Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a fantastic toolbox for fiction writers

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

It’s been a long while since I’ve read a book on the craft of writing. Although I’ve often found such books valuable, in a way, I had grown out of them, focusing more on the act of writing instead of reading about it. But Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer was recommended to me recently with such fervor that I immediately picked it up — and discovered one of the best books on writing craft that I’ve yet to read.

Wonderbook is aimed at writers of speculative fiction, but is valuable to writers of any genre. The main chapters of the book cover the full range of the writing process, including Inspiration and the Creative Life, The Ecosystem of Story (point-of-view, dialog, and other story elements), Beginnings and Endings (with VanderMeer’s novel Finch as a main example), Narrative Design (plot, structure, etc.), Characterization, Worldbuilding, and Revision, along with a few interesting appendices. The chapters discuss the theory and practice of writing, while also providing inspiration, prompts, and writing exercises.

I particularly appreciate that VanderMeer does not prescribe The One Way to Write Them All, but rather cites a multitude of sources and examples to present the many sides of any method and, in fact, many sidebar items either question or direct contradict the view of the main text. In addition, the book offers essays and interviews in which fantasy authors — such as Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, George R. R. Martin, and Karen Joy Fowler, among others — each with their own viewpoints. In this way, Wonderbook offers a toolbox of approaches to writing that the writer can pull from in order to discover what works best for them.

The illustrations, maps, charts, and artwork throughout Wonderbook, provided by a number of artists but primarily Jeremy Zerfoss, are a key way that it guides its readers through the murky waters of writing terminology, methods, and advice. They provide playful visual diagrams or inspirational asides that are valuable in and of themselves, making specific  aspects of the writing process more memorable.

illustration by Jeremy Zerfoss
One of the many fantastic illustrations in Wonderbook by Jeremy Zerfoss.

I was hoping to narrow in on a chapter and provide a more detailed look some of Wonderbook’s great advice — but I’ve run out of time, as the library is demanding its copy of the book back. But I just preordered the revised and expanded edition, so I’ll soon have my own copy to peruse at my leisure.

I will point out, however, that Wonderbook had an immediate practical effect on my writing life. While in the middle the section on Revision, I read a bit noting that one of the ways people get stuck is forcing themselves to write the story chronologically — even though it’s just as viable to start at the end or jump around while putting together a draft. I knew this already, though perhaps in more of a theoretical sense. I can’t immediately think of a time when I have applied this to writing my own fiction (essays, yes, fiction, no). But being reminded of this option to jump around in a text launched me into action.

I have a novel that I have been sitting on, after burning out on it a while back. At the time, I had given myself permission at the time to take a break and then come back to it later (that the “later” had turned into over four years is another story). All this time, I have been waiting for the right time to come back to the text, figuring I would need to do a major overhaul of the beginning in order to work through to the end — an expectation that kept me stymied.

While reading Wonderbook, I became so inspired by the idea of writing out of order that I jumped up and began writing down the climatic scene of the novel — a scene that has been playing in my head over and over again for ages. Those thousand words have put me back on the footing of maybe finally getting the novel done. (“Done.” Hah. We’ll see.)

To sum up I’ll say, this excellent and would be a welcome addition to almost any writer’s shelf.

YA Thrills & Chills

On Monday night I attended YA Thrills & Chills at Books Inc. in Palo Alto, where three fabulous women writers — Nova Ren Suma, Lauren Saft, and Katie Coyle — gave wonderful readings of their newly released books and talked about why they write YA and their writing process, and what books they’ve enjoyed lately.

Nova Ren SumaThe Walls Around Us

Book Description (from Goodreads): On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

“I think it’s such a great compliment when people are scared,” Nova Ren said, explaining that she was too close to the process while writing the book to feel fear of what she was writing herself.

I attending this event because of my love for Nova Ren’s past novels, most notable Imaginary Girls, which I still obsess over from time to time. So, I was freaking out a little (read: a lot) to be able to meet her in person and it was fascinating to hear how she approaches the writing process, which she described as part pantsing, part outlining. Nova Ren said the opening was important for her. “I need a way in. To find the right voice.” For the The Walls Around Us, she explained, she spent several months of a writing retreat just working on the right paragraph, trying to find the right voice. Once she found that, act one of the story flowed out fairly quickly. Then, after completing the first 50 pages or so, she would outline the rest of the book heavily in order to work it to completion.

Book Recommendation: All The Rage by Courtney Summers

Lauren SaftThose Girls

Book Description (from Goodreads): Some girls will always have your back, and some girls can’t help but stab you in it.

Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they’re the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them–and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band–without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved–literally, figuratively, physically….she’s not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever….or tears them apart for good?

One of the fascinating things about Those Girls is that Lauren Saft wanted to step away from the good girls who tend to populate YA novels and instead focused on the party girls, the ones who drink and smoke and have sex and get into trouble, the ones who are most often get painted as the villain in stories. But they have their own stories, Lauren explained, they have their own insecurities and dreams. Although I ran out of funds and, thus, could not buy a copy of Those Girls, it’s gone on my TBR list to read at a future date, because I’m fascinated by those kinds of characters, too.

Lauren Saft said her writing of Those Girls started with the characters. She had a clear understanding of those girls, their voices, their relationships, and she was really clear on who they were. She mentioned that writing has been described as driving down the road in which you can only see so many feet ahead of you. “I didn’t really outline this book. I just sort of put my foot on the gas and drove,” she said, explaining that she was surprised when it all worked out by the end.

Book Recommendation: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Katie CoyleVivian Apple At the End of the World

Book Description (from Goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

“I did what nobody should ever do,” Katie Coyle said about writing Vivian Apple At the End of the World, explaining that she join a writing contest, to which she submitted the first chapter of the book and a detailed synopsis. At which point, she proceeded to do nothing with it, assuming she wouldn’t advance any further. But lo and behold, the contest representatives called up and told her she was a finalist and the completed novel had to be submitted in three weeks — which she did. Another eight months of editing resulted in the novel I now have sitting on my bookshelf. Based on her reading from the first chapter, it’ll be quite good. As a fan of apocalyptic stories, I don’t often see rapture tales, so I’m excited to see where this goes.

Book Recommendations: The Metamorphosis Trilogy by Kate Oliver and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

"Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work."

~ Peter Drucker

My plans and good intentions would have seen me continually working on the Novel in Poems I started in November. While procrastination has certain reared its multitude of heads, I did sit down to get to work a couple of times, only to sit at the screen feeling stymied. This is something that happens often for me as I get into the middles of longer works, when I get lost in the woods of where it could go and start feeling unsure of which way to turn.

As I usually do in such situations, I tried to make my through by setting down ideas of where I want to go, drafting out a kind of a rough outline for the rest of the story. It’s like pulling out a map, figuring out where I’m at and planning out which trails I want to head for. This process usually helps guide me forward. At the very least, I feel good about having put something down on the page.

Coming back to the Novel in Poems, however, I still couldn’t find my way back into the story, which calls for another stratagem. Sometimes moving away from the computer and working on good old-fashioned pen and paper helps to kick start the mind in a different direction. The idea is that I’ll print out existing pages and start reworking them, while jotting down ideas for future chapters. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

The only flaw in this plan is that I don’t have a printer at home — an entirely silly thing not to have as a writer, I agree. Thus, I’m going to go ahead and buy myself a new printer as a personal Christmas present this year.

Speaking of awesome presents for writers. My fantastic friend and roommate bought me StoryBox novel writing software for Christmas. I don’t know much about it, but I’m excited to try it out and see how the outlining aspects of the program works. If anyone has used this before, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Taking Action, Redrafting, and Getting Back to Work

As I mentioned in my review of Save the Cat!, the value of any how-to book is whether it inspires you to take action. For the past several months, I have been stalled out and completely avoiding working on my werewolf novel, The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. After drafting about two-thirds of the book, plot problems proliferated and I didn’t know how to move forward toward the ending. Since a lot of my fellow writers have been recommending Save the Cat! recently, it seemed like a good idea to give it a read and see if it sparked the flame of progress once again.

It did just that.

Here are a few of the tools from the book I’m using to try to build forward momentum.

Continue reading “Taking Action, Redrafting, and Getting Back to Work”

Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

Not actually the last book you’ll need on screenwriting.

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay “rules” and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn’t working.

Continue reading “Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder”

Good Reads for Writers — On Plotting

While scrolling through my blog cue today, I noticed two very good blogs that talk about why stories work and why they don’t. Both posts look at how to approach plotting, coming to similar, but slightly different conclusions. Each has me thinking about my current stories and how I approach them. Hopefully, you find them helpful as well.

Carrie Cuinn – “It takes three points to make a plot, or, how to write an interesting (complete) story.

“While a story can have any number of events, for it to be interesting and complete, it must have three event points on its plot. Less than that, and the story is either incomplete (a vignette or character study) or it usually fails to be interesting. Often, a plot with fewer than three events is both incomplete and boring.”

Lisa Cron on Writer Unboxed – “What Kindergarten Got (And Still Gets) Really, Really Wrong, Part One

“What I learned from working with the incredibly dedicated teachers, the curriculum, and the state mandated tests is that the “story is a bunch of big, eventful, unusual things that happen” idea is firmly planted in kindergarten and nourished from there on out — which is why it can be so damned hard to uproot. It’s at the foundation of how narrative writing is taught, and a major reason why so many kids (not to mention former kids) hate writing. And, for those of us former kids who love to write, it’s a major reason our manuscripts fail.”

Lisa Cron’s post also have me think about how the idea of plot/story being problems can also help writers in another area — creating dynamic characters. Often characters will be seen as too being too passive in stories. However, characters are likely to be less passive, if they have a problem that requires them to act in order to resolve it. So, thinking of story as problem provides a solution two two writer dilemmas — plot and character — with one stone. Very cool.

If you’re a writer, tell me what you’re writing these days? Did these articles help you?

If you’re a reader, what are you reading? Is it well plotted, or does it fall flat in the way these articles describe?

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Reality has been kicking my ass lately, but I’m managing to get a few swings in finally. Bits and pieces of life are starting to fall into place, resembling at least an amalgamation of order.

The sun dappled through the trees as I took my run this weekend, a little more warmly than I would normally like, but it was lovely out nonetheless. Since falling off my running habit a few weeks ago, I’m not quite back to where I was in terms of distance. I only have the rest of this week to train, because the She Is Beautiful 5k is on Sunday. I’m sure sure the adrenaline and energy from my fellow runners will help me get through race day with a smile.

Writing progress has been minimal at best. I opened up my laptop this weekend with the intent to write new chapters for The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter (formerly Under the Midday Moon), but couldn’t jump into the groove of words and sentences and paragraphs and all that lot.

So, instead I gathered all my printouts and started putting together a spreadsheet of chapters written and chapters yet to write and problems that still need to be addressed — which I consider to be good progress. I have more work to do on the spreadsheet and it’s helping me to wrap my head around what I need to get done and how I might approach things, which is a relief.

To Do This Week

  • Finish the novel spreadsheet
  • Edit “The Shadow’s Flight” short story to meet flash fic markets and send it out
  • Write and/or edit one of the poems on deck
  • Run the She Is Beautiful 5k!

Good Reads

1. The Bare Knuckle Writer presents an awesome blog post on “Character EDC.”

EDC = Every Day Carry, or the things you always take with you no matter what.

“The things a person always has on them tells you what kind of person they are. A sentimentalist? A minimalist? A survivalist? All those people will have different things.”

This immediately had me thinking about the characters in my novel and what they always carry with them. Claire, for example, always carries the keys to her dad’s cage around her neck, even though she only needs them at home. So far, I’ve only referenced the keys a few times in the story, the times when she’s needed them. But since she always wears them, even when she doesn’t need them, I can see her wearing them as a kind of charm, a comforting talisman when things are going wrong.

Now I’m going to have to think about other characters and what they carry around and what it means to them, even if they’re not conscious of it.

2. The Winter 2014 issue of Goblin Fruit is out!

Go forth, friends, and read beautiful things. (^_^)

Weekly Update (because I don't have energy to come up with a clever title)

My weekend was lovely. Spent Saturday night out with a good friend, having a tasty meal at Johnny Garlic’s.

Sunday I met up with another good friend in San Francisco, where we discovered a street fair in preparation for Chinese New Year. We had szechuan food for lunch, checked out City Lights Bookstore (which is amazing! can’t believe I’ve never been!), and then closed out the day with a tea tasting. So much fun. (^_^)

Accomplished in Writing

In one of those moments where an idea just clicks into place, I realized the dynamics of one of the relationships in the story, which allowed me to rewrite a recent chapter and move forward on a stronger footing. Previously this chapter had almost zero conflict, or at least zero conflict based on anything solid. Now it’s much stronger and it creates a nice ripple for conflict in upcoming chapters. Has me excited to get back to making progress on Under the Midday Moon (the title of which I might change).

