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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

News From The Subtle Front

Heya Blogpeople,
I'm just stopping in to say hello. How have you been? Good. Think about that for a while while I ramble a bit.

Lately I've been thinking about book 3 more than pretty much anything else book related. Which, considering the massive amount of other stuff going on in my life, isn't all that much.

But it's building. Like an infection. Eventually the book will fester in my mind until it comes to a head then *bam* it has to be written. Then, meh. And then I'll have to try to sell it but I'm not worried about that anymore. I failed to sell the last book and you know what? I survived. It's okay. I'll live to write again.

And, speaking of the next book, I don't exactly know what it will be about but I do know some things about it already.

It will not be written in the first person. 

It will not take place anywhere near NH. Or TN. Maybe. Probably. 

It will not have any exposition in the beginning. None. I think a little well placed exposition, just for context, is a good thing but what do I know?

It will have one plot line with a couple of tiny subplots. Or maybe a tiny secondary plot. None of that complicated crap.

It will not be a mystery. All books are mysteries, in a way, but this will not be a murder mystery.

It will have a simple 3 act format. Why make it difficult?  

It will not have a time traveling monkey even though I totally want it to. Maybe it will. We'll see.

It will take me fewer than three months to complete. Let's be realistic here for a moment- if I only become better by writing book after book, and I want to get published in the next five years or so, I'm going to have to pick up the pace a bit.

Plus, writing is the fun part and I need some fun in my life. I have two teenagers, one of them is deep in the throes of individuation (all those dev psych classes- woohoo I can put a name to the obnoxiousness) and it's a lot to deal with. I turn 40 this year. Forty. Four decades of under realized potential. Four decades of... you know what? Writing to please myself may be an indulgence, but it is a much needed indulgence. 

And, oh yeah, our kitchen renovation is at the penultimate point of awfulness right now. I have one tiny counter, a working sink, stove, refrigerator, and a couple cabinets to hold the dishes. By Monday we won't have any of those things. Wiring has to happen. A floor has to happen. Some drywall work will occur, as will a bit of painting. I believe some kind of holiday is coming up pretty soon- my kids seem to think so. We're taking a break for that.Then we get to put everything back together and the kitchen should be done by the first of the year. Mostly done. This is phase one of a three phase (haha a wiring pun there helpme) renovation plan. 

And that, cat, is where we're at. Happy holidays and etc.

Best,
M.B.







Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Chatty Letter From Home

Hey Howdy Blogpeople,
Everything is back to "normal" here at Hubris House. No more allegory stories for you all. Sorry. That was a one off. It was also supposed to be humorous but, I suspect, didn't read that way quite as much as I would have hoped since I was also pretty pissed (the American kind of pissed- not the British kind.)

Anyway. 

I hate losing even though I'm oldish and even though I have, generally, a great attitude, losing blows big stinky chunks. I do not like working really, really hard only to learn that I still suck. Okay. That's an exaggeration. My work is still "promising." Mnh. I knew this was going to take a long time, but really. It's frustrating.

Don't get me wrong- frustration as a part of the learning process isn't new to me, and I have dealt with this kind of frustration many times before. For example, I felt it when I was learning how to knit and what I knitted turned out to be mostly holes. I felt it when I was learning how to parent two very active toddlers. I feel it now while I'm figuring out how to parent two rather rebellious teenagers. I was pretty freaking frustrated when I was trying to train my Bernese Mountain dog how to put clothes into a laundry basket* but I've given that one up as a lost cause. Who am I kidding? I never give up even if I have good reason to do so. 

Frustration, for me and probably for lots of people, is part of the learning process but it's the part with which I struggle most. 

I do not, however, suffer silently. 

There are plenty of people in my life who are poised and ready for tales of my latest "failure". They love, love, love to hear me talk about how disappointed I am by whatever hope has been most recently dashed against the rocks. I frequently oblige them- why not? Ultimately I know I'm not actually a loser because I, unlike they, am trying. And talking makes me feel better. Letting upsetting things fester in the deep recesses of one's soul causes bitterness and, I hear, wrinkles.

Besides, here in this place 1000 miles away from almost everyone I used to know, I am able to surround myself with supportive people (including my husband and kids). It's pretty cool and, in fact, I couldn't do this writing thing without them. 

Thanks to the interwebs, I'm also able to talk to real actual writers who generously dispense actual, real advice. Maybe a lot of writers are jerks, this is what I hear anyhow, but you can't tell it from the working  writers I know. I've run into some incredibly fabulous women and men, lo these past few years. I don't think I could continue to improve (and I am improving overall- just not quickly enough to suit me) without their encouragement. Some writing professionals (including agents) have been incredibly helpful even though my stuff was not for them, thanks. They make up for the mean ones (and I have run into those, very rarely, but they are real.)

I've also met some amazing non writers through my writing. These people take an active interest in my work, they offer up suggestions and encouragement, and more than make up for the crappy people. I am very fortunate. These people are why I can bounce back after I have a week or two like the last week or two. I have to be better so I can give them a published copy of the book they helped to improve. It really isn't all about me.

So that's what's going on. I'm putting this book on the back burner for a few weeks. My husband and I are engaging in an intense low budget, high impact kitchen renovation over the holidays and it has pretty much taken over my life. Frankly, it's a welcome diversion. Nothing puts life into perspective quite as well as wielding a sledge (or any other kind of) hammer.

Until next time I remain,

Yours,
M.B.
*She learned how to open the hamper and take out laundry, but I still can't figure out how to get her to either put it in the laundry room or back in the hamper. She carries the clothes (only mine- for whatever reason she knows not to take any but mine) to the basement door and then sleeps in the pile. This is an example of a project I probably shouldn't have started but am determined to see through until the end. The basement door isn't that far from the laundry room. It's progress. What?

Friday, November 30, 2012

In Which I Get All Dickensish


Today's post is a story (written by yours truly) about a homeless kid with a dream and a cat, or maybe a cat and a dream? 

For These Times: A Very Short Story About A Boy and His Cat, Gnomeo 

In a city not too far away from you, but on a street you've probably never visited, sits a grubby looking kid. He has a backpack and a cat. You would never know he was anything but a really devoted hipster if he wasn't so obviously toting a big piece of cardboard around with him. You, if you are that kind of person, could think he was doing some kind of ironic retro break dancing thing except he has written the words "home sweet home" on the front of what you now see is a carefully folded cardboard box.

