Archive | April, 2010

10 Things You Never Knew You Always Wanted To Know

30 Apr

When I first started this blog, I wasn’t sure what it would become.  Rants about parking lot villains?  Sure, why not!  Recounting my horrible customer service experiences?  Yes, sir.

Naturally, I decided to go anonymous.

Soon after I began the blog, though, it became less of a place to rant, and more of a how-’bout-I-chronicle-my-novel-writing-project? sort of place.  Now that I’ve built a community of amazing, supportive writer friends — and because I don’t rant much anymore¹ — I decided to attach my name to it.  And a picture.  See the sidebar.

Let me just pause here to say a HUGE part of why I went ahead and did this was to impress my software-engineer husband with taking the initiative to learn a little HTML to make it happen.  That was just the thing that pushed me over the edge, though.  Most of you already know my name, I just hadn’t officially added it to the blog yet.

Okay.  So, in honor of that, I thought I’d do a little personal post today.  What the heck, right?  It’s Friday.  I’m editing.  It’s a good little break from revising, so here we go!

(Side note: for a less-crammed version of the stuff that follows, make sure you’ve clicked on the actual post and are not just on the home page.  It’s more spread out that way.)

10 Things You Never Knew You Always Wanted To Know

(Or, Maybe Not. But Whatever.)

  1. I get my hair from both of my parents: curls from my dad, color from my mom.  The picture I posted makes it look darker than it actually is.  For a decade, I had fear of phobic proportions of getting my hair cut.  Finally, I found something that works.  Want to read more about my hair trauma?  Here you go.
  2. I LOVE artichokes.  Load up the plate, please, with as many as you can give me.  Please do not forget, especially if we’ve ordered take-out, because my poor husband has to see me get all dejected over it.
  3. I can say “You smell like cheese,” in five languages.  They include Japanese, Norwegian, English, Spanish, and sign language.  I can also say my fair share of “I love you” to much of the world, though that phrase doesn’t work too well with the first one.  I can sing “Jesus loves the little children” in Norwegian, and also recite a random Bible verse in the same language.  Perhaps you can tell that I had a Norwegian roommate in college?
  4. I love rain.  Hate lightning, but love rain.  I think this is because some of my favorite memories happened in rain storms — I remember watching storms with my dad from our front porch when I was little; also, I rode a bicycle for a couple miles in the rain, alone, in Shanghai one night, a memory that brings back feelings of independence, confidence, and complete surreality.  Rain inspires, rather than depresses, me.
  5. I only went to two weeks of first grade, then skipped to second.  I often wonder what my life would be like if things had been different.  When I wonder these things, I’m thankful things happened the way they did.
  6. I learned how to sing on a steady diet of Mariah Carey and show tunes.  My mom is a music teacher, so I grew up around it.  I play the piano and the guitar, and played the bassoon for seven years all through school.
  7. I’m a Bible-believing Christian.  Some of you believe the same way I do, some of you believe the exact opposite.  Some of you are in-between, or don’t believe in anything.  I love you all.  Oh yeah, and I collect Bibles in all sorts of languages: some of the more unusual ones include Icelandic, Dutch, Russian, and Chinese.
  8. One of my favorite cookbooks is huge and yellow, and it’s from Gourmet magazine.  I love to try recipes from it — it has the best instructions, and backstory, of any other cookbook I own.  Everything I’ve tried from it has come out perfect, with the exception of the gingerbread pancakes, which I’ve attempted — and failed at — no less than four times.
  9. I want to live near the ocean, or the mountains.  Probably would choose oceans over mountains, if given the choice.  I live near neither.  Even the lakes aren’t exactly inspiring around here.
  10. Once upon a time, my idea of working out was defined as such: walk a single lap around the trail at the park, twice per year.  These days, I actually enjoy running, weight training, yoga, and even doing planks and side planks and all those other things that hurt.  I continue to learn discipline, daily, whether it’s at the gym, or writing from my computer, or being wise with finances.
  11. BONUS!  My favorite movie is Waiting for Guffman, and it’s one of the only movies I can remember quotes from.

And so it ends.  Time for me to kick Mr. Cat out of my chair and get back to revisions.

¹And, because when I have in the past, I tried my best to take a make-the-best-out-of-it approach, rather than a please-hate-me-once-you-read-this approach.

