Saturday, January 29, 2011

LIKE A WHISPER I'M IMAGINING

THIS POST CONTAINS PROFANITY, AND DESCRIPTIONS OF VIOLENCE TO PUPPETS. You've been warned.


I recently ran across a couple of things that sucked me straight back in time. One was a list of tapes (as in cassette tapes - here's a link in case you've never seen such a thing) I wanted to buy. I tracked down the songs and discovered that my tastes used to be eclectic and raw and mindblowingly good. Now I mostly listen to whatever's on the radio. Also mindblowing, but for different reasons.

The other item was a few minutes of video that a friend and I produced our freshman year in high school. It was for someone's Russian or English or AP Puppetry class. It was balls-to-the-wall creative, and I have no idea how we put something so intricate and hilarious together in a single afternoon with no discernible skill, a crappy script 2-page script and a 20-pound VHS camera.

I watched it, and I thought: I wouldn't be able to do that today.

Not for lack of time or resources. God knows I had plenty of the first but none of the second in those days. But back then I was all opinions and no obligations. I was a pint-size dumbass fish in a small pond who thought the world would give her whatever she wanted. So I put together a list. (That's the kind of thing I do these days. Spreadsheets detailing the decay of my once-soaring imagination.)


I wouldn't be able to do that today because:

  • I know how it feels to expend every ounce of energy I possess and still crash and burn
  • I know how it feels to wear embarrassment/shame/despair for a week straight
  • I've learned to learn from the follies of others
  • I've found my place in the world
  • Now, I must maintain a nice family
  • Now, I need to make others happy
  • Now, I need to make a good impression in the community
  • Now, I don't want to put effort into anything that doesn't yield tangible rewards

I'm not such a good storyteller that I believe my own lies. So *ahem* fuck that list.

I would totally make that video again. Except this time it would be digital, and we'd probably set something on fire. I've got the same dreams and the same set of (figurative) balls I had as a kid. They might even be bigger now. Also, I might be slightly less of a dumbass fish now.

I also know what it feels like to expend a massive effort and be successful. I have experienced joy so intense it warms by bones. I also know that I deserve to be happy.

Watching life close up on the people around me like the rings on a tree, stiffening and freezing them in place where they will eventually die, doesn't make me want to be like them. Now, please excuse me. I have to go relearn the lyrics to songs by PJ Harvey, Morphine and Tilt. And you - don't you have something awesome you'd rather be doing? :)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WHY GENRE-WRITING IS LIKE A LITTER BOX...

...AND OTHER HORRIBLE ANALOGIES

I thought my kid had a pretty good grasp of the concept of the litter box. No, not because I make him use one. Don't be disgusting. Because he's seen me clean it about twenty times, and each time I have explained in great detail the purpose of said box.

So tonight, I hear him screaming at the cat, absolutely livid. I sprint from my office and down the hall (This is about three feet. It's a small house.), and find him pointing at the poor cat as she goes about her business in the box.

"Sweet child o mine," I say. "What's the ruckus?"

"Yonder cat, she is pooping in ye olde litter box," he bemoans.

"But, dearheart, that's the point of a litter box, as I have previously explained and you have previously attested to comprehending." I hold up a signed, dated and notarized affidavit.

"But, mom...she's pooping in the litter box."

I just stare at him, and experience the same feeling I sometimes have when I talk to civilians about my writing.

"What do you write?" they ask, all pale and googly-eyed. (No, I'm not sure why they get physically altered in this segment.)

"Urban fantasy," says I.

"Ah." A beat. "What's that?"

I explain. They nod, ask a few nebulous questions (usually involving what I've published and how much *cough* money *cough* I've made), mention how if they had time they'd write a book, and then wander off.

And, at some point in the future, they stumble upon my writing. It's usually a mild snippet or flash piece on my blog or a notebook left open in my car or home. And they stare at me and say "But, mom...she's pooping in the litter box." Or something like that.

I don't know where the prejudice against Fantasy and Sci Fi (and Horror and Romance for that matter) comes from. I've had my heart broken, been scared to palpitations of the aforementioned heart, and fallen deep inside hundreds of other worlds in these genres.

