Monday, March 30, 2009

Research, References, and the Power of the Internet

There are a few great things about being able to connect online, not the least of which is the vast amount of information in one easy click. Lately, I’ve been dividing my writing time between working on the WIP and researching for future submissions. That can take you to a lot of different places online, but for me, most sources are only the beginning. It’s like back when you had to write research papers and at the end you’d list your bibliography. Well, taking any one webpage at gospel would be like listening to the person who wrote the term paper over researching their sources... the sources are more accurate and the paper writer, if they’re doing their job, used that information as a springboard toward their own summations.

I check the stats on my blog every few days, maybe once a week. I like to see who’s checking my posts and where they’re coming from every once in a while. There are spurts here and there of various searches, but the ones that pop up at a pretty regular clip are my book club blogs on The Mists of Avalon. Other book reviews get regular hits, too, but the book club blogs on Mists get long and lengthy visits – always from University or College computers. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are some college students out there using my blog as a reference. Those discussions were pretty detailed. There were a number of them and the comment section in each was full of thoughtful insight by all of the participants. It’s possible that they’re reading them to get ideas for different aspects of the book to write about – I hope they’re not plagiarizing whole hog... in fact, I thought about pulling the posts just in case. I’m guessing they’re smart enough to know that their instructors have access to the same internet and might’ve stumbled across the same blog at some point.

But, thinking about it this way, how do those college students know that I even have any concept of what I’m talking about?

Over the course of dealing with people online, you get to know some whose opinions and thoughts you trust. They usually have some credentials to lead you to that opinion, or you’ve followed them for long enough that their perspective holds weight. I follow a number of blogs where I don’t even know the real name of the author. But I trust them because their knowledge has panned out and resonated – it can also be checked.

Some of the resources I like to use when digging into agent research or even formatting / grammar issues are the writer boards. There are a few good ones; I’m not going to point them out here because most of you already know about them. They can be a font of great information, if you’re careful.

I’ve had people correct the formatting on my ms before. Either format would have been correct, depending on who you were querying (I’d seen some editors who preferred one while some preferred the other – that’s a case where you double check who you’re querying first, and if there’s no indication, go with the ancient standard... mine was the ancient standard). I indicated as much in my response and they proved their assertion by pointing me to a popular and well-respected writing board... okay, the board might be well respected but the quote was by some writer who participates on the board who didn’t have any identifying characteristics and not very many posts to follow... there was no reason for me to take his/her word on it – I didn’t even know who the writer was... Just because the board is reputable doesn’t mean all of the active members know what they’re talking about.

A nifty little benefit to those in query hell is the ability to check the agents’ response time at various places. But then, too, that can be a distraction more than anything. If a lot of other writers post about a quick response time from an agent, but you’re not getting a response, that can make you do something stupid – like submit two days later instead of waiting.

While I check these things regularly when I’m researching, I’ve learned to take them with a grain of salt. Some of the posters are more expert than others – some are just kind of catty.

How about you guys? What’s your litmus test for researching online? What’s the best advantage for you? What’s the biggest peeve?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gotta Have A POV....

I like character driven fiction. I think almost every reader will say much the same – and most writers will say they write character driven fiction. This isn’t the same thing as saying there’s no story. There’s always a story, but a really good novel, the one you can’t put down and sticks with you for decades, those have fully realized characters.

Erica Orloff recently blogged about getting rid of a character. In her case, the character was fully fleshed out, too fleshed out for the story at hand. Sometimes that happens. We know all of our characters, inside and out. But the reader doesn’t need to know all of these things. And sometimes they just detract from the story, because their own story starts to take away from the movement.

One of the things that struck me in writing my middle grade was that having a firm grasp on the different characters wasn’t enough. I also had to have a firm grasp on who they were to my POV character. They say there are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth. Well, the writer knows the truth. We know each character’s motivation, background, exactly what, where, and when... But our characters, if we’re honest with them, can’t possibly be privy to all of that.