Two submissions sent out this week, containing one short story to a paying market and three poems to a non-paying market that I think is cool.

In Running

I did my three miles on Saturday using the Zombies, Run! app, which was fun and forced me to do sprints to escape the zombies. Though my pace turned out to be slower, because I think the sprints slowed me down afterward as I tried to even out my breathing.

Sunday’s run was skipped, however, because I decided to let myself take it easy before heading to SF.

To Do in the Coming Week

I’ve been feeling off today, bit of a scratchy throat and, well, just generally off. Also, I’m in the midst of going to press at the day job, which means added stress. So, I’m taking it easy on myself by not actually making a list. If I get some writing done or stuffsomething submitted out, great. If not, well it’s important that I rest.

Stats for November Challenges!

NaNoWriMo Stats

Nano stats for Saturday, November 30th,
just before midnight.

Total New Words Written in November: 46,419

After writing 12,900 words on Saturday, November 30th in a desperate attempt to beat the midnight deadline, I found myself with no more brain cells left over. So, I stopped an hour and a half before midnight and was just 3,581 words shy of the 50,000 goal.

Even though I didn’t reach the goal, I’m happy with the work I’ve done this month. I have large chunk of the novel now done and I know there ate at least a few of the scenes that I really like (hopefully they’re not the darlings I’ll have to kill later). My hope that I’ll be able to pull off the rest of the novel draft by the end of December, so I can edit in 2014.

With the 13,010 words I wrote pre-NaNo, Under the Midday Moon is now at 59,429 words, which is AWESOME.


NaBloPoMo Stats

New Blog Posts Written: 27

Total Blogging Words: ~15,866

I started to fall off the blog posting toward the end of the month, because all my energy was taken up with trying to finish NaNo. It was an excellent challenge though, and got me thinking about different ways to approach my blog. I’m thinking about doing the challenge again a few times through out the year (probably not when I have other intense challenges going on).


Total New Words (Novel & Blog) Written in November: 62,285


Other Life Stats

Workouts Completed: ~8

I’m not entirely sure of the count, but I made sure to do a minimum of one workout a week, which is vital for my mental, as well as physical health.

Books Read: 10

Reviews to be posted tomorrow are here.

Day Job: We went to press on our December issue just before Thanksgiving. This involved me personally writing over 10 full pages of text, proofing every page of the 64 page issue at least three times, and working with authors and companies to get approval and photos. Lots of work.

On the whole it was a very productive month and I can definitely call it an epic win for myself.


NaNoWriMo Update, Vol. 4

It was a slow writing week for me, but I made it up to Chapter 19. My day job has been getting hectic, as we have to go to press by Wednesday and there is a ton of work to do. I didn’t take into account the “day job/going to press will eat all the brains” aspect of November when I decided to do these challenges. So, at this point, I’m not sure that I’ll complete 50,000 words. It’s not IMpossible, but it will be quite a stretch.

I allowed myself to skip Sunday for the NaBloPoMo blogging challenge. I had no ideas and no brain cells to spare. So, I just let myself mentally rest.

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
(Novel Word Count Before Starting Nanowrimo: 13,010)

Goal: Complete 50,000 New Words and Hopefully the First Draft
New Words This Week: 6,266
Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 29,073

Random Rough Sentences: I don’t remember what woke me that night. I just remember the night was bright with moonlight, illuminating patches of gleaming snow outside my fogged window. The sparse birch trees stood like ghosts in the dark. I remember wanting to be out under the trees, running, skipping, rolling in the mud, diving through bushes, kicking the leftover snow.

Novelling Notes: I’m in another slow spot in the novel, at least slow for me. It’s basically a set of connecting scenes between one dramatic action sequence and another, and I find these scene necessary, but hard to write. They’re emotional scenes, full of angst, while also requiring plot movement and writing them is like pulling teeth.

The other thing I’m noticing is that I have a lot of plot threads cast out there with two romances (no love triangles), the werewolf angle, and the family dynamics story. While I’m writing a scene(s) focused on one aspect, I tend to forget the others entirely. In rewrites, I think I’m going to have to weave them together a bit more coherently.

Things To Be accomplished in the Coming Week:

  • Miraculously Complete NaNo with 20,927 new words (yikes)
  • Do three workouts (0/3 completed)
  • Post a new blog everyday
  • That’s it (as though that’s not enough)

Of Friends Who Are Keys

Warning; This is a piece of fiction that has been written in a ridiculously short amount of time. Therefore, there are likely errors and mistakes, so read at your own risk. (~_^)

The clouds released just enough moisture to dampen the cement and make it slick, while cars inched by caught in the snails pace traffic that lead downtown. As soon as the streetlight turned green a car back down the line honked, causing a number of other cars to release a litany of honks in reply.

Fay Fairburn looked up at the sound of the honking, her eyes trailing something that moved over the cars chasing the sound of the honks. What ever this something was, it went unseen to passersby, but Fay noticed and she shook her head with a smirk and went back to weaving together strips of cloth, plastic, and strands of her own hair. The end of the weaving held a coke tab, a small stone, and other objects tied into a ball like charm.

Despite all the dirt under her nails, despite the unbrushed and fading blue hair that has begun to dread, despite the torn jeans and ratty tee shirt and mismatched socks and man’s pin stripe suit jacket five sizes too large, Fay did not give the impression of being homeless or lost. Her entire appearance seemed to be deliberately accidental. She didn’t even seem to remember the battered top hat was sitting in front of her until someone dropped a bit of change into it.

Each time a bit of change clattered into the hat and rattled with the other dimes, quarters, and pennies as though it had at last found its way home, Fay looked up from the charm she was weaving and smiled. It was the kind of smile that made the people suck in their breaths linger for just a moment, as though the mist had broken to reveal a ray of sunny warmth. Even those who tried to deposit money in the hat without actually seeing her somehow found themselves struck by the illumination of that smile.

Her papa shuffled around the corner wringing his hands, not so much from the chill in the air, but from the worry that hovered around him like gnats. His clothing was as rumpled and dirty and torn as Fay’s, but while she encapsulated certainty in herself, her papa looked perpetually and unutterably lost. Even if her were scrubbed clean and placed in the finest clothing and the shiniest shoes, he would never release that sense of displacement, of not belonging to the place or time in which he existed.

Seeing his daughter, he shambled over. “Have you seen my Queen?” he asked. “I’ve been looking for my Queen.”

Fay shook her head. “No, papa, I’m sorry. She’s very far away, remember? We left her in the Otherlands.”

“I miss my Queen.” The people walking by ignored the old man with proper New York zeal.

“I know, papa.” Seeing his hand tightly balled in a fist, she asked. “What did you find?”

Fay held out her hand and her papa stared at her open palm, as thought trying to read the map of its creases outlined with dirt. Slowly he uncurled his own hand and gave her a small silver key.

“I didn’t find it,” he finally said. “It found me. Jumped from someplace high to reach me. Almost landed on my head, which wasn’t nice. But now we’re friends.”

Fay nodded. The key was small and shiny and plain and seemed to belong to nothing and no one. It did not look old, but it also did not look particularly new either.

“It’s a very pretty key,” she said and offered it back to him. Her papa didn’t take it. His expression drooped with sadness.

“I don’t know where it lives.”

Fay looked at the key again, considering. “Well, it’s a key, so likely its home is a lock. Do you want to try to find its home?”

Her papa nodded his head, looking like one of those toys she saw the windows, the ones who’s heads jumped and bobbed up and down in a way that always made her laugh.

“Alright, then.” Fay smiled at her papa and for a moment he didn’t look like a piece of brown paper that had landed in the gutter. He looked like he were home.

The Fairy Godmother
The Fairy Godmother by Erin Reidy

* * *

This post comes to you from The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge prompt Characters that Haunt You. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish the tale as I intended to today, but upon request I’ll try to finish it up in Saturday’s post.

I’ve kind of burned out a bit over the past week between my day job and writing at home (this has happened past Novembers), so I’ve been avoiding NaNoWriMo. Thus and therefore, this snippet has nothing at all to do with Under the Midday Moon.

The sprite-like Fay Fairburn first appeared as part of a blogging challenge for LiveJournal, called LJ Idol, which involved writing a new post each week based on a specific prompt. For my challenge, I decided to write a fiction piece each week, each one centered around a single character, Fay Fairburn. She came flipping, jumping, and brightly colored into my world and hasn’t left me since. You could definitely say she haunts me, or at least playfully prods me with riddles from time to time, always reminding me that I have more of her stories to tell.

If you want more, you can check out The Many Adventures of Fay Fairburn, which has all the stories, scenes, and snippets, including an extended storyline that is as yet incomplete.

From a Certain Point of View

Chicago Bean
Chicago Bean by Jeremy Cliff

As a writer, point of view (POV) or perspective can have a dramatic impact on how characters are judged by readers and on the overall story. One of the first choices to be made is whether the story should be told from first person, third person, omniscienct, or maybe even the dreaded second person POV. In this regard, Writer’s Digest fortunately has a great post with six tips for choosing POV in a story, so I’ll just turn your attention there for those interested.

Instead, I’d like to talk about other ways perspective can have an effect on characters of the overall story.

How Does Reader/Writer Perspective Alter How A Character is Perceived

Cindy Angell Keeling wrote about visiting Chicago’s famous sculpture, The Bean, which casts shifting reflections back at the view from a variety of angles and perspectives.

“It occurred to me that we writers get to know our characters by viewing them from different angles and perspectives. As we polish them into being, what is reflecting back? From here, Bob seems affable and responsible. From there, we see an angry side with a tendency to shove problems under the rug. From fifty feet away, he’s helping an old lady cross the street. From ten, he’s threatening a neighbor.  Standing underneath, we see a scared little boy, bruised and hiding in the closet.” (Source.)

People are multilayered and complicated and contradictory. But from the outside, if you see only one moment, one angle of their lives, it’s easy to make judgements and make assumptions about them based on that limited perspective.

Likewise, readers only have access to the perspectives writers choose to include on the page. If a character is presented from only one side, then the reader will make assumptions based on that information and may begin to see the characters as flat. Therefore, it’s up to the writer to provide multiple

Prompt: Take a look at your characters. Consider them from another angle, maybe as seen from a grocery store clerk, or the neighbor across the street, or their mother. Is there a side to them you haven’t seen yet? Is there an aspect of their lives that will grant greater intimacy or distance?

How Does a Character’s Perspective Alter Events

Years ago I read and loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The story is about a missionary who brings his family to the Congo. One of the aspects I loved about the book is that it is told from five different POVs, each with their own distinctive voice. In an interview discussing her book, Kingsolver said that she essentially wrote the entire book five times, once from each POV, which allowed her to consider events from every angle and choose the best perspective for a specific moment in the novel.

“I conceived the structure this way from the very beginning, even though I knew it would be quite difficult to pull off, from the point of view of craft. I spent almost a year just honing the different voices, practicing telling the same scene from all five different angles, until I had differentiated them to the point that the reader would instantly know who was speaking, just from a sentence or two. So yes, it was hard, but it had to be so. The four sisters and Orleanna represent five separate philosophical positions, not just in their family but also in my political examination of the world.” (Source.)

The perspective of each individual character in the story is a really powerful instrument, because each individual sees the world a little bit differently.

My mom is fond of saying, If three people witness a car accident, each one will tell a different story of how it happened. A police officer may describe the scene with precision because his career requires it. A young student may describe it from a place of anger because they had a friend die in such an accident. An old man may tell it from a place of panic because of the shock it caused it. Each of them will have their own stories, memories, experiences, passions, and fears that colors how they view any given moment or event.

Prompt: Write a scene fives times, each time from a different character point of view. See if you can give them each a unique voice of perspective. (This is could be good for trying to add depth to side characters.)

This post was loosely inspired by The Daily Post prompt: Perspective.

NaNoWriMo Update, Vol. 3

I did not quite meet NaNo word goal for the week, as I’ve been skipping writing days during the work week. Things are getting hectic at my day job, since we have to go to press with our December issue before Thanksgiving and there is a lot of work to do.

But I made it through Chapter 16 on the novel and I’m happy with the progress of the story.

On Saturday, I inadvertently skipped a day of Nablopomo. I created the post for Saturday, but saved it as a draft instead of posting it, so it ended up being posted on Sunday instead. Whoops. I’ve made it up by posting two posts today, however.

In the mix of this, I managed to do two of my three workouts last week. I feel good about this. With all the sitting at my computer, though, I can also feel my spin and muscles tightening up, reminding me that I need to get back to doing my morning yoga.

