Tuesday, October 28, 2008


My computer is almost two years old. I like it. I bought it with money I earned through freelance writing, which was a big thing for me – making enough money through writing to buy a big ticket item... I also bought my desk, so I basically funded my writing through my writing. I know this might seem insignificant to some people, but I have been a stay at home mom since I was twenty four... I was in fiction writing courses for the year prior to having my daughter, so my last paycheck, with my own little name on it, on any regular basis prior to my little writing money was when I was twenty three years old... that’s flippin’ eons ago... and it kind of wears on you to have so much responsibility and yet have such diminished freedom.

The keyboard I use is the one that came with the computer... I bought a separate printer and flat screen monitor, but the keyboard, I didn’t really care... just whatever’s clever, it wasn’t a big deal.

Now, I type quite a lot. Don’t we all? More so than non-writers anyway, and most of the people in my real world are non-writers. So the letters have worn off some of the oft-used keys on this keyboard... Personally I think it’s because it’s a cheap one... either that or the oil in my skin is acidic... but, if you sat down at my keyboard, you’d notice that A, S, D, E, L, N, M, C, and R are missing... K is about half gone... the arrow keys are hanging on by a thread.

I learned how to type when I was nine. I don’t look at the damn keys. Not even when I’m using the numbers... I barely glance at them ever, to be honest, so this absence of the alphabet troubles me not at all.

My husband sat down at my computer the other day and got so frustrated after two minutes he had to walk away. Couldn’t even compose a small response email. Looked at me like I was a nitwit to keep such a broken down keyboard. Even offered to get me a new one, which I declined.

My daughter asked to use my computer to work on a site they recommend at school... She’s a little more hard-headed than the husband type person, it took her five minutes to get frustrated enough to vacate the desk. The boys won’t even touch it. Mom’s computer is a broken down mess. They want the one in the family room... which means they have to share it with dad, or more accurately, dad has to wait until they’re busy with homework or in bed to check his football scores and surf for porn.

So, as I sit here running my acidic fingers across my broken down little keyboard, I can’t help but smile. How long do you think it’ll take him to figure out why I won’t buy a better keyboard? I’m thinking I can milk the ‘I’m sentimental... and I bought it myself’ thing for a while longer... though you’d think he’d know I’m not sentimental after 11 years of marriage... ah well, that’s what he gets for not paying attention.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Break on through to the other side.........

A while back, I got into a conversation on Precie’s blog about getting down to the writing. We struck a little deal that we would each finish our novels by December 31st. We struck this little bargain, back in August, but as any writer will tell you, two months is a mere blip on the radar in the novel writing process.

We also had two witnesses (and assorted blog commenters who will certainly heckle and cajole us should we slack off). The lovely Moonrat is watching from the sidelines, with her megaphone, chanting, “Down with the downward spiral!” And the wonderful Ello is nudging for to beta read at the end of our marathon runs.

Precie – status check!!! Are you still hitting the fifteen minutes a day? Progress report time... (p.s. – if you’d prefer me to pester you in private, rather than on my blog, just send me comment rasberries and I shall desist)

For me, August through September was productive, as far as the fact that I was actually writing... just not the novel I’m on now... so I’ll explain my oddities for those who are better organized with their efforts.

I decided way back while I was doing revisions for RASKIN’S WINGS that I would try to write in a more organized way. I would be the type of writer who outlines – sha-zahhh, therefore saving myself tons and tons of revision time... I would be the type of writer who writes out the pitch first and follows it through in the writing... yep, one of them.

Okay, I tried it. It doesn’t work for me. It’s great that it works for some of you, but not me. I tried. Never again. What happens when I try to outline that way is that I get bombarded by all new plots and brand new shiny ideas. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I’m in pitch mode and since I’m not writing a pitch for a novel whose characters I’ve lived and breathed with for eons, but a brand new one I haven’t fleshed out yet... well, instead of getting into those characters, I keep going with the whole marketing pitch thing. I can’t shut it off. It’s like a water spigot with a broken handle. So I had to just stop. I’m guessing that sounds odd to some of you – too many ideas? What the hell’s the matter with you? But the fact that I kept getting a new idea, instead of getting uber excited about the one I’d just written the pitch for, told me that they weren’t the ones. Not yet, anyway.

