I write like
Jack London

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Editors and Columns and Deadlines, oh my!

Sorry, folks! A looming deadline coupled with a grounded GK means I didn't get my blog for today finished in time. In honor of Christie and Faye (who're having way too much fun at the RT Convention in Columbus, Ohio!), here's a little eye candy for you.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Business Plan Part 3 - Time Commitment

Currently reading - My Zombie Valentine by MacAllister, Fox, Mancusi, Cash

Make no mistake--writing a novel takes a lot of time. Sure, Nora can whip out a first draft in thirty days. But she's got decades of experience under her garters, not to mention she can write full-time. Most of us just starting out don't have that luxury. Day Jobs are necessary to keep that roof over your head.

Sit down and put together a schedule of your commitments for the week. Now look where you can shave extra time for writing. Be realistic! Your Day Job co-workers would like you to take the occasional shower. The dogs want to be fed because, let's face it, while the couch provides plenty of fiber, it lacks in protein.

For most folks, it means giving up a few hours of TV or social networking in the evening. Originally, I carved out time by writing during my lunch hour and taking a couple of hours on the weekend. I was lucky to get 1,000 words written per week. So I was looking at taking two years just to write a first draft. Not good if I want to be writing full time and making a certain amount of money. I learned through the education process that most writers making a living at commericial fiction (my ultimate goal, remember?) are putting out two or more books per year.

I ramped up the education factor by taking a hard look at how the professionals do it. Stephanie Bond eliminated most social obligations until her first book sold. Then she negotiated with her employer to work part-time until more books sold. Christie Craig worked as a freelance photojournalist to have the flexibility to work on her fiction. Stephen King taught school during the day, then spent his evenings typing furiously to produce Carrie.

I plotted more extensively, typed faster and coerced my family into leaving me alone for certain portions of the evening and weekend. And this is where most writers (especially the female writers) hit the guilt wall.

I can't tell you how to let the guilt go, but you've got to find a way. Trust me, no kid (to my knowledge) has died of a Pop-Tart overdose yet. And research shows we humans eat about two pounds of dirt per year anyway.

Now we've educated ourselves and made the time commitment, tomorrow we need to take a look at our support system.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Addendum on Social Networking and Posting Your Work Online

If you haven't seen Jessica Faust's blog this morning, I strongly suggest you pop over to BookEnds LLC and check out the interesting discussion on watching what you post/comment on blogs, Facebook, etc.

Also, the NWHRWA chapter PRO Liasion, Judythe Hixson sent us this interesting essay by Chuck Sambuchino on why a writer shouldn't post fiction online. Fascinating viewpoint.

Business Plan Part 2 - Craft Education

Currently reading - My Zombie Valentine by MacAllister, Fox, Mancusi, Cash

Okay, I've made the decision to write novel-length fiction. But what do I know about it? Well, other than putting a bunch words on a few sheets of paper.

In order to have a plan, I need to be knowledgeable enough to make the plan. That means education. C'mon, would you really trust a guy who didn't have the slight clue about human anatomy to operate on you?

Again, be brutally honest with yourself. How much do you know about point-of-view, scene hooks, chapter hook, dialogue, or plotting? And are you willing to put in the time and effort to learn these things?

Very few of us start out knowing anything, much less everything we need to write a book. Take writing courses, either in person or online. Pick up a how-to book. Join a local writer's group. If there's not a group nearby, then join one online. There's tons of resources out there. Here's a few of my favorites:

Writing the Break-Out Novel by Donald Maass (Terrific book!)
Romance Writers of America (Great educational programs)
Backspace: The Writer's Place (Wonderful online community)
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (The man's personal issues aside, good reference on world building)
The Everything Guide to Writing a Romace by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes (Okay this is a little ego trip since I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements.)

As always, many of the blogs listed on your right offer great advice as well.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the time commitment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Business Plan Part 1 - Ultimate Goal

Currently reading - My Zombie Valentine by MacAllister, Fox, Mancusi, Cash

I'm going to ask some difficult questions. For any advice to work, you'll need to be perfectly, bluntly honest with yourself. You don't have to answer to me, just that face you look at every day in the mirror.

Let's start off with your ultimate goal in writing. Is your goal simply getting one book published? Is it making a living at writing? Or is it landing on the NYT Bestseller list?

Ask yourself what you really want out of writing. If you're perfectly happy writing Buffy fan fic, then good for you! (No, I'm not being sarcastic.) You know what you want which means you're already ahead of the curve.

Do you look at writing as an artistic or commercial endeavor? Again, be honest.

Now, it's my turn to be brutally honest. If you expect to make any money, it can't be just an artistic endeavor for you. The cold, hard truth is publising companies are looking to make money. They are businesses; it's what they do. Therefore, you have to deliver a product they believe they can sell.

My ultimate goal is to make a sufficient living at writing fiction that I can keep a roof over my head and food on the table should something happen to my husband. (Okay, my real ultimate goal is to write the Uncanny X-Men. Shhh. Don't tell my mother.)

Tomorrow, we'll talk about breaking down the ultimate goal into smaller components.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Have a Plan

Currently reading - My Zombie Valentine by MacAllister, Fox, Mancusi, Cash

It's Monday so let's talk about a serious issue.

Do you have a plan for your writing career? Really. Do you?
By a plan, I mean specific goals with concrete steps in achieving these goals. I don't mean "Oh, I write if I get the time."

I looked at writing as a career change. This would be my third after computer consulting and practicing law. My five-year plan didn't pan out the way I thought, but hey, it was still a business plan. And I can honestly say I'm still making forward progress.

What I don't understand are the people who wing it when it comes to the crazy business. (Maybe that's why I'm primarily a plotter, not a pantser.) Then these same folks often blame everyone under the sun, except themselves, for not reaching their goals.

Over the next week or so, I'm going to talk about what I've done on the road to publishing, both successes and failures. I hope the rest of you will chime in too!