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
(Novel Word Count Before Starting Nanowrimo: 13,010)

Goal: Complete 50,000 New Words and Hopefully the First Draft
New Words This Week: 8,252
Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 22,807

Random Rough Sentences: Now, the sun was behind the trees and the sky was illuminated with pink, peach, and red, making the snow blush between the elongated shadows of the trees. Mom and I both stood on the porch, watching the sky with the plastic we’d used to cover the broken window flapping slightly behind us.

“I think we should get out of here,” said mom.

Novelling Notes: I don’t have any deep thoughts at this time. I’m pleased with the progress I’m making and how the story is starting to take shape in my mind. Lots of chapters begin and end with “Author’s Notes” pointing out changes I’ll need to make in the editing process.

Things To Be accomplished in the Coming Week:

  • Write a minimum of 12,000 words
  • Do three workouts (1/3 completed)
  • Post a new blog everyday
  • That’s it
Typewriter Keys
Typewriter Keys by Kristin Nador

Witches and Woods and Good Fairies

Autumn woods
Autumn woods by Mel Green

Sophie Masson wrote a lovely post about a home she grew up in, which seemed to possess the soul of a good fairy. It was a home of secrete histories and ghosts and wild places to explore (and I recommend reading it, rather than taking it at my sparse description).

Her post immediately reminded me of the park and little woods in Anchorage, Alaska, where I used to live when I was a kid (seven-ish). The park across the street looked out over Cook Inlet, the water grey and, in the summer sun, sparkling. Two sides of the park were framed with little woods, patches of trees that separated the park from other peoples homes. I remember running through those woods and believing them huge, giant forests almost filled with wonders and strange creatures. I remembered looking up at the tall trees and feeling very far from home. I remember stepping only a few feet inside the little woods and feeling as though I could become utterly lost.

As kids exploring the little woods, we once stumbled upon a tree house — just a platform, really — that sat perched at what seemed to be the tippy top of a tree, which we were never brave enough to climb. But we imagined the kind of strange, brave person who would live at such heights.

Another time we discovered a cement slab (something industrial) hidden in the trees. It became the framework for an invisible house in which we pretended to live. It became a stage upon which we pranced and gave our bows. It became the home of an evil man who kidnapped good children and hid them away. It became so many things.

A few years ago, I was remembering the little wood and wondered what would happen, if such a small wood, the kind it was impossible to become lost in, actually hid in its heart an older, much greater wood — the kind one might never return from. That idea inspired a a short story, called “The Witch of the Little Wood,” grew into a novella, which transformed into part one of an unfinished novel that I plan to finish eventually.

My life inspires my writing quite a lot, usually in unusual ways. “The Witch of the Little Wood” makes use of several moments from my life, all unconnected. A phrase shouted at me by my sister during the middle of a fight (which made us laugh at the time) becomes barbed cruelty tossed at our MC by a bully. The awkward feelings of junior high, in which several people whom I thought were friends suddenly changed and became bitter enemies, makes it into the story. Bits of life here and there, hurts and loves and joys, travel through me and become new unrecognizable scenes in my characters lives. Bits of myself show up in everyone, from the heroes to the villains.

Writing is a fascinating process that way. Reading is, too. How you can look at a story just discovered and realize, oh, this is me, this is my life, here is everything I love and hate and need and feel all right there on display.

When you write or read do you often discover yourself in the stories? Does it surprise you?

Five Things I've Learned from November Writing Challenges (so far)

For those who are not aware, I am participating in both National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)* and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) this November. If this sounds like madness to you, that’s because it is, my lovelies, it is.

I’m finding the dual challenge fun, at least in these early days of the month. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

1. Exceed the Daily Minimum.

I kind of knew this one from the previous years I’ve done Nano and it feels like it should be obvious, but I feel like it’s something I always end up learning all over again. If you just meet the minimum requirements of the challenge, then you can get in trouble if life gets in the way latter down the road.

I try to at least get a few hundred words over the 1667 minimum required for Nano, that way I’m not stressed if I don’t feel like writing one day.

For the blogging challenge, this sometimes means I’m writing two blog posts a day, one for the day I’m on and one in preparation for the day after. It’s the same amount of words, but helps me have all my bases covered. In some cases this has resulted in two posts in the same day, because something new and relevant has come up. So, at the end of the month, I may have more than the minimum 30 blog posts (way cool).

2. Write First. Life Second.

Simple, and something I’ve known for a long time. Get the work done that needs getting done first and use the time left over for cleaning your room, chores, errands, watching TV, reading, friends, family, etc.I think this works best for the craziness of these writing challenges, since it only has to be sustained for this short period of time. During the rest of the year family and friends are the priority; cleaning, errands and chores end up on fairly even keel with my writing activities; and play (i.e. TV and movies and such) should be lowest, but isn’t always.

For day to day life, I won’t be able to keep this manic energy up, but I can set aside specific days where I come home from work and make writing my priority.

This work first attitude is also helping to build a habit of getting stuff done, which I’m hoping will carry over after the November challenges are completed.

3. Get Out and Do Things.

Haymitch says, “Just stay alive.”

Once the day’s goals have been met and exceeded, get out, get away from the chair, go do something. It’s kind of like a reward for the hard work done that day, but it’s also a way of maintaining mental order.

Last weekend was perfect. I got up early (but not too early), had some tea and toast while doing my Nano Novelling, and then went out and took walks with my baby niece and sisters, went to the farmers market, played with the baby, watched some movies. I

I have also been keeping up with my exercises, which helps keep me physically capable of sitting there and writing without feeling like I’m going to fall apart at the seams. And it also helps clear my head and exorcises stress.

These kinds of challenges require a lot of endurance, especially if you are combining them with full time jobs or education activities (and btw, parenting counts as a full time job, for realz). With the combination of work, life, family, friends, and the challenge, I’ve experienced serious Burn Out before, where I realize I’ve taken on too much with the result that I start to get physically sick or I get to the point where I don’t even want to look at a computer. Maintaining a sense of balance by stepping away from the challenge, taking a break, is a good way of surviving the month.

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Going for the Gut.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I discovered over the course of this week that I’d been taking the easy way out in regards to my novel, playing it safe for both me and my characters. But it’s so much exciting for both readers and the writer to go for the gut and take risks. It can be scary, but it has the potential for better writing.

Taking part in NaBloPoMo has had me reading more blog posts this month than I normally would, and I’ve been struck by the honesty and courage of my favorite posts. I haven’t managed this much in my blog, as I tend to avoid writing posts that could be the least bit controversial or argumentative. I’m trying to put more personality into my posts and would like to get into more creative nonfiction, adding stories from my life in (hopefully) interesting and creative ways. It’s something for me to work on.

5. Work Breeds Inspiration.

I rediscover this every time I find myself enmeshed in a big project or doing a lot of writing or a combination of writing and other creative things. The more I write, the more I feel inspired to write, the more easily new ideas and words come, the more quickly I can get those words on the page.

To me, writing kind of like having a big round stone in the middle of a field. You know you want to roll the stone over to the other side of the field. As you stare at the stone sitting there, the idea of moving is looks daunting. The stone is too heavy. It’s too much work. Then, you start pushing the stone and it’s hard, but slowly it starts moving. As it starts moving, it starts to pick up momentum and that momentum makes it easier. If you stop, the momentum stops; you have to start the hard part over again. But if you keep the stone rolling until you reach the end of the project, then the momentum makes the work so much easier.

Nano-ing and other such challenges are huge massive heaps of potential and momentum. They start a pace, which the writer can either keep going or not.

For me that momentum is invaluable. It gets me going and keeps me going, and the sheer act of writing is what keeps my inspired.

Since we’re on the subject, my lovelies. Are you doing any personal challenges this month? What have you learned in the process?

PS. This post was inspired by BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo prompt for Day 8.


Good Reading

Turning Right Instead of Left

Some writers avoid talking about what they’re working on with anyone, and my understanding is that this is because they feel they loose the excitement of discovering and writing the story when they tell it.

I personally find the opposite is true. While I’m writing, especially in the first draft stage, talking out the story can be incredibly helpful, helping me to plan out where I’m going. Of course, whomever I’m talking to often has many ideas of where they think I should take the story (most of them not right), but even hearing the wrong ideas can help me weed out the right ones.

During lunch yesterday, I was talking the story with a coworker and telling them what I had planned. One if my characters is attacked, and my coworker leapt to an assumption about the identity of the “villain”.

I explained that I had originally planned to write it that way, but had changed to another option. “But I’ve been thinking of changing it back,” I said. “Because I feel like I’ve been pulling my punches do it this way. That I’ve been playing it safe.”

“You are,” she said. “Just hearing the first version was compelling.”

“Yeah,” I said, and thought to myself, well, fuuuuuuuuuuu—.


Because damn it, she was right.

Of course, now all the planning I’ve done has to be tossed out the window and I have no ideas of how to finish this novel. I’m also going to have to make changes in the beginning sections to make these changes work. And the first scenes I ever wrote for this thing before I knew it was going to be a novel, the ones that kicked it all off, will just about have to be trashed entirely. (“Kill your darlings,” the wisdom goes.)

But I’m grateful to have figured this out now. Actually, I’m right at the pivot point in writing the current draft where this change would have to occur. Instead of turning left, I just have to turn right in the plotting. This will save me tones of time during revisions.

Of course taking this plot turn is scary, and that’s how I know it’s probably right. I’m not sure I’m good enough to pull it off, not sure I can make readers believe, not sure I’ll be able to do that much damage to my main character. I don’t really want to twist the knife (metaphorically speaking) once I’ve jammed it into her belly, but I’m gonna have to.

Right now, I’m trying not to flail.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening mentally working out how to make the change work, and allowed myself a break from writing. I think I’ve got some of it worked out, but have no idea how to end it. I guess I’ll discover that when I get there.

When you’re writing do you talk the story out? Or do you keep it to yourself until the draft is finished?

Alternatively, have you ever caught yourself pulling your punches while writing a story? Or do you always go for the guts?


Good Reading

Marilyn Brant posted Following Our Passions: A Dance of Love, Fear, and Change,” which gives some fascinating insight into her career as an author and talks about why as writers we keep writing.

The Daily Post has a great blog up called, Should You Let the Cats Out of the Bag? Blogging About Family and Friends, which deals with privacy and the internet, how much you should share and not share, especially in regards to the lives of friends and family. It has some great questions to ask yourself before posting and some tips on how to handle the sharing of private information in a respectful way.

All the Snow Melts Away

This is an excerpt from Under the Midday Moon, the novel I’m working on for Nano. This bit of the novel was inspired by the prompt “Moved by Music” provided by the The Daily Post. Since it is a first draft, it is likely to contain errors, typos, and other such idiosyncrasies, so read at your own risk. (~_^)

* * * *

Outside tiny tufts of snow flakes drifted, most in a downward direction, but some alighted in drafts of wind, spiraling sideways or even beck up to the grey sky they fell from.

When I was a little girl, my dad and I used to run outside every time fresh snow fell. Not the half rain slush that came down sometimes, but real snow, the light white flakes that floated in and out of the porch light in flurries and drifts. We ran out in whatever we were wearing, pajamas or Sunday dress or, once, wrapped in a towel fresh out of the bath, and stopped only long enough to pull galoshes onto our feet. We would stand out under the cold sky, whether night or day, and let the snow catch in our hair and kiss our eyelashes. We laughed and danced and we stuck out our tongues in the hopes of tasting fresh snow, the cold nothing flavor of winter that was just so perfect.

But those days eventually melted away like snow in Spring as dad’s Black Days took more and more of a toll. He seemed to be more and more tired every year and for more and more days of the month. Sometimes after the moons, it would take him up to a week to recover now. He moved slowly through the house on those days, shifting from room to room, like a scrap of paper kicked up again and again, unable to come to rest. When he finally settled in a chair or collapsed onto the couch, he would just sit there, sometimes for an hour or more, just staring off at an empty spot on the wall.

Read the rest of the excerpt

NaNoWriMo Update, Vol. 1

710f00bb98128a5c11b3d4575560b831Things are going well in Nano land and I’ve met and even exceeded (with the exception of Monday) all my daily word count goals. Over the weekend, I managed this by making writing my priority when I first get up in the morning. Then, once I’ve met my minimum I allow myself to get out of the house and go do something fun. For example, on Saturday I went and played with my niece at the park (a cuter child never existed!) and on Sunday I walked around the farmer’s market with my sister. All good things.

I intended to come back from the fun times and get back to writing, but found I didn’t have it in me to do any more writing those days. Since I had already met my daily word goals, I just let myself relax — something I really needed.

