You Christmas, You!

Regarding the title: If you’re unfamiliar with Linda Belcher’s Christmas poem….you are truly missing out.

Look what I can do!

CenterChristmas_Morrow

The lighting’s not perfect but stop being so negative, you guys. Because who knew this sweater that is so old I can’t even would still be rocking my world? Our marriage has been – literally – perfect. Mine and the sweater’s. I can’t imagine my life without it. I guess this time of year just really makes ya think.

And then, anyway. I’m trying – no, I’m *going* to get back into this WiP. The thing is, she’s already chopped liver because I left her around 12k back in March to do the first of two R&Rs…and then didn’t return to her because Jigsaw happened. And it was more her fault than mine because her world got all strong-arm-y and tried to overtake what I’d intended to be a novella, and despite being really interesting to me, I did not and do not want to write about the political intrigue of her society. Sorry, Imogen. (That’s the character’s name. Did I mention this so-and-so hasn’t even told me her title? It’s like she doesn’t want me to write her.) But I’m really into rewrites, so bye-bye 12k. I doubt much of you’ll make it to the finish.

All of which brought me to the topic of What It Takes For Me To Write A Project. I’d say in no particular order, but that’s probably not true since I typically come up with the first one first. I’d also say, some combination of these but honestly, I feel like I need all five. So maybe I’ll just stop talking and list them.

a) Concept – Obviously this is pretty important for speculative literary fiction. Jigsaw was a dream, Keepsake came out of my brain trying not to let me fall asleep, etc. This is one of the most AHA! moments – or at least, the first.

b) First look – This is either the first line of the story/book or a mental movie of the first scene. This one’s interesting because it’s not tethered to a particular point in the process. Sometimes the first line happens several times. Like in the case of rewriting. The thing is, it has to feel like “the one” every time for me to move forward. The first look might also come before or after the Thinking About Writing phases, which aren’t listed because duh. That’d be like listing “writing” as part of my writing process.

c) Music - Yeeees. This is a big one. Again, this one isn’t set in stone, in terms of when this happens. With Jigsaw, I think it was right after concept, to set up the world, because often the only way to properly translate it before literally translating it to paper is to find music that does it for me. I do not understand people for whom music is not everything. I do not. With the WiP, I sort of lit up yesterday when I realized I had a song for the soundtrack. This is especially exciting because this is the WiP that tried to change shape and ended up getting relegated to the corner for the rest of the year. O_O So, yes, finding a song that matches what she’s meant to be is a good sign.

d) First query - This has become increasingly important to me over the last several projects. First of all, I love queries. I do. Writing them. Revising them. Nom. So I’ve found that when I’m really serious about a project, I have to write a query for it, sort of flesh out not just the crux of the story but also the character and sometimes the actual tone of the voice. I could get reeeeal inaccessibly in-my-head on this one. But I won’t. Because it’s Christmas and that’s your present.

e) Title – Man, this is another one that has become sort of paramount. Because titles come quickly to me, when one doesn’t, I’m missing something very important to my process. The title is everything. First of all, I keep a lot of “administrative” documents and I HATE them being titled after the main character, unless of course it’s also the title, which has only ever been the case with Keepsake, and even then, it’s not her given name.

I need these things.

And then there’s Semantics. Mostly having to do with the question of how it needs to be presented. What makes the most sense for the world/character/story being told? Vignettes like Keepsake, single stream of events like Jigsaw, chapters like Avrilis? That needs to be woven into an element of the story itself, which is why Jigsaw had to be immediately rewritten. Don’t even get me started. Nom.

These things, these are my lil’ babies.

 

The Most Thoughtful Way I Can Think

Guess what *I* feel like doing today? (Turning up the mattress heater…aaaand DONE.) Anyway, so there’s a part of the writing process that I’m not sure gets discussed as much as it should. Which is to say, equal to the degree of its importance. It doesn’t have a particular place in the process, though, which may be why it goes undiscussed. It’s sort of like mentioning oxygen when asked about your environment. (Right? Maybe not.)

