Friday, January 30, 2009

Fun with Censorship

I was going through some old boxes and found file folders full of work I’d done for classes in college. I didn’t even realize I’d saved some of it. Have you ever looked back at work you did years before? It’s a little scare, actually. I was reading through one paper for my Fiction Writers and Censorship Course, and it wasn’t as bad as I feared my early twenty something self to be – I still wanted to edit the hell out of it, though. I was heavy handed in a lot of places, to the point of pompousness. Then I’d alternate back to a more conversational voice and occasionally throw in some sarcasm. There are still glimmers of my voice that I recognize as mine. Well, it’s odd – you don’t realize how much you’ve changed until you look back at where you were.

Anyway, most of the stuff I’ve got is rather long – 10 to 12 pages at least, and far too long to put on a blog for your amusement. But I did find this little ditty that I thought might amuse some of my writer friends. It’s a list I did for the aforementioned Censorship class:

Marginalization :

Twenty things that can marginalize a writer’s work:

1. Fear of the unknown.
2. Fear of the known.
3. Fear of the empty page.
4. Fear of the written word.
5. Financial deprivation.
6. Social unencouragement.
7. Loss of creativity.
8. Loss of sanity.
9. My mate is in the way.
10. Too busy looking for a mate.
11. My life is uninspiring.
12. Fear of slander suits.
13. Fear of the politically correct.
14. Fear of the politically incorrect.
15. What would mommy say?
16. I have problems with graphic violence (so the masochistic barnyard scene is put on hold until my real life broken appendages heal amply enough to allow proper typing progress).
17. My self-censor is on vacation, but my publisher is not.
18. Did I mention that my editor was a formidable executioner in several past lives?
19. The world is a dismal abyss which cannot be altered by the written word (my anti-depressant dosage is much too weak)
20. I’ll procrastinate tomorrow.

How about you guys? Have you ever pulled out old work from when you first began? Were you pleasantly surprised or did you find it completely cringe-worthy? And what makes your list of things that stall your writing?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Color Me Amused

Holy moly! I don’t know if this has made national news or if it’s just here in Chicago, but have you guys heard about the fourteen year old who was arrested for impersonating a cop?

If you don’t want to click on the article, the gist of it is that this fourteen year old boy walked into a Chicago precinct, dressed as a cop. He knew enough about police lingo to tell them that he’s from another precinct and was assigned to their's for the day. He was issued, get this, a locker, a radio, and a partner and sent out on patrol!!!! The kid is five foot, three inches tall!

Not only did he go on multiple calls with his partner, he drove the squad car for a while and there are some reports that he actually issued a ticket. (I wish I was the one who got that ticket – there’s no way a judge could make that one stick!) They didn’t catch him until five hours later, when he and his partner came back to the station and he couldn't produce id or verification.

Now, all of the articles and police interviews center on the same thing – how embarrassing this is for the precinct and Chicago PD in general. Personally, I have another take – what a cool friggin’ kid! I mean, seriously, do you know of a fourteen year old that doesn’t get nervous talking to the police? Even when they didn’t do anything wrong? This one walked right into a precinct and pulled the mother of all grammar school scams – on the police! It’s genius! Evil genius, but still.

From all of the articles I’ve read, this is a kid who idolized the police and was a member of their explorer program for kids. He’s also a kid with a rough home life who’s been in trouble before. I have to tell you, I think they’re going about it all wrong. Think about it – this is make or break time for this kid and he really wants to be a cop. Wouldn’t now be a good time to keep him on that path? I’d rather him want to enforce the law than break it – I’m pretty sure they’d have a hard time catching him if he went into crime.

This happened on Saturday and he’s currently being held in Juvenile on charges of impersonating an officer. I hope the judge is lenient... though this is the third time he’s been charged with that offense.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Like Meat, Just Not in Ball Form

My kids tend to amaze me on a regular basis. The funniest thing about parenthood is the realization that they are their own people. You can’t teach them how to be what they are. You guide, or try to. You teach, sometimes scold, often laugh... but you don’t really make them what they are – they are what they are... not because of or in spite of their parents, but because it’s who they’re meant to be.

