Thursday, February 25, 2010

"That was my idea!"

Read post, then watch video.

Thank you, everyone, for the supportive wishes and good cheer! I hope to be back blogging properly tomorrow, but in the meantime, go read Aprilynne Pike's That Was MY Idea! post. Short summary: it doesn't matter if the idea's been done before, it's all about how you execute it. Okay, now you can watch the video.

ETA: Here's a perfect example. I just saw a Twitter #pubtip from Rachelle Gardener that said: I can't think of a more over-used plot device in kids/YA fiction than the "magical portal." So, just because Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis did it, should Neil Gaiman not have bothered to write Coraline? Yes, lots of books include a door to another world. How will YOU write it?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Okay, guys. Here's the deal. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me whinging about geometry and having to relearn how to solve quadratic equations. I've also emailed certain loved ones about the suckage of algebraic word problems and things like having to calculate the volume of a right circular cylinder, the slope of a line on the x-y axis, or the standard deviation for a series of data points. I can do lawyer math, but this is something far more terrifying. This is high school math.

So why on earth am I doing this to myself?

I'm applying to get into an MFA program. Specifically, one MFA program. Just the one. It is my soulmate, I feel certain of this. Look, isn't that a pretty room they have? And the letter from the Program Director to prospective applicants made me laugh out loud. (Whether the love is reciprocal remains to be seen.)

Accordingly, today from 12:30-4:30pm EST, I will be taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). Yeah, yeah, they probably don't care what the score is, especially not for the quantitative section, but that's not the point. Even if I'm ultimately just there to prove that I can follow directions (take GRE, gather transcripts, put social security number on the right form...), I'd like to do well. It's a matter of principle for me to not totally screw this up.

INTERNET FRIENDS: Wish me a test filled with vocabulary that I know. Wish me essay questions on subjects I actually have an opinion about. Wish me math questions that happen to coincide with whichever formulas I manage to remember tomorrow, and no stupid arithmetic errors.

See you on the other side.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blog Silence

Okay, everyone, I will be taking a short break from blogging this week. I have a very major commitment on Wednesday that I need to prepare for, but this weekend we had guests so I'm pretty much starting from scratch midday today after they leave, and that is not a lot of time given what I'm working on.

No, I can't say what it is yet. I really don't want to jinx it. But any good-luck vibes you have to send my way would be appreciated. Especially on Wednesday between 12:30 and 4:30pm.

I may cave in a little by Twittering, but if you catch me writing more than 140 characters in any 4-hour period, please shoo me back to my internet-free workstation. Wait. I have no internet-free workstation. DAMMIT!

Wish me luck, and see you in a few days...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Love Your Characters

photo by Jenna

We started talking about it in yesterday's plot is conflict post. If plot is the mechanism by which your protagonist is forced up against her deepest fears and/or desires (tm Steve Almond), then we must know our characters deeply in order to understand what they fear and desire. To quote Grub Street instructor Sue Williams:

So love your characters, no matter how dark. Know what they care about. Put what they care about in peril. And you've got yourself a plot. The plot ends when you find a resolution (even if it's not a pleasant one).

To illustrate this point in class, we then read excerpts from Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs. (Remember, this is the Monsters & Mayhem class, so we're focusing on the dark underbelly of fiction.)

Hannibal Lecter is a perfect example of a beloved, yet monstrous, character. Harris must have loved Lecter, because we loved Lecter. And not just because he's a fun and charming love-to-hate-him kind of fellow. We REALLY root for him: to help Clarice solve the crime, to build that emotional connection with her, to get free... I was in a movie theater where the entire audience (including me) cheered because he was going to "have an old friend for dinner." Let's all admit it: that ain't right.

And yet it is. We don't love Lecter just because he's charming and has good taste in wine. We love him because he has qualities of real virtue: unlike the nasty little Dr. Chilton, he is not petty or hypocritical. (Indeed, in the excerpts we read in class, we see both these characters interacting with our heroine Clarice, and it is certainly not Chilton we want to have guiding her. Lecter is evil, but Chilton is a jerk.) And we can empathize with many of the things Lecter cares about... freedom, an intellectual challenge, and Clarice herself.

So take a minute. Get inside the head of some of your least lovable characters, and find something to admire, to envy, to respect. Find out where their heart lies, because they have one, even if it has been twisted by experience, or by fate.