"Hey, lady, can you spare a fiver?" 

Okay, you have $5, but you're dying for a latte and the coffeehouse you frequent doesn't take credit cards. Someone else will probably give the kid money and, really, what will he do with $5 anyway? He should just get a job like other kids his age. What's with kids these days?

Still, even though you know it's silly, you're embarrassed and start to walk a little faster. Then, and maybe it's because you're a bit foggy from lack of latte, you stop; it seems wrong to walk on by without saying something. You flash a rueful smile and say the first thing that comes into your head.

"I don't have any money, but I sure hope someone gives you some." You hitch up your pocketbook and hurry off to the coffeehouse.

The kid has seen your kind before; he doesn't hold a grudge. Maybe you really don't have money and at least you didn't spit on him, right? There are plenty of people walking around- one of them is bound to have a few bucks to spare. He forgets about you five seconds after your $500 silk skirt floats out of sight.

But the night gets colder and the people walking by become fewer and fewer. Each one that passes is less magnanimous than the one before. The kid gets a little more creative with his pitch- he's really hungry. Someone who looks a lot like you walks by. He stands up straight and reaches out his grubby little hand.

 "Hey lady, can you spare a fiver so I can buy my cat a cheeseburger?"

She says, "Show me your cat." Okay, good deal. She wants to see the cat. He has a cat. It's all good.

"Here you go, this is my cat, Gnomeo," He says as he holds up the slightly ratty, stripey stray that's been noming his cheeseburgers for a while now. He isn't lying. Gnomeo is, for all intents and purposes, the kid's cat. It isn't a bad looking cat either; the kid takes as good care of it as he can by brushing it and stuff like that.

"He looks pretty good," she says as she squints at him through the murky light where the kid tends to feel most comfortable. "Here, let me hold him for a minute so I can check him under the light."

"Sure, okay." 

The kid really needs to feed the cat- it has started looking at him like he's food and it's freaking him out a bit. If the lady wants to see the cat, the lady can see the cat. The kid kind of smooths down the cat's hair and hands him over.

Damned if she doesn't walk off with the cat! 

The kid worries a little- what if she hurts the cat? She doesn't look like a cat hurter, but the kid is well educated in the ways of strangers and knows that cat hurting tendencies turn up in the most surprising people. Then again, maybe she just likes cats. Maybe she's looking for a new pet to spoil and call pookey, or whatever people who collect cats do- the concept is well out of his realm of experience and he lets the thought morph into something he can understand.

Maybe she'll give him $5, or even $10, for his trouble. Then again, maybe she just wants to make sure the cat is real before she gives the kid $5. The kid has learned that people are often very strange, especially when it comes to cats, and more especially when it comes to money. Whatever.

It's all good. The kid is fond of the cat and, even if it does get a bit whiffy sometimes, he'd be happy to keep him. Fond feelings aside, he quickly comes to terms with the idea that the lady really wants to keep the cat. He's a little sad, and knows he'll miss the kitty, but there are plenty of other cats on the street that will be happy to share his cheeseburgers. 

The kid halfheartedly asks a few more people for money, but he's pretty sure he's going to eat tonight; he isn't as desperate as he should be. Hope rises in his hollow little chest like an unfamiliar but welcome flame until he sees the lady round the corner. His heart, and that big warm swell of hope, sinks. She's holding the cat by the scruff of his neck and looks pissed.

"I'm sorry, but this cat is not what I was expecting at all. He stinks and he has too much exposition in the beginning  he's just an alley cat. I thought I saw better markings under that dim light of yours. Why did you try to deceive me?"

"I just asked for $5, lady. You're the one who wanted to see the cat," he says.  His feelings are kind of hurt- did he ever suggest his cat was some kind of purebred? No he did not. She isn't devoid of sensitivity and can see that he is disappointed. She tries to console the kid.

"No, no, that's okay. Here's your cat back. I'm sure it's a fine cat and the cat buying public can be very subjective. I don't want him, but that doesn't mean he's unsaleable  I hope you have good luck finding someone to buy your cat." She wipes her hands on a lacy handkerchief and takes herself off to wherever people like that go at night. Probably, the kid thinks unkindly, to harass another homeless kid's cat. 

Damn.

The night gets colder and the kid and the cat are really hungry. And cold. He wasted a lot of time and energy hoping that the cat lady would give him money for cheeseburgers. The kid is actually worse off than he was before she showed up and walked off with the cat. Now he's hungry, cold, and his cat is defective.

The kid survives, but he doesn't sleep well. The cat spends the night roaming the streets looking for food and comes back with blood on his fur and two tiny pigeon feathers stuck to his chin. The kid wipes the blood off the cat with the hem of a Romney 2012 tee shirt (some guy gave him a stack of the things after the election and they're the one thing he has more than enough of.) The cat rewards his kindness by raking its claws across his hand. The kid doesn't notice; all he can think about is the fact that his cat isn't good enough.

Did the lady say something about markings? What does that mean? He tries to figure it out and decides that, if he can bum a marker off somebody, maybe he can fix the markings. That warm hope feeling didn't really disappear;  it just condensed and reformed as an atomic fireball of obsession in his cheeseburger starved brain. If he is able to make the cat attractive to people like the cat lady he's convinced he can make enough money off the cat to move into an actual building where he has running water and a permanent place to set up his cardboard box.

The cat is now this kid's life because somehow this cat (or maybe another cat) is going to fix everything. His life has gone from looking for $5 to feed his cat to fixing up the cat so he can sell it.

He starts buying raw meat instead of cheeseburgers for the cat. He ups his cat brushing from a few minutes a day to an hour or so, then a couple hours. He finds a toothbrush, and a pair of leather gloves, so he can brush the cat's teeth. Some kind soul gives him a bag of silky ribbons to tie around the cat's neck to sort of round out the look.

The cat looks pretty freaking good- the kid? Not so much. He knows the cat isn't exactly what the cat lady is looking for because he hasn't found a way to change the markings (marker does not work and the cat hates it) but he figures another cat lady will come along and be impressed enough by his efforts to offer both him and the cat some kind of job. Maybe a contract? Anything is possible if you believe in possibilities, right?

