Monday, August 31, 2009

It's true that all reviews matter

This morning began with a demand from a contractor at my company to hurry up (no “please” in there) and input the extensive edits I got from him, and then send it back “for his review” and he will then send it on to someone else in the company for their final review.

Except the edits are not great, and my job is to manage the writing process here—not him.

Now perhaps the contractor was in a hurry and had to go the bathroom and therefore rushed the e-mail and it sounded curter than he intended. Poor guy, I hope he made it in time. I also like to think, “He doesn’t know I was a technical writer for 10 years, or that I have a master’s degree in English or that I write novels.” True, he doesn’t know that, but none of that matters, either. The fact is, he found something in the document that needed improving. While his request tone and wording sure could use a lot of work (including a hefty dollop of tact), it remains that no matter how rude someone is when they give you edits, edits are probably still needed. I would love nothing more for the guy to be completely wrong and to have marked up a document that was perfection itself, but the document wasn’t perfect.

There’s obviously some respect issues at play here, but those don’t matter either, because the guy is a contractor. He can disrespect me all he wants, but he has no ability to direct the review process. The burn comes from the fact that I really do need to be diligent and look at his suggested edits (although he did not use the word “suggested”), and apply them where appropriate. That I must do—because no matter what, you can learn from everyone. This rule applies across the board in any situation that involves writing. Writing is hard. For me, it takes a lot of work to polish something and make sure it is concise and as clear as it can be. I will edit this post at least ten times before publishing, and then I will read it five more times after it's published and go back and make changes (and they will all be needed changes). Learning to discern what edits to take and what not to take is a skill we must develop, but it all comes down to this: if someone has an edit for you, it’s because they tripped up on something you wrote. You don’t want other readers to trip up. It could very well be that the edits themselves are wrong, but you still need to look at them. (Hopefully you can discard them in a fit of chortling glee that the reviewer was wrong, dead-wrong, hugely wrong in a black cloud of smelly wrongness, but sadly, in my experience these moments are few and far between.)

PS I did the dog photo in Photoshop, but I ripped the photos themselves from, which is a very funny offshoot of Lolcats and Failblog.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


It is Saturday night, and I am where I most like to be: at laptop, and yes I recognize how nerdy that is. It was a nice hot day today and the morning consisted of coaxing a staunchly unwilling whippersnapper into my mother in law’s swimming pool through a series of bribes, cajoles, and lies. I got him in but there was general foul temper about it. Still, it was fun and nice and now he is slumbering away and I am here ready to work on the story.

Except, I find that I do not want to work on it. I don’t mean writer’s block and I don’t mean procrastination (although there is some of that). I mean, I don’t want to do it. I want it to be perfect—to have already been perfect, see. I want it to have been perfect right out of the gate despite no story ever being that way. I pause to get Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Macadamia (screw the sugar diet; sugar diet is screwed), which nicely allows me to not work on story. I sit down again. I get up, this time to shovel the cat shit out of the litter box. As I shovel it, I think, Oh God it’s come to this. I would rather shovel cat shit than work on imperfect story. No! There’s always a blog to write! (Voila.)

Now to the story. Maybe.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to Give Someone Feedback on their Story

That’s right. Because most likely, you gave mean-spirited feedback. I initially thought I’d write a list of things that would be helpful for a writer to hear after giving you her manuscript to read, but most people don’t know what to look for in a good book, and this is not their fault. People only know if something is good or bad. Anyway, here is a list of things NOT to do when asked to read someone’s novel, especially if the novel sucks*:

*Note that the novels I have read for people lately do not belong in this category lest you read this and go “OH GOD OH GOD IT’S ME SHE’S TALKING ABOUT, GOD, GOD.” This is actually about ME and feedback that *I* have gotten on MY story.

Never tell the writer that they should look into self-publishing. We can see right though you. We know that what you are really saying is, “You’ll never make it. You’d better PRETEND you’re publishing.” And don’t bother trying to argue that self-publishing is on the rise, because we all know it doesn't count.

Do not couch your comments in suggestions for story improvement. No one – NO ONE—wants to be told how his or her story should go. We already KNOW how the story should go. Executing it is the hard part. Don’t suggest that maybe the main character could say something along the lines of anything. Don’t say that perhaps the antagonist could do something here or there. Don’t say it. You’re not the writer, no matter how crappy you think we are.

Don’t tell other people in passing that the writer is “trying to get her book published but keeps getting rejected.” This is singularly unhelpful. You’d get rejected, too, if you tried. Fact. Everyone does. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed. My dad initially thought I failed because I didn’t get an agent after my first query letter. He didn’t SAY he thought I failed, but he said something along the lines of “I don’t want to bring up a sore subject with you.” It’s not sore. I’m just normal. That first query sucked, and so did the novel. But I’m still at it, and the next one isn’t going to suck. (If it still does, you can say "I admire your fortitude" and leave it at that. And do not add "Although it is clear in my opinion and everyone else's that this endeavor is clearly never going to get you anywhere.")

