially because little blond person refuses to stop having wants and needs during those two hours, but mostly because I don't really give a crap about any of the contestants.  They're good.  They just aren't good enough. 

That said, last week's performances, with a few notable exceptions, were abysmal.  Beyond abysmal.  So bad, I turned the TV off and just read the recap later on MSN.  This week, however, I found myself tuning out little blond person so I could tune into Idol, and in my humble, mostly non singing opinion all of the performances were at least respectable.  It wasn't rocket science to figure out the difference between the two weeks; Usher vs. Miley Cyrus.

Miley was a namby pamby 'mentor' who hasn't really found her place in the music industry and so, I think, lacked confidence giving advice to people older than her.  It also seemed to me she was more concerned with making cute on camera than actually giving the contestants worthwhile critiques.  Hugs and smiles and batting eyelashes abounded, constructive criticism, not so much. 

This week, Usher, while still making sure the singers knew their strong points, also pointed out their weak areas and gave them concrete things to do to improve their performances. Because of this the weak performers were able to at least turn in something not cringe worthy and the already strong performers shone with the gloss of serious polish. 

Earlier today I did my first in depth critique for one of the folks from my new writing group.  By the time I got done there was a lot of red.  I mean, a lot.  Don't get me wrong, the guy can write.  His idea is compelling, his narrative voice is good and I think there's a worthwhile novel in there.  It just needs some more polish.  I told him all this, but I wasn't sure if it was enough to undo the damage caused by all that red. 

I drafted up the email, attached the critique and then sat there, arrow hovering over send for about five minutes.  Then, realizing that what I was doing for him was what I wanted someone to do for me, I clicked and off the email zoomed into cyber space.  I thought of it there in his inbox, claws sharpened, fangs glistening waiting to rip his writing dream to shreds.  That thought plagued me all day. 

Then I watched Idol and I felt better.  Then I checked my email and found in my inbox a thank you for all that red and a request for me to continue in my critique.  I felt a whole lot better. 

All in all things turned out well and I'm glad I did what I did.  I'm also hoping that there's an Usher, not a Miley behind the critique I get in return because the last thing I want is to put something out there for public consumption and have it, ala Stephenie Meyer, panned and picked at and made fun of.  Give me a strong opinion and a merciless red pen over that any day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Trying new things.

With my last book I used friends and relatives as beta readers.  However, most of my social sphere is comprised of people from a fairly conservative religion, a religion I left several years ago.  My current WIP is, in a lot of ways, incompatible with the way of life this religion champions.  I need new beta readers.

I met a couple of writers, one published, one aspiring, at the community readings I've attended over the last couple of months.  Within the last week both asked me to be part of a critique group. 

I sent out the need.  The universe provided.  Damn, if I would have known that was the wish the universe would choose to grant I would have used it on something way more worthwhile.  World peace anyone?

But, hey, who am I to question to cosmos, so I agreed to go to both groups' meetings.  The first one was today.  And I think it went pretty well except all members of it are also members of the aforementioned conservative religion.  Nuts!  Should have been more specific with my wish.  However, the guy that started the group seems to be pretty open minded and not averse to dealing with some dark material and he's published.  So that's good.

The other group's meeting is next month and I'm looking forward to that, but I'm also a little nervous to be a part of either group.  I've critiqued other writer's work before but it was always with this sense of 'I don't know what the crap I'm doing.  How can I tell you what to do?'  Also I don't want to be a dream crusher.  Also I don't want my dreams crushed. 

Despite my worries I plan to persist with this whole critique group thing in hopes that I'll get something helpful out of it and perhaps be able to be of help to someone else.  I guess to sum up here's to trying new things *raises glass*( Don't worry.  It's sparkling cider.  None of the heavy stuff for prego me). 

Stay tuned to see how this particular new thing works out and if anyone out there has any advice on how to conduct one's self in a critique group I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"He's not a lad, brother. He's a man. The man from Snowy River."

The above quote is one of my all time favorite lines from one of my all time favorite movies.  From age about 8 to about 12 it was the only movie I ever wanted to rent.  My cousins and I could quote it word for word (and did) while we swooned over Jim in his tight pants and sweaty cowboy hat and wished we could be half as elegant as Jessica, despite her crooked teeth. 

