Back on February 1st, I did a little post on Recharging the Imagination. Unfortunately, Monday's meltdown would not be solved by a quick Tullycraft fix.
I'm blessed to have good people in my life who can bluntly say, "Step away from the manuscript!"
So yesterday, between cleaning bathrooms and the Day Job, I watched The Craft and Speed. Both movies have their flaws, but they're stories I love to watch over and over again.
Today started with thunderstorms. (I swear--Houston cannot just have rain. This city manages to turn any weather into an event.) Since it's my day off from the Day Job, I'm going to curl up on the couch with a cup of green tea and finish Storm Front. (Insert 'Baaaaa!' here for the sheep joke.) Then tonight, I'm going to be totally lazy and order pizza.
I won't look at the current wip until Friday when I have my rare three-day weekend. Think that will give the gray matter enough rest?
Somehow, somewhere, I lost my fabled kernel of arrogance. I don't know if I lost it down the drain when I showered, if it rolled under the couch, or if Wonder Dog buried it in the back yard.
The current wip just isn't congealing, and now I'm doubting my own abilities. My poor crit group had to deal with my online mental breakdown last night. For that, I'm truly sorry, ladies.
This is probably one of the suckiest things about writing. The more you learn, the more you realize you don't have a fucking clue. And with this wip, I'm definitely stretching myself.
When I've gotten stuck in the past, I've cleaned. Or killed somebody. Usually, a break-through happens while I'm scrubbing the toilets or taking a brush to the grout. Or bleaching blood off the linoleum.
I dumped today's original blog post in favor of a link to this story in the L.A. Times Business section from yesterday. (Thanks to fellow RWA chapter member Chuck Emerson for bringing it to my attention.)
Surprisingly, instead of a "OMG, the sky is falling" piece, it's a decent analysis of where the publishing business is headed. The e-readers are picking up steam as the latest must-have electronic gadget. Heck, even my boss at the Day Job got a Nook for Christmas. (And yes, I'm envious. *sigh*) The rapid changes are even making me rethink my five-year-business plan and my ultimate goal.
I spent yesterday evening (since the Eagles' game is delayed until Tuesday) after work reviewing the criteria for uploading a manuscript to Amazon. Pretty effing simple even with my rudimentary HTML skills. I know a graphic artist I would LOVE to hire as a cover artist. That only leaves constructing a dedicated website (on my list of to-do things for 2011 anyway) and hiring a decent freelance editor.
Before I do anything, I must have a long, sit-down talk with my business partner, i.e. DH. Becoming my own publisher will impact the family. But the prospects are so damn exciting!
For those of you with tots, here's the link to the NORAD Santa Tracker Homepage. From there, pick your language and enter the website. Nice to know how the Defense Department spends our tax dollars, right? Just joking. The military and civilian personnel at the North American Aerospace Defense Command graciously volunteer their time every year on this project.
For my Russian readers (And there seems to be a lot of you. Thank you for checking out my blog!), sorry, there's no Russian language option. My guess is some clerk in the Pentagon still has a stick up his butt about the Cold War.
Within the last week, the subject of fear has come up on my life. A lot.
During my brainstorming lunch with Classy Christie Craig last Wednesday, I admitted that part of my problem with my current wip was my own fear. For some reason, I've invested too much of myself in this project, and I'm scared it won't be perfect, won't meet the picture I envision in my mind, won't be accepted by the people I present it to.
Over the weekend, I read an article on the Forbes website about a woman whose amygdala was destroyed by disease. Since the amygdala is the part of the brain that triggers fear, she has no experience with fright. Unfortunately, as a result, she gets herself into situations most of us would avoid. Dangerous situations. Like guns and knives dangerous. But scientists hope that by learning more about this woman, they will develop techniques and drugs to help people whose amygdalas are in overdrive, people that have anxiety disorders and PTSD.
Then today, when I picked up the latest copy of Witches & Pagans, publisher Anne Newkirk Niven's editorial concerning subtle effects of cultural feat hit me in the gut. As Ms. Niven wrote, the "battle for Pagan civil rights begins at home."
