Friday, December 31, 2010

Should Auld Rejections be Forgot…

smileyI was going to write a retrospective of 2010 today, the highs and lows, the accomplishments and setbacks, the losses and the discoveries.  It was a year unlike any other, although there were no major tragedies or triumphs.  It was a very workmanlike year, each up and down a small cog in the machinery of my days.  But put them together and…I don’t know.  It was significant.  I was going to share all that, as I’ve had no hesitation sharing things on here, but I’ve decided to keep it to myself, just this once.  I’m not sure why.  Just because, I guess.

It’s been a while – too long – since I wrote a piece about my writing escapades.  Christmas is over, 2010 is breathing its last, and the publishing world will once again spring to life, exploring strange new queries, seeking out new authors and new manuscripts, boldly going. . .

Never mind, thinking of something else.  My point is, vacation is over; it’s time to get back to work.

And I will have my query ready. 

I had a mini-epiphany while twisting, pulling, and spindling(?) my query to mold it into the shape of that most mythical of creatures – the Perfect Query Letter.  What’s perfect?  To hear some tell, it’s as much detail as possible; others want little more than a logline. 

The trick, I think (but it’s not a trick really), to a good query is not in the writing but in the research.  Research the agents that fit your work and craft a query to fit each one of them individually.  It may take a lot of searching, especially the agents who don’t blog.  Find out what type of query a particular agent likes to read and write that query.  Then write a different query for the next.  I can’t speak to the mindset of an agent, but I know I’d be more inclined to linger over a query written in the style I prefer.  If you get a box of candy, you may eat them all, but you’re going after the kinds you like first. 

Instead of trying to force your writing to be perfect for everyone, accept the fact that it’s not and narrow the audience down those who will like it (and maybe even request pages as a result), then keeping the core of your pitch, write another in a totally different style if you have to.  Maybe this agent focuses on plot, and that one is more interested in finding a fresh voice.  And keep doing it.  It sounds hard, but really, writing isn’t the hard part, is it?  It’s forcing your writing to please everyone that’s hard. 

Anyway, that’s my theory.  Those of you ahead me, who’ve done the querying already, can tell me I’m nuts, or “duh” as the case may be.  I’ll find out soon enough.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Customer’s Always Right, Even When He’s a D***wad

Don’t you wish you could respond to customers this way? You know, without getting fired?

There’s nothing more satisfying than coming up with a classy way to say "F-U".

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - (My) Top Ten Books of 2010

I’ve always been a sucker for end-of-year lists: books, movies, news items, whatever.  It’s fun, and probably healthy, to take the time to reflect on the things that made the past year what it was.  I’ve read exactly one book released on 2010, so my list is of the books I actually read this past year (more or less – see the caveat below) as opposed to those with a 2010 copyright.

A few caveats:

  • A few of these I actually read at the tail end of 2009.  I don’t remember which, so I made all the books over the past eighteen months or so fair game.
  • Most of these are non-fiction.  I didn’t read a lot of fiction this past year (numbers eight, six, five, and one), but some of the non-fiction works actually read like fiction (numbers four, three, and two).
  • This is probably the least pretentious book list you’ll ever see.  If you’re looking for art (whatever that is) or avant-garde, keep looking.
  • I didn’t read a ton of books this past year, so consider this the NFC West of book lists, although I truly love every book on here.
  • Yes, I am a nerd (numbers ten, nine and six).

These are actually in order, so I’m counting down instead of up.  I know; I can feel your excitement.

Here goes:

PSPI10/9. (Tie) The Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku and The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios – I couldn’t decide between the two so I included them both.  The concepts are similar: a potentially dry, confusing subject unraveled with a fresh perspective.  Kaku takes several science fiction staples such as force fields, teleportation, and faster-than-light travel and ranks the plausibility of each while explain the underlying science in language any non-physicist can understand.  The chapter on teleportation blew my mind.  Kakalios is a university professor who teaches a course entitled The Physics of Superheroes.  This is the book version of that class.  Instead of fulcrums and weights and page-long equations, his teaching tools are Superman, Magneto, the Flash, and a whole host of heroes and villains from my comic book days and before.  The isn’t just a comics-are-cool book, either; you’ll learn a lot as he takes you from basic kinetics all the way to advanced quantum theory, while both celebrating and gently mocking the medium of grown men and women in brightly colored tights.  Yay!  Nerd fun!

MNW8.    My Name is Will  by Jess Winfield – This fun, trippy little book is about Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a doctoral student in 1980’s California who spends his time (and his daddy’s money) tossing out Shakespeare quotes like candy and doing drugs while ostensibly working on his Shakespeare thesis, and Will Shakespeare, a tanner’s son in 1580’s Stratford who spends his days pining over a girl named Rosaline and hiding his (and his family’s) Catholicism from the brutal Anti-Catholic authorities.  Eventually, the two Will’s paths merge in a wacky, mind-bending mash-up of sorts.  This book is filled with crude (and effective) humor and more than its fair share of slapstick, but don’t let the levity and debauchery fool you: he knows his Shakespeare.  This is a must for all Shakespeare lovers, even if one doesn’t agree with Winfield’s conclusion that Shakespeare’s secret Catholicism influenced his greatest works, one can appreciate this believable peek into the young mind that would go on to have such an influence on western thought for centuries to come.  

HSGS7.    How the States got Their Shapes by Mark Stein – Why is the Upper Peninsula part of Michigan and not Wisconsin?  Why does Oklahoma have a panhandle?  Why does Maryland look like someone took a bite out of a larger state?  Stein’s book is exactly what the title says: a breakdown of every interstate border and the logic (or, more often, the lack thereof) behind the mapping.  This is not a dry, people-sitting-behind-a-desk-making-decisions book.  It’s a lively, often humorous hidden history of these fifty states.  Did you know Ohio and Michigan nearly went to war over their border, or that Florida’s border looks like is does because someone got lost?  Each state has it’s own chapter broken down into individual borders (east, west, etc.) so if you don’t care why Colorado looks like a rectangle but have always wondered why Long Island looks like New York’s genitalia instead of being a part of the closer New Jersey, you can flip right to it.  Yay! More nerd fun!

