Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Time Travel

The Vassar College library

I recently discovered an old stash of 3.5" floppy discs that contained some documents I thought were lost forever, after a massive hard drive crash in 2008. Among the other things on that disc, I found a "wishlist" of life goals... last updated on October 30, 1991, when I was barely two months into being a freshman. Today, I'm going to share some with you. The insightful and the banal, the unattainable and the incredibly outdated...

See what you get out of it. Thoughts are welcomed. (And please, please enter my contest!)

    3. To be a published author.
    6. To be thought of with respect.
    10. To be a good parent.
    12. To be a choreographer.
    15. To own a Harley-Davidson.

    17. To be a black-diamond skier.
    24. To find a good hairstyle.
    25. To read À la recherche du temps perdu (in French).
    26. To know my limitations.
    27. To be beautiful.
    28. To be honest.
    29. To stay in shape.
    33. To laugh more.
    36. To make my own decisions.
    38. To own and use an IBM 486.
    43. To have at least a Master's degree, and a second Bachelor's.
    44. To be competent in a third language.
    45. To travel.
    47. To be quoteable.
    50. To stay friends with old friends.
    51. To decide what I believe in.
    52. To take risks.
    53. To make a lot of new friends.
    54. To live a long, long time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Short but sweet

Image has nothing to do with anything except that it's beautiful.
"The Storm" by Jennifer Flynn

Okay, I'm trying to Get Things Done today, so this is a gonna be a short one. Go read Seth Godin's post Maybe You Need New Friends. It's short, too. Go on, I'll wait.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am thrilled to say that, according to the standards of that post, I don't need new friends. Y'all are awesome.

Enter my contest, and tell me something nice about the people you've met blogging/Tweeting/writing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sex and My Contest

MY CONTEST: Have you entered? Have you spread the word?

So far, I've got 5 new blog followers and 11 new Twitter followers since the contest started. I'm thrilled that some of you are spreading the word about my contest (blogging, tweeting, sending readers my way) but I think we need to step it up. Because I'm pretty sure that 2 of those new Twitter followers are bots. What do I have to do to get your attention, people? Post a link to one of my old Poochie commercials? Geez.

On the bright side, one of my new followers on Twitter is Janet Reid! I'm honored, but I'm also pretty sure she's just trying to keep an eye on me since I am now friends with, enemies with, and/or constantly Twittering with several of her clients. Or maybe she just likes my link to Everything Octopus in the "Non-Literary Blog Goodness" section at the bottom of my sidebar...

So. Enter the contest! Tell people! Maybe win a FREE book! (Not convinced that the book I'm giving away is worth the effort? Read a review and some excerpts here at Authors Anonymous.)

Okay, on to the part of the blog that probably made you click through here in the first place:


It seems to be on the collective (dirty) minds of the blogosphere these days. James Killick advocates more sex in writing, Lexi Revellian (what a great name) is a less-is-more fan, Randy Susan Meyers focuses on emotion, and Elizabeth Black just hosted a one-paragraph love scene contest (where some of us included more sex than others). It's everywhere, I tell you!

So, what's your take on good sex in literature? I've talked about trends in sex writing before, but how about the craft of these scenes? Do you just know it when you read it, or are there some specific elements that you think make up the recipe for particularly good (or bad) sex scenes? Have you written any? I've got one in my novel, but we really just see the before and after moments, none of the during moments. Maybe the next book will have more, but the first story just doesn't lend itself to having any explicit detail.

What do you think?

Friday, March 26, 2010

You Tell Me: Fee-Based Contests

Photo from 2008 Faith & Family Writing Contest
(I think "write, pray" covers more than just religious contests!)

How do you decide when to pay a fee to enter a legitimate writing contest? And, how do you decide which contest(s) to enter? (Please note that I am only talking about legit contests here -- I recognize that there are many scams out there, but let's all assume we've done our basic homework.)

I've been mulling this over for a while, as I am very risk-adverse (lawyers often are), and I tend think of paying to enter a contest as throwing money away. Take, for example, the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition. This is clearly a legitimate enterprise, and the entry cost is not prohibitive ($20 for the first short story manuscript, $15 for all additional). But nearly 14,000 people entered last year. Let's do some math. Even if you're in the top 1% of all writers, that still leaves 140 people in that top 1% competing against you. The top 10 entries in each category get a minimum of $25 in prize money (grand prize is $3,000 plus other perks). There are 10 categories. So, only 100 people will make back their money from a single entry fee. How many top-one-percent entries were there again? Yup, 140. You like those odds? I don't.

