Archive | October, 2009


19 Oct

One batch of cherry-pistachio biscotti baked, a mountain of laundry (almost) cleaned¹, every meal in October prepared at home (with two exceptions), numerous cat-fights squelched, countless coffee dates with friends, and one a-cappella-jazz-singing-group joined:  it’s been a busy month.  

Throw in the writing and revisions I’ve done on my novel, and the still-semi-frequent trips to the gym, and you’d think I’d be overwhelmed, or zonked out on the couch watching marathons of shows like MTV’s Made, or old seasons of Top Chef.

Actually, though, I’m quite energized by all of this awesomeness going on as of late.  I’ve only succumbed to one episode of Made, and no marathons of anything.  A few years ago, I went through a my-life-is-one-big-meeting season, which led to the I’m-sick-of-my-life-being-one-big-meeting phase, during which I swore off busy-overcomittedness altogether.  I’ve come out of that one, and have built up my commitment level again to something healthy.


So, now that we’ve established I’m not zonked or drowning, you should know that today is the day I’m moving forward.  Enough of this twiddling over mid-draft revisions: time for new action!  Yay!  I waited until it was Monday morning so I’d have a fresh start, a fresh week, fresh energy².  

Hold me to it, you guys.  

It’s easy to let the yumminess of cherry-pistachio biscotti get in the way of sitting down to write, easy to put aside my goals for coffee dates, easy to say but I need to go to the gym…But, there’s a time and a place for those things.  While important, this week, I need to FOCUS.  I need to DO, not just talk.  

This week, in order to motivate myself even more, I shall commit to the scary:  every morning, I will post an update on how well I’m doing at this goal.  To give you perspective, I have about 40,000 words left to write on this draft.  I haven’t set a specific goal for this week, it’s more like an ambiguous write, and write as much as you can that passes for quality goal.  That way, I won’t stop when I merely write a sufficient amount of words, but hopefully it will get me to push myself as hard as is reasonable.

Support and encouragement are welcome, whether they come in the form of kind words or kicks in the butt.  Like I said, hold me to it.  You guys rock.

¹Folded and put away?  Another story.

²In case you can’t tell, the energy showed up on time.  (Or, maybe that’s the latte.  One can never be too sure.  I think the energy came first, though.)

Paragraphical Insanity

15 Oct

In case you haven’t heard, Nathan Bransford, literary-agent-slash-blogger-extraordinaire, is holding a contest.  The poor (crazy?) man has volunteered his free time to read the 2300 entries (and counting) people have posted.  The contest: “The 3rd Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge.”

You have until later today to enter your tweaked-to-tears first paragraph, one shot to impress.  When I say “one shot,” what I really mean is “don’t do what I did and submit two different entries, then read the rules that say you can only enter once.”  I think I’ve been forgiven, since he deleted my first entry at my request.  But still.  Awesome first impression, right?  Riiight.

Okay, and here’s a pretty funny coincidence that has to do with Nathan’s contest – did you guys read my post the other day, the one called Lava?  I wrote a little bit about how it’s possible to infuse drama into anything, but ultimately, some things just don’t compel people to care.  I whipped up a stupid little example about a woman who has based her entire life collecting pristine rows of embroidery thread, then freaks out when one of the ends are frayed.  

Well, last night, after I entered, my husband and I read through lots of the entries people had submitted.  In a freak coincidence, we ran across an entry about someone who collects embroidery thread and has them all lined up in rows.  Weird¹!  I’m a little worried the author might see this blog and take offense, but in all seriousness, I stand by my point.  You are going to need to do a whole lot to make something compelling out of an embroidery thread collection.

Whatever Nathan’s motives for taking on such an insane project this week, he’s gained another faithful blog-follower in me.  Head on over and check it out, even if you don’t plan to enter.  Any writer could learn a great deal just by scoping out lots and lots of entries.  Personally, it was eye-opening to see so many people trying to stand out, to see what worked and what got lost in the sea of words/ideas.

Alright!  Best of luck to you guys, should you choose to enter.  Let’s all thank Linda Cassidy Lewis for her post on this, because without her, I’d never have known it was happening.  

¹If you feel like seeing the embroidery-thread entry for yourself, check out the comment made on Nathan’s post, which was submitted in the comments at 4:04pm, the 14th of October.  If you feel like seeing mine, it’s at 6:31pm of the same day.  Warning, you’ll have to sift through pages of stuff to get there – it would be best to start toward the end of the comments.  I don’t want to reprint the paragraph itself, lest I be accused of taking what’s not mine without permission.