Then I decided to work with another middle grade fantasy. I got about two chapters in (three really, but the third one sucked and I tossed it). The middle grade fantasy I will go back to, I’m sure. But I’m not there. I’m not in that mode.

Okay, so that takes you through to the end of September, when this main character bounced into my head... and he did, what I love most about writing fiction – took up every available corner of space and yapped at me even when I was trying to sleep. So I started with page one, which ran into two and three and four and before I knew it there was a brand new shiny first chapter... and then a prologue, that screamed out of my fingertips within the span of about six minutes. I love when that happens and it only happens for me when I’m open to it... when I’m not worried about the rules, when I’m not second guessing what I can and can’t do in fiction.

I talked a long time ago about embarking on a novel that was too big, that maybe was a bit ahead of what you thought you could do. That’s what I’m tackling with this one. My narrator has a voice all his own and I keep thinking, while I’m not actually writing, ‘gee, can I do that? Doesn’t some of that fly in the face of some of the rules?’ But when I’m writing, all of that stuff goes out the window... as it should. I’m having fun with it because I’m not bouncing my head off the desk over whether or not it should be more active, shorter sentence structure, blah, blah, blah... I can look at that stuff in revision.

So, the first month was a wash, albeit a creative one. From the end of September until today, I’ve gotten a prologue and the first five chapters done. I know where he’s going, who’s going with him, and how he’s going to get there... but I can’t wait to see the side roads he leads me down that I haven’t already guessed.

How about you guys? Are you plotters and planners or do you let the characters lead you through the journey? Do you pay strict attention to the rules in your rough draft, or do you leave that off for later? And how’s your writing coming?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I am SO NOT a Southern Belle

When I was a little kid, my mother dressed me as a flower for Halloween. I was only about five, but I still remember it more vividly than any other costume I’ve ever had. She took a green leotard and sewed red felt petals all around the collar. I wore green tights and dainty little ballet slippers, and the other mothers “ooohed and aaahed,” when she proudly showed off, “Her little flower.”

I hated that costume.

I was not a flower. She tried valiantly to make me one, buying me pretty dresses and making the floufy little things with her own two hands. She even wrestled me into wearing a few of them, but they never stayed pretty for long. I had two older brothers and I wanted to play ball, jump off the roof into the pool, and play with their star wars toys – and not just the Princess Lea ones, either. I was not a flower.

The slippers had no traction and the only good thing about them was that I could get them off quick as lightning and pummel my brothers with them for laughing at me... and they didn’t leave marks – ha. I can remember that Halloween because I had to stand and be admired while desperately itching to get down the block to the house that gave out the full size Snickers bars before all the good loot was gone.

When my daughter was in Kindergarten, I made her costume, too. She was the Lollipop Princess from Candyland. I made her a yellow jumper and painted lollipops all around the trim, and added the three lollipop buttons to the top. I made her a crown from Styrofoam wreaths wrapped in yellow ribbon and hot glued real lollipops on top.

My daughter has very thick wavy hair, so it took about an hour to pin it all up and I sprayed it all pink... she looked adorable for school... Oddly enough, she didn’t want to wear that costume the next night for the costume party at the Parish. She insisted on being a cowboy. At the time I was sure she didn’t want to spend all that time on the hair... it wasn’t until this year that I caught the connection...

A few weeks ago, we were looking online to get ideas for her costume. She didn’t like anything. She’s eleven and at her age the costumes are, sad to say, either trampy or stupid. Zooming along, I caught sight of a “southern belle” costume, designed like Scarlett’s dress from the barbeque... the white with green trim thing... and I clicked on it, opening up the picture to full screen and “oooohing and aaaahing”... to which my daughter replied:

“I am SO NOT a southern belle!”