Now, I like some competition quite a bit. I have recently discovered the joys of submitting short stories to certain very exclusive fiction markets -- one magazine recently wrote back to say "this one's not for us, but please send more", and the research I've done tells me that only 2% of all submissions are accepted, and only 10% get a request to resubmit, so I am thrilled to have found out that this magazine thinks I'm top 12%. But I didn't have to pay any money to find that out.

I can understand paying to enter a contest that guarantees some professional editorial feedback, because you'd usually have to pay for that anyway. But what else makes you decide to pay to enter a contest? Which contests, if any, have you entered, how did you choose, and what did you learn?

Don't forget to enter my contest!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Querying Anniversary Contest!

Photo by darkewolf

It's been a while since I did a contest, hasn't it? It's time for another one.

What are the rules? Well, this one's gonna be easy. No genre-blending, worst first lines, or flash fiction writing requirements. This time, I'm going for the followers. You know how it goes: you get points for following me on this blog and/or on Twitter, extra points for referring people directly and/or for passing on word about my contest on your own blog or Twitter account. I'll put the specific details at the bottom of the post.

What's the occasion? On April 15th, it will be the one-year anniversary of the day I sent out my first-ever query letter for my novel.

What's the prize? I'm so glad you asked! I will be giving away a copy of Steve Almond's amazing self-published chapbook, This Won't Take But A Minute, Honey. Thirty flash fiction stories on one side, then you flip the book over and get thirty short essays on the craft of writing on the other side. The stories are good, no question... but these essays, people, are GENIUS. It's an MFA program in the palm of your hand. You need this book.

Even better, the copy that I'm giving away has been SIGNED by the author. He doesn't know your name, but he knows what you need to hear, and he inscribed it just for you.

The contest starts NOW, and will close at midnight on April 14th so that I can pick and announce a winner on April 15th. Each point gets you one entry into the contest, yadda yadda.

  • You must comment on THIS blog post to be entered. That gets you +1 point.
  • You get +2 points for being a blog follower.
  • You get +1 point for having commented on my blog at any point before today. (I wanted to reward those who've been with me for a while, but was afraid I'd lose track of which people are new blog followers and which are already following as of this writing. So, I'm rewarding participation instead.)
  • You get +1 point for following me on Twitter.
  • You get +1 point if you've retweeted me or my blog at any point before today.
  • You get +1 point for Tweeting about this contest/retweeting this post.
  • You get +2 points for blogging about this contest.
  • You get +1 point if someone writes in their comment that YOU are the reason they found out about this blog/contest. (Please do give credit if you were referred here by someone! It doesn't lower your chances that much, really.)
  • You can obviously un-follow me again at the close of the contest, but I'm really quite amusing, and I'm sure you'll want to stick around.
So! That means new followers can get EIGHT possible entries, and loyal followers can get as many as TEN entries.* Sounds pretty good, right? Plus, if I get enough new Twitter & blog followers, I'll post a link to something amusing and embarrassing online. I have 140 blog followers and 96 Twitter followers as of this moment. Any suggestions for what my target numbers should be? (Don't say 150 and 100. Smartass.)

And you don't need to provide links as proof -- just tell me how many points you get and how you calculated it when you post your comment. I will check up on the winner to make sure that person's points were all honestly claimed; if I find out you didn't really earn one of the points that you said you did, you will be disqualified, and I'll pick another winner.

Let the games begin!

* Update: duh! The number of points you can get is actually unlimited because you get a point for EACH referral, not just one point for all referrals combined. Go to it!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Someday I will publish more than 100 words at a time.

But not today! I'm thrilled to announce that my first publication by a paying market is now available online at Thaumatrope, a twitter fiction magazine for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror fiction. Yeah, yeah, they only pay $1.20, but it's Twitter-length fiction. Since it's only a 25-word story, I'm getting an almost professional rate.*

Seriously, I can't tell you how cool it is to have been paid something -- anything! -- for my fiction. I'm off to splurge. Should I get a single fingernail manicured? A one-minute chair massage? Ooh. Kiddie-size ice cream cone. Definitely.