Intricacies

28 Apr

It’s been a while since my last Project: Edit update.¹  I’m almost hesitant to write one, given my tendency to jinx myself whenever I’ve had a string of productive days, but whatever.  Update you I shall.

Things have been productive.

It took a while to get started on the actual editing of my second draft, but the ball is rolling on that.  I’m taking it scene by scene, doing my best to be all there when I write.  Somewhere, a long time ago, I wrote that the first and second drafts felt super rewarding, but for different reasons.  Already, the same holds true for my third draft.

For the first draft, I didn’t know where I was going, didn’t know what kind of characters I’d meet along the way.  What resulted was surprisingly coherent, but far from polished.  I added subplots, strengthened characters, bada-bing bada-boom,² the second draft was born.  With both of those drafts, I wrote to get the story down, not to make it pretty.

This time feels different.  It feels slow, calculated, intricate.  Not overworked — just worked.  It’s fun to focus on each scene, fun to make each one special, fun to know the whole story and strengthen its parts.  As satisfying as it was to know I could produce quantity, it’s a hundred times more satisfying to see the quantity morph into (what I hope is) quality.

It’s late, and it’s been a full day.  Time for a little Curb Your Enthusiasm (our most recent DVD fix) after a midnight conversation with my sweet husband and my little editing assistant.³

Project: Edit Update | The note card system is alive and thriving.  I’m still working my way through section one (of nine), but progress is progress.  Diligence is key, and that’s been going well.

¹If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click on “Challenges” at the top of the sidebar.

²And by bada-bing bada-boom, I mean, of course, that it happened overnight.  And by overnight, I actually mean that it took a while.  A long while.

³Also known as Mr. Remy Fang Richard Alpert the Cat, pictured above, hard at work.  He sits in my lap whenever I write, which is adorable until he decides my wrists are made for biting.  Always nice.

Merrilee Faber’s Creativity Workshop

23 Apr

Something really cool just landed in my lap, and no, it’s not a spilled glass of iced water.

It’s an opportunity.

A challenge.

A here’s-a-chance-to-grow-in-your-skills-and-discipline-and-creativity sort of opportunity-slash-challenge, dropped down from the sky courtesy of the amazing Merrilee Faber.

Basically, she’s taken the initiative to organize and put on a fourteen-week Creativity Workshop (one week of intro, thirteen weeks of workshop) from May 2 – August 5.  There’s a whole slew of awesomeness wrapped up in this opportunity, including a wide range of applicable topics to be covered by Merrilee and the various guest bloggers she’s lined up. Here in a minute, I’m going to direct you to her two most recent posts for more information.

To quote Merrilee, “It is a workshop about teaching yourself to be creative when you need to be, not at the whim of the muse or the tides or the phase of the moon.”

I don’t know about you guys, but this sounds great to me.  For more information about what kind of work is involved, what kind of topics will be covered, who the guest bloggers are, and to sign up, follow the links below.

A brief overview (the what, the why, and other answers to questions)

More details, schedule, and sign-ups

Let me know if you decide to join Melissa, Cassie (JC), yours truly, and — of course — Merrilee, as we brave this adventure.  I fully expect it will rock.  In fact, it will probably rock so hard that I’ll spill iced water all over my lap and then be inspired to write something creative about it.

Shadows, Sun, Stillness

21 Apr

Peace.  Today seems like it just might be full of it.

Unlike yesterday.

Yesterday, I learned that for some people, nothing goes better with 8:30am sun and breeze than a good, loud dose of rap music.  Bonus points if said music echoes through the entire courtyard when others are trying to concentrate.

I also learned that my idea of proper laundry room etiquette doesn’t exactly line up with everyone else’s.  Seriously, just because I got up early to use the four washing machines, it doesn’t mean I might want to dry my clothes right after that, you know?  It’s perfectly fine with me if you disregard the usual order of who-got-there-first and dump your own wet laundry in the dryer right when I’m about to use it.  Perfectly.  Fine.¹

But, whatever.  It was a sunny day, albeit a loud and laundry-filled day, and I did my best to be patient.  The music stopped, eventually, and my clothes are dry and folded.²  Even though my DVR somehow managed to not record Glee, it was still Tuesday: Lost-day.  Plus, my friend brought me a free non-fat latte and some Shiner for our midnight Lost-viewing refreshments.  (Public Service Announcement: there’s a reason Starbucks doesn’t make Grande Non-Fat Beer Lattes.)