MS6.   Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – Calliope is a normal girl growing up in what she thinks is a normal family in Detroit of the 60’s and 70’s until she reaches her teens and discovers she is neither normal or a girl.  Middlesex is a story of the American Dream told through eyes of a family that’s anything but typical.  Calliope’s (or Cal, as he goes by in adulthood) Greek grandparents escape the war and chaos of their home and emigrate to America, carrying with them a secret that will lie dormant and hidden until it manifests itself inside Cal(liope)’s genetic code.  Euginides’ Pulitzer Prize winner is about more than a hermaphrodite and his bizarre family tree, it’s about the promises of the American Century and the failure of a society to deliver on that promise.  We witness the boom and bust of Detroit, once a vibrant metropolis feeding hungrily off the giddy heyday of the automotive industry, and we see that same city broken and abandoned, betrayed by the very principles of capitalism that once made it great.  It’s also a touching, heartwarming coming of age/coming of gender tale, and Cal is easily the most interesting and endearing protagonist I’ve read in a long time – well, human protagonist (see number one).

IT5.    Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir – Lady Jane Grey was a teenager growing up in Tudor England who wanted nothing more more than to be left alone with her books and her unwavering Protestantism.  Unfortunately, Jane had the dual misfortunes of being the great-niece of Henry VIII and the daughter of fiercely ambitious parents.  When Henry’s only legitimate son, Edward VI, dies without an heir, leaving the Catholic Mary Tudor next in line, Jane’s parents and the Lord Protector of England launch a dangerous scheme to place Jane on the throne instead.  The plan goes awry, with disastrous consequences for all involved, particularly Jane.  Weir is a historian, and her debut novel reflects that with its meticulous accuracy of daily life and customs, intimate insights into the major players of the day (including Mary Tudor, Henry’s last wife Catherine Parr, and the future Elizabeth I), and familiarity with subject matter that drives the confidence of the narrative.  When Weir isn’t pulling directly from history, her inventions feel as real as fact.  And if you’re looking for a truly frightening villain, look no further than John Dudley, the ruthless Duke of Northumberland.

WW4.    A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – Bill Bryson decided to walk the Appalachian Trail, an approximately 2200 mile deep woods hiking trail stretching from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Mountains, and wrote about it.  Bill Bryson could write about reading the phone book and I’d read it.  Not only is it a whimsical and sometimes exciting narrative about two middle-aged men trying to conquer an iron-man level feat, but Bryson also manages to find fascinating tidbits about the history of not only the trail itself, but the towns and regions that surround it.  I was going to write “It’s Americana as only Bryson can deliver,” but I thought that was kind of cheesy.

FLLV3.    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson – A walk through a different kind of woods.  On its surface, it’s a frenetic narrative about two grown men who lie, steal, and terrorize their way through Las Vegas while whacked out on every drug imaginable.  They’re seeking the American Dream, and they think they’ll find it in the decadent, artificial, five-and-dime Baroque that was Vegas of the late sixties-early seventies.  It’s more than that though.  Through his simple, here-it-is narrative, Thompson paints a picture of loss and isolation, of a dream gone wrong, and a nation unwilling to pick up the pieces and start over.  Thompson doesn't so much comment on society as react to it, often times too much, and he makes us privy (and culpable) to the drug-addled rationalizations of a society on the precipice of insanity.  I expected all that.  What I didn’t expect was the innocence and pathos present in Thompson's unique voice.  The reader feels for Raoul Duke – Thompson’s alter ego.  He comes across as a lot more likable and sympathetic then I thought he would, even as he’s wreaking havoc wherever he goes.  In the end, the book is about two people – and a country - left holding the bag from the failed experiment that was the counter-culture ‘60s. 

DWC2.    The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – Daniel Burnham was a brilliant architect and one of the men responsible for bringing the city of Chicago into the modern world and onto the world stage.  H. H. Holmes was a different kind of brilliant.  A contemporary of Jack the Ripper, he murdered dozens of people, mostly women, yet hardly anyone has heard his name.  These two men’s purposes collide at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.  The story darts effortlessly between the two men: Burnham’s struggle first to convince financers of his vision and then to build his magnificent white city on a marsh on the shore of Lake Michigan contrasts with the ease in which Holmes used his natural charisma to attract his victims.  Larson does an excellent job of bringing into life this hidden history of a nation on the verge of the “American Century” and how its spirit of rugged individuality and entrepreneurial determination can bring out both the best and the worst in us.  And all of this took place less than twenty miles from where I live.

images1.  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – Maybe it’s because I have three lab-terrier mixes myself, maybe it’s because I recently lost a cat, but I fell in love with the narrator, Enzo, on page one.  Enzo is a lab-terrier mix nearing the end of his days who longs to be human, and he knows that when he dies, he’ll be reincarnated as a person.  He knows that because he saw it on TV.  Racing is Enzo’s memoir (or as close as he can get since he can’t read and has no thumbs – an unfortunate reality he’s always taken hard), a tale of loss and of courage in the face overwhelming circumstances.  If his owner (and best friend) Denny seems a little too perfect, it’s only because we see him through the eyes of his faithful companion.  Not only does Enzo give us insight into what it’s like to be a dog, but through his observations and yearnings we learn from him just what it means to be human.

Stop by the Broke and the Bookish for more great lists.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Ten Tuesdays: Santa Give Me Some Love - and Some Definitions

Okay, it’s not Tuesday and this is far from a top ten.  Actually it’s a Top One.  The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is, “What books do you wish Santa will bring you?”  There are plenty of books I’d like to have, but only item, book or no book, that I would flip out over like a little kid if that jolly fat man left it under my sad little Charlie Brown tree.

1. The Oxford English Dictionary – Some people have a car they dream of owning one day, or skimp through their twenties and thirties to buy a Harley.  Maybe it’s a really expensive pair of shoes or a state of the 515Hom-a zL._SS400_art home entertainment system. For me, it’s a bunch of words, roughly 600,000 of them.  I don’t remember the first time I saw the OED in the library, but I do remember that the volumes were glowing, and choral music played in the background.  Okay, that probably didn’t happen, but I was – and still am – enthralled by the very sight of the twenty-volume collection.  I wanted it from the moment I saw it up until, well, up until I found out just how much it cost.  Right now the complete set is going for a measly $995.  That’s not even one grand, no problem. 

So the OED is my dream purchase.  When I finally “make it big” – whatever that entails exactly – there will be a shelf in my library dedicated the Grand Master of English lexicons.  Until then, I’ll get by with my tattered pocket Webster’s.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About Me

So I gussied up a little around here.  Added a few things, put up some proverbial curtains.  I think it looks a little better, but I’d love to hear what you all think.  The timing couldn’t be better, either, because Sanguine Musings has been named the “Blog of the Week” by Pandora Poiklilos @ Peace from Pieces.  Pandora has a weekly feature called Blog-A-Licious blogs in which she pores over of dozens of blogs each week and makes a list of about twenty or so blogs every week that are, in her words “Awesomeness, Interesting, and Pass-it-On”.  Out of all those sites, she chose my humble little effort to single out.  I’m really honored; this isn’t just an I-like-you-you-like-me-where’s-my-cupcake-thing.  It makes me believe I’m actually doing something worthwhile here.  Also, please check out her site; she blogs not only about writing, but about serious issues such as human rights and making the world better place to live.  While I write about doggie sex and zombies.