In the meantime, I highly recommend author Stephanie Bond's webpage for writers. Stephanie has free articles here, as well as ones for sale on Amazon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Second Childhood


Currently reading - Uncanny X-Men #519-522

We're in the process of packing up personal items in order to paint, re-floor and finally put the house on the market next year. I ran out of mylar sleeves and boxes for comic books I'd bought the last couple of years before GK was born. Unfortunately, most of the comic shops nearby have gone out of business thanks to the current recession, so I had to traipse up the highway yesterday. Due to other errands/circumstances, DH and GK came along.

Somehow, someway, whatever your parents do is totally uncool to each generation. GK is no different. But by the time we left, GK had a manga book and DH had Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

And me? Well, I have my supplies, my current reading and the latest issue of Wonder Woman.

But Lady Bast as my witness, if Scott Summers is still dating Emma Frost, I'll drop X-Men again.

(Unless there's a really cool cover of Storm or Psylocke.)

Anyone else have a childhood obsession they'd like to share?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hey, Hasbro! I'm Still Waiting!

Currently reading - Kitty's House of Horrors by Carrie Vaughn

C'mon, Hasbro. Y'all have adapted Transformers and G.I. Joe to the big screen. You've tapped Tayler Lautner to play Stretch Armstrong. But there's someone you're forgetting. You know who I'm talking about, Hasbro.



That's right! The queens of '80's cartoon pop! Jem and the Holograms!



If Disney can makes billions off of Hannah Montana, if the Spice Girls can top the charts, you can do the same with Jem. Update the looks. Update the songs. Update the tech. Turn the story into something special.



If collectors like me can update their dolls (and no, I did not repaint the dolls above), then you can update the franchise.

Please, Hasbro! I'm waiting.

(And if you're the artist who created these dolls, please let me know so I can give appropriate credit! I found your photo on tomopop.com.)

A Wild, Wacky Video

Currently reading - Kitty's House of Horrors by Carrie Vaughn

Sorry, folks. Got a little sidetracked this morning with spelling and math tests. Here's my favorite example of terrific TV writing, delivered by some fabulous people. Now, imagine Bob Wheeler in gold-ish face paint. Shows what a hell of an actor Brent Spiner is.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

How Do You Kill Your Characters?

Currently reading - Magic TreeHouse #30: Haunted Castle on Hallow's Eve by Mary Pope Oborne

When I get stuck, I have a bad habit of killing off a character until I can think of something better to continue the scene with. Um, for some reason, the character always remains dead.

Hey, Jovial Joe Nassise said it worked for him, too!

Here's a cute little tribute to offing our characters. So far, I've used a broomstick, a sushi knife, nanites and a Native American water spirit. How many different ways have you killed characters in your novels?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Agent or Not To Agent

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

I was going to write about needing a business plan, but Angie raised a good point in her comment on Sunday's post. I spoke of the lack of respect shown by both writer and agents to each other. But does a writer really need an agent?

I have to respectfully disagree with Angie's statement that writers don't need agents. IMHO, I think the real answer is it depends.

As writer, there's a lot of factors to consider. What are your target markets? Your comfort level in negotiating contracts? Are you planning to work with a publishing company or self-publish? If going with a publishing company, do you have personal contacts within a particular company? Who's your support team consist of, i.e. attorney, accountant, editor, etc.?

As Angie pointed out, sf/f writer Laura Resnick sells her own books, then uses a literary lawyer to review the contracts. Author Dean Wesley Smith calls up an agent friend only if he needs some help. I know of a couple of writers who sold their own books to editors, then had an agent negotiate the deal. And there are other writers who wouldn't dream of submitting to an editor without an agent.

The main problem is there's no one size-fits-all solution for every writer. I'll use my c.p.'s as an example. Two out of the three published in novel length have agents. One who doesn't is perfectly happy and capable of negotiating her own contracts. The two of us not published in novel-length have magazine credits, for which you don't need an agent. But we're both looking for an agent for assistance with our longer works.

So, as I said before, take a good, hard look at what you want out of the publishing industry. Then decide what tools you need to make that goal a reality.

And remember to be polite and professional regardless of your ultimate decision concerning agents. Publishing is a very small world.


NOTICE: If your interest in learning more about what a literary attorney does and you're in the Houston area, Northwest Houston RWA will be hosting Phillip Sanov of the Lanier Law Firm on May 1. Mr. Sanov will be discussing protecting your intellectual property rights. Click on the link for more info.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Deadlines

Currently reading - Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn

One of the advantages of writing a magazine column is having a deadline.

Yep, you read me right. Accustomization of deadlines is a good thing. Whether it was a major software development and installation for a Fortune 500 client or the thirty day limit for filing a motion for new trial, I've always had them.

But I've run into too many wannabes who've never had measurable deadlines. No accountablility for their progress (or lack thereof) whatsoever. I'm not talking about lack of responsibility. And I'm not talking about page number or word count competitions with crit groups. I'm talking about real deadlines with real consequences. As in, I won't get paid if I don't get this in to my editor.

In my case, having the proverbial gun to my head helps with my creativity and productivity. It's not that I wait until the last minute. It means I have a set period for brainstorming, a set period for research, a set period for writing the piece.

If deadlines are scarier than the demons of Hell and send you into bottle-of-Prozac anxiety, then maybe you should rethink the publishing industry. Trust me, you WILL have deadlines if you get a three-book contract.

And to paraphrase Master Yoda (the guy from the movie, not my mentor Colleen Thompson), if you're not afraid now, you will be.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Your First Book Probably Won't Sell. Get Over it!

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

The next most common problem newbie writers make is not knowing when to let go of that first manuscript. (The first most common problem I discussed in If You're Serious, Finish the Bleeping Book.)

Yes, it's your first baby. Yes, you've worked your ass off writng, revising and submitting it. But rewriting, re-revising and resubmitting it over and over will only drive you (and every agent and editor known) crazy.

Maybe it's not an idea or subgenre that will sell at this time. Maybe it was just a bad idea. Maybe it was a terrific idea, but you didn't have the skills yet to make it wonderful.

Yeah, I hate to break this last one to you. Maybe, it's not them; it's you.