I've got characters in my head who won't come out until my brain ceases to function, clever/humorous/sexy/scary phrases that make me smile in deep sleep, and such strong cravings for certain authors that I stay up until midnight on their release days to download their newest book onto my e-reader. And sometimes the vendors don't make it available until two a.m. and I have to wait. And I do!

My kid is two and a half, so he's kind of got an excuse for not understanding simple things. Lit fic snobs are generally a good bit older. So I encourage them, in the spirit of peeps everywhere coming together, to give the genres a try. Scrape around in them. You just might find that you like them.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

LET'S TALK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS, M'KAY?

When my eight year old godson* broke his arm, his mother told him he would have to go to physical therapy. He was aghast. "Therapy?" he yelled. "I don't want to go to therapy. I don't want to talk about my feelings!"

Writing for publication is an amazing process, one which comes filled to overflowing with new sensations. The psychedelic blur of those days when you sit down to write and a whole new world pours out of you. The scratching against the inside of the skull sensation of a new concept or twist. The face-numbing elation of the first glowing critique or request for a full.

And then come the bad feelings. The way your chest clenches with that first rejection. And the second. And the third. The sinking heat of a condescending critique, in person. The curdling of your dreams when a book filled with adverbs, prologues**, wilteclichés and an ending that can be seen from a continent away hits the bestseller lists. And silence, the dreaded silence from formerly-enthusiastic beta readers, or agents, or editors.

When these things happen, you have many options. Some of them will feel like your right, or even your privilege. I have no doubt you've earned the right to complain. Others have already spoken eloquently about why this is not a good idea, why you can end up hurting yourself when you're already down.***

I say: commiserate to your heart's content with your fellow malcontents. :) I've done it myself a time or two. But do it in the curtained booth in the back of the Internet, somewhere prying eyes can't quite glimpse you. And, after that, fall back and regroup. Remember why you began this journey. Because you once loved writing. Because you once wrote to entertain yourself. Because you once read a book or watched a movie that didn't have a sequel but should have, so you wrote one yourself. Because you once startled yourself with a beautiful sentence. Because you once created a character that someone could fall in love with.

Good luck, and good writing to you.

*He's not really my godson, and I'm not sure what age he was, or whether it was his arm he broke, but those were his very words.

**No, I don't know why there would be more than one either. It's madness, I tell you, madness!

***Damien Walters Grintalis recently blogged about it here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Tips to Avoid Writing Clichés

How often have you heard the following expressions?

  • As strong as an ox
  • Stood out like a sore thumb
  • Back against the wall
  • Avoid it like the plague
  • As cold as ice
  • Flat as a pancake
Probably too many times to even bother trying to count. Why am I listing commonly-heard phrases? Because they are also commonly-read phrases. 

How can you avoid bogging down your stories with worn and battered clichés?

1. Recognize them. Sometimes they make sense, especially if you have an old-fashioned character and the sayings are included in her dialogue. But often they are unnecessary, a kind of mental crutch for the author who wants to add a bit of imagery or convey something complicated with a few, familiar words.

2. Devise original similes and metaphors. Instead of making your character "stand out like a sore thumb" at the heavy metals convention when she dressed for heavy metal, have her stand out "like a boiled onion in a bowl of strawberries".

3. Invent idioms and slang specific to your world as part of your worldbuilding. Is your money called "money", or is it flash, blink, creds, paper or jingle? If you're writing sci fi, fantasy or alternate history, what's your world's equivalent of "kicking the bucket"? Readers can pick up a surprising number of new expressions when they're used in context.

4. Twist the clichés. Instead of "sick as a dog", is your character as sick as a dog that swallowed a beached whale? As sick as a donkey that ate a cyanide carrot?

5. Use language with which you are comfortable. Don't snap a synapse trying to come up with original phrasing, or become so wrapped up in the language that you lose the flow and purpose of the story. The story and the characters is the meal. Linguistic flare is plating, garnish and accompanying beverage. It's delightful, but you probably couldn't live on it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

WHAT I'M NOT DOING RIGHT NOW

I'm on vacation. We're big travelers in my family, perhaps due to living in Alaska and desperately needing occasional reprieves. Maybe just because we like trying on new places.

