Monday, May 31, 2010

Alternate Uses for Cats

You know how when cat owners get together (or dog owners) and they start talking about things their pets did? Like, “OMG my cat totally chases after toaster oven cords, ha ha!” and the other person quickly (so as to get in his or her cat story before the first person can continue) goes, “Yeah I know, my cat plays in our car engine, you wouldn't believe the cat hair problem I have in the oil filter!”

I don’t do that.

My cats are almost entirely useless. I kind of like them, but they definitely are more annoying than useful. They eat, poop, puke, sleep in a tireless and repetitive pattern. When they meow, my eardrums want to rupture. Their eating and crapping costs me a fortune in food and litter, and don't even talk to me about the time I caught one of them dragging their ass across the carpet like a dog. Yes. CATS. And mine are useless and gross.

However, I like cats in general. And because I am unwilling to put them down (although I gave it considerable thought after the ass-dragging incident) nor give them away, I thought it prudent for the sanity of my family to find alternate uses for them.

Ally, a 16-year-old tabby, is a screechy old crone whose meow is annoying as she is unattractive. Ally’s sole purpose in life is to sit right next to me, no matter what. Especially if there’s no space. At first I fought this. For years I would push her away (nicely of course) or prevent her or otherwise thwart her close-cuddling attempts. But then I discovered that she doubles really well as a side table. Yes! Now I use her to put my papers on, and she doesn’t mind. See the picture at right. There is me (in purple check jammy bottoms) and my laptop on my lap, and Ally as a side table holding my papers. Good girl, Ally!

Max, a younger and more attractive cat, is a different story. When a delivery truck comes to our house or passes by, he runs upstairs and hides. His ears go stiff and his eyes look wild. He is utterly convinced that one of these days a man in a delivery truck will burst through the front door and mow him down with a tommy gun. As our street is a busy street, his day is fraught with spikes in his kitty adrenaline. And God help him when a delivery is for us and he can hear the thump of feet on the stairs to our front door.

When Max is not taking cover, he lounges on the floor, exhausted from his constant state of worry. And so we found Max’s alternate purpose -- as a playmat for the whippersnapper's toys. Those of you who are boys, or who have had boys, or otherwise grew up with boys, will know that little boys often like to set their toys on a base of some sort. Anything will do. And that’s where Max comes in. Observe:

So you see, your pets need not be annoying and burdensome. No! Make them work for you!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Pssst! Don't forget a verrrrry exciting interview on Tuesday with an amazing NYT bestselling author!

  • TH Mafi scored an interview with Nathan Bransford by selling her soul to the devil. What you need to know about Tahereh (as she demands you call her; I call her "freaking awesome") is that she is way, way smarter than the rest of us and way, way younger. This means she has YEARS of arse-kicking ahead of her, the likes of which we can't even dream of. The things this girl says, you will pop your clogs, I tell you. My only consolation: I am smart enough to know that I am not as smart or sharp as her. Or Nathan, for that matter, but that's a given.
  • Jennifer Blanchard gives us 4 warning signs why your novel isn't working. Scary stuff! The question is, if you can identify with any of them, will you have the guts to give up, fight, or what? (I poured over them all obsessively until I'd convinced myself my novel didn't have those points.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thursday 5: Stupendous Interview Announced!

Today I am going to break one of my own rules about blogging and blog about another blog post. I know. It's gross. But look -- five reasons why you should read next Tuesday's post:

1. I have a reallllly good interview going on.
An interview, you say! Yes! Yes! Wait til you see with who! Yes!

2. The interviewee is a New York Times bestselling author.
Totally not lying. Is very, very true. Squee!

3. The questions I asked are GOOD ones.
Yes! The NYT bestselling author said so! About at least one!

4. You can find out whether the interviewee (NYT bestselling!) agreed to be my BFF or not!
Well. Did he or she? Or didn't he or she? Mmmmmm?

5. Your estimation of me will go way up.
After this you will think I am way smarter and cuter than I actually am, based purely on the cleverness of my interrogation questions and you will traipse around the tinterwebs begging me to be your BFF rather than the other way around!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Hubris

This week's Word Up is a very ugly word: hubris. It sounds gross: heavy, bloated, and full of stinky smells. It is close to the word haggis, which is gross no matter how Scottish you are, or hummus, which is yummy, but also weird sounding. I mean anytime you pair an H with a B you've got trouble. It's like pairing orange with pink. It's a no-go.

