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).


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.