Thursday, July 29, 2010

I spent this past Friday working another 24-hour shift at work (which would not make my personal list of Fantabulous Ways to Spend Your Weekend).  The good thing is, less any emergency, all I really have to do on these shifts is stay awake. So I:
  • created a floor plan for our office revamp on graph paper (you can cough *geek* at your monitor here, it won't hurt my feelings), 
  • worked on revisions for The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes,
  • read the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. I'd read another book from later in the series, but I totally should have started here. I'm now hooked.
I also drank a lot of "retro" cane sugar Mountain Dew.

Silent to the BoneSince then, I've been pretty lazy on revisions (my job and sleep are huge distractions). But I've been reading - this week I also read E.L. Konigsburg's middle-grade book Silent to the Bone, Meg Rosoff's YA How I Live Now, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's beautiful Gift From the Sea. Inevitably, expect to see Gift from the Sea quotes over the next few weeks...  I loved E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid - one of my favorite books, as brother and sister run off to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, which I always thought was a good idea if you can pull it off (Still do, in fact).  Silent to the Bone is a very different book - more mature, dark and sad, but again with the great voice and humor that had me entranced as a child.

How I Live NowI really can't say enough good things about Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now. At first, I found the style a bit off-putting - the voice is that of a fifteen-year-old girl who does not like to pause for breath.  Run-on sentences galore. But that voice is also very engaging, and the quirky style quickly becomes just a part of that.  The story itself - about an American girl visiting cousins in England when war breaks out - is beautiful and sad and hopeful all at once.

Also, I realize it's no longer Wednesday. Sorry - I started this post yesterday and then could not resist the lure of Bed.  MJ and I have a tradition of reading before bed that I dearly love, no matter how hard it is to keep my eyes open.

So, since there isn't much to tell you about beyond my exceptionally slow battle with revisions, I thought I'd leave you with an excerpt of The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink  Galoshes. This is Lauren with her boyfriend, Jake:

“Rough day?” he murmured into her ear, already comforting her with kisses.

 “The worst,” she said. “Late to class. Didn’t have the reading done. Wasn’t prepared for my study group. Felt like a total loser.”

“I’m pretty sure you can’t be a loser,” he re-assured her. “You’re brilliant and beautiful and sweet. Oh, and I don’t make fettucine alfredo for losers.”

 She laughed and finally pulled her head away from his shoulder. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

“I think you may have mentioned it once or twice,” he said. “Come help me make salad.”

He led her through the living room of his house to the small kitchen.  “Do you really need my help making salad?” she asked. “I definitely have to buy you a cookbook.”

“No backtalk from you,” he said.  He returning to tearing lettuce leaves apart, and nodded at the sink.

“Bossy, bossy,” she said, as she washed her hands. “This is why I shouldn’t be dating an older man. Let alone a cop.”

“I’m two years older,” he pointed out. “Hardly a cradle-robber.”

“That’s not how my parents feel about it,” she said. She grinned, but her parents’ disapproval was a real concern for Lauren.  It wasn’t Jake himself they disapproved of; they didn’t know him well enough for that, and her parents generally liked everyone, anyway.  It was the idea of an older cop, and how exactly that fit in with Lauren’s planned future doctorate.  Dad had been fine with Jake when he was one of a few guys Lauren casually dated, but once they reached the I-love-you stage, Dad had some unfortunate comments to make about “blue collar” and “Irish cops”.   Lauren had tried to laugh it off, calling him a snob, and then had done her best to avoid the subject of what was, potentially, the love of her life.

Jake shook his head. “Parents always love me. I won’t even let you drink underage.”

“Speaking of which,” Lauren said, pulling tomatoes, cucumbers and a diet Coke out of the fridge. She nodded at the bottle of Gatao white wine on the countertop. “It isn’t fair to tempt me.”

“In another year and a half,” he promised. “You can have your very own bottle.”

 “I’ll bet you drank when you were my age.”

“I wasn’t an Officer of the Law then.” He opened his eyes wide to go with the exaggerated words.

“I’ll bet you were more fun.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re going to have a terrific meal, amazing conversation, and watch a kung-fu movie.  How could alcohol ever improve on that?”

“Kung-fu has to be better when you’re intoxicated,” she said. She chucked a handful of tomato slices into the growing bowl of salad.  “Notice I said better, not good.”

He shook his head sorrowfully again. He had a nice strong jaw, a straight line of a mouth with surprisingly soft, pink lips.  Something about that mouth was irresistible to Lauren as a general rule. She found herself leaning over the vegetables to kiss him.  Jake turned to meet her with a soft first kiss, followed by the sort of deeper kiss that causes one to put down the vegetable knife.  Lauren slipped her arms around his waist.

When they broke apart, he said, “Fine. You can pick the movie.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

One of the things that freed me from my teenage insecurities about appearance was the realization that it's not just how you look; it's also who does the looking. When it comes to strangers, some people are nicer to look at than others. Regular features, striking eyes, clear skin, a well-built body - those are all things it's natural for the eye to be drawn to.

