It’s Not Porn

So I’ve been sidetracked from my conference prep by what I lovingly call my ‘porn’ notebook. No, don’t get excited. It’s not porn. Well, unless you like me thought of emotionally exploitative pointless words.
Whenever I start drafting a novel I sit down with my ‘porn’ notebook and write scenes. At least fifty percent of these scenes I’m aware from when I start them will never hit a book. They are all about getting to know my characters, their quirks, their fears, hell even their sexual tendencies. I’ve tried just thinking of these things and writing them down in neat lists, but it doesn’t work. Half the information ends up wrong…nope to get it right I need to ask the characters.
Thus the notebook.
Most of the scenes are just the characters saying quippy things to each other and being clever, drinking contests, bets, gossiping and yes, far more sex than will ever enter one of my books. But hey, I have to know before I start writing if some prissy-pants character likes threesomes or any number of proclivities that I won’t share with you because it would be invading their privacy.
But there is no writing more fun than ‘porn’ notebook writing. Because almost none of it ever sees the novel my inner critic really just shuts up and lets me write. I get to describe what the characters are wearing to my heart’s content, and let my babies talk in long soliloquies or argue over which is a better weapon a great ax or a great sword (I literally just wrote that scene…) or whine about daddy issues for five pages straight.
Of course at some point, I have to reign them and me in and tell them to stick to the plot…but not yet. I forgot how much I love this.
Though the most recent set of characters is refusing to cooperate romantically. I don’t know why they don’t just fall in love with who I tell them to…they are fictious. I made them up. They should do what I say! Right?
I think someone other than me should tell them that. They aren’t listening. Insisting they just want to be friends…
Now that I have made myself sound completely insane, I feel I’ve done my duty for the week. It’s too hot to be in my office anyway. I think I’ll go somewhere cooler and write a scene about a married couple telling each other how wonderful they think the other one is…maybe I’ll start the scene out in the bedroom just in case they get frisky 😉 Or maybe a plot relevant scene just to give my notebook some dignity.

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Taglines and Editing

Who knew that writing twenty words could take a week? Well… most author’s doing this longer than me. This week my quest was to write my logline, and to a lesser extent my pitch. Read a couple articles, jumped in wrote it. Read a couple more, rewrote every word (well almost.) Then I shared it with people and those two words that remained from version one disappeared (along with most of version two.)

But after hours and hours of work, and embarrassing myself and imposing on everyone near me in my acquaintance. I have a logline I’m happy with (bets on how long it’ll last?)

On an intergalactic voyage, a devoted mercenary must protect her prince while unearthing dangerous secrets of the galaxies’ godlike rulers.

The pitch was easier in some ways because I had a query letter to draw from. Yay! How often does something turn out to be easier than you feared? Now I just have to memorize it… oh and say it in front of agents and editors… no sweat… right?

Elevator Pitch:
My book is about Taln an insecure mercenary whose greatest quandary in life is whether to sharpen her knives or spy on her beloved employer. That is until her employer is blackmailed into investigating eon old secrets on a voyage across the stars. As forgotten truths about genetic manipulation and slavery emerge, Taln must learn opening her heart can make greater changes than throwing her blade in order to push past prejudice and free a race who has only ever known slavery.

And now back to editing. Ah, the beauty of editing. When I started writing I never thought I’d enjoy ripping my baby apart but I honestly do relish the feeling of a major revision. It’s the little niggling edits that drive me crazy. It’s hard to put creativity and passion into double checking commas and question mark usage.

Anyhow, apologies for the belated and odd ramblings of the week. With fifteen chapters left to comb through I admit my mind is stuck in my novel.

And because I saw it, and its true:

Though I think the artist should try typing with a three year old trying to climb up the back of their chair.

PNWA Literary Contest

My novel has placed as a finalist in the PNWA literary contest.

Sorry, that deserved a paragraph of its own. No sharing for that sentence.