All right, I don't want to make this post totally about me-me-me, so please also check out Funny Women at The Rumpus. Submission Guidelines + ALGERNON Cover Letter = genius.

Oh, and if you read my story and have absolutely no idea what it's about, go read this article on the Infinite Turtle Theory. Better? Good. Phew.

* Professional rates start at $0.05/word.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What happens in Steve Almond's class...

The man. The legend.

... stays in Steve Almond's class. (Unless I tell you about it.)

Last night's Grub Street class was Crank the Tunes, Crank the Prose: Music as the Path to Literary Improvement.
Have you ever wondered whether listening to music can improve your prose? It can. Certified Music Geek will explain how, using actual songs, by actual musicians, as his text. There will be a writing exercise, though it will not involve Steve doing his famous "Freebird" air guitar solo. (Unless the class begs).
There was music. (Not Freebird. Hey, does anyone else think instantly of The Devil's Rejects when they think of Freebird? No? Just me? Wait, you in the back, I saw you raise your hand. Genius movie ending, right? F---in' A.) And there was writing. And it was good.

Steve argued that music has the power to expand your empathetic imagination because music consistently seeks to evoke emotion in listeners in a way that not all literature seeks to do with readers... although perhaps it should. Musicians, he said, have permission to be overtly emotional, to honestly pursue feelings that are nearly unbearable. Writers do not always recognize that this same permission has been granted to them as well.

This does not mean cheap sentimental string-pulling. This means getting at the core truth of emotion. Truth lifts language into beauty and towards song. Not, Steve reminds us, the other way around. Crafting lyrical prose, in and of itself, does not bring you to truth. But if you can let music help guide you to a true and powerful emotion, then you can use that as the basis upon which you can craft something true of your own.

In some ways there was not much else that I can take from the class to pass on to you, because it's all about the music that moves you, personally. Or, about the specific ways in which the music moves you; we can listen to the same song and experience different emotions, retrieve different memories. So, Steve asked us to each think of a song that was specifically evocative to us, for whatever reason. We then wrote... not about the song itself, exactly, but about the song's place in our lives, about how it made us feel and why.

Not all writing need be cathartic... but sometimes it doesn't hurt.

Tell us in the comments which song you would pick. And, what kind of music do you usually listen to while writing, if any?

ETA: Check out the soundtrack to Steve's newest book. In particular, the song "Here Comes a Regular" by Dayna Kurtz. We did a freewriting exercise with that one playing in the background, and DAMN it's good.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How to Start Your Story

Last Monday, I took a Grub Street class called All The Right (Opening) Moves:
We all hear that the opening moves of a story or novel must grab the reader and capture her imagination. But how exactly does that happen? In this seminar, we will look closely at the first two pages of a range of short stories and discuss the strategies they use to immediately activate character and plot. You'll then have the chance to try these strategies out with the opening of one of your fiction projects.
According to instructor Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, there are SIX ways to start a piece of fiction:
  1. The Plunge
  2. The Wind-Up
  3. Aerial View
  4. The Rumination
  5. The Hook
  6. The Experiment
Jasmine explained some of these in movie terms, which I have to admit helped me really visualize and understand the options, so I'm going to pass that along to you.

The Plunge is the close-up view: boom, you're in the middle of the action, in the car with the hero, running down the street with the heroine.

The Wind-Up is the montage: the main event isn't happening yet, but we're getting critical and select pieces of information so that when the main event does happen, we'll be ready for the ride.

The Aerial View is, well, the aerial view. The panorama of the story's environment before we swoop down to street level.

The Rumination is the voice-over, giving you the main character's actual thoughts and ponderings.

The Hook is the incredibly high-voltage, dramatic, intense scene (followed by a screen that says "four hours earlier..." at which point the story backs up and begins at the beginning).

And The Experiment is just a way of saying that, if you're going to do something really weird and novel with your fiction, you should signal that to the reader up front. Like Memento starting out with footage of a Polaroid photo developing and being shaken in reverse: the whole movie is comprised of scenes patched together in reverse-chronological order, which could leave a viewer feeling confused, tricked, or blindsided if not handled properly. So, there's a funky device used right up front, letting the viewer know s/he should expect something extraordinary.

Note that these are styles you can use to start your story, they're not about content. It's easy to picture "the plunge" as starting at the moment of conflict but this need not be the case. You can zoom in close to the narrator before or after the moment of crisis as well. This is only about the method in which information is delivered.

