Friday, October 30, 2009

"Winning."


When we next meet, it will already be November. For those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo with me, I want you to take a moment to ponder... what does winning mean to you?

Is it precisely what the NaNoWriMo website says: 50K words in 30 days? Or is it more than that? (And, less.)

To me, NaNoWriMo is about put up or shut up. Do you want to be a writer? Then write. Do you want to write a novel? What have you done this very day to make that happen? Or, what did you prioritize instead? Was that the right choice?

Because NaNoWriMo is limited to a single month, it is easier to make sacrifices for our writing because we know it isn't going to be like this forever. We don't think too hard about recording a few t.v. shows, delegating a few household chores, and making a little more room for writing time, because it's a special event. In December, everything can go back to normal.

But what if it didn't? At the end of the month, win or lose, what will you have gained? There is a very distinct possibility that you will find that you were happier writing your novel than you were sitting on the couch watching reruns. Or you'll find out that your partner/kids can cook a meal or two every week without anyone being poisoned. Can you keep that going?

I have never won NaNo, in the strictest sense. I have never made it to 50,000 words without bringing in words that I wrote before November 1. In fact, ~30K words is the most I've ever gotten in one month. But you damn well better believe that I am a winner because of NaNo, because I kept writing, and rewriting, until I had an actual novel. Beginning, middle, and end, no plot holes... a BOOK. I wouldn't have that book if not for NaNo.

Think about the many goals that can be part of your NaNo experience: quieting your inner editor, getting a first draft done, getting a new character written, finding some new internet friends or perhaps even meeting some local Wrimos. If you keep those in your head as prominently as you do the 50K number, then you'll be less likely to give up just because that number seems too far away, and you'll be more likely to recognize that you ARE a winner, just for trying.

Good luck, break a leg, and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Writing in the absence of inspiration

In my opinion, one of the most valuable lessons taught by NaNoWriMo is how to write even when you're not inspired or in the mood to write. It's so romantic to think of writing as the result of a spectacular burst of creativity, and it all just flows magically from that seminal idea... but hey, sometimes there are deadlines. Sometimes, it's November. How do you write without the magical, genius, inspiring, motivating idea?

Maybe you take a long walk, and let yourself get bored to clear your brain, and let a new idea come to you. Maybe you take a nap or listen to music that makes you jump around and then start fresh afterwards. Maybe you reread earlier parts of your work-in-progress, looking for a nugget of information that can -- indeed, should! -- be expanded. Maybe you read another book to consider how other authors dealt with similarly thorny plot dilemmas...

Or maybe you Just. Keep. Writing. Sometimes the risk is too high that, if we walk away to "refresh" ourselves, we may never come back. And in November, any writing you do to help move your story forwards does count towards your final word count goal. Go ahead, do a little free association! Maybe indulge in some character development, writing short scenes that you know will never make it into the final draft, but that nevertheless help inform your own sense of the characters, and perhaps help you see the next (plot) encounter these characters will have. Write that backstory or give the character a crazy dream sequence. It all counts towards your 50K, and it gets you into the habit of working through the tough moments.

And don't forget the NaNoWriMo forums! Don't know what your character would do next? Get online and ASK someone! Join a word war, find a writing prompt, let someone else name that character you're currently calling "Bad Guy #2." Or just go moan to a crowd of sympathetic ears who will all encourage you to get back in the saddle. Writing need not be such a lonely endeavor, at least not next month...

Obviously, sometimes a break from writing really is called for, but I think that beginning writers often take too many such breaks, waiting for that romantic AHA! moment where the plot is suddenly laid out before us like a freshly paved highway. Sometimes, you just have to keep plugging away. As Stephen King says, you have to build good habits so that your muse knows when and where to find you when the time is right.

And in November, it's all good. Every dumb word you write gets you one word closer to your NaNo novel. And your odds of writing one good page in the midst of several bad pages are infinitely higher than your odds of finding a good page on your desk when you didn't write at all that day, because you were stuck, or had writer's block, or weren't feeling it.

When inspiration hits, by all means grab it and milk it for all it's worth! I have twice started my NaNo early because I think the spirit of NaNo is to write more, and I wasn't going to let a great idea get away because of a fun-but-artificial start date.

But if inspiration doesn't hit? Keep writing anyway. You will never know what you are capable of creating if you don't keep going over those rough spots.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Essential NaNoWriMo Chart


My friends, I am about to share with you the ultimate program to help you become a noveling machine. We all know that NaNoWriMo is all about the word count. Anyone who has NaNoed before can tell you -- we all know the keyboard shortcuts to the Word Count function in our word processing program of choice, and we have all checked our word count (again!) after writing a single measly sentence. It can become an obsession.