I’ve spent the time since I got the call oscillating between unreasoning joy/overwhelmed by emotion to the point of tears, and petrified with fear. When I decided to come back to writing, my first love, eight months ago I thought that choice was the most nerve wracking decision I’d ever make. Because trying again meant opening my soul to the world and begging for rejection.

Because as everyone is so wont to tell you, “It’s impossible to get published.”

Well, I’ve worked my tail off for the past eight months. My novel has gone through three full revisions and been ripped apart by crit partners who I sometimes swear are out for blood. I’ve been reading books on writing and publishing, reviewing books and teaching myself punctuation rules that make no sense what-so-ever. And from my vantage point now, publication isn’t impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but the current situation is killing my nerves in ways my previous one did not. Suddenly, I have a possible shot…but it’s out of my hands. No amount of editing or improving my draft is going to change what those judges see. The entire process is moving without me. Even if I sat back and didn’t touch my draft…nothing about that entry would change (it would make a difference if I get lucky enough to have an agent want to look at my full novel.)

I’m a control freak. Not over everything but my sanity requires either to have no stake and no say in things or the first, middle and final decision. My lack of ability to choose a restaurant, or once we’re there choose a meal drives my hubby crazy. But the fact I won’t let him touch the TV remote seems to disturb him more (MINE.) I have way more at stake in my novel than in any TV show.

Judges have my precious (does every writer feel about their work like Gollum felt about that ring? Or is it just me?) and I get to wait a month to know if I get the amazing honor of putting PNWA finalist in my query or (dare I say it?) the earthshattering ability to type winner. Do I think that’s likely? No. It’s a one in eight chance though… which is better odds than I faced in the first round.

And… Thank God I found my perfect songs to repeat or I might literally go crazy. Simon & Garfunkel are sanity savers. With my headphones on, I can sit back and just smile, drink some coffee and enjoy the moment for itself.

Enjoying a moment

I am a Rock

Currently, I’m listening to Simon & Garfunkel on repeat, in specific I Am a Rock. I’ve never met anyone else who does this, that is, listens to a single song on repeat for hours at a time. But for me there is nothing better than finding that single song that speaks to your soul in its current form because when you find that one song that for whatever illogical reason just fits… it’s the most powerful catharsis I know of.

I couldn’t say why it’s one song or another, but I’ll hear a song and it’s like the world stands still, I often break into tears trying to sing along. Most recently it was Lord Huron’s She Lit a Fire and then respectively Ends of the Earth. Before that, Hozier’s Take me to Church and Bleacher’s Shadow.  But it can be all sorts of music, country songs, folk songs, pop songs, a few time numbers from Broadway musicals.

I’m stuck in my work, have been for weeks. I can’t seem to get past all this advice pouring in that basically comes to ‘you can’t succeed, it’s impossible and you aren’t that good.’ Which every writer who researches and works to get better hears. Mostly from well-meaning sources who are trying to stress how hard the publishing industry is.

To ward off disappointment?

But when you know how tough success is, being repeatedly told not to get your hopes up, that your not ready, that this or that or the other isn’t good enough…crushes something inside you.

You get trapped under the weight of everything you ‘need’ to do. Pinned under the doubts and the fear. The query letter, the synopsis, the pitch, the writing books, the constant reworking of your work (which even after revision you can still always find someone who thinks it’s godawful.) And occasionally into all this, the thought creeps ‘Maybe I should just give up. I’ll never do this.’

I’ve spent weeks teetering. Not able to give up or to get anything done. I knew I needed something, anything to lift me, to remind me that even if no one but me (and my mom and husband) believes in me, I can do this.

Getting Little Cracks published gave me that boost for a while, but getting published once feels like a fluke in my heart. Which I know is whiny and silly since so many authors try for so long and don’t even get that far. I read somewhere that the brain tends to disregard data that occurs once as extraneous. Your mind doesn’t let you believe until there is a pattern.

But you don’t need a metaphorical giant to free you from the crushing weight of doubts. A breeze can lift it, if you just happen on the right breeze.