But let's get to the meaning, which isn't any better, frankly. It means extreme haughtiness or arrogance. According to Wikipedia, hubris often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one's own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power.

Oh, my. Maybe I'm just mean* but I totally thought of at least five people who are hubrisy. Note that hubrisy isn't the correct way to use the word, but the word is so ugly in sound, sight, and meaning that it deserves some cutening up, doesn't it? Totes.

Check it:

Better, huh! Nothing a little Cutiepop font can't fix!

P.S. I think you use the word hubris like this: "an act of hubris" or "hubristic." Or just "raging arsehole."

* Shutup! I am not!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Worlds to Live in

Last week Nathan Bransford asked which book world you would live in if you could. This is such a good question and the possibilities are endless, but ultimately difficult cause you know there's going to be conflict in the world.

Lots of people chose awesome fantasy worlds (as I did; duh --not like I'm going to say I want o live in Dante's effing Purgatory! Actually that counts as awesome fantasy, but not a in good way), and the comments in Nathan's post are a good place to look for awesome, epic book suggestions with wonderful worlds.

The obvious answer was Hogwarts, so let's just say that's a given -- we'd ALL like to live there. Also Twilight, which appeared a lot in the comments. Give this one some thought though, and some great books come out. Here are mine:

Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series, which is about a huge living tree exists with fairies and goblins living in it, and a different world every week at the top that the children of the story often visit. My favorite world: The Land of Birthdays and the Land of Take What you Want.

Gerald Durrell's Corfu in his My Family and Other Animals series. (someone else said it in the comments but man I read all his books repeatedly and just soaked up that Greek sun and carefree, independently wealthy heady days of old-timely 1930s Greece)

Any of Rosamunde Pilcher's pastoral books. This includes the small Scottish villiage in September and Penzance in Cornwall in the 1940's WWII epic Coming Home, in which things are hard and everyone has to have blackout curtains, but people pulled together (even those living in awesome country mansions in Cornwall with every luxury available.)

Where would you live? Remember, Harry Potter and Twilight aside!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Do You Write in Your Genre?

Most writers know that they wanted to write at some point. As one of my friends recently told me, "You have to have that bug, I guess." But I'm always curious as to what it is that draws people to write in certain genres. Is it just that we write what we like to read?

I write women's fiction. I guess you could call it chick lit, although that terms seems to imply froth. Humorous women's fiction, to clarify. (Although the humor part is entirely subjective.) When the right amount of snark is combined with the hopes and dreams and worries and challenges of a woman, I love it. That's what I like to read, and it's what I like to write. Not to mention the fact that by writing it, I get to live vicariously through my characters! For me, it doesn't get any better than Marian Keyes. Other long-time and unfailing favorites in the genre are Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Elizabeth Berg, Jennifer Weiner, Mary Kay Andrews, Tracy Chevalier, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver....these are authors I've read multiple books by, but I read and enjoy many, many more. (See my Goodreads profile for what I'm currently reading and what I have read.)

How did you get into what you write? YA, thrillers, mystery? What draws you to that genre and what about it especially do you like writing?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Special thanks to Tahereh and Mia for yesterday's par-tay, complete with cupcakes and sparkles. They did a special rain-comment-dance for me. Feathers flew and small animals ran for cover. It was magnificent.

  • Anne Allen thoughtfully wonders whether you should give an agent an exclusive read. (And congrats to Anne for making Writer Digest's Best Tweets week last week!! This one is certainly worthy of it, too.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday 5: Easing Headaches

One morning last week I lay in bed in agony with a heinous migraine shooting spikes up one side of my head. I thought: what are all the ways I know of to get rid of headaches? I thought of five, and wrote this blog post in my head. I've had headaches since forever and used to suffer from migraines regularly until I had my whippersnapper, which sort of changed my hormonal makeup (which is nice considering how much else he messed up on my body! But this is not Amber's TMI post.) Now I only have one migraine once per month.

I use all the methods below. Some work better than others at different times, for different types of headaches. I present them in order of effectiveness, with #5 being the best method.

1. Visualize.
I once read an article in Cosmo when I was 12 that described using visualization to get rid of headaches. I'm embarrassed to say it worked and I've used what I read ever since. This is the weakest of all remedies for me, but sometimes it's really good. What I do (and this is what the article described) is picture cool, clean water washing over your grey matter, rinsing out the black rotting headache and pushing it out. Mmmm. Doesn't that feel refreshing? You know it does.

