Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Update 2/28/11

I have a confession. I've done more quilting that writing in the past week. In some ways I have a good excuse...the quilt is a gift with a deadline, and I want to get it done in plenty of time so I don't have to stress at the last minute.

That does nothing for my WIP, though.

At the same time, I did take a wonderful little side trip into fiction-writing land on Saturday. I found myself exhausted but sleepless during my daughter's naptime. That itself was frustrating, but I actually had a story idea gel while I was staring at the ceiling. So, I got up and managed nearly 500 words before it was back to 2-year-old land. Now, if I can only get the end to gel as well as the beginning. It's high time I got another story polished and into the marketing mill.

Since this is the last day of the month, I find myself again faced with my first-of-the-month deadline for my Lessons from the Shadowland blog. I have the title written. Does that count?

Finally, my husband brought home some good news over the weekend. Last year, I'd searched for signs of a writers' group in the area. Finding none, I'd assumed there were none within the 50 mile radius that I considered reasonable. I was wrong. There is, in fact, a group that meets on Tuesday evenings at the local diner. Now all I need is a babysitter--and I'm volunteering my father for this role--and I'm set. Peer critiques, here I come!

That's it for this week. Happy Monday!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ramblings, Reflections and a Blog Roundup -- 2/25/11

I'm way behind on my blog reading, so the following are a mere sampling of the many great posts that have come out over the past week. Even today, it's difficult to tear myself from the snowy vista outside and focus on...anything. (Yes, I did get outside to play in the snow with my two-year-old. Chilly heaven!) Hopefully, I'm not posting what you've already read. Enjoy!

~ ~ ~ ~

This post by Rachelle Gardner may not offer much comfort for people who--like myself--are beset by self-doubt and lack of assurance. It's good to be reminded occasionally, though, that it may not be about you. Publishing is competitive. Even a good book can be beaten out by a better one.

The Talent Here Is Ridiculous

Here's a break from the usual writing and publishing advice: the physical effects of writing, brought to us from Write It Sideways.

Protect Yourself from Writing's Physical Hazards

Rafael Yglesias' guest post on There Are No Rules blows away what writers have been told about cliches...and a few other truisms.

Cliche's for Aspiring Writers

Nathan Bransford weighs in on what the future could look like for bookstores, now that a big contender like Borders faces bankruptcy.

Do Record Stores Point the Way of the Future for Bookstores?

I don't necessarily agree with Natalie Fischer's hatred of prologues but, hey, she is an agent. Maybe we should listen to her.

Why I Hate Prologues

Whether you're a tech geek or are simply looking for a better way to get organized (and who isn't?), you might like Michael Hyatt's take on the Evernote software.

A Better Filing System for Public Speakers (and Writers)

Happy Friday and happy writing!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Enter Author Stage Right

A couple of weeks ago, I watched (most of) Iron Man for the first time. Yes, I’m behind in the Hollywood scene. Having a toddler and living with your parents will do that. Anyway, one of the highlights for me was Stan Lee’s traditional appearance. I know, it’s geekiness unleashed. I can’t help it, though. Stan Lee…M. Night Shyamalan…Alfred Hitchcock…Stephen King…I get a kick out of directors and writers who slide themselves into the story in sneaky little ways.

That’s not to say I’d be a fan if they inserted themselves in the story too much. I’d be much less thrilled if Stan Lee entered the story as Iron Man’s full-time mentor instead of a passing comment on the stairs.

Movies, of course, are an entirely different case from books. If an author inserts him or herself into a book overtly, it’s rarely charming. (I’ve never actually read a book where I found it anything but annoying, but I’m leaving open the benefit of the doubt.) On the other hand, I’ve never read a book where an author placed himself in a cameo similar to the names I mentioned above. It might be interesting to see how that worked. Hmmm…

It’s a different story when the author successfully inserts her own thoughts into the characters’ thoughts and opinions. I happen to think Shirley Rousseau Murphy does it well. You know they’re her thoughts, but they fit so well with the characters, you only notice the insertion if you think about it. Again, though, it only really works if the reader happens to agree with the characters. Too much opinion, I think, will turn the reader off if world views don’t happen to align. I know it’s happened when I read other books in the past.

Then I think of writers like Orson Scott Card, who disassociates himself to a sometimes astonishing degree. I just finished his novel, Enchantment. In it, the protagonist is a Ukrainian Jew who spent the first decade of his life in the USSR. As I read the book, I found myself wondering at times, “What happened to the author to make him dislike Christians so much?” Then I pulled myself back to reality and remembered that the author is a Mormon who was born in Washington State and now lives in North Carolina. He doesn’t dislike Christians; he successfully associated with a character who distrusted them, often with good historical reason. It was brilliant, and I admire him for introducing me to another worldview that made me examine my own.