Rather than regale you with the list of fantastical things I'm doing (mostly sitting around and loving it with a ferocity rarely seen outside of cage fights), following is a list of things I'm not doing.

  • Working (insert big grin here)
  • Sitting in the dark, stoking the fires of nutritional rickets.
  • Grinding my teeth to nubs while driving on the jagged surface of a 6-month ice pack we call "the road system"
  • Needing the coffee I drink. For the moment I'm drinking it because I like it, not because I require it to Shaq Attack! my heart each morning
  • Overeating. I eat when I'm anxious or bored and, in my real life, I'm generally in a state of one or the other of these conditions, sometimes both at the same time (which I'm secretly proud of because it's a difficult trick)
  • Not writing a synopsis. A-ha! you say. That was a double negative! Correct. I'm leisurely preparing to submit a novella to an e-pub, and I have to write a synopsis for the submission. Why would I do this, you ask? Because even on the sunnyside, one can never fully submit to relaxation. Who knows if I'd be able to claw my way back to responsibility.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TRAVEL TIPS FROM A LAST MINUTE PACKER

I'm a last minute packer. Not an on-the-way-to-the-airport kind of packer, but definitely a last-hour packer. I don't have elaborate preparation rituals for most things, and I do usually plan ahead well enough that I'm not asking the cab driver to stop at the grocery store on the way to the airport. I do forget things on occasion, but I blame that on early morning flights more than last-minute packing. :D

So, in case you've been looking for tips on how to speed up your vacation preparation, below are a few of the most important things:

  • Always have quart-size bags on hand. Clear, preferably freezer bags.
  • Check your supply of medications/contacts/other stuff you can't buy where you're going 10 days prior to departure. If you're low or out, order that day.
  • Check whether the Rottweilers you'll be filling your house with while away have any allergies at least 5 days prior to departure. That will give you enough time to move things offsite or fumigate.
  • Count your children, if you're taking them with you. Memorize that number 3 days prior to departure.
  • Ask the postal service to hold your mail, or the paper deliverer to hold the paper 2 days prior to departure. Charge everything: MP3 players, cameras, everything. Pack the charge cords now. Otherwise they will disappear or inexplicably stop fitting your devices the day of flight, guaranteed.
  • Print out all tickets, reservations, maps you might need 1 day prior to departure. If traveling abroad, note the locations and contact information for your embassy. If you are a fugitive, make sure your destination is still a non-extradition territory.
  • Pick up the Rotties and concertina wire the day of departure, unless you are leaving very early. Then assemble your vacation-proofing materials the day before. Remember kibble and/or those massive gloves for running C-wire.
  • Pack one outfit for every day of your trip, up to five. After that, you can repeat. You'll never need as many pairs of shoes as you think, and you'll always need more underwear.
  • Have fun!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Social Media - The Rules, Take One.

*shuffles feet* So, I think it's time to start integrating my social media. *pantomimes gagging*

I've been paying attention to the hourly tweets, webinars, book releases, Powerpoint presentations, old articles on microfiche, and FB updates about it. I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing. See:

Twitter - THE RULES
*80% gorgeous, unusual, witty personal anecdotes that amuse and inspire.
*10% self-promotion, but not in an arrogant or expectant way.
*10% spitfire flame wars, ranting tirades and moping about the same sh!t you moped about yesterday.

Facebook - THE RULES
*Mention every time I'm hungry but can't find anything other than a day-old bagel and/or a grape to eat.
*LOL at everything
*Pray for people to get the new transmission/boyfriend/promotion they deserve
*Endure my mother being constantly logged-on and watching me

Oh, who am I kidding. This integration is going to go about as well as a game of whackbat. (Starts at 1:37)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

AW Musical Chairs Blogfest

Welcome to the AbsoluteWrite musical chairs blogfest, in which participants will be writing in genres outside their norm. The listing of participants is below. Posting will take place on or around the date indicated. Let the games begin.
~~
I normally write Urban Fantasy. My choices were Childrens or Contemporary Literature. Since I'm not in the business of disturbing children, I chose contemporary.
~~
WINTER WOOL
Dexter Michaels peered out the drafty window at the figures assembled on the platform, wearing winter wool like death shrouds. He… He…