What do your characters care about? What do your antagonists care about? What would happen if you tried to take those things away from them?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Monsters and Mayhem, Part 4 of 6

What can I say, I'm in a devilish frame of mind right now. I'm reading Joe Hill's novel Horns, I'm writing about the devil (one version of her, anyway) for my Monsters & Mayhem class at Grub Street, and I'm re-listening to Mur Lafferty's Heaven series (note that Season Two is called "Hell"). Hanya protected me as I was growing up, and now her mask protects my daughter (and scares visitors), so I thought I'd start off this post with her image.

The fourth class in the M&M series was taught solely by Sue Williams and was subtitled, Plot is Conflict. If you liked my Character is plot post from last year -- and I know a lot of you did --you should have fun with this.

Plot is the mechanism by which your protagonist is forced up against her deepest fears and/or desires.

Those of you who've read (or listened to) Stephen King's On Writing know that he thinks that "plot" is slippery and untrustworthy, and that he prefers situational storylines. Sue, however, cleverly pointed out that all of the "what-if" situations presented in King's book are in fact CONFLICTS:
  • What if vampires invaded a small New England town?
  • What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone? (Etc.)
It all loops back to the theory of plot-as-character, because if the reader doesn't care about the people in those small New England and remote Nevada towns, s/he's not going to care about all the exciting things that might happen there. But it's not character alone. Observe:
  • What if there was a writer who went to a small New England town, hoping to face down his childhood fears?
  • What if there was a boy who learned a lot about God and loss when his family got trapped in a remote Nevada town?
That's far less interesting, isn't it?

So. How do you find this conflict if, starting out, you only have your character? Read that short definition of plot again: Plot is the mechanism by which your protagonist is forced up against her deepest fears and/or desires. In order to really know your character's fears or desires, you have to know your character. More than that. You have to love your character.

From Sue's class handout:

You must love your characters, even if they are hell beasts. See things from their point of view, even if it's broken and dark. This way you will learn what they truly care about.

Tomorrow we'll talk more about loving your characters... especially the bad ones.

REACTIONS? Tell me your theories about plot, character, and conflict.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I'm a Twit.

Wait, that's NOT how I'm supposed to say that I have finally started using Twitter? Hmmm...

Yep. I've given in and gotten a Twitter account. You can blame Duotrope again: I fell in love with some literary webzines that only accept Twitter-length fiction, and they require that authors have a Twitter account to submit... and so here I am! You can find me at CKHBFiction.

If you do follow me, I hope you'll understand that I'm starting out slowly, with few updates. I'm of the belief that jumping headfirst into new media is how naked pictures end up online forever... no, not naked pictures of me... okay, we're getting off track here. My point is that I don't want to accidentally type something really embarrassing that will haunt me forever. I want to wait until I understand how Twitter works, and then type something really embarrassing on purpose.


So, if my initial posts aren't interesting enough for you, you can check out my list of Twitter fiction markets (fiction or poetry in 140 characters or less), or see what my author friends are doing. I've got myself a shiny new "retweet" button on each blog post now, and I can see the addiction building from here. Yowza.

So, you veterans, what should I know about Twitter? It looks like replies that start with an "@" show up in people's profiles but don't show up on my home page where I follow them? Does it make a difference if you start with the symbol or use it partway through the update? I got hash-tagged a couple days ago, and while I think that #CKHB looks awesome, I don't actually know how all this coding works or what it's supposed to do... educate me!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Privacy and the author

Janet Reid wrote about it yesterday in her post, Fan mail. Jody Hedlund also wrote about it yesterday, asking How Personal & Vulnerable Are You In Your Writing? Nathan Bransford wrote about it last week: Can Authors Balance Publicity and Privacy in the Internet Era?

I think most of us wish we could switch our privacy on and off, like that latch in the airplane lavatory. We'd like to be available for our friends and family and fans... and maybe not-so-available for the naysayers, the people who pretend to be your friends so that they can ask an inappropriate favor, and, of course, the bill collectors. But with all the social media out there, it just doesn't work that way. More's the pity.