Not everyone sells their first book out of the gate. And before you point out the marvelous Ms. Meyer listed above, let me point out she's the exception to the rule.

Unless you've already got a MFA in creative writing already, the art of writing fiction is a learning curve. Which is perfectly fine. That first book is like your first tricycle. Great first vehicle. Safe. Secure. But being able to ride a tricycle doesn't mean you're ready for a bicycle, much less a skateboard, motorcycle or car.

Do you really want to be a writer? That means learning to set aside the first manuscript and move on to the next. And then maybe the next. And the next. Ad inifinitum.

I'll be blunt. There's a manuscript that will remain under my bed until the day I die. I was so proud since it was my first completed novel. Frankly, it sucked. Purple prose to the max. The hero had "aquamarine eyes" for crin' out loud. It deserved to be rejected. (And I'll thank any agent or editor who might have seen it not to remember it when I query you again.)

What taught me was moving on to the next one. Good concept. Terrific dialogue. A few requests, but the description and emotional nuance wasn't up to snuff.

Moved on to the next. Lots more requests, but the subgenre had hit its peak, so no takers. Learned a lot more about pacing. Finally got POV right!

Wrote next one as a NaNoWriMo project. Proved to myself I could write a first draft in six weeks.

Went back to Manuscript #2. Damn, I loved that idea, so I threw the entire thing out the window and started over from scratch. Have been getting lots of full requests. Still waiting on answers from agents. Yep, you guessed it. Manuscript #2 is ZL, the one currently on submission.

So don't let rejection get you down if the first manuscript doesn't garner an agent or a publishing offer. If you really want to write, then move on to the next book.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Biting the Hand

Currently reading - Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn

Continuing my diatribe from yesterday, why do writer wannabes cuss out the very people who are trying to help them?

Agents like Nathan Bransford, Jessica Faust and Janet Reid take time out of their busy schedules to tell writers exactly what they're looking for in manuscripts. Invariably some idiot berates them for not signing his or her masterpiece.

Or the idiot posts his or her manifesto in the comments section as to why agents are greedy bastards who real writers don't need.

*sigh*

If only these folks would put half that passion and energy into learning the craft and the business, they might actually hit NYT Bestseller status.

So here's a tip--if you don't agree with an agent's analysis of your work, let it go. But if more than one agent says the same damn thing, then maybe you'd better listen up.

Years ago, I had an agent say some rather negative things about setting one of my manuscripts in Los Angeles. The, um, discussion crashed spectacularly when this person made a biting remark about how I should only write about places I've been. Frankly this person's comments had nothing to do with the actual story, just the setting.

Now, I could have snarked back to this person. But what would it have accomplished? It didn't matter to this person that I've lived in, worked in or visited most other major U.S. cities. To some of these folks, there's New York and there's Los Angeles. Anything else in between is a figment of their imagination.

So, instead of getting pissed, I went home, brainstormed and came up with the plotline of Amish, Vamps & Thieves. The setting is where I grew up, Ohio Amish country.

And if this book sells, well, I may just have to acknowledge that particular agent.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Amendment Vs. Privacy

Currently reading - Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn

Nathan Bransford's This Week in Publishing pointed to an interesting article in the NY Times about whether or not bloggers should do away with anonymous comments. This gist of the article was the rash of incendiary, crude comments on news organizations' blogs.

I'll be the first to admit there are times when anonymous comments can yield valuable information without jeopardizing the anonmyous commenter's livelihood. But many sites have turned into out-and-out brawls. Recently, several agents, such as Generous Janet Reid turned on moderation because of the crap being spewed on her blog's comments.

That's one reason I post comments under my own name. If I don't have the balls or the tact to stand by what I said, then I shouldn't be posting, should I?

But the issue is moving into a whole 'nother arena than good manners.

Yes, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, but only in a public area (and even then there are limits, like not shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater). Guess what? The internet isn't a public place.

I can hear those shocked gasps, but it's true, Virginia. The internet is, for all intents and purposes, a private place owned by private citizens, just like a store, which invites citizens to visit. If you run into Wal-Mart and start screaming obscenities, they can throw you out. The store is on private, not public, property.

Do we treat the internet as a public place? Sure. Just like when I meet with my critique group in a local eatery, we talk about anything and everything under the sun. Could we have been thrown out if someone had seen what was in the purple box I gave Jody? Yep, the staff had every right to remove us. Part of the privilege of remaining is acting in a reasonable manner.

On the other hand, why do we expect privacy when we tell the world everything? Christie blogged about the purple box incident, so now all six and a half billion people on earth know (theoretically anyways).

Oh hell, I know more about people's personal lives than I care to just sitting at my local coffee shop. Yes, blond buffant lady, I'm talking about you. I really didn't want to know about your son-in-law's ED, how you'd just die if your daughter adopted one of those little Haitian babies, and how it (melodramatically) destroys any chance you'll ever have of grandchildren.

Now, if I know all of this by listening to some middle-aged chick talking way too loudly on her cell, imagine what I know about the rest of you.

Heh, heh, heh.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Jim! How Could You?

I finished Jim Butcher's Changes the other night. Needed some time to digest it. And now I just gotta talk about it!

For the stupid FTC regs, I bought the damn book from B&N with my own damn money from the Day Job. And guess what? I'm taking it as a business deduction on next year's taxes!

Gotta love the research angle.

For those of you who haven't read Changes yet, you are hereby warned!

*SPOILER ALERT**SPOILER ALERT**SPOILER ALERT**SPOILER ALERT*

Wow. Jim pulled out all the stops on this one. Pretty much every surviving foe and ally make an appearance in this huge tome. (Though I did miss Billy and the wolves.) For long-time fans, it's the equivalent of one of those Marvel or DC mini-series extravagansas. Except more interesting.

Honestly, the only thing that gave me pause was the whole "secret baby" angle. When I first heard the summary, I thought, "Really, Jim, really? That's so '80's Harlequin." But he handles it well, and there's no happy Dresden family at the end. Let's hope Maggie never finds out what Daddy did to Mommy because (a) we're talking expensive therapy and/or (b) a major smackdown if Maggie has even half the power of Daddy or Great-Grandpa (aka Sir).