And sadly, this quest for an increased word count can sometimes lead to creative forms of procrastination. A writer may fall short of his daily goal for a few days... before you know it, instead of hitting the keyboard, this anxious soul is tapping at a calculator instead, figuring how many words are left and how many must be written each day from that point on in order to finish on time... or perhaps this writer got a great burst of energy one day and wrote over the daily quota, and is now trying to figure out if s/he can skip a day and still finish ahead of schedule... and of course, there's always the temptation to figure out the percentages: are you 33.3% done or only 29% ... ?

NO MORE! Quit wasting time -- get the NaNoWriMo Report Card spreadsheet and get back to writing! I discovered this program in 2005 -- all you need to enter is your total word count for any day (and, if you like, the amount of time you spent writing), and this insanely awesome spreadsheet will do all the work for you. If you're under your daily word count goal, the number will turn red. If you're over the quota, it will show up in green. Total remaining word count, adjusted words-per-day based on past progress, percent complete, the estimated date of completion, pie charts and line charts, it's all there! Embrace the statistical goodness, and never again waste time calculating your NaNo progress.

Thank you so much to Buster Benson for creating this script and for being willing to share it so freely. You are a rock star.

Click here to download your NaNoWriMo Report Card
(there's a "download now" button towards the bottom of that page, and it make take some time to load -- hey, it's a free site, they want you to read their ads)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gearing Up For NaNo: Fortification


Main Entry: for·ti·fy
Pronunciation: \ˈfȯr-tə-ˌfī\
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): for·ti·fied; for·ti·fy·ing
Etymology: Middle English fortifien, from Anglo-French fortifier, from Late Latin fortificare, from Latin fortis strong
Date: 15th century

transitive verb : to make strong: as a : to strengthen and secure (as a town) by forts or batteries b : to give physical strength, courage, or endurance to c : to add mental or moral strength to : encourage d : to add material to for strengthening or enriching
Hunker down, everyone, NaNo is coming.

Yesterday I went to my very first local NaNoWriMo event. I have been a part of NaNo since 2005, but I've never gone to a Boston event because the scheduling was never compatible... I just don't do weekend events as a general rule, because that's family time. (Even before I had my daughter, my husband used to travel a lot, and the weekends were often the only real quality time we had together.) But this weekend the event perfectly coincided with Serious Girl's naptime, and my husband held down the fort -- see how I'm keeping the theme going here? -- while I went to meet the other crazy writers.

Boston Wrimos who attended the first meeting each got a goody bag in exchange for providing a writing prompt on an index card (to be used at the various write-ins* during November as extra inspiration) and standing up and giving a 30-second elevator speech** describing what our NaNo novels are going to be about.

An aside: these speeches were so awesome, I cannot tell you. Even the people who came up and said "I have absolutely no idea yet" managed to be funny about it. How is it possible for so many people to be so creative in such different ways? I love writers. But I digress...

So, the goody bag was filled with many things designed to fortify us Wrimos as we strive to meet our goal:
  • A pen and index cards, for when ideas catch us unaware;
  • A NaNoWriMo progress chart;
  • Candy (in my case, two Tootsie Rolls);
  • A writing prompt;
  • A word prompt;
  • An inspirational writing quote (in my case: I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. -- James Michener);
  • A "NaNo buddy" -- one of those little capsules that grows into a sponge animal when you drop it in water;
  • Three NaNo-themed stickers for adorning laptops, desktops, or supportive family members/pets; and
  • An envelope marked "Break Seal Only In Case of Emergency"... contents unknown, but someone at the meeting said it saved her in 2006.
This is so thoughtful and clever and supportive, and I am so happy that the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons for my area did this. Now, I already carry a pen and small notebook around with me at all times, and I have an Excel spreadsheet program that I use as my NaNo progress chart... but what else does a writer need*** to write, especially when on deadline?

When I was preparing for the bar exams (NY and MA), I ate a steady diet of Pep-O-Mint LifeSavers -- the large, individually-wrapped kind -- and I unwrapped entire bags of these candies so that I could eat them during the exam itself without making rude crinkling noises (we were allowed to bring food so long as it was not noisy or messy). I haven't needed that level of sugar fortification in a while, but I imagine that the massive supplies of hot cocoa mix in my pantry are going to come in handy in November...

I also recommend that Wrimos have the following books handy during the month of November:
  • A novel you love, preferably in the genre you're writing. Not something so amazing that it depresses you because you'll never be that good. Something aspirational-yet-achievable. That's why you're writing, right there. To make your readers feel the way this book made you feel.
  • A novel that sucks, preferably in the genre you're writing. You can do better than this! Hell, you are doing better than this! And this joker got published! Ha! Keep writing, you'll beat the pants off this book.
What do you need to write, especially for extended periods of time? Caffeine? Sugar? The heat or air conditioning turned extra-high or -low? A little mascot under your computer screen? A video to distract the kids? Tell us your secrets of success!

_____________________________
* Write-in = a meeting in which people get together and try to do nothing but write (ah, peer pressure...)

