Monday, December 29, 2014

Writer's Procrastination

December twenty-ninth.

The last time I worked on anything was December eighth...when I edited the first half or so of my fifteen page memoir piece, London. I left off right before recreating a conversation with an abusive boyfriend, and I planned on writing it today. But, as I face the page, I just really don't wanna!

All month, when I come to my "office" to write, I first take care of business. Which is great - needs to be done - massage clients notes, billing, budget updating, newsletter writing, social media posting (the biggest time drain of all, amirite?) etc. By the time I've cleared all that, I usually don't have enough time to really get into writing or editing anything creative. Not good news!

Rather than sit here and tell you all the ways I have mastered the art of procrastination, I am going to take a look at some possible reasons WHY I have been putting off the thing that I love. Perhaps, you will see yourself in some of these? Let me know in the comments.

  1. I don't wanna. It is not fun to dredge up the past, which is pretty much a requirement for memoir writing. At the point I am at, now, I need to recreate a conversation. It was a pleasant conversation, about getting to know a new boyfriend, before he went all evil on me. I just...cringe at the thought of getting back into that headspace, even though it was like twenty-five years ago. I am going to have to, eventually, if I want to finish this piece, which I do. I really do. So, I must let that be my motivation, I think. 
  2. New draft. "Hey, how's that novel?" excited friends ask. "I have to start the sixth draft," I've been saying for the past six or seven months. But, I still haven't started it. It's not even that high a number - six - I am sure most published novels hit ten, twelve, twenty drafts before they are "done," but I am still dreading the work. But, I am also excited about it, so why the delay, self? I have ideas to implement, a waiting editor to help with revisions, yet I procrastinate, still.
  3. I have other, newer ideas... I have promised myself to begin other projects AFTER I have finished the ones on my plate. It's like veggies before dessert, right? Especially since that has been my tendency forever - abandon one project to start the shiny new one. I have been great at working past that the past few years, but I seem to be stalling,
  4. Writing is hard. Sure, I love it. I am a creative, expressive person that thrives under pressure and needs an outlet. My head is constantly filled with ideas, what if's, and quirky characters to play with. But, let's face it, writing isn't easy. If it was, everyone would do it, the saying goes. Sometimes, I am at a loss, halfway through, as to what the hell is going on or where the story is headed. Sometimes, that part comes pretty easily, but then I struggle with editing. Killing off characters, clarifying character motivation, deleting scenes that don't forward the plot... and, in memoir, it is a completely different kind of hard. I have to re-inhabit the person I was in the past; re-identify with my younger self's  perspective, beliefs, experience, and expectations. I am essentially time-travelling to be with the people that hurt me, the people and events that changed me, and made me who I am today. Rewarding, yes, but not easy. I've always had difficulty with emotions, which is one of the reasons I have incorporated memoir into my writing life, to help me connect and relate and convey those emotions that we all experience in life. But, it ain't easy being green. 
  5. I don't manage my time well. I live the way I want, for the most part, on my own schedule, but since I don't think I'm ever gonna get that Magic Stopwatch I want, I would really like to reorganize my time more efficiently. For instance, I generally go to bed around 5 or 6 am. I sleep until I have to get up for work or some other appointment - it may be ten-thirty, it may be one pm, it might not be until four. I get up, go do whatever it is I need to do, grab dinner and come home. My husband goes to bed early, so we may have an hour to eat and watch TV, or he may already be in bed when I get home, depending on the day. My schedule varies. I value my alone time - from nine or ten at night until I go to sleep - and usually watch NetFlix/TV, read books, interact on social media, play word games on my phone, take baths, meditate, go for midnight walks when the weather allows, etc. etc. It is important to have that down time, which isn't always down, since I do a lot of inner work and brainstorming at night. But I don't write at night much anymore, since I don't have a good physical set up for it, and the cats want to occupy my lap incessantly. I am considering getting a new desk.

    Through years of NaNoWriMo, I have developed a pretty good routine for regular writing. I can do it in twenty-minute bursts, though I prefer ninety or one-twenty, and I always have my laptop with me. 
What about you? How do you put off writing and editing? Or do you? Do you know why? Please share your experiences... and any tips!

Monday, December 22, 2014

2015 New Year's Resolutions

Yep, it's that time, again. Hard to believe the past twelve months have just flown by... bring on 2015!

This year, I dropped a part-time massage job of fourteen years, so that my income comes solely from my private practice of massage therapy, and I have more time to rest and work on writing. That was the biggest change for me. I have continued to do my personal growth work, and have reached out to many of my friends to work harder to maintain those connections. I've made some effort at keeping up with regular exercise, but not to the desired level or effect. I've rewritten my zombie novel twice, but still need to do more. I've begun the work of memoir writing, which has been challenging and rewarding. 

Here is my plan for 2015. It starts with my writing goals, then spans the rest of my life.
  1. Write that sixth draft of HISMZA. Get it out there!
  2. Continue writing the memoir essays. 
  3. Get the London piece published.
  4. Enter the NYC Midnight contest.
  5. Enter the PNWA contest.
  6. Consider my goals and expectations around my author identity. 
  7. Learn how to properly use Scrivener.
  8. Continue to work towards an organized home, with focus on that Spare Room.
  9. Regular exercise - carried over from 2014, lose .5 - 2 lbs per week. 
  10. Research investments and begin a plan for retirement.
  11. Increase my PIP claim clients to four per month, with a goal of six per month.
  12. Become an L&I Provider.
  13. Take care of lapsed health issues. 
  14. Clear my old netbook of my stuff and give it to my friend that wants it.
  15. Go to Paris in May.
  16. Read 40 books.
  17. Get new tires.
Okay, that last one should be done now, but it's not going to be. January, for sure!

How Did I Do? 2014 Resolutions

Last January, I posted the following resolutions for the year. Here's the outcome:

  1. Finish Fourth (and hopefully final?) Draft of HISMZA novel.
    Check. Did fifth draft, too.
  2. Finish First Draft of "The Sound of Sorrow's Sleep" novel.
  3. Compete in NYCMidnight's Short Story Competition (already entered!).
    Check. Made First Round Honorable Mentions.
  4. Compete in at least one other contest (probably Lorian Hemingway's, again. Also Seattle Crypticon, and PNWA contests).
    Check. Entered three for PNWA. (Didn't place.)
  5. Read 30 books, at least six of which have come out in 2014 (I've realized that I am way behind on my reading list and rarely read anything current!).
    Check...although, I think I only read 1 or 2 2013 publications. I read 37 books, total!
Just for kicks, here are some of my non-writing goals for 2014:

  1. Organize cluttered home and Spare Room. (A carry-over for years, sadly...)
    Did some work on it, but still have to carry it over into the new year. Sigh...
  2. Take at least two dance/exercise classes per week (Already signed up for Bar Method on Fridays and Punk Rock Aerobics on Tuesdays, and have been to each).
    No...I gave this up due to a change in my work situation. 
  3. Use my FitBit to track sleep and steps. Improve regular sleeping patterns... Sleep 1am/2am - 9am/10am! Hit 10K steps at least 3 times a week. Lose .5 - 2 lbs. per week/25 lbs. per year.
    Well...I did use my FitBit to track stuff. I walked regularly for most of the year, but failed to lose the weight.
  4. Work on Alternative Business Women's Association idea.
    Yeah... I put this one on hold, as well, because of my work changes.
  5. Help Veronica buy the property and increase profits for Standing Stone Healing & Arts.
    This became a moot point. 
  6. Maintain friendships: Contact at least one friend per month that I haven't been in touch with regularly.
    I tried to keep up on this one, pretty well. Didn't track it, but made efforts to keep in touch.
  7. Travel to Tampa, Florida, to visit Mom & Dad's new home.
    Yup! Florida was great. 
  8. Travel to Tokyo, if possible. Or Paris, France. It's been way too long for each of them.
    Nope, this one didn't happen.
  9. Continue brushing up on language skills: Use apps for Japanese, Italian, and French. Find a class or group to join to increase skills.
    Meh...not so much.
  10. Get new laptop! Probably MS Surface.
    Yes, ha! Got a MS Surface Pro as a gift, so, done!
  11. Continue my work on my financial life and plan.
    Yes! Definitely did a ton of work in this area. On track!
  12. Increase my massage therapy work in PIP claims (car accident clients).
    Yes, I did. I kept the two PIP claims a month that I set out to have.
Okay, so 9 out of 17, with 2 halfways...not too bad!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 - After the Fact

There are always excuses for not writing enough, and I love the impetus that NaNoWriMo gives me every year to push past them - the online community, the word count update bar, the graphs, the word sprints, the friendly competition, the momentum that lives in the ether from millions of participants writing around the clock.... all great stuff.