But that's just at first glance.  Once you know someone, you don't just see them; you feel when you look into a familiar face. Where you might have registered crooked teeth as an impartial observer, you see just the beautiful smile of a friend you've missed. Where you might have seen a man whose hair thins at the edges of his temples, you see the lover whose warm eyes have always made you feel like a goddess.  We re-make the people we love - and the ones we hate - in our mind's eye.

I find that fascinating, and it's a concept I love to play with in my writing where I can.  What you see in the mirror is not the same thing your best friend, mother, spouse or random gas station attendant is seeing, and if they were describing you in their voice, each description would come out very differently.  I don't like to describe characters directly; when possible, I like to give hints of description from the different POV's. 

There's a part of me, too, that has a bit of an agenda. I hope that seeing a character from different perspectives will help free young women from the idea that there's The One Right Way To Look.  My MCs are always going to be beautiful to me - they're old friends by the time I finish writing a novel. But that doesn't mean that every one of them would be a good candidate for a modeling or acting career.  When it fits with the story, I want to write characters who have some "flaws" the reader can recognize, but still see them as beautiful. I hope that will help people fall in love with the "flaws" that beauty magazines re-assure us we all have! :)

For more on my perspective of beauty, check out the post on jolie laide on La Dolce Vita, La Vita Dura. But more importantly, tell me about your MC's - how do they look?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When I was writing the rough draft of The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes last month, I sat in Starbucks one Saturday morning and poured out the story of Lauren intervening in a dog-fighting ring.

Literally, poured. I typed away, sniffling over my latte, swiping my tears quickly away and hoping no one would notice me.  Writing the raw details of that scene, forcing my imagination to really go there -- the smell of feces and infection, the matted fur and open wounds caused by a chain collar, the delicate cat bones in muck -- just broke my heart knowing that really happens to some animals.  I read more details than I wanted to when Vick's case got so much attention, but I still tried to keep from really thinking about it.  While writing, that wasn't an option.

But now my challenge for this story is to turn every scene where Lauren and Nemesis intervene into the same thing. At times during the rough draft, I tried to cheat - being purposefully vague about the terrible thing Lauren was going to stop.  It's hard to come up with myriad ways for people to hurt each other, and you know what? While there's a seemingly endless array to be turned up by Google,  I don't want to think about it.

I started Goddess out with a theme in mind: the idea that vengeance is personal, but justice is societal. Lauren would need to find a way to reconcile the Goddess of Vengeance with her ethical concept of justice. But sometimes novels diverge a little from where we expect, and that's the case here. The story ended up being about Lauren just being willing to see what it is others go through, even in the most painful of times - the times she can't actually help. My theme is our responsibility to recognize suffering - forget about the whole vengeance/justice subject (that's why there will have to be a sequel ;)).

Of course, a book with the title The Goddess of Vengenace Wore Pink Galoshes is going to be funny, too - it's not an entirely dark book.  But my challenge now is to write each of those scenes as something that makes me want to embarrass myself in Starbucks. That forces me to think about it, just like Lauren has no choice to...


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Between the ages of six and ten, I wrote on the family computer in a kids' word processing program (which I reached through DOS, that's how long ago it was).  I recorded the adventures of six hapless orphaned sisters, all of whom I remember quite well.  Button, the red-headed bossy eldest sister, Cassandra, the animal-lover, the dirty-blond twins in the middle, adventurous Janie and narrating, thoughtful Robin, sweetheart Sue, and bratty but precocious Nicky.  They escaped from orphanages, discovered abandoned farmhouses, rescued animals, got into scrapes with adults who did not understand that six little girls were capable of being perfectly self-sufficient, and occasionally, ran into some kind of magic.

The word processing program capped my writing at a four-page limit, so I learned to write very concise chapters in their saga.  All those stories are unfortunately still languishing on that old PC. And even though, unlike most of my writing that doesn't quite cut it to share with the world, they probably can't be re-worked or recycled, and even though I might prefer to remember them than actually re-read them... I'm still claiming the computer when I go home to New York. I hope I can retrieve my silly old stories.

Besides, maybe it'll entertain (and inspire) my future kids to see what I writing when I was their age.

When did you really become a writer? Do you still have the first story you ever wrote? I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This week in my literary world:
    Every Last One: A Novel
  • Matthew Rush at the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment has my query letter from Shards of Glass up on his blog from this past week. Check it out here!
  • Revisions continue on The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes.
  • I finished Anna Quindlen's Every Last One in one Sunday afternoon. It was hard to pull away from.
  • Still reading Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. It's a great book -  but since it's about Columbine, PTSD, grief and drug abuse, it's taking me a while to work through. It's hard to read at times.
Great stuff going on around the rest of the web:
  • Summer is having a great giveaway over on and this time... concentrate! She's giving away some cute swag, a copy of the phenomenal Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and dark chocolate. You had me at 70% cacoa dark.
  • For a slightly different take on the three-act structure, you might want to visit Chatterbox Chitchat. Here's Lynette's take on act three, which I talked about yesterday. 
  • Candace of Misadventures in Candyland is promoting some great charities and hosting some great giveaways. She's such a big-hearted blogger, it always makes me smile to visit her blog!
  • Jen at Unedited is doing a great series of author interviews - I know I've seen at least one book up there (We Hear the Dead) that is now a must-read for me. Go check it out!
I hope everyone had a happy hump day! How's it going for y'all?