My POV character is eleven. I found the biggest challenge in honestly portraying his mother. His mother is around my age, and I get her on a deeper level than he possibly could, because I’m not restricted by her title – MOM. But I had to keep that title in mind while I was writing the novel. The reader had to get her through my mc’s filter. She’s a newly single woman in her mid thirties. In another novel, she might easily be the heroine or love interest. But not in this one. I’m in my thirties now and I still can’t think of my parents as sexual beings... obviously they are or I wouldn’t be keying this in right now... but it would be off the mark to have that aspect of the character portrayed in this telling.

How does the point of view in your novel color your characters? Have you ever read a book where characters stepped outside of the pov filter? Did it work for you or did it ring wrong?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Battling Meh

We talk a lot about making our writing sparkle, different, unique. We talk a lot about finding that pure voice, the one that’s ours. And there are many variables that can make writing, ‘meh’. Meh – it’s serviceable. It’s technically proficient. But it doesn’t resonate.

A lot of us writerly types, myself included, advocate working with critique groups. I’ve run the gamut from sending out to crit partners and beta readers privately to posting excerpts and query letters publicly – both here and at other boards and blogs. I’ve heard people argue about doing this, some of which is laughable and some of which has a point. I can’t just take every rewrite suggestion, input it into my work, and voila – fixed. I think some people do just that. You have to think it through though and try to figure out 1) if the suggestion is subjective and doesn’t fit with your vision 2) if it is the work that’s off, how do you fix it? A lot of critters will tell you exactly how to fix it, but keep in mind, what works for them might not work for you. The point to me is not to work by committee but to get a completely outside opinion of something that I can’t possibly see clearly. Let me tell you, there are a number of things I’d never have noticed if I hadn’t spent so much time critting and being critted. Critting others, by the way, has taught me more than actually offering up my own stuff.

But Meh, as I stated earlier, is more than technical proficiency. Critting helps with that, but it can’t give you the X factor. Sometimes it’s purely subjective.

I just read a book that made me cry three different times during the course of the reading. That’s not usual for me. That’s not even usual for me in real life. X factor. There are parts of that novel that just roped me so far in I could feel it. X factor. BUT, big but here, one of the main story lines bugs the living hell out of me.... meh. Someone please tell me why, when it’s a novel about two women or four women or whatever, it’s always the character who gets married and has a family and is giving to everyone else and not at all self or career oriented... she’s always the one who dies of a terminal disease... WHY? What, single professionals never get cancer?

It’s a legitimate storyline, but it bugs ME. That’s subjective. Okay, it’s also overdone, but you can have overdone if the writing is good and the writing was good in this one... but I still felt, ‘meh’.

So how about you guys? Is there a specific storyline that will always make you feel ‘meh’ regardless how well it’s written? Have you nailed down why some things fall short for you, is it a subjective thing or is it always in the writing itself? Is meh always fixable? For me, the story in question would have been much better if it was another character that gets struck down. I’m sorry; I’ve seen it too many times. Or how about if they actually survive it... doesn’t that happen occasionally too? All ME issues, not necessarily something wrong with the actual story.

When’s the last time you read something that was off for you? Did it not have the X factor? Or did the X factor just fall short of propelling you past your own subjectivity?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Happy Dances Abound!!! – Introducing The Big Ooga!

So, back on my New Year’s post I mentioned that one of my resolutions, the main one, was to get back out into the workforce. I wanted not just any job, but one that I loved and a boss that would understand my commitment to my children as well... that’s kind of a tall order in any economy, and I expected many months of pounding the pavement.

Instead, it took about two months and what I found was a fit so perfect, I couldn’t have made it up any better:

The Big Ooga

I’ve come up with paragraph after paragraph, gushing about how much I love the idea of this business and the people I’ll be working with – but this excerpt from our About Page says it better than I can:

”We have created a forum where networks can network and people can create genuine alliances. We are founded on how fairly we treat each other, a collective professionalism and a generous spirit. We support the importance of local business communities and promote and partner with quality organizations. We are also dedicated to the joy of the journey, the thrill of entrepreneurship and most importantly, the success of our members.”

The great thing here is that we’re localized to Chicago, so we’re helping to build both virtual and face-to-face business relationships. But we’re also building a community that anyone can take part in. Our databases of entrepreneurs and small businesses are searchable to everyone, and each business included holds to the highest standards of professionalism.