This year, these were the obstacles I faced, in hitting my daily word count:

  1. Got a new computer (yay) as a gift, on OCTOBER 30th. Had to figure out a new OS, install a ton of lengthy updates to bring the thing up to current par, re-install programs, files, etc. Spent several sessions at the Microsoft Store resolving issues. 
  2. Got a new word program. I bought Scrivener! I didn't realize I could have saved half the price with a NaNo discount - derp. I like it! But, I'm still figuring out how to use it properly, LOL. I spent a lot of time looking for files and figuring things out. After a week, I gave up (temporarily) and installed my old Atlantis program to finish the NaNo project with. 
  3. Work.  This isn't much of an excuse, there's always work, but I seemed particularly bogged down with details at work this month. My client load was up and down, but there was a ton of paperwork and stuff, throughout the month.
  4. Social obligations. Again, nothing to complain about, but it ate up some writing time. Had a friend in from out of town for a performance, so I went to her concert and the dinner party the following day, as well. Had some other things come up, too; some fun, some helping others, all during writing time blocks.
That said, I did hit the Halfway Mark on Saturday, Nov 29th. And I am good with that. 

I thought about cranking out twelve hours of writing on Sunday the 30th to get to 50,000, but decided I just didn't want to. I might spend all day trying, not hit it anyway, and feel worse. Instead, I took a client before her Monday trip out of town and made some money. Then I worked on a different project I've had on the burner and finished a good section of that. Then I did some other budget stuff and things I needed to get done, so the day felt productive. 

So, I didn't "win" the goodies at NaNoWriMo, but I have 25,000 words of a story that I didn't have last month. I can work with that.

How about anyone else? Did you participate? How'd you do? 

A Conservative Fly in the Ointment, Part 2

Several months ago, I posted about a member that was causing quite a stir within my writer's group. (Read that post here) I worried over how to deal with it without causing harm to my personal ideals, the members of my group, and the 'offender', himself.

Then, he didn't come for many months, so I never approached him about the issues, beyond what had been said in the group at the time of his last reading.

Recently, he informed me that he was out of town through the winter, which leads me to believe he plans to return to the group. So, I sent him the following message:

"Hope you are having a good trip - out of the country, you say? Exciting! 

I have to let you know, the writers group is definitely interested in reviewing CREATIVE writing of all kinds, but every time there has been a member bringing more political writing, the response has been frustrating. We cannot spend time debating political and religious content of these kinds of pieces (not just yours, there was also a liberal non-fic writer who has brought pieces in the past, although I must admit the two of you are the rare exceptions to the type of writing we usually critique). It's nothing personal, and I wish you luck with your work, but for future meetups, please only bring creative writing - this includes fiction, narrative non-fiction, poetry, screenplays, etc. 

Perhaps there is a political debate group that might suit your needs? Or possibly you could find people within the Toastmasters organization to meet with for help with hashing out ideas and writing critique? 

I appreciate your participation in the group, and wish you the best. I hope there are no hard feelings, and if you do write something in the creative style, please come join us."

I know, some members would like to just never have in the group again, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable expelling him. If he should write something that fits with the very broad spectrum of our focus on writing, he should be able to attend, in my opinion. Then again, there's the whole comfort-level issue of the other members....

It's not like my group is a closed group. It is open, and we have new people come and go all the time, in addition to regular attendees. Even the regulars - the core group - changes from year to year, slowly morphing with add-ins and drop-offs.

It's not easy being in charge, LOL. But I wanted to post the update, and say that I did step up and address it.

Thoughts are welcome!

Friday, November 21, 2014

NaNoWrimo 2014

Can you believe it's already the third week of November? Next week is Thanksgiving, then before you know it, boom- 2015.

But, first...NaNoWriMo. This is my eighth year, and I'm so very behind! For those who don't know, NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth ( is an international personal challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I've done it twice. Even the ones I completed, got all muddled in the middle, and had tons to edit later. Still, it is just the push I need to get CFD (Crappy First Draft) done. I thrive in the ether of millions of writers being productive, updating word counts, and joining prompts and sprints.

So, this year's novel, Age of Immortality: Satan's Daughter (working title), is just over the 15,000 word mark, which is less than half the number I should be at, if I were keeping to the 1,167 word-per-day routine.

But, not to fear. There are whole days ahead where I can do quadruple numbers in long sessions. I wrote over 3200 yesterday. I can keep at it. Never mind that I have no idea what the heck my MC is doing. She's showing up in Nova Scotia, talking to some old guy that must be important to the story, yet I don't know how, yet.

Ah, NaNoWriMo.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Working Writer Update

Well, let's see... I was on vacation for the second half of September and didn't crack open the laptop once. Been back for three weeks, but haven't gotten back into the swing of things yet... But, at least, I finished editing a book for another writer! Wanted to get it done before my trip, but still had the last four chapters to go. Did them today- yay!

Tomorrow, I will work on something of mine. Either starting that novel Draft Six, or rework some short pieces waiting for revision. Although...

We are essentially one week away from the start of NanoWriMo! I plan to loosely outline at least two story ideas I have. They are both based on dreams I've had. And, then, at some point, I must get back to that rough first draft from last year's NaNoWriMo... So much to do!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Writer's Paradise? Ghosts, Cats, Sunsets, And Art in Key West and Florida

I spent the past two weeks in Florida. My parents moved into a house in Sun City Center, just south of Tampa, and we all took a trip to Key West, too. The weather was hot, humid, and rainy. Wonderful thunderstorms, and not TOO hot and humid... just way more than I'm used to, anymore. I brought my laptop, but, I must admit, it sat, unopened, in my suitcase the entire time I was gone. Must get back into the swing of things, now, which is fine, since Seattle is at the tail end of summer, and we will be moving towards colder, wetter weather, which is perfect for writing.

A few highlights:

The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg was amazing. 17 of his 18 masterworks, housed in a three-year-old building made of geometric glass panels and a central spiral staircase, surrounded by the "Avant Garden" which has a labyrinth, mathemateical pathways, a bench with a melting clock draped over it, a twenty-some-foot long metal moustache, and a wishing tree. We spent the day there, and I got a T-shirt with the image of "Hallucinogenic Toreador" on it. I can't wait to go back.

The Asa Tift/Ernest Hemingway House in Key West was also a place I could've spent the entire day, but didn't.Nearly sixty cats, half of which are polydactyl and all of which are descended from Hemingway's cat Snowball, roam the grounds freely. You can roam the house, the grounds, and the carriage house writing studio on your own, and/or take a guided tour. We did both, ending in the gift shop, which sells a lot of books, souvenirs, t-shirts, and postcards. My husband managed to capture a photo of a lady ghost in one of the rooms! I forgot my phone at the hotel, so I didn't even have a chance to try for that. But the spirits are active, there, as they are all over Key West.

The Key West Cemetery was one such active place. We took a walk there one morning and had the place practically to ourselves. Very cool grave sites and a variety of ghosts. And most surprising of all> Iguanas! We saw a huge iguana (maybe eight feet long, tip to tail) and it's family of five scurry beneath a crypt. We managed to catch another, smaller, greener iguana posing atop another crypt (most of the graves are above ground, due to the hard, undiggable rock beneath) for photos.

We did take a Ghost Trolley Tour, as well, one night, and got to "meet" Robert the Doll - a famous cursed/possessed/haunted doll made by a fired Haitian nanny for a child Eugene Otto. It was neat that they gave us EMF detectors, but of course, no one picked anything up.

