Sunday, December 16, 2012

Keep Going

Remember the victims, not the sensationalism.


This quote was incorrectly attributed to Morgan Freeman... whoever said it, I agree:

“You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here’s why.

It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.

CNN’s article says that if the body count “holds up”, this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.

You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

How To Write Good

source: littletotoros
I would prefer if #1 said "avoid accidental alliteration always"... sometimes a well-placed repetition of sound is pleasing.  But you have to be aware that you're doing it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thoughts on "winning" NaNoWriMo

First posted Oct. 30, 2009:

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 and break a leg!

2012 addendum:  If you need more inspiration, please check out Chuck Wendig's 25 THINGS WRITERS SHOULD STOP DOING.  Number 2 is "stop stopping."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bookshelf porn (week 7)

idea by CKHB, engraving by Danger!Awesome

Why is this bookshelf porn? Because it's the laser engraving we just had done on my husband's Kindle cover, and therefore it's his portable bookshelf.  I'm very pleased with how it came out...

And in NaNoWriMo news, have you all checked out the VERY cool offers associated with being a participant?  For example, there's a free trial version of Scrivener for the month of November (complete with a customized NaNo template), plus 20% off the software for all participants if you decide to buy, and 50% off if you're a NaNo winner.  I've been a fan of Scrivener ever since they built a Windows version -- back in my pre-MacBook Air days -- so if you've ever thought about trying it, now's the time.

Go on.  You know you want to join in...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November means no excuses

Once again, I am rebooting an old NaNoWriMo-themed post, this one from 2009.  There's also a post I wrote after Grub Street's 2011 Muse & the Marketplace writing conference, called The Writer Is The One Who Stays In The Room that I think addresses the same issues.  

Sometimes you need to walk away from your work to get perspective, especially if you're editing.  But this month, you're not editing, and we don't WANT perspective.
  • Don't get it right, get it written.
  • You can't edit a blank page.
  • Write so fast, your inner editor can't catch you.
Run, writers, run...

Originally posted October 29, 2009

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 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo, or "In Which I Tell Salon To Go %^@& Itself"

It's all fun and games until you expect someone else to read it.

This post first "aired" on November 3, 2010.  Another National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow. And I could think of no better way to celebrate that fact than by re-posting my rant aimed at someone who Just Didn't Get It.  If you're thinking about joining NaNoWriMo, DO IT.  It's an amazing thing.  And I'll be with you all month if you do, I promise.  In the meantime, please enjoy my venting.  I've edited slightly for readability and to include some updates.

I am here today [11-3-10] because I have taken great umbrage at Laura Miller's recent Salon article, Better Yet, DON'T Write That Novel, in which she declares that NaNoWriMo is at best unnecessary, at worst a total waste of time and energy.

She's wrong.

Laura, you admit that the program is "an event geared entirely toward writers", and that you are "someone who doesn't write novels." So, with all due respect, you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Laura recognizes that "[t]he purpose of NaNoWriMo seems laudable enough..."
Above all, it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.
And yet, she feels the need to rain on the parade of everyone who is trying NaNoWriMo by saying that "Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it's likely to produce more novels I'd want to read." (Oh, except for New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants.)

She talks about "the selfless art of reading" as compared to "the narcissistic commerce of writing". She says that "I'm not worried about all the books that won't get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on."

I do see a reason to cheer them on.

Look, lady, you said that even if a Wrimo -- as some of us call ourselves -- manages to get finish a book, no one will read what we've written. And that's mostly true. The reason you see people on Twitter complaining about bad and inexperienced writers prematurely submitting their novels for publication is that NO ONE WANTS TO REPRESENT OR PUBLISH THEM. If someone submits a GOOD novel that was written during NaNoWriMo (and, presumably, edited later), then the agents and editors don't complain.