For those of you in different parts of the country, we'll be expanding. Keep an eye on us to see when Big Ooga launches in a city near you!

My new boss, Ms. Lennie Rose:

Lennie Rose’s Blog Where you’ll find her insights on marketing, running a small business, and her dynamic personality fun and informative!!!

I know a lot of my blogging buddies are freelancers – and I hope you’ll come and look around! I’d love to see you all join in the conversation at Lennie’s Blog. It may be a good way to connect with other entrepreneurs, or just spur new ideas for your own business growth. And for my fiction writing buddies, there will be a plethora of new ideas on marketing and promotion – or you might need to find a great web designer or illustrator to get your Author’s Site up and running.

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited. Right now I’m working from home a bit, getting settled in and learning about the site and blog and our community. I’ll be working with the site itself, and I’m looking into various things. For my own blog here, I burned the feed through feedburner, and registered with technorati. I didn’t register with various bookmarking sites, but I’ll be looking into that for the blog at The Big Ooga. As always, you guys are my best resource. So if you’ve got any favorite services that have worked for your sites or blogs, let me know. Which social bookmarking sites are your favorites? Do you use an alternate service besides technorati? And if you get a second, stop over at The Big Ooga Blog and say, “Hi”...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Things My Kids Say When They Think I Can't Hear Them...

I admit it – I eavesdrop. There. I said it. Sometimes I don’t mean to do it, I just have really good hearing and can’t help it... but sometimes people who aren’t really talking to me are just flippin’ interesting. There’s the tone thing – people talk to different people in their lives with varying tones in their voice. For instance, when I was in my early teens I could always tell when my older brother was talking to a girl on the phone. It drove him crazy, well, I drove him crazy... because I always knew just when to embarrass or pester him, but never did it when he was on the phone with a guy friend... why? Because his tone changed the minute it was a girl and I knew he was trying to impress someone (enter evil, grinning demon sister).

Now, I eavesdrop on my kids all the time. Not to invade their privacy, though I guess that’s a hard case to make since I just said I’m listening when they don’t know it, which is pretty much the definition of privacy invading. But to clarify, I don’t dig through my daughter’s diary, or listen in on her phone calls. I do, however, hear them talking from rooms away, and I can see around corners... that’s only because there’s a big mirror in the dining room and they totally don’t realize that I can see and hear them, because they don’t see me – I’ve given them enough hints on this already. When I correct them for saying something wrong or doing something stupid from two rooms away, they should realize that I can see and hear them. In their defense though, they’re 11, 8, and 6, so lucky me, they just think Mommy’s Magic... the eleven year old is convinced I have the place bugged.

But the conversations they have when I’m not in the room crack me up so much, sometimes, I just hope they never totally figure it out. I’d miss this part of their relationship. The non-mom included part.

(Oldest Daughter walks into the kitchen. She’s wearing an oversized tee shirt, raggedy sweat pants and her hair is in the same ponytail she slept in... She’s still sick with a nasty case of strep throat that’s felled my whole family this week... which, by the way, littlest guy was the first one to get and therefore the first one to feel better. Littlest Guy is sitting at the table)

Littlest Guy: Wow! You look disgusting.

Daughter: Thaaanks! Girls just love to hear things like that.

(She sits at table across from littlest terror and he eyes her up and down... just staring)

Daughter: What?

(He smiles, his big, missing front tooth smile)

Littlest Guy: You’re a fan of Hello Kitty.... Hello Kitty is for babies and you’re a fan...

Daughter: I am not, what are you talking about?

Littlest Guy: See! Hello Kitty! (He points to the tiny pink band-aide on his sister’s finger)
Daughter: Ouch! Hey! (pulling back wounded finger) I’m not a fan, I was bleeding. It was a medical emergency.... What did you want me to do, all we had was hello kitty, should I bleed all over the place?

Littlest Guy: You could’ve used tape.

Daughter: Grrrr.... I’m sick... and cranky... and you’re the one who made me sick in the first place!

(I couldn’t see his face, but I’m convinced he grinned even wider – the classic is, the first two days littlest guy was sick, she doted on him and snuggled him and brought him juice)

Daughter: I’m telling mom you’re bothering me.