Janet pointed out that today's writers will likely not have the luxury of choosing not to read any of their mail (as J.D. Salinger did), and asked "How do we... help these young authors with this modern burden?" My gut response to this is pretty cold: DEAL. If you're old enough to write something provocative, you're old enough to handle the reader response. As a child actor, I started dealing with the weirdness of low-level celebrity at about age 10: among other things that included signing autographs, being recognized on the street, getting free stuff because I was famous (yeah, because the kid who was in a movie is really the one who needs a free ice-cream cone), and having a kid I'd never met call my home phone to invite me to her birthday party (I guess she thought I'd be the entertainment). I managed. Now I get emails and find myself talked about or pictured on the internet, and, yes, a very small percentage of these emails and internet references are overly-familiar or creepy in some way. I still manage. So can authors. Deal.

Nathan asked whether sacrificing privacy is the price an author has to pay for reaching an audience. Maybe... it depends what kind of audience you hope to reach! And, of course, how wide.

I think Jody hit on something when she said:
What I find ironic about the privacy question, however, is that regardless of how much of ourselves we expose in cyberland, by nature as writers we’re already pouring out our deepest, most intimate thoughts into our writing. In other words, our books disclose much more about us than we share in short bursts on Twitter and Facebook, or even on our blogs.
I think this must be why readers crave more details about their favorite writers... and it's also why some fans reach out in inappropriate ways. Because they think that, on some level, they know the author. They understand that something very intimate happened in the writing of the book... and either they want to learn whatever additional information the author is willing to share (good) or they start thinking they have a right to more information about the author based on their existing "connection" (bad).

I think we're in a transition stage, where we're all still learning the depth and breadth of our internet communications, and that makes things difficult. (That photo's going to be in Google's cache forever? CRAP!) We're also learning that in some situations etiquette has changed more than we thought... and in other situations it has changed less than we thought. (This is why I'm less worried about the younger authors, in fact... a greater percentage of their lives has included the new etiquette. They know the difference between being a real friend and being a Facebook friend.)

But we'll muddle through. Respect and courtesy are still the same, even if our social interactions take new forms.

And, just FYI, if someone ever calls your home phone with a death threat, don't dial *69, that's caller ID, which doesn't reach blocked numbers. You want to dial *57, which does a full trace of the last incoming call.

New technology. Ain't it grand?

What are your hopes for internet interactions with your readership, and how do you plan to protect your privacy?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Words of Wisdom

"...if nothing is ever published at all and you never make a cent, just the same it will be good that you have worked."
"...I am so afraid that you will decide that you are stupid and untalented. Or that you will put off working as so many wonderfully gifted people do, until that time when your husband can retire on full pay and all your children are out of college."
"It is impossible that you have no creative gift... [and] you cannot be sure that it is not a great gift."

And, in honor of my current micro-fiction kick, here are two sites with some excellent short-short stories:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What more do you want?

photos found at CakeWrecks

No, really. The title of this post is serious. I need ideas. The cows don't mean anything, I just thought it was a really cute picture turned into an amazing cake, and I felt the need to share.

So. Please tell me what you want me to blog about. Any topics I've posted about that you loved and want me to discuss in further depth? Any nagging questions you want answered? Any flame wars you want to drag me into? (Okay, not that.) Anyone up for a virtual bookclub?

Help me out or I'll be forced to start telling you what I had for lunch every day. I am not kidding. Yesterday it was a steak burrito with a side of guac. Fascinating, right? Don't make me go there.

Non-Lunch-Related Updates

  • New Year's Resolutions: somewhat off-track. My writing and time-with-Serious-Girl efforts are going well, my physical-fitness and get-life-organized efforts, less so. And I've pretty much stopped showering since my husband left the country for a week on business. Not good.
  • Querying: same as it ever was. Four agents still have the full manuscript, some requested as recently as November 2009, others requested back in April-May 2009. (Note to any agents reading this, I swear I'm not trying to guilt-trip you, I'm just stating the facts. It's cool, I know you've got other stuff going on. When I'm finally represented, I certainly won't want you to prioritize the slush pile over me. Plus, the story of my patience and your ultimate discovery of me will look good in that NY Times Book Review write-up.)
  • What I'm Reading Now: short fiction online, plus a bunch of "writers on writing" nonfiction. I'm eagerly anticipating the new Joe Hill novel, Horns, and I was starting to feel a little guilty that I haven't already read more in the new year, but I should probably cut myself some slack what with that 600-page Raymond Carver biography in there...