14 Oct

Project Fix-Those-Ten-Thousand-Or-So-Words-In-The-Middle is done, more or less.  Cue the rejoicing angels, because I’ve managed to focus just enough to be productive without being obsessive.  

My novel’s middle is in the recovery room, held together with fragile black sutures, but held together it is.  No guts spilling out, no bones poking through.  Nothing major, anyway.  It took one laid-back week to read through it critically, and another week to do the surgery.  I could probably spend all of next week tweaking it to death, but I’ve decided to leave the tweaks for when I read through the full version of this manuscript.  And the full version will not get written if I spend weeks dillydallying around making one section ‘perfect,’ whatever that means, if it’s even possible.

Being a perfectionist(ish) person, it’s hard for me to separate what needs to be done right now and what can wait until I finish the full draft.  What I have right now is not the prettiest, fanciest thing, but it’s functional.  It’s alive.  It’s definitely good enough to leave the tweaking for later and move on to writing fresh scenes.

With all the reading and edits I’ve done lately, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing every single day.  I need to build my writing diligence back up again, need to get back in the swing of planting myself at the screen and typing away.  Though I haven’t fully decided whether or not I want to commit this year, I went ahead and created a NaNoWriMo¹ account.  With a new idea ready in the wings, I’m still tempted to try it, if for nothing else other than stretching my writing muscles back out again on a project unrelated to the current one.  

Anyway, the sun just started shining over Texas again.  It’s been cloudy and rainy for weeks.  I’ll pretend to be one of those people who prefers sunny days for a second, and say something cheesy like, “The rainy season of my novel has ended at last!  The sun is shining upon it once again!”

Told you it would be cheesy.

Hopefully it will start pouring again soon², and I can wear my super-awesome yellow rain boots.  And I will write, and write, and write.  And I’ll tell you all about it along the way. 

¹My NaNo name is also owlandsparrow.  Feel free to befriend me, as I will want friends if I do decide to partake in the insanity.

²In real life, I mean.  Not in cheesy-metaphor-land.


13 Oct

My blog surfer has returned to normal, as mysteriously as it freaked out on me.  Rather than updating my last post, I thought I’d go ahead and post again to promote the Blogroll I (finally) added to the sidebar on the right.  

I added some links to my favorite writing websites, though there are a few that are not specifically devoted to writing.  If you don’t know each other already, you should.

Go ahead.  Mingle.  Background music starting…now.

What Just Happened?

13 Oct

Um…you guys?  You still out there?

Just took a break before getting back to work, and discovered my blog surfer function is completely devoid of links.  I’m pouting right now, because it’s my favorite way of keeping track of all my beloved blog friends’ new posts.  And right now, I see a big blank nothing when I click on the link – nothing, that is, except “Is this your first time using friend surfer?  Click here to add links.”  


Is this happening to anyone else?  

I guess I will stretch my break a bit longer so I can reconstruct my list of blog friends.  Oh yeah, and make a back-up list this time.  Don’t want to miss your posts!


So, I tried re-adding everyone, but it just says “added blog” and then nothing shows up.  Weird!  I went to the forums section, and it seems others are having this problem, too.  Hopefully it’s just a glitch.


11 Oct

I don’t know too much about spiders.  I know I’m afraid of them, I know they spin webs, and I know they have eight legs.  Sometimes I wish I had eight legs.    

At the ghastly hour of 7am¹, I woke up this morning, mind reeling about my novel.  The past few days, I’ve been working on switching the order of events in the second quarter of my novel.  

It’s mind-boggling, people, mind-boggling, I tell you.  Worth it, yes.  Easy, no.  

The good thing is, I’m finding my cause-and-effect skills are turning out a more cohesive product than I thought.  So cohesive, in fact, that it’s been difficult to re-order the events I wrote due to everything building upon itself so seamlessly.  Changing the order of one scene means changing six more things around it, changing those six things affects a few others.

It’s difficult, but not impossible.  This is where the eight legs would come in handy.  I feel like I’m knitting a cable-knit sweater with gossamer spiderweb thread.  With only two hands, it’s hard to keep track of all the knits and purls and switching of stitches, all while devoting care to the delicate thread so it doesn’t tear.  It’s worth the time and effort, of course, because no one has a spiderweb-thread cable-knit sweater.

So, for the past week, I’ve planted myself at the table and surrounded myself with my manuscript, lattes, and homemade double-chocolate biscotti.  When I get stuck, I get more coffee, listen to a song or two from Glee², then plant myself at the table again and keep on crunching my brain.  When I leave, my head spins, and I’m exhilarated from all the new ideas I’ve had, and implemented, that strengthen the manuscript.  I enjoy my evening, then go back at it the next day.

