Sunday, January 31, 2010

OMG, you guys in the blogosphere definitely know how to make me smile!  Much thanks to the excellent Chasing the Moon for the Superior Scribbler award!

So, I have one of those ridiculously silly confessions to make.  While I started This Is Not My Day Job in 2008, I didn't devote myself to blogging until fairly recently. But once I started to really care about my blogging, to visit lots of other sites and meet other bloggers -- I became a little jealous of everyone else's blogging awards!  I worried that my blog wasn't very helpful or interesting to other writing bloggers.  I know that was sort of silly... but it just means that receiving this award and the Over The Top blog award has really meant a lot to me!

So, my picks for the Superior Scribbler award:

Weronika for both her posts about writing and her bigos recipe (my dad used to make bigos, or Polish hunter's stew, for me and I'm glad to have a recipe to carry on the tradition!)

Stef of 52 Weeks of Wordage, which I recommend visiting when you don't know what else to write about -- there's always a brilliant point of inspiration here!

Anna Claire Vollers of A Novel Idea even though I managed to lose her blog (I have no control over my blogroll, apparently) and just rediscovered her. She's funny. And Southern.

Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World for the awesome time and for posting a great round-up of giveaways. Seriously, go check it out. She is my go-to girl for scouting great book swag on the interwebs!

I just started reading Leasie of Leasie Writes, but she has some great posts about writing - I'm looking forward to trying the 30 minute outlining method she described here. Also, she reminds me of myself as a teenager (I promise, that is not a bad thing. Mom, if you're reading this, no one wants your opinion). She also has a newer blog, so head over and leave her some love, will you?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I found myself reminiscing today about the journey I've taken with SHARDS OF GLASS.

First, I wrote a few scenes after my father died.  Rough sketches of things that happened, glimpses of the way I felt. I was seventeen when my father died, and I quickly decided it wasn't safe to share my grief with anyone else. So I wrote. In all likelihood, what I needed was therapy and possibly medication, but writing and time brought me through that darkness instead.

At the same time as I blundered my way through mind-numbing depression, I fell in love for the first time. Embarassingly, inappropriately, unrequitedly in love, the way I think could only be managed at eighteen, with an older friend and confidante. Our relationship was unmitigated disaster. I wrote a short story, Kiddo, exploring the dynamics of that disaster. But I still felt I had more to say about it; writing helped me make sense of what happened with us.

Then I took a creative writing class in college, for which we were assigned to write, create and bind our own book for display in the library.  Yes! Writing and arts & crafts.  I was in heaven.  I put together a collection of short stories, excerpts and poems that all related to April and her story, slapped on a black and white cover with two coffee mugs, and titled it "Coffee and Cocoa". Nick (my former love) was coffee, sophisticated, dark and adult; April was cocoa, sweet and naive.  It was an interesting experiment for me, but it wasn't the novel, yet.

One day, I was thinking about "What if?" scenarios (which is one of my favorite ways to brainstorm. I thought, What if my father, who was scared of losing his dignity when he was diagnosed as terminally ill, had asked me to assist in his suicide? What if I said yes? How would that change me as a person? What if lying about that one terrible thing caused someone to just start lying about everything, trying to change reality the only way they could?

So I wrote the half of a first draft of SHARDS.  That draft, though, was focused on the April & Nick saga, not on April losing her father. I realized unrequited romance was not as interesting as the "what if..." concept I'd discovered, and I was writing the wrong story. Abandoned.

The REAL first draft began with the key first chapter (excerpt) where April helps her father commit suicide; everyone who read it was hooked on the novel. Booya.  I finished this draft. I revised. I was finished.

I queried it to agents, and had some interest, including a request for a full (that nothing came of). But then I realized that SHARDS wasn't ready after all.  I cut a massive subplot. I cut the ending. I cut 50,000 precious words that I'd poured out on the page and then polished lovingly.

And that's where I am today. Re-writing, revising, trying to coax SHARDS into the stunning novel I know it can be. I'm always at the end, again; now I have to go back through the outline, add in key scenes, get the input of beta readers, revise and polish, polish, polish.

I'm more confident than ever, and oddly content to be back to work when I thought I was done. I believe SHARDS is a wonderful, original story. It needs a little more work. I can't believe it's taken this long, but I still believe.

This is, of course, a very personal story about my writing journey, but I thought it would be interesting to talk about because we all have such different journeys from the first germ of a book to the final product. Some stories write up quickly; some take years to coax to fruition.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Long round-up of things that entertained or edified me this week (can you tell I'm doing a better job of tracking it all?)

I doubt there's anyone reading my blog who doesn't also read Nathan's, but I loved this guest blog -- You May Be a Bestseller on Tralfanadore. So next time you're feeling discouraged about your writing, think of all those fiction-loving aliens, and keep at it. 

Also in the category of pick-me-ups, because at least you aren't writing like this -- I recently discovered the Write Badly Well blog, and it is quite entertaining. For instance: Alan picked up his slice of toast and bit into it thoughtfully. The crescent shape left by his teeth was like a smaller version of the shark bite Julia would suffer next week, but at the moment, Alan knew nothing about that. From this entry, demonstrating how to start your story three chapters before anything actually happens.

From PubRants, here are two awesome pieces from Kristin explaining opening pages that work. Incidentally, these opening pages also made me want to read the novels -- so I get it.
Part one here, with Janice Hardy's The Shifter
Part two here, with Gail Carriger's Soulless

The NY Times on a DIY book tour. It's not exactly glamorous to cary one's books around in suitcases and sell them yourselves at readings before crashing on someone's coach. Or maybe it is, in a way. I love the idea of getting to connect to your readers on this level, though. When I'm published, I know there are places I'd like to go read -- like my hometown, and the amazing bookstore I frequented in Cali -- that I'd have to pay for on my own, and I'd be okay with that.

The Chocolate Chip Waffle is having a contest, the one-sentence contest.  Win or lose, I think trying to write the best sentence ever is fun in itself!

I don't know if anyone besides me ever wonders, "How long is this thing supposed to be when it's complete?" but The Swivet has a helpful post on word count for different types of novels.