The other night I was perusing Netflix looking for something to watch while I folded clothes.  Imagine my delight when I came across The Man From Snowy River.  I turned it on and prepared to be enthralled.  And I was.  It was still just as good a movie as I remembered and Jim filled out those tight pants just as well.  However, afterward, being the writer type that I am I couldn't let it go that it was just a good movie.  I tried to dissect it and decide what made it so good.

When I took apart the main conflict in the story, poor guy in love with rich guy's daughter and rich guy does all he can to keep them apart, it wasn't that interesting.  I mean, how many times have we seen the star crossed lovers story line. The subplots, now those are interesting: twin brothers both in love with the same woman haven't spoken for years despite the fact that she died long ago in childbirth; A horse turned loose out of vengeance that now heads the wild Brumbie mob and seems intent on wreaking havoc wherever he goes; a solitary mountain man on a solitary mountain horse that manages to bring the entire Brumbie mob, including aforementioned havoc wreaking stallion ,to heel. 

However, these aren't the things that come to my mind when I think of the Man From Snowy River.  The thing I first think of is crusty old Spur, the peg-legged miner hell bent on finding gold in the skirts of his Jezebel (what he calls his mine).  This role is superbly executed by Kirk Douglas minus the chin dimple which is covered by Spur's scraggly beard.  Then I think of Harrison, Spur's wealthy twin brother, also played wonderfully by Kirk Douglas (and his chin dimple).  Then there's Clancy, the wild card, who shows up where ever he feels like and leaves when the mood takes him.  From his twinkling eyes to his bushy mustache to his so thick you could cut it with a knife Aussie accent this is a CHARACTER.  When stacked against the tour de force of these three roles Jessica and Jim, the lovelorn leads, barely register on the charichter (see what I did there? Ah. Ah.) scale.  Though Jim's buckskin horse ranks right up there next to Clancy, in my opinion. 

Lately I've been having a really hard time finding books to fall in love with.  It wasn't until I spent entirely too much brain energy taking apart this movie that I realized why.  I have to have CHARACTERS in my books.  I enjoy a good story, but if it isn't populated by fleshed out, fully realized human beings I have nothing to grip onto, nothing to draw me into the world of the book.  I think this is why I love Stephen King so much.  His characters are so finely drawn, so well depicted that you aren't perched on their shoulder, poking tentatively about in their world.  You're behind their eyeballs, taking in all they see, all they feel, all they think. For the few minutes or few hours you read that book you are immersed totally in their existence.  That, I think, is what's been lacking in almost every book I've read lately.  So with that in mind tonight when I open up my work in progress I intend to go back and see if my characters are as full and quirky and layered and interesting as I can possibly make them.

I would be interested to know, though, my few followers, what you think makes for a good book or movie, story or characters?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'm a thief.

It appears I'm temporarily out of inspiration for blog posts.  However, my WIP is going well, so I'm actually pretty happy with that tradeoff.  Because of my lack of inspiration I'm going to blatantly rip off the post on Dystel and Goderich's blog.

It's all about taking out the trash and included a link to this exceptional article about editing.  Really it's well worth the time to check out.  I found it enormously helpful and wish I would have discovered it before editing my manuscript that I'm now shopping around to agents.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Prime Target

There are days when you realize your hands are full of so much good fortune that Zeus (or whoever) must surely be up in his cloudy realm leveling a lightning bolt at you just to even things out.  For me Thursday was one of those days.

My husband stayed home sick and so was right next to me when I opened the email from the agent requesting my full.  That was definitely one of those Defying Gravity moments, made all the better by the fact that I was able to fully share it with my very best friend and number one supporter.

A few moments laters, perhaps woken by all the hullabaloo going on below her, our daughter got up from her nap.  I'm still not entirely sure how it came about, but somehow, less than ten minutes later I sat on a little plastic pink chair with a dress up veil on my head and a number of preciouses (what my daughter calls jewelry) draped in various unique ways over my person.  Across the hot pink storage bin in which my daughter's toys reside, she sat on another little pink chair.  She wore a blue crushed velvet leotard with a long, slightly ragged light blue tutu and black patent leather shoes.  On her head rested a second veil.  Bringing the whole outfit together was the hot pink and purple Barbie purse dangling from its silver bead strap which rested on her shoulder. 

To my right sat my husband trussed out in the headdress of a medaevil princess (the only thing that fit on his large noggin).  He held a little light pink and silver purse in one hand, and in the other, pinky tilted up and all, he gripped a tiny pink teacup. 