There are a million ways to relate this, from infancy with all three of my kids, but maybe a good example is their taste in food. I cook on a pretty regular basis, and since they’re growing up here, all three of them are eating the food that I like to prepare... but they have their own taste. I get this. I, myself, was a picky eater as a kid and I still am... I was actually a weird eater – I loved broccoli and fish – hated chicken and steak and barely tolerated hamburgers until I was a teenager and learned the beauty of the greasy dive... but that is another story.

My daughter has very adult taste and always has – ever since she started on solid food. Her favorite meal at three years old was Steak and Fettuccini Alfredo – I started making Fettuccini as a side dish in the first place because I hate steak (sorry, Travis), so I just eat the pasta and salad. She loves steak. Loves shrimp and fish. (okay, maybe she has expensive taste)... but, get ready for it – she’s not partial to gravy. I should explain, when I say ‘gravy’ I mean my homemade sauce with meatballs. It’s good, it’s my favorite, again, it’s good. She doesn’t particularly like pasta. She eats the meatballs and just enough mostaccolli so I don’t yell at her.

My oldest son has kid taste. He loves hotdogs and pizza. He hates pretty much any vegetable except raw carrots – he won’t touch them if they’re cooked. He won’t eat hamburgers, or meatballs, but he devours pasta. He’s even kid-like in treats – he loves suckers and any kind of flavored sugary candy but doesn’t so much like chocolate – the other two looooove it.

Littlest guy is a riot. He eats everything. With gusto. He loves steak, hamburger, hotdogs and pizza. Loves pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings, and asks for it often. Adores meatballs and the pasta. And will eat any kind of treat you put in front of him. Whatever I’m serving, he’ll find something he likes.

We had pasta this week. My gravy takes about five hours to make, so I don’t make it every Sunday – maybe twice a month. When I do, all three of my kids are happy. None of them makes the dreaded gag face upon learning the menu for that day. But the three of them are starting to notice each others’ preferences in food. Commenting on how oldest son won’t eat steak so I substitute chicken nuggets, or how oldest daughter leaves half her pasta.

This week, my daughter was looking around at the plates during dinner, and here’s how the conversation went:

Daughter: (pointing at oldest son’s plate) Wow, you’re the only one who never eats the meatballs. How can you not like meat balls?

Littlest guy: He just doesn’t like meat (shrugging his shoulders, his eyes got all wide and then he crossed them, as if too say, “craaaaazy!”)

Oldest son: I like meat.... just not in ball form.

Okay, I liked the line. I think I laughed for five minutes – he’s 8, it was a pretty good reason as far as I could see...

And then I started thinking about that statement and their tastes in general, and writing. We talk so much about writing being subjective, about the voice or style not resonating with some readers or others, and it’s kind of the same thing. All of the ingredients sound right – I just don’t like the way you presented it.

So often, agents and editors will request manuscripts because the ingredients sound right. They like the genre, like the story line, but then they get their eyes on the full and realize that they don’t love it enough to fight for it. And they shouldn’t take it on if they don’t believe in it – but how do you know?

This post isn’t meant to be rhetorical – I think this is a question every writer has to answer for themselves, because we’re all going to face rejection, have and will again. What I’m wondering is how do you, personally, know whether the meat is there, but the reader just doesn’t like it in ball form.. or loaf form, whatever’s clever?

What’s your criteria for being able to determine when the problem is your writing and when it’s just a miss on that particular audience? That’s it in a nutshell. So far, for me, I’m uncertain. Maybe that’s the standard of life for most writers, or at least the great unwashed. I’d like to say, I missed here or fell flat there – or even, hey, I didn’t hit the right desk yet... but I’m not sure. My answer so far is time. Time to let it cool. Time to forget enough of my phrasing and technique so that when I re-read I can really see all of the rhythm and meter of my prose and see what, if anything, I’m missing...