** Elevator speech = the super-short description every writer should have prepared in the event that s/he someday ends up in an elevator with his or her dream agent, and the agent says, "okay, tell me about your novel before I have to get out at my floor" (DING!)

*** Fine, we don't need anything besides a pen & paper or a computer, but there have to be a bunch of supplies that make writing easier for each of us, right?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gearing Up for NaNo: Shiny


Once again, I am shamelessly stealing ideas from another blogger. Liana Brooks posted about the concept of SHINY, and I think it is downright genius, and not just because it reminds me of one of my favorite television shows. (Anyone know what I'm talking about? Yeah, you do.)

Shiny in this context refers to an idea, memory, or image that is powerful to you, and therefore has the potential to kickstart your writing when you're starting to falter. These things don't need to be remotely important to anyone else, as long as they evoke something in you. If you write a list of shiny things in October, you have a touchstone of support when you're writing like a fiend in November. A place to go when your dull ideas need a little, well, shine.

I once listened to the voice-over director's commentary to an episode of Sex and The City* where he explains that this one scene between Carrie and Miranda just wasn't working, and they didn't know why, because the script itself seemed good; it just wasn't filming right. And then they realized... Twizzlers. The characters had to be doing something during the dialogue, and the perfect thing was going to be giving the characters those long red whips of candy to futz with while talking. Maybe eating Twizzlers and playing with them while talking with a best friend was on the subconscious "shiny" list for someone on set that day...

I've already linked to Lianna's list, and there's more shiny over at Inkfever. What shines for you?

* Season 3, Episode 9: "Easy Come, Easy Go"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Being Yourself as a Writer Pt. 2


Let's talk about another side of "being yourself" in writing... the aspirational side. Yeah, yeah, we're not Shakespeare. So what?

There are no new ideas, and maybe only seven plot structures. So what?

We know these things, and yet we write. I assume that this is because we each have a story to tell, something important to each of us that we want to put out there into the world. Which means that -- even if we're writing fiction instead of writing memoir or a personal blog -- we are trying to show a certain facet of ourselves to others.

I also imagine that we're trying to show our best selves. (Yes, even if we're writing about human flaws, we are ultimately trying to be our best as we present these stories.)

Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck.
-- Joss Whedon

What do you hope to show about yourself through your writing? Perhaps simply that you are a creative storyteller. Perhaps something deeper. What do you aspire to?

The fabulous Moonrat at Editorial Ass(istant) recently posted a link to Alexander Chee's essay about studying with Annie Dillard, and I'm getting very inspired by the whole thing, and thinking more about what I want my writing to do. Here's the part she liked best:
Yes, everything’s been written, but also, the thing you want to write, before you wrote it, was impossible to write. Otherwise it would already exist. You writing it makes it possible.
The question is not, why do you WRITE? It is, why do YOU write? What do you hope to bring to writing, simply by being yourself?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Six-Word Intermission

Detail of Peter Sis's Happy City, which can be seen in the
NYC subway station at 86th and Lexington,

where you can catch the SIX train...

Too obscure? Okay, moving on.

I'm shamelessly copying another blogger's idea today, and then getting back to issues of writing and identity tomorrow.

Sierra Godfrey has brought us another spin on the famous six-word story concept. We already have the six-word memoir and six-word memoir of love and heartbreak ... how about the six-word plot summary?

I'm still working on mine. Thematically, I could say:

Adversity reveals character, for the better.

But is that too light on plot information? How about:

Graphic designer is pregnant: now what?

I'm still working on it. Novelists, give me your six-word summary! If you're not writing fiction, a description of your other writing (blogging, etc.) would be equally welcome.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Being Yourself as a Writer Pt.1


Thank you for all the fabulous comments yesterday! If anyone didn't get the chance to answer my questions yesterday, I'd love to hear more of your thoughts, so I won't go too far off topic today...

Let's add a twist for writers. Many industry people believe that it's important to create a brand as a writer: sure, once you're sufficiently well-known for good writing you can start to branch out and write anything you want, but as a beginner it is often recommended that writers (and, I think, bloggers) find a genre or a style or a subject matter for which they can be known, to help build an audience. Let's use retail as an example -- if you have a local store that sells clothes that you like, that flatter you and fit you well and match your style, you would keep going back for more... and you'd probably shop there LESS OFTEN if you couldn't count on seeing those items for sale every day. It would be very disconcerting if one week they sold bicycle tires, another week they sold kids' toys, another week they sold those nice clothes, and then back to tires again, or maybe landscaping equipment... the odds are higher that you will find an appreciative audience for ONE THING than for dozens.

So, how do you "be yourself" as a writer? Writers, are you dying to bust out something that your current audience might not appreciate? Bloggers, do you ever find yourself holding back about something you'd like to discuss, because you know that your blog is a "writing" blog, or a "travel" blog, or a "political" blog, or some other niche? Or perhaps, like me, you just try to find some kind of angle to make the topic work within the confines of your chosen genre?