Today, though: aaaaaahhhhhhh.

I can smell peace, and it smells like green grass and potted plants.  It sounds like breeze in the leaves, and the on-going conversation between the two little red birds who sit in those leaves.  It’s sun and shadows, and the fact that they’re shifting slowly.  It’s stillness.  This day will not escape me like yesterday did.

I’m fully aware that inner peace and circumstantial peace are two separate things.  Sometimes, though, circumstantial cacophony has its way of drowning out inner peace’s calm voice.  Today, the two peaces are having a nice little conversation.  I hope it’s a long one.

Better take advantage of this morning, so I’m off to start reading the last few chapters of Linda’s novel!  (PS: Go read Linda’s latest post, and not just because she says nice things about yours truly.  It’s full of honest perspective on rejection and the often discouraging querying process.)

I wish you all a peaceful day of sun, breeze, and birds.  (Singing birds, as opposed to creepy Alfred Hitchcock birds.  Also as opposed to the visually challenged kinds of birds who nosedive into windows, or birds who mistake big hair for their nests/toilets.)

¹I guess I should add, in her defense, that she cleaned her clothes in her own washer and they happened to need drying at the same time as mine.  Being dryer-less, what else was she to do?  Wait?  Though I understand where she’s coming from, it had a frustrating effect on me nonetheless, due to the way I had scheduled my day.  (Got up early to do laundry, only to have it take way longer than expected due to Dryer Girl.)  Add rap music to the mix, and the frustration was turned all the way up to eleven.  (This Is Spinal Tap, anyone?)

²As for dry, folded, and put away?  Not so much.

Writing Scenes That Resonate: What I’ve Learned From Patty Griffin’s Songwriting

19 Apr

Before the days of Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Britney, there were…well…people known more for singing and songwriting than weird outfits and wicked awesome dancing.  People like Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, and Patty Griffin.  Since I am neither a wicked awesome dancer nor a clad-in-bubble-wrap-or-the-occasional-kermit-the-frog-outfit kind of girl, I relate more to this selection of performers than the first.

[Um, speaking of mid-nineties music, I must take a brief detour to tell you that "Gangsta's Paradise" just blasted its way over the coffee shop speakers.  Huh.  I was under the impression that the Ubiquitous Powers That Be had made an unspoken pact to never again let this song meet airwaves.  Guess I was wrong.]

Most of you don’t know this about me, because I hardly blog about it, but music has always been a HUGE part of my life.  I sing, play piano and guitar, and write music.  If I wasn’t pursuing all things author/novels/writing, there’s a good chance I would be more focused on songwriting and performing.  Alas, ever since I decided to aim for master of one rather than jack of all, music has been relegated to hobby status.

That said, I thought it would be fun to combine my two worlds today and write about how music has affected my novel-writing life.  Though I could write about each of the artists I mentioned above, I’m just going to focus on Patty Griffin.  This is because she’s my favorite, and also because I went to her concert last week and have pretty pictures I can include.  Did I mention she’s my favorite?  (I read a rumor somewhere that some of you *ahem, Melissa* have never heard of her.  To this I say, “HERESY,” and also, “I have links for you later.  Check them out because she’s my favorite.”)

So.  Why is she my favorite, and how on earth am I going to marry this to something writing-related, you ask?

Patty Griffin’s songs are like little windows into the souls of people’s lives, poignant portaits of strangers.  She creates scenes with her songs, elicits emotion with just a smattering of well-chosen words, then sings them with conviction.  Her voice is authentic, never forced.  Being familiar with most of her writing has taught me a ton about conveying emotion, and that specific details make a scene resonate.  Patty’s songs inspire me to be more creative in which images I choose and the way I present them; that it’s not how many, but which, words are used.  Words that subtly hint at raw emotion, without being too terribly on-the-nose.

Rather than just tell you vague information, I decided to include specific examples for you.  Deep in the dumpster of YouTube, I waded for an hour (an hour, I tell you!) trying to decide which song I should focus on.  Then, I gave up.  All of her songs are good.