She rolled her eyes and walked away and by the next day she decided she wanted to be a hobo... okay, I’m a little hard-headed and I still wasn’t getting it. I mean, fine, I get the not wanting to be girly... yeah, I’m there with ya...

So yesterday, I get a sheet from the school about all of the things that are unacceptable for Halloween. And I’m still a little worried about the hobo thing because I’m not sure how it’ll look and wouldn’t she rather have store bought than thrown together? And yes, I’m a hard-head...

Me: You know, the school has all of these rules about what’s acceptable for your costume. Are you sure we can’t just go buy you one?

Daughter: What kind of rules?

Me: You know, nothing with weapons or drugs or alcohol...

Daughter: I’m not going as a drunk. What, do they have something against poor people?

So you see my dilemma here? My eleven year old is obviously smarter than I am... I swear, she clears my perspective and teaches me something new all the time... I’m helping her find a flannel this afternoon... I wonder which jeans to fill up with patches.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Freedom of Speech and the Loss of Compassion

On a few occasions in life, I’ve been hit by overwhelming grief at the absence of compassion where ego is easy. I know, in my heart of hearts, that most people don’t mean to cause hurt or pain – they’re just not thinking past their point or motive or own needs. They forget, briefly or otherwise, the basic rules of humanity. Those who are Christian might call it the golden rule, but every culture and every person who’s ever been hurt by the words and actions of another can understand the importance of the tenet, “Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes”.

Yesterday, I heard some unsettling news. A man who was a friend of a friend (I know that sounds convoluted, but I didn’t know him personally and don’t want to name him for reasons you’ll understand shortly) – this man killed himself. He was a stock broker, so I guess you might already imagine the motives.

I happened to notice that it was also written up in the larger local papers, and clicked on the articles on one of the sites. It gave the basic facts, his name and where he lives, where it occurred and the assumed reasons he would have become so despondent. And then there was the section for comments.

Most were well meaning, but some, well some had to admonish how foolish it was to take ones’ life over money... some couldn’t put aside the judgment... and I get it, I do... But, all I kept thinking was, “Oh my God, I’ll bet his family is reading this. I bet they’re pouring through every comment and aching with every word.” And I doubt so much that the people who did comment even considered it. To them, it’s just an article in the paper. A faceless person they’ll never know. And I wonder if they would be so crass to say these things at his funeral, in the presence of his loved ones – and I wonder if they know they essentially did just that.

I am a huge advocate of freedom of speech, and I get that that also includes the things I don’t think should be said. But I think, on occasion, we need to remember that our words have impact. We have a responsibility to be compassionate. This economy is not getting better in a day or a week and there’s a very real chance that the changes coming will be long and arduous for a great many people. Nothing is insurmountable and I have a great deal of faith that whatever is coming, we can handle, that even the worst of obstacles can make way for the greatest of triumphs. But while we’re on the road, be kind. Not because there’s payment in it. Not to pad your reputation or help your own situation, but because it’s right.

Go out and do something nice today. Restore my faith in humanity, because I swear sometimes it’s lagging.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How Do You Crit?

I’ve often mentioned that blogging, for all its time-suck-ability, has been the best resource for me as far as a writing circle. Most of my beta readers, whom I adore and are the most helpful giving people ever, have started as blogging buddies. In those scenarios, I’ve gotten to know them pretty well over the course of months, and in some cases years, and developed email relationships that surpass regular blogging relationships (and some of those can be pretty tight, too).

That type of writing relationship works for me because I have a good idea, before work is exchanged, what they’re looking for in a crit and they have a good idea of what type of things I’ll point out... except maybe for Travis, because I couldn’t find a single thing to tell him might need work, and I doubt he knows how rare that is for me.

In my experience, every crit partner offers something a bit different. Some come at it in an overall type of way, giving you a feel for the characters or themes that hit and miss but not necessarily specific lines or places that lose them in the story. Some crit partners will focus on the specifics and let you worry over the larger things. And, like any relationship, you’re not going to get along with every crit partner and not all of them will have a benefit on your work – usually I think this has more to do with personal conflicts than with the actual writing.