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Before finishing up this series, I just wanted to say I'm now in the third act of The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes.  Only, kinda not really. At around 77k I should be passionately plumetting through those final pages, close to the ending, but I've been not very enthusiastic about writing the end. What I have been feeling quite excited about was the idea of going back and revising, trying to straighten up some problem areas I'd already identified.  I just felt I had to slog through the last bit to the end first.

    And then I realized, why? Who's the writer here? So I'm paused at 77k, 5-10k from typing The End on the first draft, to begin revisions. I feel the tweaks along the way might cause some changes to the ending and that I might feel powered up and eager to write the ending once I've worked through everything so far.

    Updates to come on whether this ends up being a terrible idea. :p
    Thanks, But This Isn't for Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being RejectedThe excellent Thanks, But This Isn't For Us by Jessica Page Morrell has fueled my desire for revisions, to be honest. But as well as picking on characters and dialogue, she offers a helpful guide to structure - namely the ever-popular (for many reasons) three act structure.

    The third act is where your MC faces his or her biggest challenge. Whatever has been building all this time, your MC has emerged from the Long Dark Night of the Soul ready for the fight - whether that means trying to win back her true love or facing down a serial killer, depending on genre and story.

    Morrell's guide to the happenings in act three:
    • What was learned in the Dark Night of the Soul is put to the test. (In fact, I'm coming to think of this as where we really see the effect of character evolution throughout the first two acts - at least, that's what I have with Lauren in Pink Galoshes).
    • Pace picks up throughout the ending - shorter chapters, action boiling. The end delivers the emotional high (and/or low) point.
    • The MC undergoes both external and internal change.
    • The ending answers story questions and problems and ties up most or all subplots and loose ends.
    • The ending stems from the MC's nature - not something that is forced on him/her.
    • The ending delivers maximum drama with minimum words, and then ends - without lingering. This creates a satisfying ending.
    The End.

    Of course, if needed to explain later events, you can add an epilogue to show what happened next - rather than drag out the decisive ending. Whether it's true or not, I can't say, but I read that the original draft of Gone With the Wind didn't have a decisive ending - it dribbled on rather inconslusively, so Margaret Mitchell just axed everything after Rhett says, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    I just found out that the National Endowment for the Arts gives the Writing Center here in the DC area an endowment to provide some free classes for military veterans.


    So yeah, with my next-to-nonexistent free time, I'll be fitting in a class this fall. I'm so psyched!

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Guys, I really have nothing to report this week in terms of progress on my novel or in my reading... I added about 2k to The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes, and I'm still reading Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. Oh! and I received A Bad Day For Pretty from The Blood Red Pencil, my recent give-away win, which I can't wait to read.

    But I've been having a good time with husband & friends, celebrating fourth of July and my birthday. And cleaning my house, which MJ did while I was gone, but it's, well, man-clean.

    I did make a decision which affects my writing indirectly.  I'm one class, one thesis away from getting my Master's. Getting my MS part-time is an odyssey that began in the spring semester of 2008, and I expect to wrap my degree up now in spring 2011.  I've been debating whether or not to delay finishing my degree in order to obtain a graduate-level certificate from Boston University as well, which would be another year.  While it makes sense career-wise, being in school indefinitely is high-cost in terms of my writing time.

    I wish I could do everything. In my dream world, I'd have a spotless house, eat only organic/humanely raised/localvore food and never McDonald's, always have a cute outfit and pulled-together makeup, go to school part-time while rocking my full-time job and still have time to churn out a novel every six months (while also doing volunteer work and working out six days a week and having a social life and blogging, of course).  And I'd be able to walk in high heels without looking vaguely intoxicated.

    But this is sooo not that dream world. 

    So I'm going to finish up my formal schooling - for the time being - in spring 2011.  Three years is a long time to always be taking a class (or two) in addition to my rather demanding full-time job. It's been a practical choice, but it's time to close that chapter and make my dreams the focus of my non-working hours for a while.

    What sacrifices do you make for your dreams, or what steps towards your dreams do you find yourself sacrificing in the scrap of real life?

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    I hope you all have a happy fourth of July! (Full of food and fireworks for you American types, and just a nice Sunday for the rest of you :))

    I came home Friday night after nearly five weeks away... I'm delighted to be home again with MJ and my kitties.  I might be unplugged for the next few days enjoying my long weekend (and birthday), but I'll be back. Happy writing!