Or did you chose your writing/blogging topics and style because they are so inherently you that this isn't even an issue for you, because you're already writing about everything you could possibly care about? Why would anyone ever want to sell anything but bicycle tires, right? Those weirdos...

Tell me more. Who are you, and how do you present yourself? And, who are you and how do you present yourself as a writer or blogger?


Monday, October 19, 2009

Being Yourself


I just read a fascinating short blog entry about being yourself in the face of others' expectations. The section that caught my eye was this one:
The ability to just be yourself is a lot harder to come by than we might think. And one of the biggest obstacles can be race. Specifically, racial stereotypes.

I’m not particularly meek, yet at almost every job I’ve held, people have thought of me as a shy and quiet Asian girl. Because of that, I’ve always had to project an exaggerated version of my personality, just to be perceived as normal.

What kinds of racial stereotypes do you find yourself battling on a daily basis? What elements of your authentic self are you suppressing? How is race getting in the way of your self-expression without you even knowing it?
Wow. Think about it... is it more true to yourself to simply be yourself, or to adjust the way you present yourself to the world so that you are correctly interpreted by those around you? It's not just about race. It's about religion or lack thereof, it's about gender and sexuality, it's about family and parenting, it's about our chosen professions (insert lawyer joke here)...

I once worked for a judge who let his clerks wear whatever they wanted in chambers, but not when a criminal case was in his courtroom -- then the clerks had to wear suits. He wanted to make sure that we not only gave the defendant a fair trial, but that we gave the appearance of fairness and professionalism. He knew that his clerks would perform the same considered legal analysis in a t-shirt and shorts as in a jacket and tie, but he also knew that sloppy attire could be misunderstood as a sign that we didn't care about the proceedings. And so he took steps to ensure we never gave out the wrong messages.

What do I try to communicate on a daily basis, without even realizing it? I don't wear makeup, but that doesn't mean I don't care about my appearance. I'm a lawyer, but I'm not an ambulance-chaser. I'm between jobs, but I'm not sitting on the couch all day eating bon-bons. I'm not who you might think I am.

How about you? Do you make adjustments to the way you express yourself to make sure that you are correctly viewed by others? What stereotypes do you think people place on you before they get to know you? Do you adjust your self-presentation to correct for that?


Friday, October 16, 2009

NaNo Roll Call!


Okay, who's doing NaNoWriMo with me? And, if you want to be my writing buddy, would you please let me know here in the comments who you are on the NaNo website? I'm CKHB there as well as here, and I don't mind saying that I get wildly confused when I know someone by one name on a chat room, another name on blogger, and a third name on NaNo. I need help. I need a cheat sheet. Identify yourself in the comments, please!

Anyone still on the fence? Please ask your questions in the comments and give me the chance to try to convince you.

And, do y'all know what you're going to write about yet? I'm working on another "smart chick lit" novel... tell me your genre of choice!

ETA: Remember when I told you guys about Wordle? And I suggested that it might be a good tool for revealing certain habits you have as a writer? Well, check out Nathan Bransford's Wordle of the contest entries: see how big the word "like" is? We used lots of similes in those first paragraphs...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

One Paragraph

Ignore the writing on the fingers, I just thought the palm was cool

In case you didn't know it, Nathan Bransford is holding another Stupendously Awesome First Paragraph Challenge (which closes at 4pm PST today). And yesterday, he asked us what makes a good first paragraph?

I don't have any grand, over-arching theories about what makes a good introductory paragraph, because I look for totally different things depending on the type/genre of book, my mood, etc. I am both arbitrary and capricious. But I noticed that my favorite entries in Nathan's contest tended to be the short ones. Here are some examples from the first 200 entries (as of this posting, there are 2,315 total):
  • "How do I feel about my mother?"

  • I remember the first time I met Kumari. She smelled of gunmetal, blood and death. I hated her.
  • I'm not a god, despite all evidence to the contrary.

  • They wanted me to eat fire.
Could my preferences have anything to do with the fact that the first paragraph of my own novel is a single sentence long? Perish the thought...

But it's giving me food for thought. I love my first sentence. I think it will make people want to read the first page. And then the first page will get them for the first chapter... you see where I'm going with this. But is my first line strong enough to win a contest like this one? I fear perhaps not.*

I guess a bunch of the authors in my boat had the same thought, because I'm seeing a mix of authors who posted only the first paragraph-sentence (gutsy!) and other authors who posted the first two paragraphs to get just a few more words in... and I'm seeing several paragraphs being entered in some cases where the book starts with short dialogue. (I think that's fair,** given that these entries are only 100 words or fewer in total, which is a completely reasonable length for a "first paragraph." Hey, some people are entering 540-word first paragraphs... my whole first page is less than half that long!)

So, what's your take on this? Do some first sentences/paragraphs only grab you because you already saw the summary on the back of the book? Do you expect different first sentences/paragraphs from literary fiction as compared to a mystery? Does my choice of a one-liner first paragraph make me a dumbass? (Wait, don't answer that one...)