2. Chew gum.
The body's natural response to pain is to clench up and freeze, but that will not prevent or get rid of your pain. Massage and gentle motion is the way. Chewing gum moves your jaw muscles, which moves the muscle connected to your jaw, which happen to go up into your head and over your skull. Try it. It feels good. If you clench and grind your jaw like I do, this is like a free massage.

3. Do yoga.
Do a form of yoga that stretches every muscle as opposed to putting you in crazy poses. Include my personal favorite pose, "corpse pose," which means you lie down on the floor and spread out and just relaaaaaaax. Perhaps it is my favorite pose because you don't actually have to do anything but lie down. Anyway, it works.

4. Use drugs.
Difference non-prescription drugs work for different people, but Excedrin Migraine does it for me. Oh man it's the bomb. Prescription headache drugs are powerful and not always very healthy to take (plus they lose their efficacity after a while). Consider carefully before demanding a prescription from your doctor.

5. Use drugs plus Diet Coke.
Or Coke Zero or whatever -- for some reason, cola (with caffeine; that is key) is a good combination. A Diet Coke and an Excedrin work very well for hangovers, too. Take it from me.

Have any to add? Cause man, as writers, as Merchants of Frustration, we probably collectively have a lot of headaches.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Trestle

I can't believe I haven't done a Word Up on trestle before, because it's one of my most favorite words. It's beautiful with that "st" sound in there, but it also sounds so sure of itself. As in, I'm a large bridge structure, and I carry some weight. And it'd be right.

Trestles commonly refer to railroad bridges, although dictionaries will have you believe that trestles are merely rigid frames of support (which they are), but not necessarily railroad bridges. For years I believed that trestles were railroad bridges over water, but I was gently (and firmly) corrected by a worker at the Nevada County Railroad Museum that trestles cover land, not water. Never water! I don't think you'll be struck dead if you call a bridge over water a trestle, though. In fact, I think you'll be fine if you call any railroad bridge over a depression in the earth a trestle. After all, you can't help whether dry land floods and suddenly a river runs under a trestle, can you? No.

Trestles are quite beautiful, often stretching high into the sky and constructed of what looks like a bunch of sticks. Hard to believe a heavy thing like a train could go over it. When you think of trestles, you might think (as I do) of that great scene in Stand By Me where they have to cross the trestle and outrun the train. Nowhere to go but down on that trestle. A wee tussle with a trestle, as it were.

You needn't dismiss the word trestle as unlikely to find your way into fiction. It's ripe for a metaphor. Can you think of any?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

For the Win: Bookstore Placeholders

On Friday on Twitter, I had an amusing and diverting discussion with TH Mafi and author Linda Godfrey. (Linda is no relation to me, but you can see that we follow one another on Twitter because of our shared last name, which is made of pure awesome.) Our discussion centered around the fact that I said when I go into a bookstore, I always go over to the Fiction section and find the Gs and then make a hole where my name would go, for my future books.
This idea isn't my own; I saw it on a blog once, and once I started doing it, now I do it every time. I'm a huge believer in small actions to affirm your goals. I once read that Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote on a piece of paper every day that his two major comic competitors, Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) would retire and leave him as the reigning comic king.

And they did.

And he was.

He was sort of joking when he said this, but the thing was, but he says actually did that. And he does it for other things, too.

And to be honest, every time I've written something down, I've gotten it.

Call it whatever you like. Believe it, or not. So along these lines, I make a space in the Gs, usually next to Gail Godwin's books. So on Twitter, one of us suggested a club where we'd do this on each other's behalf. You can make space or you can even stick a marker in there for yourself. Linda did it for me in Janesville, Wisconsin, Waldenbook (I'm glad Waldenbook still exists, btw):

LOOK AT THAT. Linda did this on a Chinese placemat. She bent it into shape to be book-like. Nice, huh? Right in between a Gail Godwin and a zombie anthology (could not get any better, really).

Linda didn't end up leaving it there (which I'm kind of glad about because I'm a scaredy-cat sort), but it's the action and the picture that counts.