The Ebenezer thing. Saw that one coming for some time. Thank god the Blackstaff is finally out of the family closet.

But as for other family secrets. . . anyone else besides me think there's more of a connection between Odin and Dresden than the Grey Council? Why else would the All-Father show up in a battle with stupid, overconfident vampires?

Jim Butcher, do NOT EVER AGAIN give me a heart attack about Butters! Glad to know our favorite polka-playing morgue nerd learned a few things hanging out with Harry and Murphy.

Best thing of the book? Murphy finally, FINALLY takes up Fidelacchius (even if she claims it's a temporary gig). And does a damn fine job of swinging the holy blade.

And finally, I don't have a problem with cliff hangers. But waiting until next year? Aaagghh!

I think it's Gentleman Johnnie Marcone now that Harry's proven himself by taking down the entire Red Court. Harry has repeatedly said Marcone's next when Chicago's mob boss reaches the top of the food chain. DH thinks it's Rudolph for Harry destroying the corrupt cop's sugar daddies and mommies.

So, I want to hear your opinions. Who's the hitter at the end of the book and what's the motive?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

If This Doesn't Make you Laugh. . .

Margaret Yang always has thoughtful insights in her comments on various blogs. Now she proves she's pretty damn funny as well.

Thanks for the pick-me-up, Margaret!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sometimes, Life's a Bitch. . .

Currently reading - Changes by Jim Butcher

Sorry about the lateness of today's post, folks. Yesterday was too freakin' depressing.

GK and I got into a major argument of his school stalling techniques. (Yes, I know who's supposed to be the evolved one.)

Then I got to the Day Job only to be faced with grumpy customers and grumpy managers. Can't blame the managers. The new person called to quit twenty minutes after her shift was supposed to start.

The topper to the day was a friend was diagnosed with cancer. She looking at serious surgery because none of the non-invasive procedures could tell her doc if the evil cells have spread. And possibly radiation or chemo regardless if the evil has spread or not. Just in case.

Unfortunately, whenever something like this happens, my old fears about DH's cancer slam to the forefront. Ridiculous, I know. He's been clean for fourteen and a half years now. It doesn't make the feelings go away.

So I did the stupid thing that a child of alcoholic shouldn't do. I stopped at the store for coolers and beer on the way home from work. So over dinner and a strawberry margarita cooler (DH drinks the beer. I can't stand the stuff.), I whined. Then I poured another cooler, and instead of writing my blog and editng AVT, I curled up on the couch with Harry Dresden for the next couple of hours.

On the plus side, I don't go through the fear and depression on the anniversary of DH's diagnosis like I did for years. It jumps out and slams me out of the blue with this kind of news now. And as DH pointed out I need to get a handle on it. We were unusual since he was fairly young when he had cancer, but now that we're sliding into middle age, things like this are going to happen more frequently. 40% of my critique group has had a spouse in the hospital in the last month alone.

[Edit to add, I realized how that last sentence sounds after I posted. In neither case did the gentleman in question have cancer.]

Sometimes, life just sucks the big one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NASA's Successful Failure

Currently reading - Changes by Jim Butcher

Forty years ago today, I watched Uncle Walter along with the rest of the nation. Something terrible had happened to the Apollo 13 astronauts, and the whole world waited to see if the folks at NASA could bring them home safely.

To quote NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, "Failure is not an option." The guys at Mission Control didn't fail.

Sometimes the drama of reality far outstrips a writer's imagination.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Progress

Currently reading - Changes by Jim Butcher

For those of you keeping track (like Julie), no, I haven't finished Eclipse yet. DH finished Changes Friday night. If it weren't for plans on Saturday and Sunday, I'd probably have it finished by now. And DH really wants me to finish it so he can talk about it without blowing the revelations.

You know, like the stupid kid who told me Leia was Luke's sister before I saw Return of the Jedi.

In compliance with FTC regs, I bought this book with MY OWN DAMN MONEY. And guess what? I'll take it as a fucking tax deduction too! Because it's market research!

Seriously though, great book. It'll have you thinking just how far Harry may cross certain lines. I won't spill spoilers, so in the immortal words of Stan Lee, "'Nuff said."

In the meantime, I'm still slogging through edits on AVT. Teri and Faye's critiques on the first twenty-five pages along with a long talk with Christie over coffee Friday morning helped. Christie's normally a hugger, but thankfully she refrained because she was still trying to cough up a lung after contracting the dreaded man-flu from Mr. Craig earlier in the week. As an immunocompromised person, I truly appreciate that.

Back to the editing situation:

As I've said before I have this weird tendency to write short. Weird as compared to most other writers I know, anyway. This means crap doesn't make sense to other people because it's still in my head and not on the page. Oops. Thank Djehuti, I've got great c.p.'s to point this out. Now, I just need to go back and layer in the missing parts.

Anyone else out there have this particular problem?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Artists Supporting Other Artists

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

There's a little secret at the Day Job. I work with a talented group of people. Kat does amazing pencils. I write.

And then there's our assistant manager, TJ Lampart who's got the most unbelievable voice. He's putting together a demo, and this is a video of one of the sessions. TJ's a little self-conscious because of the filming, so just close your eyes and listen.



I really hope he makes it to Nashville some day.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Fun Family Comedy By Stephen King Starring Jack Nicholson

NOT!!

I love re-edited trailers, like Disney's Mary Poppins as Bloody Mary. I also freely admit I've got a warped sense of humor. Now someone's reversed the trend of light fare reimagined as horror flicks. Enjoy!

Friday, April 9, 2010

When Feedback Is Good For a Laugh

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

I'm known as the Queen of Weird Rejection and Contest Comments in the Northwest Houston Chapter of RWA. Seriously, I've had some crazy ones. Sometimes, so bizarre they've become legends in Texas.

One morning a few years ago, I met some fellow chapter members for breakfast. A new gal named Stacey joined us, and as we talked about contest feedback, she started relating a story she'd heard about a gal from our state who'd gotten bad marks from a judge in California contest for having a constable as her hero. At this point everybody at the table cracked up. Poor Stacey looked bewildered until I said, "I'm the one that happened to."