On a related note, I suggest that authors go check out Fiction Groupie's post, Which Kind of First Chapter Writer Are You?

* I wrote most of this post last night, and then this morning I woke up to discover that Andrew Jack is also blogging about The First Paragraph, and that he has more faith in me than I do. He's also a fan of the short and snappy. Okay, okay, I'll think about entering!

** I, however, am not the contest judge. Read the rules before entering!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

But before November comes...


You didn't think that my enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo would make me forget about Halloween, did you?

Let's talk costumes. What do you prefer? Scary or not? Anyone else a fan of the literary costume? Last year my daughter was Max from Where The Wild Things Are, and in college a group of us went trick-or-treating all dressed as different Shakespeare characters... our Lady Macbeth hand-wove a crown of red leaves for me to wear as a Midsummer Night's fairy, and we were all AWESOME. We'd knock on a door, and the people would open up, and say "Aren't you guys a little old to be... hey, wow, nice costumes. Who are you all supposed to be?"

But I digress.

Are you dressing up this year? What are you going as? Writers, if your characters were going to dress up for Halloween (or a costume party, if for some reason the world of your novel doesn't have Halloween), what would they go as?

I'll probably be lazy and just grab a kimono out of my closet for a costume this year (again!), since my priority is to stay focused on helping my daughter trick-or-treat successfully... but I think Dani from my novel will probably be dressing up as one of the deadly ninth-graders from Battle Royale (she loves that movie).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Poll Results!

Click to enlarge image

REMINDER: If you asked any questions in the comments on Thursday, you'll find your answers in Friday's Mysteries Revealed post, and if you asked questions on Friday or during the weekend, you'll find your answers in yesterday's Further Secrets Revealed post. Enjoy!

And, I'll keep this post short, since the last two were epic.

Thank you again to everyone who took the time to vote in my First Friday October Poll! The poll is closed and the results are in and my Excel spreadsheet and pie chart are complete.

I was right in my original guess that most of us -- 74% -- are writing about characters who are the same age as ourselves or younger, but I like seeing that for each slice of the pie, things aren't too skewed in favor of any one age range! (Nice to know we aren't all competing for the exact same audiences, too.) Still, I may have to take this as a personal challenge to branch out myself... maybe for book #3...

So let's move on from age and talk about other character differences and similarities. Writers, please post in the comments one way in which your main character(s) are different from you, and one way in which they are the same. No comparison is too big or too small! The main character of my novel drinks coffee -- I don't -- and she loves unagi (eel) sushi -- I do, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Further Secrets Revealed


And we have more questions!

Jen Chandler asked: If you could get pulled into any book, unable to come back to your world until the end of the story, which one would you choose and why? Bonus question: What would you do while you were there?
  • My first thought was that I needed to pick a book that only lasted a day, so that I could come home to my daughter… but that ruins some of the fun, so I'll assume that this is the kind of magic where even though I feel like I’ve been gone for the length of the book, in real life it’s only been seconds.
    Then I figured I shouldn’t waste the opportunity on some contemporary novel when I could go into a totally mystical realm. After all, I spent a decent amount of my early teenage years making up stories where I inserted myself into the Xanth and Dragonlance worlds. (Don’t ask me how I ended up writing chick lit. I grew up immersed in sci-fi/fantasy/horror, but for whatever reason, my love of reading it has not translated into a desire to write it.)
    Still, I feel that I’ve spent as much time as I need to in Middle Earth and Xanth and some of the more classic realms. The authors gave us multiple books, told the best stories, and I think I’m pretty well satisfied.
    So, I’m going to go with Felix Gilman’s Thunderer. The story is set in an “unmappable” city, enormous and ever-changing, and full of gods. The story is a blast, but part of the point of the novel is that there is so much going on, it can’t all ever be told. In lots of books, the best part of entering the world would be to follow your favorite character around, right? Well, in this book, the city IS a character. I would wander the streets, and in particular I would try to collect information on as many of the city’s religions as I could. If you read it, you’ll know why.
Natalie asked: What are your ten favorite books (or ten books that you really like--it's hard to choose favorites)?
    That's a brutal question, you know that, right? Okay. Here we go. Ten books I really like.
  1. The Collected Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
  2. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  3. The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein
  4. How To Be Good by Nick Hornby
  5. Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
  6. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  7. Lisey's Story by Stephen King
  8. La Chute (The Fall) by Albert Camus
  9. Noble House by James Clavell
  10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Caroline Starr Rose asked: Did the idea spring from your own unique name? I'd love to hear the story of your name. T. Anne also wanted to know more.
  • Growing up with a Japanese middle name definitely played a role in creating this novel; I've always been so proud of it, and I've always found names to be fascinating.
  • My first name was picked because my parents just liked it. They were briefly worried that "Carrie" (rather than Caroline) was too much of a nickname, but then decided that if it was a serious enough full name for a historical figure like Carrie Nation, I'd be fine. All through my childhood, though, I was constantly asked what it was "short for."
  • My middle name honors my birthplace, Tokyo, and my maternal grandmother, Kay (short for Katherine). My parents chose the pronunciation first ("Kei" is pronounced the same as "Kay") and then found out there were dozens of different kanji with the same sound, all with different meanings. They chose the one that means joy and congratulations, and it can be seen in my profile pic.
  • I have a two-word unhyphenated last name. Heim is my family name (German), and Binas is my husband's family name (Greek). Yasou!
Julie asked: My question is if anyone ever recognizes you from your childhood movies?
  • As you already read in the comments... sometimes! And I still get around 6-10 fan emails a year, and they're usually lovely.
Sarah just dropped in to torment me.