Okay, enough of that, it’s Blogfest time!  I entered a couple.  And by a couple, of course, I mean three.  I really like the concept of the blogfest in general: a place to discover new blogs and meet new people while sharing your creativity.  The only problem is that I’m busy enough without entering these things.  The nice thing about these three, though, is that I only have to write a total of three sentences between them.

First up, the New Creation Blogfest hosted by Summer @ My Inner Fairy.  The rules for this one are simple: take the last line of a story you’ve already written, and write the first line of a story you’ve been thinking about for a while.  Sort of a looking-back-looking-forward theme, perfect for the start of a new year.

Second, is the 100 Words for $100 Blogfest hosted by Elena @ You’re Write.  Except When You’re Rong.  Yes, there’s a prize.  For this contest, simply write a sentence.  No biggie, right?  Of course, the sentence has to be 100 words longs, give or take five.  For those of you who’ve gotten used to my incessant ramblings, you know the challenge for me won’t be writing 100 words, but writing only 100 words.

Last up, and – with all due respect to the other two – the one I’m most looking forward to, is the Significant Other Blogfest, co-hosted by DL @ Cruising Altitude and Talli Roland.  On January 21st, they want you to turn your blog over to your significant other and have them write a post about what it’s like living with a writer.  For you single types, they point out that “significant other” doesn’t have to mean spouse.  It could be your boyfriend or girlfriend.  It doesn’t even have to be a romantic significant other; it could be your child, your roommate, your parole officer, whatever.  Any one who feels the effects, good and bad, of someone close to them trying to make their way in the publishing world.  For me, that would be my wonderful wife, Kristy, by far the most significant of my others.  On January 21st, I’m going sit back while she writes a moving, thoughtful, often humorous account of the life of a writer’s wife.  You’re going to love it.

Boy is she going to be surprised when she reads this.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sweltering Prickliness, Preaching Canine Abstinence, and Apparently Having a Dragon Tattoo Doesn’t Automatically Make You Interesting

Just some random thoughts on a Friday morning until I get off my butt and write a real post:

(For my Query Letter Blogfest Entry, click here.)

imagesHas anyone read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  I assume “yes” because for the past year, I haven’t been able to escape hearing about it.  For a while there, it seemed so incongruently popular it was as if Jonathan Franzen had written a book about sparkling vampires on the coast of New Jersey who were part of a secret society founded by Leonardo Di Vinci.*

I finally broke down and bought it because the (virtual) jacket flap sounded interesting.  I’m on page sixty or so right now, and you what?  It kind of sucks.  I’m bored, the writing is tedious, and the only character I’m slightly interested in is the old guy who’s got a crush on the girl.  Can anybody tell me if it gets better?  Am I the only one who doesn’t think it’s the best thing since a book about sliced bread?

*I’d totally read that.

I recently switched browsers from Internet Exploder Explorer to Google Chrome.  I was leery after the debacle that was Firefox, but I love it.  It’s faster, more streamlined, and it’s a lot easier to perform simple tasks like bookmarking.  One of the unexpected perks is that it has an automatic spell check.  Whether I’m typing in a search box, a blog comment, or a Facebook update, it catches my misspellings and makes me look smarter than I actually am (Yay, deception!).  One of the side effects of this is that it always red-squigglies my last name.  Out of curiosity, I right-clicked.  These are the spelling suggestions for Klinefelter:

    • linefeed
    • interlinear
    • sweltering
    • prickliness

I’m thinking about having a flash fiction contest with those words as prompts.

SONY DSCAll three of my dogs (two male, one female) have finished up Puppy Puberty and are looking to score – with each other.  Fortunately, they’re rarely left home alone, and it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on them.  Unfortunately, the earliest the vet can get any of them in for surgery is February.  In order to prevent any unwanted coupling while all four of us are out, my wife bought doggy diapers to put on the girl.**

In other words, my dog is wearing a chastity belt. 

Don’t make fun of me; maybe there’s a story in here somewhere.  I’ll call it The Red Crayon Diaries.

**In case you’re wondering why we chose to lock up the girl’s goods instead of the boys’, it’s because we have two boys and would go through twice as many, that’s all.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Concerning the Author’s Attempt to Complete his Query Letter in Time for Today’s Blogfest



That is all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Start the Resolution Without Me

I’m a little late to the Rejectionist’s party, but I’ve decided to participate in her New Year’s pre-resolution un-contest.  Basically, you make a resolution for New Year’s but start hacking away at it early, kind of like getting a running start.  I’ve learned my lesson many times about trying to compress important things in my life I need to be doing or changing.  Or not doing.  I don’t know if I’ve ever in my life kept a resolution, so eventually I stopped making them.  If I don’t keep my New Year’s promises, then resolving to save money, land an agent, or eat healthy will only doom those endeavors to failure.  Trust me, I know.

Instead, I’ve come up with something I need to do, but if I don’t accomplish it, the world won’t fall apart:

I’m going to read every book on my eReader. 

Doesn’t sound too hard, right?  Well it’s definitely a straight forward task, it doesn’t involve any physical labor, and I don’t need to solicit anyone’s help.

Of course, I have 50 plus unread books in there right now, including Moby Dick and War and Peace.  Also three different histories of the Protestant Reformation.  And the Histories of Herodotus.  And a science book by the guy who invented calculus (Isaac Newton).

And I decided not to include the King James Bible I have on there.

I like this resolution; it’s more of a challenge then a mandate for some great life change.  I’ve already started, too.  I’m almost done with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

At some point, I’ll make a list.  If anyone wants to join me, that’d be awesome.  If you’re not too keen on reading Galileo’s Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences or The Physics of Superheroes (not by Galileo) I’ll understand.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Would You Like Some Cheese with That?

There’s one distinct (and lonely) advantage to not having anyone in my real life that can relate to the struggles of an aspiring writer: it precludes my urge to whine. If no one has any idea of just what’s so important about a query letter, then whining about not wanting to do it isn’t going to get me a lot of traction.
A fine whine
“So don’t do it, then.” 
“But I have to.” 
“So do it.”
“But I don’t wanna…”
“So don’t..."
“Aarrgh!! You not helping!”