How about you? How do you know you’re using enough spice and not burning the sauce? How do you know that your cooking is awesome, even if a few guests abstain?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What’s doing around the blog-o-sphere?

Contests, and page critiques, oh my!!!

First, WOW-Women On Writing is hosting another open prompt flash fiction contest. The deadline for this one is February 28th and it’s hosted by the most awesome agent - Janet Reid!!!

I had decided to forego any and all submissions on short pieces until my current wip is complete, until I saw that Ms. Reid was judging. So I threw something together, because I loooove her, and as I don’t write anything in her genre, this is one of the few opportunities I’ll have to submit to her. And before you all think I’m a terrible brown nose – it’s a blind judging. Even if my submission makes it through the preliminary judging and into the queue for the guest judge, Janet will have no idea which one is mine, as my information will be redacted.

If you’re a fan of the blog, into crime fiction, or just looking for a place to submit some short work, check out the WOW link above. They’re cutting submissions for this one at 300 entries, so don’t delay too much.

Another new thing you might notice is the stunning and beauteous new badge in my sidebar. If you click on that little coat of arms, it’ll take you straight to the Anonymati.

What are the Anonymati? They are Editorial Anonymous’ own Minions!!! For those of you who haven’t found her yet, EA is an anonymous children’s book editor. I know, some of you don’t write children’s, but her blog is exceptionally informative in general, and you can always skip the posts that pertain specifically to certain aspects of children’s publishing... then again, it never hurts to be up to speed on different facets of the business.

Anyway, if you click on over to the Anonymati site, you’ll notice that EA’s doing a critique on the first few pages of manuscripts!!! How much do we love her? Well, she might not love me much if she notices I’ve published this... maybe I should take it down... nah.

I think I’ve mentioned before, but I pulled Raskin’s Wings from submissions in the fall. I was getting some requests for pages and even fulls, and it’s possible that it wasn’t hitting the right set of eyes, but I really felt like there might be something missing in the work itself. So I’m letting it simmer while I’m embroiled in From the Neighborhood, and the goal is to go back to it with completely fresh eyes later and see if a) it really is a good story and b) if I need to revise and restart submissions or if, in fact, it is another of the fabled ‘under the bed’ books.

Anyway, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by to get a critique from EA on the opening pages. I did revise a hell of a lot before even submitting to agents, and quite a bit after my first round of submissions... as my lovely beta readers can attest. But I only skimmed it before copy pasting it in the email to EA and did not fiddle with it the way I normally would before submitting anything... so wish it well and hopefully, good or bad, it’ll give me ideas for a direction on that one when I’m ready.

I hope you all are doing well and being productive... How are those New Year’s resolutions panning out? Or if you didn’t make any, how is your writing progress in general?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fact and Fiction - Worlds Collide

When I was in high school, I had to take an economics class. It was a basic requisite class only for half the year and I don’t remember very much about it, except that I hated it. It was boring. We watched a lot of videos, about what I don’t remember, and I think we talked about balancing a checkbook and budgeting – okay, it probably was useful information, but I wasn’t thinking that far ahead when I was sixteen.

So, because I was bored, and because I knew a good portion of the grade was on a single term paper, I flaked. I slept, read, wrote notes, and used the hall pass a lot. See, by sixteen I knew a little something about myself, no matter the subject I could always ace a written paper... I also learned more about a class by writing those papers than I ever did studying dates and figures for multiple choice questions – that’s why math was never a favorite subject for me. There were no papers to write, which made it boring. I could do the work, I just didn’t like it... we’ll call this my early lesson in – not everything you have to do in life is fun!!!