I’ve had a few crit partners that I didn’t particularly mesh with, and I think in most scenarios it’s because either the type of writing we’re into aren’t similar enough that we’re any help to each other, or because we don’t work the same way, sensibility wise.

I had one crit partner, a while back, that made a particular impact on me... partially because I should have seen the storm brewing and walked away before I lost my temper, and partially because I still feel like my specific crit wasn’t the problem. I didn’t know this person in the real world, and they weren’t a blogging friend, so we pretty much exchanged some long emails before getting down to the critique work... After the first few exchanges, I started omitting things that I would normally have mentioned – that should have been the red flag. I didn’t want to hurt feelings, and it shouldn’t have been about that.

Like any relationship, the minute you have to omit things to be ‘kind’ is when the honesty breaks down... when the honesty breaks down the tension begins. From my end of things, over the course of many exchanges, I started to get the feeling that this writer felt that I was beneath her. When I commented on grammatical issues, the response I got basically gave me the impression that she had better educated sources to go over that, I was there to look at the overall, and more specifically, to point out mannerisms to flesh out the scumbag characters... okay, so you can see how I felt slightly insulted.

But looking back on this now, I doubt that she understands why I was so insulted. At the time, I was pretty sure it was intentional... there are still comments ringing in my ears that couldn’t have been meant as anything other than an insult, but in retrospect, some of that was after the relationship had become more than tense.

Like any failed relationship, I think it’s important to learn from it. The writer in question isn’t a bad person or a bad writer – in fact she’s a rather good writer, to be fair. The problem was, we have very different mindsets about writing and about life. Had we bumped into each other in person, or met at a writing conference or something like that, I doubt we would have clicked personally – and that’s okay. Not everyone has to like me... and here we get to the heart of what went wrong.

Honesty. Honesty is essential in critique. It is. It is sometimes painful to hear and you need to approach it with tact, but it’s a waste of time for me to read someone’s pages and not tell them the truth. Honesty means that not only will I give you my honest opinion, but I will not take offense if you find that it doesn’t work for you. Critique isn’t a mandate, it’s an opinion.

So, for me, I’ve taken a valuable lesson into all of my other writing relationships. If I start to feel that I need to sugar coat things or can’t be honest, then I can’t work with you. That doesn’t mean I’m going out of my way to be mean, I’ll phrase things as nicely as possible and I always include things that work, because I think it’s helpful... but still, life is too short to work with people that irritate you (and vice versa) especially for free. It also means knowing that their critique is valid and they will point out what they see, which is not necessarily the thing you’re concerned about... but in the long run you’re getting fresh eyes on the ms. That can see things you might miss... So, I take all crits into consideration... that doesn’t mean I use all of the advice, but I at least give it careful thought.

So how about you guys? Have you ever had a crit relationship not work out? Are there specific things you look for in a crit partner, or specific things you want from a critique? Are there specific things you hate for people to crit (for instance, do you hate it when they’re nitpicky about grammar or tense, or do you hate it when they don’t mention these things?) How do you crit?

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm In Love................................

Moonie and Precie pointed out this awesome entry by Libba Bray way back in July. It compares writing a novel to falling in love, and it’s well worth the read if any of you missed it over the summer and need a good grin.

For me, like everything else in life, writing has an ebb and flow. We’ll leave the business end (researching agents/publishers, writing queries, submissions, query hell, etc.) to the side for this post, and just talk about the actual writing process.

In my experience with both Raskin’s Wings and The Terrible Piece of Tripe that Shall Not Be Named but was My First Attempt at a Full Novel, I would hit periods of writing where the work just flowed and I was excited even when I wasn’t actively writing. During those periods of writing, the story kept fleshing out while I was doing other things, like dishes or dinner, or (unfortunately) trying to carry out conversations in which my friends and spouse lost a lot of patience with me.

Then it would ebb. Somewhere in the writing process I would hit a chapter that snagged, or a passage that I just couldn’t seem to get down right. It sounded wrong to me, or the words were, well, I don’t know – overly done, wrong for the voice... something... and once I wrote past that ebb I’d always get back to pace and excited again about the work.