So like a garage full of old paint cans and greasy rags, I lack ventilation, in the sense I can’t vent properly. So that usually leaves me no choice but to suck it up and just do it.  But like that garage, if I can’t vent sooner or later, eventually I'll become toxic.  I love my wife, and she is the most supportive person I’ve ever known, but she doesn’t know the intricacies of the publishing world.  She can’t point out the importance of the query letter or observe that I’m not procrastinating out of laziness or inconvenience, but because I know this is my shot – if I screw up the query, it doesn’t matter how good my book is.  Three years of my soul in the hands of 300 words (there’s a Thermopylae reference in there somewhere).  And my coworkers will never have the insight to point out to me that maybe I’m putting off querying because I know I can’t be rejected if I don’t put myself out there.

As a result, I know that no matter how cutesy/sympathetic/alright-enough-already annoying I am, I can’t whine at home; I can’t whine at work; I can’t even whine on Facebook.

So guess what that leaves?

I don’t want to write my query letter.  I’ve spent three years agonizing over this damn book; haven’t I bled enough?  I want to catch up on some reading.  I want go outside and make snow angels.*  I want to watch bad television.  Why do I have to write a letter anyway?  Can’t I just send them my MS along with a hundred or so cover ideas, my non-negotiable terms, and a list of who I think should play the characters in the movie?  Come on!

Hey, that actually worked; I feel so much better now.  Alright, enough whining.  I’ve got work to do.

* I really, really don’t want to make snow angels.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday – Favorite Reading Spots

As most of you already know, the Broke and the Bookish host a Top Ten Tuesday every week on… well, you know.  This week the subject is favorite reading spots.  For me it’s more “Good Spots to Read” as some of these reading locales are born of necessity than desire (like the BMV).

My Top Ten, in no particular order (except the order that I thought of them):

1. In bed, of course.

2. On the beach.  We live less than an hour away from one of the Great Lakes (Michigan).  How lucky is that?  The beach is always on the summer itinerary.  And spring.  And fall. 

3. In a lounge chair at the waterpark watching the family splash around and have a good time.  Kristy and the kids love waterparks, but I’m not that into the rides myself.  That makes it a prefect place to get lots of reading done.

4. In the closet.  I have this thing that I can only describe as “reverse claustrophobia” – I tend to be drawn toward enclosed spaces.  Don’t ask me why.  Our bedroom closet is as big as one could be without being a walk-in, and I used to keep a chair in there and just read.  It was wonderful.  (Now my wife insists we use it for clothes and for storing things.  The nerve!)

5. My writing room.  This makes up for the loss of the closet.  I don’t call it an office because there’s no desk (on purpose), just two comfy chairs.  It’s also where the book shelves are.

6. Under the oak tree in the backyard.  After too many years spent in apartments, just to be able to say “under the big oak tree in the backyard” is a beautiful thing.

7. The couch on the back deck.  Okay, I’m a redneck.  I have a couch outside, and you know what?  Awesome!

8. Waiting for slow moving trains.  For obvious reasons, I don’t read while I’m driving, but when I see the train slowing down, or worse, backing up when it was almost done, the car goes into park and out comes the Reader.

9. In front a crackling fire.  Whether from a fireplace (we don’t have one) or a campfire.  Or just out back in our fire pit.  Nothing makes better background music for the written word than the pop of wood and the gentle purr of flames licking the air.

10. Anywhere I can.  This isn’t a copout answer.  I’m referring to any situation, like the line at the license branch, or a doctor’s waiting room, or anyplace else that involves being on someone else’s time, where the poor saps who would rather claw out their eyes than pick up a book are left twiddling their thumbs while I’m getting lost in a world of someone’s imaging.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Well Now You’ve Gone and Given Me the Warm and Fuzzies

A Major AwardI won an award!  Thank you so much to Every Book and Cranny for presenting little old me with the Versatile Blogger Award.   It’s my first blogging award, and it comes just in time to offset my mini-downer for not finishing NaNo.  I’m really touched and I appreciate her taking the time not only to read my little crazy ramblings, but also to recognize it in some small way. 

Of course, there are stipulations.  The rules are:
  1. Share 7 things about myself
  2. Pass the award to 15 bloggers five bloggers recently discovered
  3. Notify the blogger recipients
  4. Link to the blogger who gave the award
Okay, seven things about me:
  1. I’ve lived my whole life since I was two years old in the American Midwest, yet I’ve never been on a horse.  And it’s not from lack of want to, either.  I have been on an elephant, though.  Go figure. 13
  2. About four years ago, I had the Roman numeral thirteen tattooed on my wrist in an attempt to overcome my triskaidekaphobia.  It worked.
  3. There are three levels of emergency medical technician.  EMT-B are the “basic” techs.  They can do first aid, administer oxygen, and perform CPR with an AED.  EMT-I are “intermediate” and are just as the name suggests.  Indiana and Illinois (where I work and live, respectively) do not utilize “I’s” too frequently.  EMT-P are the highest tier and also known as paramedics.  Paramedics can start IV’s, perform CPR with manual defibrillators, give medications, intubate, and a lot more, like drill a hole into your leg (seriously).  I’m a paramedic.  Being a paramedic is in at least one way like being a writer: if you don’t have the passion for it, if you’re just doing it to cash a paycheck, you’ll burn out really fast.
  4. In the past few days, I’ve become mildly obsessed with a particular Richard Scarry book I had as a child.  I can’t remember the name, but I’d know it if I saw it; I can see several of the pages in my head as if I’d just leafed through them yesterday.  I don’t know why it’s so important to me lately, except that I loved that book and for what could have been years but were more likely months, I carried it with me everywhere.  It’s a time stamp of a simpler day, a time before car payments and broken faucets, and other trappings of adulthood.  It runs the risk of becoming my “Rosebud”.  On the other hand, if chasing after a kids’ book starring an earthworm in a fedora is the extent of my midlife crisis, I think everyone will be okay with that.
  5. The three greatest words in the English language: “Wrapped in bacon.”
  6. I’m a pretty awful speller* (in fact, I just misspelled “awful” (and “misspelled”)).  In my world, which mostly consists of family and work, I’m “that writer guy,” or the “book guy.”  So people are always asking me how to spell things.  It’s probably like working with someone who happens to be a podiatrist on the side (“Hey, can you take a look at something for me?” Plops bare foot on lunch table).  Generally, the people asking me to spell things aren’t writing words like triskaidekaphobia, but sometimes I feel like I’m hiding some dark secret from them, like I’m secretly a Cylon** or something.  I spelled “Cylon” right, didn’t I?
  7. About two and a half years ago I was living alone as what they used to call a “confirmed bachelor”.  I’d been spit out of one bad relationship after another and decided I was done; never again would I get serious with anyone.  So naturally, I celebrated my one year wedding anniversary this past September and for the past year and a half, I’ve been the father of two teenage boys.  That was probably the biggest, most abrupt change in a life of abrupt changes.  But it’s also been the best thing that’s ever happened to me: challenging to be sure, but worth every minute.  I never would have thought I wanted kids, but must have, because I don’t what I’d do without either of them, or their mom. 