The gist of the judge's comment was I needed to do my research because constables do not exist in the U.S.

Um, yeah, constables are law officers in some areas of the U.S. In some of the larger counties in Texas, the county is divided into precincts that are governed by Justices of the Peace and, you guessed it, a constables department. Trust me, I don't think I would have gotten out of my last speeding ticket by saying, "I'm sorry, sir, but you don't exist."

Then there's the judge who said I couldn't mix Greek and Roman names for my hero, Caesar, and his brother, Ptolemy. Except these two were based on the sons of Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

Yeah, that Cleopatra.

Her oldest son by Gaius Julius Caesar, a Roman general, was named Ptolemy Caesar and her youngest by Marcus Antonius, also a Roman general, was named Ptolemy Philadelphius. Heck, my crit partner, Jody, figured out by the second chapter that my Caesar was actually the middle son, Alexander Helios, because it was common for younger Romans to change their names to honor a deceased family member.

Another time I received bad marks from all three judges in a contest for not doing appropriate legal research concerning the passage of property when someone dies. (This particular story opens with the heroine trying to buy back a valuable heirloom during the auction of her grandmother's estate.) At the time I entered this particular contest, I was the head of the probate department of a law firm. I think I had a little bit of clue about how this stuff works.

This is not say the judge is always wrong. Author Susan Squires was the judge in another contest for this same manuscript. She pointed out several things that needed tightening in the opening chapter. Thanks to Ms. Squires' feedback I went on to final in two contests and get some agent requests for this puppy.

And maybe the reason more agents don't give feedback on manuscripts is sometimes the words just come out wrong.

Like the agent who said I had too much paranormal in my urban fantasy.


soundboard.com

Yeah, that's what I thought too. What the agent really meant was I needed to slow down the pacing.

I guess the moral of this particular overlong saga is to take every bit of feedback and criticism with a grain of salt, a lime and a shot of tequila. Then wait and see if it makes sense after you've sobered up.

P.S. Mucho Gracias to DH, who found me some crickets!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

WINNER!!

Everyone's names were typed on little bits of paper, double-folded and placed in GK's Capt. Rex clone trooper helmet.

(What? You really thought this household would use a conventional hat?)

The winner of the Christie Craig Shut Up and Kiss Me ARC is-


MARY!


WOOT! WOOT!

Mary, e-mail me at soharden @ swbell.net (remove the spaces) with your snail mail address and we'll get the ARC out to you.

Thanks again to everybody who stopped by and entered! Shut Up and Kiss Me will go on sale to the public on May 25th.

Writing Sample - Zombie Love

avatar Pictures, Images and Photos

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

For those who may not know, I write urban fantasy. Here's the first chapter from my manuscript, Zombie Love, which is currently making the agent rounds. Enjoy!



Chapter 1

My transformation to the undead started with a pregnancy test stick.

A used pregnancy test stick.

Not mine, thank you very much.

I slammed the plastic zippered baggie, used pregnancy test stick enclosed, down on my boss’s desk in triumph. “Here’s your proof! Jessie Alton is knocked up. Her housekeeper confirmed it.”

Ralph O’Malley recoiled in disgust. His blue eyes narrowed, and he snarled, “Jesus, Ridgeway, get that thing off my desk!” He poked at it with his pencil, pushing it away from him, until I scooped it up in my filthy hand.

I didn’t blame him. I wasn’t real thrilled about dumpster diving for the proof just because a major TV star peed on the dang thing, but I also didn’t want my editor destroying valuable evidence. Legal would want the little stick for DNA testing in case Alton sued.

The A/C kicked on, but the weak circulation did nothing more than stir the lingering cigarette smoke in Ralph’s tiny windowless office. Despite the ban on indoor smoking in Los Angeles, the publisher of the National Scoop ignored Ralph’s predilection for cancer sticks.

“Have the copy on my desk in an hour.” He eyed my grime-laden clothes. “Make that two. Get a shower first.”

I hesitated a moment.

Ralph guessed at my question. He shook his head and said, “When I told you and Bill I’d have my decision on the assistant editor position on Friday, I meant on Friday.” He snatched up the cigarette smoldering in the overflowing ashtray and took a puff before he added, “You’ve got one hour and fifty-nine minutes.”

That wasn’t the question I was going to ask, but a cheap thrill filtered through my aching muscles. Bill hadn’t bested me out of the job.

Yet.

So I focused on my pitch.

“I want to do a follow up story on the private investigator-” With the baggie still in one hand, my fingers made awkward bunny ears. I suspected the man was a merc, not a PI. “Brent Poole hired to rescue his girlfriend-”

“No.”

My watering eyes blinked under the double assault of his smoke and my clothes. “What?”

“I said no.” Ralph’s bulging orbs and quivering jowls resembled his bulldog, Emerson. At least, Ralph didn’t drool all over my leg when he visited my desk.

Someone could have knocked me over with the test stick. “This guy rescues Jessie Alton, the highest paid, most popular actress in television history who’s knocked up by Brent Poole, the highest paid, most popular movie actor-”

“You got garbage in your ears, Ridgeway? I said no.” Pink crawled up Ralph’s neck and invaded his cheeks. “Now, have you and Agnes discovered what rehab center Sierra Mallory’s holed up-”

I ignored his blatant change of topic. “She’s kidnapped by some doomsday cult and saved-”

Ralph rose to his feet, teeth chewing on the butt of the cigarette.

I ignored the warning. “-by someone Poole hired, and you don’t want a follow-up?”

A growl filled the room. My editor was actually growling at me. I took a careful step away from the desk.

“I said no, and I meant no!” Twin columns of smoke blew from his flared nostrils.

The gray haze quivered as we matched glares. Then air seemed to whoosh out of him, and he collapsed back into the ancient leather chair. Glancing at his watch, he muttered, “You’ve got one hour and fifty-five minutes if you want the fucking cover.”

Damn, he knew how to push my buttons. The cover story was too good to pass on out of sheer pride.