And this is where the story has to stop. The kid is still out there brushing his cat and waiting for some kind cat lady to take notice of his hard work and dedication. Sure he gets the odd $5 here and there, but that isn't going to pay the cat food bills. Sad stories abound in a world where cats are everywhere and cat people are scarce. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is. It's every kid for himself out there. 

M.B.



Friday, November 9, 2012

Stats for the Statless

Hey blogpeople!

It has, in fact, been a while. Last week was stressful and miserable from a writing progress point of view. Like really, I was not okay. Sooooo far from okay. I rudely pelted a real, working, fiction writer with questions about the efficacy of query letters- not very melike at all. 

Why was I in such a state? After a couple of weeks of waiting for responses to the 16 queries I sent out only three people responded. One was a no response (but she'd respond in 48 hours if interested) so I took  it as a no. That's four not for me, thanks and a lot of nothing. I sent out another batch this week but haven't heard from anyone. 

My query goal for this book is about 40 before I move on to another plan. I individualize each query letter anyway but I also make changes to the form part of the letter (the summary and stuff). It really is a lot of work and the lack of feedback is frustrating. Each query takes about an hour to prepare because I thoroughly research each agent and agency- if I've never heard of the agent before it takes me longer. Sadly I'm an old hat at this query stuff  but it does save me a bit of time in the long run. 

Last time I was filled with hope and the rejections hurt- I received about 40 actual rejections. This time I barely notice the rejections- so far they've been pure form letters except for one who said my premise was cute. I hate the word cute but appreciated that she took the time to tell me *anything* about the query. She is a top notch agent and I'm sad that I didn't suit. 

So I've been grumpy and no fun to be around and decided that was a terrible way to live (uh, the people around me made it very clear too) and this week I made the time to put it all in perspective.

I am a writer. I write fiction and, you know what? I do a pretty good job of it too. I will eventually reach my goal of being published and it's naive to believe that it will come easily. Sure, it has essentially been ten years (or more) and sure, I work hard every day in order to make my work better. And okay, I read a lot of books in my genre that are really awful and it just seems unfair that these writers get paid to write awful books. But. I also read books that are so beautifully written that I feel privileged just to be able to visit the author's fictional world for a while. I am a good writer but I have a long way to go.

My ultimate goal shouldn't hinge on the opinion of other people. My goal should be to reach the highest level of greatness I can possibly reach. This will take years- I've read everything these great authors have ever published. They didn't necessarily start out great but they never let their degree of financial success dictate their need to improve. 

I'm not going to let my lack of financial success do that either.

This writing thing is an art and a craft. It takes practice and perseverance and patience. I have to put my ego aside, my need to make money, my frustration at any visible progress in the agent hunt, and continue to improve.

I am a better writer than I was with book 1. Readers have read the new book in its roughest draft form and have enjoyed the experience- that's awesome! And the sad reality of agent hunting is that ultimately I can only do what I can do and leave it to other people to decide if that is what they're looking for. They are judging me and the marketability of my book on fewer than 400 words. 

Even 400 spectacularly put together words will not make my book interesting to agents with full client lists and no real interest in my premise. Agents have become really picky about query letters too- often they are picky about completely opposite things. The agents who write blogs are clear about the stuff they hate and sometimes that stuff is what other agents love. I, as a query writer, have decided to just do my best and hope that it's enough. Really, it's all I can do. 

And those are the stats. I've sent out 20 queries to date. I've had four actual rejections (one came in this week) and one assumed rejection so there are 15 possibilities out there. On Monday I'll send another batch and send out a few throughout the week. I'll keep working on my Q-letter and I'll keep sending the things out there. Meanwhile I'm having a marvelous time writing about a time traveling monkey.K is a little worried about the direction my work is taking but I might as well have fun while I'm waiting. Not every story has to be published (or even publishable) y'know. And hello- time traveling monkey. How could a writer go wrong with a character like that?

Have a wonderful week blogfriends. I'll let you know if anything interesting happens. Until that time I'm

Yours,
MB 




Thursday, October 11, 2012

In Which Wiser Heads Prevail

Hey blogpeople,


I have been somewhat dispirited lately- no question. Preparing my new book for its first round of querying is not fun. I love revising the book- it's great. I can make the changes I know need to be made in order to make the book look as much like it does in my head to any reader. That's cool. The first half of the book needed a lot of careful tweaking (it always does because I never know how the specifics of the story will change by the time it's done. I know how it'll end but sometimes characters take on characteristics that I never planned for in the beginning.) So I have to go through and change things. I planned for it this time but the changes were at the edge of my skill level so they took time. 

The challenge kept me working. Then I knew that I could make this book sparkle (although not in a vampirey way) and realized that I'd soon have to put the sparkle to the test in the worst way possible. Suddenly I had way too much to do to sit down and edit. But I'd sit down and try anyway and it would take me hours to go through a few pages. Ack. It's the worst feeling in the world when that happens. So I stopped trying for a bit. I'm still waiting for a professional critique I sent out for in June. I have an excuse! Why make changes when I'll just have to go back anyway?

Okay the professional critique isn't actually all that important to me now. I've received a ton of feedback from great readers and pretty much already know what the critique people will say. But they promised to show any manuscript of merit to their agents and I keep hoping that they'll think my manuscript is merit worthy so I won't have to write a query letter (a frigging huge and very unpleasant job) or anything. If I take long enough to finish the edit I may never have to write that stupid query! Not likely though. I don't think this particular organization will love my gnomes. They like more hard boiled stuff. Manly stuff. My book is about as unmanly as a book can get. It's pink Peeps to their ostrich jerky . I'm a nohoper. But yet I still hope because I really don't want to write that query letter.

Yeah, I know. But I really hate writing query letters (have I been too subtle about this point?) I have nightmares about writing query letters. I woke myself up the other night yelling "Omigod the hook! I forgot the hook!". Bad times.

I am, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, very ambitious and goal oriented. When I shirk work (shirk wirk? shork work?) I feel awful about myself. When I feel awful about myself I feel terrible about other people. When I feel terrible about other people I get grumpy and then other people feel terrible about me. It's awful. Eventually I just have to get back to work in order to make my life bearable.