  • Okay. It's on you now. Give me blog topics, or else.

    I'm thinking maybe a roast beef sandwich today...

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Monsters and Mayhem, Part 3 of 6

    And now we return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress:

    As my regular readers know, I'm taking a 6-week course called Monsters and Mayhem at Grub Street, taught most evenings by Sue Williams and KL Pereira. (New link for KL! Blog this time! Check it out!)

    Sophie Powell was last night's guest instructor, and week three was all about world building and backstory.

    You classics and history buffs will appreciate the fact that Sophie started by having us read excerpts from The Odyssey, specifically those passages describing the physical environments inhabited by the Cyclopes and Circe. The arrogant and giant one-eyed monsters lived on untended land where they needed to do no work because the Gods provided everything for them. The more seductive goddess-witch Circe, by contrast, lived in an enticing house with high-backed chairs, polished tables, and girls to help bathe and feed Odysseus. As Homer did, so you too should consider physical setting: how does your monster/character's home and local environment reflect or contribute to its personality? If you are writing anything other than contemporary realism (speculative fiction, magical realism, even historical fiction), how does the setting of your story contrast with the world as we now know it? How does that affect the players in that world?

    We also pondered several questions relating to our characters' backstories:
    • Have they always been monsters/villians?
    • Have they always been unloved/loved?
    • What do they really want from life? How would they choose to die?
    • Who or what do they care for? What is their most treasured possession?
    • Do they like their appearance? What are their favorite/least favorite body parts?
    • Are they creatures of habit?
    • Do they sleep lying down? What do they dream about?
    • What do they worry about? Get excited about?
    • What do they fear? What do they love?
    • What do they have faith in? Do they believe in a higher power?
    It is truly amazing how many answers there are to these questions. One character might want to die in battle... another surrounded by loved ones... and yet another might want to die alone, away from prying eyes. And I found many of the questions especially interesting because in the story I'm working on, the main character is dead. So, in order to write this well, I should know exactly how she died, and whether it was what she wanted. I should know if the afterlife is what she expected. I should know if there's any possession she misses from her time on Earth.

    Good stuff.

    If you like where these questions are taking you, you should check out the Close Your Eyes post on KL's new blog, where she will lead you on a character-discovery visualization similar to the one Sue did for us during the first class. While the exercise is geared towards the fantastical, it might very well work for any character you're writing about.


    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    The story of a successful short fiction submission

    Yes, today is Tuesday, so I should be posting about last night's Grub Street class. However, on Sunday night I got some excellent news that must preempt our regularly scheduled programming.

    I am delighted to announce that I will have a (very) short fiction piece published in Boston Literary Magazine's upcoming Spring 2010 issue! Many, many thanks to editor Robin Stratton.

    Walking on Eggshells is a drabble inspired in part by a writing exercise given in my Grub Street class last week (KL and Sue... thank you), and it should be online around mid-March or so. I will, of course, provide a link when the issue is live, and I highly recommend that you peruse the current issue and archives; I am delighted to be in this literary company.

    So, how did I find BLM? First, I ran a search on Duotrope for markets that were seeking literary (genre) flash fiction (length) and accepted e-mail submissions (sub type). And yes, that returned an intimidating 735 primary matches. But I started clicking around anyway. I clicked on magazines with cool names. I clicked on magazines I knew from previous internet searches. When I found magazines with content that I liked, I carefully reviewed the sections at the bottom of these listings, entitled "Work submitted here was also submitted to..." and "Users accepted here also had work accepted by..." I treated these like recommendations and clicked through all of those. In all cases I clicked on the website as well as the Duotrope summary listing page.

    I told my husband that it was like going on blind dates or speed dating.* Some markets were clearly bad matches at first glance: for example, I cannot abide websites with talking animation on the front page, and I wouldn't want my work associated with them (the date with bad hygiene you don't even want to be seen with). Some seemed promising, but ultimately had content that didn't move me (the "good on paper" date with no chemistry). Some markets with good content were temporarily closed to submissions (the hot date who will be going away on business for several months). Others had incompatible length requirements for the pieces I have in progress, or were otherwise not a fit for me (the date who has incompatible views on religion or number of kids). Some just seemed too unattainable (the date who's so sought-after that he/she can actually hold out for a super model brain surgeon... you know who you are, Ploughshares. Some day you will be mine, One Story.)