If you don’t like the style or genre of the book, don’t tear the story apart on the basis that you don't like that genre. I can imagine that if I were asked to read a pithy sci-fi full of unpronounceable names with vampires/shapeshifters/people with secret powers who must save kingdoms, I would not really be inclined to like it. But still I would try to look at the overall story structure and see if it was decent.

Don’t say you’ll read it, then crack it open, read the first page in horror, and put it aside and never get back to the writer. That’s not nice. If you really can’t stomach the writing or the story, just say that it didn’t resonate with you, and/or that you won’t be able to finish it as you said you would. The writer needs to know you’re out of the reading pool because we only trust a few people to read it initially. You might also consider saying, if the writing is truly abominable, “Oh hey, have you read Eats, Shoots, and Leaves? Great book! Check it out.”

Don’t copyedit the story unless you are extremely sure that your grammar is up to snuff, and the writer asked you to. This goes for documents you’re asked to review in a professional setting, too. Hey, guess what? “That” and “which” aren’t used the way you think they are. Likewise, don’t rearrange the structure of a sentence “so it reads better” because that is really effing irritating.

Above all, do not cover up your revulsion to the story with statements like, "Everyone has to start somewhere," "Not everyone gets published," "A for effort," "All writers go through years of drafts before getting published," or "Maybe you should take a writing class." We know exactly what you're saying. Don't think for a minute we don't. Do not, under any circumstance, try to gently direct us towards realization that we suck. We probably disagree with you that we suck and we do not need the discouragement.

Now, since I was such a negative beast there, here are some positive things to do:

Focus on what you, as the reader, reacted to. If you had a hard time getting into the story, then maybe the beginning didn’t pull you in. We will know why. Just say that. This is a true, honest, and nice thing to say. If you can’t put your finger on what it was that didn’t work for you, say “The story didn’t move fast enough for me.” (Or likewise, too slow.) This is honest, and we probably will know exactly what to fix when you say this. The writer will not hate you for these statements. On the contrary, these are helpful statements. If the characters were pish, then say “I couldn’t empathize with the characters.” My mother couldn’t tell me for a solid year that she didn’t care for the characters in my first inept novel. We do need to hear that a reader can’t relate to any part, because chances are, it was something we forgot to pay attention to, and we can fix that. (Or scrap it.)

Do point out what parts you reacted to strongly. This makes us happy, and less likely to cut a scene that we know invokes reaction.

Try the sandwich approach. Say something you liked, then something you think could be improved or didn't resonate with you, and then something nice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Men's thoughts about women's fiction

Sugar Diet Update: Going very well, except I did have a Starburst today and it nearly put me in apoplectic shock from the sweetness. Since when did Starburst get so sugary-sweet? I know it's not because I've been conscious about reducing my sugar intake lately. It actually made me ill.

I was thinking a little about the difference between what males and females like in their stories. This came after a male acquaintance read the first chapter of my novel. His reaction, much like my husband’s, was to empathize with the male in the story. He also, as my husband did, saw right through the personality defects of my female protagonist. I wondered if that’s because boys have a very non-emotional way of looking at things, generally. My friend’s assessment was: “She [the protagonist] needs to grow up.” She does, no question, and her actions in the opening chapter prove that. My female readers, myself included, tend to sympathize much more with her, and hope for her sake she gets past her troubles. Maybe this is why in women’s fiction, which is generally emotion-driven, appeals to women, and less to men. It’s why the formula often incorporates a growth of character for the woman in the story. It’s why we like strong female protagonists.

That’s fine; obviously men and women can have different tastes. (And let me just say right here that I am sure there’s been a ton written on the differences, and careful looks taken at “lad lit” writers like Nick Hornby, et al, but I have unapologetically not done that research.) My problem is that women’s fiction tends to be seen by men, in my opinion, as lesser because it’s emotionally dramatic. I wonder, do men see women’s fiction as the print equivalent of the wild emotional ranges we have?

My intent here is not to bash men, or to be too general, although I’m afraid I have. My husband is always quick to point out that women are just as much at fault for bad things as men. This statement usually comes after I made some broad comment on how many more men cheat on their partners than women. I still vehemently disagree with the perception that women’s fiction, chick-lit, whatever, is frothy and sugar-puff piffle and far removed from serious literature, especially if it has a pink cover. What man likes to read that stuff? I don’t know. Anyone have any ideas about that?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sugar Diet

I have decided to lay off sugar. Somewhat.

I eat it every day, usually in the form of chocolate, and have been eating it every day for...mmm....a very long time.

I read in the Sunday paper a "quick tip": if you keep your daily intake to only 15 mg of sugar a day, it will get rid of the flab around your midsection. Mmm-hmm, it said that. I don't know what 15 mg a day equals-- but I suspect it equals the size of something that can only be seen under a microscope-- a size that brings very little pleasure indeed. And I know 15 mgs a day won't reduce that pouch that having had a child results in, but it should help the pouch that I put there through eating chocolate.