“Fine, boss.” I pivoted and charged out the door, careful not to slam it on the way. What the hell was going on? Ralph never nixed one of my ideas. Okay, that wasn’t true.

He had.

Once.

Two years ago, I’d snapped the Sabretooth’s power forward and the lead singer of a certain boy band having damn good time in a hot tub. Even though Ralph ran my initial story, he refused to let me pursue the rumor of a stalker threatening the outed basketball player. His negation now made about as much sense as it did then.

A smile stretched my lips. Good thing I’d already started on the story, or maybe I would’ve walked away like I had at the time. I may be a slow learner, but I did learn.

I strode through the bullpen, ignoring the gagging and retching sounds in my wake. Everyone backed away from my aroma, except for…

Damn. No way could I dodge the lanky woman headed straight for me. Agnes Durley, AKA Agnes of God, because the rest of the staff agreed only the Almighty could love the crazy bitch.

“Samantha, I need to talk to you.” Agnes’ idea of a whisper carried through the huge room. The snickers started close to us and quickly spread. At least she wasn’t wearing her tin foil hat today.

“I’m kind of in a hurry.” I tried to slide past her, only to be nailed by Agnes’s claw-like grip and the pungent scent of garlic. I swallowed my impatience and a little nausea as the garlic aroma mixed with the cigarette smoke and garbage wafting from my clothes and hair. She may be missing a few screws, but no one could match the woman’s research skills. And she had saved my ass on more than one occasion. Besides, Ralph needed someone to write the Elvis/alien baby stories.

“This is serious, Samantha.” Agnes lowered her voice only a couple of decibels. “You need to be careful. The streets are dangerous.”

“So’s Ridgeway’s smell,” someone muttered from behind a cubical wall.

Tell me something about Los Angeles I don’t know. Too many murders had been happening lately, way too many for even Los Angeles, and no one was sure what prompted the new round of turf wars. Two of the more notorious gangs had actually called a truce through a network affiliate in order to proclaim their innocence.

I breathed through my mouth since the combination of smells overwhelmed even my junk-food-hardened stomach. “Agnes, please, can’t this wait? Ralph wants my story now.” I patted the hand digging into my upper arm and tried not to wince. The woman had a grip that rivaled the Governator’s. “I promise I’ll come talk to you in two hours.”

Agnes leaned closer. “People are disappearing. Kidnapped by bad vampires.”

Great. Another one of her conspiracy stories. The last one involved the FBI covering up the fact the former vice-president had been possessed by doves. “Agnes,” I began while prying her fingers off my bicep. “Vampires don’t kidnap people. They eat them.”

Agnes shook her head, the greasy, graying strands whipping wildly. It was hard to believe she’d once been a beauty queen contestant. The porcelain skin over gorgeous cheekbones didn’t counter the wild-eyed look she gave me.

“The good ones don’t eat us.” She yanked a strand of garlic bulbs out of her safari jacket pocket and thrust the aromatic veggies at my head. “Wear this. It will protect you.”

“Ridgeway doesn’t need those. Her reek would drive away any self-respecting vampire.” Bill Morton, my office nemesis, hung over his cubicle wall, smirking at us. A noticeable silence fell over the bullpen.

Eyeing the forty-something definition of kiss-ass, I mustered a bored look. If the rest of the guys saw me getting pissed, their jibes wouldn’t stop. I didn’t have time to deal with their crap. Not with a deadline in less than two hours. “Geez, Morton, just because you didn’t get laid last night doesn’t mean you have to take it out on the rest on us.” Gales of laughter followed my comeback, and Bill slunk back down in his chair, his lips pursed in a sour grimace.

I turned back to Agnes and tried to give her a reassuring I’m-taking-you-seriously smile. Otherwise, Agnes would hound me the rest of the afternoon, and I wasn’t about to miss my deadline. Not with the cover bonus. I needed that cover bonus. “If I wear my grandmother’s silver cross, I think I’ll be okay, won’t I?”

She eyed me suspiciously for a couple of seconds, her gaze boring into my skull. I tried not to flinch. Maybe Agnes really could pick up thought waves without the damn foil hat on and knew I was lying.

Finally, she nodded and said, “Silver should be sufficient.” She grabbed my arm again. “Just be careful on the streets at night. They have Normal help.” With her bizarre statement, she released me and marched back to the closet that served as her office. It was sadder than her hat. She’d requested the damn closet and had lined the walls with foil too.

Normal? As opposed to what? Zombies?

I sighed and shook my head. It wasn’t worth missing a deadline to figure out what the heck Agnes was blathering about. Not to mention I had to plan a way to convince Ralph to print the follow-up on Poole’s hired gun.

I headed for the ladies’ room amid another round of chuckles and snickers.

***

Selene Antonius strode down the antiseptic hallway of Mallory Labs toward the section converted into an ICU. The staccato clicks of her heels echoed against bare tile. The vampire guard at the door bowed slightly, but she ignored him in favor of the man standing vigil at the observation window. The set of Tyrone Mallory’s shoulders was one she recognized

One she remembered all too well despite the passing of the last two millennia.

A death watch.

“How’d the trials go?” he asked as she halted by his side. He didn’t look at her.

She folded her arms and stared into the room at the still figure on the bed. The girl’s pale neck blended into the white blankets covering her. It might as well have been a funeral shroud. Despite the airlock, Selene’s sensitive hearing could pick up the soft beeps of the EKG unit and the muffled hiss of oxygen. “When did they put her on the ventilator?”

“An hour ago.” The despair in his voice nearly drowned the last remnants of his hope.

She could feel Mallory turn his piercing grey eyes away from his only child. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“The results with the chimpanzees look promising.” The last thing she wanted was to lose the gifts the vampire virus had granted her. Unlike her asinine brother, she wasn’t throwing her immortality away on a cure. Someday, he’d learn his lesson the hard way when his little witch whore staked him in the back. And if she found a way to let Duncan walk in daylight again, maybe he’d forgive her.

“Promising?” Mallory stepped closer to her. “My daughter has days, maybe hours, and all you can say is promising? This research is the only chance she has.”