So I’m sitting in this self-made hole of doubt and inaction…and Simon and Garfunkel comes on the radio. I’m singing along and my voice just fails and all these emotions bubble and I know I’m going to be okay. That I can be both a rock and an island. I know that pain won’t kill me…now I know that isn’t the point of the song…but it doesn’t matter what the point is. It only matters that at that moment, that song, that rhythm, those words broke the stasis.

mmm…point of this week’s little rant…music is beautiful and powerful because it touches emotions not logic. It moves past your guards and touches the tender places where even words fail to penetrate. And that I hope all of you find your ‘song’ when you desperately need it. Because no matter what the facts are in your life that make progress feel impossible, a course exists that will bring you to your destination.

And that sometimes it’s not our brains that need convincing but our hearts. I love what I’m doing and writing this for the first time in weeks I remember that. I don’t write this blog, or my novel or anything because I have to. I do this because it’s my music.

The Beauty of Gas Masks

Upon approaching my house, after you passed the salmonberry, blackberry, and huckleberry bushes, you’d see a sign mounted on the corner of the house, next to the fenced yard. You might mistake it for a beware of dog sign, especially if my dog was outside barking. But, no, my sign says: Beware of Werewolves.

Beware

Beware

If you were to enter my home, more artwork in the same vein would follow.

I have on occasion pondered what this obsession with monsters, disease, and death says about me. Recently it was brought to my attention while at Folklife Festival. This is a fair filled with local folk artists (both visual and oral), stalls filled with this-and-that’s and fair foods. I have attended since I was a little girl and my favorite activity was dancing to steel drum music.
Nowadays, I pick up a household decoration.
Last years selection

Dining room art

Dining room art

This years selection

Horns and a gas mask...why not

Horns and a gas mask…why not

Pretty...

Pretty…

As I paid for this years delightful piece, with my mother looking at me like ‘how did I raise this child?’ My husband smiling indulgently and the vendor looking at me with surprise. A picture of me standing there formed in my head- young(ish) white woman in a lace skirt, accompanied by my mother, my husband and with a three year old child on my hip and here I had decided to decorate my home with a gas-masked monster.
Now, at home I have those things one would expect a frilly girly girl to buy, lace curtains, a hutch filled with china but as beautiful as I find those things… I see equal appeal in pickled monster heads and robot bears. Even the occasional Sweeney Todd/Jack the Ripper reference (have one framed in my dining room.)
This fascination with the macabre, the awful, the dark underside drives my own art as well as my purchases which I’ve given up questioning. Still, it must all come from the same root. That part deep down that makes the serial killer’s habits more fascinating than the biology of bunnies (or some such whatever.) For me there is a beauty in the dark unknown, an ecstasy in the shiver down your spine. Something infinitely lovely about death and fear because they are a warped mirror allowing me to look past my own faults, to find an cling to that basic kindness and morality that shimmers at the heart of most of us.
Plus gas masks are cool.

The Know-it-all, the Skimmer, the Ego-stroker, the Drama Queen and the Sparrow Fart