And, of course, there are lots of ways to combine these elements. I think my first novel starts with a kind of plunge-rumination: you're right there, getting my main character's thoughts at the precise moment she realizes that she has a real problem on her hands. (But it's not an extended rumination, like, say, the first page of Lolita; we quickly move on from her thoughts, but stay close alongside her.)

WHICH STYLE DO YOU WRITE? Have you ever tried other methods for the same piece? I tried out the wind-up, the aerial, and the experiment for my in-class exercises, and I think my current short story is really going to benefit from "the experiment" method in particular.

Other students read variations of their openings out loud, and in some cases seemed clear which style worked better (and often the runner-up method seemed like it would work quite well later on in the piece, so it certainly wasn't wasted effort), but in other cases our opinions were mixed. But I think it's easy to forget that we have choices. Try out one you've never done before. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Oh, and just for fun, check out the 100 Best First Lines of Novels as chosen by the editors of American Book Review. I gotta say, #4 does nothing for me, but I think I'm in agreement with all the rest...

Things to read while you're waiting

Substantive post coming later today. In the meantime:

I'm not the only one who likes responsible men better than the "bad boy": Randy Susan Meyers gives you her list of Sexy Responsible Heart-Throbbing Heroes.

Zombie flowchart. ZOMBIE FLOWCHART!

Author Nicola Griffith explains why Impatience is Not Our Friend.

And go say congrats to blog reader Caroline Starr Rose who sold her first book last week!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bad Taste

White tiger photo by Terry Hall, found at TrekEarth

On Monday, Megan Rebekah asked, would you query an agent with bad taste in books? I think this is a fascinating question and I wanted to bring it over here.

As Megan said, we're not talking about an incompetent agent, nor are we talking about an "I don't like that genre" kind of disagreement. Megan asked what you would do if you discovered that an agent who would otherwise seem to be a good fit, who represented a book that you felt was simply not up to snuff: poorly written. The agent's blog says show don't tell, easy on the adverbs, build character... and then s/he pulls THIS out of the slush pile? What the heck?

I'd like to expand that and also ask if you would query an agent who repped a book that you find distasteful for other reasons. Perhaps it's a book that has fundamentally different values than yours: for example, after my complaints about the pervasiveness of the enfeebled heroine*, could I end up signing with an agent whose list includes several of those kinds of titles? What would that say about me and/or the agent? Could an agent who likes those books enough to represent them truly "get" my book in the way we are told agents should?

I'm sure that some of these questions could be resolved in a phone call: if I ask the interested agent what s/he likes about my book, and s/he says that they love my strong female protagonist, then I probably don't have to worry that the agent will try to turn my book into a clone of the ones I don't care for. And maybe there were other things they liked about the "bad" book in question that could explain the seeming contradictions. (After all, I thought Twilight had some poor writing and weak characters... and I wanted to know what happened next anyway.)

What do you think? Are there any books you hate enough -- for any reason -- that you would pull the agent associated with the book off your query list?

* I got the phrase from a book review by The Rejectionist, and complained about it myself in the final paragraphs of my blog on Monday.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Close Enough

As of last night, I'm approximately 3,800 words into a new short story, and I still have handwritten materials to transcribe. (If my daughter hadn't decided to wake up at 12:20am and stay awake until after 3am, I think I would have gotten it all typed up, but that's another story.)

This is very exciting to me -- I tend to underwrite rather than overwrite, so it feels absolutely wonderful to have something this substantial that is not merely the first 5% or so of a novel. (Plus, if it stays under 8K, I can submit it to One Story.)

Despite this excitement, however, last night I started to feel a little run down. A little weary of the piece, even though so much of it is fresh and interesting to me. A little... lazy.

I've been typing for ages, my brain insists, surely we must be done with this one by now.

In many areas of my life, I've noticed that I have a "close enough" problem. I'll clean up 95% of the dirty dishes, and then leave out a single water glass or leave a single pot to wash the next day. I'll do laundry, then fail to put the clean, folded, ironed clothes in the closets. I'll tidy up the vast majority of the house, then leave a single messy pile of unsorted mail and receipts on the front hallway table. Why? Because I've worked so hard already. And anyway, shouldn't someone else take it from here?