So, we were assigned the term paper. I spent a few hours in the library picking my subject, brought home two armloads of books and read voraciously – if you break it down into reading material, I’m there – I always was like that. That’s how I excel. Some kids learn best by doing or hearing a lecture – I learned best by being able to immerse myself in words. So this part of the class I remember. I remember handwriting out at least twenty pages of notes. I remember going through my mom’s vast bookshelves at home... and I remember writing the paper out longhand and then borrowing my mom’s computer to type it all up. I barely remember the subject matter – it’s been a long time – but I remember doing the work... I liked doing papers much the same way I like writing now...

So, the day came when our papers were handed back. I watched each girl receive hers, until I was the only student without a paper. The teacher tapped me on the shoulder and asked to see me after class.

After everyone cleared out, I was left alone with this teacher. It was the only class I ever took with her and today I don’t remember her name or even what she looked like. Maybe I blocked it out. She handed me back my paper. My perfectly stacked, impeccably typed work had practically been dog-eared. And there on the front was a big, fat, red-lettered ‘C’.

I think my mouth might have actually hung open, agape, the way you read in bad fiction. And I really don’t remember what this woman looked like but I remember the way I felt when she looked at me, like I was an insignificant, low class, idiot. That I remember.

“That should be an F” she said, staring straight at me in that queer way that people have when they’re trying to make you nervous, “I know you couldn’t have written that paper. You cheated or plagiarized it.”

She paused, still staring at me. Maybe she was giving me an opportunity to defend myself. I did nothing. The oddest thing was, I felt guilt. I did the work. I didn’t plagiarize it – it was mine and she was completely wrong... I should have been insulted that she jumped to the conclusion that I was too stupid to write the paper. I should have responded. I did nothing. I felt guilty for something I didn’t do.

“The only reason I gave you a passing grade was because I couldn’t find the source you took it from. If I ever do, you’ll fail the entire class. Goodbye.”

I turned and walked out of the classroom, late for my next class... I remember walking into the hall and there wasn’t a soul around, carrying my taunting “C” paper that might as well have said, “Failure... loser... dimwit... cheater”.... C is for Cheater...

In retrospect, I should have fought her on it. In retrospect the thing I remember most is a fury at myself, for letting her think it. For taking the grade when I clearly didn’t deserve it. Any of my core subject teachers who had read my essays would have told her that I wrote the paper. They’d all read my work. But I didn’t ask anyone to help me or take up for me. I did nothing. Which only served to make me feel weaker and worse.

So what does any of this have to do with fiction? My main character has the exact same thing happen... except he handles it different... better... more satisfying – at least, for me. And I realized that I’d taken this small little thing from my own life, but different... the teacher in the novel is not my own teacher – they’re a whole character. My MC is not me. That’s the thing with fiction, your characters get to say and do all the things we would like to get to go back and do over... they get to be everything we’d have liked to have been, but better... Fiction should be realistic, but not real. Real is often less than spectacular... and every once in a while, in my writing at least, I’d like to see the overlooked, underestimated kid beat the odds.

Recently, someone asked me what I’m writing, and I told them it’s called, From the Neighborhood. So they asked if it was about me, growing up... Everyone who grew up in my neighborhood uses that phrase, “from the neighborhood” has multiple meanings – “They’re from home” “They’re good people,” “They’re one of us”.

It’s not about me – it’s fiction. But it is about the neighborhood. I am hoping to capture the essence of it... My characters could’ve grown up down the street from me... but they’re not real people I know... and I find it harder to explain to non-writers, but it is what it is. They’re realistic, but not real people.

How about you guys? How much of your fact goes into your fiction? Do you use pieces of people you know to flesh out characters? Do you use odd events of your past for fodder in your fiction? And what are your limits as far as how much real life enters your fictional world?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cutting Back and Balancing the Checkbook

Since the economy’s demise... okay, that was a little harsh... since the economic situation has caused significant belt tightening around these parts, I’ve been doing a little maneuvering of ye olde finances. The first thing I did was consider things to cut out entirely, and regular monthly bills I could cut down on. My TV Options were one of the considerations, for sure.