Anyway, I meant to just mention it quickly and move on to doing it but then I was sort of sucked into making visual aids. (It’s been awhile since I had an excuse a reason to make one!) The first one, I think, may be what a non-writer imagines the process to be.

Which I think would be a pretty knowledgeable assumption, for many reasons. The problem of course is that it seems pretty straightforward and streamlined. Which maybe it is. For somebody. Whom I don’t know. I almost wonder how well I could possibly enjoy a story written in this sort of Henry Ford fashion. Hmm.

Here’s something a bit closer to reality (for me):

Okay.

See, this all came about because I wanted to talk about one of those little purple circles. Thinking about writing! This is where I am today, right this minute. (I could complicate it more by talking about how I’m actually doing it for two different projects, but whatevs.) Now what thinking about writing isn’t: outlining, drafting, planning, et cetera. So what is it? It’s…literally thinking. About writing. It usually happens once I’ve started writing because it’s not part of the planning process, it’s part of what becomes necessary once something sort of organically develops in the story. Or once I come to a conclusion about what elements need to be introduced/addressed. Again, this isn’t part of the working out the plot points for the first time thing. Sometimes this is more motif/theme … marination. I know something needs to be demonstrated and I’m letting that sink aaaaalll the way in until it’s completely integrated into the next step of the story. So that my brain can sort of do it without having to think about it. Sort of like meditating on the scope of the project so that the many scenes that trickle out will steadily approach the desired destination, no matter how they do so. (Is this making sense?)

This is when I’m looking at pictures, creating images, musing to music, or you know. Sitting in the dark. Holding a pen. And then somebody comes and starts talking and I go, “Do you not see me working?!”

So as you may have guessed – or you know, been told up there – I’m thinking about writing right now. Yes for the wip that I haven’t really spoken about. I did show you that image that one time!

‘Member! My sister Jen is the main character…for the purpose of this image. :) Because I had a lovely picture of her in a cloche hat. So I’d written an unofficial query synopsis for the purpose of [read about that here] and the other day I wrote my first – which means possibly useless – logline. And here it is.

In an alternate 1920s, Elsie – aka Dolores Extract No. 1 – struggles to define her identity beyond being a Mem, a clone born of a memory. 

It’s a little tumbly (that makes sense in my head). And I’m also trying to decide whether it’s an appropriate indicator of how the story reads. Which is a whole ‘nother discussion. (Actually, we’ve talked about that before, too.) Basically, this is much more likely to happen because the category/style is literary but the concept is speculative. And after writing loglines for YA novels that were much more plot-driven (*refusing to go down the rabbit-hole*), I’m concerned that this one is too similar and is therefore misleading.

I know nothing.

This is HARD. I am in a pickle.

“We all know why this book was written. There is no doubt 99% of dystopias published during the last year or so have been trying to at least partially replicate the success of the trilogy.”~ Excerpt of a review I just read

This raised a flag for me. First things first: published in the last year means they were written years ago, Lord knows how long so no, we don’t “know” why it was written or that the author was familiar with HG when it was.

The problem with genre fiction is that people read one – whichever is the most successful – and then get caught on all the similarities between it and whatever is released after – similarities that might exist, btw, because of the genre and its definition. Make a list of the differences before making hyperbolic statements, please. (This is not to say there aren’t a bunch of copycats out there. But as a writer, I can tell you that the idea of reading someone else’s work and then getting inspired to write an entire book – you do know something about what and how much time that process entails, yes – is really unrealistic.) What I’m saying to the reader, then: insofar as you are able, read the book for this book. Unless it forces upon you its similarities to another, don’t force it yourself. Otherwise, don’t read more than one book in a genre, particularly one as particular as dystopia.

More on what bugs mewritten on vacation last month. Very blunt. You’ve been warned.

“Show, don’t tell” is an adage best left to high school teachers insisting upon critical analysis and the defense of one’s conclusions. As far as writers go, it’s pretty useless. And before you barrage me with the number of agents who’ve insisted upon this (S-don’t-T), please remember that reader enjoyment, quality and agent assessment are not necessarily linked. Crit partners would be wise to take this lesson, as well. Attempting to create a set of rules for how an artist should proceed leads to uniformity at best and mediocrity at worst. And before you storm my beaches with “this is a business”, lemme say, duh. But it’s also an art. (Sometimes.) The art is why there’s a business to begin with. (If those last sentiments doesn’t seem to follow absolutely with where we began, it’s probably because they sit above any such discussion.)