The First Line is a magazine where each issue contains stories all begining with (wait for it) the same first line. For the March 1 deadline issue, the first line is "Working for God is never easy."

And, in a similar vein, Midnight Diner is an anthology of crazy Jesus stories. I'm so curious I almost can't stand it. Jesus v. Cthulu?

On an unrelated note: pet peeve of mine #236: If you look in the 2010 Writer's Market, Popular Science is billed as a "men's magazine".  This explains why visitors to our house tend to assume that the issues of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science,  and Wired on the coffee table are my husband's. No, no, no. We're both geeks. Why do magazines with no gender-specific content (as opposed to items like Cosmo, which has articles like "100 Ways to Give Him the Best Sex Ever Tonight", and Men's Health, which has articles like "100 Ways To Get Her to Give You The Best Sex Ever Tonight") feel the need to box themselves up like that? GIRLS ARE GEEKS TOO, okay, damn it. We can be interested in things like solar power, spy tech,  and the latest tweaked-out discoveries in cosmology. Ghaa!

I might be a little angry about that, but Susan Hill is very, very angry. Unbelievably angry.  About all of us pretentious amateurs.    I understand her point -- I think -- that writing is a meritocracy, and not everyone has the right to be read just because they string some words together.  However, her point is rather defused by her stating that a) she studied difficult writers to learn her craft and b) has fifty years' publishing experience and then c) writing a series of run-on sentences that border on incomprehensible.  I'm sure it was just her angst speaking, but my god.

And lastly, an appeal for help: I like to put all the writing blogs I like to keep up with on the sidebar to the right, but several that I subscribe to, or follow, don't show up when I try to add them to my blogroll. Anyone ever had an issue like this?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The writing side:

I hit some serious roadblocks with SHARDS this week.  First, I didn't know what happened next. Then, I got over it, but even knowing what had to come next didn't make the writing any easier.  I know we're supposed to be all passionate about our writing, but there are just some weeks when eking out the words is as fun as dental surgery.

Nonetheless, I got the writing done.  I just also took some breaks from SHARDS -- I submitted a short story, THE PERFECT GIRL, to a magazine called Shock Totem, and I submitted another short story, BOOKWORM, to Hunger Mountain (both found on Duotrope, much thanks to those who pointed me in the direction of this useful resource for short story & poetry markets!).

SHARDS OF GLASS WIP: 73,905 words.  3,507 since last week. *Phew*  It's coming together. Slowly.

I do brood occasionally about how much writing time I have available to me (I made MJ watch New Moon with me in the theater, and now "brood" is the overused word in our house). But, I realized yesterday, I may not have as much as I want, but I have enough. Every weekday, 6:45-7:15 am, or every Saturday morning from 10-12, or whatever gets squeezed into the press of everday life? I might not be churning out a rough draft in a matter of months, but that's okay.

On the reading side:

This week I finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, The Fiction Class by Susan Breen, and Impossible by Nancy Werlin (bringing me up to a grand total of 11 books read so far in January... I love this reading challenge, I think I'm reading so much more than I did last year!). I'm not managing to keep up with all the reviews I would like to do, although The Fiction Class is reviewed here and other book reviews are linked to from my challenge post. So, if there's a book on my list that you're particularly interested in having reviewed, let me know!

Now I'm working on The Dark Divine, Chasing Brooklyn and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet this week. I've always been the reader with three different books at one time (one for the gym, one for the coffee table and one for bed, doh!), and often the writer with multiple projects at once, too.

How about you? Are you a multitasking reader or writer?

On a completely different note, I am really excited for tomorrow's Thursday Round-up. I've been culling cool links all week when I've found them,  so I think this round-up is going to be the best so far.  I'm excited about blogging in general -- I didn't realize when I began just how much FUN the blogging community is!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My first blog award is the Over The Top Award from Jen over at unedited. Thanks, Jen! Seeing the award this morning really made me smile. I love this award, since I'm learning more about other bloggers from seeing their one-word answers! (I hope I'm not the only one finding one-word answers challenging?)

Rules: Answer the following questions with Single Word answers then pass this along to 5 other bloggers. Make sure you let them know about it though.

Your Cell Phone? iPhone
Your Hair? Blond
Your Mother? Sweet
Your Father? Gone
Your Favorite Food? Chocolate
Your Dream Last Night? School
Your Favorite Drink? Rootbeer
Your Dream/Goal? Novelist
What Room Are You In? Kitchen
Your Hobby? Running
Your Fear? Unloved
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? Kids!
Where Were You Last Night? Sleeping
Something That You Aren't? Polished
Muffins? Chocolate 
Wish List Item? Furniture!
Where Did You Grow Up? country
Last Thing You Did? dishes
What Are You Wearing? t-shirt
Your TV? Off
Your Pets? Cats
Friends? Crazy! :)
Your Life? Interesting...
Your Mood? Tired
Missing Someone? No
Vehicle? Saturn
Something You Aren't Wearing? Pants!
Your Favorite Store? Borders
Your Favorite Color? Pink
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Last night
Last Time You Cried? Thursday
Your Best Friend? Husband
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Work
Facebook? Constantly
Favorite Place To Eat? Thai

And I'm giving the award to:
Kasie West,  because I love her maddeningly unhelpful advice (and all the helpful advice, too)
Megan of Megan Rebekah Blogs... and Writes
Summer of And This Time... Concentrate  (which is advice I really should take!)
Kristin of Kristin Creative
Stephanie of Hatshepsut: The Writing of a Novel

P.S. I know root beer is supposed to be two words, but it had to be said.

Monday, January 25, 2010

One question that I didn't fully explore in my first draft of SHARDS was how a terminally-ill father could even ask his teenage daughter to help him end his life. This is a scene I recently wrote to try and fill in that gap. It's still rough, and I'm trying to figure out if it works or not.  It opens with April, six years later, in her father's study, and then flashes back to high school. One of the hard parts of writing this chapter, for me, was that I just couldn't help writing aspects of my own father in -- the Shangri-Las, the scales, even the story about swerving to avoid the deer and then regretting it (the vodka tonics and the actual assisted suicide are not a part of my own father's story, though).