We swam in the gulf, which was lovely, salty, calm, and warm. The Atlantic side was murkier, and I have no idea what I was walking on- sponges?- and quickly turned around through the seaweed. I felt my left hand graze something rubbery, and looked down to find a twelve-inch Portuguese Man of War jellyfish floating right next to me! Yep, back to the gulf side waters for me!

St. Petersburg looked to be a cute historic district with lots of restaurants and shops and galleries that I look forward to exploring at another time. It reminded me a bit of Venice Beach, in California. We ate some great seafood in all places we went, and had Cuban bread, sandwiches, and cafe con leche in Key West. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't Touch My Junk! (Junk as a euphemism)

I was having a conversation today, with a colleague, that broached several topics. One thing I noticed, though, is that we are both people who like to take things apart and figure them out, although our perspectives are different. It might be germane to note that we are both massage therapists, though, and as such, are prone to such viewpoints and methods of thought. She commented on a few words that I used, that she was curious about, like "junk"- as in, "The circus juggler in the leotard stood on Homer Simpson's seat armrests, waving his junk in Homer's face."

"How did 'junk' become a euphemism for male genitalia?" she asked me. "I just learned about that recently, from my sister who teaches in a high school," she said. 

Obviously, other than being a name for Chinese boat, most people recognize 'junk' as something worthless, of no value, refuse or garbage. Well, that couldn't be where the slang meaning derived from, since our male-dominated culture and language makers most certainly would not see their crotch-meat that way. A little internet research yielded surprising results: According to author and lexicographer Grant Barrett, the first known us of 'junk' in this way appeared in a 1986 story set in gay culture called "Buddies" written by Ethan Mordden. In it, one character threatens to drag another outside and "kick your junk in."* Apparently, a decade later the term showed up again on an internet message board about wrestling. not long after, it was popping up all over the web, and even network television sit-coms. Ripe for punchlines, it has since gained mainstream appeal in its usage. Take a Jay Leno joke, for instance: "Did you hear the TSA's latest slogan? 'We handle more junk than e-Bay.'"

I don't remember when I first heard it, or used it, to be honest. But it seems to be commonly questioned, according to my perusal of message boards. Maybe it is not as foreign a term to me because of my heavy consumption of television and comedy, in particular. "Junk...junk. junk..." it ends in a 'K'- the funniest letter sound in the alphabet. The word is short, punchy, and Anglo-Saxon sounding, which, indeed, it is, since the word in its original meaning (an inferior rope) is less than two-hundred years old (late Middle English). So many other slang words for the male genitalia are embarrassing or unwieldy to say: "peee-nis", "crotch" (or my own coined word, "crotch-meat"), "manhood", "wedding tackle", "bits 'n' pieces", "twig and berries", etc. Many, many others are incomplete, referring to only the penis or the scrotum, and not the set. I think, even when heard for the first time, any native English speaker can quickly derive the meaning of the word 'junk'.  Some of those listed are too obscure to be understood, and also include others like "crown jewels". Although, obfuscation is, or was, the intent in the first place for most slang, anyway.

My various friends and I seem to choose to say 'junk' regularly. For instance, a friend of mine was recently in the second row to see Neil Patrick Harris in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. "Neil Patrick Harris was shaking his junk in the face of the guy sitting right nest to me!" she gushed. 

Junk is a random word choice for investigation; as my colleague and I discussed many things and had many moments of "stop-and-wonder". But, since I am such a purveyor of pop-culture, and a major linguaphile, born with what some might call a "gutter-mind", I decided to write about junk. Gives a hole new meaning to certain phrases, like "junk jewelry", "junk mail", and even "junk in the trunk" (which is a whole 'nother thing, that I'm not talking about today. Ore probably ever).


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Labor Union Day Writing

So, my friend from NYC has been visiting me for a week. I took off from work to spend time with her, and we had a lot of fun. After dropping her off at the airport, I went out for breakfast and am now at my office (Starbucks) to get back in the groove of writing. It feels weird to have not done it for a week! Plus, I'll be visiting my parents in Florida in two weeks, so I will probably not get much done the second half of this month, either.

My plan is to get a new draft (number six) of the zombie novel done and submitted to a list of agents, and polish up some shorter personal essays to submit for publication. I also still have three manuscripts from other writers to edit, so I will be busy.

It turned out to be a beautiful day today, too, so I am sacrificing the last of the summer sun to get back on track!

While my friend Lindsay was here, we toured the city. On Saturday, we saw a live in-store show of a SC band called Shovels and Rope, that we both like, at Sonic Boom in Ballard. We both shopped the hell out of that place, too. I got that high that I haven't had in years, because I try not to overspend and tend to keep my record store visits to a minimum. But, man...finding some great tribute albums (To Buddy Holly and Jimi Hendrix), the Live at KEXP Volume 1 (One!), and a few other used and new items really gave me an adrenaline rush. After lunch (dinner?) at the People's Pub, we hit Fremont. A stop at the Troll, then onto Jive Time, where we endured a heavily perfumed Japanese jazz afiicionado on a serious mission and the sounds of hippie jam bands to score some sweet vinyl and CDs of our own. Another sweep of adrenaline ran through y body, and I rode the wave for hours. It's like being a gambler in a casino- and the record store owner agreed with me; he said he'd often thought to compare the life of a record collector with that of a gambler. And, I'm still regretting not picking up that Suzi Quattro 45...

Another bucket list item I get to start checking off is to read the 33 1/3 books. For ten years, I've been eyeing them, with a mind towards writing one or two eventually, myself. I bought #10 Sign O' The Times (Prince) by Michaelangelo Matos, #56 Master of Reality (Black Sabbath) by John Darnielle, and #85 Dummy (Portishead) by RJ Wheaton. I'm halfway through reading the Prince one. This guy and must share genes - obsessive about trivia and music, I love it. Looking forward to reading more.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A "Conservative" Fly in the Liberal Writer's Group Ointment

I've been struggling with a serious issue in my writers group. There is a man who has been coming for about a month, who introduced himself as a conservative Christian. He is retired. He brought a letter to his church, asking them to become more involved in the politics of their community, namely to speak out against marriage equality. I asked everyone to focus on the writing itself in their feedback, and not the content. Many people were upset, and did not participate, a few of us told him where he went off point, and it wandered.

The next week, he brought an essay meant to be read as a speech, entitled "Religious Freedom is Under Attack." Once again, we were split in our reception, and managed to address the most glaring of problems, in his inability to maintain support for his opening statement. The writing itself isn't bad, but focus seems to be an issue. And, of course, the topic.

Our group is a large one, and there are usually about twelve to fifteen in the room at any given meetup. Many people come back again and again, others come only when they are working on something or need inspiration, and some drop in here and there. While the majority of us are white, we also have members who are Asian, black, hispanic, and others. the gender ratio runs M-F 50%/50% to 80%/20%, depending on the evening. We have several transgender members. We are open to all kinds of writing - fiction, non-fiction, essays, memoir, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, genre, literary fiction, childrens' books, poetry, screenplays, etc. I feel it is important to be exposed to all kinds of writing, and to people of all walks of life, and I do not believe in censorship. We are all adults, and it is no one's responsibility to 'not offend' someone. Yet, there is hate speech, and it's also not fair to force other members to listen to it. The question is, is this hate speech?

This man asked me if it was okay to bring a controversial piece the following week. I told him that everything he had brought had been controversial. It was a legislative proposal concerning abortion rights. I told him that I didn't know how to write legislative proposals, nor did I think anyone else did, in the group, but it was up to him.

He brought it, and was ridiculous. He was proposing a legal requirement for a contract between two (hetero) people having sex, to establish ownership of any ensuing fetus. Yep, you read that right. I'm not even going to go into all the ways this is completely absurd, but I do feel the need to point out that the crux of his argument was to protect men from having to financially support their offspring. Suffice it to say, we were all at a loss for feedback. One member, thank the stars, eloquently explained that he felt that the writer wanted us to engage in debate on the topic, and none of us wante3d to do that. The writing is good, but the content is what-the-hell. We discussed it, except for one member who stormed off in a rage (she came back" and the writer said he liked our group for that reason. He couldn't get useful feedback from those who already thought like he did, so he wanted to see what we thought about it.

