Checking In

I’d apologize for the hiatus, but any initiate to the Blogosphere knows very well how easy it is to slip out of the habit of online communication in favor of other occupations. I reassure you, dear reader, I’m still writing, I’m still reading, I’m still here.

In my bibliophilic escapades, I’ve recently read a little more non-fiction, working through some of the shorter titles on my ambitious yearly reading list. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion both knocked the wind from me. Coates punched me in the gut, unapologetic and ineluctable in his narration of recent American history. Didion drew me down to unknown depths of loneliness and grief, paving the way with vulnerable, sharply real anecdotes from her own life. Some of these anecdotes were foreign, belonging to a different echelon of American society than I have ever experienced, but most were simply human, universal.

I recommend them both.

In my efforts to write, I have struck gold in an exciting new development that I’ll keep under wraps for the moment. I will say only that I have found affirmation, coupled with insightful guidance, regarding Wake to Wander. I’m rewriting now, working on a deadline, and loving every minute of the experience as, once again, careful revision reveals an entirely different, entirely better book.

More to come.

TTFN! (Ta Ta For Now!)

Book Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Fat Charlie lives a life of perpetual embarrassment, and it’s all his dead dad’s fault. Finding out the old man was, in fact, one of the gods of the old world, none other than the story telling, web spinning Anansi himself, only deepens poor Charlie’s mortification. Add to that a demi-god brother he never knew, one who does life better in every possible way, and Fat Charlie begins to wonder what else he has to lose. Ah yes. The fiancée. Now on the arm of the demi-god brother Charlie never knew he didn’t want.

Although this was a slower burn than most of the inestimable Neil Gaiman’s novels, I still loved it. Like all great stories, it laid out a web of threads that pulled me through to the final pages, where it all took shape in way that both surprised me and made perfect sense. Writing a self-deprecating, powerless character takes great finesse if you don’t want your audience to despise them, and Mr. Gaiman made Fat Charlie equal parts despicable and loveable.

Like most of Gaiman’s stories, reader be warned. But go ye forth, if ye dare, and be edified.

Book Review: Enigma by Charles Stoll

Nothing drives a man to reevaluate his life like the death of someone he loves. In Enigma, young Josh runs back over the major events of his life in order to make sense of a tragedy. It’s a deeply introspective, brutally honest look at the series of choices and relationships that made him who he is today, and leads to a transcendent experience which blurs the lines between life, death, and the afterlife.

The disjointed pacing and pedantic tone of this book made it an extremely difficult read for me. It was frustrating, how powerless I felt to relate and follow along on this character’s journey, since the actual stories he told would normally have been riveting for me. This book is another prime example of tripping into the deadly pitfall of “Telling” and not “Showing”.  If you “tell” a story without ever “showing” your readers that story  (through the setting, body language of characters, believable dialogue, etc.) then the book has no life. It’s just a sequence of words on the page.

Couldn’t have been more disappointed.

 

Never. Stop. Writing.

It is so easy to stay busy with networking, platform building, social medializing (Yep, it’s a word. It communicates.), that we forget to write.

The writing part: Bringing together words and pages, characters and crises, reality and the Fae, that’s what I do.

And in that spirit, here’s one of the pet projects I hope never to let die. I’ll pull it out again one day, hopefully to find that burying it deep and mourning its loss will have imbued it with some dark and powerful magic.

“Open a window and a spider may come to call. He will settle in the eaves, waiting for a flash of movement or a breath of wind. Then he’ll unfold his spindled limbs and lash out, grasping, sometimes hissing. He’ll come right for you.

The thing that came after Vespera’s disappearance, the darkling they sent in her place, it was like the spider. Inserting itself into the corners of Vespera’s old life, dimming the light which our little darling had been in this rotten household. It coated every bright and shining remembrance of her with a thick layer of cobwebs, of decay, of something other. And it waited for I knew not what.

It was a stranger clothed in Vespera’s face. It wiggled her baby fingers and it cued up her sweet baby’s laugh like a soundtrack. It reached out its arms for me to carry it and its every breath was a horror to me.”

Sigh.

Someday.

Back to short storying.

 

Off to See the Wizard

Well, it’s come and gone.

I typed in the very last edit on the very last line of my third draft on Friday.

Moments later, I took off to the Atlanta Writer’s Conference to pitch Wake to Wander for the very first time. I meandered around the labyrinth of the Sheraton Hotel, spotting the literary folks amongst a half a dozen other conferences by their sensible shoes and reading glasses and slightly wrinkled cardigans. I focused on straightening my own wrinkled clothing and tried to stop picking at my cuticles.

It was a really productive weekend, if not a “big break” moment. My manuscript critique was very affirming and gave me some particular points to fix. My pitch was more of a tete a tete since the agent I met with didn’t work with anything like my manuscript’s genre.

In the end, I learned a few vital lessons about writers conferences:

1. New authors should attend every writers conference they can. The opportunity to meet face to face with agents and editors is truly priceless. They are just as eager to publish successful books as you are, so that common interest is an immediate connection.  My friend Sandy said that we had taken the step up to the next level of writing by attending this little conference, and I think she was right. We are networked professionals now.