I make space every time I go into a bookstore. Do you? Do you do anything like this?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Writer Accoutrements

At the editing workshop I attended a few weeks ago, the other participants (there were 7 of us in all) and I were very close by the end of the weekend. We exchanged contact information so we could continue reading each other's stories. Several of the writers there had writer business cards.I was surprised by this. I'm pretty sure that none of them were published. But most of them wrote full-time. I started thinking: how awesome it is to have a business card saying you're a writer! Because in situations like conferences, workshops, and other times when people want to see more of your work, handing them a card seems logical and smart.

It's quaint, almost. But effective.One of the business cards said: "Out of residence writer," a term I'd never heard before. Another just had the name and address of the writer.

I started thinking: not only is it practical, but it's just plain smart. It also says a certain something about you: it says you're committed to this writing lark, that you're going all the way. And when you're talking to someone who wants more information, it'd be pretty handy to have a card ready. After all, we're marketing ourselves here. The surprise was that of the three business cards I received, only one of them had a website.

The good news is that business cards can be pretty inexpensive to print, especially if you go with a pre-existing design. I have links below for you. If you're fussy and a designer like me, then you'll probably have to spend more to upload a custom design. But what do you put on it?

  • Your name. Duh.
  • Your e-mail.
  • Your website, if you have one.
  • Your phone number. I left mine off after much deliberation because I simply hate the phone. Come get to me by email; I like it so much better.
  • Your address. Again, I left mine off since I don't see that as terribly relevant. But there are many situations where you might want the person you hand your card to to send you a Christmas card.
  • A quote or something.
Here's mine. I mocked this up; haven't actually printed them. Still thinking about the design and what goes on them.

What else would you put on there? What do you think of the whole having a business card thing?

  • Here is a site with a whole bunch of really nice, pre-designed writer cards -- I really like the typewriter ones, very elegant.
  • Also, Vistaprint does some free card deals and pretty inexpensive print jobs, too.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rare Sunday Post: Tagged

Tina Lynn at Sweet Niblets tagged me and so here's a Sunday answer to the tag. You have to answer five ways to five questions.

Question 1: Where were you five years ago?

  1. Just purchased current house in outrageous bidding war that left us emotionally exhausted, assuaged only by the equally outrageous bidding war that resulted from the sale of existing house.
  2. Working long hours.
  3. Nursing TWO ripped tendons and sprained ankles.
  4. Considering the consideration of possibly maybe having a child, perhaps.
  5. Graduating from graduate school.

Question 2: Where would you like to be five years from now?
  1. Published, with one or more books already in print.
  2. Working on next books.
  3. Coming to decision that I can quit day job.
  4. Mother of two whippersnappers.
  5. Doing blog tours because my fans love me so much?

Question 3: What is (was) on your to do list today?
  1. Sleep in.
  2. Participate in online writing group chat.
  3. Prepare next few days' worth of blog posts.
  4. Do laundry for work week.
  5. Possibly go to REI and spend crap load of money on super cute green shoes.

Question 4: What five snacks do you enjoy?
  1. Cheese
  2. "Sierra's Trailmix" (M&M's with a few nuts thrown in to make it look like Trailmix)
  3. Cookies -- must be chocolate chip and not fake-out raisins, which look like chocolate chips but so are not (hate raisins for that reason)
  4. Hummus and anything
  5. Cheese quesadilla

Question 5: What would you do if you were a billionaire?
  1. Have several houses/luxury apartments in the following cities: San Francisco, London, Edinburgh, New York, Vancouver, Paris. But main residence would be beach house on California coast. Season tickets to Hibs games, of course.
  2. Go on extended travel tours at least once a year.
  3. Set up tax-protected trust funds for my heirs.
  4. Be philanthropic and call up Brad and Angelina to talk kids.
  5. Never, ever be one of those rich women who walk around in hooker heels and carry small, ugly dogs in their arms.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

The Blog and I want to thank everyone yesterday for the birthday wishes. The Blog got a little uppity over its age this morning and we didn't get this post lined up until late this morning. We hope you will forgive. We were partied out!

