Friday, September 23, 2011

10 Things and Contest Reminder

I've been tagged in this 10 Things thing going around the blogosphere by the lovely and intriguing Melodie Wright at Forever Rewrighting. My understanding is that I should share 10 tidbits about myself and then nominate a few fellow bloggers to do the same. So here goes:

1. The day my daughter was born was the greatest day of my life. Sometimes when I am having a bad day or I am particularly stressed, I think about that day and it cheers me up.

2. The titles of my crappy young adult novels that I wrote between the ages of 11 and 18 were "Black Summer", "Teach Me To Laugh", "Love, Ice Cream and Pucks" and "From Reneau, With Love".

3. I went 3 years with no freezer in my early 20s. It was terrible. You don't realize how much you use your freezer until you don't have one.

4. I went 7 years without television programming in my 20s as well. I had a television but lived in a rural area where you couldn't get any channels without cable and I couldn't afford cable so the only thing I could ever watch on my television were movies I rented. I was so happy when they started putting out complete seasons of television shows so that I could catch up to what everyone else I knew was watching. I would housesit for people and binge on television.

5. Once I started watching complete seasons of shows on DVD, my favorites were Friends, LOST, Alias, The OC (the first 2 seasons) and Grey's Anatomy. Before the no-TV time, I loved Ally McBeal. Since I returned to the television-watching world, I also watch Private Practice and American Idol. Oh and Parenthood which I love because there's no real, over-the-top drama, only stuff that actually goes on in the daily lives of parents.

6. I hate football. Hate it. Even the sound of it playing on the television makes me want to crawl into bed and never come out. I have no idea why. It just depresses the heck out of me. Therefore, I do not celebrate the Stupid Bowl, uh, I mean Super Bowl.

7. I'm completely obsessed with the Philadelphia Phillies. During the season they are on every single night in my household. I want to have my wedding at Citizens Bank Park.

8. I don't like meatballs.

9. My most favorite book as a young child was Grover's The Monster at the End of This Book. I made the adults in my life read it to me over and over and over again. {SPOILER ALERT} Even though I knew after the first time that Grover was the monster at the end of the book, that book still scared the crap out of me every single time I read it.

10. I love fishing but I don't like putting the worm on the hook. It grosses me out. Go figure.

I am going to tag a few talented and interesting bloggers whose blogs I am relatively new to so that I can learn more about them, so with that criteria in mind, here goes:

JeffO at The Doubting Writer

Heidi Windmiller at . . . then she writes

Brenda Sills at The Startled Spyglass

Nikki Stuckwisch at Nikki Stuckwisch's Musings

Julie Flanders at What Else is Possible

And now for the Contest Reminder!

I'm having a series of Hook for Your Book Contests in the next several months. They will run as follows:

Hook for Your Book for Fantasy will run from October 10th through October 17th, 2011
Hook for Your Book for Romance will run from December 12th through December 19th, 2011
Hook for Your Book for Historical Fiction will run from February 13th through February 20th, 2012.

Each contest will be judged by my agent, Jeanie Pantelakis of the Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency.

The rules and such can be found here. Basically you will enter a 50 word pitch for your completed novel in the comments section of my blog. Jeanie will read the winner's full manuscript and if she loves it and wants to represent it, the winner could also get a contract with Sullivan Maxx. This is a great opportunity for unagented writers in these genres so please spread the word!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Conversation with My Work-in-Progress

So I read this article on the Writer’s Digest website a couple of weeks ago about improving your writing. It was 25 tips from established writers. The first one came from David Morrell who suggested (this is me paraphrasing) that we should treat our book/WIP like a person. If we are having problems with a scene, with a passage, with a part of the plot, we should talk to the book, ask it questions. In other words, if you’re having trouble with your WIP you should just ask it: “What’s your problem?” (That’s a much less eloquent summing up of what Morrell said.) Morrell suggests that this is a “psychological trick” designed to get things moving again. Since I am having difficulty lately moving along with my WIP, I was willing to try anything. So I took a few moments and had a conversation with my WIP. A transcript follows:

Me: We are almost to the end of this draft. Why are you being so obstinate?

The Book: Because I want you to get it right.

Me: Well, dumbass, that’s what editing is for. Let’s just get through this draft. Why don’t you just let me worry about getting it right?

The Book: Because I’m nervous, okay? I could be really cool. I could be a really cool book—if you don’t f*ck it up.

Me: *rolls eyes, sighs heavily* Good Lord. I’m the writer. It’s my job to write. Without me, you’re not going to be anything at all, much less cool. I’ve done this before, you know.

The Book: Yeah, I know, but how do you know you’re doing it right?

Me: *closes eyes, shakes head* Oh. My. God. Really? You think you could be a really cool book but you’re questioning whether I’m doing it right or not—really?

The Book: *crosses arms, shoots me a wary glance* I don’t know, okay? I’m just sayin’—do you really know if you’re doing it right?

Me: *resists strong urge to shake book violently* Well, I’ve been at this awhile, haven’t I? I did manage to get an agent so surely I am doing something right. You know what, Book? I don’t even know why we’re having this discussion because there are no guarantees. You could be an absolute craptastrophe for all we know. But we’ll never find out if we don’t finish and put you out there for critique partners or beta readers. Even if you’re not a craptastrophe, there is still no guarantee that people will like you or that you’ll find an audience. Remember that whole subjectivity thing? You’re at the mercy of it and so am I.

The Book: *looking properly chastised* Okay, okay, I know. You’re right.

Me: Besides, you’re supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to be one of the fun things in my day. Sure, I enjoy hide and seek and watching endless episodes of Scooby Doo as much as the next parent of a toddler but you’re supposed to be the fun grown-up activity in my life. You’re supposed to stimulate me intellectually. I want you to stop acting all high and mighty like you could BE something and start being fun again.