Darren shoved his tattered notebook across the flimsy table. The train lurched to a stop and the notebook slipped a crucial centimeter and fell to the floor. Eleven-thirty on a Friday night and he was riding Amtrak, trying to find inspiration. He pulled a crumpled pack of Camels from his pocket and lit up, tossing the pack and lighter onto the table before rising from his seat, walking to the end of the car and out into the stale cold of the gangway.
His new book needed more drama. Murder was out, had been a cliché since the Oriental Express. Sex, maybe, with some mysterious woman. Darren ran his finger along a jagged metal seam. She’d be wearing a backless dress. Her skin would flush and chafe against the cold metal as Dexter held her up and...
Darren flicked the butt of his cigarette to the floor and ground it out. A goddamn figment of his imagination had gotten more tail than Darren in the last four months.
He staggered back toward his seat as the train pulled away from the Haverhill platform, and then froze. Someone had taken his seat, was, in fact, smoking one of his cigarettes.
Darren waited. The train picked up speed, snaking along the line. The conductor didn’t show. Fine. He pushed his shoulders back and set his narrow jaw.
“Hey man…”
She jerked, glancing at him and then quickly away, a curtain of layered blond hair covering her face.
Darren’s chest constricted. “Lily?’
She raised the lipstick-stained cigarette to her mouth. The first time he’d seen her, she’d worn a short cocktail dress. He’d been amazed at how soft her skin was. Now she was bundled in a calf-length trench, her ankles crossed and tucked beneath the seat.
“Darren,” she murmured. “Of course.”
His lips drew back from his teeth in an eager smile. He dropped into the seat beside her. She winced, one hand pulling the collar of her black coat closed around her throat as she turned toward the window. Darren exhaled, a gusty sigh.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see you here, since you got the Downeaster in the divorce.”
She flicked ash onto the wood-paneled table. Not in the mood, then.
“How did you know I’d be here, Lil?” He leaned toward her, inhaled the perfume of her shampoo and the sharp, clear remnants of winter night, and then drew back when the scents coated his tongue with the taste of copper.
“I didn’t.”
The train squealed as they rounded a corner. Darren slumped.
Shouldn’t you be at a fundraiser or some charity event, out with him?”
She laughed softly. “There’s nothing more I’m going to do with him.”
“What, you finally saw around all that green? Finally saw the animal on the inside? You know, the papers don’t call him ‘the Shark from Southie’ for nothing.”
The cigarette slid from her fingers to the floor. It rolled back and forth, rocking to a silent lullaby until Darren stepped on it. She could be so stubborn. He’d liked that about her, her refusal to give up their affair after Darren had seen her husband’s driver following them.
Her strength had lent him the balls to stand up to Mr. Circling Shark himself when he came knocking one night, a thousand dollar suit and mirrored shoes in a stinking walk-up. Yeah, Darren had said, thunder in his chest, maybe I know her. Maybe I know her real well. The Shark hadn’t touched him, had just stood there, all that money and coiled violence looking like he was going to puke. Darren smiled at the memory.
“I’ve missed you,” he said. He looked down at his hands, absently noting the train slowing again. Goddamn milk run. “I started reading the society pages, hoping to find an event you were scheduled to attend. Not that I felt like going out much. I guess you didn’t either.” She slid another cigarette out of the pack, fumbled with the lighter until Darren took it from her and lit her cigarette. Her hands were shaking, and unadorned.
“Did you leave him?” Darren asked, grabbing her wrist. Her hand went limp. “Did you finally leave that bastard?”
“What if I did?” She turned toward him, one green eye visible, black mascara a stuttered smudge beneath it. “Would that matter to you?”
Darren stifled a smile. Jesus, he couldn’t have imagined better drama.
“I love you, Lily.” He lowered his voice. “You know all I ever wanted was to be with you. Even after you changed your number, I still called. Hoping – I don’t know – hoping you’d somehow be there. You could have called me.”
“And you could have not told him,” she said, her head swinging back to the window as they pulled into Exeter. A drop of red dotted the table in front of her. Darren frowned at it, then looked up at the musical glare of police lights.
“What the hell’s going…”
She turned toward him. Her lips were busted up, dribbling blood down her chin. One eye was swollen almost shut. “Tell them I was with you tonight. Please.”
*
“Who’s he?” Detective Lynch asked, peering through the window into Interview Two.
“Old flame,” Officer Trask said, pouring cold coffee into a Styrofoam cup. “He’s a writer, was out looking for inspiration.” They laughed.
“He wants inspiration, he should try one of them stripper joints in Providence, not the goddamn Downeaster. He try to give Mrs. Byrne an alibi?”
Naw. Second I told him Shark Byrne got himself dead, the kid went white as an old dog turd. Offered up a cigarette butt in case we needed DNA evidence, when we got the wife in custody.”
Lynch snorted. “This is the first time I’ve seen her, and I’m tempted to alibi her. Cut his romantic, inspired ass loose.”