Anyway, enough with the mumbo-jumbo.  On to the fun part.  My immediate predecessor doled out five of these instead of fifteen.  Five sounds like a good number to me.

Here they are:

Spinning Threads – Emily writes very nice poetry and blogs about writing, spirituality, and life in general.
Turning the Page: A Literary RambleJodi’s site is jammed packed with all kinds of writer goodies like writing tips, anecdotes, book reviews.  She even offers up samples of her work (it’s very good).  On top of all that, she’s hosting a Query Letter Blogfest in about a week.  You can sign up for that here.

Elevator Musings – Erica blogs about reading, writing, and grammar.  She manages to be witty and down-to-earth all at once.  Not only that, but she forever changed how I dunk my Oreos.

Busy, Busy, Buttons – This site has nothing to do with writing or publishing.  In fact, the author of the blog doesn’t even have opposable thumbs.  Buttons, a ten-year-old Shih Tzu blogs about life as a (pampered) pooch, her occasional power struggles with her mother, and her dazzling collection of squeaky toys.  I don’t really remember how I came upon this site, but I’m so glad I did; it’s a lot of fun.  I defy you to read this blog in a bad mood and not be cheered up at least a little.

Dead End Follies – Not only does Ben blog about writing, books, and the literary world in general, but he also offers insightful reviews running the gamut of popular culture: music, movies, video games.  He blogs a lot.  I had three posts in November; I think he had three in the time it took me to write this.  That’s a good thing, though, because he always has something interesting to say.

* I’m a bad speller and a bad typist.  You’d think those two would occasionally cancel each other out and I would “typo” the misspelled word into the correct spelling.  Well, no.
** How awesome would that be?   

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NaNo NoMore

354903This past Halloween, otherwise known as the day before NaNo, not only did I bury my dead cat, but we were also on Puppy Bowel Movement Watch, because all three of the dogs had devoured a plate of bone-in buffalo wings while no one was watching.  It’s a funny story now, but for the last day of October and the first of November, we were certain at least one of them was going to have a blocked colon or ruptured intestines.  As if that weren’t enough, I spent the first six hours of November in the emergency room with my wife.  Oh, and I got stopped by a cop on the way there.  With expired plates (me, not the cop).  He let me off with a warning, but took his sweet time doing it, or so it seemed at the time.  Fortunately, my wife is doing fine now, and so are the dogs.  November, however, did not get off to a very fun start, although it did better.

Sadly, December has arrived and I did not reach 50K, nor did I finish the novel.  I’m disappointed but not really upset about it.  I knew going in that after spending three years on my first first draft, NaNo would be like going from climbing Mt. Baldy (a sand dune on the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan) to climbing Mt. Everest.  I made it more than 80% up before the lack of oxygen started making me loopy.  Despite my rough start, I actually recovered pretty well and got into several nice strides.  By the middle of last week, however, NaNo, work, more work, home, and everything else just piled up and I crashed.  I made a pretty good rebound, writing nearly 10K in two days, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  And my brain was fried.  I really didn’t want to just type out a bunch of train-of-thought nonsense just to win a virtual sticker.

It was definitely a worthwhile experience, though.  My goal, of course, was to finish, but my intent was to learn from this, to pick up some tools and habits that will make me a more efficient writer without sacrificing quality, to learn how to persevere, to write when I need to, not just when I want to and still hold on to the truth and heart that makes any book worth reading.  Writing a novel on a month may be unrealistic; writing one in six isn’t.  I can do that now.  So yes, I won NaNo.

As far as the book itself, I’m going to keep plugging away, at my own (now quicker) pace.   I’m going to unshackle my inner editor and let him out of the cellar where he’s been eating Baby Ruths and watching pirate movies with Sloth for the past month.  I hope to have it done in a week or so.  After that, the book gets to sit in a (virtual) drawer for awhile.  Next up, polishing The Wind Maiden just a little more, rewriting my query letter until my fingertips bleed, and of course, working extra to pay for Christmas and the writer’s conference I want to go to in January.

Oh, yeah, and I want to start on the sequel this month, too.

November’s gone, but December’s just getting started.  Wish me luck.

So what are you post-NaNo (or didn’t-do-NaNo-in-the-first-place) December plans?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hooked on Classics

Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much is hosting a “Back to the Classics”  reading challenge for 2011.  This challenge is open to anyone who would like to participate.  I’ve decided to take a stab at it.  This will be my first go at a reading challenge, but I think I can do it.  The Challenge is open from January - June 2011.  If I can write a book in one month (jury’s still out on that one), I think I can read eight in six months.  I actually have my selections for each category save one.  These are all books I’ve been wanting to read for years, but haven’t for one reason or another.  They all have the added virtue of being books I already own.
Click the link above or the picture in the sidebar to sign up yourself.
The goals to complete:
  1. A Banned BookSlaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut  
  2. A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war)Schindler’s List (originally published as Schindler’s Ark, but my copy’s called Schindler’s List, so I’m going with that) by Thomas Keneally
  3. A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up:  a list can be found hereThe Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  4. A Children's/Young Adult ClassicAlice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  5. 19th Century ClassicMoby Dick by Hermann Melville
  6. 20th Century ClassicThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  7. A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic – Open, see below
  8. Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes – The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
There are too many good options for number seven for me to decide.  Besides, I won’t know if it’s a classic until I read it, right?  Because of that, I’ve decided to let you, fearless readers, decide for me.  If I get enough feedback in the comments, I’ll pick the one that gets suggested the most. 

If you all gang up on me and pick Going Rogue, I’m going to be very upset.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Many Have You Read?