The best part was, he read this proposal directly after another member shared a story of domestic violence, pregnancy, and abortion. Perfect timing, but not sure if it had any effect on this writer.

This CC writer usually has good feedback for other members, and seems to participate fully, without pushing his agenda on other writers's work. He seems respectful, although a few people have felt otherwise and labeled him a troll. I certainly do not agree with anything he has said in his work, but I believe he has a right to say it. The next question is: Does he have the right to say it in our group?

I want to uphold my ethics, when it comes to free speech, individual rights, and self-expression, but I don't want to listen to any more of it, either. I certainly don't want to sacrifice the group for this one writer. I'm thinking I should amend the openness policy to include all forms of fiction and creative non-fiction... but do his essays and speeches fall into CNF? It's been a struggle, and a hard call. I hate how much time I've spent thinking about it and talking about it. There is no way we can address these topics in the twenty-minute time period allotted to each writer, and frankly, I don't want to. But a part of me can't help feeling that he must've come into our midst for some reason... whether it's for him to learn from us, or us to learn how to deal with him, or what, I don't know.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

PNWA Conference 2014

It's been a few weeks since the conference, and I have been wanting to write a report about it. I took copious notes, from some great workshops like "Creating Tension and Suspense" with Robert Dugoni, "Unlocking Character Motivation" with Lindsay Schopfer, and "A Moment in Time: Focusing on the Historical Novel" with Candace Robb (A.K.A.Emma Campion).


Being the night owl that I am, I made myself go to bed very early, and was up at 5:30 am, before the alarm even went off. I read in the bathtub, had breakfast, made coffee, and arrived at the Hilton just after 8. I was planning on attending the Agents & Editors Panel, where they introduce themselves, at 8:30 and 10:00. Turns out, that happens on FRIDAY, not Thursday. Well, at least I was early!

The elevator doors opened to the conference floor at 8:14, and I was immediately greeted by a wonderful young writer that I met last year, Halie Fewkes. Halie was a 1st place winner in the PNWA contest in 2013, and now was represented by Katie Reed, with the Andrea Hurst Agency. She had a posse of other writers with her, some returning PNWA attendees, and some who'd become friends at the New York Pitchfest earlier in the year. This little group of writers spanned ages from twenty to fifty, and covered literary fiction, memoir, young adult, new adult, romance, women's fiction, horror (that's me!), and more.

Throughout the conference, I was greeted by many returning writers that I met previously. I had maintained only a handful of connections online, but it was seriously like a big reunion, anyway.

The first event was the Author Success Stories, where PNWA attendees shared their paths to publishing. Lunch break was a packed sammie for me, among a small group of writers sharing tales of writing. Then, off to the Pitch Practice room, for several hours, where dozens of us read our book pitches and gave each other feedback. I was pitching the same novel as the previous year, which is still on the market. I wanted to pitch my new stuff, but it's nowhere near ready, so I stuck with the novel. I planned to change up the pitch, but feedback was that last year's pitch was good, so I quickly re-memorized that.

I forgot that dinner was not included on the first night, only dessert, so I headed over to the hotel restaurant for an expensive dinner and drinks. It was okay. At least I was with friends - two writers I had met last year, Noelle Salazar and Jamie Pacton. It was great catching up and getting to know each other better.

The keynote speaker that night was James Rollins. I have not read anything by him, but he was a very engaging speaker. He shared stories from his childhood, including the tale of how he kept an ongoing prank on his younger brother going that involved a ventriloquist's dummy. He also spoke about his career as a veterinarian and an author, and how that worked. It was entertaining.

Afterwards, several of us met up in the hotel bar, at the invitation of one of the agents. Another agent joined us, and we were asked for pitches, which didn't really work out so well, but was interesting, nonetheless.

Day Two

Friday morning, I did not wake up before the alarm, or even at it. Ended up arriving around 9:30 am, after the Editors Panel. I got to see the Agents Panel, at least, at 10:00. Several writers came up to me between the panels to inform me that local editor and owner of Pink Fish Press, Renda Dodge, had been bemoaning the fact that no one ever pitched her horror. Since I was essentially the only horror writer in attendance, for the second year in a row, I tended to draw attention. There were people telling e about Renda's plea, that I didn't even know! Unfortunately, Renda had to leave the conference early due to health issues. But, I've met her several times in workshops and at the conference, and know how to get a hold of her, should I decide to do that.

I dutifully listened to the row of forty-plus agents as they introduced themselves and told the crowd what they were looking for, what they wanted to know from us, and what not to do. Turns out, no one wants your business card, so take heed! I felt silly for making that mistake last year. Oh, well, lesson learned. I took notes on everyone's lists and preferences, and made my plan for pitching.

An agent the night before had talked to me about the difficulty of pitching a comedic horror novel, because it was, by nature, not really a horror because it was funny, and not really a comedy, since it was horror. So, during the Q&A segment of the panel, I asked them about that. the answers I got basically said, "there is no comedy genre, so it's horror," and disagreed with the previous assessment. That agent then chimed in with, "I told you- it's Shaun of the Dead!" which is true-ish!

I brought my own lunch again, and sat in the commissary area with other writers. One I knew from Halie, a sci-fi-superhero genre writer named Paige Orwin, an older mystery writer named Peter, an older literary writer named Janet, and a teenage writer named Derek. We talked writing, of course, and had great fun discussing funny names of people we both knew in real life and in fiction. Puns were flying.

At 2:00, I attended the workshop on creating suspense. It was very useful. At 4:00, I had my Pitch Block, so I headed down to that area of the hotel. There were a lot fewer agents and editors looking for horror this year than last, so my list was short. A couple were not even in attendance for that block, so I had three agents to see. Two asked me for first chapters, and the the third informed me that while she liked vampires and werewolves, etc. zombies made her nauseous. Okay, then... I spoke with Rita Rosenkrantz after that, since she did have a line, and I wanted to just pick her brain about memoir. I got some good ideas on what I need to do to establish myself as a voice and create a platform for my memoir writing. It's a work-in-progress for me, on all fronts. I thanked her for her time, and left with a few notes.

We were served dinner that evening, and my vegetarian option was ravioli in a heavy tomato-cream sauce, which is what everyone else had, too, along with s chicken filet. The catering staff were rather rude, for some reason, and were really put out that there were not enough tables set up for everyone. The same thing had happened the night before for the dessert event. I don't know if more people attended than expected? I don't know why- I would assume that the majority of attendees would go to all the events they could, but who knows. Robert Dugoni hosted an informal panel of writers. They talked about their careers, their processes, and a lot about drinking. It wasn't my favorite panel, but they can't all be winners.

I was sharing a room with a friend that night, so after the gathering in the bar, I got to go straight to my room, where Laura and I chatted a bit before heading off to Zzz-land.

Day Three

Saturday morning, bright and early- in the shower first, hotel room coffee by my side, then breakfast in the restaurant. 8:00 am, is my favorite panel from last year, The First Page. Since I didn't have a new completed project, I submitted the first page of one of my personal memoir essays. I had three writer friends at the con read five of my first pages that morning, and they all agreed on the same one, "Flying Colors" (title subject to change).

Miraculously, mine was again chosen to be read for the panel. Even as I was hearing it, I could tell two paragraphs needed to be cut! Hands went up, and I got nearly an entire page of feedback form the four women on the panel. Everyone loved my first line, but there is no real scene, and it rambles too much. I get it. Points taken! Great notes.

This year's panel was less dynamic than last year's, for The First Page. I was slightly disappointed that all four agents represent a lot of the same type of work: women's fiction, YA, MG, (Young Adult, Middle Grade), mystery, memoir, and mainstream fiction. I think last year's panel had more diversity. A lot of sci-fi, fantasy, and other kinds of pages did not get much feedback. Luckily, mine was memoir, this year, and not horror. Several of my friends in attendance also got feedback, some better than others.