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
(Novel Word Count Before Starting Nanowrimo: 13,010)
Goal: Complete 50,000 New Words and Hopefully the First Draft
New Words: 7,635
Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 7,635
Random Rough Sentences: N/A (laptop got left at home and I don’t have access to my drafts at the moment).

Novelling Notes: I’m still having trouble balancing all  the little threads of plot and relationships. When two characters are alone  in a room together, everything else just disappears. For some scenes that’s okay. For others, I think it makes it so that people forget everything else that is supposed to be going on. Though maybe that’s just my impression, and readers might have a different experience. Now I’m trying to get a better balance of the people and their concern for one another into the scenes.

I’m also getting a better feel for the relationships themselves, which in previous chapters had come off as a bit flat. I’m hoping the relationships seem more interconnected and messy and multidimensional now, but until I get feedback, it’s kind of hard for me to tell.

Advice for Nano-ers:

  • Try to push past the daily minimum in order to build up a word count cushion. That way, if you have to miss a day later in the month, then it’s not such a big deal.
  • Get the writing done first, then allow yourself to get outside and play, or even just relax. I find that mental breaks from all the writing helps me be more focused when I return to the work.

Things To Be accomplished in the Coming Week:

  • Write a minimum of 10,000 words
  • Do three workouts (1/3)
  • That’s it

Good Reading: Over at The Bell Jar is a lovely post called “Learning to Love My Nose,” which talks about body perception. It’s a fantastic read, and one that made me want to try to love myself more and judge others less.

Five Tips and Tricks for Nanowrimo

Since today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) — that delightful challenge to complete a ridiculous 50,000 words in a single month — I thought I would pull out an old video for today’s Friday Five.

To summarize:

  1. Don’t Delete Anything
  2. Jump Around
  3. Dares and Prompts
  4. Plot Ninjas Are Your Friends
  5. Be Competitive

While I will be attempting to write 50,000 words this month, I will not technically be doing Nano because I will be working on an old project (the rules of Nano say that it should be a new project). I will be attempting to finish draft one of Under the Midday Moon, so that I can use 2014 to edit it.

The key to Nano, really, is the community and that you are not in this alone. I really appreciate that a lot, especially at moments like now, when I haven’t been feeling very motivated.

For those like me, not technically following the Nano rules, but still wanting to participate in some form, you can do an anti-Nano project. Set your own goal and then post updates on your blog, or if you’re on livejournal join the squidathon and post updates there (they do check-ins on Mondays and Fridays).

I will, however, be updating my progress on the Nano website, under my username blythe025. You are welcome to join me there, if you’d like.

Are you participating in Nano this year? What will you be working on?

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together." ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Last week was starting to shape up into another nothing-gets-done kind of week, when BAM!  I somehow got smacked with some determination and began cleaning out my shelf, adding items to my Goodwill pile, tossing others, and reorganizing the rest. I even created an itemized list to go with the receipt and then took the bags and boxes to the donation station (follow through? what?).

This new sense of order inspired me to go a step further and attack the craft, writing, and office supplies in my closet. I went through every random box in there, from empty shoe boxes to big bins to get a sense of what was where. I kept finding surprises — stuff I’d shoved into boxes because I didn’t know what to do with it or knew what to do with but didn’t have a place for. I kept asking myself over and over, why? why on earth would I have put this here. I have no easy answer.

My closet is now the most organized it has been since, well, since I’ve had it. I now have access to my painting and art supplies, which have been placed in plastic drawers and easy to reach bins, while putting the things I don’t need as often out of the way.

Goddess, that feels good.

With my exercise goals accomplished and the organization done, I feel good about last week, even if I didn’t move my writing goals forward.

Organizational-wise, I have to get some tools to get my shoes and jewelery under control, but that’s a small thing. My next big hurdle will be to try to bring order to my writing projects (various short stories, poetry, etc.), and I don’t have the foggiest how to do that.

Any suggestions on how you keep stories, novels, and all their notes and drafts in order (both in print and in the computer) would be greatly appreciated.

To be accomplished in the coming week:
– Finish second half of Chapter Six of Under the Midday Moon
– Submit something (poem, story, whatever)
– Workout at least three days with two workouts being running training (0/3)
– Do three morning yoga workouts (1/3)
– Practice my Spanish
– Finish stenciling on art project for niece’s bedroom

– Make Progress on Organization (do one or more of the following):
• Buy shower curtain hooks for organizing scarves
• Find a way to better organize shoes with double shelf or slots
• Buy a tie hangar for necklaces and create rack for earrings
• Shred papers and dispose of them
• Measure pictures and buy frames

Five Things to Do Instead of Being Jealous of Your Favorite Author

Writers Block

Or, How I Learned to Stop Lamenting and Enjoy the Process

I managed to get myself into a funk last Friday, I was finding myself despairing over my rarely completed to-do lists and my languishing novel, which is suffering through first draft blues. As much as I keep plugging away at the book, there is a deep, ugly, grumbling that believes I’ll never finish the novel or any novel and even if I do, none of them will be worth reading.All this tied into the fact that I had picked up 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma (my review is here), which was blowing my mind with awesome in terms of both writing style and storyline. Normally, I don’t bother with being jealous of my fellow authors, but on this particularly day, I felt it and it layered onto my anxieties. I began to spiral into doom-gloom with “I’ll never write like this, never this good” and “My writing sucks” and “I’ll never inspire or move someone the way the writing of this author does for me.”

Dwelling on this kind of stuff is less than helpful and can lead to an avoidance of writing and/or feeling blocked when staring at the blank page. At least, I know this can happen for me. So here are a few things I’ve done and that others can do to let go of all the negative gobbledygook.

1. Remember that Every Voice Isn’t the Same

I can thank my mom for reminding me of this when I was despairing on Friday and it’s important. No two voices are the same. Every writer has their own stories to tell and their own way of telling it. Therefore, it’s not necessarily an issue of better or worse, but just about being different.

Just because one author writes an amazing book, doesn’t mean that your own story, words, and thoughts are not valuable in their own right. If you have a story to tell, then tell it. Your words are unique to you, and chances are someone will find them valuable.

2. Keep in Mind that Drafts are Called “Rough” for a Reason

I think Anne Lamott says it best in her essay, “Shitty First Drafts” (link to a pdf). Most drafts suck the first time around, and they many continue to suck after the second or third go throughs, but somehow a good story gets drawn out in the rewriting/editing process.

It doesn’t really how many books an author has published or sold, or how great their writing, chances are that author has been through bouts of despair and flailing over the suckage of their own writing at various stages of the process. For an excellent example, check out Libba Bray’s fantastic post on writing despair.

So, be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving of your early mistakes. Be forgiving of your later mistakes. You have to work through each mistake to learn how to write, and every word you write gets you to the next one. You can’t get to the finished story/book/poem if you don’t walk through the tangled, mangy woods of the first (and sometimes second, third, fourth, etc.) drafts.

3. Do a Writing Analysis on the Book

So you’ve found a book you love, with writing you adore, with delightful worldbuilding, compelling characters, and a smooth plotline. Instead of feeling inadequate in all its glory (as I did), use this as an opportunity to learn something.

Once you’ve finished the book take a look at what it was about it that made you love it. What is the plot structure or how it launched immediately into the fray? What it the eloquent scene descriptions? How about how the characters were portrayed?

Create a list of what worked for you and what didn’t. What techniques can you use to improve your writing? What can you try to avoid?

I don’t tend to get too heavy handed with these sorts of analyses, as I don’t want to overshadow what naturally comes out when I’m writing and it’s important not to try to force your writing to fit a mold that doesn’t work. But I’ll often keep these kinds of lessons sitting in the back of my mind while I write and will draw on them when I’m challenged on how to handle a certain aspect of the story.

4. Practice Celebrating Your Fellow Writer’s Successes

Both Justine Larbalestier and Seanan McGuire have posts about how life, art, and publishing are not a zero sum game. One writer or artists success doesn’t take success away from you.

I’ve heard some people say that books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey should never have been published and lamenting about how many people were taken in by these horrible books. But my sister hated reading, mostly because high school taught her to, and it wasn’t until she read Twilight that she became a reader. That book series taught her that reading could be fun, and that enjoyment has led her to read a multitude of other books in a variety of genres.

What authors like Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James have done is manage to tap into their enjoyment of their readers in such a way that lots and lots of people wanted to read their books. They may not be perfect books, but I salute both authors for their success. Hats off to them, and I’ll keep writing the stories I feel compelled to write.

It’s even easier to salute the writers you love, because their success means more great books for you to read.

But more importantly, if you’re sending out joy and good wishes, then you’re not bogged down by jealousy. Personally, I find it much harder to write when I’m in a fowl mood, so keeping positive (if I can) helps me.

5. Just. Keep. Writing.

Just that. Keep writing.

There’s a momentum to the writing process. I find the more I write, the easier it is to keep writing. If I stop and let myself fall into a mood, it just makes it that much harder to come back to the blank page.

And whatever else is going on around you, whoever is on the bestsellers list or winning awards, one thing you know you can control is the work you put into your own stories and and effort you put into making them the best they can be. That’s a powerful thing.

How do you handle little writing jealousies? What do you do to keep from despairing about your writing?

In which there is much drunkeness

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
New Words: 2,292
Current Total Word Count: 13,010
Goal: Put together an workable draft of the novel that I would actually let someone read.
Accomplished: Chapter Six, which is halfway done.

Random Rough Sentence(s): I turned my head. Evan’s face loomed large in front of me, blurring every time he moved too fast. His blue eyes were too big and too close. He smiled, dimples swallowing up shadows. He brushed a strand of hair behind my ear. “I like you, Claire. You’re beautiful.”

Notes: I decided to skip right over Chapter Five in an effort to get to the more exciting and fun scenes. This led me to Chapter Six, which involved a bunch of teenagers at a party and I hope some character evolution. I love one of the scenes in this chapter, but feel so-so about others.

I don’t know. I feel like I’m one of those writers, who is sure it’s all wrong until I go back and see how it all fits together during the rewrite. And that’s okay. That’s part of the process, I suppose. At least for me.

The point is to keep going, and while it’s slow, that’s what I’m doing. So in that sense, I feel good.

The Chapter in which not much happens other than basketball practice

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
New Words: 1,860
Current Total Word Count: 10,718
Goal: Put together an workable draft of the novel that I would actually let someone read.
Accomplished: Finished Chapter Four!

Random Rough Sentence(s): I dribbled, starting slow until I got into a tempo, then passed the ball hand to hand and between my legs, back and forth, back and forth, dancing foot to foot with the ball tapping out a rhythm against the floor, the sound echoing through the nearly empty gym.

Notes: Well, I’m glad that’s done, though I still feel like I’m stuck in pre-action chapters, and I really can’t wait until I get past this part to the meat of the story. Though, if I’m totally honest with myself, I’d admit that that feeling might never go away. *sigh*

“Everyone must party, my friend. Everyone. Especially you.”

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
New Words: 824
Current Total Word Count: 8,858
Goal: Put together an workable draft of the novel that I would actually let someone read.

Accomplished: Finished Chapter Three, in which Claire and Evan discuss the coming events of the weekend and the potential for beer.

Random Rough Sentence(s): Evan reached across the table and gave her a high five, then turned to me. He smiled unleashing cavernous dimples. “Everyone must party, my friend. Everyone. Especially you.”

Notes: I am SO FREAKING HAPPY THAT I WROTE SOMETHING on this novel! It’s been many weeks! Too many weeks! And the absence has made me sad. But all the world’s better now, because there are words, sweet beautiful words.

Being a bit o' this and that at the beginning or end of one week or another

A Brief Aside, or, There’s This Cool Thing on the Web (not the sticky, stringy thing in the corners, but the electronic aether upon which you are reading this): Liz Argall posted a delightful blog post, “Jealousing is the new writing exercise“:

When I get professionally jealous it’s often an exciting thing. “Wow! I never thought of doing that, that’s amazing!” But excitement can turn into sad feelings… “I don’t know if I’ll ever be awesome, eloquent and organized enough to use a moment in front of doorknockers to do the sort of tight exposition, character development and micro-tension that’s now sucking me through this book.”

Fortunately these moments of wonder/jealousy/despair are the perfect place to find a writing exercise.

The post is worth a read over just for her fun facial expressions alone, and the exercise looks like quite a bit of fun, and I’m definitely going to have to give it a go.

Last Week in Writing: I received one rejection and visited an open mic. Yay!

I also finished up the last of the Napowrimo challenge, which required me to write 15 poems over the course of Monday and Tuesday. Another yay!

I did not, however, submit anything or work on my novel. And I have no excuse for this. Boo!