Fifty Ideas Enter, One Idea Leaves

[Quick PSA - If you're looking for my AbsoluteWrite Musical Chairs Blog Chain Entry, I've been moved to the 2nd week - please stop by on 1/14 for my entry. Thanks!]

My name is (insert name here) and I'm a WIP-aholic.

I have, at any given time, one or two projects I must be working on. That should be enough. Two novels in various states of completion/edit should be enough for anybody with a separate, full-time job and a toddler (currently battling both a stomach virus and a cold).

But no. Anytime someone asks me what to do when a shiny new idea (SNI) comes knocking, I tell them to jot down the key notes and shove it into a file. Focus on the work at hand, finish that work at hand, then go back to that bustling folder and extract the shiniest of the shiny. Rinse. Repeat.

But, here's the thing: I'm a hypocrite. I disguise it by saying I can handle multiple projects, by saying that I compartmentalize well, giving SNI ten minutes to every hour spent on Project Obligation. How did I come to that ratio? I made it up. *shrug* I'm a writer. We do that sometimes. I'm also able to suspend disbelief in seconds flat, so once I've formed a thought, I've already absorbed my own Kool-Aid.

However sometimes reality, such as nonnegotiable deadlines, actual makes it through the fog to the rational part of my brain. And so, I'm closing down one SNI, wrapping it up and tucking it away to fight for a second life. And I'm ignoring another (it's just for a few weeks, darling, see you soon...maybe). And the 50+ that have already been relegated to fighting amongst each other (I see my "Ideas and Starts" file more like Thunderdome than a rest home) can roll their eyes at the optimistic new guys, give them the house rules, and then mutter "poor bastard" when they don't make it.

What do you do when the shiny new ideas fall like snow flurries?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Status Report

In front of me: Chapstick and coconut lotion
-It's cold and dry, and I'd rather be thinking of the tropics.

To my right: Four books in various states of reading completion, and nine books either waiting to be cracked or on pre-order and due to arrive within the next two months. Also, jokers. Please note that one of the partially-read books is on my kindle, which I'm rationing because I lost my charger and the replacement I ordered hasn't yet arrived. You'd think the machine was my source of oxygen or nourishment the way I'm fretting over it.

To my left: Two shaved felines, one sleeping son, a dayy jobb that's finally considering slowing down from its screaming heights, clowns, and a car that's still at the body shop. (Thanks, East Coast winter storms, for disrupting national parts shipments.)

Behind me: Two completed novels, plus one stalled and another recently begun, a novella and a half, five short stories, and a folder containing a staggering 52 ideas and starts. All of these either began during or almost entirely completed during 2010.

It's not yet 9:00 p.m. and I'm going to bed (where I will likely read for three hours before passing out). Over and out.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year, New Rules

WARNING: May Contain Disturbing Imagery


It all started like a lame remake of The Shining. We thought we could handle it...


But that all changed after the masked man gutted the clown. We tried to escape...


But the jetway in Purgatory takes you nowhere. So we had to fight our way out...





How was your New Years?