Next up was the Unlocking Character Motivation workshop. Lindsay Schopfer is a smart guy. I met him briefly last year, but this was the first workshop I've taken with him. He works as a writer and a writer coach in Olympia, WA. I plan on working with him soon! I got mass help and good ideas from this hour-and-a-half.

I had to buy lunch on this day, since I had stayed at the hotel and not been able to pack one.

At 2:00, I attended "Exploring Point-of-View", with Terry Persun. Terry is a prolific sci-fi writer that I had heard good things about as a presenter the previous year. I was eager to check it out. Unfortunately, the crux of this workshop was "You can do whatever you want," LOL. It was interesting, exploring different examples of POV and discussing tactics for writing POV, but it wasn't as structured as I would have liked, and some attendees hammered  the points on which they remained confused. Terry's daughter, Nicole Persun, has begun a successful writing career of her own, and seems to bring a lot of focus to the group discussions and her father's presentations.

Since I have an historical novel in mind for a future project, I decided to attend Candace Robb's workshop on HF. She writes primarily in the fourteenth century, and a number of attendees also had eras spanning the eleventh century to the eighteenth. A few Civil War era writers, and me, who's looking at the Roaring Twenties. There may have been others, but those are the ones I heard. Ms. Robb told me that she was jealous of my era, because there was such a plethora of research materials available to me, and hers was such a labor. I enjoyed listening to her, and the other attendees, and got some answers to a few questions I had. She also highly recommended a book on writing called Wired For Story, by Lisa Cron (2012).

Next was a bit of a break, where I engaged in several discussions with other writers, and then the dinner and awards presentation. My vegetarian dinner was delicious - a portobello mushroom version of a beef wellington, which I'd remembered fondly from the previous year, actually, and was glad to have again- and we had managed to snake a table this time. I sat amongst a number of Literary Contest Finalists, and, wonderfully, everyone nominated at our table won! A few Second Places, and a lot of First Places. Well done!

I was tired, but still went for drinks in the bar until midnight. Had some great conversations with some great writers, and drove home by one.

Day Four

By this time last year, I was wiped. This year wasn't quite so manic, and I was tired, but still managed to arrive at the Hilton by 9:30 am, missing only the first hour of contest winners's readings. Unfortunately, I also missed the continental breakfast offerings, which were wheeled away by 10:00 a, for some reason, but opted for a nice cuppa tea, instead of the coffee which had been tearing me up all weekend. Be warned.

"Today I Write" was the title of the Sunday Keynote Speaker event, given by Robert Dugoni. Did I mention, yet, how absolutely engaging, entertaining, and informative this author is? I don't read crime fiction, but I did buy one of his books that day, and will let you know what I think once I get around to reading it. I can't imagine it's not a complete page-turner. I had to borrow paper from my friend, Morgan, to take down all the wonderful thoughts Robert gave us that morning. I filled an entire page, front- and back-side, with notes. I learned a ton in two hours of him talking. And, he gave us a list of books to include in our writer's library, that he found essential.*

It was all over by noon, and many writers had already left town early that morning, or had simply chosen not to come to the Sunday Brunch. Their loss. A group of half a dozen writers have made a tradition of going out to 13 Coins for a post-PNWA brunch of their own, and I joined in, for the second year. It's great to talk to people that I had not seen much of during the conference, and decompress, share notes, and laugh about the crazy last four days.

*Robert Dugoni's List of Suggested Books For Writers:

  • The Writer's Journey - Chris Vogler
  • Stein on Writing - Sol Stein
  • Self-Education For Fiction Writers - Renni Browne, Dave King
  • Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide To The Craft - H. Thomas Milhorn
  • Sell Your Novel Tool Kit - Elizabeth Lyon
  • The Elements of Fiction Writing - A Series published by Writer's Digest Books, including:
    • Plot 
    • Conflict, Action, & Suspense
    • Scene & Structure
    • Beginnings, Middles, & Ends
Other books on Writing that were recommended by various writers (I haven't read any, as of yet):
  • Wired For Story - Lisa Cron
  • The Weekend Novelist - Robert J. Ray
  • Writing For Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction - Jon Franklin
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide To Narrative Craft - Janet Burroway

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Memoir Writing: Wrenching The Gut 2

Today, I wrote four more pages on the Traumatic Incident from when I was eighteen. Good news: I re-read the first five pages, and was able to work on it, too. I didn't get nauseous today. I cried a few times, but I don't think anyone in Starbucks noticed. It was silent tears, not sobbing. I'm now at a point in the story where I a feeling overwhelmed by the amount of backstory there is, and frontstory, for that matter. I'm calling it quits for today.

Yesterday's word count: 1724
Today's word count: 1291

Feeling accomplished.

Last night, I got home and watched a movie that had been recommended to me, called Stuck In Love. It stars Greg Kinnear, as a writer, and Jennifer Connelly, as his ex-wife that he's still in love with, and their two teenage children, who are also both writers. Lily Collins is the angry, cynical daughter who gets a book deal at eighteen, and Nat Wolff as her poet younger brother. Kristen Bell is Kinnear's "friend" and there is even a cameo appearance (voice only) by Stephen King. It is very well-written, and while it can be discouraging to see young writers be so successful when you are more than twice their ages and still struggling, I enjoyed watching it and would recommend it.

After the movie, I read for seven hours. I dug out Priscilla Long's The Writer's Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life. I had started reading it upon its purchase, three years ago, but somehow got sidetracked from it. I read a good half the book last night, and did a few of the writing exercises suggested. I'm in the midst of learning, from the book, how to separate the STRUCTURE of a piece from the content, and apply it to my own writing. For instance, let's imagine an essay on coffee. Perhaps, it is nine paragraphs long, which is a common form, or structure. This nine-paragraph form is the vessel for the content, which is liquid (and in this example, the content really is liquid!). This fictional essay on coffee can be broken down thusly:

  1. Paragraph One - Introduction to the topic of coffee, inc. facts about world consumption and popularity.
  2.  P. Two - History of coffee in ancient cultures
  3.  - History of coffee trade, importance in business and economy
  4.  - Personal anecdote - author's introduction to coffee and passion for it
  5.  - Metafacts -  Different kinds of coffee beans and growing practices
  6.  - Metafacts - Free trade and organic movement
  7.  - Metafacts - Different ways to roast and brew it. Coffee rituals around the world.
  8.  - Personal anecdote - author's own experience with rituals of coffee
  9.  - Conclusion - the variations in how coffee is currently important to both world economies and personal performance in life.
Taking this form, anyone can pour (pun intended!) their own content into this structure. 
  1. Topic X - introduction
  2. Historical significance of Topic X
  3. Historical development or discovery of Topic X
  4. Personal anecdote related to Topic X
  5. Metafacts about Topic X
  6. Metafacts about Topic X
  7. Metafacts about Topic X
  8. Personal Anecdote related to Topic X
  9. Conclusion about Topic X's relevance, application to the world, etc. 
So, now, I'm on the hunt for memoir structures in which I can pour my own content. I've started reading Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild, upon recommendation. I have a couple of other books in my queue to follow that, and I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Memoir Writing: Wrenching The Gut 1

I write in cafes. I have a few favorite locations. I have too many distractions at home, and the lighting is never as good.

But I'm writing memoir stuff, this summer. I would like to have enough for a book, and publish it, but I am also doing this to glean fuel for my fiction. If I can dig into the depths of my own motivation and character, then my written characters will benefit, as well. My goal is to write a Dave Sedaris style collection of essays, and I'm focusing on childhood tales. I'm going for funny, insightful, and unique POV stories. My family is full of characters, and these are the things that made me who I am.

But I am also a result of some hard stuff. It's been nagging at me, and I've been fighting the urge to write about the traumas. But, even if no one but me ever reads it, I've decided that I have to write it.