  • Kristin Nelson says that if you've got an offer from an agent, why not shop around if you have your manuscript out with other agents?
  • Tahereh, who is just a clever and very funny person, further proves her creativity by writing a newspaper style post about Twilight. In the comments, people said how hard they laughed, but what you should note is Tahereh's sheer inventiveness. She just showed us why her forthcoming novel is going to be very good indeed.
  • Anne Allen has a great post on ignoring bad advice from your critique group. This is such a good post (as are all of Anne's) and I loved how each one of her points are exactly things I've heard being harped on in my writing group. What's so great about this post is that by calling each thing out, I almost feel that ignoring each one is validated. I bow to you, Anne. She wins the Roundup prize this week.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday 5: Good Things About Birthdays

Today is the blog's one year birthday! What a cool year it's been. I steadily gained visitors and followers and commenters last summer. I've had over 5,000 visitors since last June when I started tracking them, and last month (April) had the most visitors I've ever had. A sincere thank you to all you readers who stop by and read this blog every day. You feed my ego and make me happy. To my commenters, I love opening my blog every day and finding your thoughts and reactions. I get all comments emailed to me, and see them all. My mother remarked recently on a blog post and I said, "You read my blog?!?" and she said, "Sometimes." I said, "Even the comments?" She said, "No. But you and your commenters seem to kiss each other's pums a lot." Pum is her word for ARSE. And so what.

So in honor of its birthday, I decided to ask my blog five interview questions. Here goes:

Sierra: Blog, you take a lot of abuse from me daily. How do you handle it when I click "publish" and there are still typos and poorly-written sentences?
Blog: To be honest [lights a cigarette], it really busts my chops when you do that. There are some days when you're so careless, and yet I schedule posts days in advance, and I just want to reach out and throttle you.
Sierra: That's interesting that you smoke.
Blog: Oh, I smoke, baby.

Sierra: For our second question, I want to know which posts over the past year were your favorites?
Blog: Good one. I liked the April Fool's day one that you did, and also the oatcakes one was pretty good. I always liked your List of Things to be Grateful For, which as far as I can tell, still holds true for you, especially the one where you're glad you don't have a conjoined twin growing out of your back. I guess I'll always have a soft spot in my bloggy heart for that Word Up Wednesday you did on fortitude. That got a lot of comments.

Sierra: Question three. What kinds of things do you wish I would post on you more often?
Blog: Are you kidding me? Where do I begin? More interviews with authors, for starters.
Sierra: I have one with Alison Winn Scotch coming soon.
Blog: That's a start. Also, more pictures of hunky male celebrities.
Sierra: That's not a big priority, but I suppose I could.
Blog:And more posts about you being outrageous.
Sierra: I'm not really outrageous.
Blog: Try to be. You know, push yourself.
Sierra:That's not really the point of the blog....
Blog:Excuse me. Excuse me. I am the blog.

Sierra:Let's just move on. Question 4: What do you hope for in your second year?
Blog: A big announcement post that you get an agent. Then a big announcement post that you sold your book. One hundred followers -- shoot, two hundred, even. The downfall of your nemesis. Lots of love and pum kissing between you and your commenters.

Sierra: Last question. Any advice you have to give to other blogs?
Blog: Holy Krakow, yes! No black backgrounds. No word verification thingy on the comments. Have your comments emailed to you. If you're a blog that routinely gets upwards of 50 comments a day, still respond to them all. And give your readers cupcakes on your birthday.

Sierra: Give me cupcakes, too. Especially me.
Blog: With nothing but piles of thick buttercream frosting.
Sierra: Yes. And sprinkles.
Blog: And possibly chocolate shavings.
Sierra:Happy birthday, Blog.
Blog: Aw, thanks. Pass me the Jack, yes?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Envy

I see envy confused with jealousy a lot. Jealousy means you fear the loss of something (that you usually already have), or are insecure about it being taken away. But people commonly use jealousy to mean that they want something, as in, "I'm jealous of those gozongas, even though I am perfectly beautiful as I am."

Envy is the word we mean. Observe: I envy those of you on THAT side of the agent/publishing deal. I envy people with trust funds or other sources of independent wealth. (I would envy my Nemesis, but in fact it is impossible to envy someone so detestable.) I envy the total lack of responsibility that my house-bound cats feel. I envy those who have a full view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I am NOT envious of anyone who does not have health care and I am sorry that people don't. ( I got the statement in the mail from the hospital for that unpleasant and sad surgical procedure I had some months ago. $12,000. My responsibility? A $100 co-pay. That's it. My insurance pays the rest. Cripes.) I am not envious of anyone who doesn't have the time or stamina or materials or ability to follow their dreams. (The list of what I am not envious of is quite large so I won't go on.)

The word envy generally carries a negative connotation, hence its position on the list of seven deadly sins. Envy infers that you resent another person for having something you perceive as lacking in yourself, and wish the other person to be deprived of it. Observe: my nemesis envies my striking beauty, wit, and cunning, and that has clouded his judgment so much that he has not noticed the army of marmots I sent his way to undermine his plots. (A tiny example.)