Worse, sometimes I don't even realize I've done it. What are you talking about, honey? I cleaned the whole house, top to bottom! Oh. That mess over there. Huh. Yeah, I didn't really see that bit. Oops.

Fortunately, I love to edit, so I always (eventually!) catch it in my writing if I quit working too soon... plus I'm not deluded enough to think that an agent or editor really will pick up my slack if I were to submit an unpolished piece of writing. And also fortunately, I've had some beta readers who are willing to read a 95% complete piece if I just need to get it the heck off my desk for a while before I can tackle the last finishing touches. They get it. Sometimes you have to just type [INSERT CONNECTING SCENES HERE] and let it go for a while.

But I'm glad that I correctly identified the problem last night; I wasn't tired, I was just in a close-enough state of mind. So I powered through (at least, until Serious Girl made it clear that going back to sleep was not happening any time soon). And I think I got some good outlining done as a result.

DOES THIS EVER HAPPEN TO YOU? Do you catch the problem every time? Do you just accept the urge and walk away for a while, or do you keep pushing at it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My first publication. It's online.

Writing that's good for you and your tummy

As of yesterday, you will find my drabble (fiction of precisely 100 words), Walking on Eggshells, in the latest issue of Boston Literary Magazine. You'll find it, of course, in The Drabble.

Kudos also to blog reader and friend Lisa M. Palin who also has a drabble published in this issue, although for some reason it is currently posted with the Quick Fiction. (I'm sure they'll sort it out soon enough.)

Go. Read. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Monsters and Mayhem, Parts 5 & 6

Photo from National Geographic. No, really.

So we finally come to the end. Sorry it took me so long to write about the last classes in this series. To refresh your memory, I took a 6-week course called Monsters and Mayhem at Grub Street, taught most evenings by Sue Williams and KL Pereira. Week Six was really just a workshopping class, where we read excerpts of the works we had been writing in connection with the course, and gave each other feedback. (To my classmates: you guys are fabulous. Really.)

Week Five was taught solely by KL, and was about how context creates plot. (See also character is plot and plot is conflict.)

KL argued that, by placing one's characters in different environments, we can create conflict, expose desires, and thereby tap into plot. After all, if you understand your character, you will know how they will react to any situation or context. What would happen if you took your character and put her somewhere unexpectedly modern? Or historical? Or alien/foreign? Someplace more lonely or more populated?

She asked us to write a number of exercises, but I was most moved by these three:
  1. Take a character you are working on and place them in a context in which one of their beliefs about themselves is irrevocably shaken or even shattered. How does your character react?
  2. Imagine that your character suddenly loses the ability to speak due to something the encounter in their environment. What would happen? How would your character communicate? Write the piece without dialogue.
  3. Take a character you've been working with an write a scene in which their surroundings make them feel with very young or very old.
What do you think? What are the environments you typically write? What would happen to your characters if you changed it up?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Getting caught up

Okay, I've not been terribly exciting or substantive lately. It's that pesky LIFE thing getting in the way of my blogging. I'm just going to take it bird by bird until it's all under control again...

So what's new with me that might be of interest to you?

I didn't win The Rejectionist's heavy-metal-form-rejection contest, but I'm sure that was just because she didn't want to be accused of nepotism, what with us being engaged and all. If you're into that sort of thing, the contest entries are in the comments here, and mine in particular is here.

Speaking of rock'n'roll, in one week I will be taking a Grub Street class called "Crank the Tunes, Crank the Prose: Music as the Path to Literary Improvement" with instructor Steve Almond. Tonight I'm taking "All The Right (Opening) Moves" with Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (we'll be analyzing the first 2 pages of a number of short stories), and next month I will be taking Sue Williams' class "Go Deeper, Baby: Writing Meaningful Erotica."

Yes, that's right, I said erotica. Get over it. I think more people should do the right kind of research in order to write hot scenes that are actually, you know, HOT. (Oh, go ahead and click, it's totally work safe and very funny.) After all, you don't want to end up on the Literary Review's short list for Bad Sex in Fiction, do you?

As always, I will be bringing some of my classroom learnin' to you the next day -- and yes, yes, I know I still owe you a final blog post from the Monster & Mayhem series. TOMORROW. Promise.