    At some point, I stumbled across a magazine that was labeled as being among the "Most Personable Fiction Markets." That sounded promising, and I clicked that link. Apparently, "54 markets have a personal rejection to form rejection ratio of at least 90%" -- they provide actual feedback with their rejections. I clicked on some more titles that appealed to me, and saw that Boston Literary was also in Duotrope's 25 Swiftest Fiction Markets, with an average response time of under seven days. Immediate gratification AND an explanation if I was rejected? An excellent combination. I went to the website.

    INSTANT CHEMISTRY. The website was aesthetically pleasing, and the fiction was breathtaking. Sometimes you recognize intellectually that a short story is well-crafted, but it doesn't really get to you emotionally; these stories were going right for my gut. I devoured the current issue. The Headache in the Cellar (flash fiction). A New Tattoo, Health Kick, Memoirs of Icarus, Pool of Narcissus, and Test Day (quick fiction). And then, The Drabble and The Dribble, stories of exactly 100 or 50 words, respectively. I'd never heard of these categories before (indeed, I thought they were categories belonging exclusively to this magazine), and I thought they were marvelous.

    I immediately opened up a document and started drafting a short piece based on an idea I'd gotten in class a few days earlier. When the first revision put me at 100 words exactly without my even trying, I knew it was meant to be.

    Yes, I did continue to revise after that. (There's fate, and then there's just being sloppy.) Several versions later, I once again hit 100 words without having to count words as part of my edits (I ran the word count function periodically and then revised merely with an eye to going higher or lower, but without actually trying to add or remove an exact number of words). I then reviewed the submission guidelines once more, and sent the story off.

    I'm thrilled that the editor of Boston Literary also felt it was a match, but in some ways I'm not totally surprised. Writers and editors talk about literary "voice" all the time... the fiction in the magazine's current issue (and, as I later discovered, the archives as well) "spoke" to me. Maybe it was a mutual fit because we have the same kind of voice.

    I'm sure I will submit to Boston Literary again -- it is now my goal to write a successful "dribble". But they say there's more than one Mr. or Mrs. "Right" for everyone. I'm going to keep playing the field. I'm going to see what other matches are out there for me.


    * Husband: "When were you on a blind date?"
    Me: "Never. It's a metaphor. You are SO missing the point, honey."

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    In which I sing the praises of Duotrope

    I am officially smitten with Duotrope. If you don't already know about it, you should.

    Duotrope is "a free writers' resource listing over 2800 current Fiction and Poetry publications." It is a massive fiction and poetry market search engine, searchable by genre, pay rates, length and theme of piece, submission method, and media type. Trying to impress your internet-ignorant grandparents with your latest thriller? Search for print markets that publish crime fiction. Got an existing piece on coming out as a lesbian during the Bush administration? Search for GLBT/Women's/Political themed publications. Been writing a lot of short pieces lately and trying to score some extra spending money? Search for high-paying markets that accept flash fiction by email (save on postage!).

    They also have some excellent round-up statistics, like markets that send personal responses and the markets with the fastest/slowest response times and the lowest/highest acceptance percentages. They prudently decline to rank the "most prestigious" markets, but they do provide a list of the markets with the most reported response times (not exactly a measure of popularity, but it at least shows you which magazines most people are eager to report information about), and you can draw your own conclusions about those markets with low acceptance rates. (This can all be found through the section marked "Curious?")

    If you register, you can save searches, start building a list of your favorite markets -- and those you want to ignore -- and best of all, you get a free submissions tracker. I've been using Excel, but this is really a lovely feature, and it helps provide (anonymous) data to your fellow (desperate, hungry for information) writers.

    Go check it out. It's really amazing.

    WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE FICTION OR POETRY MARKET? I've been recently impressed by the fiction at flashquake, Boston Literary Magazine, and Nanoism.

    UPDATE: as of 10:58pm Sunday night, one of the literary magazines I found through Duotrope has accepted a short fiction submission from me. Details and links will eventually follow.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    You Tell Me: Writer's Conferences

    In the fine tradition of Nathan Bransford, I am having my first "you tell me" blog post.