The Book: *muttering under its breath* but I COULD be something . . .

Me: SHUT UP. Right now I just need you to be fun, okay? That’s what I need you to be. Can you do that? Just long enough to finish one freaking draft? Can you just do that for me?

The Book: *exhales noisily* Fine.

Me: Okay. So we’ve just got that one issue of how to get to the ending from where we are now. Why don’t you call the plot fairy and tell her to get her ass over here.

Book: *trudging off* I'll see what I can do.

Well what do you know . . . insecurity rears its ugly head once again! I see where I went wrong. I let it stop being fun. I let my inner-critic take over, steal my pen away and hide it somewhere. I am going to get it back. Soon. Maybe today.

If you had a conversation with your book or WIP, what would that sound like?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wherein I Talk About Flooding

If you live in or near Pennsylvania or you have been watching the news lately, you know that there is widespread flooding in my state. Although this blog is primarily a writing blog, I cannot pass over the seriousness of what some Pennsylvanians are facing right now. First we had a very rainy August. In Philadelphia it was said to be the rainiest August in history. Then we got hit with Hurricane Irene. I can't speak for the rest of the state but in Philadelphia we had at least 12 hours of sustained, heavy rain. The kind that comes down in sheets. Add that to the rainiest August on record and you've got an awful lot of flooding. Then a week later we get 3 to 4 days of moderate to heavy rain. Nonstop. It was all rain all the time over here. A few blocks from my house the Schuylkill River flooded areas of my neighborhood.

Out toward Central Pennsylvania the town I went to high school in is under water. The town I went to college in and lived for many years--also under water. It is so bad that the National Guard and FEMA are there. There is a town I worked in for many years north of there and almost all of my coworkers lived in the next town over from there. That is under water. Peoples' homes are literally floating away. FLOATING AWAY. I watch news footage and see internet photos of places I used to hang out, places where I lived and worked, places I loved and they have been destroyed by flooding. Towns and cities were evacuated last week. I still have many friends and acquaintances who live in these areas. As far as I know, everyone is accounted for and safe. I can only hope that all of their homes will be intact when the water recedes and the mess has been cleaned up. Many of them are without power now and, ironically, without water. There is a monument in Bloomsburg that marks the height of all the floods in town history—the highest one in recent memory was made in 1972. That monument was completely submerged during this recent flooding. There wasn’t even room on it for the new flood line. The old high water marks were surpassed by feet, not inches.

Although none of this affects me directly, it still hits home. These places WERE my home for many years. Even though I moved away, I’ve always had great affection for these towns and for the people I know who still live there. What I see on the news and on the internet is heartbreaking. How does any of this relate even remotely to my writing? Before all this devastation hit, I had hit a major wall with my WIP. I’m almost finished with the first draft, or at least the first stage of the first draft. In fact, I know how it ends. I just don’t know how to get from here to there. It was making me nuts. Still is a little. I hadn’t written in a week or two—I was feeling frustrated and discouraged. Majorly uninspired. But I figured I’d give myself some time, put it on the backburner and let my subconscious work through the problems. Then I’d come back to it and try to power through. And I probably would have but now all I do in my spare time is look at flood photos of the places I used to live. I’m absolutely horrified. That pesky leaking skylight that’s been confounding us for a month—I stand under it now and send up prayers of thanks. My home, my street, my neighborhood, my city are all still intact. A leaky skylight doesn’t even register as a mild annoyance compared to what people in my old towns are facing. I am grateful for that leaky skylight.

So I ask you two things: one, please send prayers or at least some good thoughts to Pennsylvanians devastated by the recent flooding and, two, what do you do when you’re stuck at some stage of a Work in Progress? All tips will be greatly appreciated!

Monday, September 5, 2011

First Campaign Challenge

So the first campaign challenge is to write a 200 word or less flash fiction piece or short story. It has to start with: "The door swung open". I tend to be incredibly long-winded so asking me to write a full, cohesive story in 200 words or less is like asking me to figure out how to levitate. I have seen many brilliant examples of this in the blogosphere though. Libby Heily pulls this off wonderfully--she does Flash Fiction Fridays if you want to check it out. Although I have been studying her flash fiction, I am not yet there in terms of creating a whole story in 200 words or less.

But in the spirit of the campaign, here is a small piece and it's just over 200 words (it's from a longer work that is as yet uncompleted):

The door swung open and Talia stepped outside. Above her, the sky was a deep purple. Stars glowed and blinked above her head. She rooted her sandaled feet and tipped her head back, breathing slowly and deeply. Talia loved the nights in the mountains—even more since her return. There was something peaceful and untouched about the cool air and vast domed ceiling of stars.
It made her feel free and unrestrained in a way she hadn’t felt for years. The sensation was so strong she could physically feel it—as if she’d been in a strait jacket for years and now her limbs were finally free to move. The world felt so big it gave her vertigo. She realized that her job had produced in her a kind of inner claustrophobia. The things in her mind made her feel closed in—like she was living her life in a phone booth.
Her eyes were closed when she sensed someone approaching behind her, stealthy and silent. A voice in her head called her name in warning. It was quick and fleeting, like the last vestige of a dream darting away from her. Instinctively she reached under her arm for her weapon and gasped to find it missing. She didn’t carry it anymore. No gun. No shoulder holster. She didn’t need it. She was done with all of that.
“Shit,” she muttered.
She sensed the interloper pull up short and seconds later, she heard low laughter.

(Also I would like to shamelessly plug the upcoming Hook for Your Book Contests coming up on my blog! The first one is for Fantasy writers and it runs October 10 through October 17. See this post for more details.)