Last Week in Exercise: All three required workouts done and one yoga morning (sort of) completed. Though the run on Saturday was Rough McGruff. I made the mistake of going in the middle of the day and it was too hot and too dusty on the trail. It also didn’t help that I didn’t have any water with me. I will have to remember to start earlier in the morning during the rest of the summer.

Last Week in Other Stuff That Needed Doing: I bought envelopes and some other tools to help me with the filing process, but did not actually start the filing process. Still, baby steps.

That which must be accomplished in the coming week (which looks a lot like last week, but isn’t):
– Finish Chapter Three of Under the Midday Moon
– Submit something (poetry, fiction, whatever)
– Workout at least three days with two workouts being running training (1/3)
– Do three yoga workouts, three sun salutations min. (0/3)
– Sort paperwork out by year for filing
– Either purchase new a new filing cabinet(s), and/or buy folders/large envelopes, and/or go through the process of sorting and putting everything in its place

PS. As I’ve  been writing this I’ve completed the draft of a new poem (408 words!), which I will probably submit somewhere this week. I’m tempted to do so now, like RIGHT NOW, but am forcing myself to wait until I’ve let it rest a day and can give it a fresh read through.

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.

Um, interesting title about my novel goes here

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
New Words: 1297
Current Total Word Count: 8,034
Goal: Put together an workable draft of the novel that I would actually let someone read.

Accomplished: The first half of Chapter Three.

Random Rough Sentence(s): I was tempted to tell Adam about my parents, because what else is a best friend for, if not for talking it all out, but I didn’t know if I could handle saying the word divorce. So, I just said, “Psychedelic.”

Notes: I’m still struggling with these opening chapters, feeling like things are moving too slowly. I keep thinking that there’s more I want to fit in and it’s not all particularly inconsequential. For example, I almost forgot to include Claire’s potential love interest in Chapter Three like I originally intended. He’s in there now, but it seems like a lot is going on in the chapter. I know it’s not precisely right, but onward.

In other writing news: I also finished a new poem last night and compiled a submission, which is ready to go out today. All this work had me up to midnight, which makes me zzzzZZZZZZZZZ.

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.

That which hath been accomplished…

In writing: I submitted a couple of poems/flash pieces to Nano Fiction and wrote four new poems for Napowrimo. One of the poems you can read here.

I spent a considerable amount of energy avoiding writing Chapter Three. Once, I even had the laptop out and in front of me with the blank page open, so, I, uh, started fleshing out the outline a bit more. Sometimes I just need to get a hold of the big picture in order to be able to focus on the specifics of a scene. I start to get annoyed if I don’t know what to write and verge off into generalities, rather than get to the heart of the scene. It feels all wrong as I’m writing, and while I know sometimes it’s best to just soldier through, it can be frustrating to put work down on a scene that you know you’re probably going to have to rewrite from scratch later. At any rate, I hope the outlining will help me with getting Chapter Three done this week.

Edited to add: I just saw whipchick’s mapping post on triggers, which notes how the triggering event is what really get the story started. Perfect right now, since I think (part of) the reason why I’ve been stuck on the opening chapters is that I’ve been burying the triggers a bit. Will have to think about moving them forward to get some more action going.

In exercise: It was a very good week. Did a run on Monday (which went very well), did an excellent workout with my trainer on Wednesday, another run on Thursday (which didn’t go as well — in fact, it was a bit rough), and did a four mile hike on Saturday with my sister, niece, and mom (which involved lots of hills and felt great). So, I’d say I accomplished my goal with flying colors.

In other important stuff: State taxes did not get done, which is very, very bad of me. I must accomplish them this week. MUST.

I think the filing thing is kind of a spin off of the taxes thing. It would be fantastico, if I could get more organized in that regard and I keep saying I will and then, um, not. If I even just do some baby steps this week, that would be awesome.

That which must be accomplished in the coming week:
– Get California taxes done (must happen today)
– Begin Chapter Three of Under the Midday Moon (write a minimum of 1,000 words and hopefully finish)
– Submit something (poetry, fiction, whatever)
– Finish at least a handful of Napowrimo poems
– Walk/Run at least three days at least 2 miles each day (0/3)
– Sort paperwork out by year for filing
– Either purchase new a new filing cabinet(s), and/or buy folders/large envelopes, and/or go through the process of sorting and putting everything in its place

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.

Happy National Poetry Month!

I tend to forget that it’s April Fool’s Day (if not for the fact that everyone on the interwebs talks about it) and I’m also easily fooled, so chances are someone is going to have a laugh at my expense today. If you’re into that sort of thing, Jim Hines has a round up of some of the better Fool’s Day jokes that have already cropped up online.

But that’s okay, because today begins National Poetry Month! and that’s way more important. (^_^)
I will be participating in the National Poetry Writing Month challenge, which is essentially to write a poem a day in the month of April, or 30 poems total. Following the Poetic Asides prompts is an excellent way to stay inspired, if you’re participating.

I’ve been posting the poems to my tumblr the last couple of years, just to not have to cross-post and to have all the poetry in one place. I’m a bit torn as to whether I’m going to continue posting them online. On the one hand, posting them publicly is a way to hold myself accountable and actually make sure I get them done. On the other hand, posting the poems makes them ineligible for submitting to journals and I need to submit more often than I do. I’ve seen some poets put up their poems only temporarily, so maybe that’s one way to strike a compromise. I don’t know. Still thinking about that one.

Last Week In Review

My story, “The Shadow’s Flight,” was rejected by Strange Horizons. I read it over to see if I could clean it up anymore (I could), and immediately submitted to to Clarksworld, which also rejected it last week (wow! amazing response times!). So, I submitted it once again to Flesh and Blood (perhaps third times a charm?).

I managed to get through the first half of Chapter One of Under the Midday Moon. I like it so far, though it’s gone an changed where it’s going on me. So now I have to re-figure out just how I’m going to end Chapter One, which is all well and good, I suppose. At least words are getting on the page.

I ran 1.5 miles on Monday, and my foot was killing me by the end, but it started to clear up again rather quickly. But I didn’t push it on Wednesday and just did some sit ups and planks and squats instead. By Saturday my foot was feeling almost 100%, so I did a run and it went pretty smoothly. Almost no pain, which was bleeping fantastic, and I’m all set to get back to my running schedule this week. Yay!

Still struggling with my finances and trying to figure out how to handle them. I’m taking “contact accountant about retirement plans” off my to-do list for now, because I literally don’t have any extra income to invest. I need to figure out how to earn some extra money first.

Things to do in the coming week:
– Finish off Chapter One of Under the Midday Moon
– Submit something (poetry, fiction, whatever)
– Walk/Run at least three days at least 2 miles each day (0/3)
– Get California taxes done
– Sort paperwork out by year for filing
– Either purchase new a new filing cabinet(s), and/or buy folders/large envelopes, and/or go through the process of sorting and putting everything in its place
– Get data transferred from the old computer to the new one (may require giving up my computer for a few days)

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.

A little bit of flesh and blood

Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
New Words: 1435
Current Total Word Count: ~2,500
Goal: Put together an workable draft of the novel that I would actually let someone read.
Accomplished: The second half of what I think will be Chapter Two

Random Rough Sentence(s): The sun was bright and glaring, reflecting off the fog that sat over Anchorage below. Standing there, breathing heavy after the last leg of the hike, it was easy to believe everything beyond this moment had been erased. Only a few higher mountain peaks poking out of the fog gave any indication there was more than just the two of us in all the world.

Notes: Chapter Two is progressing kind of interesting in the sense that I have Adam falling in love Jasper, but instead of drawing out the suspense of that first meeting, I have them immediately going on their first date. This puts them at the start of their relationship rather quickly (no watching the cute guy be all mysterious across the room). It feels like I set up the love interest and then am resolving it very quickly, which could be killing the tension, and I’m not sure will work in the context of the rest of the novel. I guess I’ll just have to see how it evolves.

In other news, while writing Chapter Two, I discovered where I want to go with Chapter One. Both, it turns out, will involve blood splatter and chunks of flesh, though in rather different contexts.

The Pleasure of Wincing

I’m not entirely sure how By forgoing television, reading, and sleep, I managed to put together an 18 page chapbook submission, including the writing and rewriting of two poems from scratch, in less than two days. The package has been mailed out (and should be postmarked) on the very last day to submit. I have no idea what’s going to happen with the chapbook. It’s off and out of my control at this point.*

The most time consuming aspect of this was the selection of poem (of which I have many). When I read poetry collections, I appreciate when they have a kind of cohesion; they fit together, either thematically or stylistically. But when I look at my own poems, I feel like they don’t fit together well, like they don’t have that cohesion. I can take an individual poem I’ve written and feel rather confident about it, but when I try to pull them together into a collection all my confidence falls apart and it seems like one hot mess. It’s kind of can’t see the forest for the trees kind of thing, I guess. I can’t see the whole for the individual poems. It was like I lost all ability to assess my own work, but I struggled through it.

Part of the compilation process involved searching through old binders to find poems not in digital format. It was a wonder to see stuff I’d written in 1999 and earlier. I was so much younger then.

In his poem “Scotch Tape Body,” Ron Padget has a really great way of looking at old work and the kind of joyful/painful nostalgia that occurs. He describes looking at old poems he’d written and taped into notebook, and wonders briefly if it would have been better if he had never written the poems at all, but realizes that without those poems, he would be denied, “the pleasure of wincing / then forgiving myself / of catching glimpses of who I was / of who I thought I was.”

All the poems I wrote then got me to where I am now, and the poems I write today will get me to what I write tomorrow. It’s an evolution. So, I guess I shouldn’t kick myself or let myself doubt my current project either; I shouldn’t avoid writing out of fear of failing (which happens sometimes). If I did, I’d be denying myself the pleasure of future wincing when I look back on today.

How do you feel when looking on past projects, art, writing? Got any projects you’ve recently completed that you’re both nervous and excited about?

*I find that to be a powerful thing, to learn what you have control over and what you do not. If you do everything you can in regards to the things you do have control over, you can let go and offer up the things you don’t have control over (like whether an editor will like and accept your poetry submission).

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.]

The Things That Need Doing

1. Because I thrive (go mad-hatter crazy on) deadlines, I have put off compiling this poetry chapbook until the day before the competition ends. At least it’s only 16-18 pages. *sigh*

2. Oh, and I’ve also signed up for the 10 by 10 Short Script Challenge, which has begun this week. I now have ten nine days to complete a short indie horror script that challenges the genre’s portrayal of women.

3. And lets not forget that I have to provide a rewrite of Chapter One and/or Chapter Two of Under the Midday Moon, my YA werewolf novel to my writing group by next Wednesday.

4. Did I also mention that my entire Saturday will be taken up by attending the AMC Best Picture Showcase, leaving me next to no time to do any of this stuff? No. Well, I am.

5. Somewhere in there, I’m also supposed to exercise.

6. *dies*

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.]

Being a belated Monday Update…

Saturday was spent in babysitting my niece and a significant chunk of that time was spent with her sleeping on my chest, while I watched The Goonies. Honestly, she’s the most delightful time-suck in the world. Going to hang out with her is a joyful black hole of baby love. No regrets.

Plus, I did a fairly good job at being productive before that, having managed to pull together a readable version of Chapter One of Under the Midday Moon in time for the Writing Gang meeting (it took me working on it through my lunch break and submitting it the day of the meeting — thank baby Jesus for deadlines, without which I would get nothing done). I’ve been having a hard time knowing where to begin with this story, but eventually figured that it was better to start somewhere rather than not putting words down at all. The resulting Chapter One was still not the right place to start, but the Gang offered some great feedback that now has me thinking of new scenes and perhaps a better place to begin. I couldn’t be where I am without having put those words down, so yay!

In terms of the physical, I managed to do two out my required three days. I absolutely could have fit that third day in there, but didn’t. Turning on the TV without specific purpose (eg., having a specific show to watch) is a problem for me. It’s easy to let a lot of valuable time vanish that way.

No work was done on the poetry or the financial side of things. *le sigh*

Things to do in the coming week:
– Write Chapter Two of Novel
– Walk/Run at least three days this week & at least 2 miles each day (1/3 down)
– Make a list of poems I want to include in the collection
– Make edits to two of the poems I know I want to include
– Contact Apple store or computer guys and get data transferred from the old computer to the new one (may require giving up my computer for a few days, hard to do when I’m in the midst of wanting to write)
– Contact my sisters accountant to find out about setting up an IRA
– Do yoga (three sun salutations minimum) each morning before work (1/5 done)

Anyway, how have you been and how are you doing?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.]

These Days of Procrastination

I’m in one of those states where I feel so overwhelmed by the every day stuff that I’m having a hard time functioning on any level, let a lone a creative one. I have two birthdays this month, as well as a graduation and several Christmas celabrations, all of which require attendance at events as well as the planning and purchase of gifts, which I can’t even bring myself to think about.