So, looking for ways to avoid work but still feel like I'm working, I started reading interviews with authors who have become successful, wonderful examples of what I want to be. Quotes are good too. Mark Twain is a constant source of inspiration. One of his quotes comes to mind often when I'm writing fiction: "My words are like water. The works of the great masters are like wine. But everyone drinks water." Supposedly that's from Mark Twain's Notebook, 1885. It's encouraging even if he didn't say it- he's misquoted so often I'm never sure. I can write water. Wine? Not so much. I have no pretensions with regard to my literary merit. Water is good. 

Then I was reading up on a book and came across some advice from an author, a great author- Katherine Paterson. This stopped me cold because it felt like she was speaking just to me although the question is one I dealt with years ago- I have long accepted the possibility of failure and it no longer worries me much (although I hate rejection- don't be confused about that). 

What would be your "words of wisdom" to a person who wants to write, but is paralyzed by failure? What advice would you give people starting out?


When a teacher (still a dear friend) of mine in graduate school suggested I ought to be a writer, I was appalled. "I don't want to add another mediocre writer to the world," I said. She helped me (it took years of nudging) to understand that if I wasn't willing to risk mediocrity, I would never accomplish anything. There are simply no guarantees. It takes courage to lay your insides out for people to examine and sneer over. But that's the only way to give what is your unique gift to the world. I have often noted that it takes the thinnest skin in the world to be a writer, it takes the thickest to seek out publication. But both are needed—the extreme sensitivity and the hippo hide against criticism. Send your inner critic off on vacation and just write the way little children play. You can't be judge and creator at the same time."
- from the author's website Full text

She said a lot in that paragraph but one thing that struck me, hit me right where I live, is the part about being a judge and a creator at the same time. I can't do both. I can write or I can edit/ revise. My brain doesn't run both behaviors at the same time and I felt pretty slackerish about that since it seems like other writers routinely do both without a problem. It was nice to hear a very well respected writer say what I have learned to be the truth about my own process.

Another encouraging thing, to me anyway, is that she wasn't an immediate success either. She had to learn how to write fiction just like I did- like many writers do (and more should). She tried very hard to get her fiction published but didn't get any out there for a long time (I think I read somewhere it was nine years before she saw her first novel in print- something like that). She did pretty well for herself even if it did take a while for her to be published. 

At any rate, the research killed enough time for me to feel ready to get back to work. Which, actually I haven't done too well on today since I have blown most of the day (and all of the morning) writing this blog post. 

On that note.

Have a good week. Monday book recommendations are on hiatus indefinitely. If I read something that really feels worth talking about I'll post. If not, and lately that's more likely than otherwise, I'll just skip it. Ditto with the blog. I'm not in a blog writing mood lately and feel like the world can live without my whinging- I'd certainly prefer not to deal with it. When I have something to say I'll say it. I may even publish the post. Sorry. Once this query thing is in process I'll be back to normal (for me).

Best,
M.B.







Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday Book Recommendations

This week I happened across a promising new (to me) author. Actually, I'm lying a bit here. I read the first book in this series and thought it was... okay. The premise is good if not entirely unique, death is a character (I always enjoy a well done Death), and the writer is a pro through and through.

And so I recommend author Judy Clemens and her book Flowers for Her Grave. This is part of a series- the Grim Reaper Mysteries. You can read the first chapter to the book here. I think the book can stand alone since the premise isn't super unique you can pretty much figure out what happened in previous novels from this one (although maybe I was just remembering what I read of the first book) but you may want to start the series from the beginning uh I think the first book is Embrace the Grim Reaper. It's a good series. Read it. 

Also read:

Mr. Alexander McCall Smith and his most recent Corduroy Mansions book A Conspiracy Of Friends

I feel so guilty every time I read one of his books that it's tough to pay attention (not because they're boring as hell- no, it's my guilt for once saying unnecessarily cruel things about him in a review and then learning that I hurt his feelings rather badly- I'm still very sorry, sir). His books are lovely to read- especially just before bed or when surrounded by boorish people (I read in public all the time. I read, in fact, whenever it isn't actually rude or dangerous to do so and I'm not doing anything else. This causes problems occasionally- once, in an airport, I was preached at quite forcefully by a group of fundamentalists because I was reading Harry Potter but nobody has ever given me a hard time about reading Mr. McCall Smith's books in public. They have complained about the snoring though. I DIDN'T MEAN IT I WAS JUST JOKING Mr. McCall Smith. Your books are beautiful and that's why I'm recommending them. I adore, and never snooze through, his Mme Ramotswe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books.) Anyway, yes, where was I? I recommend Mr. McCall Smith and his many, many lovely novels. 


Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Book Recommendations

I am still on a quest for books from the new books shelf that don't make me weep with either boredom or despair [the most popular authors are still flying off the shelf as soon as they land back on it and are rarely available when I show up in the afternoon. By November I should have a wealth of terrific books to recommend]. Yeah. So I'm rereading old favorites. Again. This long and terrible good book drought makes me wish that I could afford to feed my book habit by buying books but, until I sell one of my own novels, this is just not possible.

I do have a recommendation though. You can't go wrong with Alisa Craig (aka Charlotte MacLeod). She has a distinctive and lovely style that makes every book she wrote a joy to read. I am particularly fond of her Madoc Rhys series but highly recommend this author by either of her pen names.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Now What?

Hi howdy, blogpeople,

This week was fairly chill here at Hubris House. Feedback from my final beta reader came in and now I have a pretty good idea of what needs to be changed. Damn it. I was half hoping the reception for this new book would be as lackluster as the last so I could just chalk it up as a rebound book and write the next thing but no. Instead I learned that the book did what I wanted it to do but needs work in the areas that I knew were weak. Silly me, I thought (okay, hoped) no one would notice... A great deal of work lies between now and the start of querying. I guess it's good practice and I know I would have given almost anything for feedback like this last time- but wow.

On that happy note.

Let's talk about you for a while- you and your next book.

So you had a great idea. Then you either outlined or sat down and wrote the first bit to see how it felt and now you're stuck. This is an important juncture in your book- you have to think about a few things now and ask yourself some pretty tough questions. Here are a few:

Why do I want to write a book? Could I obtain that want some other way?