She sat at his desk, in the stiff black leather chair.  Mom could put this space to better use. She still used the old family computer station in the hallway as her own home office space, even though she had a shiny new Dell in place of the dinosaur April had once hogged for homework, Myspace and instant messager.

Still, April ran a finger over the old coffee stains – what a thing to feel nostalgic about – and knew why Mom didn’t. She could almost pretend he was going to come home, in this room.

The row of bare windows, overlooking the orchard behind the house, was behind her; to the right were the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of books she had pronounced boring as a child. To the left was a long, low cabinet. Glass shelves held Dad’s various pieces of memorabilia, some worth something, some not. There was a Civil War-era musket, a pile of arrowheads they had found, a big purple geode. Family photo albums, which Dad  had conscientiously filled with every single photo from a roll no matter how unflattering, were stacked up on the top shelf. His ribbons and medals, mounted in a case, from a gory and terrible year in Viet Nam. On the top of the cabinet was Dad’s first typewriter, a record player, an old-fashioned set of scales. The scales had endlessly amused April as a toddler, as she stacked and restacked the round lead weights.

She got up, rifled through Dad’s record collection, and then put on the Shangri-La’s. She dropped the needle onto the spinning disc with a practiced hand, even though it had been years. They had both loved the record player; something about the spinning disc, the need to change records or flip them over.  It connected you to the music in a way, made you focus on it rather than let it fade into the background.

She hadn’t been in here in years, but she used to be a frequent visitor. Dad always had time for her. She used to sit on the edge of the desk while he, theoretically, worked, and ramble on about school and friends. When she was very little, he used to listen to her long stories about a made-up quartet of plucky orphans, who escaped from a series of terrible orphanages that fed them nothing but oatmeal, eventually moving into a magical farmhouse in the center of a forest. 

In fact, he had been sitting here – not yet confined to the hospital bed, but too weak to work from the office most days – the day he had first broached the subject of assisted suicide.

“I don’t want you to remember me dying,” he said. “This cancer isn’t who I am.”

“Obviously, Dad,” she said. She took a sip from her cup of Coke, then wiggled it at him, ice cubes clanking against the sides of the glass. “Mom isn’t home.”

“In the drawer,” he said. She leaned across the desk to open the desk drawer, pulled out the bottle of rum. Mom was on the puritanical side of teen drinking; Dad saw nothing wrong with underage drinking, especially safely at home and away from Ben. She was going to experiment with alcohol sometime, he said, why not here and now?  They’d started off with vodka tonics together while Mom was at Bible study, but Dad’s stomach bothered him too much to drink anymore.

She mixed her rum and Coke with her finger, then sucked on it absently. “I know you don’t like the idea of losing your dignity,” she said. “But to be honest, I want you around as long as possible.”

“I know, baby,” he said.

She turned away, looking out the windows, and kicking her long legs out.

“Don’t be sad,” he said. “This is just a part of life.”

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck,” she said, choking a little on the words.

“No, it doesn’t,” he agreed. “Sometimes I think about how I won’t be there when you graduate college, or when you get married, and I—” he stopped. She looked at him again, her vision blurred, and saw him put his head in his hands. She knew he wouldn’t finish the thought. He was not going to risk crying in front of her. She blinked away her own tears, surreptitiously touching a knuckle to the corner of one eye.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said. “We’ll get through this, Daddy.”

He sat up himself, pulling his hands away from his now-composed face.  “I’m not looking forward to this dying business,” he said.

She waited. Her heart felt frozen in her chest. They had danced on the edges of this before. She knew what her decision was, already; it was just so terrible to contemplate.

“I was driving home last week, and a deer ran in front of the car. Big buck.  I swerved to avoid it. And then, as I was driving the rest of the way, my heart pounding – I wondered what the hell I’d just done.  That could have been my ticket out of this whole mess.”

“Hearts want to keep beating,” April said softly. “I think it’s just what’s in us.”

“Our hearts aren’t very smart sometimes,” he said.

She shook her head. In agreement, maybe.

“Hospice will try to make me comfortable, at the end,” he said. “If they can’t… that is not how I want my life to end.”

“Well,” she said. She clanked her ice in the glass again, a little nervous tic she was cultivating. “You know what a loving obedient daughter I am.” The joke felt flat to both of them; she blundered on, anyway. “I’ll do anything you ever want me to do.”

He put his hand over hers. They even had the same hands; long, with delicate fingers. Hands made for art and creation, sometimes called to be instruments of destruction instead.

It wasn’t a handshake, but it sealed their agreement; later it would be expounded on, but that was the moment the course of April’s life changed.

They had talked about the how a hundred times, perfected the plan. April had used the library for research, in case there was ever suspicion, so no one could trace their home web searches.

There was just one question that they’d never addressed, and it was the one that April was caught up in now.

Who the hell asks their teenager daughter to take responsibility for something like that?

It wasn’t something that had even occurred to her at seventeen. He needed her, she loved him, it was simple as that. They had worked it out to ensure that she’d never face criminal prosecution, that her life would not be ruined.

But of course, it wasn’t criminal prosecution that would ruin her life. It wasn’t the possibility of losing the family insurance payout that paid for her tuition and apartment. It wasn’t even the possibility of losing her seat at medical school.

It was just the weight of having killed someone that she loved.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

One thing that makes a story truly sing for me is well-written dialogue. In my own writing, I rely heavily on dialogue to convey much of the story. One reason for this is that it establishes conflict between individuals much more deeply than just stating that such conflict exists.  For instance, in SHARDS I chose to expose that April and Nick had a past illicit sexual relationship through their dialogue rather than through their thoughts or a flashback:

     April watched him stir two more packets into the three he had already added at the beginning. “And you make fun of me for the way I drink coffee,” she said. “At least I don’t pretend to be an adult, order black coffee, and then turn it into a milkshake.”
    “My coffee issues are irrelevant, we’re catching up here,” Nick said. “So about the new boy toy.”
    April said, reluctantly, “His name is Conner.”
    He raised his eyebrows at her. “You know everything about Debra. Including how she expresses herself when she walks in on her boyfriend with a nubile co-ed. So feel free to divulge a little more.”

Having situations unfold largely through dialogue also allows you to retain a note of mystery -- rather than the omniscient author stating something, you let your characters reveal as much or little as they wish through their words.