Thank You Rachel @ Rachel Morgan Writes for posting this.
The BBC apparently thinks the majority of people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here...
• Copy this list.
Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.
I have read:
  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  2.  The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien
  3.  Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  4.  Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
  5.  To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6.  The Bible
  7.  Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8.  Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  13.  Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  14.  Complete Works of Shakespeare
  15. Rebecca – Daphe Du Maurier
  16.  The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
  17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
  18.  Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
  19. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  22.  The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
  23.  War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  24.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  25. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  26.  Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  27.  Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  28.  Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carrol
  29. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
  30. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  31. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  32.  Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
  33. Emma -Jane Austen
  34. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  35.  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
  36. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  37. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
  38. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  39.  Winne the Pooh - A. A. Milne
  40.  Animal Farm – George Orwell
  41.  The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  42. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  43. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
  44. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  45. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  46. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  47.  The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  48. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  49. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  50.  Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  51.  Dune – Frank Herbert
  52. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  53. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  54. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  55. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  56.  A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  57.  Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  58.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
  59. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  60. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  61. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  62. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  63. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  64.  Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  65. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  66. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  67. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
  68. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  69.  Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  70. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  71.  Dracula – Bram Stoker
  72. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  73. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
  74.  Ulysses – James Joyce
  75.  The Inferno – Dante
  76. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  77. Germinal – Emile Zola
  78. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  79. Possession – AS Byatt
  80.  Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
  81. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  82. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  83. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  84. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  85. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  86.  Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
  87. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
  88.  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  89. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
  90. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  91. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  92. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  93.  Watership Down – Richard Adams
  94.  A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  95. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  96. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  97.  Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  98. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  99. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
  100. ??? (For you observant types, yes the list does appear to be missing book no. 100, and a couple of titles are double listed, as well)

I’m not sure what the significance of the list is – I couldn’t track it to the original source, but it’s got some great titles, a good mix of the old and the new.  There are books here I haven’t even thought about since childhood.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I‘ve got a lot of reading to do.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Revenant Evil

NaNo, you soul sucking bastard, oh how I love you so…

Word Count – 13,406.  “Suggested” Word Count – 18,334

rockyI feel like Rocky Balboa at the end of the first Rocky movie.  He wasn’t trying to beat Apollo Creed; he just wanted to go fifteen rounds (or however many it was; it’s been a while) with the champ. He just wanted to prove that he belonged there, to himself more than anyone (and Adrienne). He knew wasn’t the best, but he knew he could compete with the best. 

It’s NaNo day twelve as I stagger to my corner.  I’ve got the cauliflower ear, someone needs to slice open the puffy sack under my eye with a razor blade, and I’m spitting blood into a bucket.  But I’m in it.  Whatever happens, no matter how many times the blank page shouts up at me “It’s over!” or “Yer a bum!” in its best Burgess Meredith, I’m keeping on keeping on. 

I started slowly, barely crawled, in fact. Life got in the way in the wee hours of Monday morning, and I didn’t actually write a word that wasn’t part of the title until Day 2. But I’m kicking along pretty good. I actually like the story, and when the draft’s finished and I go back to revise, I think I might have something pretty good. Personally, I like the characters, and I’m eager to find out what happens next (even though I already know, mostly). If you can get engaging characters and an interesting plot, you about 90% there.

I had originally conceived of a zombie-takes-revenge-on-a-town tale, and became concerned when my undead refused to behave like traditional zombies. It’s one thing to have a fresh take on the genre, it’s another thing to throw beloved conventions and expectations out the window. Anyone who would go near a zombie book wants to read about zombies, and zombies are specific creatures with specific attributes. I was worried my “zombies” would be so far off the map that I’d annoy or bore the very audience I’d be seeking. Until I realized I wasn’t writing about zombies at all.

It turns my undead weren’t zombies but revenants, a term I’d heard before here and there but hadn’t given much thought to. A revenant (as most horror and comics fans know) is an undead (corporeal or ghost) with an individual personality and a specific motivation, usually revenge. Revenants are often brought back via magic or with the aid of some sort of necromancer. In some cases, there can be “good-guy” revenants like Spawn. There’s no zombie apocalypse or zombie virus. This description fits my undead perfectly. It was exactly what I needed to help shape my story and keep the plot from spewing out all over the place.

I just think it’s interesting how I tapped unconsciously into something that’s been a part of folklore and pop culture for centuries without even realizing. Somewhere down the road (when I’m not writing a novel in a month) there’s a blog about the collective subconscious.

Maybe that’s why people keep stealing my ideas two years before I have them.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Requiem for a Grumpy Kitty


As I type this, it’s T-minus twelve hours to the start of NaNo; by rights, I should be scribbling  a post about writing: my anticipation and trepidation about the month ahead, personal tips or maybe a pep talk, even an anecdote from my writing life.  However, circumstances have intervened, and this post has nothing to do with writing.


It’s Halloween morning, and I’m in my back yard burying a cat (a dead one – I’m not like that).  Early yesterday morning our oldest cat, Digit, died.  It came as no surprise and in fact, was something of a relief.  He’d been sick about a month, a tumor-like growth that he’d had on his side for years ruptured and slowly began eating away at him.  I’ll save save you the gory details, but eventually it was just too much for him.  Even before he got sick, we new his days were numbered; he’d been on a sort of “death watch” for a couple of years now.  I guess I should mention he was twenty years old.

Digit was a shelter kitten.  My brother-in-law, Chad, got him as a birthday present for my sister.  Digit and Leonard, a female tabby mix, stayed with Michelle and Chad for five years until the couple’s first baby was born.  Neither cat took to the new arrival, and Michelle and Chad scrambled to find a home for them.  Almost to the week of their asking me, I had broken up with my live-in, allergic-to-cats girlfriend, and with a suddenly empty apartment, I took the refugees in.

Over a month into our co-habitation, I still had barely seen either cat.  Only the tousled litter of the cat box and the dwindling food and water levels were the only hints that I even had cats.  Eventually, as we all do, they came to terms with their situation; the mom and the dad, and even the strange crying, pooping thing that had been their eGrumpyworld were gone.  This apartment with that strange guy they kind of knew was their world now.  Leonard was fat and happy; she loved attention, especially if she didn’t have to move to get it.  Digit, however, wanted nothing to do with anybody.  He accepted the apartment, and later the house, as his home, but it was just that: his home.  I heard it described somewhere that dogs have masters, but cats have staff, and that was true of Digit, who was soon to earn the affectionate nickname “Grumpy”.

Routinely, he’d sit on a desk or counter and face the wall, staring at it for hours.  He’d let you pet him, sometimes, but only on his terms.  Every once in a while, I’d violate his house policy, and he would voice his displeasure in creative ways.  Once, he peed on me while I was sleeping.