I sat down today to start. I wrote five pages, all about an event that happened when I was eighteen. It was hard. I really don't mind talking about it, when the topic comes up, and I'm not secretive about it. But writing it is a completely different animal. I have no idea whether or not I actually captured the feelings, and depicted it as best I can -- I doubt it, since it is a raw first draft.

I have been sitting here, writing, for two hours, and I have felt the urge to vomit for most of it. The nausea in my gut is a sure sign that I'm on to something, no? I'm fearless, I swear; when it comes to honesty and the search for meaning, anyway. But I am wondering how the hell to do this. I guess I'll figure it out as I go along.

I have no idea how to edit such a thing, yet. I can't even re-read it. I'm not going to worry over it at the moment. Today's work is done.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How To Pick A Title For Your Book

I'm in the midst of this process, now, so no spoilers.

  1. Think of possible titles that you like, that speak to your tone, style, subject matter, and potential audience.
  2. Google them.
  3. Cross off all the ones that are already taken, especially in book titles, but even in movie titles.
  4. Take your top available choices, and mull the over.
  5. Run the titles by friends and acquaintances, to see what they think. What would they think that titled book is about? Would it pique their interest? Does it seem appropriate?
  6. Make your final decision.
  7. Be willing to throw that one out at some future point, and re-title it, anyway.

When Is Busy Too Busy?

Hello, July! I trust everyone is having either a lovely start to their summer season, or their winter (for those on the other side of the world). Hopefully, you're not sweltering in insufferable heat, like that in which I grew up, in Maryland. I don't miss that hot, humid, brain-frying summertime at all, thank you very much. Here, in the Pacific Northwest, we are just dipping into temperatures of 80+F, 27ish C.
What does a working author do with her time? Well, I can only speak for myself, of course. And I must admit to a lot of hours sleeping... I am still catching up on years of sleep deprivation, and trying to build myself some sort of "schedule" - something I've never been very good at. 

But, my summer working goals are as follows:
  1. Await replies from agents I queried, regarding HISMZA novel. Respond as needed, with follow-up revisions, etc.
  2. Continue writing short personal essays and memoir pieces, to be compiled, themed, and titled.
  3. Find a working title for above-mentioned book that speaks to me and the work, and an audience.
  4. Pitch said work at the PNWA Writers Conference, in two weeks.
  5. Submit individual essays for magazine publication.
  6. Continue research for 1920's project.
  7. Begin research for TV project.
In addition to these goals, I have the following on my plate:
  1. Edit a children's book series, for which I've been hired, by another writer.
  2. Maintain my massage therapy private practice, at around twenty-six hours per week
  3. Research local businesses and write informative reviews and blogs for Jet City Emerald List, a start-up website that has just hired me.
  4. Maintain and facilitate the nearly weekly writers critique group meetup meetings we have at Seattle Writers Meetup.
  5. Keep my overworked husband from going insane or breaking down physically.
  6. Lose twenty pounds by September, mostly by walking 30-60 minutes five times a week.
I'll also be taking care of and enjoying my kitty cats, attempting to maintain and repair several relationships with friends and family, cleaning and organizing that damn cluttered spare room, and cranking up my level of commitment to a non-GMO, organic lifestyle. 

I think that covers the most important projects in my life this summer. But for now, I'm catching up on Doctor Who, on NetFlix. 

Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Trouble With Memoir Writing

Writing memoir is a challenge. How do you take your life events and turn them into stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end? Where do find the conflict? How do you turn your friends and family into protagonists, antagonists, villains, sidekicks, alliances, and story characters that move the plot forward? How do find the plot in your own life?? I love this meme I saw that says, "Whenever life isn't going the way you want, jump up and yell, 'Plot Twist!' and walk away," or something to that effect.

Seeing your life as a story, or a series of stories, requires your brain to rewire itself in new ways. Suddenly, people start looking at you and wondering what you're up to, since you stare into space and furrow your brows at everyone, as you track motives, character arcs, and take note of the "dialogue" around you. This is true for most writers of any kind, but I think it's even more concentrated for a memoir writer.

I'm working on a series of vignettes, for a collection of memoir pieces, similar to what Dave Sedaris puts out. I'm hoping that after writing enough pieces, I'll recognize a theme, and that will guide the rest of the book. So far, I'm kind of stumped as to what the theme may be, but I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself over it.

In the course of doing this work, I've had a few conversations with my parents, although I plan to have more, and one with my younger brother. We were raised in the same house, but have very different memories and ideas of family. It's always been fascinating to me, and I hope it will resonate with readers, too.

That is the big question, isn't it? A memoir must be personal, full of your unique stories, experiences, and point of view, but it also must resonate with readers and hopefully elicit an empathy, comradeship, and relatability. Readers need to identify with you, as a character, and want to follow you on your journey, whatever that might be. And it's not easy to write about yourself without sounding smug, pitiful, self-absorbed, or other unlikable traits. You have to look at the worst of yourself, as well as the best, to create a decent character of yourself. I think this is why so many people tend to write fictionalized accounts of their lives; just using their own experiences to base their novel's characters on.

Besides that, is there any memoir writer that doesn't worry about how the people in their lives will react to suddenly having their lives in the spotlight? How many times have I thought to myself, "I can't write that, my mother is going to read this!" *facepalm*

I'm also watching a lot of YouTube videos, as part of the research for a few pieces based around childhood influences. I'm not going to go into detail, but it's been fun!

One thing I've noticed is how different my process is for writing memoir from writing fiction. In fiction, I choose my characters and my setting, and let them go. I write what happens in my head. But in memoir, I take a seed, plant it on the page, and let it grow. I'm basically journalling, and I usually have three to five pages when I'm done. Then, with the help of some beta readers, I figure out what belongs and what doesn't, and what readers want to hear more about. Then I expand on those areas. I may do that three or four times, before I end up with something that feels polished. The final draft is usually eight to fifteen pages long, too. It's like I have to find the patch of ground, then dig and dig and dig before I get to the root of the story.

I'm usually pretty flabbergasted that anyone is interested in these tales, but glad to know it, of course. "Really? You want more details?" I ask, in disbelief, thinking I've written too much nonsense. It's extremely personal, and I haven't even delved into any of the traumatic stuff. I'm concentrating on character-building stories, at the moment. And I'm really digging it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Writing Process Blog Chain

Thanks to Jessica Hoefer for tagging me in the Writing Process Blog Chain last Monday. If you're curious about her process, you can visit Jessica at her new blog, here. And, you can even follow the chain from blog to blog to meet lots of writers.

The purpose behind this blog chain is to learn a little more about our fellow writers, so here are my answers!

1. What am I currently working on?

A lot! My comedy-horror novel, How I Spent My Zombie Apocalypse, is currently out with agents and editors, so I expect to hear back about it in the following few months.

I have a YA horror novel in the works, about a teenaged girl who moves from Seattle to Romania, and discovers a haunted forest.

I am also actively working on a collection of humorous memoir pieces.

Lastly, I am in the research and development phase of a novel set in the 1920’s, as well as a television series about an international animal rescue group.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Hm, how to answer that. It’s true, that every writer has her own perspective and experience that she brings to each story, no two stories are ever alike. In the case of my horror novels, I tend towards the comedic and/or creepier aspects, rather than the blood ‘n’ guts n’ gore of some horror. Obviously, my memoir writing is very personal and unique to me and my life, as well as being focused on the humor to be found in all parts of life.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I want to read it! I write what interests me, duh. I enjoy the juxtaposition of life and death, serious topics and humor, and gender equality issues. Some of my stories are based on real people and events (sometimes my own, sometimes those that I’ve been told by others), and some are based on the vivid stories I receive in my nightly dreams. I’ve been known to dream entire movies – title screens, credits, name actors, the whole bit.

4. How does my writing process work? 

That’s something I’m still developing. I can tell you that I am incapable of following an outline! My characters never want to cooperate. They do what they want. So, basically, it goes like this.

  1. Get an idea. I might be inspired by a conversation, a photograph, a word, a movie, a dream, or a google search.
  2. Write the idea down in my Ideas File: I keep a running list of ideas, characters, cool words, etc. to peruse for future reference.
  3. Choose a setting, choose a character or two. 
  4. Start writing. Sounds simple, but that’s how I do it. Once I meet a couple of characters, I stick them in a room and let them talk. They tell me what I need I know! I’m usually just as surprised writing the twists and turns of their story as I would be reading it.
  5. When the First Draft is done, I give it to my beta readers. I take notes and make notes and mull over changes to be made for several months. Like, six. 
  6. When I get into the second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts, I write at least three times a week, usually for about two to three hours each time. This keeps the story line fresh in my mind and allows for better continuity.
  7. When I have a new draft that is significantly different from the first one, I send it to my beta readers again. My beta readers come from my writers group, and a few friends that are avid readers. This gives me different perspectives.
  8. Rework, edit, format, save, back-up, send out to be published!

With my shorter works, like the memoir essays and short stories, I will read it to my writer’s group and get feedback on the spot. I rework, edit as needed, and, sometimes, re-read to the group. After final edits, I send it out to find a home. I love the Duotrope website, because I can find calls for certain kinds of stories that I then write for, or I can find a publisher for my existing work. It is a breeze! Well worth the nominal cost of membership.

Thanks for letting me share my writing process with you. I'm happy to pass this chain along to one of my very talented colleagues, Mariah Klein who also writes paranormal fiction and urban fantasy. Please visit her blog next Monday to learn more about her writing process.

Mariah Klein is an educator and an avid reader as well as a writer with an overactive imagination. She lives in a floating space shuttle tree house in Oakland, CA with her husband and two young daughters, who may be huldras, but please don’t mention that to her husband as he is blissfully unaware. Mariah loves writing: creating new characters, worlds and even species. Her attempts to create an actual new species have so far been unsuccessful. Her paranormal mystery series features Jolene Birch, who knows she is meant to be a huldra warrior but isn’t having a lot of success so far.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Bird (My Novel) Has Left The Nest (My Laptop)

Da-di-di-da! FIfth Draft of How I Spent My Zobie Apocalypse was finished two weeks ago. This week, I followed up with queries all--most-- of the agents and editors with which I spoke last summer at PNWA. The response has been encouraging! A few emails were met with automatic receipt replies - I hope to hear from them in the following weeks. Two agents immediately requested my full manuscript, so I am hopeful! And I am putting it out there, to the Great Spirit of Creative Endeavor, that...

  • I will know the right agent when I am faced with decision. 
  • That I will know the right questions to ask, and the answers, along with the agent, will help me put out the best book I can. 
  • That we will place the book with the right editor, in the right publishing house.
  • That those who will be interested in, entertained by, and inspired by my novel will all buy a copy!
Okay, now that that is done...

I'm fairly furiously writing away on many personal essay/memoir pieces, ranging in length from 3-10 pages, so far. I'm thinking I can get enough written and assembled by this year's PNWA Conference to title it and pitch it. 

My other project, I believe, is a lot further from completion. It still stands as about 3/4 of a very rough first draft. I do want to get back to it, but right now, I'm writing what is bubbling beneath the surface. 

I have several other projects in the IDEA stage, including a sequel to How I Spent My Zombie Apocalypse. 

I was happily surprised to find that, even after ten months, all the people I spoke with at PNWA remembered me. I'm realizing that there are a great number of writers that I met last year that I had hoped to stay in contact with, but if they're not on Facebook or Twitter, it's pretty much a lost cause. I hope I remember those names and faces in person! Looking forward to connecting and reconnecting at the Conference in July. Now to figure out what I'm going to pitch... 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Night Dreams of A Writer

Earlier tonight I watched a 2011 film called "Twixt" written, produced, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Val Kilmer plays Hall Baltimore, a horror writer on a book tour who makes a stop in a small town. Sheriff Bobby La Grange piques the writer's interest with tales of a past massacre as well as a more recent local serial killer, whose latest victim is a young girl in the morgue. Baltimore's creative juices really get stimulated by the dream he has that night in his motel room, which is presented in a beautiful black and white cinematography with certain colors accented- red, yellow, etc. Otherworldliness is achieved. 

I enjoyed watching this film, but I loved watching the Behind The Scenes documentary on the making of the film,made and directed by Gia Coppola, one of Francis's grandchildren. Here, we learn the story was conceived in the Dreamtime, for Francis Ford Coppola was in an inebriated sleep in Istanbul when he dreamt the dream portrayed as Val Kilmer's Baltimore's first dream. The morning call to prayer woke Coppola before he could find out the ending, but he recorded what he had anyway, and it became Twixt. 

I love this story, because it mirrors my own. Well, except for the fact that Coppola is an established film genius creator writer director producer and I am not, at this point in time. But, we are both storytellers. I have had many dreams, filled with fantastical elements, funny moments, poignant scenes, quirky characters, and even star casting. I've even had some dreams with titles and credits. But, I'm not looking for a career as a filmmaker, although, as a writer, I envision some of my work transitioning onto film. 

He took this story, that his subconcious mind presented him, while, I might add, he was in a slightly altered state of mind, in a foreign land-- like I often am when I feel my creative juices charge-- and turned it into a finished film, a finished story. This is what I need to practice doing. I haven't yet figured out how to flesh out the characters in my dreams, or fill in the missing parts of the story. Maybe it's because I'm too close to the elements I have that I have difficulty expounding upon them, or maybe it's because I haven't formally studied the process of constructing and deconstructing a story, but I want to be able to do that. 

Mostly, there are a few stand-out dreams that are begging to be polished into stories: 
  1. The Story of Peter and Grace and The Bridge
  2. The Story of Time Traveling to the Barn in the Seventies Run By Piggy Mama
  3. The Story of The Little Boy on the Bridge in The Storm
  4. The Black Demon King
  5. The Faceless Black Cartoon Things With The Big Smiles
I've worked with the last one in a short story that is as yet unfinished. I also based a large portion of a novel on no. 3, but that, too, is unfinished. 

I hope to complete something with my dream stories. When I was painting canvases, my best work often came from my dreams. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

What Happened To My Draft??

Eighteen pages to go on my fourth draft of How I Spent My Zombie Apocalypse!

But...guess what? I've passed the point where I killed a character off in Draft Three.'s not in this version.

What the heck? Did I make my changes on a different file save? I don't know. I'm just taking it as a sign that perhaps that wasn't the way to go. I'm going to rewrite the death scene, elsewhere. I'm sure it will find its place. I'm just slightly mortified that I lost a draft...I'm not even sure my writer's group had that scene in the version I sent them, back in December! Ugh. I seem to recall comments on it, though, so I am not sure what the heck I did with it. Sigh... More work, but I'm sure it will be better, in the long run.

Tomorrow! I may even be finished by Sunday! Woohoo!

Then it's onto my short pieces for editing... I've got about four projects going at the moment. Ha! Fearless writer, I art she.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How To Take Critique

I've never been overly sensitive. I am who I am, and I do what I do. The stuff I wrote twenty years ago in no way compares to the stuff I write now, as far as technique and modus operandi go. Practice, practice, practice! Practice may never make perfect, but it does make the good and not-so-good better. I also recognize that much of me goes into my writing, it is not me. If someone tells me my story is confusing, doesn't make sense, or that character is stupid, or silly, or that I repeated something too often, they are talking about the words on the page, not me. I am not confusing. I don't not make sense. I am not stupid, or silly, or repetitive-- my story is. I have plenty of other words to choose from; plenty of other ways to make myself and my story clear. I take the criticism for what it is, and not to heart.

The story I wrote in eight days for the NYC Midnight competition, poorly titled "A Flapper's Story" (I must come up with something better! Usually, I ace the titles, but this one hasn't found it's name, yet), received an Honorable Mention (yay!). This morning, I received my feedback from the judges. It is as follows:

''A Flapper's Story'' by Michele Cacano 113 - WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT - ..............................A good story here. I like the dialogue -- all very well done. The story sustains a momentum and works its way through their histories, both shared and not, very well. Some of the dialogue tries a little too hard to set the mood, especially in the beginning, but I had to chuckle at this: “Aw, applesauce!” I just loved that. I also like the way you have these women come together, find potential moments of conflict, and bond despite anything that may make them rivals. ...Nice opening paragraph.  The reader is pulled in by the clear language and the tension set up immediately. Nice use of 20’s slang too...........................................   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - ..............................I think the ending is overwritten. Which is a shame because for the most part you show restraint. It's like the writer felt the need to really pour on the power of the ending, to show the bond that is there. But we can sense it already. The story is well done enough that the places of overwriting can be trimmed away. Still, this is well done and a good read, capturing a time and two lives here very well. ...What’s at stake here seems to be memories from the past and the truth telling at the end brings to two characters together.  However, Tommy’s treachery in the past isn’t compelling enough.  There needs to be something more at stake for Marie in order to create true tension. Consider that these these two women don’t get along in the beginning.  Then there is tension at least between them and make the whole story less subtle.  ............…........................

If you would like to read the original story, just message me here or on my Facebook page or Twitter with your request and email. I'll send it to you. I may upload it online sometime, but right now, I'm not.

So, I know I'm good with dialogue. I hear the conversations in my head, and just transcribe them. I play-act in my head all the time. I love the Roaring Twenties and, to me, that era has the best slang ever. So I really enjoyed writing that. Seems like the judges agree with me, there, for the most part. There was another version of this story- a very different ending- for the first draft, so I did feel a bit rushed in the rewrite. (I submitted the piece in the final hour!) So I would agree that the ending may be "over-written", as it was phrased. I would like to sit down and smooth the story out, perhaps making it longer, as well. (I was just under the maximum word count by three words!)

I love this feedback, because it gives me something to work with. One of the judges points out that I showed proper restraint in the rest of piece, but lost it in the ending. Makes sense. I'm wondering what to do with the comment regarding Tommy's treachery; Marie needs to have "more at stake"... what could I do with that? I could add a new character that is still presenting her with a challenge, or I could work out more of Tommy's history with the girls. I will spend some time mulling it over, before I sit down to commit to changes.

When I had my writer's group round-table discussion over my novel (HISMZA), some of the feedback I got was surprising, as it often is. When one of my characters dies, none of the readers even cared! I need to tighten up the relationship between that character and my main character (MC), and develop it better. If the MC cares about the one who dies, then the readers will, too. And that was not as evident as it needed to be. Other relationship issues in the book met with the response of incredulity or weak bonds, and I am aware that I struggle with emotional content (in my writing and in RL!), so I took nearly three months to consider options. I changed the nature of the relationship between my MC and the one who dies. I better addressed their motivations and what is at stake for each of the characters. Some of the suggestions I received were not ones I wanted to do. I thought about it, and said no. I know my characters, and the ones I don't know well I am more willing to alter drastically, for sure, but my main characters are who they are. I am two-thirds through the revised fourth draft, so I will let you know how it goes.

Not every reader wants the same thing from a book or a story. We all have our favorite genres, what draws us into a story, and what repels us. Just because someone hated your story's ending, or couldn't relate to your MC, doesn't mean someone else won't love it and completely identify with your MC. That's why it is important to have a mixed, large pool of beta-readers, and why I love my writers group so much.

Having said that, I need to get back to my fourth draft, so I'll be signing off, now.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Author's Check-in

My intention was to post at least two blog entries per month, but I was surprised to see that three months have passed between posts. So what the heck have I been doing?

It seems that I always have a great idea for a blog post at 3 am, which means I would probably be up writing it until 5 or 6 am, which I'm trying not to do anymore. I'm attempting to reach some semblance of a sleep schedule to match some of the world: say, sleeping from 2am until 10am. I've only been nominally successful thus far, but I will keep trying.

As far as my 2014 Writing Resolutions go, I'm on track.

  1. Finish 4th draft of HISZMA novel - I'm 30% through, after seriously starting it in March.s
  2. Finish 1st draft of TSoSS novel - not there yet.
  3. Compete in NYC Midnight's short story competition - Done. Made Honorable mention in Round 1.
  4. Compete in at least one other contest - I'm looking at Lorian Hemingway's short story contest. The deadline is in May. I've already entered three contests for the PNWA Conference - I entered my HISMZA novel, a short story, and a short personal essay/memoir piece.
  5. Read at least 30 books - I'm on track, having read 6, or 20% of my goal. No new ones, yet, though.
Inspired by the historical fiction genre that I was required to write for the NYC Midnight contest, I have continued my learning curve of the Roaring Twenties. I've always loved that era-- it was rife with artists, writers, performers, civil rights, modern advancements, and outrageous behavior-- and I've been reading about it a lot lately. Books about the era and its people, books set in that era, and books written in that era. I'm currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and the Damned". I'm thinking that I would like to write more stories set in that time. We'll wee where it leads...

Monday, March 24, 2014

NYC Midnight Short Story Competition 2014

Round One of the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition is over. 1000 contestants, spread over 40 Heats. My heat required me to write a 2500 words or less Historical Fiction piece, featuring a widow and sworn enemies, in eight days.

I got Honorable Mention - not bad! And now I won't be hunched over my laptop while sitting in lines at Emerald City ComiCon for Round Two, at least!

Monday, January 13, 2014

~ Happy New Year ~

Resolution is a pretty harsh word, especially when you look at all the baggage it brings along with it, in our culture. It sounds hard: "Resolve". Stern, unyielding, and probably not fun. The word practically has "FAIL" built into it. I prefer to call my list of goals for the year "Goals" (duh) or "Intentions". Intention is a word that is full of possibility, focus, awareness, and concentration, but with a softer, more open connotation. Never mind that phrase my mother is so fond of, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." That is a different definition of the word. 

I have yet to sit down and plan out my intentions for 2014, but I have been considering it for weeks. I looked over the list for 2013, and honestly, I did pretty well. Firmly hit 6 out of 17 Goals, made at least a bit of headway on another 6, and will carry over the other 5 untouched. (Darn that pesky home organization!)

Here, I am mostly looking at my writing goals. Last year, I planned on making 12 short submissions (done), 3 contest entries (did one, only) finishing the third draft of HISMZA (done) and taking it to the PNWA Conference (done). I also planned on reading 30 books (done). 

This year, I'm planning on the following:
  1. Finish Fourth (and hopefully final?) Draft of HISMZA novel.
  2. Finish First Draft of "The Sound of Sorrow's Sleep" novel.
  3. Compete in NYCMidnight's Short Story Competition (already entered!).
  4. Compete in at least one other contest (probably Lorian Hemingway's, again. Also Seattle Crypticon, and PNWA contests).
  5. Read 30 books, at least six of which have come out in 2014 (I've realized that I am way behind on my reading list and rarely read anything current!).
Just for kicks, here are some of my non-writing goals for 2014:
  1. Organize cluttered home and Spare Room. (A carry-over for years, sadly...)
  2. Take at least two dance/exercise classes per week (Already signed up for Bar Method on Fridays and Punk Rock Aerobics on Tuesdays, and have been to each).
  3. Use my FitBit to track sleep and steps. Improve regular sleeping patterns... Sleep 1am/2am - 9am/10am! Hit 10K steps at least 3 times a week. Lose .5 - 2 lbs. per week/25 lbs. per year.
  4. Work on Alternative Business Women's Association idea.
  5. Help Veronica buy the property and increase profits for Standing Stone Healing & Arts. 
  6. Maintain friendships: Contact at least one friend per month that I haven't been in touch with regularly.
  7. Travel to Tampa, Florida, to visit Mom & Dad's new home.
  8. Travel to Tokyo, if possible. Or Paris, France. It's been way too long for each of them.
  9. Continue brushing up on language skills: Use apps for Japanese, Italian, and French. Find a class or group to join to increase skills.
  10. Get new laptop! Probably MS Surface.
  11. Continue my work on my financial life and plan.
  12. Increase my massage therapy work in PIP claims (car accident clients).
As usual, that's a long list, but I'm sure to continue tweaking it. Do any of you want to share your New Year Intentions?