I refuse to leave you with zero examples, and this post would go on until tomorrow if I included everything.  So, as brief as possible, here are three of my favorite examples of things I love about Patty’s songs:

1

Long black limousine / shiniest car I’ve ever seen / the backseat is nice and clean / she rides as quiet as a dream // Someone dug a hole six long feet in the ground / said goodbye to you, then I threw my roses down / ain’t nothin’ left at all in the end of bein’ proud / with me riding in this car and you flying through them clouds // I’ve had some time to think about you / and watch the sun sink like a stone / I’ve had some time to think about you / on the long ride home.

— “Long Ride Home,” from her album 1,000 Kisses

Another line from that song goes, “Forty years go by with someone layin’ in your bed / forty years of things you’ve seen and wish you’d never said / how hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead?” Details of the limousine and the roses and the hole in the ground all just kinda work together to make this sad story of someone who just lost their spouse; in verse 2 (the part quoted in this paragraph) she adds this whole story of regret into the mix, with one simple line.  Painful, and brilliant.

2

It’s not far / I can walk / down the block / to Table Talk / close my eyes / make the pies all day // Plastic cap / on my hair / used to mind / now I don’t care / used to mind / now I don’t care / cause I’m gray // Did I show you this picture of my nephew / taken at his big birthday surprise / at my sister’s house last Sunday / this is Monday and I’m makin’ pies

“Makin’ Pies,” also from 1,000 Kisses

This song has a distinct Eleanor Rigby feel to it: lonely.  The part about the plastic cap on her hair, how she used to mind but now doesn’t care?  Breaks my little heart every time.

3

Diamonds, roses / I need Moses / to part this sea of loneliness, cross this Red River of pain // I don’t / necessarily buy / any key to the future, or happiness but I / need a little place in the sun sometimes or I think I will die // and everywhere is somewhere and nowhere is near / everybody got somebody with their wine and their beer / and I’m just this tragic figure in the corner over here / go home to an empty apartment and call a best friend who is queer

— “Moses,” from Living With Ghosts

Talk about being surrounded by people, but alone, desperate for love and inclusion.

I could go on and on.  I won’t.  If you want to hear more of her stuff, I recommend these two albums (Living with Ghosts and 1,000 Kisses) — not a bad song on either of them. [PS: For some strange reason, 1,000 Kisses isn't on I-Tunes.  Here's a link to the album on Amazon, if you're interested.  I think you can even listen to samples.]

Since I don’t want my hour-long YouTube dumpster dive to be in vain, here are links to two songs that relate to what I’ve told you about here.  First, “Long Ride Home,” which I quoted earlier; second, “Useless Desires,” another song about loneliness with particularly good use of imagery.  (Click here to see lyrics to that one.)

Anyway.  Maybe I’ll share one of my own songs with you guys one of these days.  Until then, happy writing (and listening)!


Somewhere, Over The Rainbow…

17 Apr

Well, what have we here?  Gorgeous gray skies, peaceful rain, and…a new post?  What? What?!

Close those jaws, friends.  That way, despite the hum of the computer and the whirr of the fan, you might — if you listen hard enough — actually hear me saying I’m sorry for being such a lame blogger as of late.  I know there’s at least one of you who cares. (See Melissa’s all-caps comment on my last post, if you don’t believe me…)(Side note for Melissa: Thanks for the kick in the butt, my friend!  It worked.)  Sorry, y’all.

So, anyway, those lame days?  Are over.  I don’t want to be lame.  (Who does, right?)  I hereby announce my plan to blog on a regular basis again!  Blogging is fun and I love all of you sweet blog-friends, so it won’t be too hard.

The hardest part, actually, was figuring out what to say after two meaty posts in a row.  It’s kind of hard to let myself switch gears from posts like “Here’s everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about my editing process” and “Here’s my treatise on beta-reading,” and go back to mundane minutiae.  Gone are the days where I write about butter knives.  (Yes. That day did, indeed, exist.  No link for you; if you really want to read it…well…have fun on that little scavenger hunt.) Butter knives aren’t interesting or relevant to much of anything — this blog has totally become more “thoughts on writing” than “thoughts on things.”  Back in the early days, I wasn’t sure what it would become, and I’ve got to say: I like being writing-focused.