A few things I've learned about dialogue:

1. Like Alfred Hitchock said, "Drama is life with the dull bits cut out." While you want your dialogue to sound realistic, you don't want to bog it down in realism.  We all say "Um" and "Yeah" in real dialogue, but your characters generally don't need to unless you are using their speaking style to establish something about them in that particular scene.  Dialogue doesn't need to include all the back-and-forth of our speech, either; cut out all the extraneous stuff and stick with lines that reveal something about your characters and their situation.

2. Dialogue should be personal to the character. It doesn't matter how clever or brilliant or revealing the line is, it doesn't belong if that particular character wouldn't say something like that. One way to test this? Cut out everything else. Then look at your page of text. Do you get lost about who is speaking, or do individual voices stand out?

3. Pacing with dialogue -- if you have nothing but lines of dialogue, it reads like two people rat-tat-tating away at each other, firing back quick responses. Sometimes that's appropriate. Otherwise, break up these lines with action items. As a rule of thumb, I try to do this at minimum every three pieces of dialogue.

One thing I always find interesting is the great dialogue tag debate. Should dialogue be tagged almost exclusively with he said/she said, or should there be some variety? I've been writing fiction since I was about seven years old, and as a child I used different tags almost exclusively, eschewing the commonplace said.  Here's an example of my youthful writing (which, by the way, has never seen the light of day -- I wish I saw some use for the complete middle-grade sci-fi novel I wrote in junior high, but... well... see for yourself):

    "You're making the poor girl nervous," Lezon worried.
    "How can I be making her nervous?" Gundark retorted. "I'm not doing anything. Just breathing."
    "Then stop," Lezon snapped.
  Oh great, Janie thought. Our world is about to be invaded by bickering aliens.
    Gundark sighed. "Listen, Janie. You're going to listen to me carefully, so that when the rest of your family comes home, you can explain everything to them."

However, now that I am older and, presumably, wiser (although really, this could go either way) I've overcome my allergy to good old "said".  I think using an excessively wide variety of tags becomes distracting from the dialogue itself. However,  I still don't like for anything to be too repetitive, so I do use action items within the same paragraph as the quote, when the detail is relevant to the story, instead of "said". For example:

Conner glanced up from his book, as if oblivious to Professor Daniels. “That’s what I’ve been telling her!”

Right or wrong on the dialogue tags? Well, I really have no idea. This is just my perspective from writing (and, perhaps even more importantly, reading). What's yours?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Fiction ClassWhen I read a book that I really love, I want to talk about it ASAP. Such is the case with The Fiction Class.  I actually started this book a week or two and then put it down again, which is never a good sign -- but from the time I picked it up again yesterday, I could not stop reading.   I think this was because it took the main character, Arabella, some build-up to win me over; I don't immediately identify, I guess, with a 38-year-old writing teacher.  But a few chapters in, I became deeply invested in Arabella, who is entirely sympathetic in her self-described obsession with her ailing mother and her romance with an older man she isn't entirely sure she likes. Arabella and her mother, Vera, are beautifully drawn characters who are entirely believable. The supporting cast -- the older man, Chuck, and the other members of Arabella's fiction writing class -- quickly become real as well.

I loved this book, too, for its tone. It reads with the formality of literary fiction rather than commercial fiction, but it also has flashes of humor that had me periodically laughing out loud. And the end, as Arabella and her mother Vera come to terms with Vera's life, had me in tears. This book felt genuine, though, not like a tearjerker at all. I hate to repeat adjectives, but I'm sticking with beautiful.

Here are a few quotes that I loved, either for their glimpse of the writing life or for their wisdom:

On Thursday morning, Arabella wakes up and goes directly to her computer. This is her regular routine: Sit down at the computer, stare at her bookshelves, look at the computer screen, play three rounds of Spider Solitaire, stare out the window at the Hudson River, open up the document she is working on, read the last chapter she wrote, and change some of the punctuation. Pick one of the books on her bookshelf, look at the ending of it, and try to figure out why that ending works. Look at the framed picture of her mother that she keeps on her desk, an eight-by-ten glossy from an old church directory. Play Spider Solitaire. Delete the changes she just made to the punctuation. Stare bleakly at the last chapter of her novel. (p. 59)

If you don't start work like that on a regular basis, you are a better person than I.

The exercise takes most of the rest of the class, and then they read them aloud. Arabella is struck, as always, by how well people are able to write in such brief periods of time. In fact, she has noticed that people often do better writing these short exercises than the longer pieces. She supposes it is easier to stay focused. So much of bad writing has to do with losing track of what you are writing about.  (p. 227)

That just rang very true to me. I've re-read more than one piece of mine where I've wondered, why I am I writing about this, rather than that? THAT is the interesting part!

Yet another wonderful thing about this book is that it has all Arabella's writing assignments that she gives her class sprinkled in. For instance, I like the first one:

Make a list of your five obsessions.
Now write a few paragraphs about one of them.

Feel  free to share your own five obsessions in the comments section (I will). And I think it goes without saying, I recommend this book!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Updates! What I've read so far:

The original post:
In honor of the Jane Austen Book Challenge, I just want you all to know that I am an Elizabeth Bennet.  According to an internet quiz (which is always reliable), I am intelligent, witty and attractive.  I take pleasure in many things and often find myself the lone beacon of reason in a sea of ridiculousness. The latter is, in fact, exactly how I think of myself (Ok, honestly, it's all how I think of myself).

I posted yesterday about the Jane Austen Book Challenge, which is on Hailey's blog here.  Well, I decided to do it. My goal is to do the "Jane Austen lover" level, which is four of her original novels and four re-writes, prequels, sequels or spoofs.

This is my list:
1. Lady Susan
2. Sense and Sensibility
3. Pride and Prejudice
4. Northranger Abbey (I've never read this one before, so that will be exciting)
5. Lady Vernon and Her Daughter
6. Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters
7. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
8. Scones and Sensibility (which might count towards every challenge I'm doing if my library gets a copy, since I believe it's also a 2010 YA Debut Author Novel)

And, who are we kidding? I'm probably going to re-read Emma. Just because how do I not?