Were you using the word jealousy improperly? I've done it loads of times even while knowing that envy is the word. What are you envious of? What are you not envious of?

Bonus link for you: Pet Shop Boys' Jealousy

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Few Ways to Start Stories

I used to have a set bunch of rules I followed concerning beginnings of stories. I did a Thursday 5 in March listing five common ways of starting stories. And of course, most of us know what not to do (don't start with weather, dreams, or dialogue). So, where does that leave us? In modern fiction, it leaves us starting with action ("in media res").

Saying you must start with action is all very well. But you must still know the intricacies of characters in action. One of the things I learned in my editing workshop was that most of the stories in that workshop had good beginnings, but none of them knocked it out of the park. Including mine. Figuring this out for yourself is really tough and really specific to your own story. But here are a few guidelines:

Start with empathy.
Show your character in action, but doing something that will build introduction and empathy with the character. The point here is to make sure your character has time to be introduced to the reader. Note that this does not mean giving backstory. It merely means showing your character being human.

Start with your hook.
Even if it's a hint of the greater hook. The trick here is to not begin with explanation or exposition, but with conflict and drama. While still building character introduction, of course.

Start with simplicity.
Don't overwrite. Don't show off. Just show a scene. People doing things. What this means is not describing a bunch of stuff and hoping that it makes a scene. Show. Show. Show. And explain the relation of events to each other. Don't have a bunch of aliens attacking people while a farmhand is talking with the farmer in the field next to the mother ship.

Start with just a few characters.
Remember that the reader has just been thrust into your world, and it's like dipping his or her head into a bucket of ice water. Make it easy for them. Don't bombard them with a million characters that the reader has to struggle to get to know right away. This is part of building empathy. Give the reader time to get into the story, while starting with action and simplicity, and your hook of course.

I've made all of the mistakes above. I still struggle with this; as I said, it's so specific to your story that you have to mold and massage the scene to hit the above note. And, as with all points, these are general and will vary. Let's look at the Wizard of Oz. It starts with the witch (Miss Almira Gulch), who takes Toto to put him down. The characters that start the story are Miss Gulch, Dorothy, and Toto. We feel empathy for Dorothy because her dog is being taken. The scene is all action, and it's simple: Miss Gulch takes the dog. It's not quite the hook, but it sure hints of things to come.

Look at any book on your shelf and open the first page. With the exception of older books and epics, do they start in action? Do they build immediately empathy and are they simple?

Let us know in the comments. Also please add any items to the list above that you find useful.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Traveling and Writing

Before we begin today's post, guess what! (Well, I'll just tell you.) Jane Friedman of the land of Fantastica put my Google Reader Roundup in her Best Tweets post this week in its own category! Love you Jane! (She is, of course, now on my secret BFF list.)

Forgive me for not remembering, but I saw somewhere some time ago (in a land far, far away) that traveling is one of the great refreshers of the mind, and especially for writers. I couldn't agree more about this, but I'll add that you almost have to do it to actually understand it. Meaning, you don't know the hole you're in until you get out and see that you were in it!

For writers, this is especially true. Traveling allows you to experience new things and new people and open your mind to everything outside of you. And sometimes, it can give you ready-made scenes. Case in point: my experience yesterday in Marietta, Georgia, which is a cute little town outside of Atlanta.

Marietta must be a very crime-free, safe city indeed. Mr. Sierra (as I shall now refer to my husband) and I met some friends for lunch there, and as we were walking back to our super-cute black VW bug rental car, we noticed a police car stopped in the middle of the street, with its lights flashing. No police officers were in the car. In-ter-esting, thinks I, that they would just stop in the middle like that, causing cars to go around it and generally holding up traffic (not like Marietta has a ton of traffic, but there were enough in the city square area). I thought there was a bloody, hacked-body-limbs crime scene that the officer had rushed into. You know, something that would very much necessitate such a leave-your-car-in-the-middle-of-the-street maneuver.

As we reached our super-cute black bug, two police officers got in their car and began driving up the street. As it reached our car, a woman criss-crossed the street to hail it, waving her arms. The police car stopped immediately.

"What was all that about?" she asked the police officer through his open window. Her tone was pretty angry, which I thought was weird. The officer gets out of the car.