I love writing.  It’s hard work, but I love it.  Heck, the challenge is part of the reason I love it.  

And, I’m glad to be able to connect with all of you writers out there as I do it.  I’ve learned a lot from you guys, too, from reading your blogs and having discussions in the comments.  If I could, I’d send you all some homemade double-chocolate biscotti and a latte.  Thanks for all your support.


¹Okay, not so very ghastly after all.  I’ve seen much worse, like 4:30AM when I worked at Starbucks and 3:00AM when we were trying to catch our flight to Guatemala.  But for a Sunday morning, after I went to bed late?  A wee bit ghastly.

²My favorite of the moment is their cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”  Love.  It.  When I say “a song or two,” it sometimes just means this one song repeated twice.  Just so you know.  You can watch the cast perform it live here.


7 Oct

How can it already be Wednesday?  Wow. 

I’m taking a brief break from today’s writing work to tell you guys about the amazing discovery I had this morning.  Seriously.  It kind of rocked my world, and I don’t know how I’ve written so much without it.  Ready?

My villain scares me.  Like, scares me in a Hitler-meets-Voldemort-meets-Benjamin-Linus kind of scary.

And yet, I pity her, in that I’m-so-sad-you-went-through-those-awful-life-experiences way, where you start to understand and feel such sadness for her, it almost excuses her horrible actions.  Almost.

Before this morning, she was sort of shadowy, lurking around, posing a halfhearted threat.  Now, she’s more relatable than I realized, more menacing, more driven.  She’s a danger not only to my main little guy, but to everyone around him.  It’s imperative that she not be allowed to succeed, yet what’s scary is that not everyone in the story can see her danger.

Having larger, scarier consequences automatically makes everything else more important.  Really, you can make tension about anything – not that you should.  For example:  

Emma drove to the fabric store on a rainy Thursday night.  She splashed through the parking lot, soaking her new jeans, and walked the familiar paths of the store’s fluorescent aisles.  Anticipation churned in her stomach as she rounded the corner to aisle twenty – and relief!  Emma plucked the last of shade #1061 from its bin, not even checking for quality, and took it to the counter.  “Lucky you!” the clerk exclaimed, “This shade of violet’s been discontinued!  You got the last one!”  Elated, Emma drove home through the flooded streets.  She tucked the plastic bag inside her rain coat as she raced across her apartment parking lot.  In the dim yellow light of her living room, she opened the door of the display case and smiled.  Pristine rows of embroidery floss, untouched and still in their little paper wrappers, lay in rows on the glass shelves.  Tonight, the last empty space would be filled.  Tonight, years of searching would end.  Emma pulled the violet thread from the bag.  Her hands shook; she flung it to the ground.  Frayed at the ends, it lay at her feet, flawed and rumpled, useless.  Years of searching for perfection, and for what?  She grabbed the display case with both hands and hurled it at her apartment wall.  It shattered, scattering tiny shards of glass everywhere.  Emma stood in the midst of her mess and stared.  Years of ambition, over, just like that.

My point?  Probably obvious, but just in case, you can draw the drama out and infuse tension into any problem cared about by anybody.  To this crazy lady, a collection of perfect embroidery floss is a huge deal.  To everyone else?  Not so much.  It seems like a trivial problem, and it’s not really a threat to her overall well-being, whether physical or financial.  Emotional, perhaps, but it seems she has emotional problems already if she’s gonna get so worked up over the frayed ends of embroidery floss, or if she’s setting out to collect something like this in the first place.  

This is obviously an extreme example of a “who cares?” plot.  Lots of drama (and, um, melodrama) over something so unimportant.  Big deal if her thread is frayed!  Big deal that she’s collecting in the first place!  My novel wasn’t teetering anywhere near this cliff of stupidity, but it wasn’t exactly calling for everyone to drop what they were doing and care.  

Now that I’ve figured out what my little guy is fighting against, and fighting for, his trials feel much more important.  There is a lot at stake if he fails.  I’m afraid of my villain, of what she can – and will – do.  Vicious opposition, terrible consequences – they give me a much stronger reason to care about the plot’s outcome.  My little guy is definitely not going through so much pain and consequence for a victory equivalent to rows and rows of perfect, un-frayed embroidery floss. 

How did I ever expect to write something compelling if I wasn’t even afraid of my own villain?  Or, if I didn’t pity her – and kind of relate to her?  If I wanted my little guy to suffer minimally on his way to conquer a problem that was tepid, lukewarm, instead of lava-level boiling?  