What do I expect to gain from completing this book? Is that a reasonable expectation?

Am I willing to commit to finishing this particular book even when writing becomes more of a chore than a joy?

How seriously do I take this whole thing? 

 [It is a huge step to take- going from "I'm going to write a novel someday" to "I wrote a novel". The first is a statement of hope and the last is a statement that leads you to the possibility of public censure and failure. If you take a very long time to sell your book, or if people who read your book didn't like it, you are going to hear about it snidely all the time because if you were going to take the time to write a book you damned well better have written a great book. Look at the author of Twilight. Look at Harry Potter. Look at XXXXXXXX (there will always be some huge, mega-selling author with whom you will be compared). Believe it or not people are willing to admire that you may write a book someday but can be really jerky once you've written a book or two and haven't pulled in a million dollar book contract. Maybe it's just the people I know who are like this but I doubt it.]

Can I push my desire for perfection far enough out of the way to finish the book but not so far that I lose it all together (it comes in handy- to an extent- at editing time)? 

Do I have the right balance between confidence and humility to deal with feedback? How do I think I'll handle feedback that is hurtful (some people live to give mean feedback, some people just do it unintentionally, and some people aren't being mean at all; they're being honest. Sometimes receiving feedback is like being kicked in the teeth and having to judge the quality of the kicker's footwear.)

Am I willing to admit that I need to learn more about grammar than any adult should? To look at my work critically in order to improve? To learn how to edit effectively? To edit even when it means rewriting pretty much the whole book? To stop editing before I ruin the book? 

Can I be humble enough to learn but maintain enough self confidence to continue?

Do I have what it takes to deal with rejection and use the experience to become a better writer?


Sadly, many of these questions can't be answered honestly until you've actually started the process, but I think that they are important to consider. Everyone wants to write a book, almost everyone anyway, because we are a story driven animal (even cave people told stories). It's natural for us to want to write a book or a screenplay or something and it's the one dream that adults continue to hold on to when all the other dreams are revealed to be just that- dreams. I will never be president or a ninja or an astronaut but damn it I can write a book.

The problem with actually writing a book is that, chances are, you're going to find out that you can't be a writer either without a huge, no, giant investment of time, energy, and plain old work *and,* even if you do all of those things, you still may never sell a book. Bless indie publishing because it is a place where you can avoid ever having to improve, but think about what you're putting up there. Think hard. Do you really want your grandma or the mean girls from middle school, or your grandchildren to read that book? Can you handle negative feedback? Can you handle positive feedback without sounding like a total jerk?

Don't get me wrong- I want you to finish your book, but I don't want you to quit 20 pages in and give up a dream you've held your whole life. There is a value in dreaming about someday writing your novel that may be higher than the value in finishing the thing. But don't linger in the middle. It shouldn't take you more than a year or two to finish your first novel. Memoir, sure. Giant historical epic tale, okay. Mystery, sci-fi, romance, whatever novel? Nuhuh. Six months of picking at it a couple hundred words a day here and there should be enough- nine months on the outside.

Being a writer was never a dream for me (I have said this before) it was a career choice. A stupid career choice (well it feels like that right now) because if I had put this much time and effort into something easier I'd be well on my way to being a CEO by now but it's what I chose. And it has been a painful journey full of humbling experiences and very short on triumphs- so far. And I have never been happier. There is, clearly, something wrong with me. But I wouldn't wish this career on anybody.

Okay so you've decided to come to the dark side and continue writing your book even if you don't want to pursue writing as a career. Welcome to the cuckoo club! 

So how do you finish your book? 

One word at a time, my friend, one word at a time. 

Send me an email when it gets too crazy, I'll talk you down or up depending on where you are. We writers need to stick together because very few non writers want to deal with us when we get all writery and we need these people to do things like remind us to put on shoes when we leave the house and pay the electric bill.

Yours,
M.B.




Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Book Recommendations

For whatever reason my library has been either experiencing a run on good books or has over ordered rotten books and there were very few new books that were worth talking about. I hit the stacks and discovered a book I missed last year (it happens) by Rhys Bowen. 

Okay, this is an author who is not only prolific (she writes under many pen names) but tends to produce consistent, quality work. Molly Murphy is an Irish immigrant in early 20th century New York and, no surprise to anyone familiar with my reading preferences, a private detective. I am reading Bless The Bride which, I believe is book number ten in the series but I recommend the entire series and, really, anything else by Bowen (I am especially fond of the Evan Evans books). 

To learn more about Rhys Bowen, her series in general, and the Molly Murphy series in particular, check out her website here.

Also read:

Yeah I have nothing for also read this week. I haven't been reading much (because I have been working much) and don't want to just throw something up here. Although... If you have kids (or enjoy good  sci fi/ fantasy fiction) I highly recommend the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. We stopped shopping in the children's section a long time ago but we will head back there for the latest Artemis Fowl book. Check him out here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Today: Tickling Tonsils With Toenails

Hey howdy blogopeople,

There are some days that just seem to get the better of me from the start.

This was one of those days.

But this blog isn't about my bad days, no, it's about the good ones- the days when writing is more than a goal or a job- the days when writing is something wonderful (or maybe not so wonderful) and I am able to share it with you. 

What else do I personally get out of this blog?

Not much. I get a lot of spam because my readership is low. Sometimes I help people which is nice. 

I catch a lot of flack from, for instance, family members who find my blog "boring" (but read it anyway). 

What don't I get?

I don't get money- any of it. I don't obtain anything material from this blog. Nor do I expect to.

I don't get a feeling of self satisfaction or superiority because I'm writing about writing (although I could use the ego boost damn it). I actually feel nervous about writing advice because I don't want to lead anyone in some weird direction or make him or her feel bad about his or her choices.

Why do I do this then? 

I was a wannabe writer for many more years than I was an actual "I wrote a viable book" writer and I know how easy it can be to be intimidated and feel completely alone in this crazy process. I also spent years and years learning how to be a good writer (and will spend many, many more becoming better) and know what kind of advice is helpful and what isn't. One thing that helped me learn, kept me from going completely around the bend, was reading blog content written by other writers who went through the process before me. Some of the lessons they learned the hard way gave me the opportunity to learn other lessons the hard way. Lessons I can then pass on to you. 