She turned to face Mallory. The guard flicked a questioning look. A slight shake of her head deterred him. A Normal could hardly be considered a threat to her. Mallory’s lack of fear where she was concerned was one of the appealing things about him.

“Do you want to use Sierra as the human test subject?”

The stubborn set of his jaw gave her his answer. His gaze shifted back to the dying girl. “You could-”

Her sigh whispered through the air. It always came down to that request, didn’t it? “Is that what you really want for her?” She waved her hand between her and the guard. “To be one of us?” She shook her head. Pain stabbed through her heart. The girl couldn’t even give permission. Another lesson learned the hard way. “There’s no guarantee she’d survive the Turn, Tyrone.” There’s no guarantee she’d still love either of us if she survived. But there was no gain in burdening him with that knowledge. She knew from bitter experience he wouldn’t listen to reason at this stage. No grieving family member ever did. “It’s been two years since we started the V-Prime Project. Give the team a few more days.”

“Fine.” His attention returned to the girl struggling to hang onto life. “But if Sierra dies before they’re ready, I’m feeding the entire science team to the prisoners.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Different Voices Make a Song

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

Writer's voice is one of those things no one can really teach you. It's there or it isn't.

So what is writer's voice? I think it's a combination of background, experiences and tastes that cause the lovely, little right hemisphere of your brain to choose words, sentence structure and rhythm into a particular cadence.

Let's take my critique partners for instance. If you had a chapter from Christie and a chapter from me, you might say they're both funny. But the type of humor we each use is completely different. Christie has this down-home, Alabama, situational comedy flavor. Mine is more urban attitude snarkalicious. It's about the same as comparing The Andy Griffith Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Part of being a good c.p. is knowing when to leave your partner's voice alone. Faye sent back the first pages of AVT. She's very good about making her point without re-writing my story. I've had lots of other c.p.'s who'd rewrite whole chapters to the point where my story didn't sound like me any more.

So if you've found your voice, congratulations! You've conquered half the battle of making your work stand out.

If you haven't, stop for a moment. Are you trying to emulate someone? Nora? Stephen? Neil? Stop doing that! Now! Listen to your gut and follow it to your real voice. You won't be disappointed. I promise.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Paying It Forward

Sorry about the lateness of today's blog. The release of the latest Dresden files book, Changes, by Jim Butcher overwhelmed me momentarily. If you're a fan, he'll be at Murder By the Book here in Houston tonight at 6:30PM.

Despite my rant on Friday, I truly believe in paying it forward. Why? Because I've been the lucky recipient of folks who believe the same thing.

Roughly six years ago, this cute little blonde waltzed up to me at my first RWA chapter meeting. Her words dripped with Southern drawl, and she wore the most adorable hat. Frankly, that's all I can remember of my first encounter with classy Christie Craig. My own fear of new people and new situations blocked out most of the rest of that day.

A few months later, Christie asked if I'd like to meet for coffee. I was a little shell-shocked. Why would a published writer want to spend time with a newbie like me?

Over pumpkin and vanilla lattes, she talked about getting her first book published in 1993 and how she hit a dry spell in fiction. She put her daughter through college by writing over 10,000 magazine article. We discussed books, our current projects and how life is all about change and you can never stop learning. We discovered we had a lot in common. Growing up in small towns and taking the first opportunity to get out. Moms who weren't exactly all there in the mental department. The love of a terrific novel. And over the course of the next several years, we evolved into critique partners.

She's bent over backward helping me with plotting, emotional nuance, and my personal devil-POV. If I call with a question, she drops everything and gives her undivided attention. That's not to say we haven't had differences of opinion over certain stuff, but we respect each other's opinion enough to agree to disagree.

I've learned a hell of a lot about craft just from proof-reading for Christie. She'll downplay her talent at times. Her battles with dyslexia irritate her to no end. But she never gave up her dream of getting published. And finally in November 2006, she got that call from her agent that not only had she sold her second manuscript, but her third, fourth and fifth as well.

Shut Up and Kiss Me is Christie's seventh novel. This is my 100th Blog Post. So in honor of these two milestones, I'm giving away a signed ARC of Shut Up and Kiss Me.** It's damn funny book. I should know. I've read it already.

For a chance at winning the signed ARC, please leave a comment. Make sure you leave a name if posting an anonymous comment. You have until 11:00AM CDT Thursday morning to post a comment. I'll have GK draw a name at noon, and I'll announce the winner.

FINE PRINT and LEGALESE CRAP: Due to postage regulations and costs, I will only be able to mail the ARC to someone in the U.S. or Canada. I can't put folks outside of these two countries in GK's hat. You're still welcome to leave a comment though!



** P.S. Signed by Christie, not by me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I Swear As God As My Witness I Shall Never Cook Turkey Again!


Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

With all due respect to Scarlet O'Hara (and the late Margaret Mitchell), I'm never cooking a goddess-damned turkey ever again! No matter how much GK begs (he points out that technically he was asking for turkey tacos on Easter). Those fucking birds are just bad luck in this family.

In case you hadn't noticed, I pre-recorded Saturday and Sunday's posts in anticipation of a crazy weekend. On Saturday, DH would cover the tree trimmers while I attended the NWHRWA chapter meeting and then Cool Colleen Thompson's booksigining in the neighboring burg of Katy before heading to the Day Job.

Except GK was invited to a birthday party, which I didn't find out about until I got home from work around 10 PM Friday night. DH and I discussed who'd make the present run.

I lost the coin toss.

So between racing to Target for an age-apprpropriate gift and the chapter meeting running late on Saturday morning, I missed Colleen's signing. No problem I thought (while the universe was laughing behind my back). I'd buy the latest book later and catch Colleen at a meeting to get it autographed for MIL. When I got home from closing the store Saturday night, I'd get the eggs boiled, hide the Easter presents and prep the turkey to pop in the oven before we headed to the movie on Sunday.

Except when I got home, GK was still up wa-a-a-ay past his bedtime, and DH was saying, "Honey, would you look at his left pinkie?"