Baby Power Dyke asked: What is your favourite question to ask when meeting new people? What is your favourite letter? If you had to choose an animal to be, which animal would you choose?
  • Drat. I obviously need to be stepping up my social game, because apparently discussing the weather with new people is not going to cut it. Okay, here's the question I'm going to START asking people: "Vampires or zombies?"
  • I'm fond of several letters, actually.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism
  • And I think I'd like to be this animal for a while. He looks comfy.
Jungle Mom asked: How many languages do you speak?
  • Fluently? Just the one. I also have advanced French, advanced-beginner Japanese, and introductory Greek... but school-taught language is never the same as when you live in the country for an extended period of time or have native family, you know?
Sandy asked: Team Aniston or Team Jolie?
  • Angelina Jolie. You could put pretty much anyone on the other side of that equation, and I'd pick Team Jolie. I mean... come ON.
The Writing T asked: If you could go into any one story and completely change it what would that story be? And what would you do?
  • This is a tough question because, if I love a story, I don’t want to change it, because even if a beloved character dies, it’s well-written and RIGHT and the way it’s supposed to be. And if I don’t like a story, then I don’t usually spend that much time thinking about how to fix it, I just move on. As much as I love editing, I’d rather write something of my own from scratch than try to repair something hideously flawed written by someone else.
    Okay, here’s one. I hate the children’s book Eloise. I think she’s a vile brat and that nothing nice should ever happen to her. I would rewrite that book to make Eloise a terrifying cautionary tale. Edward Gorey, anyone?
Tomorrow: closure on our October poll

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mysteries Revealed!

Okay, maybe not THAT mystery...

Thank you to everyone who commented yesterday! Your inquiries will now be answered:

Amy asked: If you were a book character (outside of your own), who would you be?
  • Hermione Granger. Smart, beautiful, and magic-wielding. What's not to like? (Don't tell me she's not beautiful. Have you seen Emma Watson?)
Marybeth Poppins asked: Can you roll your tongue? Have you ever sat on a donkey? Did it smell bad? How long have you been writing....wait that's kinda boring... If you could write a story about lamp posts knowing it would get published would you want to include your favorite street sign?
  • Not really, although I can kind of fold it.
  • I have never sat on a donkey, but I hope to convince my daughter to ride an elephant with me this weekend at the Topsfield Fair. I'll report back about the smell.
  • Too many answers to the writing question! Somewhere my parents have a "novel" that I wrote in elementary school (main character had the same name as me, was smart, and had magical powers... and possibly a dragon, but I don't really remember) and I took tons of creative writing classes in high school and college, and I submitted some poems to magazines back in 2002, but I didn't start a real novel until 2005's NaNoWriMo, and I started thinking seriously about publication in 2006.
  • There's an awesome photo of my husband and me on our wedding day under a lamppost with the Wall St. sign on it in NYC, so I think I'd have to write about that one.
Sierra Godfrey said: I want to know more about your novel. What's it about? What's the status of it?
  • Here's my back-of-the-book summary for In Name Only (current working title):
What's in a name? Just ask Dani Kobayashi, a 26-year-old graphic artist of Irish and Russian descent who must constantly explain her Japanese surname. A designer of calling cards and other personalized stationery, Dani can tell you the origin and meaning of any name she comes across. She has an apartment in Manhattan, a career plan, and a comfortable relationship with her boyfriend. But when Dani discovers she is accidentally pregnant, she starts questioning her path in life, and ultimately learns that her identity is much more than just 13 letters.
  • The novel is still at the query stage... there are still five agents who requested partial or full manuscripts who have not gotten back to me. Remember how back in July I said that I have a ninja manuscript? Remember how I said that pretty much only one agency hadn't misplaced my manuscript, probably because I sent a hard copy? Yeah, well, I recently did another round of follow-up calls, and that hard copy went missing, too. They accepted a resend by email, and promised to get back to me in a few weeks. I am trying to remain patient and zen about this.
Andrew Jack asked: where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Sorry, I've been rendered temporarily stupid at the thought of my daughter eventually being 7-and-a-half years old... okay, I'm back. I don't know if this was intended to be an aspirational question (where do you hope to be?) or more realistic (where do you expect to be?) but I'll say that in 5 years I really do think that In Name Only will have been published, and I hope it will be just the first in a career of writing a novel every 1-2 years.
  • I also hope that I'll have found an amazing part-time or reasonable-hours attorney position where I can continue to do the legal research and writing that I love, preferably for a cause I care about... I love writing fiction, but I also love the law, and I'd hate to give it up entirely. (I tell other litigators that I'm a research monkey at heart, and in our field that includes the writing as well.) If writing really takes off for me, maybe I'll just do pro bono work on the side for fun.
Thanks again for your questions, and I hope the answers provided you with the information you were seeking!