We writers fear rejection. Like the folks with PTSD, our amygdala goes into overdrive over a perceived threat to, not our physical well-being, but to the well-being of our all-too-fragile egos. And to paraphrase Ms. Niven, the battle for validation of our work begins at home. We must see ourselves as worthy of publication in order for it to happen.
As my mentor Colleen Thompson has repeatedly said, every writer needs a kernel of arrogance to make it in the publishing business. And it's that kernel of arrogance that will cut the engines of our amygdalas back down to idle and allow us to write and submit our work.
Today's Yule, aka the Winter Solstice, aka the first day of winter.
Was anyone able to see the lunar eclipse early this morning? Normally, our backyard would have afforded a perfect view (North America had prime seats), but the #*$@ Houston cloud cover didn't cooperate.
Wonder Dog and I checked several times between 1:30 AM and 2:35 AM. Nope, nothing but city light pollution reflected off low, scudding cumuli. *sigh* We finally gave up and crawled into our respective beds.
It's not often I wish for a cold front. But if the last line of winter storms had drifted farther south than Huntsville on Sunday, last night would have had crystal clear skies. Gotta love the funky orange color reflected light from Earth gives our favorite satellite.
Granted the coldest weather here in North America is yet to come, but on the plus side, our days will start getting longer again. Enjoy the Yule spirit!
This is a HUGE shout-out to Angela Ross, Jill James, and Savannah Rose for recommending my blog. Word-of-mouth does a lot for a writer, and I'm very thankful these ladies have found me interesting and/or entertaining enough to say something about Wild, Wicked & Wacky over the last few weeks.
Thanks bunches, ladies! It's the best Solstice present a girl can get!
One thing that sucks about American culture is we raise our women to be people-pleasers, regardless of the cost to themselves. I see this with actresses like Winona Ryder, who got hooked on uppers trying to keep up with demands. I see this with customers when I ask if they have our store's frequent buyer card. The customer then comes up with some convoluted story about how they used to have one, blah, blah, blah, in a weird attempt to spare my feelings when a simple "No" would suffice.
Folks, and especially the ladies reading this, it's perfectly okay to say, "No." Tap into your inner two-year-old and practice. "No."
"No, no, no!"
See? Wasn't that easy?
So what does this have to do with writing? You need to know when and how to say "No," to certain projects.
Take a writer named "Mildred" for example. (Yes, names have been changed.)
Shortly after Mildred received her first book-deal, an editor from a small press called her. The editor wanted Mildred to write a short story for an anthology she was putting together for charity. The theme of the anthology was a cause near-and-dear to Mildred's heart, so her first inclination was to say yes. Furthermore, the editor kept pressing how this would be terrific exposure for Mildred since she was such a new writer.
Luckily, Mildred said, "Let me talk to my agent." Mildred's agent works in the vicinity of a major east coast city where "No" was generally replaced with "Fuck off!" The agent had no problem getting to the nitty-gritty of the details of the deal which were:
a) No advance. Not even a token $1.
b) No royalties. Not even a token $0.01 per copy.
c) No flat fee.
The agent told Mildred (as gently as a New York agent can tell a client), "Honey, you told me your goal was to write for X Publishing House and to make Y money. How the hell can I help you do that when you're giving your shit away for free to some pissant house no one's ever heard of?"
"But this is for charity!" Mildred wailed.
Agent sighed deeply. "Wouldn't you be able to donate a lot more yourself if we sell your next project instead of screwing around with a freebie?"
So despite the tears and the anger at her agent, Mildred realized she was right. Mildred gave the editor a polite, "No, thank you. I must decline." The editor then screamed invectives over the phone with dire predictions of Mildred's career tanking. Mildred repeated herself with an extra helping of polite and hung up the phone.
These are the types of decisions we must all make as writers. Not every decision we make may be the right one, but that's the chance we take. And we definitely need to keep our eyes focused on our goals, or we will never reach them. That sometimes means saying, "No."