I also wanted to add in, much thanks to Kristin for introducing me through her blog to both the Jane Austen Book Challenge and the amusing quiz above  (Kristin, by the way, is an Emma, which just goes to show how awesome she is!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I love Thursdays. Why? Because it's almost Friday.

Oh, yeah, and because this is the day I round up some of the fun stuff in the blogosphere that I saw this week (that I remember, which is the tough part).

First of all, Crossed Genres magazine had the amazing idea to have writers and artists share their work while soliciting donations for Haiti.  I'm thinking about what I could share, but in the meantime, check out their blog about it. Whether or not you're going to share your work, you might want to check out the stories & art already posted and donate to one of the causes.

I'm debating the Jane Austen reading challenge over on Haley's blog, because I'm already pretty busy, but it's Jane Austen and I luvses her. Also, I already have Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Novel of Jane Austen's Lady Susan sitting on my stack of library books, and I can re-read Emma an approximately infinite number of times. We'll see. The idea is to read not just some of Austen's works (at varying levels) but some re-writes/prequels/sequels/spoofs as well. How fun is that? 

Check out the contest on Stephanie's blog. It's her first contest, and she is offering the always-sweet prize of an Amazon gift card.  In celebration of her forthcoming book, she's asking you enter by a) becoming a follower and b) sharing your karma moment... so go over there and enter her contest. Be sure to follow Stephanie too; she always has something interesting up on her journey to publication!

For anyone else who enjoys reviewing books on their blog, I recommend The Top 20 Most Annoying Book Reviewer Cliches. Are you guilty?

Happy writing this week everyone!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This week in the Guiniverse:

BODIE'S MEN WIP: 3,746 Holding steady at 3,746. All my effort this week went to SHARDS. I was also thinking, it might be helpful if Bodie had a bit more of a plot to work with...

SHARDS OF GLASS WIP: 70,397 words. So this week, I wrote another 7,591 words.  For me, this is pretty epic - three times my weekly writing goal!

I also outlined two short stories that I don't feel like I have time to write. One is a dystopian piece about a boy coming of age in a society that operates strictly according to religious law -- whatever religious law you choose when you're eighteen.  Of course, that's what I think it's about; I haven't written it yet, so we'll see.  I love writing short stories, but a) the novel takes up all my attention and b) where the hell do I market them? I've had more luck getting my poetry to see the light of day than short stories.  Since I tend to write about teenager or college-age characters, I wish Seventeen and their ilk still published short stories as they did in the good old days (which were long before I was a teenager, but I've read some of them, and they used to have some quality fiction).

Anyway, I love my short stories even if all they do is bum around my house watching MTV and drinking all the pop in the fridge, so I'll have to make the time to flesh those two out. It's always comforting just to have the ideas on the page, though. Otherwise I wake up freaking out at 2 am because I somehow realized, in my dreams, that I had a great plot idea and then I lost it (I'm not crazy, okay? I'm a writer).

In other writing-related news, I have my very first beta reader, thanks in large part to Roni over at Fiction Groupie and her excellent post about beta readers. I opened my email to a new manuscript to read this AM, so I get to start critiquing, and I'm looking forward to feedback -- more on this all as it progresses. In fact, I need to send her my (very very rough please remember) draft now.

On the reading side: I feel like I have a lot of half-finished books right now. I think the only thing I actually finished this week was Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. Not my favorite YA book of all time, but engaging. Honestly, I found myself looking up at my husband from time to time to ask, "Is this really how anyone's high school experience goes?"  This book is about some unbelievably brutal bullying. Now, I was bullied a little (and I'm pretty sure bullied myself at times, shhh, we won't talk about that), but it was never that intense. Perhaps this just means that I'm fully a grown-up now and forgetting what childhood was like? :p

2010 100+ Books Challenge/50 Books Library Challenge:

(Links for the reading challenge posts are, as always, at the bottom of the blog)

Monday, January 18, 2010

First of all, I just want to say that while researching today's blogpost, Swagbucks search engine turned up this most excellent ad for me:

Love at First Sight The Fun & Easy Way to Find love at first sight at Low Prices.

This is just included as a PSA for all you single folks. Wal-Mart for the heart & soul.

But seriously.  I am currently reading Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, and while very enjoyable and beautifully written, it has me thinking about the use of love at first sight as a literary device. In Shiver, Grace falls in love with a wolf, because of its entrancing golden eyes (the fact that the wolf saves her from being eaten by the rest of its pack probably assists in this instant romance). The werewolf, Sam, instantly loves her as well, protecting her in his wolf-form and infatuated in human form. 

The fated love, immediately recognized, is a pretty common theme, especially in YA books, and especially-especially in YA fantasy. It always strikes me as a convenient, and somewhat ridiculous, plot device.  The same Greco-Roman tragedies that brought us deux-machina (which is certainly considered an inappropriately convenient plot device these days) also brought us the idea of love at first sight, as madness inspired by the gods. Those crazy Greek and Roman gods -- you have to love those guys.

 Well, most of the stories where love at first sight occurs now don't have recourse to a god trifling with human emotions for his or her own amusement. I think instead it tends to be a way to skip over the courtship period and create an immediate relationship and obligation towards each other; a sort of short-hand that one trusts the reader to accept. The readers had better be hopeless romantics themelves! I guess I am not, because every time I run across love at first sight, it makes me crook an eyebrow at the author.

Now, in defense of my own romanticism: MJ is the closest I have ever come to love at first sight. Let me set the preposterous setting of our first meeting.  It was in college. My best friend and roomie, Aulia, was dating a guy named Lars, who lived with three other guys. Aulia and I went over to the boys' apartment one night to order pizzas and watch a movie.  That night when I walked in, I met a handsome blond roommate in a blue button-down shirt. He and Lars were arguing politics, and MJ was devastating him, which I found pretty appealing.

He was well-spoken, intelligent, and the same geek-jock type as me (MJ was a soccer player, I ran track and cross country, and we're both dorks for science, tech, and well, just generally dorks).  MJ and I could not stop talking all night -- we teamed up against Lars, played devil's advocate against each other, bantered and teased. At the end of the night, Aulia stayed with Lars, and MJ walked me home. We spent another hour on the front porch of my apartment, because we just could not stop talking.