In keeping with doing things in moderation, I have decided not to as anal as 15 mg, but to cut sugar where possible. As in, do not seek it out. Do not fiend around the office looking for it or begging asking coworkers. Do not buy it, and most of all: do not shove chocolate in head-hole in the evening (as is my custom).

Now, I am not a huge person, but I do have some areas I would rather not have. In order to help myself stick to this, I will blog about it so that if I fall, the humilation might reign me in.

So far: I have resisted sugar and chocolate but I draw the line at my coffee creamer, which, yes, I know is full of sugar. I am currently on day 2. Expect resolve to be severely tested by tomorrow. Expect sneaky convincing thoughts to creep in, ala "go ahead, this is your 15 mg, what will one little bite-sized 3 Musketeers hurt?" or "I neeeeeeed it. Just this once, then tomorrow back on wagon."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Santorini, Greece: An Occasional Series Part II

Last time I wrote about Santorini, I said I would talk about the music. Oh, it was good, but only if you like 80s music. We were in Greece for 1985, 86, and 87 and the music was heavily influenced by the rest of Europe and the UK. This means that we got a lot less of the US singles playing, and more of the hits and artists of the UK.

(To recap: much of my novel is situated on Santorini, Greece. My mother and I lived there for three years when I was a kid. I was 10, 11, and 12. We weren’t there continuously but off and on.)

When we arrived on the island, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax was all the rage, and the enterprising merchandisers used it to their best advantage. Every shop sold T-shirts with “Relax” on it or “Frankie says Relax.” Judging by the amount of images available on Google when you type "Frankie Says Relax shirt," this is still a popular concept. By I lived it in its real time, man. I had one of these shirts then, too. When I asked my mother what Frankie meant when he sang “Relax don’t do it” she said, “Hmm…um, I think he’s talking about joining the army. Yeah.” I bought it. Joining the army, hmm? Cripes. Anyway this song has remained very special to me because it was everywhere when we first arrived on the island.

I had a long Relax shirt that I wore as a dress, cinched with a belt. I need to dig up some pictures. It was disgustingly 80s but that was the style. I wore this getup on my assistant-tour guide operator job, whereby I would go with our friend Anne, a British expat, on her tour bus guide job and help her. More about Jobs on Friday (I had several).

I distinctly remember hearing “Kiss” by Prince blasting throughout Kamari (sorry no You Tube link, because Prince is an anti-You Tube ARSE) from a disco on the beach. I was on the beach at the time looking at the moon and it was just beautiful. I was allowed to go on the beach in the dark and look at the moon. It was that kind of place.

I also busted a move at the discos. It wasn’t like I went to the discos on my own—I was ten, after all. No, I usually went with my friend Elizabeth, the British daughter of our friend Danai, sister to Daphne who lived on the island full time. Elizabeth and her mother Danai would visit at least once a year. At around two years older, Elizabeth was a very influential for me. More about her at a later date, but know that it was she who let me know in no uncertain terms that I should be a huge Madonna fan. Like a Virgin had just come out, and she had found her God(dess).

While I was merely an impressionable age ten, I knew good music when I heard it. Some other great songs that I remember blasting through the discos were Hungry Like the Wolf, Duran Duran, It’s Called a Heart from Depeche Mode (early era!), UB40’s Red Red Wine, and the insane Last Night A DJ Stole My Life from In Deep. There was a British DJ who worked at the Yellow Donkey disco and he made one of our friends a mix-tape of all that he played and I still have it. My mother and I fondly remember it, and there’s a point on the tap where he breaks in and says, “We’re here at the Yellow Donkey, it’s Saturday night, and we’re open til fooooouuuuurrrr.” That about sums up how it was on the island: staying up late, dancing, and good music as it happened. (Note: I did not stay up til four--usually. But there was an element of free-for-alling that did occur.)

Another memorable artist: Howard Jones and his Things Can Only Get Better. There was some Pointer Sister action in there, but I confess I paid more attention to the Brit Pop stuff, a habit I have continued to today.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Hey, are you wondering how I got rid of that ugly border around the header image above, there? Of course you are.

1. I went into blogger's dashboard
2. Clicked the Settings tab
3. Clicked Edit HTML
4. Found the part of the code that says "header-wrapper"
5. Deleted the part that says "border-statement"
6. Save. Voila!

Submission Shakes

I had a dream last night in which I submitted the first 250 words of my novel to an agent for an online contest. She picked mine to be one of the ones to critique. Great, huh? No. In my dream, I read on her blog: “Sierra Godfrey’s story is predictable. I’ve seen a thousand like hers before. She writes well, but the story is mundane.”