Feel free not to describe precisely how your character’s eyes drooped at the corners, how her shoulders were heavy, etc. At least not every time. You can actually use words like melancholy, sad, despondent. In my opinion both as a reader and a writer, trying to show that can lead to overly wordy and melodramatic passages. And as character is the reason I read (and write) if you make me roll my eyes or forcibly exhale, I’m no longer enjoying the story.

There are things so much worse than telling – particularly because in beautiful literature, telling can work so well. (Language, you see, is the reason some writers write in the first place.)

Thing, the first: Attempting to foster doubt by having the character question or disbelieve the obvious. There’s nothing worse than this, for me. If we all know the motivation of another character and – in routine human interaction – so would anyone? Don’t force me to wade through her unsubstantiated wonderment. Wait, you can’t. I’ll just skim or stop reading.

Thing, the second: Particularly in first person (apparently), having the character describe strong predilections or desires for which there is no apparent basis or foundation. In this way, it’s easier to write a weak character than a strong one. If – for example – a young female character has a strong desire to needlessly perform death defying acts? And I’ve been given no history, no sense of this? Or worse, her interaction with others doesn’t support this? That, my friends, is telling. That is. You are insisting upon a characterization you haven’t composed. I am expected to take your word for it and that’s not gonna happen. Telling me she felt angry? Not a problem. Telling me she’s Evil Knievel? Prove it. Preferably before the plot depends on it.

Thing, the third: Describing any operation, mechanism or action in more than minor detail. How the harness/pulley situation functioned to allow your MC to scale that wall. The inner workings of any piece of machinery. Basically anything where it is assumed my brain doesn’t function properly enough to suggest its own solution. The longer the description, the more likely (guaranteed) you are to disrupt the image in my head. Trust the reader, please. With this and to come to their own conclusions about the relationships between characters. It’s sort of how (most times) guys don’t actually stop and go, “Will you be my girlfriend?” You’ve been here the whole time, you’ve seen and felt how this was progressing. Please don’t have your character muse and ruminate (to an unreasonable extent) about a situation like I need a guide.

So yes, my love and roots are in literary fiction, where characters and language are king. I love high concept, love dystopian especially, but seriously am getting tired of seeing the same trend of informing the reader, insisting upon some things and then refusing to tell other completely tellable things.

If we’re all gonna follow a formula for how a book should start, what language should be used to describe it, who the character should be – why have more than one writer? All that will matter is who gets their book published first and then everything else in the genre will just be comparative reading. THIS for the first time is a situation where I can understand wondering about self or e-pubbing instead of the traditional route. Though it’s not for me, at least not in the beginning stages of a career. Just because I love high concept doesn’t mean I want to write the same book, the same way and I especially don’t want someone supposing what the reader – for whom, by the way, I’m writing – will like to the point of forcing a set of criteria on every book that crosses the desk.

Present day: I have absolutely been guilty of AT LEAST overwriting. I actually find that writing to a word count goal encourages that. Revision is the only way not to fall into any or all of the abovementioned traps, a mon avis.

Further to this – I am still undecided on how useful reviews are to the writer. I tend to think it would be useless to read them once the book is published, but that’s a post for another time. I can tell you that if the reviews I’ve been reading are any indication, a lot of assumptions about the *writing* of books are made that are absolutely ignorant and absolutely impact the validity of the review. Again. Another time.

Pick A Title, Any Title

Before we even begin.

::low gurgling sounds:: Best two minutes of my life.

And now! (Said like Jon Lovitz. – I feel like I’ve told you that before…) So this month we’re going on our Morrowpalooza trip. Yes, it’s early this year because the hubby’s ‘Sconsin reunion is somehow NOT observant of the holy month of July and wants to be in June. Whatevs. Just means I get to eat Chipotle and Panda Express and Target Popcorn earlier.