This still wasn't what I would call love at first sight. We clicked because there were certain key elements in place that made us "fit", but it could have gone in many directions from there. With just a few minor tweaks to that early storyline, MJ would just be a distant memory now, one more guy I flirted with in college, maybe dated a few times before moving on. I wouldn't be thinking of him now. But instead, we discovered more and more ways we clicked, and that led to love. The initial things that attracted us to each other have been born out.

I'm not trying to pick on Shiver here. I haven't even finished the book yet. It just made me think about whether or not I believe in love-at-first-sight (I don't, I think love is too complex to wrap up into a moment) and how I write it (initial infatuation, maybe enhanced by other events, which *may* grow into something meaningful). 

So how about you? Do you believe in love at first sight, and do you include it in your writing? Am I wrong in labeling it as a convenient plot device -- is it a real thing?

Friday, January 15, 2010

MJ and I have always had some sort of "office" while apartment-dwelling, generally a wrap-around desk that theoretically fit the two of us (but not without some elbow-banging and bickering) that housed our printer, whatever projects we were working, and both of our computers.  However, since we've both transitioned to Mac powerbooks, my usual area for writing is on the couch, with any books for reference (and my library books) piled under the coffee table. It's not the most excellent system, especially given the constant distractions working there.

However, now we have a house, with a finished basement. There's the rec room with nice built-in bookshelves, a bathroom, our laundry -- and a larger bedroom that just begs to be turned into an office. It's got me thinking about the dream components of an office, which is planned as a spring project.

So, if you could have anything you wanted in an office, what would you put together?

Here's my wish list as we design this room:

-A big wrap-around desk that comfortable seats two... MJ is going to build this for us

-Orange paint on the walls -- like this color:

I've always wanted a vibrant orange somewhere! So sick of plain white walls while renting....

-White filing cabinets to organize all the paper "stuff" I tend to collect for future reference, like these from amazon:
Euro Style Laurence Leather Hi Filing Cabinet; White Leather
-Bookshelves, of course, for the reference stuff we need in our office -- both my professional books, and my writing reference books, could use a handy home. MJ is going to build these too.

-A giant magnetized whiteboard (which will be a white wall to break up all that orange madness :p) which we'll paint onto the wall ourselves with a kit like this.

-Fun art to inspire. I like the sentiment of this vinyl wall art from Etsy's LetterExpressIt:

I also want to do some fun, colorful prints that strike my imagination, but I'm not sure which yet. Originally I was in love with some orange-and-white wallpaper with a tree and bird sihouette, which I wanted to put in oversized white frames, but now I can't find the wallpaper. Bummer.

That's what I'm thinking so far. Also, our coffee pot and coffee grinder already live down here since MJ is a coffee fiend (and we have our old apartment office set up down here). I'd like to add a mini-fridge, so I don't have to go anywhere when I am in the throes of inspiration.

What would your dream space look like? Or if you already have your perfect office, what does it look like?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What happened this week in my little created worlds:

BODIE'S MEN WIP: 3,746 I am 1,006 words behind on my writing goal (which is 2,500 words a week for Bodie's). But, there's a blessed long weekend coming up, so I'm going to catch up then.

SHARDS OF GLASS WIP: 62,806 words. I just eked out a few hundred more words on SHARDS (and a few more notecards outlining my plot... I thought I'd be done with this by now. Also one for the long weekend... I think I need to go to Starbucks on Saturday and just get it done).

It's frustrating being behind, especially since the goals I set were pretty modest in the first place. There was a lot going on this weekend (fostering two new kittens, my mom visiting) and work's been moderately terrible (I will spare you the tragi-comic stories that MJ has been subjected to about same).  Writing, as it so often does, got lost in the shuffle.  I am psyched for this weekend though, going out to get a caramel frappucino and play catch-up.

On the reading side: I read two books this week, Jacob Have I Loved and Going Too Far. This brings me up to seven books so far in 2010. I am SO glad I am doing the 2010 Reading Challenge, described in this post and originating from J. Kaye's book blog. I haven't set out just to read so deliberately in ages, and I feel like I'm getting back that childhood pleasure of escaping into books.

In fact, I have to tell on myself: I loved Going Too Far so much that in the middle of my workday, with only two chapters to go, I sneaked off to the ladies' room, locked myself in, and finished the book standing up in the bathroom.  (To be fair, it had already been a very, very long day. If other people can take cigarette breaks, why can't I take a fiction break?)

2010 Debut Author Challenge: Still 0/12

2010 100+ Books Challenge/50 Books Library Challenge:

Monday, January 11, 2010

    Although Bodie knew from her parents’ conspicuous absence at Family Day, it was hard to keep herself from looking out at the crowd as they marched and stood in formation for graduation the next day.  She couldn’t move her face, of course, standing perfectly at parade rest – legs shoulder width apart, hands folded behind her back, body immobile. But her eyes flickered through the crowd within her limited range. She wished she could turn her head.  If her parents had relented, they would be standing on the edges of the crowd, towards the back. She could not imagine them pressing into the bleachers with the rest of the clapping, cheering parents.

    She forced herself not to search for them between graduation and commissioning. It was a busy day; graduate from basic training, then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  The barracks were almost empty as she took her new uniform out of plastic and put it on, piece by unfamiliar piece. Intermittently, some other newly-minted Marine would come in to pick up their sea bags. Their families trailed behind them. If they were all civilians, like Bodie’s family, they exclaimed, “You lived like this!”  If they had a military background, they instead talked about how much tougher things had been in their day.

    “Congratulations, Bodie,” Lizzie West stopped by the side of Bodie’s bunk. She laughed. “Do you want me to get that?”

    “Yes, please,” Bodie said. She handed the other girl her solitary ribbon, which she had tried to reposition eight times now without getting it straight on her jacket.

    “Breasts get in the way,” West said, pinning the ribbon quickly and efficiently on the jacket.

    “I don’t think you’re allowed to say breasts in here.”

    West stepped back, grinning. She was a light-hearted girl with short blond curls and green eyes; she had managed to seem unperturbed and yet invisible throughout most of OCS, two qualities that Bodie really admired. “The Marine Corps already made its mistake and graduated us from OCS,” she said. “I think we’re going to be fine.”