Right now, I’m in love... so much so that all of my other writing before it just doesn’t seem to matter. I wonder if other writers do this – published ones, specifically, I wonder if subsequent novels eclipse their earlier work for them or if this is just a gushy stage in the Brand New Shiny WIP saga.

Lately, I’ve been uber busy with the kids, and putting my house together, and a host of other things I hadn’t expected – and still, I can’t keep away from my manuscript for a whole day. I’ve written something, everyday, since I began... some of it, admittedly, I cut the next day, but still it’s a work that has me hooked and wishing, rather fervently, that I could just wake in the morning and start writing, and not have to put it away until I was ready for bed... If I could pass all of my other responsibilities to someone else, it would be heaven... but kids have to be fed and bathed, homework done, parent teacher meetings attended, practices and games... well, you get it...

The funny thing, usually all of that stopping and starting makes writing hard for me. Even when I’m excited about the story, the fact that I have to stop mid-page or sometimes mid-sentence pulls me out of it enough that when I sit back down I have to re-read endlessly to get back into the mind frame. Not this time, though... Am I gushing? Seriously, I’m in love.

So, I thought I’d include a bit in case you guys wanted to see what’s been taking up all of my blogging time.. This short prologue is in the MC’s voice, and I sooo dig him... Oh, brand new shiny wip’s title? FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

I don’t come back to the old neighborhood very often, even though it’s just a short drive on the Eisenhower. There’s no one there, no one left who remembers me – who remembers us. I see the familiar street monikers from the expressway on my way downtown. I hear them in my head, in my old voice, the one I learned to hide long ago. It sneaks in, though, that guttural slang and dropping of consonants – when I’m angry or tired or thinking of home. And it unnerves people in my life today, to hear who I really am. They shake their heads as if they’ve imagined it and I revert to the polished grammar they’ve come to expect, and I hate them a little for the judgment but I think sometimes I hate myself more.

It’s a funny thing about that neighborhood; it never really lets you go. It’s always there, under your skin, in your veins, part of who you are – there is no eradicating it from your person, if you ever had need or want to.

Taking the turn onto Austin, it pounds in my ears, reverberating off the pavement and concrete, echoing from brick and lifting the corners of my mouth in that cocky half-smile. By the time I pass Roosevelt, I’m back. In my head I’m ten, twelve, fifteen, running through alleys or playing ball on the corner. Voices of long ago sing crisp and clear. The place I’m looking for doesn’t exist – only in memory and what little history that brick and concrete holds within, tracks of the people who owned those streets once, who called that place home and never quite left it, no matter how far they wandered.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Many of you may know about this already, but for those stumbling by or not familiar with the wonderful world of Moonrat and her Mischief, here are the details:

Our dear friend, Moonrat, has opened a raffle to support her friend, Mischief Fights Cancer You can read the whole story at the bottom post on that site, but long story short – Moonie’s good friend has no insurance and has been diagnosed with cancer. Being an editor, Moonie can’t help her very much monetarily (as any of you familiar with the earnings in publishing can imagine) but decided to put her talent up for auction in order to help raise funds.

She put the post up yesterday and has reached almost $700.00 as of this writing – which is flippin’ fantabulous, Moonie!!! But as you all can imagine, medical procedures are extremely costly and that $700.00 isn’t likely to go very far as far as treatments are concerned...

Okay, if you’re not the charitable type, here’s what’s in it for you:

Moonrat is an editor, and a lovely person, but wait let’s stick with the ‘what’s in it for you’ thing... She’s offered up a raffle to provide full editorial feedback on the winner’s novel. There are also separate raffles for other editorial feedback, such as on queries... and, just today, an agent at Curtis Brown has signed on to raffle off her services in reviewing and critiquing YA or children’s fiction.

The stipulations for each raffle are up at the Mischief Fights Cancer Site. I hope you all will consider entering, if at all possible.

Side note to Moonie, put up a donation button for those that don’t want to enter but might want to donate.