Leonard’s death changed him, however.  He was still grumpy, but he became more tolerant.  Instead of the jerk that kicks your chair out from behind you, he became the old curmudgeon, cranky and irritable, but always willing to sneak in a kind word or deed when no one’s looking.  He was with me when my first marriage fell apart, and through my sometimes disastrous attempts to put my life back together.  Eventually we found Kristy and her boys, and her cat, Keiko.  We added three dogs and a few more cats to the mix, and Digit was recognized by all as the elder statesman of the four-legged family members.  He even became the alpha dog somehow.  He would never admit it, but he was happy.1121090932a

Digit collapsed Friday night walking to the kitchen (food was his passion).  I gave him a bath, redressed his wound, and put him in bed.  The last few hours of his life were as comfortable as I could make them, wrapped in blankets and snuggled between his mom and his dad.  When I woke up in the morning he was gone.  His eyes were open, but there was nothing in them.  I let him rest there a while longer, then wrapped him in a towel and put him in a box.  When I went to gather all the linen for the laundry, I noticed a wet spot on the bed; death must have released his bladder.  Digit’s last act on this plane was to pee on my bed.

He would’ve wanted it that way.

Thank you for indulging me.  He was more than a cat; it’s hard to explain.  My next post will have something remotely to do with writing, I promise.

SONY DSCDigit the Cat

1990 - 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Writing Downhill - In a Good Way

NaNoWriMo starts in three days and I’ve been note-taking, outlining, character arc-ing, and the closer I get to the sheer cliff face that is November, the larger it looms, and the steeper it becomes.  I had intended to do it privately so no one would see me fail, but I was overcome by the moment and “came out” a few days ago.  Being an acknowledged participant not only gives me one the most time-honored incentives to not give up (shame and disgrace), but also allows me to be an active part of the NaNo community, sharing and receiving tips, anecdotes, and pep talks.  Plus I get to play with word count widgets.

I’ve been reading about other writer’s strategies and philosophies relating to starting a novel, especially one that’s supposed to be all done thirty days later.  I consider my own strategy to tackling the novel-in-a-month  mountain and realize this:

I don’t have one.

It took me nearly three years to finish my last – and first – novel.   In the time it took me to write it, I changed careers, then changed back again.  I moved three times, bought a car, went back to school (again) and had to quit (again).  I broke up with my girlfriend, then later met a beautiful, spunky waitress and married her.  I also became a father to two teenagers.

Writing was, in my head, a priority, but everything else got in the way.  I love to write, but somehow it became a chore, something I had to do.  I tried everything – writing schedules, deadlines and quotas, dedicated space to write, changing scenery.  Nothing helped.  It wasn’t my strategy that was the problem; it was my approach.   I was writing uphill.  A finished novel was the unattainable goal, number one on my “bucket list” and gateway to my future as a Beloved Author.  Some days I would whittle off two or three thousand words in a day, but that was rare, and never more than one day in a row.  More often, I’d hammer out a couple hundred, or none at all, waiting until everything else in my life was taken care of, or I was in the mood, or some other excuse to push the goal further away.

I’m taking a different approach this time.  I’m not going to climb the Mountain of November, but rather I’m riding the ski-lift to the top now so I can throw myself down, building up speed as I careen toward December 1st using whatever analogy (skis, soapbox derby cars, super-happy-fun slide) you prefer, hopefully spilling 50,000 plus words and a complete novel all across the finish line.  No writing schedules, no quotas, no perfectly feng shui-ed writing space.  Just me and the novel.  It’s not my adversary; my novel needs me as much as I need it.  Nothing technical has changed, just my attitude, but that could be the most important change of all. 

Writing shouldn’t be an unconquerable mountain.  It should be what it is: a super-happy-fun slide.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sloppy Zombie Seconds

Didn’t think I’d have a topic to write about today, but unfortunately one presented itself last night.
I have my story all set for NaNo.  I’ve taken extensive notes; I’ve outlined the plot.  I even have a query pitch all ready for it.  I’ve been almost giddy for November to come so I could tear into this project.  I showed the pitch to a friend at work to drum up moral support for the undertaking.  I waited impatiently for her to finish as she meticulously and lovingly devoured each word.  I kind of suspected she’d like it, but you never know.  Finally she finished it with what I swear was a gasp of delight (okay, maybe not).
“What do you think?” I asked. 
“You really need to write this; it is so good.”  Kind of what I thought she’d say, not that I’m cocky, but because my “inner circle” tends to like anything I write, even if it’s crap.  But before I could gush about the details, she added:
“In fact, I saw something just like this.”
Now, I’m no stranger to investing my time in ideas that have already been done.  One of my first projects was a retelling of The Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch (yeah, didn’t finish that one).  I came up with a more intelligent version of Little Nicky about a month before I saw the trailer for the Adam Sandler version.  The list goes on.  It was so bad I could almost conjure a book I wanted to read or movie I wanted see simply by independently coming up with the idea myself.
But that was then.  I wasn’t a writer, not really.  Yeah, I had the mountain of writing books, the perfectly sharpened no. 2’s, and the meticulously cluttered writing space.  But I hadn’t written anything, not really.  I was a dreamer, a wannabe.  I wasn’t ready then.
This is now.  I’ve done it, whatever else happens or doesn’t happen, I’ve finished a novel.  The more I delve into the business and the more I despair of my little-manuscript-that-could disappearing forever under the sea of competition and form rejections, the more confidence I gain in my actual abilities.  I’m a writer, damn it.  Whether or not I ever make a dime off it.
Which is why I took it so hard when I found out my “fresh take” on the zombie genre was about two years old.  As soon as she told me, I hit Wikipedia and found the offending item, a cable anthology show.  I read the article, plot spoilers and all, and yes, it was pretty much my idea.  The crappy part is that I’d never heard of this show, much less seen it, so I couldn’t have stolen anything, even subconsciously.  My idea was original, it was just someone’s else’s original idea first. 
After the initial blow wore off, I realized it wasn’t all that bad.  The “zombie twist” was the entire plot of this episode, it’s only a small but important part of my book.  Also, it’s a different medium, television, and a different target audience; I see the book as (mature) Young Adult.  Anyway, I’m going to write it.  It’s either that or line edit The Wind Maiden again, and I’d rather shove a perfectly sharpened no. 2 in my eye.  I think everybody knows there are very few new ideas out there.  It just stings when you think you caught one and reality snatches it from your grasp.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