That said, I need to allow myself to hang out in the deep-ish part of the pool, too.  I don’t have to pressure myself to be in diving board territory every single time.  (Don’t get me wrong, though: I don’t plan to hang out in three-year-old territory, either.)

So, I was totally going to write a whole post about Patty Griffin — my favorite musician, whose concert we attended last night¹ — and what her music has taught me about writing.  This post has morphed into something longer than I planned for, though, so I think I’ll save that for tomorrow or Monday.

Not to get all sappy on you guys, but thank you so much for being faithful blog-friends to me, even though I’ve been…you know…not so very present as of late.  You guys rock.

Mr. Cat says hello, by the way.  He’s missed you guys, too.²

¹Eeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!

²As for Mr. Dexter the Kitty, he doesn’t know what’s going on.  He’s made a recent habit out of scratching paint chips from the windowsill and scarfing them down like kitty treats.  Paint chips + terror kitten = a really spazzed out alarm clock for us on some mornings.

The Specifics: Learning to Beta

5 Apr

Armed with a (new) totebag full of supplies — highlighters, my stack of notecards, pens galore, post-its, flip-flops (so my awesome new boots don’t die if these dark clouds make good on their threats), and two file folders full of paper — I’m ready to work.

Not that I haven’t been ready to work this past week and a half — quite the opposite, actually.  Last week was quite a productive one.  So productive, in fact, that I looked up this morning and noticed I was verging on an unprecedented two week gap between posts.

Perhaps you assume that I’m working on turning my second draft from clunky to glorious.  Or, perhaps you assume that by “productive,” I mean making major progress in getting a friend caught up on LOST by hosting a marathon last Wednesday.  Or, if you’re really really really optimistic, you assume that I’m SO BUSY because I’m spending at least an hour at the gym every day.

In these assumptions, you’d be partly right.  (An hour at the gym each day is too generous.  And the LOST marathon?  We limited ourselves to three episodes.)  Actually, a big portion of last week, in addition to all of those things, was devoted to learning something new.

For the first time, I’m learning how to beta read for someone.  (Feel free to out yourself, special someone!)

“What’s the big deal?  Don’t you just read the thing and tell them what you think about it?” Well, yes and no.  In essence, you read the thing and tell the writer what you think.  Really, though, I’m learning to READ the thing and TELL the writer what I think and WHY.  (In case you missed it, I emphasized a few words there…)

Being a beta reader has been excellent practice in both communication and in reading with an observant eye.  Does this work?  Why does it work?  Why not?  Do I like this part?  Why do I like it?  What is going on underneath the surface of the printed words?  Do I have any guesses at what’s coming next?  Too many guesses, or just the right amount?  Am I confused during any parts?  At what point did I become confused?

You get the picture.  All of these examples can be summed up like this: I’m learning to be specific.  To say, “I liked this scene because ______ and _______ and ______, and it really works well with the overall theme you’re trying to communicate (which is _____, if I’m right?) because of ______.” versus “That scene seemed to go well with her character and I liked reading it.”  What does that even mean, you know?  Being specific, as you go, lets the writer see exactly where she has accomplished her goals, and where she wasn’t as clear as she’d hoped to be.

Beta reading has also taught me how much to insert myself into my comments.  It’s a little bit tricky to balance subjectivity with objectivity.  My approach has evolved into I’m going to go ahead and communicate my opinions, but not as FACT with capital letters.  The truth is, I am a reader, and I have an opinion.  Those truths alone make my perspective valid, so if I’m getting something from what she wrote, that means it is possible for someone to perceive it in that particular way.  However, the trick is to communicate that perspective with the understanding that I am only one person.  My comments and thoughts, while valid, may only represent 1% of all readers, so I should present them in a way that’s honest and sincere, yet objective.

Therein lies freedom.  Freedom for the beta reader to honestly communicate what she thinks works and what doesn’t; freedom for the writer to take those thoughts and do what she thinks is best for the WIP and for all readers.

Not only is this helpful for the writer, it’s (obviously) a good learning lesson for you as the reader.  It’s a good way to take a break from your own work while still working out your mind — I’m super excited about diving back into my own novel today, now that I’ve had so much practice reading someone else’s work objectively and looking for specifics.

Those of you who have experience in this — whether from the perspective of the writer or the beta reader — do you have any advice or comments to add?

Now!  To dive into work…

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