Hilariously, these are exactly the things to which my 6-for-now year old is looking forward. Last night AND this morning he was repeating “I can’t wait to go to Panda”. This is hilarious for several reasons. 1) Because he didn’t know what a fortune cookie was called so he made a lengthy explanation. “It’s in a bag and it’s a goodie and crunchy and there’s paper inside. It’s awesome.” That’s where we ended. 2) He hasn’t had Panda for going on 2 years which, for his age, should mean he has no earthly recollection, right? 3) We used to order (for him) steamed rice and orange chicken. *That’s* the amazing meal he’s salivating over. O_o Both of which we’ve had here and the rice, quite often. So. Not understanding his obsession.

And lastly, my brain is a jerk. I was so determined to have the bestest vacation EVER from writing ANYTHING after I finished Cait After Exile a few days ago. And then, 1:30 am rolled around and – for the second night in a row – I started working on the query synopsis. O_O Keep in mind, I have materials out on The Last Life of Avrilis and am QUITE hopeful that I won’t be querying, but. I cannot see the future. So apparently my brain is like, Yep, we’re doing this. So we did. Sad. But also, I really like writing queries? And a huge thanks to Rachel for sticking it out with me until like 4:30 my time. O_O Crazy.

And then I had two super specific and lengthy dreams. One about a guy who helped around the house and was Of Mice And Men. I was telling someone not to be so rude to him and then while helping him do something, he attacked me. Good times. Aaaand another about confiscating weapons from gang members and taking my sister JenJen’s place in a hostage situation. That’s how my brain unwinds?

Enter Title Here

This blog is not all about television reviews.

But if it were, I’d tell you that (a) I officially watch pretty much whatever GlobalTV.ca offers, (b) Shattered is a show that’s much better than it’s hook (as in, it’d be a fine ensemble cop show without that whole gimmick that I still think is pretty dumb, despite the fact that I love Callum Keith Rennie – Canada! You did it! You made something I like!) …

aaaand, let’s see. (C) Outsourced is not a big pile of offensive (yet) as the trailer made me think it would be. Mild laughs, generally enjoyable.

And in untelevised news, I saw Wicked while in New York this past weekend and I can’t get the music out of my head. Mostly because Kate Rose Clarke was brilliant and Mandy Gonzalez has a great voice for the part. (I heard previous actresses in both roles and was like, thankyaJesus. Would NOT have enjoyed.) I’d post pictures but…(see below)

Speaking of New York, I will now force upon you graciously allow you to see a snippet of our loverly get-together! Do enjoy!

P.S. Thanks for your congrats on the pitch-to-query contest – my journey ended at finalist, but the queries are back up (aaaaagain…) for more feedback – to be honest I’m not sure why – so now’s your last chance (maybe?) to comment on any of them. (Link.)

New York, New York

[First thing's first - 'member that contest I posted like twice and tried to force you to click the link and go over and read stuff that clearly didn't interest more than like two of you who also were probably just responding to my sobering desperation? I'm a finalist. You can click here to verify that I'm not making stuff up because I'm bored and breakfast is taking forever making its way to my mouth. Woot!]

On to New York. (Not literally until this weekend, though.) Which I just realized my tiny big sister, JenJen, wrote about, too! The last time I was there was four years ago, but that’s not the story I wanna tell. Okay, well, maybe this:

We behaved like we’d been dipped in spirits. Maybe Jonathon had (pretty sure he hadn’t) but I know I was as sober and stupid as I ever am!

Anyway! The first time I went to New York, I was five years old. Celebrated my sixth birthday. The parts that stood out the most? Shopping, for one. George Michael playing in Bloomingdales. Me wearing my favoritest outfit EVAH! (Pink spandex shorts under a neon green skirt with a white t-shirt decorated with neon pink and green puffy paint with neon pink and green – see a pattern here? – scrunch socks and ….. wait for it. LA Gears. WITH. GILLS.) Jennifer getting lost after we came out of the museum of natural history. Jennifer getting a wrought iron spear stuck in the back of her thigh. Jennifer getting stitches at some “hospital” where a dude had been severely burned on his face but was in the waiting room with us. Oh, Jennifer. Thanks for the memories.