That’s 120 Novels in Ten Years – Sure, No Problem…

I didn’t want to tell anyone so I didn’t look the fool if I didn’t do it, but I’ve decided to participate in the National Novel Writing Month’s write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge coming up in November.  Seeing as my only previous complete novel took me almost three years to finish, I wouldn’t exactly bet Timmy’s college fund on my chances.  On the other hand, I feel pretty confident about it.  The hardest part of writing your first novel is that you’ve never done it before; you don’t know what it’s like to finish.  I know how to finish now.
I have about a week to decide which idea gets the golden ticket to novel-dom.  I have a witch, some teenage zombies, and killer alien bug-like things (oddly-enough, I don’t read a lot of horror novels; maybe it’s the siren song of All Hallows Eve.)  I’m leaning towards the zombies, but we’ll see. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Investment

My wife works as a waitress at a local restaurant.  She is better at her job than I’ve ever been at any job I’ve had.  And I’ve had a lot.  She works the day shift and still manages to bring home a ton of money.  Unfortunately, the owners recently eliminated breakfast from their menu, cutting into my wife’s tips.  Without her regular breakfast customers, business has been a trickle and her tips have suffered.  I feel bad for her because she enjoys her job, and she works her butt off.  She doesn’t work as many hours as I do, but she does a lot more when she’s there.*
The point is, we don’t have a lot of money coming in (through no fault of hers), and as I plunge deeper into the haunted forest that is the road to Publication, only now do I see what a financial commitment it’s going to take.  I knew about the time commitment: writing, revising, research, marketing, but I never realized how damn expensive the whole thing is.  It cost seventy bucks to have five copies of my book printed – single spaced (!) for my beta-readers because I couldn’t afford to double space it.  Aren’t we supposed to be starving artists?  Aren’t organizations like Writer’s Digest supposed to know that? 
I just spent ninety bucks on a writing webinar.  It was worth it; the advice I got took me from not having a clue about querying to potentially writing a killer pitch.  But my point is, I really couldn’t afford it, I definitely can’t afford that next one that rolls around, whether or not that one also could prove invaluable.  I was looking at writers’ workshops online today; so many caught my eye.  Then I noticed the price tag.  What good are workshops if the people who really need them can’t afford them?  Some may say if it’s important to you, then you have to spend the money.  True, but eating is also important to me (and my family).
Anyway, before this turns into Broke Writer’s Lament, I found an online writer’s conference in New York this January.  I can’t afford to go, but in this case, I think I can’t afford not to.  In addition to the seminars, guest speakers, and networking opportunities,** they have what they call a “pitch slam,” where they lock you in a room with fifty agents who slam your pitch.  No, not really.  It’s an opportunity to essentially do what I did with the pitch critique fifty times over (actually thirty-four if you consider three minutes per agent plus “shuffle” time over two hours).  I’ll get a chance to verbally pitch my novel to as many agents as I can, and they’ll tell me what works and what doesn’t.  Theoretically, I could even get an offer for pages, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
I told my wife about it and what it costs; not only is she okay with it, but I think she’s making me go.  I can’t believe how lucky I am to have the support and patience she gives me, and yes, I do appreciate how rare that is.  Maybe that’s my secret weapon.  I can’t afford writing workshops or fancy software or a ton of accessories.  But what she gives me is worth all that and a universe more.  I just hope I’m worth it.  

*I once heard being a paramedic described as hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.  It’s not unusual for us to go for hours on end without a call, then get that one really bad call, where nothing goes right, and the stakes are literally someone’s life.
**Yeah, I don’t ‘network’ well; you should see me at the few parties I attend (“Dan, this is the hydrangea in the corner; hydrangea, Dan.”)

Road Map

I got my critique for my pitch proposal a lot sooner than I expected.  Crushed are my unrealistic dreams that she would be so in love with it that the world would fall away, and only she and the pitch would remain, their eyes locked in a fiery…
Anyway, that didn’t happen.  No short cuts for me; it’s the long and winding road for as long as it takes.  It’s a long road, treacherous and lonely, but at least I know where I’m going and how to get there.  Actually, it wasn’t all bad.  Heck, just getting honest feedback from a professional was worth the price of admission.  I don’t how polite she was in crafting the comments, but she had some positive words.  She complimented two of my sentences (I only had seven, so pretty good batting average) and said the opening was nice, if a little generic.  She was confused about Thea’s attitude toward her home and felt the mission was too vague.  I got the impression she liked it overall, but that it wasn’t specific enough, that it didn’t give her anything to make her want to pick my book out of the hundreds of letters she gets in a week.
Even though the miracle ending didn’t happen, this was a very positive experience.  The hardest thing for me to know is just how much of the Wind Maiden’s world people can “see”.  I’ve been living there with these characters off and on for five years; It’s as real to me as any place on Earth.  More so than some.  To everyone else, though, it’s just words on a page, and my biggest mistake in the pitch was not providing enough words.  I was so worried about overdoing it that I never considered I might under-do it.
Anyway, I’ve got great notes – a road map to along, as well as proof a respected literary agent thinks I can craft a good sentence (hey, we take the victories where they are). 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Here we go...

Well, I’ve finished the pitch proposal.  Actually, I finished a few days ago, but I’ve been staring holes into it ever since.  And I’m still not convinced it can’t be better.  I’ve showed it to as many people as I can (which, sadly, is about seven or eight), and for the most part have gotten the standard “Oh, I’d read it,” response.  That’s good of course, but I lack the discerning eye of the industry professional.  Although my wife has given me surprisingly insightful feedback (surprising because she praises everything I write – not necessarily because it’s any good, but because she is wonderfully supportive).  She pointed out some repetition as well as part that don’t quite flow.  I’ve taken her opinion to heart and made some changes; hopefully it’ll be enough to generate some interest.
After that, it’s all up to the book.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Short but Hard

No, I’m talking about my pitch paragraph.  Our ‘homework’ for the previously mentioned webinar was to revise our query pitch paragraph, and e-mail it to the agent who presented the webinar (I can’t stop saying ‘webinar’) for a personalized critique.  The query pitch can get your foot in the door, or it can kill your chances before anyone’s read a page of your book.  Naturally, I want to do my best.  I’ve been working on it for over a week now, and it’s proven harder in its own way than the book itself.  Eight to twelve sentences to convince an agent your novel is better than 99% of the thousands of queries they get a week. 
No pressure.
The webinar (heh) proved worth the admission fee and more, as I went from describing my novel in endless circles that either drove people away or into deep bouts of I-don’t-give-a-crap, to being able to not only present my story in a tight, coherent fashion, but also to generate actual interest in the book itself.  Until it gets read by industry professionals, I’ll have no idea how good it is – the query or the novel – but on both counts, I know I’ve done my very best.
Well, maybe one more touchup.