Last night I was reading Night Watch  by Sarah Waters and she described one of her character's emotion as rising up like bread dough.  I really liked that and I'm going to steal it. I nibbled on the plastic chocolate cookie my daughter gave me and watched her ask her father if he would want a cookie 'darling'.  He and I exchanged glances and small smiles over her chubby little hand which was proferring him the cookies on their rose imprinted yellow plate.  And my bread dough of happiness which usually stays so small and tractable and easily forgotten somewhere in the region of my heart expanded to such significant proportions that some of it had to leak out of my eyes so I didn't burst. 

If that lightning bolt hits, perhaps in the form of a rejection (which, really, given all the things I stand to lose, would be the outcome easiest to cope with and overcome) I'm still so thankful that, for one incandescent moment, I was fully conscious of how lucky I am and how much I have to be thankful for.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The agent with the partial asked for the FULL!!!!!!! That is all.

I have a virtual guest appearance!

Rebecca over at Diary of a Virgin Novelist was kind enough to ask me to do a guest post on her blog.  I was thrilled and flattered and a little nervous but I did it and here's the result.  As long as you're over there you really should check out her posts.  They're very enjoyable, informative and well written, but the thing I like about them the most is their humanity.  She comes across as very much herself and there's almost nothing I enjoy more than a little authenticity.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Secret Ingredient

Tonight I've had two different ideas for a blog post battling in my head, but I realized only a moment ago that I was only trying to formulate the second idea because I didn't want to write about the first.  I know even if I post about the second idea, the first one is going to keep bugging me until I get it out there.  I've always been the rip the band-aid off fast kind of gal, so I'll just get the first thing out now so it won't keep poking its pointy wet wiggling little nose in where it isn't wanted.

A few days ago I was looking up agents so I have some additional ones ready to query if the agent that has my partial decides she isn't interested in representing me.  I found one agent who sounded very promising.  She represented a recently released book called Alcestis which is a retelling of one of the lesser known Greek myths (Hey, I wrote a retelling of Greek myth.  She's represented one.  A match made in heaven, right?). 

I went to the Amazon link for the book and read the excerpt.  I only got the first five or so pages, but this book is good, like the can't stand to put it down even if little blond person is screaming and bleeding at the same time good (not that I would ever neglect my child in that way for a book.  No, no, that's never happened.)  Immediately after reading the excerpt I deleted the agent from my to query list.  Then I put her back on.  Then I took her back off.

After that I emailed the agent that has my partial and asked for a status update.  When she responded less that twenty minutes later, I could hardly bring myself to open the email. I just knew that on the other side of that mouse click a rejection (and another small, brutal stab to the heart) waited.  Instead I got a brief polite email informing me she needed more time to consider my partial. 

I returned to my to query list and put the agent who represents Alcestis back on it and I was able to write a fairly significant amount that night. 

I kept thinking about that excerpt though and tonight at my reading as the words of my own novel spooled out of my mouth I kept thinking, this sounds so ridiculous.  I can't believe I'm reading this tripe out loud in public to strangers.  What was I thinking?

I came home, tucked little blond person in (five times), folded laundry and then opened my WIP, all the while thinking about the excerpt.  Not only could I not write anything, I deleted everything I'd written the last couple of nights.  And I almost couldn't bring myself to do this blog post because all the sudden all of this effort I'm putting into getting published, including this blog, seems so silly and trite and, yes, talentless.

Even as I write this though I know the most important thing missing from my writing isn't depth or talent or description or characterization.  It's my own deep seated belief that I can write things other people will want to read.  Without that the magic that it takes to create disappears and in whatever little dim nook of the mind the muse dwells, she curls into herself, closes her eyes and weeps.

I know before I can progress on my WIP or, according to The Rejectionist, land an agent I have to regain my confidence.  I just, well, I just don't know how to do that.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Nature's first green is gold. Her hardest hue to hold." Robert Frost

If you've ever been somewhere, a hike, a stroll through a park or national forest and stumbled upon a wide eyed doe who flings her head up and seems to take all of you into those big brown orbs or, like I once had a chance to, saw two sandhill cranes performing the intricate and intimate ceremony of their mating dance, you've perhaps experienced the wonderment that I felt last night.  However, it wasn't any denizen of forest or field that provided me this awestruck moment.  It was my daughter.  And after all isn't the ephemeral sweetness of a little girl just as awe inspiring as any of Mother Nature's other impossible to hold gifts.