Well. Imagine my horror. That was me thinking, “Well that sucks…of course every agent is different….but that really sucks. What am I supposed to do now?” Then I had some lucidity and actually thought, still under the surface of sleep, "This is a dream. She didn’t actually say that. No one has actually said that. You’re still safe.”

This is why, I think, we are so afraid to query or send stuff out. We all know nothing is worse than that initial query. The rejection is fierce, not just because when you get it, it’s crushing, but because it might reveal something we’d really rather not confront: that our stories might be crap, or this one that we toiled over for moon upon moon is not going to be the one, or maybe our writing isn’t up to snuff and we have ten more years ahead of us of learning. No one wants to think that! A look at Miss Snark’s First Victim’s current Secret Agent contest reveals this, in which 50 entries are judged by an agent by their first 250 words, the title, and the genre. You can tell that some writers still have a long way to go yet, but that doesn’t eclipse the fact that they put effort, passion, and hard work into those pieces. It’s hard work to write a novel, to carry a story through. Even if the story has problems, it’s really hard to create a plot, have a beginning, a middle, and end. It’s why most people who say they’re working on a novel, or want to write one, never do. Or they start and can’t finish, because it’s daunting. It takes time, and we don’t want to put time in, especially when we’re exhausted from a day of working and caring for your family.

I think it all comes down to two things: perseverance, and a willingness to pull your head out of your backside and take a careful look at your writing. You need to always want to improve, and then you need to do it. If you do those two things, you’ll probably get published some day.

I'm really effing glad that that was just a dream, though.

On Monday, I'll post the second in the occasional Santorini series: The Music.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sharp Little Boy Chatter

Time: 7 am this morning

Scene: whippersnapper’s bedroom. Whippersnapper is unhappy because he leaked pee all over himself from his diaper. He is cold and wet.

Me: Ohh, poor baby. Here, let’s get out of those cold, wet clothes.
WS: No! No!
Me: Don’t you want to be warm and dry? (thinking how much would like to be warm and dry under covers of own bed, sleeping)
WS: Stay home and play today.
Me (Easing WS out of clothes while keeping up chatter): Can’t, I have to go to work.
WS: You come home?
Me: Of course I’m coming home.
WS: You can go to Target and buy a toy. (Tone implies toy is for him)
Me: What? I’m not going to Target.
WS: Yes, you can buy a truck. That’s all right. It can be plastic.
Me (worried that WS knows value of plastic now): Okay, thanks for the suggestion.
WS (nodding decisively): You go to Target, buy truck, come home. Okay. (last word not a question)
Me: Oh, look! A firetruck! (WS looks; I run and hide)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Some Blah Blah Blah

I must say, I do not like working hard.

That's what happened to me, every day this week so far. Outrage! By 5 pm I'm exhausted and my gray matter is soup, and I cannot think about stories like I like to do.

I am line editing my novel right now, and keeping up with Google Reader where appropriate, visiting new sista blogs where I find them (sista = fellow woman writer, about same age, often same genre). The line editing is going really well and I'm plowing through the chapters. Only problem: ink on almost every single page. As in, it looks like I printed out pages of ink comments and then made a few comments in type. And I will tell you a secret: there was one part that I felt was just complete crap. However, my writing group liked that section unanimously, so. It's definitely a love-hate relationship with my novel. It resents me for resenting it, and I dislike it's refusal to be the way I want it to be. We're too close to each other and now I'm in danger of writing one of those novel-akin-to-marriage posts. (Nothing wrong with those by the by.)

Luckily, I'm still carrying on the love affair with my new laser printer. Oh, I love it so much. The laser printer and I are in the first full flush of love, where we want to print all the time and dreams of toner and drum replacement are far away.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Santorini, Greece: An Occasional Series

My completed novel is partially set in Santorini, Greece. Some of you have asked me about the time I spent there as a kid, and I wanted to answer those questions here.

I was ten when my mother and I arrived. We arrived with the intention of living there for at least a year—in any event, she bought school books to homeschool me for fifth grade there. One of the pieces of feedback I got in my writing group regarding my character arriving on the island was that there seemed to be an absence of culture shock. That’s because there really wasn’t any, for me or for my mother.

Maybe by ten I was a seasoned traveler, but Greece in the 1980s was like a permanent vacation. There really wasn’t anything shocking about it. There was the lack of a few amenities to get used to—like that fact that the island’s sewer system couldn’t support toilet paper, which meant that we had to put used toilet paper in a bin next to the toilet. Totally gross to think about, but it really wasn’t a bother then, and I don’t remember smell being an issue. We didn’t typically have phones then. The big houses did, but for anyone else, you had to go to the OTE office in the main city of Thira (Fira). There was the lack of cow’s milk (and still is), but again with goat milk it wasn’t really a problem.

The island is pretty tourist-ified and people speak enough English so that it’s not like, say, going to a small village in Pakistan and expecting to assimilate.