    “Yeah,” Bodie said, smiling back. “I think we are.”

So, this is REALLY rough. This is from the rough draft of Bodie's Men, in the process. It'll be changed, a lot, before a final version of this scene. The entire scene might even disappear. Right now I'm just writing. It can be crap. I refuse to care. :p

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Life You Longed For: A NovelI read Maribeth Fischer's The Life You Longed For: A Novel on the plane coming home from Arizona. Thank god I had a window seat and no one was sitting behind us, because I was trying to keep the guy on the aisle from noticing that I was intermittently wiping tears from my eyes. What can I say? Besides being a well-written medical drama, this story got into my head and my fears.

From the back cover:
Grace's son Jack is a miracle. At three years old, he's fighting a mysterious, deadly disease that his doctors predicted would kill him as a baby. Even though it was determined to be mitochondrial disease, the little-known illness remains a mystery to medicine. Grace has sat by his besdie every minute he has been in the hospital, questioned every diagnosis, every medicine--even poring over medical journals and books at home late into the night. To the world, Grace's fierce dedication is the sole reason for her son's survival. But Grace, "the perfect mother", has a secret. And when an allegation of Muchausen syndrome by proxy is leveled against her, it threatens to blow the lid off the secret she's been keeping and tear her family apart.

One thing I loved about this novel, strange as this may be to say, is the actual information gained from reading. Fischer obviously put much thought and research into this work; she says in an interview in the back of the book that this is the result of five years of reading on the various subjects, and it shows. I learned things I did not know before about birds, Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and the Salem Witch Trials.  Of course it's all about the story, but as well as a good story, I was glad to come away having learned something.

Some of the things the main character, Grace, does are difficult to understand as a reader. So I think Fischer has a skillful voice, in that she makes Grace sympathetic and accessible. The pacing and plotting of this book is strong, and secondary characters are interesting and well-constructed. I especially loved Grace's friend, the historian Kempley. I liked Kempley's perspective on the world -- she injects some especially thought-provoking ideas about history and Munchausen syndrome by proxy. I'm not sure I agree with her, but I liked being prompted to think about some of the issues.

So that speaks to the technical aspects of the novel, but what had me getting all misty-eyed in my airline seat? This book plays on two of my biggest fears about ever having children: the fear of having a sick child and having to watch them suffer, and possibly even die, and the fear of ever facing a bogus CPS complaint.  There were times reading this book when I closed it for a second and thought, "My god, I'm terrified of having children."  This novel makes what Grace and her family suffers seems very real. It wasn't the most enjoyable book I ever read, for just that reason, but it was certainly touching.

This is book #4 for the 2010 Book Challenge I'm doing -- check it out!
Exclusive: Reporters in Love...and War: A NovelI really enjoyed Barbara Fischkin's novel Exclusive: Reporters in Love...and War. From the back cover:

In this fast paced, sharp-witted debut inspired by the author's real-life adventures, two sparring ace reporters do their best to outrun, outsmart and outscoop each other. Who knew they'd find love?

Barbara Fischkin was on the fast track to the big leagues of journalism. Then she ran head-on into Jim Mulvaney, a fast-talking blue-eyed Irishman on a track all his own. In Mulvaney's world, there can only be one star. but he wouldn't mind a little help from an attractive newswoman... So begins an outrageous love-and-hate affair between a Jewish girl from Brooklyn and an Irish lad from Queens whose barstool connetions reach all the way to the IRA. Within months, trading drink for drink, barb for barb, and scoop for scoop, Fischkin and Mulvaney are breaking stories all around the world, uncovering tales of corruption and intrigue from Flatbush to Belfast and beyond--and making news of their own: in a little scandal called marriage...

This book was just a lot of fun, and also filled with brilliant quotes. Sometimes it strained the limits of my credulity just a little, in the details, but the characters are nicely fleshed out and overall believable. The minor gaps in the plots are easily glossed over, I think, since the pace is so quick and the voice so winning. One has no time to stop and gawk at the little challenges to credulity. The writing, while filled with humor, is also quite poetic at times. I think it's rare to find an author who can blend humor and lyrical writing.

Here are a few quotes I enjoyed:

You could accuse Mulvaney of many things, but being a Joycean wasn't among them. (Fischkin, p. 216). Is my dislike of Joyce showing?

What was it with Irish men? They try to seduce you, then look aghast if you merely give them the hint that they might succeed. (p. 210)

"The book is over, then," he says.
"The book is over. This may be a book about a simple romance. But no romance is ever simple. They all begin like this. And none of them ever end." (p. 287)

I must admit to having a slight bias, as well, for love stories about marriages. Most novels seem to focus on pursuit and courtship, and end with the happy-ending of the wedding. But to me, the real romance is in the marriage. MJ and I had quite the drama-filled courtship, full of banter and fighting and making-up and goodbyes and reunion. There's little drama now, the pressure mostly from the outside world and not from each other. But there's still the banter and passion, still challenges to face together. I love books about marriages, because let me tell you, there's a fight. There's adventure and romance. The courtship isn't the best part of the story.

A lot of this novel is about the courtship (actually, a classic boy meets girl, boy pursues girl storyline), but it's about the marriage, too. I like that.  And I enjoyed the characters, dialogue, voice and humor. This is a library book, but it's one I'd contemplate adding to my personal bookshelf and re-reading.

This is book #3 for the 2010 Book Challenge I'm doing -- check it out

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Another entry for my new blog schedule -- the weekly roundup of great stuff in the writing (and reading) blogosphere. At least, the great stuff that I've run across, I'm sure there are some things I'm missing. What do you want from me? It's not like this is my day job. ;)

There's a great contest this week over at Babbling Flow of a Fledgling Writer to celebrate her 100 (plus!) followers. Check it out:  She's offering up THREE books I know I desperately want to read for the top prize, including The Dark Divine, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I'm crossing my fingers for myself, but I will for you too!
So head on over and enter!