[As proof, please take a look at the latest list of published Wrimos, and in particular look at the names of the attached publishers. Random House, Scholastic, S&S, DoubleDay, HarperCollins, the list goes on and on.  These professionals are not buying dreck, okay? They'd like to stay in business.]

You may bitch about commerce, but the reason capitalism is supposed to work is that little thing called supply and demand, and if no one wants to read these books (no demand), then they won't actually hit the stream of commerce because no one will buy them. The market is not about to be flooded with 100,000 shitty novels, and your precious reader's eyes will not be marred by having to read the contents therein.

Laura says that these writers need no encouragement because,
Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they're always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it's the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species.
Again, you're partly right, Laura. SUCCESSFUL writers are hellishly persistent. Plenty of other writers, however, fade away without you ever knowing about it. I don't think the world is harmed by 100,000 badly written first drafts, but I do think the world is a better place when people chase their dreams, if only for one month out of the year. I think 100,000 wanna-be writers who always said "some day" but never gave themselves the permission to try and to make mistakes would be a horrible shame, a waste of spirit that more than balances out the waste of paper you fear. (And by the way, there can be no "selfless" act of reading if we don't "selfishly" write the damn books for you.)

Anyone who actually reads the NaNoWriMo website will see that the people behind the program DO advocate revision: December is National Novel Finishing Month, and March is National Novel Editing Month. The people who write crap novels in November and try to submit them in December? They were going to do it anyway. In fact, if they didn't work up the energy to actually write a novel, they were going to be the ones sending letters to agents and publishers saying that they have an IDEA for a novel, and would the agent like to write it for them and split the profits?

In short, NaNoWriMo does not create stupid, sloppy writers desperate for attention. I doubt it even encourages the stupid, sloppy writers desperate for attention -- those writers were going to talk about their genius novel ideas whether they tried to execute them or not. Maybe trying to write 50,000 words actually humbles some of these would-be novelists, hmm?

Finally, Laura says that "I'm confident those novels [the ones worth reading] would still get written even if NaNoWriMo should vanish from the earth."

I'm not so sure of that.

In October 2005, I first heard about NaNoWriMo. And it woke something for me. I had always had a clear focus on writing in my life... until I graduated college. Somehow, without anyone telling me, I got the idea that writing ended when real life began; I didn't pursue my MFA, therefore I was not going to be a writer as a career, therefore I stopped writing, even though I loved it. NaNoWriMo reminded me that I could write anyway, even if I had another career entirely.

I wrote half a novel in November of that year, and took my sweet time finishing and revising it. I did my industry research. I wrote and revised my query letter. I have since gotten back into the writing classes that I loved as a college student, and I've had a number of short pieces published. I'm not in it for "the glory." (I mean, really, what glory? There's a starving artist stereotype for a reason.) I'm in it for the literature. I was always a reader. NaNoWriMo reminded me that I could also be a writer.

NaNoWriMo reminded me that there IS no perfect "some day," there's only today. It reminded me to write like little kids paint: with joy, and without self-consciousness. It reminded me that there's something I love to do that I should be practicing daily, that I should be learning to do better. It got my first novel written, and the dozen-plus agents who got my query letter and asked to see the full manuscript don't seem to think I wasted their time, even if they eventually said "no." And in August 2012, more than one agent said "yes."  I am delighted to now be represented by Jessica Faust of BookEnds.

So, when that novel finally gets bought by an editor and published, let's see if anyone reads it. Let's see if anyone likes it. Let's see if some "selfless" readers maybe pay $8-24 bucks for it and have a perfectly lovely time as a result... if they enjoy a book that would not exist if not for NaNoWriMo. Let's see if my NaNo efforts -- which may have actually helped me change careers -- were a waste of anyone's time, or if maybe they make me a better mom because I'm not moping around the house, creatively unfulfilled because I forgot how to dive into something with bad financial odds and high emotional reward, just because it makes me happy.

To sum up: NaNoWriMo saved my life. Y'all at Salon can go screw.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Awww, don't we look cute together?

