Friday, May 29, 2009

I posted The Perfect Girl, a short story of mine, a few weeks ago. One of my fellow bloggers suggested that I try submitting it to Flash Me, a flash-fiction 'zine (and thanks for the suggestion, Stephanie! It may not have worked out, but ideas for new markets are always much appreciated). I think it's a pretty good short story.

So, while I'm never heartbroken to get a rejection letter - it's just part of the trade - I was a bit surprised by the editorial commentary that came with it.

EDITOR 1: No. This didn't hold my interest.

EDITOR 2: No. This started off rather well, but the ending was childish
and immature, completely ruining the piece.

EDITOR 3: No. This needs a thorough proofreading, and the end is
psychologically unsound.

EDITOR 4: No. The beginning of this reads like a character sketch, and as
far as characters go, Ali isn't particularly interesting. The ending
didn't work for me either, mostly because of the awkward transition in

Usually when I get a rejection letter, I wish there was a bit more explanation of why my piece didn't work. Now I'm thinking, be careful what you wish for!

You can read the short story in the post here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day! Oftentimes, this seems like National BBQ and Beer-Drinking Day (Which, actually, sounds like a very worthy holiday in its own right).

But, as much as I love grilled chicken and cole slaw, I do always find myself thinking of the people I've lost. At twenty-five, I've already seen more than one friend die too young. But the greatest personal loss for me has been my father, who died when I was seventeen.

The interesting thing is how much that loss has affected my writing. I haven't written a story since that included two parents. My novel, SHARDS, is based on my memories of losing Dad in high school (with extended what-if scenarios, of course, but some scenes are purely mine in the midst of the fiction). The independent reader book I wrote before was about a girl who has lost her mother to cancer.

The day that my father died, I was getting ready to go to the hospital. It was spring, and the lilac bushes in our backyard were fragrant, the scent drifting into the house on a soft breeze as I washed dishes at the sink. I heard the front door open and I knew. I walked slowly into the living room with the dish towel in my hand. My mother was in the doorway with her arms full of flowers carried home from the hospital.

And one way or another, I've been writing about that day for the last eight years. I guess we write what we know. But I worry that there's only so much I should write about grief, that I should try to branch out and talk about college, travel, marriage. I have such a wonderful life. Why do I always find this one subject slipping into my work?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I've been thinking lately about how much about my writing I've been putting up on the interwebs. Details on my novel-in-progress, SHARDS, including plot elements, character names, even chunks of the story. Past short stories I've written (and have submitted... ooh, I might have to pull PERFECT GIRL off the interwebs, now that I think of it). It may not be the "smart" thing to do.

But I am an "information wants to be free" believer. The type of person who thinks record labels should get with the program, because we are willing to support the artists - just on our own terms. The type of person who reads books off the Gutenberg Project website and thinks it is the most awesome thing ever.

So I'm going to go ahead and put my writing out there, too. Because my stories also want to be free.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's been a fun-filled week. Driving 12 hours a day some days... at which point, even Handsome begins to really get on my nerves... with some fun stops like Nashville, TN and a great blues bar, B.B. King's, and Coyote Ugly's; Charlotte, NC and the U.S. Whitewater Center (we rode an unbelievably fast, 35 MPH zip line, went rock climbing and white water rafting, which was a great break from being in the car) and Virginia Beach, VA, to meet friends and enjoy the (cold) beach.

But I've been getting some work done, too - mostly outlining work since the car seems more conducive to outlining than actually typing away on my laptop.

I did not outline my first draft of SHARDS. Which may or may not be how it ended up at 127,000 words by the time I finished, two months later than planned, but that is neither here nor there.

I have a neat two-page outline in my File Of Stuff To Send Out To Agents (also, a one-page and seven-page, since everyone asks for something different), but now that I am re-writing, I feel I need a more comprehensive outline for myself. Especially since I've decided to do a major renovation of SHARDS (sigh), but want to keep a lot of the same scenes and dialogue when possible. This may be difficult, though, since I want to change around some of the bones of the story and remove an entire subplot.

For someone as obsessive as I generally am, you'd think I would have an outlining method down, but no. I started off by outlining by chapter, i.e.:

Chapter Four: April goes home to Conner, her live-in boyfriend. She tells him that she ran into Nick, with whom she had a “thing” in college, and Conner says, “I sense lies of omission.” She asks him how he can be with someone he does not trust, and he admits he doesn’t know. April listens to her phone messages, and has a call from her mother, complaining that she never sees her. She deletes it, thinking that most mothers and daughters probably like each other, which is why they actually talk. Still, she adds “Call Mom” to her mental to-do list – a list which most certainly does not include calling Nick.