Pregnant and just winding down enough to sleep after my pre-bed writing binge, I was inclined to crankiness when I heard her little footsteps padding down the hall toward my bedroom.  I listened to her creep around the end of the bed until the sounds of those little footpads stopped a mere two inches or so from my head.

"Mommy," she stage whispered.  "I need you."

I barely contained the sharp reprimand that rose to my lips as I opened my eyes.  Instead with all the bad grace I could summon I asked, "What do you need?"

Then, in the half light from the hallway, I took in the nest of tangles on her head that could only have been sculpted by a restless night and the deep pools of her blue eyes fringed by their impossibly long eyelashes. 

"I need you," she repeated.

Reaching over the bulge of my pregnant belly I hauled her into bed next to me and she cuddled up, her still baby dimpled fingers wrapping around one of my hands.  We curled together in bed and whispered lines from her favorite books, the Fancy Nancy series, to each other.  She pinched my nose and giggled when I rewarded her with a quiet snort.  I kissed the butter soft skin of her still yielding cheeks and I mourned the loss of the baby chub on her daily lengthening arms and legs. 

All the while I kept thinking, I have to save this.  I have to savor this, because everyday when she defiantly tells me, 'I can do it myself' and then, against all expectation, manages indeed to do it herself, she is growing away from me.  Until one day the stretch of her arms and legs and the depth of her intellect will take her from me almost completely.

So I held her there in my arms, despite the late hour and the insistent needs of my body, trying to clutch onto the glimmering miracle of my little girl in that moment in all her tousled hair, soft skinned, blue-eyed beauty.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hope is the thing with feathers, but sometimes those suckers are razor sharp and sting like a bitch

Well, here's my current query tally; 24 sent out, 9 unanswered, 14 rejections and one partial request I haven't heard back on yet.  And you know what, the rejections aren't the worst part of that list.  It's those outstanding submissions that are KILLING me. 

Seriously, the last couple of days I've been feeling almost brink of insanity obsesssed with those unanswered queries.  The buzzard of hope circles endlessly: Have they received it?  Has it perhaps just crossed the desk of an agent who will decide my book sounds like the most stellar work of fiction in history and said agent is scrambling for his phone right now to offer me representation?  Did some disgruntled postal worker plaster the walls of his home with my pathetic little queries, so no one at these agencies even knows that I'm desperately trying to make that magic agent/writer connection?  Did an agent run from their office shouting for their assistant to contact me at once and immediately only to find said assistant was gone to lunch?  Did said assistant return from lunch to find a query with a sticky on it on their desk, disregard it as unimportant and now it's lingering in his 'to do' box that will perhaps get taken care of in the next century?  They can't possibly not have answered yet because they have a stack of queries from authors just as hopeful and desperate as me towering to the ceiling and only one pair of experienced eyes to evaluate them all.  It couldn't possibly be that.

While I know all of the scenarios except the last one are almost equally impossible and ridiculous this is just a little sampling of what that crazy maker hope does to me.  And so, agents of the world, as if you care, I am taking a stand.  I'm not sending out another query until I've received a response from each and every one of you that I've contacted (except, of course, those that say no response means no).  Aren't you sad now that you didn't write me back or at least tuck a little 'no thanks' card in the SASE I sent you?  No you're not and that's really okay, because I'm not doing this for you.  And actually I'm not really doing it for me.  I'm doing it for my husband and daughter who recently have been watching their mother and wife pace endlessly from computer to mailbox while pulling her hair into odd modern artish sorts of shapes and mumbling to herself.  They can't take it anymore and frankly neither can I, so no more irons in the fire, not until I've removed and doused the heat from the ones I've already got roasting.

On a  more positive note, I had a friend who does book binding by hand offer to make me one copy of my book.  She sent me a video of the finished product today and it is gorgeous.  It may be the only copy of this particular work of fiction ever made and I'm so excited to get it I'm practically giddy.

Monday, March 8, 2010

That's the sound of squealing brakes you're hearing

As you can see from the past couple of posts, I've been having some serious problems getting down to business on my current WIP.  I thought it was merely my personal life getting in the way.  However, today in the shower (I find that I get an inordinate amount of epiphanies in there, something to do with being warm and having a door between little blond person and myself I guess) I realized it wasn't only that.  That was part of it, but the big issue is that there's a problem with the chapter I began last week.  My subconcious realized that and has been screaming at me, quite loudly, to cease, desist, stop, put on the brakes, DON'T WRITE ANOTHER WORD UNTIL YOU FIX THIS.  I was just so busy sorting through all my personal stuff that I couldn't hear that good old trusty Jiminy Cricket, or whoever it is responsible for that voice back there.