The main thing I get out of this blog is the hope that I will someday help another newbie writer to keep writing- or to finish that first book- not because I want more competition, I have enough of that already, thanks, but because it was an experience that truly changed my life and made it better- finally writing and *finishing* my first book. Reading writing advice from others helped me get there. I'm just paying it forward, yo.

Also I get to complain which is one of my favorite pastimes.

So there it is. Read the blog if you want, or don't read it, (many, many more people don't read it than do) I don't have a stake in it either way.

Until next week (or not as the case may be).

Yours truly,

M.B. 







Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Book Recommendations

Okay this week has been one full of meh books. I tried a few new authors and frankly couldn't make it past page three or so. I did finish one of the books just to see if it improved- it didn't- it was just awful but not awful enough to be interesting. To be fair, I'm deeply involved in editing and it makes reading other books difficult. Since I'm preparing to start a new round of rejections it kind of makes me feel sick to read crappy books; it feels like maybe there's a trick to the getting published thing that has nothing to do with skill or talent. [There are plenty of terrific new books out there but sometimes I pick a batch of losers as was the case this week]

But.

I do have a couple of favorite books that I have been rereading (great books give me hope plus, hello, they're great).

Agatha Christie. Anything by Dame Agatha is great. I'm reading Murder At Hazlemoor  and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd I have an upstairs book and a downstairs book. That's one of the terrific things about Christie- one can read two books at the same time and still find them enjoyable and keep the stories separate- probably because one has read them so many times before. 

And another favorite:

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. This is a beautiful book- well written, funny, thoughtful, and just truly great. Both of my children and I are reading this book at the same time and it works because this is a book that we've all read many times before. I can't recommend this book enough and have certainly recommended it often. Read it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monday Book Recommendations (delayed due to holiday)

Due to the holiday weekend I have delayed this week's recommendations until today, and rather late in the day to boot. Even writers need days off.

This week's book was a request and is different from the usual mystery stuff (it's  science fiction with a strong history element).

I highly recommend Jack McDevitt's Time Travelers Never Die. I had a really hard time getting into the book because McDevitt's writing style is, frankly, off putting but once I was far enough into the book to become absorbed in the story I was hooked. This book has a fantastic premise that overcomes everything else. I'd advise the reader to just sit back and roll with the story because if one tries to make sense of it one will be too frustrated to make it far enough into the story to understand what's going on. I would also just skip the prologue and read it last and, really, you wouldn't miss much if you decided to skip it altogether. But read the book because it really is worth the trouble. Read more about the author here Jack McDevitt

Also read:

Carolyn Haines Bones Of A Feather. I like the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries. They're mysteries but there's so much more going on than the detective stuff that  a non-mystery reader would enjoy the books- especially if the non mystery reader enjoys reading about the south. Haines writes about the Mississippi delta and its culture and incorporates it so well in the books that it really feels like the reader is visiting the area with Sarah Booth and her friends. To learn more about the series, visit the author's website Carolyn Haines 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Draw Me A Map

Heya Blogpeople,


This comes from here
Last week I wrote about ideas and, because some people actually read and were encouraged by the post, this week I'm going to move on to the next phase of writing your next (or first) book.

Okay so you have this great idea and you've put it through its paces. Now what? 

One thing I hear a lot is that people have great ideas then are totally daunted by the thought of writing them out. Hey, I panic before I write anything, I do. Writing can be intimidating (even when it's something you want to do) and the only way to get over that initial burst of panic is to write. A great way to start writing is to begin with an outline.

This outlining stuff is magic that can be adapted and applied to any kind of writing. When I write a research paper I do a thorough outline first and that outline is comprehensive and includes footnotes. When I write a long article, I outline with quotes and sources. When I write a novel I do anything from a detailed outline to a very loose action map because having a workable plan is like 80% of the work. Instead of going from page 1 to page 300 I only have to write from idea 1 to idea 2 to idea 3 etc. 

Best of all, outlining gets the hard work out of the way so that I can enjoy the creative part of writing. I told my son that 80,000 words isn't that much to write because most of the words are and, but, to, the... etc. and you just have to pick the right ones to go in between. Outlining helps free up your mind so that you can pick the best words. Break it down into something that is doable. Like that joke about eating an elephant [how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time- I never said it was a *good* joke]. That's how you finish your novel, one word at a time. 

Okay so you have this great idea and you have resisted the temptation to sit down and start writing until you run out of ideas. Good job! Now what?

Now, sit up straight and take a deep breath. You will probably feel a little pinch.

Either get out a notebook or warm up your PC (or Mac or whatever) and write an outline DON'T SHUT DOWN you knew this was coming, gimme a minute here. Just kind of write a list of things you want to happen in your book. It's cool- you don't have to do the letters and numbers and headings thing. Here's an example:

In which we meet the main characters through some kind of action.

Stuff heats up. Here is a good place for more action and maybe a little drama.

And we get a little foreshadowing here (you know I think this will end this way so let's see where it goes) This scene happens and it is a pivotal point in the storyline.

Here shit starts to go bad. details * I tend to sketch scenes that come to mind in these spaces. They're like little rest areas on the journey that is writing a novel*

And worse. Details.

Oh it's really super bad here. 

And the sun rises and things start to work out

Oops maybe not

But here we go, it is resolving...

Oh no it's really bad now. Shoot, that didn't work

And now we resolve the story and... Boom. The book is done.

Okay that's just an example and, in terms of plot structure, not an ideal example. Again. it isn't a suggestion that you should write your book that way or lay out your outline that way or anything. YOU have to figure out what kind of map or outline works for you. Winging it works when you don't have any skill or knowledge and results, usually, in a hot mess that may take years to clean up. As you learn more about the process of writing and plot structure and all that happy horsecrap, a map of where you want the story to go is important. It helps keep you on track. If you start your first novel with a plan you may save yourself a great deal of time and thwart a good bit of frustration.

This outlining stuff isn't difficult because you do it while the idea is fresh in your mind. It's great actually; as you write the outline thingy these characters become more and more real and the really big scenes start to take shape. It's awesome. 

