Tuesday, October 30, 2007

There really is such a thing as ‘too tight’, or Dammit, I’ve lost my voice!!!!

It should come as no surprise to my regular readers that I’m knee deep in revisions... some days better than others and I thought I was making a good deal of progress... okay, I’m getting a little loopy, and I keep changing tracks to include some short story and essay time (oh, came up with a good essay for a particular publication that I love, hopefully it’s as good when I go to edit it next week)... are you all still with me? Sorry I’m a bit scattered here and I keep losing the damn point....

It’s a constant state of writing that you’ll look at the very same piece one day and think you’ve really hit it, but at another time you’ll want to hang it up for good and pick a more sensible career path. So, I’m barreling through revisions, cut a character, found a running theme that needed pulling out, am thrilled with the way some previously more cardboard than flesh and blood characters have come along... yada, yada... but I decided yesterday to start at the beginning and give it a quick read through – what did I find? There is such a thing as ‘too tight’.

I revised and re-revised my first two chapters in light of much research and some great commentary from both a critique group and my regular writers circle. I spent a good deal more time on those two chapters than the whole, as I was gearing them for final publication while still working on some major points throughout the rest... and the crits were good, don’t get me wrong. I do have a habit of including too much back story, I do break into a bit too much telling at certain passages, and of course there’s always room for improvement. But now, reading through those same chapters – my voice is absent.

I knew there was something wrong immediately, and the voice I’m getting in the first chapter is, well, staccato... and I’m not partial to staccato. In the aim of cutting out the unnecessary back story, I seem to have left a good deal of my own voice on the cutting room floor as well... and I like my voice – it’s got a good beat, I can dance to it...

I think it’s important that I pay attention to criticism, because there’s only so much you can see when you’re that close to your own work – and I don’t think the crits were wrong, I think I went too far over one way and lost some of the flow of my own writing in the process... I’m leaving off on those two chapters for now – I don’t want to get stuck obsessing over the first pages of my manuscript forever – so I’ll keep going where I am and see if the fix pops to light by the end of the journey.

How about you guys, have you ever gone so far in revisions that you lost a bit of your own flavor? Have you ever revised so much that you can’t see the glaring mistakes? Have you ever eaten an entire spice cake in sheer frustration? (Okay, two big pieces, but it might as well have been the whole thing). Feel free to vent if you’d like.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Meaningful Procrastination - pitch and paragraph contests

I have been procrastinating on my writing this week... and I blame the agents, damn their oily hides!

Jessica at BookEnds is hosting a ‘perfect your pitch’ blog where authors get to post their novel pitch in her comments section and they will each be critiqued on the blog... of course I had to stop what I was doing and craft a pitch – as I’m not done with my revisions, it was an out of the blue kind of thing and can be termed procrastination in the sense that it detracted from my scheduled work... on the other hand, it helped me really focus on my main plot, which can get lost in all the characters and subplots, so hopefully it’ll help me keep the writing tight and cut where it gets off track... yeah, still procrastination but useful procrastination...

Meanwhile this week, Nathan Bransford is hosting a largely indispensable first paragraph challenge. The entries are past five hundred and the deadline is tonight. I’ve spent large portions of the last two days checking back in to read all of the stellar prose. The prize, for those of you who don’t already know, a partial ms critique and a free copy of a client book of the winner’s choice... there will be one winner and runners up – and the runners up also get the prizes... hazzah...

I was kidding about the oily hide thing, by the way. I think it’s fabulous that these two, very successful and busy agents, would take time away from their schedules and lives to devote to their readership’s work. This is yet another example of why I love the writing community – if you look around just a little bit, you’ll find successful writers, agents, and editors who are happy to help and mentor other writers. It’s a tough business, but sometimes the perks are amazing.

If you haven’t checked out the contests yet, take some time to look around. Even if you don’t want to enter, you’ll find some of the prose astoundingly good on both blogs.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Crazy Eights Meme

Jersey Girl tagged me for the crazy eights meme. As my blogging has been rather light of late, and I didn’t want to be a spoilsport, I thought I’d play.