I am avoiding writing my werewolf novel by planning to work on projects for wattpad, which I am also avoiding by kicking up my feet and reading into the night or scanning the social media on my phone. (I’m hoping to counteract this tonight by going to a coffee shop to work rather than going straight home.)

It’s a spiral of avoidance.

To some extent I’m giving myself permission to kick back and relax, because every one needs to have a mental break sometimes. But eventually you have hunker down and get the job done.

So, yeah, I think it’s time to listen to baby.

Victory Baby

Being a list of 10 things that happened this week

1. I finished, polished, and submitted my new short story, “The Shadow’s Flight,” to the anthology Rustblind and Silverbright. Clicking “send” has to be the scariest part of the writing process for me. It’s that moment when I keep wanting to do just ONE more proofread of both story and cover letter with the knowledge that once it’s been sent, it cannot be retrieved. Once it’s gone, I can sit back, comfortable in the knowledge that things are no longer within my control, and what will be will be. I’m quite happy with this story, and wether in this anthology or another market, I’m sure it will find a home.

2. I started work on another short story this week, which has been a little more challenging for me. I started out excited and enthralled with my idea, and was deperately throwing down snippets and phrases into a notebook, but now things have stalled a bit. I have the parameters all sketched out, filling in the colors and the details has turned out to be considerably more difficult. I need to give up finding the “perfect” words and just get any words into sentences and paragraphs in the hopes that my writing gang can read it and review it tonight.

3. The Untitled Werewolf Novel, which now has the tentative title of Beneath the Midday Moon, continues to evolve inside my head. I was originally going to write it in first person with a single perspective. Now, I’m planning to add another character POV, and am undecided on whether to go with first person still or with a limited third person omnicient POV. Decisions, decisions.

4. I posted a new poem on wattpad, called “Ode to an Antique Suitcase,” which you can read it here.

5. Yesterday, I pulled off my  sweater and totally freaked out, suddenly sure that I was naked underneath and had just exposed myself to the entire office — only to realize after a couple of deep calming breaths that it was fine, reall. That I was not naked, but just wearing a nude colored tank top undearneath the sweater. The panic, however, reminded me instantly of those terrible dreams I used to have in high school of being in class without my pants on.

6. Spent Thursday night hanging out with my brother and his friend in San Francisco, drinking beers and eating good food. We stopped by the restaurant he manages, called Split Bread, which is all organic food and has really good toffee cookies.

7. It is raining outside. A lot. It’s like the sky is dumping whole buckets of water on the earth, for which I am very grateful, because how else are my potted plants to get watered.

8. It didn’t help, though, that I left both rain jacket and umbrella in the car, and so had to run down the pathway, leap (unsucessfully) over a puddle and throw myself into the car — none of which stopped me from looking like a wet cat and having to sit there, shaking the water from my limbs.

9. I don’t really have anything else to say.

10. I just like round numbers.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. Feel free to comment here or there.]

"There is no great writing, only great rewriting." ~ Justice Brandeis

I recently finished a second draft of a zombie/Bluebeard story, tentatively called “The Girls Come and They Go”. It’s almost there. I need to smooth out some of the scenes, add some details and tension toward the end, and chop out some exposition before finishing up with some good polishing. (I’m tempted to try out the nerd polish excel thing, though I tend to be so focused on the text and hearing it in my head that it’s hard to me to stop and count how many times I used certain telling words.)

I intended to submit this story to an anthology, but the market has closed up. I was too slow getting the story written and edited, which I find terribly annoying. I would much prefer to have my story read by an editor and rejected than to not submit it because I working past the deadline date. It’s happened several times now, and I always kick myself every time (though the upside is that I now have a new story completed). So, now I have to find another market that’s open to looking at zombie stories.

Anyway, this realization — that I would prefer to have the story read and then rejected — has lead me to a decision. I currently have a handful or more stories in various states of revision that need to be polished off and submitted somewhere…. anywhere.

Therefore, I am not allowed to start any new stories (which is a sort of way to avoid the submission process) until I have finished revisions of at least a handful of stories and started sending them out. As great as it would be to launch into the next shiny thing, it’s also important to follow through, take the journey to its conclusion, so to speak.

I also have enough poems to assemble them into a collection for submission, too, and that also needs to happen.

I’m hoping to get all this done by November, though I have a two week trip to Germany (for work and play) happening at the beginning of October, which will really cut into things, but it’s an attainable goal, if I stay focused. Also, while I may not directly participate in Nanowrimo this year, I so have the Untitled Werewolf Novel to get back to and maybe start from scratch on.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. I’m hoping I’ll have a lot of submission posts to report in the near future (followed by lots of acceptance posts…. *fingers crossed*).

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Messing around on wattpad and a review of The Waking Moon by TJ McGuinn

So, I found out via twitter that Margaret Atwood has joined and has been promoting this site called wattpad. Essentially, its a way for writers to post stories online and connect with readers. Normally I wouldn’t look twice at this kind of site, in part, because its a self publishing venue in which there is no way to earn money (it’s completely free all around), but I figured since Margaret Atwood and has posted some of her poems, it lends the site some credibility and so I would check it out.

As a Writer

Writers post stories (either short stories or novels in serialized format or snippets or poetry), which readers can vote or comment on, and they can “fan” their favorite authors to find out when something new is posted.  According to the website, it has millions of readers every month. It also has an associated phone app and the option to promote your story on other sites (such as GoogleBooks, Sony eBookstore, and Scribd). All of which, suggests that there is an opportunity to connect with readers. You still have to find ways to promote your work on the site by chatting with readers and commenting on other works, and so forth, which is a lot of work in itself.

Though, I’m aiming to be professionally published, I can certainly see the appeal of instant gratification provided by self publishing your work (in any format). So, though I initially intended to join the site simply to read Margaret Atwood’s poems and to explore, I couldn’t help but post something of my own. The Poetry Project, as I’m calling it, will be a place where wattpad readers can suggest prompts that I will respond to with an original poem. I do have two poems completed (“Dreaming of Water on These Hot Sunny Days” and “The Butterfly Effect“), both of which you can read without being a member of wattpad. And I’m considering posting some of my Fay Fairburn stories on there, since I’ve already posted them on my blog, anyway.

I can already see that it’s a lot of work to get attention and move up in the stats (really based on popularity), which is fine — but it is something I also recognize as a distraction from doing the work to prepare and submit manuscripts for professional paid publishing, which is not so fine. I’ve been holding off on doing the final work to edit and submit some of the short stories I’ve written — there’s  fear involved of the I’m-not-good-enough variety — and I really need to make sure that happens. So, I’ll keep with wattpad for a while as a side project to see how it goes, but only under the provision that it doesn’t keep me from my main goals.

As a Reader

As to be expected, since there is no filter system (no editor selecting what appears and what needs more work), you get a lot of writing on the site that is not great (in fact a portion of it is really bad). You kind of having to skim through first pages and opening lines until you find something that’s worth reading. There are recommended stories and poems, which I tend to go to first, and various ways of searching to come up with unique reads, but there’s a ton of content on there to sort through to find something you like.

Despite that, I did find The Waking Moon, by TJ McGuinn. The book description: “Paulette’s life is in shambles. Her sister is dead, her mother is a drunk, and she’s been forced to transfer into a chaotic public school full of bullies. Things go from bad to worse when, one night while driving them home from dinner, her intoxicated mother hits and kills a teenage boy and is sent to jail. Now Paulette is truly alone. But when the teenage boy mysteriously comes back from the dead looking for Paulette, she finds herself face to face with the purest love on earth.

McGuinn presents a story with clean, crisp prose. I say this not just in comparison to the work on wattpad, but in comparison work published in general. It’s good clean writing that draws you into the story from sentence one. Paulette is an interesting character, who is understandably downcast, based on the various problems she has to face. Life is rough, but she’s not so despondent as to be depressing or boring. I was definitely on her side.

The character I absolutely fell in love with, though, was the one friend she made in high school, Rhodes. He’s quirky and fun, and sticks up for Paulie. He’s kind to Paulie and though he’s fallen for her, he doesn’t push her too hard. He does make mistakes (at one point, jealousy rears its head), but he’s quick to back off and apologize for him. He even manages to respectfully help her out of her clothes, when she’s injured, which is tough thing to do when it’s someone you’re crushing on. He’s a character that I wish was real, cause I would love to have him be my friend in real life.

The super-haught dead boy (whose name I can’t remember) is rather generic and bland in comparison to Rhodes, who has so much personality. In fact, I didn’t quite get why she falls for him, except that there is an immediate emotional connection based on common tragedy.

The story overall held my interest the entire way through, and I found myself crying by the end. Definitely worth reading, and I hope I get to read more work by McGuinn in the future.

Finding other works on wattpad that I liked as much is slow going. I have found some “good” stuff, and lots of “okay” stuff, but not much that falls into the “great” category. There is definitely some of that in there, though.

[Cross posted to my livejournal.]

Poetry Projects

So, as a form of procrastination (one of many), I’ve been toying with various ideas for poetry projects* — some I’ve been thinking about for a while now, some are brand new.

The newest idea, and one that could be done both fairly cheaply and easily (uh huh), is creating one or more pocket/mini chapbooks (thank you Poets & Writers). They would be 4.25 x 2.75 inches in size and 6 pages long (not including the cover). So a tiny little book with a series of very short poems (possibly haikus) or one longer poem spread over several pages. It would be something that I could give out at readings and maybe sell on etsy for a buck or two each.

I’ve been thinking for over a year about putting together a kickstarter project, which would be called “As Yet Unwritten,” in which I would create a chapbook of poetry based entirely on prompts from backers. I like the cooperative aspect of the idea, but I’m also aware that there is a huge time chunk involved in terms of researching cost of publishing a chapbook, running the project, creating the project, mailing the finished product out, etc. So, while conceptually fun and exciting to me, it also seems very, very overwhelming.

Then there’s the infamous letter poem series, which is still not complete. In terms of publishing this set, I would hopefully (fingers crossed) work cooperatively with an artist friend of mine, who has created a series of collage art pieces on old envelopes, so that her art and my poetry would appear side by side. Also a fun exciting idea for me. Ideally, I would try to get this one professionally published, but I have no idea how to go about getting an art/poetry book published, or what publishers would be interested in such a thing. So, um, yeah.

And, of course, there’s always the final option, the one I’ve been meaning to do since forever, which is to organize and compile my existing poetry into a booklength collection for the purpose of submitting it to a professional publisher. The only think holding me back here are my own doubts as to whether or not I’m good enough or ready.

Anyway, because I’m still enjoying the planning-level of procrastination, I’ve put a poll up on my livejournal as to which project you think I should work on. Have fun.

Line Breaks in Poetry

Over on my tumblr (where I’ve been posting all my Napowrimo 2012 poems), my friend mermaidcomplex asked me how I approach line breaks in my poetry. Since, I ended up doing a longer, more detailed response, I thought I’d share it here, too.

Line breaks decisions really depend poem to poem, but essentially, they tend to be based on overall ton, visual elements, word emphasis, flow and rhythm, and (very much less so for me) formal meter or syllable counting considerations. Each reason tends to get wrapped up in the next, and I think the concept of the “pause” at the end of the line is connected to both word emphasis and flow or rhythm.

Tone/Feeling comes first for me, because it’s one of the first things I get a sense of as the words fall where they may. If the mood is calm and peaceful, then I tend to use more even lines, whereas if the poem is angry or in any way chaotic in mood, then I tend to use jagged lines, some longer or shorter, some indented in a seeming haphazard way, so as to suggest the disjointed feelings I’m trying to evoke. Though that’s not always the case, as the indented lines can also have a wistful, floaty feeling (which was what I was going for at the end of #9 napowrimo poem). Shorter lines tend to feel more immediate as they focus on only a few words at a time or they can feel more rushed, whereas longer lines tend to feel more stable, anchored.

As you noted, the Visual element can also play a part. This also ties into tone for me, as a poem that looks jagged on the page can immediately give a feeling of disjointedness even before the reader reads the first line. I’ve also seen poets, as I’m sure you have, take the visual element a level father by

the visual layout of
the poem into the metaphorical
images in the text, so that if you’re
writing about rolling down a hill, each line
can grow in length, so that the rolling hillside
is instantly present, even in the poem’s layout.

I don’t usually use the visual aspects of line breaks in that way, but it certainly can work well if the poem calls for it.