So what happened with Mildred you ask? She's still writing away years later. She still has the same agent, though Mildred's learned to say "No" occasionally to her as well. Her latest advance check had a lot of zeros after the five. Her favorite charity is ecstatic when they receive her donations, also with lots of zeros.
The editor who called Mildred names even I won't repeat? She lost her job when the small press closed six months after she threatened Mildred for saying "No."
Currently re-reading - Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Nothing like curling up on the loveseat with a blankie, hot tea, and a favorite book!)
When I volunteer to judge an RWA contest, it's usually paranormal, the area I know the best. But lately, there's been a rash of. . . Well, I can't call them mistakes. More like adherence to what's selling in the market. Here's the problem--you've got to stand out from what's currently selling and you've got to do it well.
Five common things I've seen this year:
Let's set the record straight--I LOVE VAMPIRES! But even I get bored when it's the same ancient warrior/innocent virgin BS over and over and over. No wonder agents and editors are bitching if they constantly see variations of the same thing. If you're writing a vampire story, how are you making it different from Twilight, Dark-Hunters, Love at Stake series?
2) The Chosen One/Special Child/Annointed Hero
There's a reason Hermione whacked Harry with a book when he said, "I am the Chosen One," during Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This story is as old as Horus seeking revenge on Set for stealing the throne of Egypt. Except most of us can't write it with J. K. Rowling's charm. Try the story from a different angle like Jim Butcher did. His Harry is your average wizard. He just happens to advertise in Chicago's Yellow Pages.
3) World Building in Classic Fantasy
Great world building seems so simple, doesn't it? J.R.R.Tolkien made us believe the Shire really existed. How? He took a realistic rural England and populated with small people who didn't wear shoes. That little twist drew readers into The Fellowship of the Ring. The really spectacular stuff comes much later in the book. Too many new writers throw too much, too fast at the reader, leaving them very confused. A confused reader will lay your book down and move on to something else. Repeat after me--"This is not a good thing."
Can you pronounce your heroine's name without spraining your tongue? Can your reader pronounce it without a glossary appendix attached to your book? Was your hero's name in common usage when he was born/hatched? Seriously, folks, there's nothing wrong with naming your vampire Bill. Go ask Charlaine Harris.
5) Explore Other Cultures
As a former English colony, our culture has a tendency to repeat the myths of the British Isles ad nauseum. But let's face it, not all of us trace our ancestry to just one country. Talk to the older members of your family. Were there stories passed down? What about family that immigrated from Asia or Africa? Polynesia or Australia?
Someone once said, "It's not your first idea that's unique. Or the second. Or third. It's generally about the twentieth when you stop writing what everyone else is."**
So keep twisting that idea until something really cool is squeezed out of your brain.
**(And I can't place the quote, so if any one knows, please leave the source in Comments.)
Currently reading - Poison Kisses by Stephanie Draven
I was MIA from the blog yesterday due to a lovely combination of exhaustion from working six days straight and weather headaches. When the barometer jumps around like it does here in Houston, the pressure change sets off sinus headaches that rival migraines. Not fun. It's a wonder I don't have liver damage from the constant popping of acetaminophen the last couple of weeks.
My condition was marginally better than Classy Christie Craig's. We'd planned to meet for a brainstorming session, but the poor girl broke a tooth Tuesday and had a grand old time at the dentist. As she put it, she still suffered from an anesthetic hangover.
Despite our less-than-spectacular conditions, we met for Mexican and plot hashing. Two hours later, we'd figured out my hero's inner conflict and layed out the mystery framework of Christie's wip. The best part is we both felt a lot better as we walked into the parking lot.
So when someone tells you that you have to work through the tough parts, it's not just a line of bullshit. Keep your butt in the chair. If you're still having trouble, switch to another chair. And sometimes it helps to have someone in the chair on the other side of the table.
Currently reading - Poison Kisses by Stephanie Draven
Yeah, I know the title isn't very PC. But what else do you call it when 'Joy to the World' and 'Good Will To Men' go out the effing window this time of year?
The reason I'm in such a pissy mood?