"Do you own a place around here?" the officer said. Now the second officer got out of the car to join his partner.

"Yes I do," the woman said, with a touch of righteous indignation.

"Well, what happened was, a husband and wife in that cafe there," said the officer. "They ordered an appetizer. The waiter served it, but the husband and wife didn't want it. The waiter said they ordered it so they had to pay for it. Then the husband found a hair in it."

I had busied myself with holding open the car door for Mr. Sierra while he got our whippersnapper in his car seat, with an ear craned toward the woman-officer conversation. I hoped the officer would cut to the part where the husband and wife had used a tommy gun to mow down the whole cafe in a bloodbath of epic Marietta proportions, or that a wee alien had exploded out of the husband's chest, or something equally interesting.

"But when we got there," said the officer, "we couldn't find a hair."

The lady walked away.

I stood there, dumbstruck that the police car had been blocking our super-cute black rental bug to tell this ludicrous story, and worse, that it had blocked traffic to run inside over a hair, and double-worse, that both officers had to get out of their car to explain the matter to a jaywalking passerby.

Now, I'm not saying Marietta's finest aren't anything but fine. I'm sure they are. I'm sure I don't know the whole story here. (I'm kind of hoping I don't.) But it was so silly and so excessive and so ready-made for a work of fiction (humorous fiction, obvi).

You see how getting out of your deep, dark writer cave can help refresh you? Even a local car trip should be able to give you new experiences, if you are willing to look for them in unexpected places.

Does anyone have any awesome travel experiences that leant themselves to fiction?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Hoy. First of all, if you read my Thursday 5 yesterday, you will see that I listed Jane Friedman's weekly Best Tweets posts as one of my top 5 favorite resources, but I made a jokey joke about it and said, ha ha, get this, no really-- I said, "it's nearly as good as my Roundup."

And Jane found it and read it.

And probably thought I was being a VERY RUDE GIRL.

I wasn't! It was a joke.

Lesson: don't joke.

  • Kristen Lippert-Martin has fantastic, pee-in-your-pants inducing exciting news: she's newly agented. Go by and congratulate her! She's a very funny lady.
  • I missed this last week and it appeared in Nathan Bransford's This Week in Publishing -- but never fear. I mine his posts for you, yes! Here is Pimp My Novel's publishing industry misconceptions. My favorite? #1 - anyone can write a book. Eric and i agree: no they cannot!
  • Holy KRAKOW! Agent Kristin Nelson talks about reading her slush pile for the first time in years, and also what problems she sees in opening pages. I'll be posting Monday about opening pages, using what I've learned around the tinterwebs and also from workshops and also crap I make up.
  • You'd better read this form rejection from Tahereh, because a) she's very lovable and b) it made me pee my pants with laughter. Oh, the things that amuse writers.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday 5: Writing Tools

I spent last Sunday indulging in my most favorite shopping treat ever: Barnes and Noble. I had one of those days where I gave myself permission to buy whatever I wanted at B&N.

"I'm supporting the publishing industry," I told the husband. He said not a word, and instead kindly distracted the whippersnapper while I browsed. The whippersnapper is also a fan of B&N. He loves the Thomas play area, but also, he always gets a few new books out of the deal.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I was looking at writing books and magazines (in addition to the fiction). I was thinking about those items that I regularly read or consult to help grow my knowledge of the craft and the industry. Here are five:

1. Writer's Digest Magazine
I've had a subscription to this for a while, and I love it. It always has something new for me to learn, and its online arm is really quite superb.

2. The Writer Magazine
I like this one, too. Its content mirrors Writer's Digest, but is different enough to be good. I also have a subscription to this.

3. Wikipedia
Well, come on. This is my all-time favorite research tool. I love playing "Wiki follow" -- a game I made up whereupon I look up something and then get distracted by the related links in the article, and then follow them and follow them and follow them. Pretty soon you're reading about how cheese was invented, when you'd started by looking up the name of the actor who plays the Emperor in Star Wars (Ian McDiarmid). Star Wars to cheese. Sweet!

4. Google Earth
Download it, because it's just fantastic. And it helped a lot when I was refreshing myself on the basics of Santorini, Greece for my novel set there. It goes deeper than Google maps, which is still good too.