Roni at Fiction Groupie posted an interesting entry about Meyer-Briggs personality types and writing. Check it out here.  INFJ is supposed to be the most-oft published of all the personality types, but as an analytical and stubborn INTJ, I think there's room in the publishing world for all of us with our different strengths. (According to Meyer-Briggs, I should be a lawyer or a scientist.  Clearly, these people were not in my freshman year Physics classes).

New to me, though perhaps not to others, is the Guide to Literary Agents blog. There's a pretty diverse range of subjects there - industry news, successful query letters (and why they sold), how to write a synopsis.

Incredibly helpful this week -- Natalie at Between Fact and Fiction blogged about her revision process. She described the steps she takes and has an AMAZING list of questions to ask yourself during revision. I might have to print these out and hang them on my wall. Check it out on her site here!

There are a ton of other things I want to add in here, but I've got to get back to work!
I like vending machines. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the idea of the automat, something I was introduced to in the fabulous book From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I greatly enjoyed the movie Dark City, mostly for the cinematography, but especially including the neat automat displayed there.

I've had sandwiches from vending machines before, so obviously, I know the idea is not really that excellent in execution. One tends to end up with a sandwich where the various elements are confused about their identities -- crunchy bologna and meaty lettuce, for example. But I do like the idea.

I've mentioned before that my day job is, while somewhat dull, also quite intensive. I usually bring my lunch and a Sigg bottle of water, since many times I spend a long day without breaking away from my desk/meetings/Blackberry. But on sleepy mornings when I forget (Read: Mondays), the vending machine for a cherry Coke and a Snickers bar can save my day.

However, when MJ and I went to Italy in summer '08, I discovered my favorite vending machine of all time. Are you ready for this?

When I saw this vending machine in one of the train stations, I went "Squee!" and immediately ran right over. "MJ, I want to buy a book from the machine! Only I don't read Italian...."

So I settled for a photo with the neatest vending machine idea ever, as a souvenir, instead of a book I can't read (yet).

I already am an excessive supporter of the bookselling economy, despite my best attempts to use the local library instead, but if they sold books in vending machines... the incredible cuteness of vending books would probably destroy my self-control.  They have these in many subway stations throughout Europe, but the US has not quite caught on yet.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Quote of the day: "These are all great stories," I said, although we were not writing at all. Instead, slowly, we discovered how it felt to write freely in your own ancient language, to live in a country that had the right name, its correct old name.  From Barbara Fischkin's Exclusive

I've been flirting with the idea of organizing my blog posts in some weekly routine (If only you saw how obsessively I guard my routines and organize my purse in real life, this would make a lot of sense).

One thing I really want to include is a weekly update on my writing and resolutions. Since Wednesday and "weekly update" are both brought to you by the letter W, we have our first planned weekly post. Wednesday Weekly!

BODIE'S MEN WIP: 2,252 words. Bodie just graduated from Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. Her parents did not come to graduation, and she is surrounded by other newly-minted Marines with their proud families.

SHARDS OF GLASS WIP: 62,080 words. April, my lovable chronic liar, has just been informed by one of her professors that she faces a review board for academic dishonesty.

Since I am revising SHARDS OF GLASS as I re-write the ending, I also have a neat stack of about 50 or so index cards describing scenes. I'm trying a plotting method from Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, which I will discuss in more detail 1) when I've finished my damn cards and b) when I have some idea as to this method's effectiveness. Speaking of which, I need to review this book, but I think it's going to take me until June to try all his recommended exercises (Seriously, the man suggests a 3-month self-education course in plotting that involves index cards. I am simultaneously intrigued, and lazy).

2010 Debut Author Challenge: Still 0/12

2010 100+ Books Challenge/50 Books Library Challenge:
All books so far courtesy of my wonderful public library.

Mm, I think that's it for now. If you think of anything else I should include, dear readers, I would like to know. If it doesn't involve incriminating myself or sharing my daily calorie count (that is not a Butterfinger bar next to my laptop, I have no idea what you are talking about), I'll be happy to share. 

I also plan to do a weekly roundup of what's interesting to me in the blogosphere, with neat articles and swell give-aways I've run across, so look for that later this week.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I read a few books in transit for work (flying cross-country every other week is miserable, but it does provide one with some dedicated reading time), and I'm looking forward to reviewing them. I've read some neat things about writing and publishing lately. And I just generally enjoy yakking about my life as a would-be writer. Blogging is fun -- especially because you guys reading are so awesome!

However, I need to write now, not blog. Work is making me late on my word-count resolutions, and I need to catch up!

Something fun will be blogged tomorrow, I promise!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I'm not quite ready to take on this particular challenge yet as its own special project, but I'm intrigued by the Banned Books Challenge.  I ran across it reading At Home With books (here). It originated on Lost In Books (here).

Love the idea. Basically, the challenge is to read 50 books that have been banned at some point in time. They don't have to be new books -- the ones you're read before count as well, if you like. The list is quite extensive, and includes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Lovely Bones, The Great Gatsby, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Little House in the Big Woods, to name a few that I've read before (and consider completely harmless).

Now, there are some censored books where I can understand the desire to ban them (All I can say is, I read the Marquis de Sade in college, and it's not erotic -- it's just horrific). But I think it's interesting that so many books have been marked as inappropriate for kids or teenagers at some point.  I read excessively widely as a kid (including some graphic sexual scenes in adult novels before I even understood what the act entailed).  Some of it may have been over my head, but I can't imagine any book -- not J.K. Rowling, the Bible, Shel Silverstein or Maya Angelou -- forever altering my values and ruining my childhood.  When it comes to books I haven't read before, I'd like to do the challenge to explore why they were considered inappropriate, but mostly, I like the idea of the challenge as a way of supporting these books, and celebrating freedom of speech. This is not a 2010 project, so I'm in no rush, but I am going to keep track of books as I read them.

As long as I never have to touch de Sade again. *Shudder*

Banned books, read so far:
1. Alice In Wonderland
2. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn 
3. The Lovely Bones
4. How to Eat Fried Worms
5. "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
6. James and the Giant Peach
7. The Catcher in the Rye
8. To Kill a Mockingbird
9. Animal Farm
10. The Great Gatsby
11. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia)
12. Little House on the Prairie
13. The Da Vinci Code
14. Bridge to Terabithia
15. Diary of Anne Frank
16. Flowers in the Attic