Littlest Guy: (Jumping up and standing in front of her) No you’re not...

Daughter: Don’t start that.... sigh... I’m not looking at you... I’m not looking at you... your cuteness is eeeeevil.... I’m not looking at you....

Littlest Guy: (whispers) But, see, I’m doing the puppy dog eyes... see? (with the little high pitched lilt he uses special, for conning, cajoling, and generally getting his way)

As no one ever told mom, I’m guessing points go to Littlest Guy on that one. Anyone want to lay odds on how long it’ll take before the eleven year old loses her temper and cracks him? So far, she lets him get away with pretty much anything, because, as she says often “His cuteness is EEEEEVIL” He is much cuter than I was and my brother never killed me.

How ‘bout you guys? Are you eavesdroppers? Ever notice the different tones people use for the people in their lives. Ever like to be that fly on the wall?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Industry Lingo Explained

In my last post, we discussed support among writers – a great thing, all around. In fact, it’s my favorite thing about being a writer. Sure there are all kinds of writers, but I’ve seen an awful lot of people in the publishing industry reach out to help others up the rungs, with everything from recommendations, to advice, to real support. One of the reasons that we’re so supportive is likely because the rest of the world, the nooooormal people (yes, you have to say it with a whiney ‘o’ sound, otherwise it’s not snarky enough), yeah, well, they don’t get it.

So here is my small attempt to educate the non-writers out there... and amuse the rest of us.

Industry lingo explained:

WIP: Work In Progress, otherwise known as, “I’m writing, I swear! No, I’m absolutely not puttering around the internet wasting time...”

Revisions: A manic period of writerly improvement where one wavers back and forth between adoration at the brilliance of their novel and wondering how the hell they managed to spew such drivel... usually broken up by periods of raucous laughter and anguished weeping over bullshit changes that likely don’t matter while missing larger mistakes that likely will.

Critique: The act of opening up said novel to an onslaught of criticism on every possible aspect of the writing, story, and even formatting... The better writers seek out the most brutal of critics... they also drink heavily.

Under the Bed Book: A first, second, or even third attempt at writing a novel which is part of the learning process most writers must go through... It would likely be a better idea to burn these tomes because they doth suck... yes, even yours... I know it’s harsh but it wouldn’t be under the bed if it was any good... (Mine sucks too, I’m an equal opportunity trash talker)

Query Letter: One page pitch to ye who holds your fate in their hands that must convey the tone, plot, and that which makes your novel sparkly... wait, not sparkly, that’s been done...what’s the word? Glitter? No, that’s been done badly... fabulousity? Meh... all in 250 words or less.

Rejection: Similar to the type of rejection one gets after using cheesy pick up lines at a bar, except it takes about a year of your life to write a novel, sometimes years... cheesy pick up lines can usually be thought up in the time it takes to use the bathroom, which is where I’m convinced they’re invented... Oh, and most agents won’t track down query writers to toss a drink in their face, though that might make for more fun.

Agent: The greatest of all writer’s advocates... except when they reject you... scratch that, it’s okay when they reject you, unless they showed massive interest and then sent back your first page with a big, red, “No Thanks”, but otherwise we loves them... unless they never reply....

Landing an Agent: Reason for happy dances and celebration and even major “Squeeeeee’s” (unless Stephen is around, for he loathes the squeee). Despite non-writer assumptions, this is preceded by many revisions, much research, and at least fifty bouts of pounding one’s head off keyboard, desk or hand...

Proper Response to hearing an aspiring author landed an agent: Squee or some variation of congratulations.

Improper response to hearing an aspiring author landed an agent: “So, when will you be published?” (Which is only allowable if, when you get a promotion, I’m allowed to ask when you’ll make it to an important position, like CEO... yeah, I thought so)

***Additional Definitions:

Synopsis: Turning a 400 page book into a 1 page summary. Shoot me now. Courtesy of Michelle Hickman

I thought about going farther, like “Landing a Contract”, but I think everyone gets that. How about you guys? Are there aspects to writing that you wish non-writers understood? Got any snarky definitions for me?