Now, I know that some of my favorite bloggers are not online every single Thursday (especially those of you with M-W-F posting schedules), so just in case you missed it yesterday, I'm going to let today be round two of Ask Me Anything!

Go nuts in the comments, guys, and I'll answer on Monday.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Author Publicity: What do you want to know?


Okay, so from the comments on Tuesday's post about book publicity it sounds like most (but not all!) of you tend to be interested in gleaning more information about the author of books you like rather than in following additional story content through blog or other internet forms.

So, what do you want to know about an author? Naturally, we want to know if the author has more amazing books we can read... but let's say that the author is a debut novelist. If there are no other books (yet!), what else would you want to know?

And, separate from that hypothetical question... is there anything y'all want to know about me? Ask away! Extra points are given for ridiculous questions, and I reserve the right to simply make crap up if you ask a question that I can't or don't feel like answering.

Tomorrow: everything you want to know will be revealed

Suggested reading for authors from The Book Publicity Blog:
What to include on author websites
What not to have on your book website

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Just talkin' 'bout NaNo...


I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2005. I found out about it in mid-October, and even though I hadn't written fiction (certainly not novel-length fiction) in years, I immediately knew I had to do it. Some primal part of my lizard brain knew I needed to write -- it was simply a given. So, if not now, when? One of NaNo's stated goals is the end of the one day novelist: "one day I'll write a novel." Well, that day is November 1, every year. Fish or cut bait.

I wrote approximately 30,000 words that November. So I didn't "win." But holy cow was that a winning number for me. I wrote thirty thousand words that I would never have written otherwise. And it was a blast. Seriously, the most fun ever. Most of those 30K words made it into the final draft of the novel that is currently being queried to agents. I took way too long to finish what I started in November 2005, but I did get it done. And I will always be grateful to NaNo for getting me jumpstarted.

What about the time commitments? Let's be honest, it is a rare person who can't cut out a little t.v. or a little computer time to make room for writing. Plus, NaNoWriMo is a national event! You can show the website to your friends and family and ask them to help... perhaps by taking on some of your household chores for the month? And there's your writing time, right there.

Also, I was working full-time as a litigation attorney for a big firm the first year I did this. And I later discovered that the lawyer in the office next to me was ALSO doing NaNo that year. We got our billable work done, and we wrote in our "down time": while waiting for senior attorneys to return a document to us with edits, while waiting to confirm that all papers were served or filed correctly, during lunch, during our commutes, and at night after work was finally done. Fine, I didn't have kids then. But I promise you, if you want to do this, you can make the time.

What about quality? Hey, they're called first drafts for a reason. And you can edit crappy writing, but you can't edit a blank page.

And, okay, I only wrote 30K words in 2005 because I became committed to a certain level of quality. I kind of tap out at around 1,000 words a day. After that, the quality of writing drops, and my enthusiam for the activity drops. But if I hadn't been trying for 1,667 words per day, I never would have discovered my ability to write 1,000 words per day. At worst, you'll build some great habits about sitting down every day to write something.

Still not sure? Go visit Lianna Brooks's blog today and let her convince you. It IS worth it.

Got more questions about NaNo in general or my experiences in particular? What's the most you've ever written in a day/week/month/year?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Book Publicity: Websites


Quick recap of what's going on this week:
  • The poll is still open! If you haven't already done so, head over to the right-hand column and tell us how old your characters are. And if you like, read the original post & comments.
  • Gearing up for NaNoWriMo! I'm CKHB over there, too.
And today's question: Have you ever spent time on a website for a book? Before reading it or after?

I'm not just talking about standard advertising here. I'm thinking about ongoing interaction. For example:

Joe Hill has a Last Breath Game based on one of his short stories. I bought & read his novel, then checked out the website, played the game, bought his collection of short stories, and am now a regular reader of his blog.

J.C. Hutchins's book Personal Effects comes with actual "personal effects" of the characters (there's a little folder on the front cover filled with goodies -- I've loved that sort of thing ever since I read Griffin and Sabine), and although the novel can be read and appreciated without playing with those extra items, I did call a bunch of the phone numbers, and visit some of the websites out of curiosity, just to see what else the author had created.

There's a new YA book out called Candor, about the model community of Candor, Florida... where parents control their teens through subliminal messages. This fictional community has its own town website.