“That’s not how I do it,” I would whine.
“Well, how you’re doing it isn’t working,” my mother/father/brother/ husband responds
“But it does work…it worked before. I don’t know what’s wrong now.”
I’ve had the preceding argument so many times in my life that both my loved ones and I have it memorized. Taking advice has never been my strong suite. No one will admit that faster than me.
My resistance doesn’t extend to professional advice (except when my husband tries to teach me about computers.) I take advice from books just fine. As a teenager, I even took advice from insane quizzes on the internet (those never served me well.)
The crux of the matter is that nothing burns like admitting a loved one is right and I am wrong. Or I thought so until I started taking advice from complete strangers, with no qualifications beyond those I could attach to myself. Yes, for those of you who are any sort of artist this may sound familiar. The idea of a peer group of people who have not made it into the industry all advising each other… and on the internet where certain types of advice seem far more common than in any face to face group.
Recently, I’ve been taking a lot of advice from other would-be authors. At first, the process was productive as I hammered out some of the basics to clear up my narratives. However, over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the process.
My issue? Listening to people who from a logical standpoint are in no position to give advice, who don’t seem to realize that the dynamic needed for a peer group to is respect, equally contributing partners and encouragement.
There are four main types of advice givers that grate on me.
The first is the know-it-all. The person who instructs as if they are an agent or editor, with no (orvery little) regard to support or encouragement. These well-intentioned souls only offer criticism. Sometimes, they don’t even give you examples of how to fix things, they just make sweeping statements about your pieces faults. If you question them invariably, their response is ‘An agent or editor wouldn’t tell you how to fix things, you’d be lucky if they even told you what was wrong. I’m just being realistic.’
They aren’t. The reason this method is infuriating- they aren’t agents and editors. Professionals who I solicit can and should be able to give know-it-all advice because I went to them specifically. They have a professional opinion that you as an artist are seeking out.
The second type of well-meaning advice giver is the skimmer. They don’t really look at your piece. Just enough to make a few comments, misunderstand a bunch of stuff and the criticize you for not being clear. What they really want is your advice without taking the time to earn it. In my opinion, the skimmer is the worst because unlike the know-it-all, they don’t want the best for you.
The third type is the ego-stroker. These are usually either people that just aren’t quite as advanced, but sometimes this happens if you stick with a certain partner for too long. They become afraid of offending and get too nice. This is the easiest to take because often it doesn’t happen every critique…and hell sometimes a little encouragement is needed after the other stuff!
Last, is the drama queen. They will find one or two aspects of your story they don’t like, latch on and exaggerate how awful it is, how much it bothers them. They will find a way to claim they are confused about every paragraph because apparently they have no comprehension whatsoever of metaphors. Or they will decide that they don’t like your character and spend the entire time telling you how flawed/irrelevant/non-sensical the characters actions are.
Drama queens are the easiest to take because they are so easily ignored.
All of these types minus the skimmer have one thing in common, they are all legitimately trying to help. And despite my natural proclivity for resisting advice, I listen to them all and take what I can. I’m sure that some people are equally annoyed by my advice. And I know looking back (I never know it’s happening when I’m doing it) that I’ve given critiques in each of these styles at least once.
Now a bonus, there is actually a fifth style of nasty advice giver. These people don’t want the best for you. At best, they don’t give a flying sparrow fart if you succeed. They serve up canned rants, drill how hard the industry is and how you’ll never succeed, they judge you and your work without looking or with barely a glance. I’m not saying these people want you to fail, they aren’t evil, they’re just more concerned with being heard than with helping.
The same way as a child, I was more concerned with being heard than with being helped.
The odd part about all of it though is that learning to give advice and seeing how absurd people who ‘know how it is’ sound when really they don’t… Is teaching me how to take advice. How to listen and try. To put aside what I think because I don’t want to be a know-it-all advice taker.
And hopefully, my new attitude will transition over to when my techie husband gives me computer advice…after all he actually does know more about the topic than me.

For anyone who is part of critique circle who I may have worked with, none of these types are based on any one person.  Despite the frustrations voiced here, I have yet to encounter someone who was truly just cruel or working with malicious intent.