Things are heating up, and I’m excited.  Poor little hero.  He’s about to have to learn some tough – though valuable – lessons the hard, scathing, painful way.  He might not thank me for it, but I’m pretty sure my readers will, one day.

The Dreaded Middle of the Story…

3 Oct

For the life of me, I cannot understand why groups of people watch videos on their laptops at Starbucks, with the sound at full volume for the entire café to hear.  And, on a Saturday night, no less.  

Fortunately, I finished reading through my novel before this heinous crime commenced.  As you know, when I say novel, at this point I’m referring to the 40,000 words I’ve written on this particular draft.  Now I’m just trying to think clearly enough to write a coherent post, which is difficult given the blaring video noise combined with “Everybody Hurts” wailing in the speaker overhead.

I told you all the other day I was encouraged by what I’d read up to that point, and it’s still true.  However, my suspicions were right on the nose – the last 5,000 words or so are an unrefined mess.  Buried in the mess, thank goodness, is great potential.  

Poor little protagonist, I sent him undefended into the dreaded middle of the story, wandering aimlessly.  Here’s the thing.  There are crises, oh yes, and fiascos that move the plot along pretty well.  The problem?  They all happen in the same day.  It’s an overwhelming amount of crises to squeeze into one twenty-four hour chunk of time.  I wrote it, and I can’t even keep track of all the horrible things that plagued my little guy from breakfast to dinner.  

So, yeah.  That’s obviously an issue.  The good thing is that, spread out, they’ll make quite a good way to build the story.  Over time.  With room to breathe, and sufficient time for emotion to grow, in both the character and the reader.  After reading through, I have a clear picture of what needs to be cut, what needs to be added, and what needs to be switched to earlier/later in the story.  Fixing this portion will fill in the cracks with some necessary connecting events, instead of just tacking on unnecessary filler.  My characters should then be positioned to proceed to the next set of Big Events, and then to the Even Bigger Final Events.  No filler, no tangents, only the stuff that matters.

I like knowing that I know what’s wrong and how to fix it.


1 Oct

In honor of my not getting to sing at last night’s Ben Folds concert¹, I hereby declare today Music Thursday.

What is Music Thursday, you ask?  Well, my friends, today I’m diverting from my usual posts about writing (and the occasional posts about cats and bad drivers) to talk a bit about – what else? – music.  Obviously.

First on the list: My incredibly wonderful husband and I are facing a dilemma, and I want your opinions.  It turns out two of our new favorite musical artists are playing concerts in Dallas in November – on the same day.  If you had to make the choice, based on the live performance videos linked to their names, which concert would you see?

The lovely, eccentric, brimming with creativity Regina Spektor?


The fresh, up-and-coming, catchy-yet-not-cliché Erin McCarley?

Like I said, click on their names and it should take you to a video, if you’re not familiar with their music.  If you want to help us make this difficult decision, please leave me a comment about it!  The bright side to this dilemma is that we’d be spending two weeks’ grocery money if they played on different nights.  So there’s that.

Now that I’ve mentioned two major artists, I thought I’d feature some less-known local talent from the town where I live.  After all, it is Music Thursday, and you don’t have to be famous to make great music.

First up: Darcy, a group made up of guys who are as nice as they are talented².  Check out their latest video here.  If you like what you see and want to hear more, they released their first album on I-Tunes today, called The Brighterside.

Also: Ashley Gatta.  She’s got a quirky timbre to her voice, and is a local singer-songwriter.  I like her stuff – click here to see her perform her song “Ain’t Nobody.”   Ashley’s album, Forget Subtlety, is available on I-tunes; also, here’s a link to her MySpace page.

Thanks for taking a break from my regularly scheduled thoughts on writing with me!  I kind of went link-crazy today, but hey – that’s what happens when I come thisclose to performing on-stage with Ben Folds and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  Which means?  It probably won’t happen again.

Remember to give me your thoughts on the whole Regina v. Erin debate, if you are so inclined.  

One final thought: while I was writing this post, my husband randomly started singing Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did It Again” while slaving away at his computer work.  To embarrass myself here more than I may have embarrassed him, let it be known that when that video came out, I spent hours trying to copy the dance from her video.  This wouldn’t be nearly as hilarious if I was coordinated.  There are many things I am – a writer, a singer, an organized Post-It note lover, and much more.  A dancer, I am not. 

¹Fortunately, for them, they were healthy and therefore got to have an incredible experience.  Unfortunately for me, I wanted to fulfill my duty as alternate backup singer and instead, made a grocery list.  

²I guess the “they’re as nice as they are talented” only works if you think they’ve got talent.  They’re definitely nice.  Just thought I should clarify that, lest you be of the opinion that they stink.