And do you want to know the very best thing about this map? It is a fluid, constantly changing document. Maybe, while you're writing, a character takes on a little more depth than you had planned or you see a better way to move to your next bit of action. When this happens all you have to do it add it to the map and adjust future events accordingly. Keep referring to the map and changing it. In a way you are an explorer charting new territory. Here be dragons becomes, for instance, Florida which you can now map in detail and describe to your friends.

This map helps you after you're through writing the book too. If you are a super organized person you can write down the page number where certain scenes happen. This way, when you're editing and applying feedback to your editing process, you know exactly where to go. The editing phase of writing is one of deconstruction and your map kind of helps you to either take apart a section without creating further damage or serves as instruction on how to put it back together because ultimately editing results in reconstruction. Maps are very helpful here. 

But, oh subtle one, this strips the art and creativity from the writing process. 

Ah, grasshopper, you have much to learn. Writing is art but it is also a craft and craftspeople have to know how to make something work before they can learn how to make it pretty.

Books that don't work are no fun to read. They just aren't. The human mind craves structure and searches for patterns. If your book is all wibbly-wobbly the poor reader has to work so hard to make connections (patterns) that he is missing the 'art' altogether anyway. Your book is just an explosion of brown goo because nothing makes sense and the brain just mashes it all together into something it understands (every human knows what a pile of brown goo is and what to do with it). 

So now you have an idea and hopefully you have some kind of a map. Next week we'll talk (I'll talk and either you'll listen or you won't) about the process of actually sitting your butt in the chair and writing your next book. 

Have a terrific week, blogpeople. 
M.B.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Book Recommendations

This feels decidedly odd- writing recommendations here- but, well, here we go.

Janet Evanovich's Wicked Business was excellent. I hate to give more publicity to someone that does not need it but she has managed to make a more intelligent, possibly even vaguely educational, but still funny and fast paced, series and this book was by far the best. Read more about it here.

Just a note on Evanovitch's better known Stephanie Plum series- I like it, it's the literary equivalent of Doritos and makes me happy. But, just like Doritos are a sometimes food, so is that series. It is the same freaking book over and over again but each book is different enough so that you don't feel like you've already read it, usually. I think she lost momentum at about book 10 but she picked it back up again for the last one. I recommend it too, but read in moderation. 

Also read:

Final Sail by Elaine Viets. This series, The Dead End Job Mysteries, is entertaining. Viets has an engaging writing style and an interesting premise. To me the best aspect of this series is that her protagonist, Helen, works in the low end jobs that authors rarely talk about in detail. It's a little like Dirty Jobs for the pink collar set. In this book Helen is essentially a maid (she has some other title) on a luxury yacht. Oh but it's just a cover because she is, of course, also a PI (although the PI gig is new. In the earlier books of the series she had to work the dead end jobs to survive, well she chose to work them. Read the books to find out why). You may learn more about this book (and the series) here.

Until next time,  
M.B.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What('s) A Great Idea!(?)

Heya blogpeople,

The world is back in some kind of order and I find myself coming up with all kids of wonderful new book ideas. 

"Hey, wait don't run away, listen. I just had a great idea for a new book. Here read my preliminary outline!" I say to the first person to walk past my desk.

"Uh, do I have to?"

"Yeah. Let me pull it up for you." 

I'm so impressed with this idea that I get goosebumps just seeing it all splatted out on the page like that. I hover over the unfortunate reader watching her arms to see if she gets goosebumps too.

 "So, what do you think?" I ask after what feels like an eternity.

"Well it's a little dark."

"Is that bad?"

"No but it also feels," and then she pauses and moves the chair away a bit,"a little familiar"

"What are you talking about? I just came up with this idea today." And, hello, it's brilliant.

"But it just feels like I've read something like it before."

"Well I've read thousands of books, maybe a million [I adore hyperbole], and I haven't read anything like this."

"It just seems cliche, that's all. I'm sure it's a great idea. Can I go now?"

And I wait and catch another person, this time my highly sarcastic teenage son, who impatiently listens to my pitch and doesn't even let me finish before he sends down his verdict.

"Forget it, it's a stupid idea. You might as well write about sparkly vampires."


Huh. My goosebumps are gone and, in the harsh light that only a loved one can throw on the creative process, my idea doesn't look so great. But, damn it, it was a great idea and, damn it, I can write the heck out of that book. Bah humbug. Teenagers.

But that beautiful idea will never shine so brightly again. My problem, I assured myself, was that I showed it too early. It's like judging a beauty contest by looking at x-rays. Yeah, my idea is fine, just they don't get my vision.

Okay maybe, now that I think about it, the idea isn't super fresh but neither is great wine, right? And maybe other authors have sort of covered the basic premise but  I have something new to say about it. Harry Potter. Now, JK didn't come up with anything super fresh there. Anyone who has read YA fantasy can see where some of her ideas came from but she put them together in a beautiful and utterly unique way and she did all right for herself, no?

But I'm not pitching something that fabulous. My book idea is about sad things and displacement and the search for meaning. But it'll be humorous as well. No really, okay maybe a tad dark, but I have some really funny scenes listed out. Look!

"Um, do you seriously think a guy, what's this here? A soldier is going to use his last breath to tell a joke where a priest, a rabbi, and an atheist walk into a bar? That's not just unrealistic, it's tacky."

"But then he's going to..." I sputter but am interrupted.

"Forget it, Mom, you're better than that."

And what do you do with a statement like that? Argue that you still think it's a great idea? Get all stubborn about it? Because, now that I think about it, a soldier probably wouldn't waste his last breath on a joke about the afterlife. Not even if he was dying of a brain tumor (my book idea was sooooo tragic).


Honestly, I knew my idea wasn't going to go the distance but really, really wanted it to because I could see the whole thing right from the beginning to the end like a movie almost. My hope was that someone would read it and say "wow, you have got to write this! I want to know what happens to this guy." It loses its appeal when the pitchee can already tell you where the story is going. Bah.

Not all ideas are great ideas. Sometimes writers discover this early on and sometimes it isn't until we've written 25 pages then can't go any further. Or worse, we've written 85,000 words and can't sell the damned thing.