It’s not like the old days, when you bought a set and the only thing you were paying for was the electricity. If I didn’t have cable or Direct TV nothing would come in on my television because they really don’t make ‘em with plain old antenna’s anymore. Cable can cost quite a bit, for very little. Even the basic package was starting to stretch the limit of what I could rationalize for entertainment purposes when I should really be cutting back, so I started checking into Direct tv.

Of course, there are other areas where I can cut things out, too. But I have started comparing different plans for phone, television, and internet needs because you can save a lot just by being informed. How about you? Has the economy started you budgeting yourself? Are you clipping coupons, or just putting off vacations? See, I think this was a pretty good wake up call for me to be a little more frugal – how about you? Do you think of it as a blessing in disguise? A thing to be borne? Or just one more bump in the road to be gotten past and forgotten?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book Roast and other news...

So, I just got my brand new, handy-dandy, State of Illinois issued license plate... and I'm so damn proud, I had to share:

In real news:

Those of you who follow my blog are almost certainly familiar with Book Roast! Well, they're re-launching with an even juicer schedule.

Please drop by the The Book Roast Blog for the hippest publishing party in town! One hot publisher, two terrific agents, and six fabulous authors will be kicking off the launch party!!

The Book Roast serves up a variety of authors and books, lightly grilled and seasoned with humor. The Book Roast site is a free promotional tool for authors dedicated to celebrating great books! Its mission is to help publicize books of all genres, printed by publishers of all sizes.

The launch line-up is:

Monday, Jan 12: Mystery Publisher
Tuesday, Jan 13: Eric Stone
Wednesday, Jan 14: Agent Lucienne Diver
Thursday, Jan 15: Barrie Summy
Saturday, Jan 17: Elysabeth Eldering

Monday, Jan 19: Mystery Publisher
Tuesday, Jan 20: Traci E Hall
Wednesday, Jan 21: Maggie Stiefvater
Thursday, Jan 22: Agent Nathan Bransford
Friday, Jan 23: Jennifer Macaire

We hope to see you there!!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

We Love You, Travis

There are a few things I promised some of my lovely blog friends I’d post today... but this is far more important. Our good friend, Travis Erwin, has had a family tragedy and I’d like anyone who happens upon my blog, regardless of faith or persuasion, to stop for a second and send him a prayer and love – or at least good thoughts.

The Erwin’s home burned to the ground this past Sunday. From the looks of his post, there is nothing left. Thankfully, Travis and his family are all safe and healthy, but it is still such a tremendous loss.

Most of you already know Travis, but for those of you who don’t, he is among the finest writers I’ve ever had the privilege to talk to and a great human being as well. He is a husband, father, kids' football coach, sometimes mall Santa, meat eater, Texan, and friend. If you’re reading this, Travis, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Our friend, Erica posted about setting up a fund of some sort to help the Erwin’s through this. When I know more information, I’ll post it here.


Habitat for Travis is taking donations. Many thanks to Stephen Parrish for setting it up. And to Ello, Moonrat, and Erica Orloff, who got involved as soon as they heard. I love the writers around these parts.

As a side note, I can't afford much, either, but I'm going to give what little bit I can. I hope you all will too.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Honest Scrap

Two of my blog friends, actually, two of the bloggers that followed my first ever blog, gosh it’s been a long time now – bestowed upon me the ‘honor’ of an award. Thank you, Silken and Malcolm!!! For thinking of me, and for keeping in touch, even after the site that shall remain nameless went under.

This one is called The Honest Scrap Award. Basically, I’m supposed to list ten things about myself that you don’t already know. Then I have to name seven other bloggers to play. This becomes a little harder when you’ve been blogging for so long, because I forget what things I’ve mentioned... here goes... yell at me if you knew all this already.

1. I have ridiculously good hearing. Seriously, if you’re going to gossip about me, make sure I’m not even in the same building – I can hear whispered conversation from three rooms away. I don’t know why this is; it just is... it also comes in handy for eavesdropping – not that I would ever do that.