    I have never been to a writer's conference. I didn't really see the point; so many people seemed to treat it as an opportunity to pitch agents, but by the time I started learning about conferences I had already sent out queries to everyone I thought was a good fit, which seemed to mean that if I did attend one of these things and got the chance to talk to an agent, I'd end up pitching someone who (1) already rejected me, (2) got my query but had not yet rejected me, which would make me feel like a stalker ("have you read it yet? how about now?") or (3) is not a fit for my book.

    These did not seem like good choices.

    However, I am now a Grubbie. And Boston's Grub Street hosts a conference every year called The Muse and The Marketplace, with classes and keynote speakers and all that good stuff. We know how I like the Grub Street seminars, and the fees for the conference include attendance at up to eight seminars, which adds up to a quite inexpensive price per class... yes, they're likely going to be more lecture-style and not be the nice small classes I've been attending with no more than 12 people, but the content will surely still be excellent. And, the bloggers I know who have been to these events all seem to rave about them.

    So, should I go? For one day or both days? I normally wouldn't sign up for anything that took me away from Serious Girl for two whole days in a row, but I don't have to travel overnight or anything. I love the Grub Street community, so I know I'll enjoy the company (rather than feeling like I'm just there to "network" in an awkward way). And, assuming that I do decide to go, should I sign up for any of the extras?
    • Manuscript Mart ($130). Spend 20 minutes discussing your work with a prominent literary agent or editor, who will have read your [20-page] manuscript in advance. This fee is in addition to package registration fees.
    • Preferred Lunch Seating ($50). Enjoy your lunch on Saturday at a "Five-Star Table" with a combination of 5 guest authors, editors and agents. Fee is in addition to other registration fees.
    Have you been to a conference like this? What did you like best? What did you like least? What do you wish they had that was missing? What should I know before I go?

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Are you sexy enough for literature?

    poster from Cafe Press

    Yesterday's Dystel & Goderich blog post talked about the phenomenon of authors as rock stars. The blog linked to an article about the rock-star-ness of Joshua Ferris, and ended with the question, "Does an author’s looks or celebrity status influence your decision to buy his/her books?"

    I was all set to scoff. Choosing a novel because the author is hot? That's probably the last thing I think about, running way behind the pack of more important reasons like: who recommended it, if I liked the author's work before, the back-of-book plot summary, cover art, availability in my format of choice (trade paperback), publishing house, and typography. Sure, we joke about it, but no one who actually cares about literature would care about an author's looks, because writing ability and appearance are wholly and utterly unrelated.

    Yup, I was all set to comment, and then I remembered my post on John Irving. Into which I inserted no fewer than six author photos. Damn. What can I say, I have a total reader-crush on the guy.

    Okay, I stand by my belief that I would NEVER EVER buy a book just because the author was good-looking. I mean, jeez, that's what the internet is for: free photos of people we like to look at. But there's definitely something enjoyable about reading a work of genius and then discovering that the person who wrote those words is visually appealing as well. Whether it's an expression like they've got a secret (Irving), a certain scruffy-headed charm (Neil Gaiman), killer eyes (Zadie Smith), or a wicked smile (David and Amy Sedaris), it IS nice if we like to look at those who we like to read.

    But is there too much pressure for writers to have an intriguing (sexy) image? Take a quick look at this blog post: Can we stop being sexy? Just for five minutes? to compare one author's book jacket photo with a more casual photo. I personally think that the intent behind the "sexy" photo may have been to make the author look more intense and thoughtful (writerly) rather than give her a come-hither expression... after all, the title of her book was Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and I imagine that the marketing people decided that a certain formal glamour fit the book's packaging best. But the result was more or less the same: the photo made her look ethereal, and like a deep thinker, AND sexy. (But can we blame the author at all? Who wouldn't want to look amazing in a publicity shot?)

    So. Any writers you love to look at? Any thoughts on the presentation of authors as a visual commodity? And, what's going on YOUR book jacket?

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Unfinished Business

    I am hereby passing on the Over The Top award to:

    No pressure to participate or pass the award on, guys! But I'd certainly like to read your answers if you've got the time.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Monsters and Mayhem, Part 2 of 6

    Recap: for those who are new to the blog (welcome!), I am in the middle of a 6-week course at Grub Street ("a non-profit creative writing center dedicated to nurturing writers and connecting readers with the wealth of writing talent in the Boston area") called Monsters and Mayhem, taught by Sue Williams and KL Pereira. As a commenter once said, I basically do a Cliff's Notes version of all my Grub Street classes, and they've been a reasonably popular series of posts.