We stayed more or less for two years in Santorini, and a year or so in Athens, where I attended an English-speaking school. Santorini is only 12 miles long by six miles wide (and I question the six), and I was allowed to scamper all over the place as I pleased. I spent a lot of time running up switch-back paths cut in the hillsides, or running through the pistachio tree groves. I owned the beach at Kamari, and was on a name basis with many shop keepers.

One of the questions I got often from other tourists who discovered me on the bus between Thira and Kamari was, “how do you like it?” I liked it fine. Who wouldn’t? I was a wild child, and the island was pretty safe. My Greek was good enough to get what I needed. My dad sent me care packages of books since getting hold of English reading material was limited to two-week-old magazines and romance novels left behind by tourists. I read too many Harlequins at that tender age. I also read my entire English book upon arrival. Getting hold of reading material was a real challenge.

Next time in this series: the music.

I was stimulating the economy

I posted last week or so about being green. I said I never printed out my manuscripts in an effort to save paper. It was actually a huge lie, because I do. (And worse, I don't really have a morally green problem printing them out, either.) I just prefer to read on my Sony eReader, and also I’m incredibly lazy about printing. But I can no longer avoid the truth: printing crap out really does help the editing process. (And you can’t line edit on an ereader.) This is why I found myself shelling out my hard-earned shekels for a laser printer today. I actually went looking for HP 901 black ink but was sucked into the vortex of American consumerism and ended up paying way more than I ever wanted to pay for a Brother MFC 7840W printer. In its defense, it is a printer, scanner, faxer, and it’s wireless. And in my defense, it seems like between writing group critiques and printing my own drafts out all the time, I had to have a reliable printer that was quiet, printed fast, and didn't gobble up ink like a bum with a ham sandwich. I did have an HP Officejet with supposed wireless and fax and scan, but the wireless wasn’t, and it went through black ink like, well, an HP going through black ink (a capacity of about 150 pages, tops). By contrast, the Brother laser printer does about 2000 pages.

For those of you who care, I did compare the Brother to its HP counterpart (the M1319F) and I was struck by how incredibly beast-like the HP was. It's tall and huge and ugly, and its toner is more expensive. That said, it was cheaper. I didn't end up going with it because a) I'm not on speaking terms with my printer right now, which is an HP, and b) It wasn't in stock at Best Buy when I was there.

It seems like the world of printers hasn’t quite caught up to 2009, because most of the printers I looked at don’t have manual duplexing (printing on both sides of the paper). Shhh, between you and me, I actually didn’t look at many printers, and certainly not before I waltzed into the store and bought the outrageously expensive Brother. Don’t tell my husband. He will not like it.

Now if I just had time to read all the pages I plan on printing out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Time Travel Books

Oh, yes. Eric blog Pimp My Novel, a seminal must-read, mentioned this roundup of Top Ten Best Time-traveling Novels. All right, I said, rubbing my hands together in anticipation of seeing The Time Traveler’s Wife up there at number one.

But no, The Time Machine by HG Wells is. OK, thinks I, yes. Yes, this is a very good one and cripes those effing morlocks STILL make the skin on my back crawl, and that was purely from reading it. I’m too scared of them to see the movie. Oh, good one.

Number 2: The Time Traveler’s Wife? No. No, it isn’t. It’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. OK, good one again. But definitely not emotionally stirring, like, perhaps, The Time Traveler’s Wife or even the Time Machine.

Number 3: The Time Traveler’s Wife? No again. Hmm. It’s Orlando by Virginia Woolf, which I haven’t read. OK, at this point this is clearly not a Top Ten of All Time list, it’s just Linda Buckley Archer’s personal favs. Especially since I haven’t heard of any of the rest on the list. Strangely, The Time Traveler’s Wife doesn’t appear at all.

Now, at this juncture it would be prudent to say that I don’t actually read a lot of time traveler stories, or indeed much sci-fi at all, although I’m not against sci fi. In fact you may notice in my list of books that I’m currently reading over there on the right hand side, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Side of Darkness. I’ve been having a look at it for a while now. It’s decent. (She switched POV right in the first few pages, which annoyed me, but I forgave it because she’s legendary.) I guess my problem with sci-fi, or maybe just fantasy, is that I require character names to be pronounceable. Don’t give me Aryyngorthshafagye because I can’t say that in my head and I’m therefore not going to empathize with him/her. You may as well say the name is just a series of clicks for all the good it does my reading experience.

Anyway, back to the time travel roundup. I don’t have much to add except saying that my own list would obviously be a short one. Anyone have any to add?

Edit: I can't believe I forgot this and thanks to Michelle for reminding me, but of course I enjoyed Diana Galbaldon's series. I actually read all through book #6 or so before pooping out on it.

Friday, August 14, 2009


A week ago, I had the most fabulous opportunity to see Underworld live at the beautiful Fox Theatre in Oakland. I love Underworld so, so much. Before you take agin me and this post, please know that I’m not asking you to love them. I am only asking that you appreciate the depths of my love. It was such a good concert, such good music, and they played all my favorites, AND no one annoyed me! (Apart from a guy in a Chelsea FC top but I suppose I can forgive that.)