When it comes down to it, though, we all insert ourselves into our writing to some degree. It’s nearly impossible not to. We are our writing. Our writing reflects, if not our entire personality, then some facet or some angle of ourselves that can’t help reflecting onto the pages of a story. We may not be our characters. We may not even like our characters. They may not hold our opinions or share our Myers-Briggs personality type. Still, something of the writer remains.

So, maybe I don’t have to make a cameo in my own work. None of us do. My work is me. Your work is you. That’s more than enough.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Update 2/21/11

I wouldn't say I had a meltdown last week. I did check out of life, as much as life would let me. Not that life ever lets anyone check out completely, but I sure tried. So, having missed my Wednesday and Friday posts, here I am back at my Monday update.

Having said that, it won't come as a shock that I didn't do much in the past week. That doesn't mean nothing happened.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I didn't make the cut in a contest I entered. Of course I was disappointed. What caught my attention, though, was the fact that the editors of the On the Premises contests offer a critique to non-finalists for only $10. My family's budget is tight, but I know a good deal when I see one. Since this wasn't the first go-around for this particular story, I clenched my teeth, sent in the money and waited.

The critique came over the weekend.

First, they were nice. Any fears I had of having my ego shredded and left for the literary vultures dissipated as I read not just the bad news about my entry, but also the good. The issues, they said, were minor. The story simply had enough minor issues to keep it from making the finals.

Second, they were helpful. The critique was concrete, balanced and actionable. I was left feeling that the story needed work, but that it was work I could do to create a better, more publishable piece. They also--intentionally or unintentionally--made my ponder myself and my attitude as a writer.

What am I talking about? For instance, they said parts of the story were overwritten, as if I felt the reader wouldn't get it unless I spelled it out. Is it because I look down on my readers or assume they won't get it? I hope not, but it's worth considering. It may be that I'm writing to the lowest common denominator and ignoring the readers who would, indeed, "get it." If that's it, maybe I should stop. Perhaps I shouldn't write to anyone else's level, but only to my own.

Another thing I noticed about myself was the desire to justify when the critique suggested I needed more background concerning why the character felt as he did. Oh, they got how he felt, they just didn't understand why. I immediately started pointing out (to myself) the experiences I'd had or people I'd known that prompted my character's behavior. Of course it was clear why he acted as he did! Then I remembered a question a professor once asked me: Was I going to follow around every piece of writing I ever published so I could stand over my readers' shoulders and explain the nuances to them? Um, no. Guess I'll just have to give my readers enough info to begin with. That means I can't be lazy with my writing. It means I'll have to live outside my head and view my stories through others' eyes. Bummer.

So, critiques--good ones--can tell us things about ourselves as well as our stories. I haven't acted on this particular critique yet. Some of their suggestions require additions or changes to the plot, which needs time and thought on my part to do well. I can immediately implement the things I've learned about myself, though. Hopefully, my writing will be the stronger for it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Update

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I have no rejections in my mailbox to ruin my spirit of love today. Of course, no acceptances or publication news, either. No news is good news right now, though, so I’m happy.

I may not have news, but I am in a bit of a quandary. Here’s my question:

Do I join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) or not join?

The $89 dollar fee for the first year is pretty steep when held up next to my family’s budget. That’s not entirely the issue, though. Nor is it an issue of ROI (return on investment). I know the SCBWI offers valuable resources for anyone serious about entering the world of children’s publishing. And that’s the question.

Am I serious enough to warrant the $89 membership fee?

Am I serious about going full-bore into picture book writing in the next year? Am I serious about joining specialized critique groups? Am I serious about querying agents and/or publishers? Or, will I find my self-resolve tapering off midway and sputtering to an inglorious halt, $89 the poorer?

Will I have the physical stamina throughout my pregnancy, followed by carrying for both a newborn and a three-year-old? Is it even realistic to expect myself to? Should I put it off for a couple of years and work on getting piles of manuscripts polished before entering the melee? Or could that be cowardice talking?

So, you see, it boils down to a different question. Not, “Is the SCBWI worth the money,” but “Am I worth the money?”

It’s not a question I’m up to answering today, but it’s a question worth asking.

Any thoughts?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ramblings, Reflections and a Blog Roundup

I really appreciate this post by Suzannah at Write It Sideways. Most of what she said matches my situation exactly, right down to putting God first and family second (despite Michael Hyatt's post below). I often look at other freelance writers, at the huge amounts of time they seem to spend writing, and feel like a slacker for only stealing moments here and there when church and family allow. This year, though, I realized that, if God and family come before my writing, I have to act like it! Her post is an important reminder to me to keep my priorities straight and not be ashamed for putting my faith and family before any extra income I might earn from writing.

Write it Sideways -- Getting Your Life & Writing Priorities in Order

I can identify with the village idiot metaphor In Davey Jank's guest post on the Rants and Ramblings blog. In fact, what I felt interning with a translation team in Namibia often seems nothing compared to how I feel trying to learn my way around the publishing field. It seems like it should be easier because I at least know the language...right? Personally, I can't wait to find a copy of the Janks' book.