Okay, that's all I've got. As a final link, I think people should go read this post: In Defense of Hush, Hush. Personally, I haven't read this novel, but I am a little exhausted by all the recent stories -- especially YA -- that have a girl falling for the "bad boy" -- especially when bad means putting the girl at risk for actual physical harm -- so I can see myself reading a review of this book, or one like it, and then making the choice not to bother reading it myself... but if someone else reads a bad review of a novel and then chooses to make that book unavailable for others, well, that just ain't right.

Thoughts? I hate to call out one author/book in particular, but I'd like to know what others think of the trend of books where the female protag falls for a dangerous guy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Can't blog. Writing.

You guys are fabulous, thank you SO much for the boost yesterday!

So, today is insane. We had a toddler playdate this morning, I'm going to the Grub Gone... Blue event tonight, and I just found a bunch of documents on backup discs (3.5" floppies, remember those?) that I had thought were lost forever, and I'm writing, and we're late taking Serious Girl to school, and... ACK!

Back on Monday. In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of the pet chinchilla I had in college. Her name was Kenga. Who else has had a weird pet? "Normal" pets with weird personalities TOTALLY count.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Looking for a little pick-me-up today

Okay, sometimes my sunny demeanor fails me. I'm feeling a bit low today. SO! Here are some quick things to make us all happy!
  1. Did you all know I won Natalie Whipple's Dark & Stormy Writing Contest? They say to never start a story with the weather. Natalie asked us to do exactly that, and make it gooood. Check out the top entries (there's an honorable mention entry written by a 12-year-old that will surely delight everyone) and have a nice think about what the weather is doing in your own stories.
  2. Everyone needs to go read David Eagleman's Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. Immediately. I am not fooling around here. NOW, PEOPLE! It's f---ing amazing.
  3. Our finches are all taking a bath in their water dish. Looks a lot like this (fun starts about 25 seconds in).
Okay, everyone. Bring some happy to the comments, links to internet silliness are welcome.

Oh, and this is for Sean: my feet, on honeymoon in Tonga. (Sorry, inside joke. Everyone go write 200 words about finding a photo of feet. Or say "finding a photo of feet" ten times very fast.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When do you stop looking?

In yesterday's post I updated you on my query status: WAITING. In the comments, Rebecca pushed me (lovingly) to keep sending queries while I wait, reminding me that one's dream agent is not always found in the expected place.

So here is my question to you: when do you stop looking?

I have sent my query to 90 agents. I had a damn good hit rate, getting partial or full requests from 15 of those agents, as well as getting some really great personal rejections. I'm still not totally certain whether my book is "chick lit" or "women's lit", so when I started the process I looked for agents open to either of those categories when doing my AgentQuery research. (Actually, I might fit best into that new New Adult category, but that's not a searchable industry term yet.) I re-ran those searches a number of times, to make sure I'd captured everyone open to new clients in those genres. That was in April-May-June of 2009, and I sent out about 75 queries.

Then in September-October-November of 2009 I sent out a handful more. In some cases this was because an agent finally lifted her moratorium on queries, in others it was because a particular agent finally rejected me, thus allowing me to apply to a different, seemingly-a-good-fit agent at the same agency. I also came up with another genre to search for: Gay & Lesbian lit, because two of the main character's three best friends are lesbians. That brought me up to my current total of 90 queries.

So, I ask you: what have I missed? I think I've found all the agents who play in my field. You never know which agent will be the one who really "gets" your novel, but I'm not going to send my stuff to agents and say, "hey, I know you don't say you represent books like mine, and I don't see any books like mine on your list, but I thought I'd throw this your way anyhow."

So, I wait. I hope that one of the remaining four agents is The One. I guess I can take another gander at the AgentQuery listings, but at some point one does run out of reputable agents in a given category. I think if this last group doesn't pan out, then all I can do is take comfort in the fact that some rejections included an expression of interest in whatever my next project might be. It's nice to have a ready-made short-list for novel #2.

WHEN IS IT TIME TO GIVE UP? Querying writers, how are you choosing which agents to try for? What will you do when that list is tapped out? Agented writers, what would you have done if the answers had all been "no"?

Annotating? Or defacing?

Bus Stop End Of The Relationship
Click comics for full size versions at InkyGirl

I just saw Betsy Lerner's post on David Foster Wallace's papers, which includes the handwritten notes in his books. She seems moved, but I'm bordering on apoplectic.