Underworld was incredibly generous and broadcasted the show live via Quicktime—and they still have the link up for all to enjoy. I have been enjoying it, all week. Repeatedly. If you would like to enjoy it, I encourage you do to so, but again I am not asking you to.

I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration for writing from Underworld songs, which is strange considering I write women’s fiction. I very much want to continue adding depth to my stories (in other words, finding new and interesting ways to emotionally wound my characters, and then have them grow from the experience and come out the other end in much better shape than they were). I find help in that direction from Underworld, I do.

So, thank you, Underworld, for a magnificent concert in Oakland, and we love you, and appreciate everything you did. I’m pretty sure I reached nirvana at the concert.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing Nice

Oh my my. Moonrat posted about feuds between writers. Tact, people, tact.

Many of her commenters mentioned some, and also mentioned how aggro writing groups seem to be. In fact, one commenter said:

“…feuding…is the major reason I avoid writer's groups like the plague. I have a dear friend whom I consider to be a far superior writer to me, and yet she's never had a book published because she allows her "writer's" group, containing mostly people who've never been published, to tear her manuscripts and self-confidence apart, so she never submits.

I don't do writer's groups and I've had 9 books published, all but three by major publishers. I'm a solid mid-list author, which may not sound like much to brag about, but I'm proud of what I've accomplished. And of course, I aspire to writing my way up the list.

If I had submitted any of my manuscripts to a writer's group for comment first, I'm sure I never would have mailed them off. Seems to me the main function of most writer's groups…is to make sure NO ONE in the group gets published, because that would upset the balance of power and create all sorts of problems with the group's perceptions of publishing reality.”

Yeah, confidence is a pisser, isn’t it? I personally haven’t been in my writing group for that long, but I don't agree at all that they're destructive. While I have seen some evidence of self-confidence issues emerge in my group (including my own, at times), that’s definitely up to ourselves to manage as a professional. I had to come to terms very quickly with how to take criticism. Giving criticism is sometimes just as difficult as getting it, which is why most people who love you cannot give you a lot of feedback. They don’t want to destroy you if your writing is horrid. It really goes without saying that if you find a writing group is unsupportive of your work or your career, get out of it and find another one.

I’d like to say what feedback HAS done for me: it’s pointed out plot holes, unrealistic scenarios (my favorite review is when someone says “I’m not buying this”), and made me question the deeper meaning of what I’m saying. This is important because I don't like to question anything. Of course I don't--it's hard work to think! Critiques have also taught me how to stay true to my theme or message. Overall, I’m pretty sure writing groups are a sanity-check, a way to make sure I’m not getting ahead of myself. And I wonder if some published authors who no longer use writing groups might write better for it. Imagine if I had four books published already, and STILL made the mistakes I’m making! Guess what—-overworked editors might not catch them—-but your readers sure will. So take every opportunity available to you to edit yourself.

And for God’s sake, thicken your skin. If writing groups crucify you, what will mean reviewers do?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sporting Green

Today started out with a heated debate with my two year old whippersnapper over the color green. He stated, in no uncertain terms, that he likes green, and so does his daddy. I told him that I like green, too.

He said, “No. You don’t like green. You like orange.”

I suggested that in fact I did not like orange, I like green. An argument ensued with little variation from the accusation and defense. I pointed out that Hibs are green. I even took him round to the side of my car where a Hibs crest sticker is affixed on the side window.

“What is this?” I asked him.

“Hibs,” he said, because he’s a Very Smart Boy.

“Right. And Hibs are green. Please do not insult me by suggesting I do not like green.”

He considered this in silence as I packed him into his car seat. Finally, he said, “I like green. My daddy likes green.”

“Yes,” I agreed.

“And you like orange.”

At this point I shut the car door.

But the day got better. First off, I’m wearing my new cute Gap sweater. I have eschewed Gap for many years because Gap is overpriced and makes their clothes for emaciated teenagers, not me. However, I recently noticed that both Gap and Old Navy (which are both owned, along with Banana Republic, by Gap Inc), have made their clothes sizes bigger. It used to be that the Medium size was a small, and Small was actually Minuscule 18 Year Old. Large was the best bet, and if you required XL, then you were ass out because nothing would fit you. (Old Navy really pissed me off when I was preggers because they made maternity clothes without increasing the arse size. Hello! Our arses get bigger when we’re preggers! Fact!)