The Joy of Reading till Midnight

Step inside my office and you might know I’m a writer. You might know I dabble in painting and charcoal. But you’d definitely know I’m a reader. Besides my six foot bookcase double stacked with things ranging from Madame Bovary to Neverwhere to the complete works of Shakespeare, my desk is littered with well-worn tomes, odd books stick out from behind knick-knacks. In fact, there is a volume of Greek Tragedies sticking out from under my desk.
I’ve noticed that recently I’ve been reading a lot less. Unless you count critiquing on critiquecircle or following the odd story here and there on Wattpad. Which for the purposes of absorbing good writing through good reading, I can’t really count. Some of those stories are wonderful of course, some of those writers may be the next Steven King, or Neil Gaiman…who knows. But what I’m reading is their works in progress not their polished masterpieces.
Having made this observation I decided I was going to pick up some of those books that make the genres I write in what they are. First I plucked an old copy of Ursula K LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness.
Now this novel won awards and sold some gratuitous number of copies that make wanna-bes like me salivate. I remember reading it years ago but picking it up couldn’t recollect a thing about it. I remember finding it interesting.
I’ve read very little by Ms. LeGuin, and I wondered to myself looking at the book if I wouldn’t have enjoyed it more if I’d ever gotten past the fact that alphabetically her books always sat next to Tannith Lee’s. And there is nothing more heartbreaking to a young reader in a used book store then knowing you’ve found the right spot on the shelf (see there is Ursula K LeGuin) and not seeing the books you really want. So I’ve always had an unfair distaste for Ms. LeGuin.
I thought for sure if I went back and reread I would love Left Hand of Darkness. Not so much. It has a wonderful idea, beautifully rendered characters and a control of the language I envy. But I found myself skimming over paragraphs that almost exclusively covered at least half a page each. I spent the first three chapters believing Estravan and Agravan were the same person because their names were so similar. Finally I through the book down about a fourth of the way through, frustrated because I didn’t see how I could learn a thing from this (other than how to have a wonderful idea but since I can’t rip hers off…)
Don’t get me wrong, I would recommend this book to most sci-fi readers I know…but if you are a writer trying to master the craft this probably isn’t the direction for you.
Next, I picked up Carrie by Steven King. This choice was made because I have seen the movie (the old one not the new one) more than twice and I feel like an awful reader that I never actually read the book.
I finished at midnight last night having read the entire book in twelve hours. I probably can’t say anything about that book that hasn’t been said what I will say is, I was brought back into the days I read for fun and fun alone. Did Carrie break the rules…hell yes… but in a way I could follow and felt intentional. And it worked.
Then I lay in bed thinking, both of these master writers break the rules (selectively of course) and found great success. It makes me question my own ability to judge, leaving me in a no-man’s land right when I thought I was beginning to get it. But maybe I don’t have to…maybe what I need to be learning is that not everything is about a lesson. Some things are about looking at the clock at 11:10, seeing you have 20% left on your book and forging ahead anyhow.

If you haven’t read Carrie…do.

Kiki

Another week gone past. The sun is out, the grass is mowed and I spent hours staring up at our pine trees. Staring, thinking and writing but also reading.
Does anyone else have those books they just read over and over… and over. Well I do, I think I’ve read some as many as a dozen times. One of those books is this completely unknown treasure titled Kiki. Ostensibly about a very fancy sex doll but really the doll is little more than a catalyst. I’d say the book is about a grieving father, the breaking points that hide within all of us and survival.
I went on Goodreads a while back to discover the book was on there with no reviews. I gave a review and moved on.
Well I read it again this week as I lay out on the lawn and realized how very personal my attachment to that story is.
But rereading with a more critical writer’s eye, I began to wonder what caught me about this book. That its cover had a sex-doll and I found it at a point in adolescence where sex was both completely taboo and amazing? But then why as a thirty year old woman would it still have any appeal? And anyhow other than a brief moment there isn’t any sex or reference to sexuality.
So why do I read it? The answer— a single scene at the beginning where the protagonist is choosing option for the doll and his acute discomfort dealing with the sales person.  That’s it, a moment that reached out to me and said ‘you are not alone.’ I who can’t even talk about sex in the privacy of my bedroom, who finds attention from store personnel slightly terrifying, instantly felt a kinship with this person.
Sometimes that’s all I need. A little snapshot that reaches out and connects for one reason or another. Something that makes me feel.
So this week I have an image, one of my own creation, one that has haunted me fore years lurking at the foot of my bed (and if you’re interested a link to a story I wrote in conjunction with the picture.)

smile

Enjoy!

http://www.wattpad.com/127456818-12-01-and-other-tiny-terrors-12-01-smiling-man/page/3