    I hope the posts from this class will be applicable across multiple genres, but if you're really not into the speculative fiction genre, you can read the older posts in this series, or you can wait until the end of March, when I'll once again be taking some one-night-only seminars; specifically, I'll be taking "All The Right (Opening) Moves" and "Crank the Tunes, Crank the Prose: Music as the Path to Literary Improvement."

    But back to the mayhem! Yesterday's class was all about monster psychology.

    I urge you to take a few minutes to read Ramsey Shehadeh's short story Creature. After you've read it through once, take a look again at the second section (sections are separated by "* * *"), and look at how the author portrayed Creature's desires, insecurities, and motivations. Consider its wants and needs, its internal and external influences. Look at how much character development the author gives you in just that one paragraph following the section break.

    Even if you're not a genre writer, let's think about this for a moment. How much do you know about your villain/monster/antagonist's backstory? How was s/he born or created? How was s/he raised, or not raised? (Tell me about your mother, we hear in a deep Freudian accent.)

    Maybe try your hand at the following writing exercises:

    • Describe your monster's birth or creation (in the case of my creature, hatching);
    • Write a scene in which your monster/antagonist becomes frightening or repulsive even to him/herself;
    • Write a scene in which your monster/antagonist fails to overcome his or her evil (or merely naughty) impulses... and does not regret it.

    That short story I linked to? Includes all three such scenes. Yowza.

    They say that the way to make vivid, well-rounded characters is to remember that every character is the hero of his or her own story. That includes monsters and villians. That includes characters who are self-loathing, or who wish they were more than they are... or less.

    I hate to quote Ally McBeal (note to my foreign readers, I swear that show had nothing remotely to do with law as it is practiced in the United States), but there was one episode where a much-abused friend asks Ally, "Why are your problems so much bigger than anyone else's?" And in a rare moment of honesty, Ally replies, "Because they're mine."

    No matter what genre you're writing, no matter what species your characters are, no matter how big or small their roles in your stories are... their problems are THEIRS. And that's what going to be important to them. They're probably not out to just be evil or get in your hero's way. They may want power, or love, or just to be left alone.

    If those characters of yours get a lot of time on the page, you could do worse than to get inside their heads with them for a while, and see what got them started down those paths.

    Monday, February 1, 2010


    The next winners in the endless (yet fun) pyramid scheme of blog awards will have to be announced at a later date. Today was insane. Back tomorrow.

    One-Word Fun

    Yat-Yee, thanks for thinking of me! SO bizarre... I logged into Blogger early Friday afternoon, thinking, "What should I write about on Monday? I should plan ahead for once. Let's see what the other bloggers are doing. Hey, maybe someone gave me one of those awards where I have to answer questions..." and then I clicked on your post. Sweet!

    The rules: Answer the following questions with single word answers then pass this along to 5 other bloggers. Simple enough!

    Your Cell Phone? Tempermental
    Your Hair? Reddish
    Your Mother? Opinionated
    Your Father? Reserved
    Your Favorite Food? Unagi
    Your Dream Last Night? Cinematic
    Your Favorite Drink? Milk
    Your Dream/Goal? Happiness
    What Room Are You In? Office
    Your Hobby? Dance
    Your Fear? Needles
    Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? Older
    Where Were You Last Night? Bed
    Something That You Aren't? Tall
    Muffins? Cranberry
    Wish List Item? Air
    Where Did You Grow Up? NYC
    Last Thing You Did? Breakfast
    What Are You Wearing? Pyjamas
    Your TV? Internet
    Your Pets? Finches
    Friends? Yes
    Your Life? Good (photo)
    Your Mood? Improving
    Missing Someone? Nope
    Vehicle? T
    Something You Aren't Wearing? Makeup
    Your Favorite Store? Etsy
    Your Favorite Color? Gray
    When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Daily
    Last Time You Cried? Forgotten
    Your Best Friend? Husband
    One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Maine (photo)
    Facebook? Occasionally
    Favorite Place To Eat? Home

    I'm going to post now (before Blogger eats the post again, dammit) and come back later to choose the five people I'll pass this on to... I'll do a separate post with links and all that good stuff. In the meantime: