Monday, December 17, 2007

When to Let Go of Your Writing Group

I recently stopped going to a fiction writing group in my town. There was no big blowout; everyone was always civil and pleasant. But still, I felt I just wasn't getting what I wanted out of it. Finding a community is an important part of succeeding as a writer, but it's got to be the right community. If you're not getting what you want out of your writing group, it may be time to move on. Here are a few signs that should let you know when to let go.

Everyone's extremely negative. This one's the most obvious--if your group is full of people who just rip each other's manuscripts apart without much thought to constructive criticism, you need to get out of there. No art can thrive in a hostile environment, and if you leave the group feeling like you never want to show your writing attempts to anyone ever again, the group is just too tough to help you. Even if your draft needs a lot of work, the people in your group should always offer criticism that's meant to help you out--not tear you down. And no matter what shape your manuscript is in, your group menbers should always have something positive to say.

Everyone's extremely positive. Then again, too much positivity can be just as damaging. It can lead you to be blind to your weak points, and it doesn't teach you anything. It feels good to get praise--but it doesn't help you improve much as a writer. Next time you're in your group, listen to what other participants say about the work there. If people heap praise on work that seems like it could use some improvement, this may not be the right group for you.

The other members aren't on your level. Are you the star of the writing group? If so, this group of people may not be challenging you enough. And if you're the scapegoat, your confidence may be suffering as well as your manuscripts. Feeling like the worst writer in the group can be draining, but at least you might be learning--if the other group members are supportive and focused on helping you improve. But being the star is probably worse, because you aren't learning much at all. For most people, the best group is comprised of people within the same ability range.

Nobody is familiar with your genre. Poets, memoirists, genre fiction writers, literary fiction writers, short story writers--all are doing different things with their writing, and a devotee of one genre may not understand all the issues faced by a writer in another. If the other people in your group are versatile enough to comment well on a range of genres, this may not be a problem. But if the people in your group don't understand or just plain don't like or approve of your genre--this often happens when literary and genre fiction writers meet--you may be in trouble. It's often best to work with like-minded people who understand your writing market.

It's the wrong time in your writing process. The main reason I left my last writing group was because it was just the wrong time for me. I was in the middle of a first draft. Things were constantly in flux. I was experimenting with character and plot. I thought that feedback would help me along the way, but I soon found that it only confused me more. I realized that I have to work out the kinks in the rough draft alone--then I can show it to others.

You're putting in more work than you can handle. A writing group is a lot of work. In addition to keeping up with your own writing, you have to read and make insightful comments on others' work. This was another reason I left my group--every member would hand in a thirty-page chapter, often only days before the meeting was set to take place, and I found I was just spending more time than I wanted in critiquing others' work. If it starts to get overwhelming, you may need to take a breather.

You don't feel inspired. The ultimate purpose of any writing group is to inspire you to keep going. If your group is making you feel like you never want to write again, it's not helping. Find a group that makes you feel great about your writing--but also points out where you can improve.

Not every writing group is created equally. If you're putting in more than you're getting out of it, or if you don't feel inspired to write more after every meeting, it may be time to let your writing group go.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday!

Right-- it's Wednesday and time to get inspired and do some writing. If this creepy-- yet timely bit doesn't work for you I hope you find something equally interesting.

As soon as the twinkling Christmas lights were wrapped around the lampposts of the town's high street; the phone calls began again, this time in earnest. She threw herself into her work, making excuses to stay at her job for hours after quitting time. She organized all the author photos in the publicity department, updated the sales jacket files, anything not to be there when the shrill phone broke the silence of their small flat.

She could quietly ignore the phone messages, the insistent voices, just as long as she told herself she was too busy to really be of any use she rationalized that she would be fine.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Why a Novel is Like a Maze

As I toil through my novel-writing, it's occurred to me why so many people claim to want to write novels but never get around to it--and why it's so darn difficult. Writing a novel is like navigating a maze.

Think about it. You construct detailed characters who go in directions you never intended them to go in. You write pages and pages of plot only to find the path you've chosen is a dead end. A path you passed ages ago now looks much more promising, if only you can find your way back to it. And--wouldn't you know--you seem to have forgotten to bring your magical golden thread to help you find your way back. Soon your characters have ditched you to wander about on their own, refusing to do as you say, and you're helplessly lost in a mess of your own devising.

I wouldn't say I'm highly qualified to give advice--I'm well known for clear-cutting the whole maze and starting over at inopportune times. This is more like advice to myself. Advice that anyone else who's lost in a maze might benefit from, too.

Know your characters. Where your plotting skills falter, a strong character should be able to take over. If you know your characters well, you should know their behaviors when confronted with any situation. You should hear their voices in your head, see them in your mind's eye, and be able to pick them out of any crowd. I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes when I'm stuck on a plot detail I turn to whatever character I'm working with, and I ask them: what do you think about this? Then I close my eyes and write whatever comes to mind, without judging. This works surprisingly well.

Just keep making things worse. Part of knowing your characters is knowing what would be the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to them. What is their deepest desire or motivation--and how can you really screw with their world? First, boil your character down to their one essential motivation: maybe your heroine just wants to be loved, or your hero just wants to stay in control. Then take what they want away: separate her from everyone she loves, or put him in a position where he's completely lost control of events.

When you're stuck for a plot detail, think to yourself: "how can I make this situation even worse?" The answer may vary depending on which character you're dealing with.

Before you hit that delete key, take a breather. Sometimes we just get so lost in the maze that we want to take a big chainsaw and start hacking away. But before you start deleting your work, stop and think. What seems hopeless and horrible today could look pretty decent--or at least salvageable--once your frustration has subsided. Make a deal with yourself: you will give it a day before you delete anything big. Or maybe a week. Sometimes I need a week.

Have a little faith. Sometimes it's the most unlikely path that leads to the center. Have faith in your own imagination. Have faith in your characters--they may know where you're going, even if you don't. If you see yourself getting lost, stop and skip to the next scene you feel fairly sure about. Try to stay on the train of thought you've set for yourself, and worry about the details later. Remember: it doesn't matter if your first draft smells to high heaven, as long as you have one. Perfectionists wind up being literary critics, not writers.

Like a maze, a novel presents us with endless choices: turn right or left? Kill off the heroine's first love or make him stick around? Even the tiniest little wrong turn can get you hopelessly lost. But have faith and follow your characters down every path they take, and hopefully you'll come out on the other side--with a finished manuscript.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday

The last time I saw my sister was in 1997. She had on a leather coat and a pair of red heels, and she was getting on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle. Mom and dad were screaming at her to get back inside, but she wasn't going in. She shot them a smirk, swung one high-heeled leg over the bike, gripped Sean Latimer around the waist, and murmured something in his ear. I've tried to imagine what she whispered to him before he pulled his shades down over his eyes and took off into the night, but I guess I'll never know.

I wanted to be just like her.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why I Love the Dark Heroes

I just finished reading Karen Marie Moning's Bloodfever. This author normally writes paranormal romances, and while I find her to be extremely over-the-top--the first novel of hers I read had the heroine breaking into the hero's home and hiding under his bed, among giant-sized condom wrappers, when he came home--I also find her writing to be oddly compelling and extremely sexy. I think, despite the camp, she absolutely nails her heroes. She gives them just the right amount of darkness and danger--which is quite a bit more than political correctness would think--without making them irredeemable.

Her Fever series--which has two books so far but I hear is supposed to have six or seven by the time it's through--isn't really romance; it's more like fantasy with a touch of romance thrown in. And despite that, I think it's much more erotic and compelling than her more run-of-the-mill romances. The erotic tension is building over a span of novels, not just one--and there's much more room for character development and growth. In the first book, the hero and heroine kiss once, sort of by accident--and in the second one, they're still not on a first name basis. And yet despite all the formality, there's an extremely hot sexual charge that's vibrating just below the surface.

The hero of the Fever series is much darker and less warm than other heroes I've met in her books; he's a true bad-ass without much of a "save-the-kitten" factor. Towards the end of the book, in a rare tender moment, he touches the heroine's face. The heroine says that "Being touched in kindness [by the hero] makes you feel like the absolute most special person in the world. It's like walking up to the biggest, most powerful lion in the jungle, kneeling and putting your head between its jaws. Instead of taking your life, it licks you and begins to purr."

I read that sentence and I had this weird moment of epiphany. I thought, she gets it. This author really GETS it.

Ever since I read my first romance novel, I've been most attracted to fictional heroes like this--scary, dangerous guys who have the power to be very nasty, but instead treat the heroine with kindness. The point isn't the kindness. The point is that they could be unkind. The more dangerous these heroes were to others in the story, the more their later kindness toward the heroine seemed like an incredible gift. The more special she is for bringing out tender feelings in him.

I wasn't sure exactly what this feeling was when I was younger--I just knew that the scarier the guy was, the more I liked him, for some odd, inexplicable reason. And I didn't understand why I felt the same way into adulthood--despite the fact that I'm an intelligent, college-educated woman who is passionate about women's rights and believes in equality and decency in relationships. But there are lots of reasons why we love those dark, scary heroes--the less politically correct, the better--that shouldn't leave us feeling too guilty. Here are just a few.

That passion is irresistible. Those bad guys are ruthless. They want what they want, and they don't stop at anything to get it. And when what they want is us--uh, I mean the heroine--that's absolutely irresistible. Every woman wants to be desired; there's no female on the planet who doesn't get a little shiver of delight at the thought that a guy braved rain, cold, snow, an angry boss, or maybe a whole army to be with her. And a bad guy is less likely to follow the rules, play nice and be fair in his quest to get what he wants--including the love of the heroine. It might not be politically correct, but it's enough to make any woman feel loved and wanted.

The heroine who can make a bad guy love her is special. Moning said it perfectly when she put it in terms of lions and jungles. When you can make the baddest, meanest, scariest creature in the jungle roll over and purr, you must be something special. He'll rip the throat out of anyone else that comes near--but for the heroine, he's all snuggles. That's sure to make any woman feel pretty amazing about herself.

It's wrong and we know it. Let's face it--we're not supposed to like these guys. We're supposed to like the clean-cut, hardworking guys who are sweet and funny and decent. And that's exactly why the dark hero is so attractive. He's not a tame, ideal husband you can bring home to mom and dad. He's the personification of our deepest, darkest desires--the ones we'd rather mom and dad never knew we had. The dark hero is the personification of freedom and wildness--the antithesis of civility. His very nature is illicit. What's wrong and illicit is always incredibly tempting--just because we're not supposed to want it.

So if you love the bad guys, don't worry. You're in good company--no hero sells more books than the alpha male. It doesn't mean you're doomed to fall for the wrong guy all the time or that you have some sort of weird masochistic tendencies. It just means that you want it all. You want wildness, freedom, excitement--and love and stability. In real life, this combination never happens--they're mutually exclusive. But in fiction, we can have our cake and eat it too. That's why my favorite scary, dangerous guys are fictional.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Lessons From NaNoWriMo

Right, its nearly midnight on the final day of NaNoWriMo, and I've fallen appalling short of my goal. I could make excuses for my poor preformance (too much work, not enough free time, lack of a computer) but I've decided that this would be waste of my time-- and yours!

Instead, I'm going to offer the insight I've learned this month and my future writing goals.

I'll always be too busy
For years I've whinged that I don't have enough time, energy, the drive, to sit down and write for hours after a very stressful day. However, what I've learned is that I personally thrive better under deadlines and stressful situations. I'm not sure why-- although, I suspect it forces me to focus more-- which I lack sorely. I'm most creative, passionate, organized, and insipired when I'm super busy and stressed for time. Bizarre. This said, I've finally accepted that I enjoy being too busy. So, if i want my creative life to balance with my busy 'other' life, I have to enforce some real boundaries on my time. NaNoWriMo, has forced me to do just this, and do you know what-- on the days when I stuck to my writing schedule I felt incredible. Yes, sometimes I had to resort to the word counter to help me pass the time-- but honestly, i enjoyed the process of creating the world of my 'novel'. If I've learned just one thing from NaNoWriMo, its that I can always make a little time for my writing-- and a little time goes a long way.

A Word Count Helps

I wouldn't have thought a word count would be my writing saviour-- but it is! On difficult days when I know the scene I'm writing is shit, the only thing that gets me through the scene and onto the next chapter is counting my words. Knowning that I had to reach a daily word count to stay on schedule forced me to write through the crap and explore the characters and story. Of course, I'll have to go back and edit out the crap (or as much as it as possible) but without a word count-- my daily goal-- i'd still be pouting and moaning over difficult scenes.

Writing/reading outside my comfort zone is good for my creativity
I read a lot of fiction. I enjoy getting sucked into the world of a good novel. To me, there's nothing better than hanging out in someone else world for a while (ok, usually for the tube journey home). But this month I've really pushed myself to read things outside of my normal comfort level. I've read about zombies, vampires, women on the verge of nervous breakdowns, I've read crime novels (which i never read), and historical fiction, as well as the daily papers, and non-fiction short works. I really feel that reading outside my normal range of novels/chick lit/children's lit and foraging in the darker realms of zombies, crime, historical fiction, and yes brilliant non-fiction has helped me to create more vivid characters and a richer plotline. Yay for variety.

Writing Buddies and Regular Buddies Shame You into Working Harder
Perhaps, 'shame' is too strong a word, but at times it felt that way. Whenever I wanted to completely chuck out portions of my work I was reminded of all the support and love my writing buddies (and FRIENDS) had been emailing me and I was compelled to work harder. I have been writing this novel for myself, but knowing that others out there were rooting me on made the process so much more rewarding. So THANK YOU! I promise you I will SUCCEDE in 2008!

I'm Signing Up For ANOTHER Month
Yes, I'm serious. As some of you know-- I haven't owned a computer in about a year. Its been a real struggle for me to actually sit down and write with a pen and paper-- my fingers type almost as fast as I can think-- but my handwriting lags behind. This has been my biggest excuse for slacking creatively. So, since we're purchasing one this weekend I've decided I'll be signing up for ANOTHER month of writing. I'm going to set the same task for myself (50,000 words) . I would like to end 2007 with a completed novel. So, beginning Dec 1st, I'm going to do this whole process all over again. I'm going to consider this my training for the marathon of writing that NaNoWriMo is. I wont have the support of a large community of people all working towards the same goal, but thanks to participating in NaNoWriMo, I know I'll always have the support of my friends and writing buddies. I will update you on my proccess as the month goes on. I may not have been able to finish NaNoWriMo 2007--but I'm certainly going to smash through the challenge in 2008! So watch this space.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday!!

Here you go-- a circus theme-- or perhaps childhood!

When she was nine her most fervent dream was to runaway and join the circus. She could imagine the hot cramped tents, the smell of animals, and the rush of excitment just before a show. At thirty, the idea of running away and joining a circus still appealed to her; but with her lack of acrobatic skills, flexibility, and a general fear of heights and large mammals, she rather fancied she'd wind up cleaning up the elephant crap. Great, she thought, at thirty my fantasy is to runaway to the circus to become a professional pooper-sccoper.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Managing Power in Fantasy and Romance

This Thanksgiving weekend, I listened to Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass on tape while driving back from a visit with family. I've read this book several times--it's one of my favorites. I love re-reading my favorite books; I always notice things I missed on the first go-round. This time, however, I noticed something I wish I hadn't.

In The Golden Compass, the heroine comes to possess an alethiometer--a device that always tells the truth about any situation, if you know how to read it. It's a device of immense power. And at several points in the story, particularly when tensions were high and the heroine was getting worried, I wondered why she simply didn't check in with the alethiometer to see how things would turn out. I sure would have, if I were facing a life-and-death crisis. There were several points in the story where it seemed odd that the heroine didn't simply ask the alethiometer how things would work out--and what could be done to fix the problems she faced.

Like many fantasy and romance lovers, I'm fascinated with power. Objects and people with mysterious powers captivate me and draw me in, and I'm always interested to observe how special powers affect the personalities and relationships of the characters. But too much power is a bad thing for your plot. The more power a character has access to, the more difficult it is to keep up the plot tension. If your character is all-powerful, why can't he simply wrap up the problems he faces in the plot in a few minutes? If he's all-knowing, what does he have to worry about?

If you're dealing with supernatural powers in your plot, here are a few ways to put limits on them without rendering them insignificant.

Limit knowledge. In The Golden Compass, the heroine can read the alethiometer instinctively. This may have been a mistake. If Lyra had more trouble reading the device, it may have made more sense that she'd be worried about problems she encountered in the plot. I'm writing a psychic heroine into my current story, and I realized early on that her powers couldn't be consistent--otherwise she'd know too much and the plot would lose tension. Her psychic powers are unpredictable and sometimes fail her when she needs them most--making her world much more dangerous.

Make magic more difficult. You can give your hero or heroine fairly modest powers, but still make them seem impressive by limiting the amount of magic available in your world. If your world is a place where magical powers are extremely rare, a little magical gift is a big-time miracle--and an extremely powerful magical person is an almost impossible villain. A little magic goes a long way--and making it more rarified may up the tension in your story.

Make some things off limits. In Karen Marie Moning's paranormal romances, it's extremely difficult to see the future. She deals with some extremely powerful characters, from magicians and druids to the otherworldly Fae--but she does put limits on their abilities. Consider the limits of your world carefully, and make sure there are some things known to be beyond everyone's ability.

Watch out for weird inconsistencies. When I was a teenager, I loved David Eddings' endless series novels. His characters were witty, well-drawn (if a little stereotypical), and extremely powerful. Re-reading them years later, I realized they were too powerful. Eddings had trouble limiting them. Because they were so powerful, he had to force them to follow the complicated and meaningless dictates of a cliched prophecy--or there wouldn't be much of a story; the characters could simply blast apart everything and everyone in their way. An all-powerful goddess couldn't heal a character's heart injury because "hearts jump around too much." Characters inexplicably went to great lengths to hide from enemies much weaker than they were.

This is the problem with making your characters too powerful--it becomes more and more unlikely that these all-powerful people would have any serious problems. So set limits that make sense.

Balance strengths with weaknesses. My boyfriend is a Batman guy--but I love Superman. He's a fan of the tortured, dark-horse style hero, while I'm a sucker for pure, unadulterated power. Batman and Superman are two very different heroes, and each has a balance of strengths and weaknesses that works.

Batman is a principled guy, but he's not hung up on his morals. He's a dark horse. He won't hesitate to kill a bad guy just because killing is wrong in general. But he's not extremely powerful; his powers are mainly in technology and cleverness. His ruthlessness gives him a helpful edge in his struggles to protect Gotham.

Superman is much more powerful. He's got the super strength, the X-ray and heat vision, the power of flight, and much more. His main limit is his sense of ethics--he absolutely will not hurt an innocent, and he won't kill anyone he doesn't have to--even if it's a bad guy. He could do just about anything--but he won't do a lot of things. Many people criticize Superman for what they see as his "boy-scout" personality. But he needs that. If he had the ruthlessness of a dark-horse kind of hero, he'd be too powerful to plot around.

Power is fascinating in all genres. But the more power your characters have, the harder it will be for you to put them in believable danger. Limit their powers in a way that makes sense, and you're less likely to twist your plot into tortured elaborations just to give them a problem they can't deal with.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I couldn't resist either

Ok, its officially the holiday season and in addition to working on my novel, buying a computer (yes, FINALLY!), and getting the holiday shopping done, my mind has gone into meltdown mode. I saw Maverick's post earlier this week and had to add my favourite books as well! I encourage you all to comment and add your books! Or recommend a few-- I'm always looking for something good to read.

1. How many books do you own?

I can't say exactly. I tend to give away most of the books I read to friends and family-- probably a couple hundred though.

2. What was the last book you read?

A Brief History of the Dead also-- weird, no?

3. What was the last book you purchased?

Labyrinth, Kate Mosse. So far I'm half-way through the tome and still plugging along.

4. What five books are the most meaningful to you?

This is so difficult. I'd have to say, The Bean Trees, Watership Down, Harry Potter Series, The Secret Garden, His Dark Materials (yes, I know picking series is cheating-- but all well!)
5. What is your favorite most obscure book?

The Wild Swans
, Peg Kerr

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Writing Prompt Wednesday

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving!

Emma pulled up at the white ranch house with the over-trimmed topiary, swallowing a sense of dread. She didn't want to go inside. Her car smelled like the green bean casserole she'd brought to contribute to dinner; her breath solidified in the air in front of her. After the divorce, she hadn't been able to afford to fix the heating system in the car. And Ted would be in there with the kids and his new wife, Madelyn. Emma didn't think she could handle walking in there, green-bean casserole in hand, and looking them both in the face.

Suddenly the door to the house opened.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Favorite Books Meme

Cruising the blogs today (in a desperate attempt to procrastinate getting my 2,000 words of awful novel in today), I came across a fun meme at Sylvia's Insight. I love books as much as the next blogger, so I decided to play along. Here are my answers:

1. How many books do you own?

I'm not sure; at least a couple hundred; a couple hundred more up at my parents' house; and I currently have two or three severely overdue library books too. I grew up in libraries and I'm pretty frugal, so I check out more than I buy.

2. What was the last book you read?

A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

3. What was the last book you purchased?

Bill Bryson's latest book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. It was during a book signing he was giving in my home town. I got to be in the same room as Bill Bryson!

4. What five books are the most meaningful to you?

This is a toughie; there are so many books that mean so much to me and that I read over and over. This week I'd have to pick The Lord of the Rings, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, Midnight Salvage by Adrienne Rich, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle, and....Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

5. What is your favorite most obscure book?

Grendel by John Gardner.

Okay, so usually people tag other people on these things...but I'm leaving participation up to you. What are your favorite books?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Update on my NaNoWriMo

Its half-way through National Novel Writing Month and I’m nowhere near where I should be with my ‘novel’. Currently, I am so far behind I should just give up—but I won’t.

Part of my problem is that I am in love with my delete key. The other major issue, is that I’m a perfectionist. Once I see the words I’ve written on the screen (or page) I automatically hate them. I become convinced that they are the most trite, over-used, poorly written words ever to make their way out of my brain. The truth is that sometimes they are.

None of us write perfect stories the first time round. If you do, I hate you. Ok, maybe hate is too strong a word—I am violently jealous of you and suspect you are lying about your skills. That’s better. Stories take time to cultivate. For a long time an idea just stews in my brain, gathering substance and then launches itself to the forefront of my consciousness with a story that I have to tell. I don’t know what its like for other people, but for me if I try to force a story it just all goes horribly wrong.

So at just over twenty pages into my novel, I’ve got a heroine who thinks she’s a bad person, a hero who wont appear for another forty pages, a villain who’s evil plots are so nefarious they frighten even me, and some lovable birds who get up to an incredible amount of evil mischief. Yeah, it’s a children’s book.

I’m not sure what comes next (well, exile for my heroine), I’m positive I’ve got the tone and voice of the story wrong, and that the heroine is just plain ol’ boring. Normally, this would force me to scrap the whole draft, but I wont, not this time. I am going to write the crappiest heroine ever and just suck it up and revise extensively later. If I’ve learned anything this month, its to just shrug my shoulders and write on.

I’d love to chat more about my story—but its time for me to head back to the internet cafĂ© and the world of my characters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday!!

Whelp-- as you may have noticed we weren't able to bring you a writing prompt last Wednesday. However, we hope the below one makes up for it.

He had been observing her for sometime now. She didn't get angry often and generally had a pleasant disposition. Her hand shook as she hung up the phone, her face still red from the harsh words she'd nearly shouted. She hid her face behind a the curtain of her hair and sighed. He thought that sound was the most perfect sound in the world.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Writing My Novel: Resisting the Delete Key

So I decided to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge this month. I cheated, of course; I started with a novel I was already thirty pages into. But "winning" by their rules doesn't really matter to me; I just want to write this thing. I chose an idea I've been chewing on for several years: a paranormal romance in traditional Regency England. So far, my cute little debutante has had her parents killed in a freak supernatural attack of some sort, been propositioned and locked in a tower by an evil cousin who's been hitting the opium too hard, and nearly fallen off several roofs. I swear, whenever I need something interesting to happen in a scene I put the heroine on a roof and watch her nearly fall off. She must hate me.

My hero, fifty pages in, has remained a man of mystery so far. He's made a few cameo appearances, but he's yet to be formally introduced to my roof-dangling heroine. I'm always a little apprehensive about writing heroes. Why? I think it's because I really fell for the heroes in my favorite romances--paranormals included. I fell hard for a certain, specific and very subtle mix of arrogance and vulnerability that I have an innate fear of not being able to capture myself. I hold my heroes to near-impossible standards. Every word he says must be spine-tingling. Every glance must be smoldering. Every touch must be...well, you get the idea. I think I've got to break down this idea of perfection and write like he's just an average guy/vampire/werewolf/whatever. Then maybe things will get rolling.

I came very close to hitting the delete key today. My unfortunate heroine had escaped from a house fire of possibly-supernatural origins and wound up (where else?) on the roof. Then she wound up in the clutches of an unsavory distant relative who wants to marry her so he can inherit her property. I'm planning to have her escape and unwittingly crash a party of very rich and good-looking regency people, including my hero. And that's how they meet. The whole evil cousin thing is just a plot device to get her closer to meeting the hero. But I was toying with the idea of having her meet him much more directly--maybe she falls off the roof and lands on him--and cutting out the evil cousin altogether. I'd be deleting about ten pages, and starting with Chapter 3 all over again. Several times I highlighted the offending scenes and deleted them. Then hit "Ctrl-Z" and put them back. That's how it went, for about five minutes: delete, put back. Delete, put back. Delete, put back.

I finally decided to keep the evil cousin for now. He might wind up being important later, but that's not the point. The point is that the delete key is the call of the Siren, and I must resist. Or I will be dragged down to the bottom of the ocean by some chick with seaweed for hair, and never have access to a computer ever again. And I just can't write anything longhand.

So: that's how it's going for me. Resisting the call of the delete key, one cheeseball paragraph at a time. For those of you who might be tempted to respond with the advice of listening to my delete key so the world is spared another awful novel, don't bother. I tell myself that every day, and I don't listen. What makes you think I'd listen to you?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Why Grad School?

Lately, many of my friends have been squealing out their good news, they will be returning to grad school! Part of me is delighted that they have decided to pursue higher education, part of me is vaguely jealous, and the other part wants to scream: WHY?

Sure, I can see the obvious draws of higher learning—I’d love to get a MA or PhD in Creative Writing or Writing for Children (my two passions), but I’m not ready to put myself into anymore debt to go back to school. I’m still paying off far more student loan debt than I’d care to discuss. I would love nothing more than to go back to school and spend my days with people pursuing a similar creative dream and impassioned about their studies, but the practical side of me reminds me that for every bestselling novelist who went to grad school for writing (Jodi Picoult, Alice Sebold, Robyn Young) there are another ten (Stephen King, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwall, John Grisham) who didn’t. As my compatriot Maverick so often reminds me, if you want to write, then write.

I hate to admit it (actually, I’m proud to admit it—but it makes me sound lamer then I am, doesn’t it?) but she’s right. It you want to be a writer, then it’s that simple. You don’t need higher education. I’m not saying that an MA in Writing isn’t a good thing—it is, from all the professional writers I’ve talked to who’ve gone through an MA program in writing; it’s a rewarding and worthwhile experience. I’ve been thinking a lot about taking some writing classes—I feel like I’m out of practice and since starting this blog, I’ve been reminded of how much I love to write. I’ve been trying to decide if I need to take the plunge back to school….

I’m terrified to admit this—but most of the time I fear applying to grad school because I refuse to settle. I want to go to a school of my choice, that has an exemplarily program, and will help me become a published writer. I also know that Creative Writing MAs are pricey, in demand, and very choosey. I am afraid I wouldn’t get into the schools I would want to go to and have to settle—which at this point in my life is unacceptable. Here’s the other tricky matter—I don’t want to pay to go to grad school. I want a free ride.

So, I go back to the lesson about writing success that I see everyday in my job—if you want to write a novel, write it. Be possessed by the writing demons and just get your stories out on paper. Make time for your writing, Revise you writing. Create a writing habit. Write a lot of crap and pare it down to something really good. In other words, write.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grad school—and the obvious solution for me is to try to WRITE on my own, with the support of friends, for a few years and see where it takes me. I think going back to grad school at this time for an MA in Writing would be a waste of money (and time) for me. I’m not convinced that I won’t eventually go back for an MFA—I just think it would be well into the future, if ever.

So, while I’m happy to congratulate my friends who are returning to school to become professors (yay), nurses (ohmigod—these friends truly amaze me, I am SO proud of them), doctors (see the preceding comment), designers (I wish I had their courage), publishing MAs (why? I don’t understand this one at all—you can get this for FREE its called experience in your FIELD!). I will wait on my return to grad school (if ever), I firmly believe that I want to be a writer—not a professor, and a working writer at that. Someone who lives by her craft and I’m not yet convinced I need an MFA to do that.

Monday, November 5, 2007

My Take on the Writers' Strike

TV and film writers are now on strike after they failed to come to terms with the TV and movie industry about payments for new media distribution of their shows and movies. The industry is making money on downloads, despite the proliferation of pirated DVD's and downloads--but they're resisting giving writers a cut of the profits. Here are my thoughts on the strike.

There are plenty of established procedures in writing careers that strike me as exploitative. Ever since I started looking seriously at writing as a career, it's occurred to me that at some crucial point--or maybe consistently for decades and centuries--writers didn't stand up for their rights. As a result, certain practices became common procedure that seem horribly unfair, at least to me.

Kill fees, anyone? This one's at the top of my list, since I'm a freelance writer in my other life. I strongly feel that if you finish a project, you should get the full price for it--end of story. If the client doesn't like it, that's what the revision process is for. What writer took a look at a contract that stated he would get paid only a fraction of the full price if the publication decided--through no fault of his own and for any reason whatever--not to use his work, and thought "now this is a good deal"?

Book remaindering. If your book doesn't sell well, the publisher sells it at a steep discount--and you don't get a dime. How is that fair? And that's only if you're talking about a hardcover or trade paperback. They don't even bother trying to sell at a steep discount when it comes to mass-market paperbacks; the booksellers just rip the titles off and send 'em back to the publisher to be pulped. Jeez, why not at least give them to a used book store?

Royalty percentages are based on net, not gross. For every copy of your book that's sold, you'll get a check for some percentage of the profit (not a big percentage; something like 5% to 10%). But we're not talking gross profit here. We're talking net profit. That's the money left over after the publisher deducts printing costs, shipping costs, and all sorts of other costs it took to get your book from manuscript to Borders. Even movie stars get a cut of the gross, not the net, profit of movies they're in--but not writers. Guess actors have better agents.

No pay for DVD sales. Back when DVD's were getting big, writers failed to negotiate royalties for movies and TV shows that went to DVD. As a result, no writer gets a cut of any DVD of his movie or show. This is really unfair--in my opinion, any time money changes hands on something someone wrote, that writer should get a cut.

That's what this strike is about--new media rights. Writers want to get paid for movies and TV shows distributed over the web. And they have every right to, in my opinion. For decades, other people have been getting rich off the hard work of writers. It's time they took a little piece of the pie back. If there's any justice in the world, this will be only the beginning.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Making a Commitment to My (Really Awful) Novel

It's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo: say that ten times fast!) and I've officially made a commitment to write a novel in a month. This is a big deal for me, as I'm a compulsive eraser. I've started dozens of novels. Somewhere around a hundred pages in, I always manage to convince myself that what I'm writing should never, ever see the light of day--and I erase the whole thing and start over. Not this time!

I signed up for NNWM after I saw that my partner in crime, Minion, had done it. The goal is something like 50,000 words in a month. Shouldn't be too hard, right? That's something like 2,000 words a day for a week, if you don't write on weekends. I usually do write about that much per day when I take time to write my novel. The thing is that I do it once a week, not once a day. But this month, I've decided to push all other projects (except paid client work) to the side.

The thing about such a close deadline is that it leaves no time for editing. No time for second-guessing. I can't worry that my plot isn't making sense or my characters aren't deep enough or I always forget to describe my surroundings. I can't stop midway through and think "geez, this is really awful." If I'm writing this fast, of course it'll be awful. And I don't care. I'm giving up trying to write a masterpiece. I've even given up trying to write a halfway decent book.

The story I'm working on now is a paranormal romance novel. Before, I always tried to make this book literary and poetic and sexy all at once. I wanted it not only to be a romance, but a genre-busting masterpiece of contemporary fantasy. Yeah; I've given that up. In this book, the plot will not make much sense. The dialogue will not always sizzle and snap. I might lose my way and wander off course for a bit. Do I care? Nope.

The thing is, I always wanted to be a novelist. But I never quite hit my stride in novel-writing. I never got to the midpoint of the plot, let alone the end. I never allowed myself to have faith in the storyline and see how things unfold. A brand new book idea has the potential to be a brilliant masterpiece, but a book that's halfway through is limited. A hundred pages in, you've chosen your voice, your basic characters, your plot arc. And if you're a perfectionist like me, it's easy to look at the choices you've made and say "that's not good enough"--no matter how sound your choices were.

This time, I'm not doing that. Instead, I'm going to stretch my legs and see what I'm really capable of as a writer.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday

It's Wednesday, and it's also Halloween! That means a scary writing prompt that's sure to get you on your way to a great scary story. Here goes:

Night had come early. That's what Amanda thought when she looked out the window; it was only late afternoon, but the sky was so overcast she thought it was near dark. She shook it off as nerves. She and Ted had unpacked the moving boxes last week, but the new house still didn't feel like home.

Suddenly, deeper in the house, she heard a sound. Beside her, the cat bristled and began to yowl.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

National Novel Writing Month

First and foremost, let me apologize for my lack of posts lately. Currently the real world has been draining my creative time...that said, I've got a big announcement to make!

Its not often that there's an event that I'm really excited for-- but here goes its almost NOVEMBER! Normally, there's not too much to get worked up about in November (Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night in the UK and Thanksgiving in America). However, this year that's all about to change. NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) is a brilliant excuse for you to make that time for that novel you've been meaning to write. National Novel Writing Month runs from 1 November through 30 November and challenges you to write a novel in that time period. You are not allowed to 'finish' a pre-existing novel, but you can bring an outline/brainstorm to the table and work from that.

National Novel Writing Month is an intense and challenging experience, but one that people who have completed it tend to find fulfilling. The experience puts professional writers and amateurs together and allows them to write side by side for the purpose of completing a novel in a month-- how much better does it get?

I'm up for a particular challenge this year as I don't own a computer (amazing!). You can watch my progress on the website-- and if you join, I'll make you one of my writing buddies.

I'm going to take a deep breath and revel in the calm before the storm. I'm not sure I'll be in the same high spirits this time next week when the stagger weight of this creative process has descended-- but we'll see.

Fingers crossed (and I sincerely hope to see some of you as my writing buddies).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday-- a day later!

Here at Minion & Maverick, we're currently a day off...

So, this might not be you typical Writing Prompt Wednesday, but at least its a refreshingly creative mid-week break!

Her eyes widened as the crack in the sidewalk grew steadily larger. She felt her knees buckle as she reached out for something to hold her steady. The world suddenly titled out of focus.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Containing the River

I recently saw Alice Sebold in person at my local library. She was giving an interview onstage with a local radio personality. She was there to discuss her new book, The Almost Moon, but she also spoke quite a bit about her debut novel, The Lovely Bones. This was a bestseller in 2001, the year I graduated from college. I will absolutely never forget when I first encountered it. I had just graduated and moved with my boyfriend to a new city. I had always had something to do in the fall--I'd never felt more adrift in my life. I felt transparent, like my future hadn't found me yet and I didn't quite exist.

I was a lifeguard that summer--not at a regular pool, but a fill-in lifeguard who traveled to different pools when their regular guards called in sick. I remember sitting at a pool with weird green Astroturf instead of a cement deck in the middle of a subdivision, wishing I'd remembered to bring reading material. I saw a copy of Seventeen on one of the deck chairs, and I picked it up. There was some fiction in it--I thought it had won some contest or something. It was a short story about a girl at a camp for gifted kids. Her sister had been killed in a brutal murder. Her grief was so alive on the page, and her tentative first love with a boy at camp was so poignant--I thought it was the most brilliant short story I'd ever read. It turned out it wasn't a short story at all--it was Chapter 10 of The Lovely Bones.

I wondered at the time whether I'd been so affected by that book because I was reading it at such a strange time in my life. But looking back, I realize that it was well-written in a way that isn't planned--it was like the poetry of the phrasing was coming directly from Sebold's subconscious. Here's an example of what I mean. This is how Sebold starts off the scene where Lindsey, the girl whose sister died, loses her virginity:

Under a rowboat that was too old and worn to float, Lindsey lay down on the earth with Samuel Heckler, and he held her.

What's important in this sentence? Sebold doesn't say "Lindsey lay down on the ground"--the way a normal person would say it. She uses the word "earth."

Her sister, Susie, was killed in a sort of room that her murderer had dug out of the ground. "There was too much blood in the earth," Sebold says when she describes how the police knew that Susie had been killed and not just kidnapped. You see the word "earth" in the scene with Lindsey, and you don't just think about two teenagers under a rowboat. You think about how the earth that Lindsey is lying on is the same earth that held her sister as she died--about how for Lindsey, the act of sex is life-affirming--she's still on the earth, not in it--and for Susie, the act of sex was her death. And even in this moment when Lindsey is moving into a realm of adulthood where her sister will never follow, she will always be connected to her--as connected as she is to the ground on which she walks. The word "earth" rings in that sentence. It's a strong statement. And I believe it's not something writers do on purpose. It's almost automatic.

I remember Sebold saying once that she didn't have a choice but to write The Lovely Bones--that the character of Susie came to her and demanded that she write it. My boyfriend, who was with me at the time, thought that sounded loopy. I thought it sounded absolutely sane. Novelists must sit down every day and slog through stories that they aren't sure will work until they reach the end. They must make endless choices about character. I'm writing a book right now where I'm not extremely invested in the main character--I see two different types of characters that could tell this story well, and despite the fact that I'm well into this story now, I still struggle with the temptation to scrap everything and start all over again, using the other character type.

But sometimes you don't have a choice. Sometimes the characters come to you with voices so strong that you know exactly what they will say, how they sound, how they word things--sometimes much differently than the way you would yourself--and how they think. They grab you by the imagination and they make you write their story. It's happened to me before, and it makes all the difference. The story simply flows through you, as if you're the channel that guides the river. You don't have to manufacture the water yourself.

I've read Lucky, Alice Sebold's other book. It was definitely good--but I didn't find it to be inspired the way The Lovely Bones was. I didn't see the same instinctual poetry, the same seminal repetition of certain words. She was thinking her way through this one, not simply letting it come. During the interview, Sebold said one thing that stuck with me: she said that the first line of any book is the most important part, because that is the first thing your narrator says. Once you get that exactly right, you know how the voice of the book sounds. And the hard part of the work is done.

If you've ever felt that strong connection with your characters, that flow of words and ideas that seems to be coming through you from someplace else, you've felt something very ancient. The Greeks named it the Muses. You can see its work in The Lovely Bones. And maybe you've felt it, every so often, when you sit at your keyboard. If you have, you're sharing in something as old as creativity yourself. And you're a true writer.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Halloween Reading Round Up

Ok, I'm a nerd. I'm a really big fan of reading Halloween themed books in October. I said it, now you can mock me. Thus far, I've managed to kick off the season in style and read three completely different horror themed novels (one of them is really a chick lit though).

Blood is the New Black
Did you ever wonder what would happen if you tossed some vampires into The Devil Wears Prada? Something very similar to this novel, I'd suspect. Blood is the New Black centres around a lowly intern who unintentionally is offered a position at Tasty the ultimate fashion magazine in NYC. She soon finds out that she has to put up with a lot more than competitive fellow interns and back stabbing assistants, her boss is a real blood sucking bitch! What follows is an at times hilarious account of her adventures in the world of high fashion and vampire slaying. While not the most brilliant novel I've read this month, something about the lightness of the story just drew me in.

The House of Lost Souls

A good ol' fashioned ghost story. I was a bit sceptical about this book as I'm not keen on ghost stories, but my friend gave me a proof of this title a told me I HAD to read it. I found the voice of the author a bit difficult to get into, but once I did I was up till am racing through the novel. Set in London, The House of Lost Souls is a chilling story of a haunted house, satanic rituals, and of course a climax of good versus evil. While I found the ending problematic and a bit rushed, I thought the story was engaging and worth reading.

World War 'Z'

Did you ever wonder what would happen if a zombie epidemic were to take over the world? I adored this book. The concept behind it is so simple (an oral history of people who survive the 'war') and yet as a parable the message is so important. The book follows the world's descent into madness, fear, nuclear war, and chronicles what mankind had to overcome and endure to survive in a world of zombies (and nuclear winter). I read this book with all the lights on in my flat and absolute terror (even though the characters relating their part of the story had to have survived as the book is an oral history). I guarantee you, this book doesn't disappoint.

Right, I'm off home to curl up with a good scary movie (and protective hubby to cuddle next to) and a glass of wine. Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Here it is, your regularly scheduled writing prompt. I used this one-line prompt to write a killer first-person monologue a few years ago, and now I"m imparting it to you:

I'm not a bad person.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Football and Fantasy Have in Common

Just a warning to any football fans out there who might be reading: I will be expressing negative views about your sport. They may not be fair. They may not be politically correct. You may completely disagree. But they are my views and this is my blog. So, deal.

I hate football. (And I mean American football here). I don't like the idea of getting worked up about a game on television instead of actually participating in something. I don't like the lowest-common-denominator nature of football. I don't like the fact that football players get paid millions of dollars to prance around and tackle each other when people who actually do important things for a living get paid peanuts. I don't like how the passion of its fans is inversely proportional to the larger human significance of the game itself.

My boyfriend is a football fan.

This past weekend, he had some friends over to watch a football game. I spent the day curled up in the bedroom, re-reading my battered old copy of Lord of the Rings. Somewhere between the Mines of Moria and Shelob's lair, however, I realized something: what we were doing wasn't all that different. Here, to my great mortification and embarrassed wonder, are a few things my beloved fantasy novels have in common with (ugh) popular sports.

Heroes. C'mon, admit it: you cheered when Eowyn defeated the Witch King. When Sparhawk delivered his last one-liner to Martel before running him through. When Lyra pulled the wool over the eyes of Iofur Raknisson. Whatever your favorite fantasy series is, chances are you loved it because you fell in love with its heroes and you loved watching them succeed against impossible odds.

It's the same with sports. Just as my heart soared in rapture when Roland burst into Eddie's world, guns blazing, to save him from the mobsters--and ultimately himself--in The Drawing of the Three, my boyfriend is uplifted by every success of his favorite sports heroes. If I could, I would give a few examples. But I really can't think of any.

A close-knit group of friends. The absolute best thing about fantasy novels is the close-knit group of motley companions--an unlikely and sometimes unwilling gathering at first, but they come to depend absolutely on one another. In the best fantasy novels, every character has his or her own distinct strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. They're all interesting on their own. But as a group, each character serves an important role. They fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces.

It's the same for a well-cast sports team. You have your guys who throw the balls. You have your guys who catch the balls. You have your really big guys who jump on the other guys to keep them from attacking the other two types of guys. know what I mean. The team is larger than its individual characters, and each person plays a crucial role.

A common enemy. The world of most fantasy novels is reassuringly simple. You know exactly who the bad guys are. Most of the time you can tell on sight--the bad guys look different from the good guys, either because they're a different race or they're a whole different species. In a complicated world where nobody's totally good or totally evil, it can be comforting to know exactly who's on your side and who isn't.

It's the same with sports teams. You know exactly who the bad guys are. Your team is in one uniform; their team is in another. There's no moral ambiguity here--you always know who to cheer for.

A clear and obvious goal. Find the magic stone, defeat the evil enemy, escape the dark castle--in fantasy novels the goals aren't always easy--but the path is always clear. It's the same with sports. Your objective is clear, there's no moral waffling, and everybody is on the same page.

Pure escapism. The attraction of fantasy is pure escape. The richly imagined, all-encompassing worlds; the clear objectives; the characters that make you fall in love, laugh and cry, and miss them when the book is through--all combine to completely take you out of the ordinary problems of your own world and into a place that's full of wonder and absent from the bewildering gray areas of real life. It's the same with sports. You'll find all the hero worship, clear goals and objectives, and strong cast of characters there. You may love fantasy and hate football, like I do--but they serve the same purpose. Maybe I'm a closet football fan after all.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What I'm Reading: The Lightning Thief (redux)

As promised-- my review of: The Lightning Thief

Now-- let me preface this review by saying that I'm not a book snob. I've met lots and lots of book snobs in my life and I can't stand them. I'm talking about the people who refuse to read anything unless its a literary masterpiece. Oh please! Get over yourself. I read for the thrill of the story, the engaging characters, and the use of language. Also, I read for pleasure-- and if your book is too dense for me to enjoy, then I wont. I'm not afraid to say that.

However, over a year ago when my friend suggested I read The Lightning Thief, I completely ignored her. I wasn't really interested in the premise of the book and thought it was just 'the next Harry Potter' a marketing term that makes me cringe (which will be discussed in a later blog). Even though I adore children's literature-- I gave this book a pass. It wasn't until a box of books arrived at my job (containing The Lightning Thief) that I finally buckled down and read the book.

After reading the first three books in the series back-to-back I'm not sure why I procrastinated so long. Rick Riordan's books are a complete joy! His books are funny, witty, and above all LIGHT HEARTED. Its the sense of fun and adventure that hooked me.

Percy Jackson is your average twelve-year-old dyslexic trouble marker (oh, and the son of the sea god). When he discovers that his Math teacher is a Harpy and his best friend is a satyr, he realizes he's in for even more trouble.

Percy is sent to a summer camp Half Blood Hill (very unfortunate name) where he finds out that the Greek Gods and Goddesses are very much alive and actively interfering in the mortal world (they have now relocated to a new 'Mount Olympus' on top the the Empire State building). He and his fellow campers are all 'half-bloods' or half mortal/half demigod. All of the campers are trained in battle combat (with ancient weapons of course), archery, and survival skills they are being groomed to be 'heroes' and change the fate of the world.

When Zeus's master lightning bolt goes missing it is Percy's task to retrieve it. Aiding him in his quest is a feisty daughter of Athena and his trusty satyr pal. What follows is a rip-roaring quest through America (with Medusa owning a garden statuary shop and cooking the best burgers in town) wherein Percy and his friends find themselves face to face with mythological characters. Riordan's humour makes this book read like a treat. While its moral isn't the deepest and at times I wished that Riordan would have explored less common mythological creatures I highly recommend this book.

Honestly, the book is so slender that I'm afraid to say anymore (I don't want to give away too much of the plot). Pick this one up-- you wont regret it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Its WEDNESDAY and you know that that means. This is a bit of a piratey themed Wednesday (although, to me this story doesn't have to be about pirates-- but that's the beauty of a writing prompt, all the different avenues it lends you). Hope this helps inspire you!

No, she thought as she watched the waves beat at the shore. She wrapped her arms around her legs, trying to make herself smaller-- warmer. She stared out at the foreign beach and wondered how she had managed to arrive at this point. She shivered.

I shall dive into the sea, that's the only answer. She cursed herself for not being a more accomplished swimmer. While he focused on his treasures I'll escape. She watched wave after wave break upon the sand, numbed by their consistency. After this next wave breaks, I'll go. She unhinged her long legs and stretched her arms.

A large boot landed between her legs, rooting her to the spot.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Shakespeare Was a Working Writer

"He should have stuck to short stories. If his novels are read at all in the future, people will wonder what we saw in them."

"A middling playwright...often crude and crass...two of [Beaumont and Fletcher's plays] being acted through the year for one of his."

"...imitative, annoying, and tiresome."

What do the three authors that recieved this criticism have in common? Three things:

1. Their work was written for the common reader, rather than to academics, scholars, and literary critics of their time.
2. They enjoyed enormous popular success and mixed literary success during their time.
3. They are now considered three of our greatest authors.

They are (in order): Dickens, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain.

I remember I was at a writing conference this summer, and one of the speakers was L.A. Banks. This woman is a serious working writer. She writes vampire fiction and romance novels, and churns 'em out at a jaw-dropping one book every six weeks or so (if I remember correctly). I remember listening to her talk and thinking, gosh, I would LOVE to have her career.

But I also want what every other writer wants: validation. I want to be considered a literary genius, my work passed down through the ages, plastered with lofty awards. Yeah, I have delusions of grandeur. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that we all do, to an extent. And even though L.A. Banks is a working writer with a healthy career, nobody is comparing her to Toni Morrison or Jamaica Kincaid.

There is definitely a perception that you can have literary merit or popular success, but not both: that a really excellent piece of writing is so rarified that it's only a chosen few who can truly appreciate it. But when I look at writers like Dickens, I think that he's not really the Faulkner or Fitzgerald of his day; he's more like the Danielle Steele. He wrote popular fiction. And when I look around at the writing out there, I start to think that maybe it's not the recognized authors of our time who will stand the test of centuries. Maybe it's the Stephen Kings and the Danielle Steeles and the Harlequin authors that readers of the future will venerate.

L.A. Banks gave a great talk, but that's not what I remember. I remember standing near her while she was speaking to another writer. They were having a conversation about writing popular genre fiction versus literary fiction. And Banks said something about how there's no shame in being a working writer; after all, Shakespeare was a working writer.

I guess what I realized then was that you don't have to give up a paying career as a writer to be recognized. You don't have to write literary fiction that doesn't sell and work as a creative writing professor. Your genre of choice may be snubbed by the critics of today, but it could be the biggest thing to hit 2100. After all, it's not the most "literary" works that stand the test of time. It's the work that reaches and inspires the common people.

Friday, October 5, 2007

What I'm Reading: The Lightning Thief

Did you ever wonder what the Greek Gods and Goddesses got up to these days? Did you assume that they had safely passed into the realm of myth and children's stories? Think again!

Check back next week to hear all about the series that has me turning pages like lightning....

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Welcome to Wednesday! Okay, here's my attempt at a writing prompt:

It was eight in the morning. The alarm clock rang, and Liza slammed it quiet again. Her head was pounding from last night, and she was seriously considering calling in sick. She rolled over—and suddenly sat up in surprise.

A naked man was stepping out of her shower.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Self-Employment or a Day Job: Which is Right For You?

If you're an aspiring novelist, you're probably someone who'd really rather be in a room alone, writing, than doing anything else. The problem is that writing books isn't exactly a career you can get paid to learn. You can't get a paid internship, a middle management job, and work your way up the ladder while collecting a steady stream of paychecks. Nope: you're stuck doing all the hard work with no pay, and then hoping that somehow you'll eventually collect a fair wage for that work.

Unless you have a trust fund or a saint for a spouse, you'll be stuck working for a living--at something other than what you consider your actual career. There are two ways to do this: get a normal job somewhere, or work for yourself.

The Steady Job: Costs and Benefits

There are benefits to having a steady job. The most obvious is that it's steady. You don't have to worry about money, and for some, that means dreaming about your novel instead of worrying about your paycheck. Then there's the benefit of having to get up and go to work around other people. The characters you meet at work can give you lots of ideas for your writing.

Of course, a day job can also suck the soul right out of your head. You can come home drained and exhausted every day--even though you didn't do much more than sit at a cubicle. If you don't like your job, you're not a good fit with the company personality, or you don't work with like-minded people, you could be miserable. For some, it's just too much misery to trade for a regular paycheck.

The Entrepreneurial Route: Pros and Cons

At first glance, opening your own business sounds like the best way to go. One of the most frustrating aspects of a full-time job is that it must come before your writing. Your boss might want you to work during a time of day when you'd rather be writing, or object to you using the company copier to make copies of your 400-page manuscript. But when you run the company, you're the boss. You can work whenever you want, however you want, and nobody can tell you otherwise. You can truly craft your schedule around your writing time.

For some, freelance writing sounds like an ideal business. There's nothing quite like the joy of getting paid to do what you're good at. I had several jobs where my duties were definitely not within my areas of talent, and I hated every minute of it. I knew I was talented--just not at what I was doing. And I hated the fact that I was seen as a bit of a screw-up. With freelance writing, I know I excel. I like getting up and going to work--even though I only have to go so far as my desk.

The problem with running your own business, though, is that it quickly takes over your life. You might want to spend the day writing your novel--you might even be planning to--but if there's client work to do, you'll probably do that instead--especially if your novel's hit a snag and you'll do anything to procrastinate. And when your day job is writing, it can be tough to summon the enthusiasm to write a novel when you've already spent all day writing other things.

The right choice depends, of course, on your circumstances. If you've got kids to support and a mortgage to pay, you might be stuck with the steady job--at least for a time. But if you're independent-minded and your steady job makes you want to poke your eyeballs out, you might be happier choosing the entrepreneurial route. I've tried them both--and I know what's best for me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why I Hate My Local Independent Bookshop....

I hate to say this, but I hate my local Independent bookshop. Writing this very sentence makes me cringe, but its time I finally admitted the truth and began to work through my feelings of rage towards my local shop.

I'm not a big fan of the corporatization of the world. I hate going to a different town in a different part of the country (or world) that looks exactly like my hometown i.e.: McDonald's on the left, Starbucks on the right, Borders in the centre, with a Blockbuster Video thrown in here and there for variety. It’s the differences that make travelling (and life) interesting. Plus, I really love the idea of a local independent bookshop that serves the community, bringing together young artists, being a hub for author/poetry readings, and events.

Recently my company threw a dinner for the independent booksellers in our country. It was an elaborate affair that took me months to organise. I can’t tell you how gracious the independent bookshop owners were or how smoothly the event went. I was again reminded of how important indie bookshops are—and of how quickly they are being lost to the corporatization of the bookselling world.

The greatest thing I took away from the whole experience is how the bookshops that were at the event had evolved to compete with the mega chain stores. True, local shops can’t sell books as cheaply as supermarkets or many high street retailers, but what the local shops are selling is a feeling as much as a product. Many of these bookshops had carved a niche for themselves in their communities having lots of events, perhaps a coffee bar, children’s story hour, or in one case and ice cream shop on their premises so that they could offer something different to their high street compatriots. These shops made a difference in their communities and had earned a place in their hearts. It was enough to make me want to quit my job and open up my own shop.

Before I launch into my tirade about Hung Duck Books (my local shop) I have to say this: owning an indie bookshop is difficult work. There’s not one aspect of it that is easy. Just like with any other small business you spend all of your time fretting over the minimal profits, staff turnover, and the increasing fear that a mega chain store will open up and steal all your customers. In other words, it’s not the life I’d like for me.

I will give Hung Duck credit for the one thing it does exceedingly well. Hung Duck is very popular with the elderly and has classes on Beginners Cooking with Arthritis (I’m not making this up), local authors who occasionally visit during the weekdays and sign books, and a funky ol’ people smell that seems to cling to the very fibre of the building. Hung Duck is very much the place to be if you are an old age pensioner. Which is really fair enough.

However, below are my reasons why I’ll take my patronage to anyone other than Hung Duck.

1.Hung Duck is Never Open: Since Hung Duck isn’t a corporate franchise they are able to set their own hours. This means that Hung Duck is open Monday-Saturday from 9am-5pm (and closed each day from 12pm-1pm for a tea break). Being your average office worker I am at work during the majority of the time my bookshop is open. The only day I can visit it is Saturday and generally I’m so busy running errands I can’t get down to the shop before it shuts. Convenience is one of the factors that keeps me returning to a bookshop.
2.Hung Duck has Nothing in Stock: Whenever I try to find a book in the shop I’m unable to find any of the most recent titles. I was home sick about a couple of months ago and decided I’d head out to the shop and pick up a copy of the third Harry Potter to read (a favourite series of mine to read when I’m unwell) and was shocked to discover they didn’t have any. This was about a week before the fifth movie opened in the cinemas. I looked for several other bestsellers and was even more surprised to find that they had none of the titles I was interested in. I went next door a bought a glossy mag and headed home to rest.
3.Hung Duck is Overpriced with no deals: One of the few things that I admire about chain stores is that they have buy two get one free offers. This is brilliant for me as I can stock up on some of the latest titles and financially recover from my splurge as I read (thus allowing me to indulge in the system again). However, because Hung Duck is not a chain store they are unable to charge the same cheap prices and charge full retail price for every title in stock. This becomes a problem to struggling writers, as we can’t afford to pay retail prices. So we have to shun our local indie store and hit the library instead. I would definitely purchase more books from Hung Duck if they even gave me a £ or two off newer (or even more obscure titles), but they don’t.
4.Hung Duck has no Events: I’ve always believed that indie bookshops should have an artsy vibe attracting authors/poets/and all other forms of artists to them. Occasionally authors of local history books have signings (always on a weekday and thus excluding most of the working population) but beyond that my local shop offers nothing to draw the community in. Perhaps if the shop stayed open a bit later they could have local writers in to read from their poetry, open mic nights, or an evening of local musicians.
5.Hung Duck is not Proactive: The best example of this is during the publication of the final Harry Potter book, Hung Duck complained that it would not be able to sell the book for as cheap as the local supermarkets and would lose money just by having it on their shelves. They even clipped a copy of an article complaining about how indie booksellers couldn’t afford to sell the book and posted on their shop window. I understand that they couldn’t compete with the low prices that other chain shops were able to offer, but this didn’t mean they had to give up. I would gladly have paid £20.00 for a copy of the book (about £11.00 more than I did wind up paying) for the privilege of purchasing the book at midnight and then heading home to read it. What infuriated me about this was that Hung Duck was looking at the problem from the wrong angle. People will pay more money for the book. People will show their local shops loyalty. People want to do these things, but when their local stores are whinging wont. How can you support someplace that refuses to change with the times? Beyond even that, how can you support a business that refuses to function like a business? Loads of other local bookstores did make quite a profit selling the final Harry Potter book at a higher price than their competing chain stores because they opened at midnight, hired a magician, or had contests engaging their customers. Its called being proactive. If you are a small business you have to work to make your customers happy.