Rants and Ramblings -- The Migration of the Village Idiots

Nathan Bransford's posts have been getting shorter, but he pulled through today with a great post on the striving nature of the writing life.

Writing, Striving and THE GREAT GATSBY

Jessica from Bookends, LLC tells authors about where subjectivity starts and ends when an agent reads your work.

It's All a Point

Over at, Mary's talking about the role tense plays in successful writing. Does it matter? And why does it make us so...tense?

So Tense About Tense!

I posted this one on Facebook, but it's worth sharing here. It's Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt's take on why leaders, especially, (but maybe everyone?) should place themselves second on their priority list. (That's right after God and in lieu of last place, in case you were wondering.)

Where Do You Put Yourself in Your List of Priorities?

T.L.Cooper delves into her inner psyche with her post on using memories--even bad ones--to write strong fiction.

Avoidance, Memories and Fiction

Finally, a post from a writer who isn't new to the blog scene but is new to my RSS feed. Laura Campbell lays open the process of becoming a writer in her honest and compelling look at her own journey as a fiction writer.

Writing Unleashed -- A Punch in the Face: Rewrites Are a Bitch

With so many good blogs by writers, agents and publishers, I know I missed some gems. I hope you enjoy these offerings from my own Google reader, though. Until next week, happy reading and joyful writing!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Of Viruses and Viciousness

I meant to post something yesterday, but my weekly schedule got thrown out of kilter. Here’s how…

The day before yesterday, my husband’s computer got infected with malware. I had productive plans for Tuesday afternoon. Instead, I launched into hours of cursing and hair pulling as I tried to exorcise Security from my hubby’s laptop. More than once I wished I had a time machine to go back and keep him from clicking on that fatal link.

By 7:30 PM, none of his programs were responding and I had nothing to lose. I restored the HP to an earlier version of itself…the Windows version of the time machine I’d wanted. So, one time machine and two eradication softwares later, Carmelo had his laptop back, complete with the PowerPoint presentation he needed today. He looked at me with relief, and then asked the crucial question.

“Why do people create viruses, anyway? Just for the heck of it?”

I nodded, but the truth is, I don’t know. I’ve always supposed the creators of viruses are like vandals, delighting in their power of destruction. (That also seems to be the conclusion Dick Francis came to in his novel, Driving Force.) I don’t understand vandals of any kind, though. I’ve never felt the desire to wantonly destroy another’s property, livelihood or life’s work. I have to imagine that, in the case of malware creators, there’s an element of delight in their own cleverness. Not many have their skill with coding. So, they do it because they can.

Such an attitude enrages me. Yet it’s also a reminder that we all need to guard how we use our gifts. Anyone with verbal skills, written or spoken, may sometimes be tempted to use those skills to cut down their enemies. I’m not talking about fighting for social justice or standing up for your beliefs. I’m talking about taking it a step further and using your words to cut people down, to humiliate them or ruin their reputations. Think it’s not possible? Arthur O’Shaughnessy knew it was. In his “Ode,” he wrote,

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.

Here’s another way to look at it: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The ability to use words to influence is a wonderful gift, but also a great responsibility. It’s a gift that we, as writers, need to guard carefully. I, for one, welcome the reminder to guard against spreading any viruses with my words.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Monday Update

Not much news on the writing front this week. I received another rejection in my email inbox last week. On the upside, it was a contest, and the publishers said there were 169 entries. Those are long odds for making it into the list of finalists. Of course, there's always the niggling question of whether I didn't win because there were that many brilliant stories entered, or if it was simply because mine stank. I'm holding out for multiple flashes of brilliance in the upcoming results.

I keep telling myself that all these rejections will eventually lead to one big acceptance. When I worked (briefly) in sales, we expected to get 20 sales from ever 100 queries. Let's hope that sales law of averages holds true for freelancing. At this point, one in five sounds like a pretty good average to me.

On a brighter note, I read a wonderful post on Write It Sideways. Julie Duffy's post, "Short on Mental Space?", spoke to me as a mom struggling to be a writer...or is that a writer struggling to be a mom? Anyway, if you're struggling for mental space, check out Julie's guest post.

That's it for this Monday. Have a happy and fruitful week!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

MFA Confidential -- Snowpocalypse

I can't believe it's already Thursday! Time flies when you're busy and harassed by a two-year-old. I've found lots of good blogs going through my reader today, and may post more later. To start with, though, here's a real gem from Jessie Morrison in Chicago.

Writer's Digest blog - MFA Confidential

As a writer born and raised in rural Eastern Oregon, I identify with the photographer from Idaho. When you're surrounded by nature, you don't view it the same way as someone in the city does. You don't take it for granted; that's not what I mean. It's always there, a part of your internal makeup rather than something to be documented from an outside perspective.

Yet, perhaps Jessie Morrison's reminder for city folk does apply to us ruralites as well. We all need the occasional reminder of nature's power. We all need to take a perspective check once in a while. And, yes, a snowstorm is perfect writing weather.