2. Do your homework on every agent and editor in advance. Being informed, intentional, and proactive in every interaction with the industry professionals you meet can mean the difference between a manuscript submission and a dismissal. You are in competition with every other writer present. Do your homework, dress for the job you want, and go ready to sell your book/yourself.

3. Take notes on what helps you, ignore anything that discourages you. The publishing industry is highly subjective and therefore full of contradictions. The same agent will give you two different answers to the same question in the space of fifteen minutes, depending on the context. And two different agents or editors can be relied upon every time to tell you opposite tips with equal force and verve.

Overall, I learned this. Know why you want to publish and persist, persist, persist.

Coming up next, the first round of query letters! The goal is to have 100 sent by December 31st.

Video: Bookmaking is not Dead

I often get strange looks when I insist that I want to see my novel published traditionally. But I know I’m not alone. We’re not luddites. We just love the smell, the feel, the look of a printed book. And there’s still something to be said for having navigated the harrowing journey to traditional publication.

Literary Distractions

During a time where it seems like everything has gone digital and needs to be on some sort of mobile device to use, it can be tough to pause and reflect on what came before.

Oh. Paper. You’re one of those print enthusiasts, aren’t you?

Call me what you will, but just because I like a good physical book doesn’t make me any less of a reader or bibliophile. Honestly, I don’t think it really matters how you read your books (although, I favor print books over ebooks… more on that another day), as long as you recognize the talent, dedication and ingenuity it is to be a bookbinder, publisher and printer. Especially today.

I could go into a whole history about the Gutenberg press and how the  movable type and printing press has evolved over the last nearly 600 years, but I won’t. I’ll spare you the beautiful details. You can…

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Happy NaNoWriMo to You!

It was one year ago, in the throes of NaNoWriMo 2013, that I first started the story that is now so close to completion. I’ve never won NaNoWriMo and have resigned myself to the reality that I probably never will until my kiddos go to college, but I got to 25K words in November of last year and plan to make it to the final 80k finish line one year later.

Then it’s just the simple matters of titling, synopsizing, querying, rewriting (x100), re-querying, retitling, and MAYBE, SOMEDAY, if all falls JUST in to place at JUST the right time, getting published!

Still, it’s good to celebrate the little victories.

I’m in the middle of my novel now, but have to break off, of course, to make a little money. I shall write an article on Dorothy Wordsworth, and so pay for our new sheets.

 

I read a post on Tumblr last night by The Paris Review, citing this quote from Ms. Virginia Woolf in a letter to a friend.

Coincidentally, my own writing life mirrors this quote pretty perfectly these days. Progress on my novel has slowed to a crawl (just 2.5 excruciating chapters to go!), while my paying, freelance work has picked up to a furious pace.

I’m not complaining, by any means. After all, one is almost always in need of a little pocket change for new sheets. But I do find myself grateful that these shifts in my writing life tend to come in seasons and go away again just about as reliably. One type of writing energizes and fills me up. The other draws my last bit of strength by the end of each day.

It’s all a delicate balance act, I suppose. Isn’t everything?

Unexpected Turns in the Tale

I met some fellow writers at a Barnes & Noble Starbucks Monday night and wrote for hours without stopping. The interesting result of a randomly selected writing prompt was a completely unexpected new scene in my book.

I’ve met a lot of novelists who’ve had to trim the fat on 200,000 word manuscripts in order to ameliorate their darlings to a public that won’t read much more than a 90,000 word novel. I don’t have this problem. I have always been concise, despite a nasty predilection for listing out redundant descriptors, and it looks like I’ll be lucky to break 80,000 by the time I finish this book.

Writing prompts like the one I used Monday night may be part of a solution to this issue. I need to explore my characters, my setting, the hidden pathways of my plot, even if half of what I produce is bunk and rejected in the final version.

Noveling is – by necessity – a wandering sort of trail-blazing, I think.

Chase That Muse with a Club… Caveman-Style

I am afforded a precious block of hours today for the sole purpose of writing and my book is leaping forward toward its conclusion with exhilarating speed. Like a lot of worthy work, none of today’s rapid progress would be possible without hours and days of seemingly fruitless toil that preceded it. Here are a few things to which I attribute two excellent new chapters added in a single afternoon:

1. Fellow Writers’ Feedback: Even the broad statements that felt vaguely discouraging at the time that I heard them are turning out to be powerful guiding voices as I race toward the end of my book. One fellow writer critiqued my early chapters by saying, “Whew! This is so heavy! I need some hope, here. Can’t you lighten this up a bit?” At first, I dismissed her comments as discouraging and put them in the back of my mind. Now, however, as I try to press my themes and points home with a readership that will likely feel much the same way she did, I know precisely what my readers will be longing for and can speak to it.

2. Adequate Germination Time: I hadn’t written for over a week before today and felt a growing pressure with each passing hour to produce. Today was a great reminder that one very important part of the process of writing is allowing ideas to grow in our subconscious. Give scenes and characters time to grow. Sleeping and resting and goofing off are as much a part of being a writer as actually putting the words on the page.

3. Plot-Outlining: I ignored this important step in writing a novel for way too long. Now that I’ve actually written my self a scene-by-scene road-map, I have made it possible to keep my momentum into whole chapters, whole acts at a time. Even though that road-map has changed dramatically throughout the process, it is a map nonetheless.

Man, I love being a writer.