Anyway, now their M sizes are actually Ls so when you buy S or M, it’s quite comfortable. On one hand I take a hard line of offense at this enlarging of the sizes, but on the other, it makes me feel thinner when I buy S and it’s roomy.
Right, so, I’m wearing my awesome new Gap sweater, with a frilly collar—and I look fashionable—yes! Me! I know! And I’m also wearing fashionable jeans and cute clogs! It’s been years since I attempted such coordination. So I went to the bathroom in my office building and a very beautiful girl was in there as I was coming in and she said, “Your sweater is so cute!” Well! thought I. That’s very nice to hear! Mind you it would have been sublime to hear “And you obviously like green” too from her (because obviously I do). I may have lost the fight this morning with the whippersnapper, but I haven’t lost the war. It’s going to be a long one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nuances and Smacked-in-the-head Hooks

At my day job, I tend to sugar-coat things sometimes in order to soften the blow of what I’m telling someone. This says more about my confidence level than it does anything else, but anyway what I’ve found is that a lot of times, people don’t get what I’m saying. They don’t get the point. I’m using passive sentences rather than directives, because I don’t want to come off sounding dictatorial or arrogant. Cripes, can you believe that? This is because I’m constantly on the alert for showing and not telling.

But I forgot that people have mountains of e-mail a day and therefore you’d better get to the point very quickly in one—if you want to hold the reader’s attention. This is true in our novels today, too. It’s why no one is going to put up with five pages of description before the action starts. It’s why I start off my stories with a line that says what the instigating event is. The best example of this is Marian Keyes’ first novel, Watermelon. The first line is something along the lines of (I can’t exactly recall): “I had my first baby on the same day that my husband left me.” That’s the premise right there and years ago I picked this book up in a Dallas bookstore and read that line and went WOW (I had never heard of Marian Keyes before that). How much does THAT suck! I mean, holy crap, that’s about the worst thing I can picture happening, really. Lucky Marian, she nailed it with that one. I have never since seen such an attractive opening line as that one.

That first line taught me that you should be very straightforward in your plot and premise, and if possible, smack the reader in the head right away with your hook—assuming it’s a good hook. Not saying I always manage to do this, but it's a good rule of thumb.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Supporting each other

One of the things I like a lot about the unpublished writing community is that those of us who are trying and setting our tinterweb platforms up now with a web site and a blog are supporting others like ourselves, too. We do this partly to drive traffic to our blogs but we also do this to support each other. Some of us won’t make it, some of us will; in the end it doesn’t really matter because we recognize a fellow soul in what we’re doing. Seems like a lot of us are women, a lot of us have small children, and work, too, in addition to writing, mothering, wifing, and tinterwebbing. (Some of us also spend a lot of time supporting football teams over in Scotland; the Hibs had their season opener today with a 0-0 sleeper; it’s all right, better than a loss, eh? I’m not saying all of us are Hibs supporters but some of us are---fine, it’s just me.)

What I’m saying is that it’s really nice to have the community and support. This is how it’s built. Support and community is not built overnight (God knows), and those of us who take the time to find out what’s what know that this is a necessary step in our path to publishing.

So—thank you to my commenters, thank you for the support. You should know that I am currently procrastinating as I write this, because I need to go change my novel’s ending and it’s a lot of work and I’m not sure how it will change and I don’t want to do it, but I have to because I recognize some problems, but it sucks because it took so long to see that and I don’t want to—in fact I would really rather prefer a nap but I know that if I lie down and attempt a nap, sleep won’t come because I’ll lie there thinking about the ending and so it’s really just much better to write this and visit FailBlog and the Lolcatz instead, maybe a little Facebooking—say, I should probably log into Twitter and maybe tweet a bit too before heading over to Google Reader and catching up on my blog reading, don’t you think?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Staying with the times

I received a solicitation in the mail yesterday from the Columbia University Journalism Review, inviting me to take advantage of a very special offer that they had prepared especially for me. I was immediately excited, and hoped very much that they had prepared a very large shipment of chocolate chips. But before they would tell me what it was, they extorted me to feel the fire of indignation over “ethical scandals” going on every month at newspapers! OMG! WTF! And that the field of hard-hitting journalism was changing, very quickly, and I didn’t want to be caught adrift in it. No! In fact, I wanted to be very much a part of it. It transpired, after several more outrage-tinged paragraphs, that I could stay up to date with the lighting-fast changes in our world by subscribing to the Columbia Journalism Review, published at the snail-like pace of six times a year.

Here I required a pause in order to take in the staggering lavishness of this offer (prepared especially for me). Although I could not find where they included chocolate chips, it seemed to me that six issues a year “packed with information and research” on the livelihood and trends of journalism might be, possibly, a bit….stale. Surely there's a blog with more timely information. Things change quickly. I’m not sure the Columbia Journalism Review will be able to keep up with that, although how awesome would a copy of that look sitting on my coffee table, right next to Architectural Digest? Pretty snazzy, I’d say—pretty nouveau, pretty post-Middle Class modern. Especially with my two year old’s trucks and stray Goldfish pieces piled on top.