You know what I honestly remember most? The fact that for weeks after we came back to California – I say as though I’m writing this from California – I had nightmares. Apparently I’d been fearing for my one year old brother’s life the entire six week trip because upon our return, all the things that “could” have happened to him played out in my dreams. Those dreams are more vivid at times than the actual memories of the trip! (Other than when Jennifer was given the Jem doll that turned out to be one of the Misfits and at first we were like, why would you give someone the Misfits doll instead of one of the Holograms?! But then we fell in love with the cassette tape of songs that came with it? ‘Member?!)

One dream was in Queens, outside of buildings I would learn were projects. I was running up to the entrance and had been chasing literally the big bad wolf. O_O How’s that for a six year old’s nightmare? He was bipedal just like in the cartoon and had a snout that more resembled a crocodile. Just like in the cartoon. Anyway, just as I was getting to the front doors, there was an explosion. Not very big. But it turned out it had been my baby brother. Which I knew because his little soft-soled shoes were still standing there on the pavement where he’d been. O_O Yep.

Oh and there was that one rare occasion upon which we took a cab. It was late and it’d been raining and my baby brother had horrible allergies and junk when he was little. Had to sleep with a humidifier. Anyway, I remember his stroller being encased in that plastic dealie. I. Don’t remember having an umbrella myself, though. I don’t know, it just seems like maybe one parent taking five small children to visit New York for six weeks wasn’t the best laid plan. O_o Sure, I loved it at the time but um… I’m pretty sure I’d not do it with two of my own.

I also remember the picnic where I won some race and was a total spoiled brat who couldn’t hide my disappointment at the quality of the prize. (But then neither could Jennifer.) And then we took those “crappy” prizes home and hung them on the wall for years to come.

{Warning: I did not reread this from when I wrote it at like four this morning. Huh. Shoulda prolly said this at the top, huh?}

A Little Somethin-Somethin

I’ll just come clean. Kind of. The reason I haven’t been blogging regularly is that I’m in the throes of query-making. (You like that?) It’s exciting and wonderful and I have an excel sheet with pie chart (you know how I love me some visual aids/organizational documents) and I’m refreshing my author email constantly.

This isn’t a process I’ll blog about while it’s going on and it’s basically all I think about so I just haven’t known how not to talk about it! I will say that I watched Une Affaire de Femmes last night (and yes, because of Claude Chabrol’s passing) and I really do enjoy Isabelle Huppert even if she’s not the beauty of France and even if that particular character is dolt…which makes me wonder why I enjoy the movie so much. I suppose the secret to pacifying a viewer who isn’t necessarily in love with the character is to show how you still have sympathy for them in the end. Anyway.

Oh! And after a year, I’ll be back in the U.S. at the end of the month! :D Yay! I can’t wait.

*And for the number of agents I’ve heard complaining about authors sending manuscripts with each chapter being a separate file?! WHAT are you talking about?! Why would anyone do this?! They wouldn’t. Therefore, I don’t believe you.

*My sister just used FTF – which is way more hilarious than its counterpart (FTW) – and reminded me of the guy who hit on me at church this week. O_O Um. I’m married. With a kid. And at church. To be fair, … no wait, he had no excuse. It was weird.

Short and Disconcerting

‘Member that Pitch to Query workshop jazz over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing (I mentioned it in this other post, that other time)? Here’s the link to mine so we can all peek through our splayed fingers together and see what kind of commentary I receive! Let the torture commence!

In other news, my son starts first grade tomorrow.

*falls off chair, fails to catch self before slamming face first into a puddle of sadness and woe*

THAT was summer? WHY DO CHILDREN HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL, PARTICULARLY FOR THIS MANY HOURS AND WHO SAID SO AND YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME! I’m. A little upset about it. So hopefully there’ll be some sort of contagious, flesh-eating pheromone in the teacher’s lounge that will necessitate the school being torn down and my son being placed on house arrest, preferably with the stipulation that he must hold my hand all day. O_O

I’ll let you know.