It wasn't until I was in college that I learned to write in books. I finally started because I was a French major, and my grasp of the language was never fully fluent, which meant that I couldn't memorize the layout of my favorite books the way I can in English: even now, I can think of a favorite passage in most any of my books and find it in short order by remembering if it was high or low, left or right on the page, and how the book felt in my hands to determine how deep into the book I need to go to find it again. (This is also why I'm not going to an eReader any time soon.)

My brain doesn't work nearly as well in foreign languages, so I resorted to making some small notes in my favorite novels to help me along. Always in pencil, always slowly and carefully so that my notes and underlining were aesthetically pleasing alongside the typeface.

From his notes, I can tell that DFW loved the analysis of writing, but I also can't shake the feeling that he must not have respected these books very much. If he did, I don't understand how he could treat them that way. I don't even break the spine if I can avoid it; I read most thick books with my fingers placed strategically to protect the binding.

Someone blogged about dog-earing yesterday, and I responded in the comments, but now I can't remember who it was... sorry! But I'm going to ask similar questions: DO YOU DOG-EAR? DO YOU TAKE NOTES IN THE MARGINS? Why, or why not?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sworn enemies are good for you

Did you all know that, in Greek mythology, Nemesis was a remorseless goddess who meted out divine and vengeful retribution upon those who succumbed to hubris? (Or, as my dear friend Al would say, upon those who "committed hubricide.")

Now, of course, nemesis means one's sworn enemy: "normally someone or something that is the exact opposite of oneself but is also somehow similar." (thank you for that choice phrasing, Wikipedia).

As my blog readers probably know -- and as my Twitter followers definitely know -- I now have a literary nemesis. So why do I like the idea of having a literary nemesis in the first place? Betsy Lerner recently blogged about the bête noire, but the nemesis concept as I see it is not merely about having a single target onto whom we can focus our creative envies. (Although I see the point of that as well. I have a legal bête noire, and that certainly helps me vent those career frustrations once in a while.)

My nemesis concept is about the next generation of writers. Look around, fellow author-bloggers. We're it. Some of us will be the hotshots, some will be the midlists, some will struggle, but we are in it.We're building a community, we're critiquing each other, we're commiserating together... and we're going to challenge each other as well. Sometimes we're going to compete. Sometimes we're going to get the short end of the publishing stick. We're going to have to keep it together through all that if we're taking the vocation seriously.

So, a nemesis is a partner-in-crime. Someone who will push you because his writing is so dang good that it drives you a little crazy (because deep in your writer's heart you secretly believe that he probably didn't have to edit at all, that his stories just sprang from his head fully-formed like Athena) and there it is, you have something specific to strive for, and then you banter a little online and oh joy it turns out you have a similar sense of humor, and if we make each other laugh then that must mean that if I work hard and edit well, then one day he'll be just a little bit jealous of something I wrote (and what a compliment that would be) because we sometimes think the same way and we both kind of get it, and because we're all insecure and crazy in this together anyway, but someday some of us are going to be somebodies and so we should all make friends now because if we get isolated and jealous for real it will just eat us up when we should be having fun and writing, dammit, and if you're not laughing along the way, then it's really not worth doing and yes, you're meant to read this as though it was all one breath.

So bring it. And pick someone who is "somehow similar" who will bring it right back.

Monday, March 8, 2010

No post today.

Lost one of our pet finches last night, one very sick right now. My fault - I should have caught the problem sooner. Good healing vibes for the bird are welcomed, but comments are shut off, as I'd rather not discuss it in detail in public. No retweets, please. Thanks.

ETA: Sadly, she didn't make it through the night: the two who passed were the females, so I think they must have been already weakened from egg-laying. Four male finches are healthy as ever. Thanks for your thoughts. Again, please no retweets, no discussion in comments to other posts.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Artist's Way Thought of the Day

Recently, I joined Mur Lafferty in a group effort to do The Artist's Way. I'd had the book recommended to me many times, but never got off my butt to really try, so when Mur invited her podcast listeners* to join her in trying to do all the various writing-and-creativity exercises in the book, I figured that would be the boost I needed.

Now, I guess I'm not REALLY trying, because I haven't been doing any of the required morning pages. I am not a morning person. If I'm awake before 8am, it's only because the toddler gave me no choice. And then my job is toddler-wrangling, not writing. You see my problem.