But then, I realized I needed to separately outline my key plot points and the subplot points, so that I could change these elements without having to look at each individual chapter. I'm finding that is helping me to focus on what my actual story is, i.e.:

Primary plot: Man against self. After telling many painful lies while covering up her father’s assisted suicide, April takes comfort in twisting the truth to make the world (and herself) seem better. However, her pathological lying endangers her relationship with her boyfriend, Conner, her seat in medical school, and even her sense of self. April tries to stop lying and tell the truth, but one more lie is always so tempting. To undo all the damage, she will eventually tell the truth about everything, including admitting that she helped her father commit suicide, which makes her vulnerable to her estranged mother and her competitive peers. But through this vulnerability, she strengthens her relationship with Conner, begins a dialogue with her mother again, and realizes that how the rest of the world sees her doesn't matter all that much.

It's hard work outlining a novel. Not the creative buzz of the writing itself, not the business thrill I feel when doing the grunt work of mailing out submissions. And I still don't know if I'm doing it "right". I guess only the finalized manuscript will tell.

What system have you developed for outlining a novel? Are you the type to wing it, or do you work with a full outline from Day 1? And how does your outline fit into your re-write?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

But hopefully, not too much of an adventure.

Today Handsome and I leave to drive cross-country from California to Virginia. We love Cali, but this is a career-precipitated move. Another bonus for a writing career: you can write virtually anywhere. In sunny SoCal. In Singapore. In Ireland... *Escapes into blissful daydreams for a moment*

Anyway. Back. We've much enjoyed the year and a half we spent out here: going to the beach after work to boogie-board, dinner parties and hot tubbing with friends, kayaking on the Pacific, exploring the cute little seaside towns, and finding our favorite restaurants. This is where I learned how to play soccer and how to live with someone else. We bought our wedding rings together in the L.A. jewelry district, and most importantly, we married on the beach a bit north of San Diego. SoCal will always have a bit of my heart.

But I'm excited to start the next chapter of our lives. We're planning to buy a house in VA, and if all works out, that's where... far, far down the road... we'll hopefully expand our family with some little hellions and a puppy. In the mean time, we have D.C. to explore, new friends to make, new hobbies and volunteer work to experience. It's an exciting move.

First, though, we have to get there. This is our first cross-country trip together; I drove out on my own and he flew out to join me before. During my drive from east to west coast, I stayed in some horrendously sketchy, rundown motels. The worst had the peep hole in the door busted out, and a wad of paper towels stuffed in; the completed deserted Denny's next door (at 7pm) did little to calm my disquiet about the place. I had already gotten a room in another motel when I noticed the flashing GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS sign at the classy establishment behind. I also got snowed into Amarillo, Texas, for two days -- and I don't think there's much to do in Amarillo regardless, but certainly not in the midst of a blizzard.

This time, I don't plan to stay anyplace that looks like a movie set for a horror film (though that's dependent on whatever we can find along the highway, unfortunately); in fact, I don't want to stay anywhere that doesn't have a hotel gym and complimentary wi-fi. And given that it's May, I think we should be safe from blizzards.

I'm hoping that this trip has its interesting moments, but isn't quite an "adventure". I wouldn't mind meeting a few interesting characters and seeing the odd curious sight, but I'd like to avoid weather, car problems, and anything that reminds me of a Freddie Kruger film. Mmmkay? Oh, and no domestic tiffs, either -- Handsome should be a good husband and let me curl up in the passenger seat with our duvet to sleep through our 10+ hours a day of driving.

I''ll be posting along the way if I get the chance, but if not -- we should be in VA in a week. May the muse be with you!

Friday, May 8, 2009

I was just wondering what the protocol is on borrowing another poet's line as the jumping-off point for your poem, or writing a response to their poem. Is it still publishable? Or is it just a lame writing exercise?

Because I have two poems I've written I don't know what to do with. One was written in response to Robert Frost's "Love and a Question", and one was written with a first line of Emily Dickinson's, "Bring me the sunrise in a cup..."

And if I can't do anything with them, I want to know why I wasted my time. :p I've never been a fan of the "imitation" school of writing that various teachers and professors have had me practice over the years.

Here's "Love and an Answer", my response to Robert Frost's. In his poem, written from the man's perspective, he is keeping some secret from his loving wife in an attempt to protect her.

Love and An Answer

Inspired by Robert Frost’s Poem
Love and A Question

She sat by the firelight, bending over her little work
And her needle went steadily, as he paced by the door.
She sat before the open fire, dreaming happily of him
And her skin flushed pink before the reflected heat.