I am delighted to announce that I now have an agent: Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC!

I was thinking of trying to put together a list of how-I-got-here links from my blog, because (as some of you know), I've been through quite the impressive number of queries ... and partial requests ... and full requests ... and personal rejections with amazing detailed editorial suggestions ... and revisions ... and more revisions ... and full requests again ...

But it's too overwhelming, I think.  So, please just enjoy my first blog post ever, which features an awesome mock-up cover (complete with blurb & rave reviews!) that one of my internet-mom friends made for me after I finished my first "final" draft.  JUNE 2009, y'all.  That's when I decided that I needed to do something with my time other than constantly hitting "refresh" on my email, waiting for another query rejection (hopefully one of the ones with comments!) to come through.

Thank you, Jessica!  And thank you to all the agents (and agents' assistants!) I queried who owed me nothing more than a "no, thank you" but who instead took the time to give encouragement, comments, and revision advice, because they believed that this book had potential even in earlier incarnations.

Special thanks to Janet Reid (@janet_reid), Meredith Barnes (@mer_barnes), Renee Zuckerbrot (@zoefred), and Sarah McCarry (@therejectionist).  Really.  Thank you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Vocabulary Zen: LUCUBRATION

Burning the Midnight Oil

Many thanks to Obscure Word Love for this one:
N. (lew-kuh-bray-shun) 1. The act of lucubrating; laborious work, study, or writing, esp. that done late at night. 2. Something produced by such study, etc.; esp., a learned or carefully elaborated work. 3. Any literary composition: humorous usage suggesting pedantry.
I hope my recent lucubrations will be appreciated by those who read them.  And now I'm going to go back to estivating.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Take What You Need

I saw this in real life yesterday, taped to a post on a street in Portland, Maine.  Only "understanding" and "beauty" were left.  I hope everyone got what they wanted... and I'm seriously considering putting a few up in my neighborhood this week.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Did you hear that?

It was the sound of a darling, dying.

Hey look, Kill Your Darlings is now the name of an upcoming 2013 movie release...

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Book That Can't Wait

Now THERE'S a gimmick you don't see every day -- a book with disappearing ink.  Once opened, you have two months to read it, and then it's gone.

Publisher Eterna Cadencia produced this anthology in an effort to promote its new authors ("if people don't read their first books, they'll never make it to a second") and I think it's a brilliant idea... but only because the book was given away for free.  I'm an avid re-reader, and unless a book like this also came with an e-edition, I don't know if I'd be willing to buy it.

On the other hand, I'm kind of liking the idea of having a limited-edition blank book on my shelf, knowing that I read it before it got away.  Hmmm...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The man who jumped off cliffs, and flew.

Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things.

I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true - hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it.

You've got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.

You fail only if you stop writing. 

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Small thoughts from #Muse2012

"I try to write a little bit every day."

This past weekend I attended the Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace writing conference.  I was delighted to catch up with old Grubbie friends, visiting professionals (some I'd spent time with earlier this year, some I hadn't seen in two years), and of course I took in some wonderful sessions covering both the craft of writing and the strategies of publishing.  Keynote speaker Julia Alvarez shared the above cartoon with us, as well as this quote...

She said she starts each day's work with the Mayan weaver’s prayer. She explained that Mayan weavers begin the day with whatever is on hand, whatever thread, whatever dye, and they know that each material may need to be handled differently in order for it to shine best within the final fabric, so there is no set design, nothing pre-planned about the arrangement of the weave when they sit down to the loom each day.  And so, before they begin work, they pray:

“Grant me the intelligence and the patience to find the true pattern.”

I'll share more from the Muse over the next several days, and may you find the true pattern of your writing when you next sit down to work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

For shame.

Doonesbury, censored. Strips from this week (click to enlarge):

If your local paper won't publish it, find it here:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Dear Prestigious Literary Market,

I want to sincerely apologize for sending you the same story twice. Does it help that this version has been revised and polished? I highly doubt it. Do I need to explain the details of how my supposedly-meticulous submissions-tracking system failed me? Surely not.