But, I like some of the exercises: thinking hard about the influences in your life who support(ed) you or undermine(d) you, going on an "artist's date" to get a little private time with your creativity... and then I read this:

Time Travel: Describe yourself at eighty. What did you do after fifty that you enjoyed?

Now there's a thought. It's easy to say to oneself that we still have time to accomplish our dreams, that we shouldn't give up just because we aren't already the "hot new thing" (see The Rejectionist's post and comments about these fears), but how often have you given real thought to what that means?

For those of my readers who are closer to fifty than I am, I'm sorry for being all young-whippersnapper about this. At least I'm over 35. Do you realize how many of these industry/writer blogs are written by people born in the 1980s and, dear god, the 1990s? Damn kids. Get off my lawn!!!

So. Let's do it this way. Describe yourself at eighty. What did you do after age fifty, or after the age of your-current-age-plus-15-years, whichever is older? Was it awesome? I bet it was.

PLEASE SHARE A LONG-TERM GOAL WITH US IN THE COMMENTS. I'm inspired by the reminder that I'll still be writing in the 2020s. How about you?

And, yes, I'm still planning on doing those future posts on the last of my Monsters & Mayhem Classes, on why I wanted a nemesis, and some thoughts on failure. Thanks for your patience!

* Are you a listener? Why the heck not? She's so awesome, really. Plus, I do the show notes, and once in a while post a little something on the podcast website: I Should Be Writing. You should be listening. And if you want to do The Artist's Way with us, we're on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Where were we, again?

Man, it's hard to get blogging again after an absence. Who knew?

So, to recap my various relationships with the powers-that-be in publishing:
  • I am engaged to The Rejectionist. (My status as fiancée was made public in January.)

  • I am having a torrid affair with Sierra Godfrey. (I forget when that started... she'll confirm it, though. WE HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.)

  • I may have convinced Sean Ferrell to be my literary nemesis. (SEAAAAAAAAN!!!) People will write about our literary feuds and keep our backlists from going out of print... it's going to be EPIC.
To recap my querying status:
  • Still waitin' on four agents who've got the full. I sent my first query out almost one year ago, on April 15, 2009. Anyone up for a betting pool on when I'll get my answers? Put your guesses in the comments, I'll totally give a prize to whoever comes closest.
To recap my progress on my many New Year's Resolutions:
  • Enjoying time with daughter? Check!
  • Writing more? Check!
  • Eating better? Usually!
  • Working out more? Uh...
Okay, my husband's out of town this week, which means the house is a disaster and I haven't showered since he left. I should probably go do something about my hair...

HAVE YOU A LITERARY SPOUSE, BFF, OR NEMESIS? Or are you merely harboring unrequited adorations? I've already admitted to my creative crush on John Irving. You can tell me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Things I learned while we were apart...

  • Twitter is crazy addictive.* And awesome. Mur Lafferty said that Twitter is like a giant water cooler, and I'm inclined to agree. Actually, I'm going to say it's a giant coffee shop. Yeah, just me and my pals Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, hanging out, joking about Vegemite and tambourines... they're just the best couple ever, aren't they? Gosh, I'm so glad we've had these moments together...

  • I can be such a dumbass. Dear amazing author to whom I may have appeared overly-familiar and/or overly-desperate to make a personal connection: I swear, I'm not normally such a uselessly eager fangirl, it's just that I discovered your writing EXACTLY at the moment that I started taking my own writing much more seriously, and I was so excited by the possibilities represented by your hard work and success... and, yes, I was kind of hoping you'd say, "Hey, I do remember you from that time we briefly crossed paths in the 1990s! How ya been?" (FYI, I've been good, thanks! Got a law degree, got married, had a kid, have high hopes for finding some happy in writing.) Anyway, I hope you eventually swing by the blog or say hi to me on Twitter, but even if you don't, I love your writing. Keep it up, your fans want more.

  • Grub Street, you rule. How do you find such amazing teachers? And the people who take your classes are such good students as well; none of those time-wasters who are just there for validation or cheap therapy. I'm so impressed, and so glad I took one of the longer classes with you. Thank you. (FYI to my readers: the final Monsters & Mayhem post(s) will be up later this week.)

  • So, what's new with you? I missed you! Tell me everything.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Out of my hands

    MFA application mailed. Everyone, thank you so much for your support and good wishes. Back tomorrow, for reals.