She looked up often, and he would smile back
But his eyes were worried, and she bit her lip to think.
So she laid her work by her side, and went to him
As he stared out on the darkened road.

She took his big hand in her two and asked to know
And he just shook his head, wishing to keep
Her heart ever as happy and bright as it were then
Her face ruddy from the fire, her lips warm to touch.

And then darkness fell a little, into those pretty eyes
To think that there were secrets he would keep
And thought he wanted only to bear this burden
Even without knowing it had become her own.

He felt the rift, that separating his pain from her’s
Was to deeply separate himself from her,
And so he told her, with a shiver from the open door
And she pressed her warm body against his.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I know, this is supposed to be a writing blog. But occasionally I am probably going to veer off into my personal life. If that doesn't entertain you, feel free to skip over posts like this one and I will be back to business tomorrow. :) I justify recording these events as the little things that eventually make their way into inspiration and then story form.

Yesterday, Handsome and I were driving to our favorite Mexican restaurant (mm, quesideas and raspberry margaritas). When we exited the highway, we saw a man standing on the corner with a sign that said, "Hungry - please help."

"Do you want to stop off and buy him a burger?" Handsome asked.

I agreed that sounded like a good idea. We know a lot of the homeless kids in our area, so we sometimes give them food or money, but this was the first time we'd stopped off to buy food for a homeless stranger. We discussed the etiquette of it as we pulled into a Carl's Jr -- should we flag him down first and then pay for his order? Or just pick up food and then run it back to him? in the end, we decided to just order him a combo meal and bring it back.

Well, I still don't know about the etiquette, but I do know about the practicality of it. When we emerged with a bag of fast food and a Coke and walked down the street to the highway entrance, there was no more homeless man. We walked down the road a little further, wondering how he could have gotten out of sight so quickly (maybe our fast food wasn't all that fast).

So there we are, with good intentions, dinner plans, and a bag of fast food we don't know what to do with.

"Where are the homeless people when you need them?" I asked Handsome, because I am always very sensitive.

We walked back to our car and decided to drive down to the beach, looking for someone homeless. And as we parked our car, a man sat down on a park bench right in front of us. He was older, wearing a dirty fatigue jacket with a long beard. But... was he homeless? Would we be complete jerks if we went up and asked him if he wanted Carl's Jr?

"You do all the talking," I warned Handsome.

"Okay," he said. So we walked over to the park bench. "Um, do you want some Carl's Jr?"

"No," the guy said. Oh. Okay. Nevermind. Fall back and regroup...

"Okay," Handsome said. We started to move away, and then the guy said, "Well, maybe. Did you have extras or something?"

We explained the story of the disappearing homeless man we'd hoped to give the meal to.

"Well," he said. "I guess I can eat it. Okay. I'll eat it."

"Great," we said. We gave him the bag and the Coke.

As we started to walk away, he called, "God bless you!"

We're still not sure if he was someone who needed food or if he just wanted to end our awkward search. But I'd like to think we still managed to do a good thing that day, even if we bumbled it. Hopefully, we're in service of some higher power that's a little more slick than we are.

Next time we see someone asking for food, though, I am going to ask what he'd like and either bring him with us or tell him not to go anywhere! Handsome would like to take it a step further and bring them into our restaurant with us, but I'm not sure how that would go over. He is inspired by this project. And maybe it's not a bad idea. Probably someone living on the streets can use not just dinner, but someone to talk to.

And, tying this back to writing, the novelist in me thinks it might not be a bad idea, either. Pushing our personal boundaries could change our perspective, challenge our cherished beliefs, inspire our best writing. I know that's how, for better or worse, I've made some decisions for my life -- not, what's the smart thing to do here? but, what's going to make the better story to tell? Remarkably, I am still alive, and maybe a little bit more interesting of a person, as well.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I want a BMW convertible and a Lexus SUV, but I don't want either of those things right now. My next car will probably be a used Honda (although power locks and windows will still make me it an upgrade from what I drive now, bless the 2002 Saturn). The BMW and the Lexus, to me, are some far-off luxury items that I want to buy as a symbol to myself I've "arrived", when I'm financially independent.

And I would feel cheated if someone handed me the keys to a shiny new BMW right now (although I probably would not turn it down, either). Because then it would just be a car, as opposed to a personal success symbol.

Inspired by a post on the "Just to Write" blog (article found here) about goals & dreams, I have been thinking about what my writing BMW is. If a BMW means to me that I've arrived financially, then what means I've arrived as a writer?