I think Hung Duck has lost its way, and for that I feel sorry. Perhaps I've gotten this all wrong and Hung Duck is a wonderful pillar for the senior community in my quaint little town, I'd like to believe that. However, whether or not this is the case, my local shop doesn't support my needs. In other words, it doesn't support me.

I want to support my local shop and shower it with what little disposable income I can, but I wont. I’ll take my business somewhere else to some other place that’s innovative and actually gives the reading community what they want. I’m sorry Hung Duck, but you’re just that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back by Popular Demand-- It's Writing Prompt Wednesday!

So last week I experimented with Writing Prompt Wednesday, and much to my surprise it was a success! I've actually gotten several emails asking me what my next prompt will be and offering suggestions. So, I'm opening up the floodgates and encouraging you to email ( in your Writing Prompt Wednesday suggestions. I ask for original prompts only (ie: not something you read in a book) and that you give me your name/alias so that I can give you credit if your suggestion if chosen.

For me, writing prompts are always something I over hear, or over think (one of my many flaws), or just find (as if by magic), which turn into a kernel of a story someplace in my brain...I hope this prompt has the same effect on you!

Without further delay, here is our writing prompt submitted anonymously by a reader:

"No," she said. She stopped and spun, her eyes again full of the anger he
had seen in them earlier, but this time directed at him. "No," she repeated,
"you can't have it both ways.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Keeping the Faith

I've wanted to be a writer all my life. And for most of that time, I've been optimistic that I could do it: that it was, in fact, the thing I was born to do. Sure, I read a few things about how difficult it is to make a living from writing. But I sort of waltzed through life, telling people I was going to be Stephen King when I grew up, and not really thinking about what it takes to get there.

But now that I'm an adult and I have the rest of my life to do this, the reality of the publishing world gets me down a lot. When I allow my mind to wander down the path of shrinking markets, blind luck slush-pile transcendence, fickle publishing houses that drop your marketing campaign, and the idea of actually trying to sell my books face-to-face to indifferent bookstore patrons, I start to get depressed. More than depressed, really. I start looking around for something high to jump off.

And when I write, I suffer from Perfectionitis. I think I have to write the Best Book Ever. And about a hundred pages in, I invariably become convinced that what I'm writing is something that should never, ever see the light of day. So I start to look at that "delete" key long and hard. I can't tell how many novels I've abandoned because I've been convinced that they stink.

So when you're in the midst of writing your first novel, how can you keep the faith in yourself and in your future? Most of it, I've found, is mind tricks: surround yourself with positive reinforcement, and filter out the negative. Here are some things that work for me:

Listen to your fans and ignore your critics. When you're done with your novel, you need a critical eye to look it over and give it to you straight. But when you're in the process of writing a book, that's the last thing you need. Instead, look for supportive people who love your writing and will tell you how much you rock. Having a strong fan base will keep you writing through the times when you're sure you're writing the most horrendous book in the world.

And even more important--if someone doesn't like your first chapter, don't show it to them again until the book is done. They may have constructive criticism, or they may just hate your genre. Whatever the case, you don't need negative feedback right now--even if it's helpful. And if someone just isn't a fan of your genre--do not show them your manuscript. End of story.

Set easy goals. You can do two hundred words a day, right? That's about half a page. Too much? How about a paragraph? A sentence? Pick a goal that sounds too easy to take seriously, and then take it seriously. Aiming for ten pages a day might sound grand and ambitious when you make the goal, but on days when you Just Don't Feel Like It, you'll give up--guaranteed. Then you'll get so frustrated at your inability to meet your own goals that you'll give up entirely. Instead, set an easy goal--the easier the better. Then you'll be more likely to stick to it.

Give yourself permission to write a bad book. My biggest downfall is I hate everything I write. No matter how brilliant I think it is to start with, I eventually start to think I'm writing the worst book in the world. Then I delete everything I've done and start again. Instead, whenever that irrational little demon is jumping up and down on your shoulder and screeching that you'll never win the Nebula with that one, say something like this "You're right. This book sucks. And that's fine, because I'm going to finish it anyway. THEN I can fix it."

Do you have anything better to do? This is my secret weapon. Whenever I look around and panic about whether or not I'll ever have an actual career--assuming I'll ever finish an actual book--I remember that, hey, I have nothing more important to do with my time than follow my dreams. I could just give up, but then I'd just be sitting around and wasting time. So I might as well try; it's not like I have anything to lose by trying.

It isn't easy to keep the faith. But it is possible. Let yourself write a bad book, give yourself easy, achievable goals--and try not to let the critics in. And besides--do you have anything better to do than try?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In Defense of Romance Novels

My librarian mom will roll her eyes. My professors from college will throw things at me. But eventually, the secret will have to come out: I have a not-so-secret love of romance novels.

I think the first one I read was when I was around ten years old. My mom ran the local library, and I had the run of the place. There were some books I was emphatically NOT allowed to take out, though, and among those were romance novels. Of course, once I found out how strictly forbidden they were, I had to read one. So I grabbed one off the paperback rack--I still remember; it was Man of My Dreams by Johanna Lindsey--and I hid it in my backpack. I didn't even check it out, because my mom would find out I had it if I did. I took it home, hid it behind my bed, and waited for mom and dad to go to sleep. Then I took it out and read it under the covers, with a flashlight. I stayed up all night reading it, and man--was I tired the next morning.

Men and women were a bit of a mystery to me when I was a kid. I didn't really "get" relationships. But when I read my first romance novel, it's like a light went off in my brain: "oh--so THAT's what it's supposed to be like!" Which, unfortunately, led me to years and years of comparing the guys I met in real life to the guys I met between the covers of my clandestine books (all through high school, I never actually checked one out).

A lot of people I know don't really get romance novels. People say they're trashy. My boyfriend (yes, eventually I did actually fall in love with a real guy) thinks they're porn for girls. Strong women I respect think they're sexist and demeaning. And I think there's a bit of a grain of truth to some of these things.

But the thing about romance novels is this: much of mainstream media is all about the male gaze. You can't really have an average-looking heroine in most movies; even with romantic comedies geared toward women, the heroine is pretty and the guy can be cute, or not (um...Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally? Ben Stiller in There's Something About Mary?). It's very rare that you find a romantic comedy where the guy is gorgeous and the girl is just so-so. I mean, yes, it's true that a lot of amazing guys aren't perfect tens--but that's not the point. The point is that these movies are, even subconsciously, geared towards men's fantasies, not women's.

Romance novels, however, are completely and totally oriented towards women's fantasies--and that's relatively rare in our society. The heroine in romance novels is often beautiful, but she does NOT have to be. In older books the women are always gorgeous, but in the newer ones some of them can be downright plain. And that's really refreshing to me: because the hero (who's always good-looking) is also always insanely attracted to her. It's not because she looks like Nicole Kidman--she's just got some certain something he can't keep his hands off of.

I read an article somewhere that if guys want to know what women really want, deep down, they should read romance novels. And I think that's true--romance novels speak to many of us more strongly than romantic comedies and television. Because the nice, friendly guy with the great sense of humor is wonderful--but he's not the guy women fantasize about. Our greatest fantasies are all about meeting this incredible Matthew McConaghey-type who is way out of our league and who, somehow, falls completely head-over-heels for us and sweeps us off to travel the world in his yacht. It's kind of a new variation on the old one about the prince who fell in love with the peasant girl and made her a princess. That's what makes our toes curl.

(I think I misspelled Matthew McConaghey's last name. Now he'll never fall in love with my cartoon avatar and sweep me off my feet. So much for my master plan...)

The graphic sex is another thing people tend to misunderstand. A lot of people think it's porn for women. And I guess in a way you could say romance novels are exactly that. But it's emotional porn, not physical. The sex in romance novels always, always serves the relationship. The graphic descriptions aren't gratuitous; they're showing us an intimate moment that the whole book has been building toward. If the author cut us out of the action right at that crucial moment, she'd be cheating us of an enormous emotional payoff.

And I guess if real porn shows you what guys fantasize about, romance novels show you that women's fantasies are more complex. We want the hot sex, yes. But we also want to feel fundamentally desired. Like the guy we're with will slay outlaws, storm castles, and brave anything to have us--both physically and emotionally. The ruthless alpha male is a mainstay of the genre, and with good reason: these guys want what they want, and they don't care what they have to do to get it. And when the thing they want is US, that's absolutely irresistible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Its autumn, the air is crisper, the days are growing far too short, and I’ve finally accepted the fact that I will be spending more time indoors. For whatever reason, I find that I hunker down and write more in the Fall/Winter then the summer. Maybe because the weather is so much worse, or maybe because time seems to slow down a bit in the Winter months—I can’t be sure exactly, but my mind tends to become more interested in other worlds/words/possibilities.