Time for a Walk

I wonder if the pace of writing, editing, submitting, ext. bothers other writers of my generation. Raised on constant feedback the waiting part of it all just kills me. Waiting for beta readers to respond, critiquers to critique, editors to respond, anytime my manuscript is out of my hands it feels like some inventive form of torture.
I’m sure earlier generations weren’t fond of waiting. No one likes waiting- I’ve never seen someone more excited about the line than the rollercoaster. But I think it’s gone to a sickening extreme with those of us raised with cell phones. I’ve never been more aware of my own generational weakness than when I’m checking my phone every other minute to see if someone commented on my Wattpad story, or someone critiqued my story on critique circle, or I have an e-mail from an editor.
Ah instant gratification, you are deceitfully pleasant.
It’s been a rough week for me, I admit. Wrote a short story, all the feedback has been ‘eh’ or ‘well this is cliché.’ Got another rejection letter. But the part that makes throwing up my hands in defeat is the incessant waiting. Am I good enough? I can’t tell because no one will tell me!
Notice me! It’s like a mantra and I want to escape it so badly. Why can’t I be one of those people who doesn’t care what others think? Or better yet just be less high strung than a Chihuahua puppy. That would be good.
So what can I do about it? Aparrently not use my limited writing time to write. Instead, I’m going to go out and lay under our plum tree and enjoy the sunshine. Maybe I’ll even leave my phone inside.

What Standardized Testing Taught Me

None of the Above.

That was my all-time favorite answer when taking a bubble test. Sometimes ‘All of the Above’ was equally enthralling.

I did well on standardized testing. I know, I know, surprise for a little white girl in a white collar neighborhood, right? Despite scoring in the top 25% even in my ‘bad’ subjects, I am only now realizing how deeply I internalized the truly awful lessons these test taught me.

Now I’m writing a personal assessment. This is not meant to stand for anything greater. But as a writer, as a thinker, as an adult struggling to deal with the real world it is amazing how the one lesson I took away from those tests so stunted my growth.

What was that lesson? Never double check answers. Never take my time and never for any reason follow a questioning line of thought. Why you ask? My young mind always made the mistake of questioning. I wanted to look deep into everything, study it from every angle, eliminate the impossible, then explore all the possibilities left. I liked to play with information like a cat.

And then came the bubbles and the trick questions. Where well-meaning test purposely tries to lead students off track. The problem with this was I’d get the answers right on first try. But if I did as the teachers suggested and when back to check my work (or God forbid took my time) I’d think too deeply. How were they tricking me, I’d wonder. Two cats added to two cats in a white room equals four cats, obviously…so it can’t be four cats. And my inquisitive mind would try and justify why two cats was actually the right answer…or six…or YAY All of the above. Some could have died, after all, cats can be territorial maybe they attacked each other. Or bred. Was I trying to be a smartass. No.

I was trying to make logical sense of why a test would want to trick me. And I was doing what came naturally- investigating.

I learned, though. I learned from practice tests that I scored significantly higher if I went as quickly as possible. No big deal in and of itself, but the lesson was terrible.

The belief rooted in me that there was something magical about a first try. Something quintessentially unbeatable in a first attempt that a second attempt, though it might correct some errors, would only cause more. This meant college term papers always written the night before they were due. It meant writing a novel and then being afraid to revise because the ‘essence’ of my story would disappear and leave me with shlock.

It is only this year, at 31, that I am beginning to overcome my misconception that somehow revision is damaging to a product. Funnily enough, this year is also the first time I’ve had a story published.

Now, I have no idea if there is anyone else like me. I’m sure this isn’t a common issue. But isn’t that part of the overarching issue with standardized tests? They don’t account for the ‘individual’ experience. The little girl who can convince herself that e) all of the above is the only correct answer, despite the fact at 2) 4 cats is obviously correct, gets lost in the shuffle. Not saying I’m Einstein but how would he have done with this? According to the laws of these tests, nothing would ever be invented because thought is discouraged.

This little rant was inspired by an article I read. If you are interested:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/17/mom-the-religious-reasons-my-kids-wont-be-taking-common-core-tests/?postshare=231429581271881