So on the way to the mini-ER, they filled me in on the party and the accident inside the moonwalk. After filling out paperwork, getting x-rays, and paying the tripled deductible (thanks to the major rise in our health insurance premiums for 2010), the ER doc said it was just a bad sprain, splinted the finger and sent us on our way.

But before we got home, we had a message on the answering machine from the radiologist saying upon further examination that yes, the finger is broken right at the joint.

*sigh*

At least I managed to put together one of the Easter Bunny's famous treasure hunts before collapsing in bed. DH was so sweet and changed the sheets for me while I created riddle clues. Nothing like clean sheets after a really stressful day.

So today's filled with a trip to the orthopedic specialist on top of my regularly scheduled doctor's appointment. Then we'll color the eggs, which were boiled last night, and we'll roast the @($@ turkey on Wednesday, my next day off.

But I swear, it WILL be the last time!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Where's Festivus When You Need It

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

Happy Easter to my Christian buds, Happy Passover to my Jewish friends, and a Belated Happy Ostera to my pagan sisters and brothers! (I know, I know. Bad, bad witch for being late.)

DH, GK and I will be taking in How to Train Your Dragon between hard-boiled eggs, too much chocolate and turkey today.

(For the turkey explanation, see my Thanksgiving post.)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Outdated Skills

Currently reading - Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn

Oops! Sorry about the screwy type on yesterday's blog post. It goes to show they can't make HTML idiot-proof. In the old days when I was a computer jockey, monitor screens only had one color of background (black) and one color of print (green). Even with all the shortcuts today, I still need help. LOL

Which comes to today's theme. You got to constantly improve your skills to make yourself relevant in today's market. And it doesn't matter what freakin' career you have or industry you're involved in.

If you don't have a writer's group near you or the money to take a class at the local college, there's lots and lots of online resources.

Check out any of the blogs I've listed to the right. There's also:

Backspace - http://www.bksp.org/
Write Attitude - http://www.writeattitude.net/
Lisa Gardner's Website - http://www.writeattitude.net/
Stephanie Bond's Website - http://www.stephaniebond.com/writers.html

You have no excuse to not be increasing your writing muscles.

Friday, April 2, 2010

If You're Serious, Finish the #@$@ Book

Currently reading - Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand


I'm in the weird position of making money on non-fiction and still looking for that first fiction contract. As such, newbie writers will ask me for advice because in their minds I'm not as scary as, say, Nora Roberts. (Who I almost ran over with my car at an RWA convention, but that's another story.)

Invariably, my doe-eyed innocent wants feedback on their manuscript from me. (Yeah, I know. I snorted coffee through my nose the first time it happened too.)

My time's valuable. And no, this isn't the ego of the ex-attorney talking. This is the two part-time jobs, trying to get a hurricane-damaged house fixed and on the market, home-schooling mom talking. I just can't do it all.

So I've taken to asking the wet-behind-the-ears writer a question, "Have you finished the first draft yet?"

Yeah, you know what the answer is. My follow-up question, "Have you finished anything yet? And the angsty poems you wrote in high school don't count."


[insert chirping crickets] (Damn, I really need to find a sound bite for this.)


*sigh* If there's any rule in the business, it's this: Unless you got a contract in hand, you've got to finish the damn book first. IMHO, that's the real test of finding success in this crazy world of writing.

A while ago, I belonged to a lovely critique group once, friendly folks who'd go out of their way for a person. I had to leave because most of the members rehashed the same first chapter over and over again. And in the mumble, mumble time since I left that group, I've finished two novels. As far as I know, only one other person has finished one as well.

So if you only make one goal for yourself this year, finish the fucking book.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Time's Flying Blind

Currently reading - Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn

Wow. Can you believe we're 25% through 2010 already?

New pages written yesterday helped with the sleeping last night. It didn't eliminate all bizarro dreams, but it defnitely cut down on the amount and the weirdness. Six hours straight though is a record for the last few weeks.

And this whole episode comes under the heading of doing what's right for you as a writer. Yeah, you can listen to all the experts and published authors for methodologies of the process. But it comes down to one simple question-what's right for you?

My method of switching between projects in the middle may not work for most people. In fact, my way drives a pubbed author (who I love to bits and has given loads of great advice) absolutely, positively bonkers. The first time she heard me tell someone what I did she fussed at me about how I'd never finish a novel at that rate--until I listed all my completed projects. Now she sticks to the odd looks if I mention a switch-off.

So how about the rest of you? Can you work on multiple projects at once or do you have to complete one manscript before moving on to the next?

And Now For Something You'll Really Like. . .

Currently reading - Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn

*sigh* I really miss "Moose and Squirrel." Something else to hook GK on. *insert Margaret Hamilton cackle*

But I don't miss my hair. Kathryn at Images Studio in Cypress whacked off a foot of the stuff yesterday. I still need to mail the tresses to Locks of Love. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to it today because DH and I broke our bed.



No! It did NOT break because of that!

I know, I know. It would have been a much better story if we had. This is an old water bed. How old? Probably older than me.

Baby Brother bought it used in college, and like any college kid made some half-assed repairs to the wooden frame. When he moved in with future SIL, he was told to sell it. I bought it from him, purchased a new mattress, and recently got a new liner for it.

One of the cheap L-brackets Baby Brother used crumpled under the pressure of both DH and I climbing out of the bed at the same time one morning last week. The collapse of the L-bracket literally stripped the screw out of the wooden base and ripped a four-inch gash in the liner. How it missed puncturing the mattress is beyond me.

Unfortunately, it meant sleeping on the living room and family room couches for a few nights until the new liner arrived. Apparently, we're the only people in the Houston metro area in a freakin' waterbed.

DH took today off, and with a little assistance from Ace Hardware, we hammered and screwed heavy-duty brackets into place. That frame ain't moving now!

On the plus side, I spent quality time writing this evening while DH took GK to football practice. I went back to work on a new novel tentatively titled Death Goddess Walking (or DGW from now on).

Will I finish editing AVT? Of course I will! But new pages for the next few days means some decent sleep for me.