To me, it would be publishing several novels in one genre -- five or six. Instant fame is not required (we can't all be a J.K. Rowling or a Stephenie Meyers), but I'd like to be decently established, to a point where I can support my family on my writing. I want to go into Borders and see my books on the shelf. I don't have to be a household name, but I want to be known in the industry - I want to have the credibility to lead creative writing workshops and teach a college course. I love to teach, and there's nothing I am as passionate about as writing.

So that's what I want. That's my BMW.

And if I can do well enough as a professional writer to buy a shiny BMW, well, that'd be extra peachy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I was researching markets for a story today and I ran across the most interesting tidbit in their author's guidelines:

All published authors will receive payments ranging from $5 - $25, which will accompany the contributor's CD copy of the issue, within two weeks of publication (delivery to non-U.S. contributors may require longer than two weeks).
Now, this begged an immediate question for me. I'm fine with paying by the word or line, or by standard payment prices for short stories and poetry. But paying short stories on a sliding scale? I was perplexed. How did they determine how much each story was worth?

The actual amount to be paid will be decided by our editors' ranking of the work.

Ah. So you are, theoretically, going to tell me my story was ranked highly enough to be published by your magazine, but not well enough to be worth $25. No, it's a GOOD story, publishable and all, but only $5 worth of publishable.

Folks, my mind just boggled.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about anyone willing to pay us short-story authors for our amazing little creations that far too small a segment of society seems willing to acknowledge. But I find this just a little odd.
How do you track your submissions to magazines and literary agents? Well, if you spend your free time (when not writing) creating financial statements in Excel, Excel probably seems like the natural solution to all your problems. (This is not true, however. Sometimes Visio is the answer, and other times, Powerpoint)

So I track everything I send out in Excel, adding notes when I receive rejection letters, a request for a full or an acceptance (I have seen two of these so far, and I do not believe that it will ever, in my life, cease to be an exciting dance-around-the-living-room-and-scare-the-cats moment).

The First Line actually gets it own page, since, as described in my last two posts, I enjoy creating something to meet their requirements. This is what it looks like:

1 Issue Story Title Submitted Response

3 Fall 2006 The Way We Say Love 30-Jul-96 Rejected 16 Aug with nice note asking me to try again

5 Spring 2008 The Perfect Girl 17-Jan-08 Rejected 19 Feb w/ encouraging personal note

7 Spring 2009 Starlets at Work and Play 20-Dec-08

My novel also gets a page, although I've taken a hiatus from sending that baby out. I feel maybe it's a "ten year novel", one that I will re-work many times before it is published. Hopefully the next novel goes faster.

1 Literary Agent Date Sent Type of submission Response Notes
2 Levine Greenberg Literary Agency 18-Dec-08 Electronic

3 Donald Maas Literary Agency, Jennifer Jackson 19-Dec-08 Electronic Rejected - 20 Dec
4 Laura Dail Literary Agency 23-Dec-08 Electronic Rejected - 13 Jan
5 Irene Goodman Literary Agency 2-Jan-08 Electronic Rejected - 14 Jan
6 Aaron Priest Literary Agency, Lisa Erbach Vance 5-Jan-08 Electronic

7 The Writers House Literary Agency, Maya Rock 6-Jan-08 Electronic Request for a full on 07 Jan! Full sent on 08 Jan, Rejected
8 Folio Literary Management, Rachel Vater 6-Jan-08 Electronic

9 Dystel and Goderich, Chasya Milgrom 6-Jan-08 Electronic

10 Brick House Literary Agency, Sally Wofford-Girand 12-Jan-08 Electronic

11 Trident Media, Jenny Bent 30-Jan-08 Electronic

Hours of research, hours of designing and tweaking the perfect cover letter, and it all boils down to 44 cells in Excel. And no advance.

Last but not least, I keep my goals in the same Excel doc so that I can be inspired at the same time as I enter the latest news--

1 2009 Goals: Intermediate Goals: Completed:
2 Secure an agent for Shards Market novel to 30 agents 11
3 Complete a second novel
56,000 words
4 Sell 5 more short stories or poems

5 Enhance my personal marketing Update writing blog 2x/weekly Did NaNoWriMo '08 Interview
Create professional website
Read & apply 6 books on marketing

Hey, I may not be a brilliant published author (yet), but at least I'm organized.

So let's here it from the peanut gallery - how do you organize your work? I've been thinking that each market-ready story and poem really deserves it own Excel line in a worksheet, at a minimum, so I can keep on top of sending them out.

Oh, wow. I think I just added to my To-Do list.