Word Emphasis is of equal importance, for me, to the tone or visual elements, and is also closely tied to Flow and Rhythm, which is really where the concept of the “pause” comes from (Allen Ginsberg was big on the idea of line break = pause, as determined by breath, and wrote all or most of his poetry with this in mind). I believe the pause is there. Even if you don’t actually sound out the pause while you are reading a poem, there is at the very least a visual break, as your eye stops at the end of the last line and scans back to the beginning of the next. For example, this poem, “Autum,” on the Poetic Asides page, I definitely pause at the end of each line while reading it, so that there’s a kind of rhythm as I take in the image in each line and mentally pause before moving on. (For me, the pause is stronger when the lines are shorter.)

I approach word emphasis, flow, and rhythm in several ways, including singling out short phrases or single words on a line, if necessary. But even in longer lines, I also look at what the last word is on the line, because the last word can sometime have increased emphasis, as well as to determine whether I want to break up a phrase or keep it whole. Take this not-so-inspiring example: “I don’t want to dance in the moonlight. Stop the buzzing of the bees.”

I don’t want to dance in the moonlight.
Stop the buzzing of the bees.

The above is too standard for my tastes. I don’t usually like to end on a period, because with the combined pause of the line ending and the stopping power of the period, it brings the line to a full halt, which is good sometimes, but most of the time I want more flow. So I would probably break up the lines like this:

I don’t want to dance
in the moonlight. Stop
the buzzing of the bees.

In this way, “I don’t want to dance” is a complete sentence on its own, which puts emphasis on “dance.” For a moment, however, brief it would allow the reader to feel a sense of conclusion, only to find there’s more to it as they read on. In the second line, by putting the period in the middle with the single word after it, my aim is to have the word, “Stop,” serve two functions at once. On the one hand, it relates to the sentence of the line it’s currently on, “I don’t want to dance in the moonlight,” so then “Stop,” it concludes. On the other hand, it also carries forward into the next line, as a part of a separate sentence and thought.

I rarely use Formal Meter and Syllable Counting (and by rarely, I mean, almost never). I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around meter or iambics — those who do, and do it well, are amazing. I only syllable count in very rare circumstances, as with my poem “Broken Cuckoo Clock“, in which every two syllable line is meant to evoke the “tick tock” sound of the clock with the final one syllable line bringing it to an abrupt stop.

So that’s pretty much my whole spiel on line breaks. Overall tone and feel of the poem tends to be the ultimate consideration for me. As I’m writing I usually go by my gut feeling on where a line should break, but during rewrites, I’ll play with line breaks, switching words back and forth between lines to get the combined tone, visual, emphasis, and flow that I’m going for.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

I wanna write bad things with you*

Taking a line from Lisa Eckstein’s post, I’m going to share with you that I have been busy doing bad, bad things to my character in the short story I’m currently writing. I’ve been a little less compassionate about the bad things I’ve done to my character, in fact I approached the scene with a certain amount of glee as I attacked her with a multitude of spider-like things that crawled under her skin. (There may be something wrong with me.) Though, as I’m not writing a novel, I’m not as attached to this character as I might otherwise be.

The fun of typing up that scene, as well as other strange and surreal scenes (none of which connect into a coherent story yet) allowed me to plow through almost 2,000 words Wednesday night, which gives me a warm cozy feeling and makes me believe that I might actually finish this story, and have time to edit and submit it to Awesome Anthology.

What bad things have you done to your characters? Do you feel sorry for doing it to them?


In other news, Z-composition, a new horror, scifi, fantasy lit-zine I recently submitted to, is looking for artists to create a new fancy banner for their website. They’re hoping for bids (which I’m assuming means they will pay a bit), so anyone interested ought to check it out.

Also, here is a rather amusing post about the strange and funny things fans say and do around authors.

*I’m humming along to to the True Blood theme song, as I write this.

[Cross posted to my livejournal.]

just because it's done, doesn't mean it's done

Current Project: The Witch of the Little Wood
New Words: 5,254 new words over three days, which was brought down to 3,614 words after editing
Current Total Word Count: 17,304!
Goal: Complete the story (this short story is definitely a novlette).

Random Rough Sentence(s): Devan’s body felt like it was made of lead, so heavy that she couldn’t move, so heavy that she was sinking into the couch, sinking past the cushions, snapping springs and cracking the wood frame.

Notes: I’m calling this draft of the story done, completed, in its entirety — more or less. When initially outlining the story, I had planned on ending it on another scene. However, when it came to writing that scene, it felt far too much like an epilogue or the start of a new story, so I left it alone.

I think my ending scene works, but I’m not in love with it.

At this point, I’m going to put it aside and work on something else. In a few weeks (probably after I get back from Australia), I’ll look at the whole beast and assess how everything fits together, whether the scene breaks work, and if the past/present jumps are cohesive. Right now, I’m feeling that it doesn’t, that it’s missing something vital, and that the resolution isn’t strong enough. I tend trust my gut in writing, though I have to be careful and not confuse “gut” with “anxiety” or “fear of failure”. I’m pretty sure that my gut is guiding me true, though, and that the story does need work. I want to try to submit to magazines as a short story, so that will probably mean trimming it a bit, too.

While I’m letting that simmer, I’ll be throwing together a retelling of Cinderella in short-short story format, as well as doing some outlining for the Untitled Werewolf Novel, which I’m planning to launch into.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Showing Intimacy between Characters

Two Weeks Notice is an average romantic comedy in which Sandra Bullock plays a lawyer Lucy (a brilliant tofu-eating liberal) who agrees to work for George, a lazy, self-indulgent playboy, played by Hugh Grant at his corporation. After working for him for several months, she becomes so annoyed with being more like his personal nanny than his lawyer that she tries to quit.

As I said, the movie is average. Both leads are funny and charming and they play well enough off of each other to keep things entertaining. (The movie also has one of my favorite movie lines, when Lucy declares that she’s going to quit. George says he’s become addicted to her opinion and needs to know what she thinks. He holds up a pair of cuff links and asks, “What do you think?” She replies, “George, I think you’re the most selfish person in the entire world.” He replies, “Well, that’s just silly. Have you met everyone in the entire world?” Classic.) However, I never can’t quite buy their relationship fully. I know opposites attract is the point of many romantic comedies, but sometimes the connection isn’t always there.

But that’s not the point of my post.

While Two Weeks Notice is far from a perfect romantic comedy, it does have one scene that perfectly shows intimacy between the two characters. I don’t mean sexual intimacy. I mean the kind of intimacy that comes about when two (or more) people spend so much time together that they come to be very comfortable in each other’s presence.

At one point in Two Weeks Notice, about a third of the way through, Lucy and George sit down to an otherwise uneventful business lunch together. The conversation between the two of them is unmemorable, the same kind of “this meeting is when” conversation that anyone would have. What’s important is what they do while they are talking.

The waiter brings over their plates of salad — they both have the same thing — and without hesitation Lucy reaches over and takes the crispy noodles off of George’s salad. Once she’s done, George reaches over and takes the beets off of Lucy’s salad. Just like that.

I would never take food off of my boss’s plate without asking. I wouldn’t even take food off of a good friend’s plate without asking, and even then I would feel shy and embarrassed just by asking. But with my brothers and sisters, whom I’ve known just about all my life on the other hand, I would have no problem reaching over to take something off their plate.

Having Lucy and George share their food in such a manner makes it instantly clear that these two people know each other very, very well. So well that they are completely comfortable around each other and in their interactions.

When my friend, Jordan Dobbs Rosa and I were working on the script for Firecracker together (he plays the firecracker salesman, btw), he came up with the idea of having our MC reach over, take her boyfriend’s sunglasses off of his face, and put them on herself. “It’s that kind of gross intimacy,” Jordan said. “It’s when you know two people have been together too long.”

I don’t know about gross (sometimes I think it’s cute), but it definitely shows that two people have known each other a long time. That bubble of “this is my space / this is your space” is broken and becomes closer to “this is our space” or at least “this is communal space.”

It helps to remember this kind of thing when writing stories in which you have characters who know each other well. These little seemingly insignificant actions are excellent ways to show that they are comfortable with each other without saying so.

What are some movies or books you’ve seen that show this kind of comfortable intimacy well? How have you approached showing intimacy in your own stories?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Where My Writing's At

Current Project: The Witch of the Little Wood
New Words: ~4,000 new words in the last round of writing last week
Current Total Word Count: 13,690
Goal: Complete the story (this short story is turning into a novlette, I think).

Random Rough Sentence(s): Her hair was a nest of nettles, her skin gouged and wrinkled bark, her eyes the green of light pooling through leaves.

Notes: I’ve managed to get through two climactic scenes (very fun to write) with one major confrontation left to write and then several scenes of resolution to round things out. (I also have a scene that needs to be added to the beginning in order to make the mom more sympathetic.) Hopefully I’ll be able to get through all of those before the next Writing Gang meeting in a couple of weeks. That way I would have the first draft done before I head off to Australia, giving me time to let things simmer.

Writing a story that jumps between a past event and present events is an interesting process, because while the past influences and must reflect in the present scenes, it also has its own arc and own climax. I’ve been going back and forth between the past and present as I write, which has allowed me to discover parallels between the two arcs, which is kind of cool, but it also is a cause of anxiety for me because I’m not entirely sure the past and present mesh as well as they should (though my Writing Gang assures me otherwise). I guess I just have to get the whole thing written, so I can look at it in entirety and see what works and what doesn’t. The joy of revision.

The feedback I’ve been getting from the Gang has put a whole other idea in my head for this story, namely that it could be easily stretched into a novel — which has my head spinning. I had not thought of it before, but as soon as they said it, the idea started to germinate and now I have notes for starting to expand it. Making it novel is a scary concept, though, because it’s such a bigger work. It would require completely restructuring everything (the past/present alternation wouldn’t work, for example) and adding a litany of new characters and figuring out just who the Bear is and what he wants as my potential alternate villain.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to focus on finishing the story as a story, in the hopes of submitting it to various magazines (though there aren’t many that will accept this kind of length).

Other Projects in the Works:

The Untitled Werewolf Novel has been put on hold for the time being, while I work on “The Witch of the Little Wood” having settled firmly into the pre-planning stage. Don’t worry it’s not going to live there. My plan is to start getting chapters onto the page as soon as I finish the Little Wood short story. The Werewolf Novel keeps popping up every now and then tugging at my sleeve with new scene ideas and character arcs, so I won’t be able to ignore it for long.

I also have a couple of poetry manuscripts to work on. Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press is holding a chapbook competition, and it occurred to me that I have 10-20 pages of poetry that I could submit. I’ve been gazing at poetry chapbook competitions for a while now, thinking that I should submit to one, but haven’t felt like my work was cohesive or up to par enough to submit. Now I think I just might have a collection that would work — maybe.

You know those letter-poems I’ve been writing for the 30 Day Letter challenge that I never finished… well, I need to finish it, because I’ve been talking with the rather fabulous collage artist Jill Allyn Stafford about putting together a book that combines her art made out of international envelopes with my letter-poems. We’re both stoked on the idea (even though we’re not sure what publishers to approach about this sort of thing). First, I need to get those poems written.

And because I don’t have enough projects going on, there’s the Not-so-Secret Screenplay. I got an email about a script competition from Script Magazine, in which you have to come up with a script idea for a logline (which is: “After waking to find his wife dead in their backyard, a man conducts his own investigation and uncovers the hidden life of a woman he thought he knew.”) and submit the 15 pages.

Of course, instead of thinking, gee, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, I think, gee, I can work with that, and my mind immediately started trying to put a supernatural spin on the story. So, yeah, now I’ve got a screenplay idea kicking around my head along with everything else. Deadline for the 15 pages is August 30th … we’ll see if I can pull it off.

[Cross posted to my livejournal.]

Story Completed!

About six months ago, I stayed up past midnight writing the scenes and outlines of a story for anthology market that wasn’t even open.

Well, guess what? Machine of Death opened up for submissions for Vol. 2! Yay!

All my writing over the last several weeks has been focused on getting, “Shaking Hands,” my submission for MoD, Vol. 2 written. Those midnight notes came in handy and the story fell into place rather quickly. A couple of edits, a run through my writing gang (who gave some excellent feedback), and another edit later, I have a 4,150 word story that I’m rather quite happy with. In fact, I think it’s about ready to be sent in.

This marks the first story I’ve written for a specific anthology that I’ve actually completed by the deadline. Woohoo!

Also, a spin off of sharing my story with my writing gang is that most of the group has been inspired by the MoD concept and is sitting down to write their own stories for the anthology, which makes me all smiley with joy. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all got into the anthology together? Heck, it would be awesome if anyone of us got into the anthology. (^_^)

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Switching Settings

The Short Version:
I’m pretty sure that I’m going to change the setting of my Untitled Werewolf Novel from California to Alaska.