Eight Things I’m Passionate About :
1. Family
2. Friends
3. God
4. Baseball
5. Writing
6. Reading
7. Philosophical ponderings / questions of humanity
8. Art

Eight Things I Want to Do Before I Die :
1. Raise my kids to competent, happy adulthood.
2. Publish my novel (and hopefully multiple novels)
3. Spend some time in Sicily
4. Travel
5. Live in the home of my dreams
6. See the Cubs win the World Series
7. Take an oil painting class
8. Build enough of a nest egg to make sure my kids have a good start

Eight Things that I Say Often
1. It is what it is
2. Boobalah, booba, or boo (pet names I call my kids)
3. Night night, sleep tight, (they finish with, ‘don’t let the bed bugs bite)
4. Oh for fuck’s sake... (I’d like to say I never say this around the kids, I sometimes slip)
5. Wait a minute... (the universal phrase of parenting)
6. Get your shoes on... (seems like we’re always heading out the door somewhere)
7. Finish your milk (at least three times a day)
8. I love you (far more than three times a day)

Eight Books I’ve Read Recently or Am Reading Currently
1. Writer Mama by Christina Katz
2. Lottery by Patricia Wood (just started this and it’s fantastic!)
3. The Reincarnationist by M. J. Rose
4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
5. Interred with their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
6. Description (elements of fiction writing) by Monica Wood
7. For One More Day by Mitch Albom
8. February Flowers by Fan Wu

Eight Songs I Can Listen To Over and Over
1. The Game of Love by Michelle Branch
2. American Pie by Don McLean
3. Johnny Come Lately or Desperado by The Eagles
4. Sunday Morning by Maroon Five
5. Wreck of the Day by Anna Nalick
6. Cinema Paradiso Theme song and whole soundtrack
7. Go Cubs Go
8. Sweet Home Chicago

Eight Things that Attract Me to My Friends
1. Good sense of humor
2. Fun and lighthearted
3. Loyal (not prone to gossip and backstabbing)
4. Thoughtful
5. Family oriented (close to their parents and siblings)
6. Not judgmental or mean spirited
7. Baseball fans
8. Similar interests – reading, writing, art, etc

Things I Learned Last Year
1. It only takes one person to make a negative difference (the same is true for a positive difference)
2. Sometimes wanting a thing with the whole of your heart just doesn’t make a damn bit of difference
3. Losing a dream means you need to find a new one, wallowing means you deserved to lose
4. You can’t control anyone but yourself
5. I enjoy hearing about others’ success
6. How to make Oreo balls (cream cheese and crushed Oreos dipped in white chocolate... mmmmm)
7. A bit about the rules of football (my son plays now so I had to learn a little... )
8. It’s hard to tighten your writing without losing your voice... tough balance to find

Sharing the Love:

I know, these things are meant to be shared and I should be giving you eight new bloggers to do this little ditty.... If you feel like doing this one, great, leave a link so I can go see your answers... consider yourselves universally tagged, but I’m not going to hold it against you if you don’t do this one..

Friday, October 19, 2007

Book Review - The Reincarnationist

The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose, is a suspense novel with an intriguing premise. Josh Ryder is a photojournalist on assignment in Rome when he sustains an injury with startling side effects: the unbidden ability to remember distant past lives. Unable to shake these lifelike treks down generations past, Josh enlists the help of a foundation compiling scientific data on past life experiences. Through this foundation, Josh finds himself at an archeological dig in Rome, face to face with his most prevalent incarnation.

The plot and premise of this novel are extremely compelling. Throughout the read, I found myself putting together pieces of the puzzle and thoroughly engrossed in the historical meanderings of our setting. However, and this is a personal preference, the writing style itself left me a bit outside of the story. There were large portions that wound in prose and were overly descriptive without giving me a good sense of the characters. Had I not been reading this for review, I might well have put it down without finishing.

The plot was very intricate, so much of the descriptive passages were necessary in order for the reader to understand the motion. It’s my preference, though, that suspense pulls you further into the character rather than the scenery. If you are both a fan of literary fiction with very vivid setting and thought provoking suspense, this would be right up your alley. As I said, my faults with the book aren’t the result of the writer doing anything wrong; her voice is exceptionally good – just not to my taste in suspense.

Monday, October 15, 2007


So, I’ve been kicking myself in the head the past few months over my lack of productivity in the writing arena, read as, lack of actually getting paid for my glorious prose... lack of definitive motion in my seemingly stalled career... and lack of time, not that I’m in charge of the world clock or anything but I figure I should be able to finagle extra hours into a day, ala (insert favorite mystical magical creature here).