2. I wrote poetry, almost exclusively, from late grade school until my senior year of high school. I have a box full of old journals and it is the most terrible, angsty, twaddle I think I’ve ever read. Well, most of it, anyway.

3. I think I’ve written one poem in the last decade. It’s still not that good. (unless you count parodies, and I don’t)

4. I love black comedy. In fact, my sense of humor in general is a little warped.

5. This probably goes with number four but I tend to use a good deal of humor in my novels and I always worry that it’s not hitting right, because I know my humor’s a little dark and I try to really lighten it up in case someone else just reads it and thinks I’m mean...

6. My best friend from high school and I used to write letters back and forth that were upwards of twenty pages, full of cartoon stories and silliness. Hers were so funny that my entire family would actually wait for me to get home, eying the still sealed envelope like hungry animals, waiting for me to read it and hoping I’d let them, too. They were so funny, we all had tears running down our faces from laughing so hard.... I still think my friend should be doing something creative for a living... she’s got the best sense of humor I’ve ever seen – but then again, as evidenced in numbers four and five, I might not be a good judge.

7. My kids have adjusted well to public school... but I still wish they were in Catholic.

8. I’m sick of the way my house looks... I really would love to just paint everything bright and new... and I might.

9. I wish my house was better organized and I’m working on improving that this year. (I work on this every year, but hopefully it’ll stick this time)

10. This one’s going to sound crazy, but that’s never really stopped me before. I have an odd feeling that this year will be a transitional one for me, one of those pivotal time periods where your life or outlook or circumstance is forever altered afterwards... I’m not sure if this is a good change or a bad change, it’s just a feeling I have... we shall see.

Okay, those are my scraps. I’m supposed to name seven people, but I think I’ll just leave this open for you guys. If you want to participate, let me know in the comments... or just tell me your scraps there.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Advancing Technology; Same Old Human Nature

Technology has afforded us many new avenues to find information. In a lot of ways this is a great thing. How many of us have used the internet to jump start our research? Or myspace to connect with old friends? How many of us rely on caller id to weed out telemarketers and collection agencies? Okay, possibly too much information...

For each leap technology gives us, though, new avenues for abuse are opened up. GPS Tracking, for instance, is a great tool to keep track of your possessions. You can have it installed on your car, so in the event the car is stolen or the person goes missing in their car, it becomes easier to locate in the shortest amount of time. Anyone who watches Law and Order or CSI can tell you that time is essential in these cases. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen news stories about someone’s car being stolen with a small child inside – that makes a great case for having the very best technology can offer to locate the car quickly.

A lot of laptop users install GPS Tracking in their machines. Anyone who has a constant need of their laptop for work, and takes it with them to meetings and various places, knows the danger of getting it stolen. So again, this seems like a great prevention technique. But what about the people who use these things to, say, spy on their loved ones?

If you do a quick search of terms like, “Catch a Cheating Spouse” you’ll find a ton of references to various computer spyware and GPS Tracking systems... You can find everything, from folks desperate enough to hire a hacker to break into someone’s email (I’m pretty sure that one is slightly illegal, folks... and what do you do if there’s nothing incriminating in the email? Seriously, you’ve just given a criminal access to your loved one’s personal information... plus, if it makes you feel kind of stalkerish, it’s because you are...)

These leaps and bounds in technology can be really great, but as always, human nature means that some people will bastardize a good idea for their purposes. The more these programs and tools evolve, the more we have to be aware of what’s out there, and different ways people can take advantage. The problem with these advances is that it makes it possible for people to scam you without you actually doing anything wrong or even being aware.

What do you guys think? Are these advances all good or are there certain things, like tracking someone, that should abide by strict parameters in the law. I mean, aren’t we giving stalkers and abusive spouses a lot of new tools, here? Do you think these are overall good advances or is this generation going to hell in a hand basket? And the most important question, how are you incorporating these new advances into your writing?