What do you guys think of such promotions? Are they more likely to get you to buy a book? Or are they more likely to keep you interested in the author after you've read the book? Or is it only relevant when you absolutely adore a book to pieces and just want to prolong the book experience any way possible?

After reading Steve Hely's How I Became A Famous Novelist, I actually did an internet search for a novel mentioned within that novel, Peking, because I was hoping against hope that the book was real, or that perhaps the author who created so many amazing excerpts from other fake novels within his work would have created a fake excerpt of that book for me to read...

I didn't find anything for Peking, but in writing this post I found out that there is a website for the main character's novel The Tornado Ashes Club, and I see links to an interview and a blog... I'm off to read more!

Writers, would you consider doing anything like this? Readers, do you like it when authors go beyond the pages of the novel?

More reading: Character Blogs as a Branding Vehicle, Moving Beyond the Book

Monday, October 5, 2009

National. Novel. Writing. Month.


Don't get it right, get it written.

One month left, y'all.

NaNoWriMo. That's pronounced nah-no-wry-mo. Not to be confused with the NaNo Rhino:

JOIN US...

Wait. Did I hear some of you say that you've never heard of NaNoWriMo? This must be remedied immediately.

National Novel Writing Month is the invention of Chris Baty. In 1998, Chris and 20 of his friends decided to write a novel -- defined as 50,000 words of fiction -- in one month. Six made it. Somewhere between then and now, the event gathered more people, picked November as their official month (50K words in 30 days), got a nice website complete with forums and fancy profile pages, and last year over 119,000 people signed up, with 21,720 reported winners.

Participants last year wrote a total of more than 1,643,343,993 words. That's one-point-six billion and change. NaNoWriMo is an amazing motivating force, the community on the forums is beyond cool, and there are local groups that meet up in person as well.

Want to learn more? Check our the NaNoWriMo website, in particular the What is NaNoWriMo? page, the How NaNoWriMo Works page, and the FAQ page. There's also a NaNoWriMo Press Release for 2009.

I will be talking about this a lot in the near future. If you've done NaNo before, please tell us about it in the comments. If not, please check out the website, and then come back, and if you post any questions you might have, I will do my very best to answer them. I think NaNo is an amazing thing that all aspiring writers should try (if you're an established writer, you might enjoy it, too, but I think it's especially good for those who are trying to find their voice and writing style), and I would encourage all my readers to give it a go.

Questions? Ask away!

Later this week: my first year of NaNo

Friday, October 2, 2009

First Friday... Poll!


Okay, I was starting to get sloppy about how I handled my fiction contests, so for the First Friday of October, I'm going to do a poll instead. Writers, HOW OLD ARE YOUR CHARACTERS?

The survey is over there => in the right-hand column, and you can answer more than once if you have multiple books or multiple main characters of differing ages in one book. Answer as you feel best represents you and your work.

(And yes, I know it should be "older/younger than I [am]" but I've abandoned technically correct grammar in favor of the colloquial phrase that simply sounds better.)

I first starting thinking about this question back when I wrote my Class of 2013 post. I suspect that most of us write about main characters who are the same age as ourselves or younger, simply because it's easier to put ourselves inside the heads of people who are at a life stage that we've actually experienced. It's the same reason that many writers write about characters who are the same gender/sex as themselves -- it's always harder, and therefore riskier, to portray a point of view that you've never actually had.

Obviously there are exceptions. I love Nick Hornby's How to Be Good ( first-person p.o.v., female) and Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box (third-person limited, male character about 20 years older than the author). And I didn't pick my main character's age because I thought it was easy, I picked it because I felt it was suited to the moment in her life that I wanted to capture, and because it was suited to the events she experiences in the book... but I did choose the story in part because of my own ideas about the importance of learning about oneself at a certain age (mid-to-late 20s)... and I have those ideas because I myself have already gone through my 20s.

Writers, tell me more about your own work! Who do you write about? Why did you choose characters who are old/young/in-between? Was it easy or hard? Do you think your audience will be the same as as those characters?

And for everyone, do you like to READ about people your own age? Younger? Older? Do you like characters who mirror some part of yourself, or characters who have nothing in common with you whatsoever? Or does it just not matter?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The POD Espresso Machine!


While we're all talking about the future of publishing, let me ask you... is POD (print-on-demand) the wave of the future? And, how so? Self-publishing? The printing of older, copyright-free books? Backlist/otherwise out-of-print books? All of the above, plus something I haven't thought of yet?

Today I leave it to you to decide for yourself. Here are my videos of the new POD machine that lives at my local indie bookstore (and click here for the bookstore's press release):

The Espresso 2.1 "Paige M. Gutenborg"

video

Pages printing, view #1

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Pages printing, view #2

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Some finished books as printed by the POD machine

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The binding & cutting stages (about 3 minutes)

Taking too long to upload... perhaps this link will work...