"I'm really sorry I had to put you on hold when you called the store the Saturday before Christmas, but this is Texas, and I'm pretty sure at least three men and possibly two women out of the fifty people in line are carrying guns. I choose my life over finding your precious little ornament.
"Speaking of ornaments, you're one of our gold freaking card members. You've known since JULY that we've got the Selket-damned ornaments in the store. It's not my fault you waited until ten days before Christmas Eve to try to buy them. And it's also not my fault we sold out of the ornament you really wanted for favorite niece IN OCTOBER!
"No, ma'am, I cannot process a return for an ornament dated 1990. See, the date's written right here? Yes, I do understand your mother-in-law just gave it to you yesterday. I still can't take it back. Actually, I go by Ms. Bitch."
This is the only time I really hate the Day Job. On the bright side, I haven't had to call mall security to break up a fist fight between customers this year.
At least, not yet. There's still eleven shopping days to go.
Currently reading - Poison Kisses by Stephanie Draven
There's not too many people in my life who know I'm actively pursuing a writing career. DH and GK know, of course, along with my writing groups and a handful of close friends outside of the publishing industry.
Right before the boys left for the In-Laws, DH asked if he could tell his parents. I said no. What followed was a quasi-argument/discussion on why I don't want people to know yet versus DH's pride that I'm pursuing my dream.
Why don't I want others outside of my immediate circle to know about my writing before I'm ready?
First of all, support is key. Fiction writing isn't an easy field to break into--I'm under no illusions on that score. But I have the backing of the handful of non-writing folks who know. These are the folks that simply ask: "How's your progress on your latest wip? Have you heard back from that editor who requested your zombie romance? If you need another beta reader, I volunteer!"
On the other side of the spectrum are the folks who pooh-pooh you as not a "real" writer if you don't beat Stephen King on the NYT List. And it's not that I think MIL and FIL are in this group, but they will mention my writing pursuit to the rest of the family. And I KNOW the SILs are in this category, and frankly, I don't need their negativity in my life right now.
So once we hashed out my reasoning, DH acceeded to my wishes.
But the first night in Ohio, DH managed to sidestep the question of "What's new with Suzan?" at dinner, only to have GK blurt out, "Mom's working on a new book. It probably has zombies in it. She's really into zombies."
For the record--no, the current wip does not have any zombies.
Demon possession, yes. But no zombies.
So how do y'all handle the confession to the family?
Currently reading - Poison Kisses by Stephanie Draven
Since the boys left for the snowy North, I've been beseiged with offers for company. Apparently my friends and neighbors feel I will wither and die without companionship. Make that human companionship. Wonder Dog rarely let's me out of his sight with the other male members of the pack currrently absent.
My house is quiet for the first time in years, and I thoroughly enjoy the lack of extraneous noise. The blasts and booms of the Xbox, the constant ringing of DH's business line, the whining over schoolwork. Nope, don't miss the noise at all.
Here's the thing--I like being alone. I can live quietly in my own mind. I think most writers can. It's the rest of the world that can't. They believe lack of noise means lack of existence.
I believe the opposite. I'm most lonely when I'm in a room full of people. Too many people with too many agendas, and if they can't use me to fulfill their agendas, then I don't exist to them.
So I'll putter in my house with my projects, living grand adventures and passionate romances in my head before committing them to the computer screen. After I feed Wonder Dog.
Currently reading - Poison Kisses by Stephanie Draven
I have the house to myself for the month of December. Well, except for Wonder Dog, the only male member who did not head to Nana and Papa's for the holidays. Since I don't have either a ten-year-old or a husband's uncomfortable laughter to deal with, I've been enjoying a Sex and the City marathon.
Viewing all six seasons back-to-back, I can revel in the memories and the humor. But what I loved most about these stories was never the dating fiascos or sex-capades. It was watching the girls grow, and grow up, leaving behind their preconceived notions of Mr. Right.