On the valid excuse end of things – those excuses, they do tend to look valid when you say them often enough – summer was rough on me time wise as the kids were home, all three of them, which not only meant constant work for me, it also meant baseball, softball, swim lessons daily, going to the pool, park, zoo, and playdates.... see, I’m good at this excuse thing. Did I write at all this summer? Yes, actually. In my journal while waiting for their swim lessons to end, in the car while they were running amok at baseball, softball, etc... and in the wee hours of the morning or night when I could fit it in.... but not steady, not real hours, not eight hour stints that I so god awful long for.... urghhh....

Christina Katz gave a reading at Columbia College here in Chicago over the weekend and, lack of childcare and too many things to accomplish before school on Monday made me forego the event. Could I have gotten a sitter if I tried hard enough? Yes, actually I probably could have gotten either my mom or my mom in law. Why didn’t I? I wasn’t bloody ready. That’s what I’ve come up with. I wanted to be there, around other writers, especially Ms. Katz as I love her book and want to take one of her upcoming classes...

It’s not procrastination exactly, because I’ve been writing. Really, I have. What I haven’t been doing is taking the step that brings that hard earned work out into the market place, and really what good is it to write what no one else will ever read? So, I’ve thought about this really hard over the past day or so and decided that I have to set concrete goals and push forward. Whether it’s fear, or procrastination, or lack of time, the time for excuses is over. It’s time. Write Now.

I’ve set a schedule for myself that allows time to research markets, time to work on a current short, essay, or article, and time to barrel through the damn revisions (hold me to this – badger me in blog land, when you see me leaving a comment, ask me if I’ve put in an hour on my wip today, ask me if I’m ready for query, tell me to sit my ass down and write!!!!)

Just as a sort of pat on the back, I took my own motivational rant to heart – I re-read and edited the story I wrote a few weeks ago (thank you, Ello and Shelly, for being my very valued beta readers) and submitted it today, to Glimmer Train, no less... I know, the odds there are astronomical, but it’s out on submission, the worst they can say is no... Tomorrow I’m spending a half an hour researching other markets for that piece to stick in the file with it, then it’s on to the next thing... I’ve picked the next short to re-write, and I’m working my way through Mama Writer each night, too... Most important, though, at least one hour – more when I can get them – on my novel...

To hell with whatever’s been holding me back. Writing’s not enough if it never leaves my own little desk... I’ve promised myself one hour on the novel a day, minimum, and one short or article submission a week (or four a month, however it works out that gives me enough time to let it breathe and edit... but a minimum of four a month) I’ve also promised myself that each submission will entail a list of possible publications so that I can send the next submission the minute a rejection comes in... How about you guys? Are you writing? Are you submitting? Do you need a kick in the pants or a few kind words? And what’s your stumbling block, is it in the writing, or editing, or submission process? Thanks for reading my little rant... good luck with your writing, and your submissions.... Get it out there, people.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Writing in School

Jessica at BookEnds posted a great article on Editors and what it is exactly they do. Part of the conversation wound around to the argument that they spend too much time in school teaching grammar and sentence diagramming but fail to teach students how to write – to a rousing bit of agreement by the readers. While I see the point, I have to respectfully disagree.

They do teach writing skills in grade school and high school. What they teach is academic writing, and while discussing the failings of the public school system in preparing young minds is too lengthy a subject for this particular post – I’d just like to diverge for one minute to say, the information is there, the responsibility falls on the parent to make certain their children take advantage of the education... sorry folks, I know it’s easy to blame a failing system. The truth of the matter is, without parental involvement all but the heartiest students will fall short of their potential... this is true whether you want to believe it or not. Some schools are better equipped with better curriculum, but the key factor in success is a parent who not only shows their child that they feel education is important but takes any steps necessary to make certain their child stays challenged, involved, and stimulated... and, no, I’m not a teacher.

Okay, enough of the side rants. The question is whether high school teaches writing... yes, it does. They teach academic writing, which is imperative for anyone who wants to write a concise essay, business letter, or any type of correspondence with any sort of intelligence. Essentially, the high school focuses on writing skills that everyone needs to excel in their future – not fiction writing, which only a small population needs to excel. What’s the difference between academic writing and fiction writing? Ask any editor and they can tell you rather quickly.