I have a terrible problem in that I sometimes (often) have about a hundred good ideas a day and it takes a lot of filtering to narrow them down into ideas that may work for a short story, or ideas that will pan out into novels, or even a series. Heck I forget most of them before I even get a chance to write them down. Usually I'm good at deciding what will and will not be worth spending energy on but once in a while I get carried away with a real stinker. 

This is all part of the creative process. A writer has to understand that not every idea she or he has is all that great (most of them probably suck). If we want to continue living with people for any length of time we really have to learn how to filter these ideas on our own. 

So how do you tell if you have an idea that will- seriously this is how I think of it- grow feet?

I come up with a one or two sentence pitch (hook) like I do when I'm writing query letters. This one was something like You know how they say there are no atheists in foxholes? Joe would tell you that they're not just wrong- they're dead wrong. Or something. My idea wasn't really that dumb- that's just an example and, also, I call it (y'know just in case). If that passes the light-of-the-monitor test (like the light of day test only for basement dwellers) I then write out a basic outline. It's kind of like an action map maybe- it's very loose and sketchy. If I think of a great line (or, usually, a joke) I write it in. Then I let it sit for a bit before I go back and look at it again. If it still looks good I sit down and start writing until it gets difficult.* Then I take a hard look at what I've written to this point and decide if it's really worth finishing.

I know, writers write and should always finish their shit. BUT.

I already know that I can write a whole book. I am well aware that not all of my ideas should go the distance even though I also know I could force them there. For me, the way I write and how I think, two, maybe possibly three full length novels a year is the most that I can do right now. So far I have managed one every two years but that's because I took two years off to fix the first book. And that's also why I've adopted this method of ruling out ideas.

It's so much easier to write a book correctly the first time than it is to go back and fix it later. Editing must happen- that's not what I'm talking about. It's very difficult to chip your book apart and put it back together again and, often, not really worth the time (with my latest MS I actually left spaces for expansion on purpose. Finishing that book was my highest priority and I knew I'd have to work on certain plot elements a lot in the next draft) and, all this being said, I would argue that it would be better to work the idea out on paper (outline, action map, plot structure map- whatever makes you happy) first and thoroughly  because fixing weirdness at that stage is the easiest option. My next book is going to be so well outlined that I could write an index from it if, you know, fiction used indexes.

Or you could work super hard on your hubris levels. Just pump your ego full enough and every idea is a great idea and every book is a worthy book. Why are you even reading this? You should be writing your own post!

But you should also write what's in you to write. Maybe, for your first novel, just finishing anything is the way to go. It's easy to suck the hubris out of yourself to a level where finishing an entire novel seems impossible. Understand that it gets tough in the middle, that's normal. Writing is work and sometimes it feels like it and sometimes it doesn't. Write the book, go through the process of trying to edit it and find an agent, and use the time between novels to work on becoming better (or write novel after novel until you get it right). It really is something of a numbers game (oh how I hate that saying) in that you have to spend enough time just doing before you can understand what it means to do it well. Me, I would rather spend a lot of time vetting ideas than fixing completed novels. But maybe that's because I'm in the icky stages of preparing a major rewrite. 

A really good idea is an essential first step in the writing process. It is so much better to test the quality of your idea before you move on to the bazillion hours it takes to write, edit, and probably rewrite, a book. If you find yourself defending your idea (especially if mostly you're trying to convince yourself that it's good) then you should write it down and let is marinate for a while. When you come back it'll either be ready or show itself for the stinker it is. Even if it stinks it's all good, don't worry about it. You'll have more ideas.

Have a great week,
M.B.


* Most books have a point, usually about 20 pages in but it's different for every book and every writer, where writing starts to feel a lot like work. Hard work. Pushing a boulder up a mountain work. Then the next umpteen pages can be like pulling teeth until you catch your second wind. The middle is the most difficult part of writing for me and, from what I understand, for a lot of writers. Pushing through is very difficult and, in fact, impossible if you don't have a great idea, a plan, and the skill to get you to the end (oh and the ending has to be logical and consistent with the book which isn't as easy in practice as in theory.)









Monday, August 20, 2012

Change Can Be Good- No Really I'm Serious

Okay so the kids are back in school and my work week is back to normal. While my life was all disrupted and loud I escaped to my happy place and thought about different changes that need to be made to this blog, my Facebook page, and etc.

The most major change will occur when I start writing my Monday book recommendations in this space rather than on my Facebook page. What does this mean to you few loyal blog readers? 


Not much. There will be a post on Monday and it will consist of one or two book recommendations. Not reviews exactly but books I have read and want to talk about. Thursday navel gazing will continue as usual (a post will appear either Wednesday or Thursday).

Why not just write reviews?

In a way, of course, recommendations are reviews. I'd like to speak honestly about the books I read but I don't want to talk about books I didn't like. Reviews are more broad than recommendations. 

Usually, for every two books I recommend, I read four or five- although lately I've been reading the first four to fifty pages of four or five books- I have had a very low tolerance for crap and not much time to read. Unless a book really upsets me I will not bother talking about it if I don't like it (mostly because I won't recommend books I haven't finished).

So, let's talk about genre.

I read anything that interests me and nothing that disturbs me because I get my fill of disturbing from the news (I am a news addict) and certain shows on reality TV (Honey Boo Boo). When I read, my imagination is very good at turning the words into images and I don't like being grossed out (when I watch TV I'm usually doing something else like knitting or making origami cats and I don't watch it as much as listen to it so it isn't too bad). I don't like being scared (although I do enjoy suspense and action novels) because a really super scary book can give me nightmares for years. I will not read books that portray women as weak little babies who need to be protected. I will not read books where the exploitation of children or animals is central to the plot (or contains graphic descriptions of same- I'm not cool with that kind of thing). 

For the most part I will not recommend indie published novels because I don't read them. I will not read them (although I do read the occasional non fiction indie book). I also do not read unpublished manuscripts (with very few exceptions) because my world has become a sad and picky place. I have to constantly evaluate the worth of my own work and it carries to everything I read. Nuff said. I'm not snotty enough to be pedantic but when I see more mistakes than interesting text I have to stop reading. 

Whew. So anyway. Next Monday you will find a shortish post that contains a couple of book recommendations. Do you have a book that you'd like me to talk about? Shoot me a message and I'll read it and see what I can do. 

Have a great day.

M.B.