All I can do to improve matters at this point is NOT email with an apology, thereby adding to your already overflowing inbox.

Thank you for understanding,

Embarrassed Author

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Note to self...

Next time you make a commitment to read at least a book a week for a year, maybe you shouldn't read so many books at the same time. And maybe also read shorter books.

  • The Very Picture of You, by Isabel Wolff (fiction, for my library book club)
  • Under the Dome, by Stephen King (fiction, on sale for A DOLLAR, that's like 0.1 cents per page)
  • If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, by Robin Black (short stories, on loan from the Grub Street library)
  • Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jethá (non-fiction)
  • Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer On Writing, by Margaret Atwood (non-fiction)
  • John Dies at the End, by David Wong (fiction)
  • My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, edited by Kate Bernheimer (short stories)
  • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers (self-help, and I'm only a little embarrassed to be reading it)
Not shown (reading on Kindle):
  • Zone One, by Colson Whitehead (fiction)
  • The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson (fiction)
  • Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart (fiction)

So, what are you reading? I need more suggestions because obviously this just isn't enough.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Now I obsessively count the words.

These six-word memoirs found at Unmotherly Insights

I've talked about the six-word form before, focusing in particular on six-word plot summaries for novelists. (How's that for a quick elevator pitch?)

Then there's six-word blog post titles. Heh.

I've thought on previous occasions that my six-word memoir should be:

Married high-school boyfriend. Happily ever after.

(I'm thrilled to say that it still is.)

Now, I have two six-word stories on my fiction blog. And I'd be absolutely delighted if you shared a six-word memoir or fiction piece of your own (or a favorite of someone else's) in the comments of EITHER blog...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Poetry. Just because.

Hidden Rose by Emily J. Photography

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,

suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of the thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only a shade,

and once more I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.

-- "The Wild Rose" by Wendell Berry

Friday, January 20, 2012

Younger than 5 years, more than 500 books

As a family, we may have a book problem.

Both my daughter and I have LibraryThing accounts. I've been updating mine lately with my recent reads and some old favorites, but it's not comprehensive... I don't have that kind of time, plus I can't always tell if a book is mine or my husband's (and I can't decide if that matters), plus we have probably a dozen (or more) banker's boxes of books in a storage unit that we try to rotate periodically through our house so I don't even know the full extent of what books we have, and there are overstuffed bookshelves and stacks of books like snowdrifts in every room of our house as it is.

For Serious Girl, though, I thought maybe I could keep track. I signed her up for a lifetime account shortly before her first birthday, and I figured I could input every book she's ever owned and read, and she'd be excited to see how many books that is when she gets older. Cool, right? And she doesn't have nearly as many books as my husband and I do, so it'll be easy to keep up.

I just finished a massive update of Serious Girl's LibraryThing last night. I haven't included all her books, because (like her parents) they are spread out all over the house, but I think I've gotten the majority of them, especially the ones that live in her room, the playroom, and the kitchen (but definitely not the ones in the office/study).

My daughter has over 500 books in the apartment right now. She doesn't turn 5 until April.

I think this might be awesome. But it also might be a sign that we're all going to die in a tremendous paperback avalanche when one of us knocks over the wrong book pile late one night. Or worse.

Maybe I should get my daughter one of those emergency help-line call-button necklaces now...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

School's in.

As some of you may already know, I'm now an instructor at Grub Street, Boston's best literary gang. This winter I'm teaching a Teen Writing Camp section called "Generating New Writing" and there are SIX SPACES LEFT in the class! Tell all the Boston teens you know...

You can register for my class at the Grub Street website, and at the top of my blog you'll now see a "current writing courses" page that I will keep updated with course descriptions and appropriate links.

No apples needed. Just bring paper and pen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012