My Word(s)! (Updated)

Oh, the endless contests. I entered a pitch-to-query contest/mentored workshop on Adventures in Children’s Publishing (judged by Sarah LaPolla). Now I’m working on the Market My Words: Pitch contest (judged by Mary Kole). The deadline is Sunday and I’m waiting to post because you only get one.

So the thing about these 140 character pitches is – I hate when all they do is tell me the story. I mean, that’s a great thing in itself because it’s an accomplishment. I got really great feedback on Betsy Lerner’s blog once from August (if you follow her blog, you’ll recognize all the regulars) about trying to tell too much of the real story. Like who precisely this person is and what exactly the book is about. Which, on the one hand, seems like the point. But honestly. Just being a participant and reading through a couple of those and you get seriously bored and start skimming. “When…, then….” might make sense for the back cover, but honestly, it doesn’t stand out, no matter how cool your novel’s concept.

So, while my first attempt for the Mary Kole contest managed the 140 characters without trying to describe the world and all, it didn’t thrill me.

When Avrilis saves the life of a boy who should have died, her unscripted behavior makes them the target of both the hunters and the rebels.

That’s just a serious yawn. Yeah, it tells the inciting event and hints at the fact that there’s a script and generally (for someone who knows the story) supports the genre description. But it’s not creative! I want the sentence structure itself and punctuation and every word to tell something!

Live. Repeat. Live. Repeat. Save a boy meant to die. Run from the hunters and suspect the rebels. Find the boy she (you?) loved before. Repeat?

Feel guilty and fraudulent because that totally doesn’t match the voice of the novel itself. But does it need to? I’m leaning towards the arguments I’ve heard that differentiate between the pitch, the query, and the book. The first two are meant to entice and seduce someone enough to want the third. Are they bound to the third in their attempt to do so? I think not. What about you?

Anyway. That’s the direction, I want…but it’s not the one. Back to work.

UPDATE: Live, repeat, live, repeat. Lonely Avrilis can do it again – or she can save a boy meant to die and run from the hunters til time runs out.

(That’s the one I entered. To read all the entries, click the link I gave at the beginning of the post!)

I Don’t Like To Be Touched

You guys are way too compassionate. I’ll never make a statement like that without explaining it again. (Yes, I will.)

Okay, so I’m not actually using Joshie’s query – to clarify – but I thought he was hero-worthy for stopping what he was doing to try his hand at something that was upsetting me. I’m still probably going to use the one I posted in some instances, because I refuse to think everyone is that easily confused – particularly because several people said they’re not.

I don’t advocate her website, but there’s a really bitter and angry person who blogs about how horrible life is (and all I can gather is that she’s not Paris Hilton as her reasoning) and how stupid and wrong everyone is. That’s. Not that part I’m relating to. Well, I’m not relating to any of it. But the basis (supposedly) of her angst is that she’s gotten entirely conflicting feedback from professionals. I don’t know how true her story is – sounds like she’s going through the standard query process to me – but I will say, I was pretty lame (DON’T. HUG ME. IT’S OKAY.) for expecting that in ANY setting, everyone would have something useful and sense-making to offer.

I think it goes to show you that there’s definitely a downside to being “in the know”. It becomes more a question of balance and taking the chance that you might do something in a less than perfect fashion (to someone on your list, if not all) – but seriously, if the writing is the most important thing, then the writing (not the query) should really be the most important thing. DON’T get all rubber-band-effect and not work on the query, just don’t do what I did yesterday and try to find something useful in every. single. suggestion. If it can make me feel overwhelmed (where literal query rejections don’t), I’m pretty sure that girl I mentioned is on the cusp of crazy.

So. Maybe I’ll use my pared down version on some, my short version on others. Honestly, I have no idea. But I’m really not worried about it.  Thankfully, it’s not entirely up to me to figure out. God gave me the talent (remember Bill Murray at the beginning of Groundhog Day…”did he just call himself the talent?” Yeah, not like that) – He’ll lead me where I need to go. Not everyone will “get” that last statement, but it’s the truest part of this sometimes facetious and all-the-time stream of consciousness blog. Which leads me to: the title is a joke. Don’t worry. (No, seriously, you guys. You’re sweethearts.)

Come on in for the real thing.