Academic writing is largely passive. It’s useful in every area, from higher academic course work to business affairs and, by the way, is also imperative for the fiction writers among us who do need professional business skills in order to sell their creative prose in the publishing market place. Fiction writing, on the other hand, is largely active. Fiction writing’s focus is on telling the story, evoking the scene and emotions in a realistic way, and compelling your reader to experience both the characters and the action. It is a special writing skill and it is not taught in normal coursework largely because it is not needed for the majority of the students – though it would make a fabulous elective... My high school had creative writing, which was similar to fiction writing in that the grammar rules weren’t the focus. It was a wonderful class, but it wasn’t so much a teaching of fiction writing but the teacher did encourage my reading and use of dialect in stories, which, of course, is frowned on in academic writing.

Here’s my take on what’s being taught in high school. Academic writing is necessary for anyone who wishes to pursue higher education or a professional life. Fiction writing is not. If taught, it should be taught as an elective, and I think that would be a fabulous outlet that I would definitely have taken advantage of... but artwork, fiction writing, music, while valuable and worthwhile classes for the future artists who will take them will not serve to help the students who don’t want to learn them... Remember high school? How many kids took your art class as a blow off? About half of my art classes, and it was annoying to those of us who really took it seriously.

Okay, so that’s my take. No, most students don’t learn fiction writing in high school, unless they are learning it outside of school. But fiction writing is both a craft and an art form and, if you study artists you’ll find that most of them enhance their craft in a multitude of places, but never exclusively from any class or school.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Beta Readers and Other Adventures

Normally I’m a healthy advocate of having a second set of eyes take a look at my writing. Though there’s a fine line between listening to feedback/criticism and trusting your gut and I think it’s sometimes hard to tell when you’re being obtuse about your own work and when you simply know your own story better.

This is brought to mind because I just, today, finished a new short story. It’s a first draft, so obviously we already know it’s in need of revision. It also interrupted me mid work on my novel – you know the one that’s taking me for friggin’ ever to finish the final revisions on... hmmm.... can creativity be a sign of procrastination? Because, seriously, the idea fell into my head and I stopped the chapter I was working with and opened a new file to write this short...

Anyhooo... I wrote this story and it is completely, completely outside my realm of normal writing. It’s suspense, which I’ve never attempted before – in fact, it’s not even my normal reading fare, occasionally I like a good mystery or suspense but it’s not on my ‘must read every title list’... but the idea was there, whole, cajoling... this character presented herself and said, ‘Come on, Ms. Writer Person!!!’ waving her little fictitious arm in the air ala Arnold Horshack and screaming “oh, oh, oh, me, me, me!!!” So I acquiesced... (Yeah, like you wouldn’t...)

So here I am, at the end of a rather productive writing day, and I’m filled with all this doubt that I don’t normally experience at the end of a story. Usually, I’m thrilled and elated and it takes a week or so before I do a re-read and realize it needs a lot of polishing. But today, possibly because the story is so far out of my comfort zone, I am self conscious... I’ve already sent it on to Shelly, my favorite Beta Reader, for a second set of eyes... I couldn’t wait to send it, actually, because I’m quite uncertain whether it works...

So now I’m sitting here wondering how many other writers have done this, because normally I don’t find myself so reliant on a second set of eyes this way... Like I said, I see the value in critique groups and objective readers, but needing them and wanting them are two different things. Are you a Beta Reader for anyone? Do you have one? Do you need one? Good experience or bad experiences? And how far out of your comfort zone have you written, or am I the only nitwit whose muse can’t follow a map?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Love Affair with Books

The lovely ello recently put up a meme about books. Now how do you resist posting about books? Impossible!!!!

Ello didn’t name any bloggers to complete this particular meme, instead leaving it open to anyone. I’m doing basically the same thing; if you’d like to discuss your favorite books, drop me a link so I can go see what your preferences are.

Total number of books?

Like everyone else whose done this one, I have no idea what this question means. Is this the total number of books I’ve read in my life? If so, I couldn’t fathom a guess. Is this the total number of books I’ve ever owned, currently own, and read in a year? What’s the damn question?