Normally, I would save a post like this until a Friday—but I suggest any of you out there who are looking for a great mid-week escape to actually slow down and pay attention to the world around you. In this past week I've been dealt some devastating news.... someone very dear to me has been told she has about a year to live. It’s been a very difficult thing to digest (I'm still numb). I’ve tried to think about what I would do if I knew I had one year left (give or take). I’m pretty sure a lavish trip would be in the cards and reading some of those books I ‘always meant to read’, perhaps writing that novel that’s been rumbling around in my head. In any case, I’d try the to make the most of my time.

After spending far too much time in hospitals over the past month, I’ve come to one realization—that I was never so conscious of noise (or the absence thereof) as I was in a hospital. So, I suggest you take a break and listen to the sounds around you. What can you hear (crickets, computers, the tea kettle?) and what do all those sounds mean? Can you find a story in them?

Below is the opening that has helped me find a story:

Between every other beep of the monitor I tried to breathe. I wanted to fill the room with sound. You are never so conscious of noise as you are in a hospital…

Good luck. Take a break this Wednesday and get in touch with the sounds of autumn.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Whose Gaze?

I had a friend once in college who was an Art History major. She was continually talking about something called “the Male Gaze.” She was particularly into Renaissance art, and told me that a piece of artwork was actually a conversation between the subject of the painting—usually a beautiful female—and the person looking at the painting. Every artist had an ideal viewer in mind, and, according to my friend, Renaissance artists pictured their ideal viewer as male. So they painted a lot of beautiful women in various stages of undress, looking at the viewer provocatively. They weren’t looking at another woman that way. They were performing for the Male Gaze, not the female one.

Renaissance art may be part of history—but the Male Gaze is as contemporary as it gets. The modern media caters to it relentlessly. A really obvious example of this is the typical beer commercial—it’s rare to find one without a scantily-clad model implying that she’s available to any slob who orders this beer in a bar.

But you find it elsewhere, too. There’s no question that sex sells. But whose sex? Beautiful women shill for everything, from cell phone plans to cars to vacation cruises. This is odd, when women control at least half of all household spending money in the country. You occasionally see advertisers using these tactics on women as well—I remember reading an article from some advertising exec for Mr. Clean, suggesting that they wanted women to “fantasize” about their chrome-domed spokes-cartoon. But compare the number of beautiful women you see in ads to the amount of beautiful men, and you’ll probably see that the women are much more ubiquitous.

It’s not ads, though, where I really notice the Male Gaze. It’s movies and sitcoms. Have you noticed, in TV-land, how often beautiful women get with average—or even sub-average—guys? I think I first noticed something was up when I saw There’s Something About Mary. I just remember thinking, “Come on—Cameron Diaz chooses Ben Stiller over that football player? The guy looks like a tree stump with eyebrows!” And then there’s Cider House Rules—if Tobey Maguire wasn’t a movie star, do you really think he’d have a chance with someone who looks like Charlize Theron? Puh-leeze.

You notice it a lot in sitcoms, too. King of Queens is an obvious example. So is That 70’s Show—Donna was so out of Eric’s league. You even see it in cartoons—the fat, kinda slow guy is so often paired with the good-looking, smart wife, it’s become a clichĂ©. These movies and shows clearly aren’t written with women’s desires in mind—they’re written by, for, and largely about guys.

Our culture worships a feminine ideal that most women can’t attain—and then pairs that ideal with male icons who couldn’t be more ordinary. It sends women a bleak message: you have to be gorgeous. And even then, you’ll probably wind up with the fat guy. Or the one with the overbite. Guys, of course, are conditioned to think it’s realistic to date women who look like models, no matter what they themselves look like. All this is bad news for normal-looking girls, who find themselves competing with Charlize Theron, as well as for beautiful women, who get pestered by potato-shaped guys in bars who think they actually have a chance.

So what can we do about it? Easy. Let’s make a bunch of movies that pair Judy Dench with Brad Pitt. Let’s have some more sitcoms about older women paired with Latino hotties ten years their junior (hey—it worked for I Love Lucy). Let’s show women that guys aren’t half as shallow as the media says they are.

And let’s think a little more about the Female Gaze in ads. There are a lot of products out there who are missing out on half their potential customer base. I’m not a big fan of Bud Light, for example. But I’d probably drink it, if I really believed it had the power to compel that hot guy by the jukebox to come over and hit on me.

Which is why I love romance novels. But that's another blog post.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What I'm Reading: Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair

I have to admit, I wasn’t crazy about this book right away.

The Eyre Affair is a mystery/fantasy—an interesting blending of the genres. In a world where the arts dominate daily life, detective Thursday Next must catch arch-fiend Acheron Hades. Hades has stolen a machine that allows people from the “real” world to enter the worlds of individual books. They can change stories and even bring fictional characters over into the real world. Hades is using the machine to kidnap characters of famous novels and hold them for ransom.

In Fforde’s vision of the world, literature and the arts dominate society. There’s a lively black market for forgeries of famous manuscripts; when we first meet Thursday, she’s working as a LiteraTec, breaking up crime rings of counterfeit literature. French impressionists lurk in alleyways and assault surrealists, who riot in the streets. Baconians go door to door, proselytizing that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Panhandlers recite Longfellow to earn their handouts. Fforde clearly loved his literature, but at first it was a little too cutesy for me. It seemed like an interesting construct of a world, but I didn’t know if it was interesting enough for me to want to stay with it for 300 pages.

I think one of the reasons I wasn’t wild about it to start with was the lack of characterization. Good characters really draw me into a story, and fantasy and mystery are both genres that traditionally depend on crystal-clear characterization. But Fforde is clearly more interested in his world than in his characters. The heroine is strong and fearless, but she's not fascinating--although she is funny, in a dry sort of way, and she has a cool backstory. But her love interest, her fellow law enforcement officers, and others she interacts with aren’t quite real enough for me to become invested in this world.

Acheron Hades perked the story up when he made his first appearance; he’s a formidable rival who can exert some sort of mind control on his adversaries. And I started to allow myself to be won over when Thursday goes to see Richard III. This is no ordinary production of Richard III, however. It’s been playing regularly for fifteen years. It’s got audience participation like you’d get at a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the audience puts on the play. If there was a showing like that in my town, I’d become a regular. And I have to admit, this book is slowly beginning to grow on me. Like a fungus.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t give you the final verdict on it just now. Will Thursday Next catch Acheron Hades and save Jane Eyre? Will she get back together with estranged boyfriend Landen, or will she succumb to the charms of her coworker/vampire, Spike? Will I stay interested enough to finish the book? Hard to say at the moment…we’ll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Carving out a Writing Niche in your Life

‘If you wrote one page a day, in a year you’d have a novel’, was the sage advice my great-uncle gave me when I discussed my desire to become a writer. At the tender age of twelve this sounded obvious, perhaps even insulting to my intelligence (its hard to be twelve). However, in my twenties, I find myself thinking about this simple statement more and more.

One page. Everyday. It’s not too much of a commitment to make. It’s perhaps a half hour at the computer/notebook pouring my thoughts out onto the page. I’ve been known to waste a half hour trying to decide what sort of take-away I fancy.

Before I got married I lived in a small untidy apartment by myself. I used to assign myself a magic word number to attempt to write to. Sometimes I achieved my goal. Mostly, I felt disillusioned. After I got married I realized that everything had changed. I had to share my time, my space, and my life with someone else. Cooking a half-hearted dinner and then plopping down to write in front of the computer was no longer an option. I had someone who actively wanted my company and as a result I had to adjust my thoughts on how to plan writing into my life. It took me a few months, but I managed to devise a plan that has worked for me thus far. Its ever evolving…so watch this space!

1. Make a date to write: Ok, some of us may not have time to write everyday. Sometimes we are just too busy, but if you want to write you should do just that. No one can write your story for you. Block out time in your planner to commit to your work. If you feel overwhelmed by the different projects you are working on then block out specific times to work on each project. This should help you streamline your efforts.

2. The amount doesn’t matter: Ok, sometimes I feel like if I’m only going to be able to write a paragraph it’s not worth the hassle of powering on my computer. However, that paragraph is a lot better then the alternative, no paragraph, or a paragraph locked in your brain.

3. Scribble: Many of my friends are compulsive scribblers. They jot down ideas for poems, stories, and process art sculptures, in the most bizarre places. Never be afraid to assault a napkin and put your ideas on paper. Just don’t forget where you’ve put them and offer them to a friend.

4. Go for a walk/get outside: During a brief period while I was unemployed I found myself with far too much time on my hands and a complete lack of creative ability. I wanted to make the most of my glutinous afternoons off to write and apply for jobs, but couldn’t find the inspiration. So, each day around 4pm (the saddest time of day for any job hunter as you realize you haven’t been given a job and will have to wake up the next morning and do this all over again) I went for a walk through my neighbourhood. It was the dead of winter and the days were still pretty short, but I remember noticing all the life and beauty that surrounded me (not the mention the amazing sunsets). The cold, and the natural stillness of that time in my life helped me to sort through my ideas and clarify the story I was working on. By being outside and away from my computer I was able to get the perspective I needed to find something worth writing about.

5. Write something short: My husband always suggests this when I get stressed out about lacking ideas/time. He's got a point. If you write something short, a poem, a short short story, or a prompt you can complete something. Sometimes completing a project is all it takes to give you the confidnece to get to work on something else.

6. Think of Writing as Archaeology: This thought always inspires me. Writing is a process of digging. It’s a process of uncovering a story that only you have to tell. It’s about bringing something hidden to the surface and then showing it to the world. Letting it breathe new life again.

Remember its not about a magic word count, a page count, or any other tricks you might concoct to help you endure the your battle with the blank page. In the end, it’s about the archaeology of the story, the world you create which will get your butt back into that chair every time.