Instead of the perfect WASP marriage with children, Charlotte found her bald Jewish attorney with puppies. Miranda finally admitted she was passionately in love, not with a high-powered business man or a celebrity doctor, but with Steve, the nerdy, sweet bartender. Samantha discovered her soul mate in Smith, her waiter/model/actor boytfriend who taught the really sick pleasure of. . .just holding hands.
And then there was Carrie and Big.
Maybe that's why I wasn't as pleased by the girls' first theatrical movie and haven't bothered to watch the second one. It seemed like all four took major steps backwards in their character growth.
And that's the important thing in your stories as well. Your characters need to be moving forward. Without progress, all you have left is rehash after rehash of scenes.
Currently reading - Poisoned Kisses by Stephanie Draven
What does a writer do when an idea refuses to let go of the brain? I understand not all stories are meant to be written. There's enough detrius in my wake to show that not every germ of a plot can make a satisfying read.
There's the sweet erotica. (Yeah, I'm not sure how that happened either). There's the amnesiac heiress and the poor, but sexy, artist that rescues her from a boating accident. (Can you say '70's soap plot? Really bad '70's soap plot?) There's the veteran helicopter pilot faced with her ex and his love child in Hawaii. (After watching the first eleven episodes of the new Hawaii 5-O, I may dig that one out from under the bed. *grin*)
But lately, there's this particular idea that just will not release its clutches on my gray matter. I've made two starts on the novel. One made it to sixty pages. The second made it to one hundred. I'm not happy with either version, so I laid aside all writing for the last three weeks trying to give the conscious mind a rest. Well, all writing except for the blog.
Maybe the rest will do my creative side some good. And maybe, just maybe, when I sit down to work on this idea the third time will be the charm, and not a strike.
I agree with Bruce. In my opinion, the terrorists have already won. They've forced us to do things that are totally against our ideals.
So what does this have to do with writing?
We let other people's fears affect us. "What makes you think you can write?" "Do you know what the odds are of actually getting published?" "Why are you wasting your time with that bullshit? Get a real job!"
It takes a lot of courage to write down your ideas. It takes even more courage to let other people read your words. And you don't have to worry about swinging from the end of a rope for your writing like Thomas Jefferson did. Remember that little thing he wrote? The Declaration of Independence?
My greatest worry in today's current atmosphere of fear is that I will have to be concerned about the hangman's noose.
The United States was founded by a bunch of radical young men and woman (and Ben Franklin, an ornery old coot) over two hundred years ago. They proposed some concepts that, if they'd lost the Revolutionary War, would have resulted in them swinging from trees. Ideas like democracy, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.
But today, there's folks who want to go back to Medieval times. Several extremist Christian movements want to turn back the clock to when women are the property of their fathers or husbands and should not be educated.
Excuse me? How is that any different than what the Taliban does in Afghanistan? Where women are raped, tortured and killed for daring to open and read the Koran, much less the latest Nora Roberts?
This kind of stuff scares me more than fighting the actual denizens of Hell.
I've judged RWA contests for the last four years. I see writers making the same mistakes over and over again. And I often wince because I made the same ones.
So how can you increase your chances of getting a high score and subsequently the attention of an agent or editor? Avoid these five common problems.
1) Drop the tropes. They're tropes for a reason; people are writing the same thing over and over. Figure out a twist to the old trick. Anne McCaffrey made her dragons the good guys. Joss Whedon made his blonde cheerleader the one the monsters fear. Stephenie Myer made her vampires sparkle.
2) Infuse your story with your voice. Voice is a reflection of your passion for the tale you're telling. I can tell when you've committee'd your manuscript to death. It's got to have a spark of life or it's boring as hell.
3) Have someone proofread your manuscript before you send it in. Otherwise, you may have your teen heroine pick up her boobs from the table and head for school.
4) Watch out for point-of-view problems. Your POV character cannot know anything that his/her normal five sense or special abilities haven't detected. EXAMPLE: The hero saw the bad guy on the other side of the door. But the door is closed , there's no peephole, and the hero doesn't have x-ray vision.
5) Read your dialogue aloud, have a friend read it, or download and use a text-to-speech program. Do the words sound like a real person talking?