I recognize that it takes time to get compile meticulously researched articles and lay out austere and academic-looking design on glossy paper that make subscribers feel like that came from a school with weight (which never seems to be my alma mater, San Francisco State, but whatevs). But let’s not kid ourselves, Columbia School of Journalism! The impact of telling me that "Technology is changing the forms in which we deliver the news to the public--so rapidly that it can be frightening" is rather lessened when you then publish your Review six times a year. At six times a year, I’ll have already moved on to the New Thing! I am hoping very much the New Thing is something called Chocolatwitter Chipbook.

My point here is that times, they are changing--and I have seen this with my use of Twitter for my company in the last month. The goal is to stay up to date at blur-speed, and press releases and newsletters and direct mail must all change to keep up. Gone are the days when companies send out paper copies of these things (ahem, Columbia Journalism Review)--it's all by e-mail. Except e-mail is too cumbersome now. E-mail gets cluttered with inane requests and spam. What's required now is an even faster way to reach an audience, and here's where Twitter's potential really steps up. A colleague of mine recently commented that Twitter was a waste of our time; that he would think our audience didn't have Twitter accounts. Au contrare, mon frere. They do, and the morning he sent me that comment was the morning a major industry news outlet with 1,200 followers of its own on Twitter subscribed to my company's feeds. This is the way it is. It took me a long time to see Twitter and Facebook's business potential too--but I assure that it all boils down to their instant communication capacity.

Of course, Tweets don't look as good as a thick copy of Columbia Journalism Review does sitting on the corner of your desk, a last bastion of the print world, and more about the name than about the content. And that's sad to me--because I want CJR to maintain its good name (as I want all university or academic reviews) by staying with the times.*

* Times still include chocolate chips.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Design and Writing

I’m such a sucker for beautiful design. I got an email full of links to great designers today, and I have to share Dan Cosgrove….zowee! Gorgeous, old-fashioned poster artwork, and other vibrantly colored illustrations. (Link at bottom)

Good design is so important. It frames a document, sets it, positions it. Design extends its definition to the layout of elements, color, and concept. Design can also be discussed without color or graphical elements—it’s very much present in writing. Modern novels follow a show-don’t-tell design; novels of our yesteryears follow a different design: tell-don’t-show. Design guides the reader without him or her even knowing it, which is why design is often overlooked as an element. People who don’t know anything about design tend to want to clutter it up, failing lavishly to understand that clean, simple, and unencumbered design is stronger.

When I first joined my writing group, someone said to me that my writing was simple and clear, and that was good. I didn’t agree entirely that it was good—what did he mean; was I too simple? Not enough nuance? Not enough pithy prose, the kind that makes you go “ooooh”? (Probably he did mean this, a bit). I’d like to say it’s because I favor clear design but that would be a patent lie—I’m still working on my wordsmithy skills, that’s all. My dad, who is one of those people who comes up with arrangements of unique words that absolutely thrill you to read, once said that he thought I did the same—I put together words in a neat way that he’d never thought of. That was high praise considering what he can do. I was recently reading a Thomas Cook guide to the Greek Islands and the writer of that guide was extremely excellent—his adjectives were not overwhelming, but rather perfectly appointed in frontal lobe-pleasing ways. Perfect design. The INTERN is also one of those who does this well; I feel that if you read her blog you will agree. For fox sake, she throws out words like Quetzalcoatl. She is perfection.

Check it:

I love this old-fashioned, properly painted stuff. In particular, I love his unique perspectives, like this one from the Golden Gate Bridge:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Being a Green Writer

I was thinking a bit about being green in the workplace. One of my workplaces involves my sofa, which hosts my butt as I write novels. I really believe that offices and businesses need to update their practices to incorporate being green—but I also think that in five years, this won’t even be an issue; much like recycling is pretty standard now. (If it isn’t, then shame. Shame!)

For my part, I do this:
I don’t print my stories out to proof-read them. Shhh, hang on. I use my Sony e-Reader to look at them. There are obvious disadvantages to this, like you can’t edit right there and then on the paper. However, it is so very very nice to PDF the latest draft and stick it on the Reader, and see it as if it’s paper. It’s easy on the eyes and it does about the same job as reading on actual paper does. The downside: you have to do it alongside the laptop in order to make corrections.

I prefer agents who accept e-mail queries. I gravitate towards these first; I realize this might hold me back from a dream super duper awesome agent, but I feel very strongly that I’ll be doing my agenting and publishing and branding all electronically. This is how I live my life and it feels right for me. I have actually submitted to agents the old fashioned way, and may still, but my first choices to submit to are those who accept e-mails.

That’s actually it—-only two items, but I guess it comes down to being paperless. I mean, I do use grid-generated electricity to power my laptop. I was going to try and make the case for being green because I have a laptop but actually this isn’t very green. Laptops, being more disposable than actual workstation computers, probably are less green.

I could say I would take public transportation to writing conferences and things, but…um, I haven’t gone to any. I do use a water glass instead of water bottles as I write. Cripes, I’m not actually that green, am I.

What do you do to be a green writer?