Here’s what I’ll say. I have four full book cases, five or six full boxes of books in my crawlspace, stacks of writing and miscellaneous books near my desk, and at least two books in various stages of reading in about any room I frequent with the exception of the bathroom. I’m also in the habit of giving away at least one full box of books a year to the library (sometimes two or three). And I often borrow/give books to friends and family. Two of my bookcases hold my leather bounds or hard covers that I love so much I will never part with and won’t lend them out because I’d rather not lose them. Every other book that rolls through my hands is fair game – I will willingly share them once I’ve finished. I also have a mother, two brothers, multiple friends, and a mother in law who are all avid readers – so their books often make their way into my stacks and vice versa.

I have no idea how many books I’ve read. I do have a kind of sort of system: once I’ve finished a book that I know I won’t read again, it goes in a box. If I think of someone I know will enjoy it, it goes in that direction, otherwise it’s in the library pile. The boxed books under my bed and in my crawlspace are a mish mosh of impulse buys I want to read but haven’t yet gotten to and used book sales gone awry – I purchase more than any person with responsibilities could possibly read and I also wind up with borrowed books coming into my house on a regular basis, whether I’ve asked for them or not. On the plus side, I am never without something to read. I do purchase books that I can’t wait to read and open immediately. But often I’ll buy two or three others that look interesting and sit to the side until I get to them... So there you have it. Number of books I read in a month? It varies. Some months only one or two, but then I’m often reading a lot of articles or reference (I don’t count writing references as reading, even though I’ve read an awful lot of them – if you ask me how many books I’ve read, I usually only count fiction).

So, basically, to this question I’d have to say I have owned a lot, given away a lot, bought a lot, borrowed a lot, and enjoyed them whenever I’ve had a spare minute and often when I have other work I should be doing.

Last book read?

I’m currently reading The Time Traveler’s Wife which I’ve had sitting here forever and kept putting off for some reason. It’s fantastic! Now I wish I had listened to all the hype and read it sooner.

Last book bought?

I just bought Lottery by Patricia Wood and I can’t wait to dig into it!

Five meaningful books?

This one’s a hard one because I will without a doubt leave out some books that have meant a great deal to me – it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few this way.... sigh...

The Outsiders I loved this book when I was in seventh and eighth grade and read Rumblefish, and That Was Then and This is Now with equal vigor... It’s not among the best writing I’ve ever read or the most poetic prose, but it had a voice that reached in to that just getting to teenage mindset... I was already reading adult fiction by this point, but these books more than many others drew me in and spoke, which is why I still think of them fondly twenty years later... And that, my friends, is what I hope to someday accomplish with my own writing – it doesn’t have to be Pulitzer prize material, but if it speaks to one reader enough to stay with them over a lifetime, that would be the biggest mark of success imaginable.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn This one I read for the first time in high school, and I read it a number of times since. I tend to drift toward these type of stories, the struggles of urban life and historical fiction with meat and message. This one sticks with me because it so clearly said that enjoyable fiction can be both mainstream and literary – there was more to the language than simple wording and more to the voice than guttural sound.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain will always be at the very top of my list of favored authors, for his voice and wit and brilliance. Because this list is so small, I’ve decided to leave off Shakespeare, as I’ll deem plays different than books, and obviously a lot of the classics that I adore will have to be left off. But with Huck Finn, Twain captured not only the voice and adventure that a child can readily enjoy but the meatier messages of life and morality. I love an author who refuses to stay pegged in a certain bracket with only a certain audience – I think it’s pure brilliance when they can rise above their own station and speak to the whole... some literary types look down on this type of mainstreaming as dumbed down, I think it takes more empathy, though, to bring authentic life to a work that anyone, from any class, can enjoy and experience.

Little Women I just love this work – I tend to really enjoy epic writing, and this was one that pulled me in so fully that the last page brought with it a sense of loss so profound that I had to turn back to the first and start over to keep from depression.

To Kill A Mockingbird This one has been mentioned in other blogs on books but it bears mentioning again. There are other books and authors I love, but for some reason the world of Scout and Atticus, the message of what courage really means, and the poetic coming of age encompassed here surpasses the ravages of time and will continue to speak to new generations of readers, as long as they exist.

So there they are... a long and winding post all about books. If you’re game, I’d like to hear about yours.