The Long Version:
I love Alaska. I love the mountains and the moose and the crisp weather and the trails and so many things about Alaska. My parents were both born there before it was even a state and I still have family ties there.

Driving home, I was thinking about the Alaska that I love and wondering at the fact there are so few books set in Alaska. I can think of two off the top of my head: Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, in which a boy is trapped in the Alaskan wilderness for months and must survive, and The Curious Eat Themselves, by John Straley (isn’t that just about the best title ever), a mystery novel surrounding the oil companies. (I’m sure there are more, but I would have to do an internet search to find them.)

Most books about Alaska fall into the Hatchet category, as in: gee, look at how beautiful and wild and empty and dangerous Alaska is, looks at the pretty mountains, the roaring brown bears, the lumbering moose, and there’s like no one there! And yes, of course, there is a lot of forest and wildlife in Alaska and it is certainly achingly beautiful. (This romantic notion of Alaska in books and movies, I’m sure contributes the question I still get of whether or not I lived in an igloo.)

However there are people there and most of them are quite normal, just trying to live ordinary lives, concerned about bills and getting super on the table and boring normal things. It’s just that shopping at the local supermarket might be interrupted my by a bull moose meandering through the parking lot.

There should be more books like The Curious Eat Themselves, I thought to myself, more books obvious set in and influenced by Alaska, but focused on the more mundane aspects of people actually living there. Even better, why not a book with supernatural elements.

Hey! I thought, why don’t I write a fantasy novel set in Alaska. I could do that… which ultimately brought me to thinking about switching the location of my werewolf novel.

Doing so would require a rather large shift in how I’ve been thinking about the novel thus far, so I’m not fully committed to the idea yet. It would change the entire basis for how the characters interact with each other as well as their environment. They simply would not behave in the exact same way as they always have.

Making the switch would resolve some problems and create others. For example, I would not have Claire move to Alaska, she would have grown up there, eliminating the getting-to-know-you aspect from the plot. Also, it’s plausible that a werewolf could get away with living in Alaska, because the people are used to seeing large animals around. But, this would also mean that I will not be able to have the running off to San Francisco scenes that I was looking forward to writing, and there is not equivalent Big City in Alaska. Fortunately, I’m not very far into the writing of the novel (just the first chapter), so making the change would not require me to drastically rewrite much.

I’m pretty sure I will be making the switch up. Here’s why: I’m super excited about it. I mean, I’m hair-is-standing-up-on-my-arms happy about it. So it should be obvious that I need to do it (I’m not really clear on what my hesitation is). All I know is that I’m loving this novel more than ever.

Have you ever made a drastic setting change to something you were writing? How did you decide to make the switch and how did it change how you thought about the novel/story?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined you can comment either here or there.]

A list of things I've been meaning to post

1. I’ve received an acceptance for one of my poems. Will give you the when and where once the contract is signed, but in the meantime, yay!

2. I’ve also received a rejection for a very short story I submitted, but I don’t feel bad about this because: a) I generally don’t worry about that sort of thing, and b) see above.

3. I totally rocked my Minnie Mouse ears on my trip to Disneyland last weekend. We hit the theme parks hard over those two days (for example, on our last night there, we rushed through nine rides in two hours).

4. which I’m pretty sure contributed to my being sick all last week (that and the crazy work schedule I’ve been having lately).

5. The result of which is that I did not run last week (rest was needed), though I haven’t been sticking to my training schedule anyway.

6. My writing is going well, however, as evidenced by my multiple NaPoWriMo posts and the progress I’m making on “The Witch of the Little Wood.” I’m hoping to have the draft done by the middle of May at the latest.

7. [info]alg posted a call for submissions for a Buffy verse anthology that I may have to write something for.

8. Another awesome market is looking for reprint submissions for an anthology of speculative feminist poetry. (I’ve submitted a poem thatmight work.)

9. During Easter, my mom pointed out that as soon she had grandkids, she would no longer making easter baskets for my siblings and I — not exactly good incentive for us to start breeding. 😉

10. I just like nice, round numbers.

[Cross-posted my my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Short Story in Progress

Project: The Witch of the Little Wood
New Words: 2,079
Current Total Word Count: 7, 606
Goal: Complete the story (this short story is turning into a novlette, I think).

Random Rough Sentence(s): Everyone knew that the witch lived in the little wood, that she lives in the hollow of a tree. There she keeps old bottles, the labels torn off, which she refills with potions of her own making. The slithering slickly brown one turns a child into a toad. The angery black oilly one keeps you from ever having a happy thought again. The clear liquid one, evervescent and glowing will cause you to fall asleep forever and dream of things you want but can never have. And everyone knows that she eats children, roasting them, crisping them black over a tiny fire in the middle of the little wood. She saves the bones for her potions, pops the eyes like jellied grapes into her mouth. Everyone knows that she is the witch of the little wood. That wood belongs to her and always has. If you follow her too close, she will stop and stare at you with her sharp, dark eyes, and you won’t be able to sleep for a week. And if you stare back and look to long, you’ll end up crazy like John Peterson over on Elm, who tried to drink drano and now is living in a shelter, because he can’t be happy ever again.

Notes: This story has been tumbling around my head for a while. I started it a while back and intended to write it for Scheherazade’s Facade (an anthology market), but never finished it. I’ve started rewriting it from scratch and am rather pleased with the results. It’s the first time I have a longer story that I know I can finish and that I know I’ll be happy with by the end. Amazing feeling to have.

I’ve been getting good feedback on it from my writing group, too, which is always nice. (^_^)

At Work

I just spent two and a half hours at the office after work rewriting a flash fiction piece to submit. It’s off and away.

It’s a good thing. But my now back hurts, I’m tired (I’ve still got an hour commute ahead of me) and I don’t want to go running.

I’m feeling like working on my writing means sacrificing my marathon training. And vice versa. I need to figure out the balance between the two.

But first, I just need to get in the car and go home.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Creating Poetry, by John Drury

I picked up this book because someone in an Amazon review called Creating Poetry a “muse disguised as paper”. It may not go that far, but it’s close. This book is full of writing prompts, each focused on the chapter’s subject, from Beginnings to Tone, Form, Research, Sound, Inspiration and more. There is plenty here for a poet to use and learn from, especially if they flip around from section to section, picking out prompts on an area of their writing they want to focus on. (I don’t think the best use is to read it from cover to cover as I did).

Occasionally, I thought the prompts for a particular subject were to specific, however, Drury encourages you to use this book as a jumping off point. It’s not necessary to follow the prompts to the letter, if the poem goes off in another direction.

Also, here is on of my responses to one of the prompts in the book. I followed a prompt focused on ghazal’s a form of poetry traditionally from the Middle East, which arranges the poem in a series of 5-10 couplets, rhymed on the same sound throughout and using the subject of love or wine to represent mystical experience. The prompt I used asked that the reader write a ghazal of my own. You’ll note that I dropped the rhyme, like many American poets do.

An Untitled Ghazal

The water in the vase is stagnant; the stems slimy.
A halo of petals on the table are emptied of fragrance.

We are always new, he says, always in the state of becoming new,
each dead cell replaced with its replicated offspring.

The leaves are dancing like translucent tissue paper.
The mottled light is bounding along the grass.

The days are an amalgamation of eyes blinking, hair growing,
lips parting, fingers thrumming over the flesh of the world.

He says, its not that time moves too quickly.
It’s that it moves too quickly.

The stars glimmer like fireflies trapped in tar.
The stars are a map of the freckles on your skin.

He says, silly rabbit, you have to have lived
what you lived in order to know what you know.

The Gerber Daisy leans against the glass.
A sun resides at the heart of its petals.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Midnight Writer

2011Last night I started read Machine of Death (MoD), an anthology of stories centered around the premise of a machine that lets people know how they are going to die, but is annoyingly vague about it. So far, so good. The first couple of stories have been fantastic, but that’s not the point of this story.

The point of the story is: I’ve known about this book for quite a long time. When the editors first started asking for submissions, I became thrilled at the idea of this book and knew I wanted to submit something to it. So, I came up with a couple of story ideas, started writing, got bogged down and lost in the writing, and never submitted anything.

While I started reading the stories in the finished book (while feeling a little jealous about it’s shiny and clever cover, as well as the awesome illustrations at the front of each one), I kept thinking about the stories I didn’t finish. Once upon a time, in one of MoD’s emails or blogs, I remember reading that if this book sells well, then they will consider making a second book on the same premise.

Suddenly, a story that I’ve had in the back of my mind jumped up and kicked me in the frontal lobe, announcing that it would work just wonderfully as a MoD story.

But that’s silly, I told the story, why would I work on writing a story for a market that’s not even open. Instead I should be working on things that I can actually submit and share when I’m done with them.

My protests did not, however, stop the story from jabbering in my ear and making a general nuisance of itself, insisting at grabbing my attention at every turn to the point that I finally had to give up on reading for the night and go to bed. At which point the story continued to lay itself out in a provocative display before me, dazzling me and enticing me with plot, dialog, and clever descriptions.

There is no winning against such an onslaught. So I dragged myself out of bed, scrambled around for the nearest legal pad and pen, and began my bleary eyed scribbling — bleary eyed not only due to exhaustion, but also because I’m half blind without my contacts in.

In the end, I had several pages filled with practically illegible writing, consisting of a nearly finished scene and some outline notes for the rest of it. I’m sure I’ll have a fun time deciphering the mess later.

But all I cared about was that the beast was appeased, and I was allowed to sleep.

ETA: I think I may know a way to make this story work without the MoD element to it, which would make it viable for other markets. Hrmm….

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Opening Lines: The start of something wonderful

I always loved Stephen King’s opening line for The Gunslinger, book one of the Dark Tower series:

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

This is an excellent example of a great opening line. It’s not as poetic or witty as some famous opening lines, but it serves its purpose well, by immediately hooking readers (well, this reader at least) into the story. It gives and immediate (albeit brief) introduction to the setting and two main characters of this storyline, while setting up questions that make you want to know more, which also letting you know what the main tension of the story will be — the act of pursuit. Immediately you want to know: Who is the man in black? Who is the gunslinger? And why is he following the man in black?

This initial hook and interest was followed by a storyline that absorbed me completely. I loved The Gunslinger when I read it (even though my interest in the series dwindled as the wait from book to book accrued and the ongoing storyline became more convoluted), and that opening line was the first time I thought to myself, damn, that’s a great opening line.

Perhaps, this book was where my interest in opening lines first began, or perhaps it was always there, and this was what made me aware of it. Either way, I know that every time I read the back of a book, I flip open to the first page to see if the opening line catches at me. Opening lines appeal to me for many reasons, for example:

  1. Introduce characters in an interesting way, like The Gunslinger line. Another example — “I am an invisible man.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  2. Present an important or central conflict of the story, again like The Gunslinger. Another example — “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” – Franz Kafka, The Trial
  3. Set the tone or mood of the book, especially if the narrator has a sense of humor — “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Opening lines can also feature the setting or introduce the theme, among other things. However, I find that the most memorable opening lines, the ones that catch my attention and draw me into the story, tend to include one or more of the three things I listed above — characters, central tension, or a feel for the mood.

Planning my opening line of a story or book is not the first thing I think of when I start writing. I begin with the overall arc of the plot, the character’s wants and challenges, and how to get it all across at the right pace, because while opening lines are important, they don’t mean much if they’re not followed up by a great story.

But once I’m in the rewriting stage, I do try to think about what I want to get across in that first line and how I might try to hook the the reader and draw them in with a (hopefully) great opening line.

What are some of your favorite opening lines, and what do you love about them?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Monday Update

I’m slowly starting to crawl back on to the getting-things-done wagon, rather than following along behind it.

Last week I sent out four poems for submission to Apex Magazine. This is a recently discovered magazine for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with my submission, because I’ve been enjoying the issues I’ve read so far.

Not much progress made writing, though I did some work on a draft of a new poem. I’m also keeping up pretty steadily with writing in my Morning Poem Journal every morning.

I’ve been doing yoga just about ever morning, and getting some sqats, sit ups, and push ups in about every other morning. One day of walking done, and I took a nice long hike with my family at Castle Rock up Highway 9 on Sunday. The hike was really great, because the location was so fun. The large rocks from which the site gets its name has these amazing outcroppings/cave-ish things that you can climb up into. It reminded me being a kid and how easy it was to get that feeling of adventure. I’m a little sore this morning, but I’m looking forward to taking more hikes in the near future.

To Do in the Coming Week
– continue to make progress on the story (actually finishing = triple bonus points)
– write, edit and/or polish 2-3 of my current poems
– submit a set of poems or a short story for publication
– do 3-4 marathon training days
– post a youtube video
– art, doesn’t matter what, but something

[x-posted to my livejournal. You can comment here or there.]