The issue, I think and I'm sure my subconscious will correct me if I'm wrong, is that I've meandered into unneccessary territory.  There are better more concise ways of getting in the necessary information than putting it in the chapter currently under construction.  It's late and I'm tired, so I don't have the energy to go back and correct the problem right now.  However, I'm fully confident that once I do my fingers will be flying over the keyboard faster than Superman toward the nearest imminent train wreck or bridge collapse or latest calamity in Lois Lane's life. 

As I thought about this today, I realized another writer, a published one with a bit more experience than me wrote about this very issue on her blog.  It had been so long since I read it I completely forgot about it until I found myself up against the same wall she smashed into writing her first twenty (yes twenty) unpublished, and according to her, mostly unpublishable novels.  So, fellow writers, if you find yourself slogging through uninspired writing mire check out this writing advice from Mette Ivie Harrison and start wielding those backspace and delete keys.  It may just be your ticket back into Writing Nirvana (little nod there to Rebecca at Diary of a Virgin Novelist, another blog that's well worth an aspiring author's time to check out.)  In the words of Porky the Pig 'that's all folks' for tonight at least.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The real world stinks sometimes (and I'm not talking about MTVs reality show)

Usually right now I'd be inside the head of Ruth Lacey, sophomore at CU in Boulder who has the ability to see the future (sort of).  Ruth is the protagonist in my current WIP.  Instead, I'm trying to summon up enough emotional energy to string these few words together, so I can fulfill my goal of doing a blog post at least every other day. You see, today was, for various and sundry reasons, a hard day.  And this has temporarily (at least I hope only temporarily) derailed my ability to burrow into the depths of Ruth's head and surround myself with her reality.  My real life has, most emphatically, trumped my imaginary one.  Why is it that never happens the other way around?

Monday, March 1, 2010

When the Internet Turns On You

I spend a lot of time on the internet, probably way more than I should.  The thing I love about the internet, it has loads and loads of information that is accessible within a nanosecond.  The thing I hate about the internet, it has loads and loads of information that is accessible within a nanosecond. 

The seemingly interminable waiting game that is the querying process has really started to weigh on me.  For some reason it makes me feel like I'm moving forward with my writing to endlessly surf writing related blogs, websites and forums (rather than, you know, actually writing).  I allow myself one hour of surfing time after I put my daughter to bed and before I add some more words (hopefully bunches and bunches of really good ones) to my current WIP. On Saturday I came across this post on Nathan Bransford's forums.  I read the discussion in full and followed all the links, including this one which took me to author Natalie Whipple's blog and then from that one I found this one also by Ms. Whipple. In reading how many drafts people did and how much they went through before they decided they weren't just 'good enough', they were ready to submit, I decided my manuscript was crap, I hadn't worked hard enough on it and I was nuts for submitting it at this point.

Don't get me wrong, I did drafts, lots of drafts and had a professional edit and then did more drafts and then a couple spot edits, but from idea conception to first query was almost exactly a year, none of this tinkering around for three or five or eight years.  Now I'm beginning to think these rejections that are coming my way are because I wasn't ready.  It's crazy making because prior to reading that forum thread I honestly felt that my book was strong enough to get published.  I didn't send in something I felt was 'good enough'.  I sent in something I felt I had given my all to, something I was really proud of and something I honestly felt was worthy of publication.  Now, not so much.

After reading this post, I opened my current WIP, stared at the screen for awhile, turned my computer off and read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon while desparing that I'd never ever write something that good.  Sunday gave me a full twenty four hours to shake off the funk before attempting to write again.  Guess what?  No good.  I didn't write a word.  That forum robbed me, for the time being, of my belief in my ability to write and without that belief, I couldn't, not a word, not a letter.  In fact, I barely restrained myself from deleting all 40,000 some odd words of my WIP. 

The internet, folks, turned and rended me.  I know this funk will pass (hopefully it won't take too long. I'd like to get my first draft completed before the bun in my oven is cooked to warm golden brown and ready to come out).  When my belief in my ability to write resurfaces from the gallons and gallons of criticism and despair I've poured over it  in the last 48 hours I need to remember that while I'm cruising all those fabulous tidbits of info on the net, it's a good idea to have some salt near by.  Anybody have a shaker handy?