5. Jane Friedman's There are No Rules Best Tweets post
Now, this is not to say there aren't other useful blogs out there -- because there are. But Jane Friedman at Writer's Digest does this one in particular every Sunday (thereabouts), and it's nearly as good as my Friday Google Reader Roundup. Jane covers things I don't have the bandwidth for, and I always learn something about the craft from the list.

Have any to add to the list?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Subversive

Several years ago, I worked for a company that had a sudden management change. The new management came in like stealthy thieves in the night, and when we woke up one morning, many changes were in place-- all unpleasant. The man in charge of sales and marketing was, incidentally, second in command to the chief evil guy. We'll call this sales and marketing guy Ned. Ned was mean, and he was angry, and he loved power. His first order of business was to clear out existing employees by laying everyone off he could get away with, and then hire new people who had degrees from prestigious universities. He pulled the resumes on file for existing employees and told them they didn't have enough experience to do the job they were doing. (Never mind that they weren't current resumes or that there's no possible way to have a resume on file with the job you were hired for based on your resume.)

Ned passed down many laws in the company, one of which was that no one could speak in quite tones in the hall ways. He said this was subversive. I worked in a totally separate department then, and Ned's reach didn't extend to our area, thankfully. I've never see such fear and loathing on the part of the people who worked under Ned.

Once I went to visit a friend of mine who worked on the other side of the building in Ned's domain. When I arrived at her desk, her eyes darted left to right and she was trembling a little.

"Go away. Please. Please, Sierra, don't talk to me, go away," she said.
I watched her, uncertain. I'd never seen her like that.
"Because....?" I said.
"He's walking around!" she hissed. And then, "I"m not kidding, please go away. You can't be seen here."
I laughed. It was unreal. This was a professional workplace, not a Turkish prison yard. "You've got to be kidding me. You can talk to people at work."
"No!" she whispered. "He says it's subversive!"
More to calm her than anything else, I went away. I couldn't believe a manager would tell employees that they couldn't talk for fear of overthrowing him. That's what subversive means -- intended activity to undermine or overthrow a government or other institution (like Ned).
We commonly (well, I do, anyway) use subversive to mean furtive, underground activity, all of which supports the original idea of overthrowing a government or institution. I like to use it about people, as Ned so eloquently showed us. The idea of having to overthrow a person is as ludicrous as Ned's mandate that all marketing people devote 100% of their time to building Power Point slides, with a minimum of 75 slides each. (And he would check to see. The slides didn't have to contain anything, but they had to be 75. I mean, come on.)
As with so many words, subversive is a great one to use when you don't actually mean overthrowing government, and instead apply it to less severe situations. I think it's great. Have you used this word, and how?

Psssssssst! Pssst! Yeah, you! I have 91 followers over in that Google friend thingy! Want to help me out and get me to 100? I know, I know. Who cares, right? Well, it's kind of cool to be at 100. So if you didn't follow me before, could you now? That would be awesome. Awesome, YES! Thank you. Mwah!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quoting Songs in Novels

One of the nuggets of information I learned at my editing workshop weekend with author Catherine Ryan Hyde was regarding using pieces of songs in your fiction. I particularly wanted to hear about this topic because my novel, which I'm currently in revision on, features a character who finds herself in an unusual and strange situation. Therefore, the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime seemed very appropriate to quote. Especially in a scene where she gets a new car -- the line about large automobiles fit very well. But it turns out that quoting songs is somewhat treacherous.

Someone asked Catherine, "How should I punctuate songs?"

The answer was, "Don't."

As in, Don't use songs. Period.

Unless songs are under public domain, you will have to pay for the right to use the song -- even if it's just a line. And guess what: your publisher isn't going to foot that bill. You are. And it could be hundreds of dollars.

Now, this is maybe a little stodgy on the part of artists. You would think they would be delighted to have an author quote their song in their book, which a) helps market the author and artist and b) helps keep the song in the public consciousness. But I also understand that this is artistic property, and it should be paid for.

So I dutifully -- but not happily -- removed all referenced to the Talking Heads song from my novel.

What do you think about this? Do you use song lines in your stories? Which ones?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Taking a Breather

(No, I'm totally not.)

A member of my writing group recently decided to bow out of our group for an indefinite leave of absence. He told me that in the last year, writing for him had become a chore and he'd lost sight of what's fun in it.

Writing as a chore is a foreign concept to me. I can't imagine writing stories not ever be fun, even though the revision process is painful. It's all fun as long as I'm working towards telling a good story.

Here are some ways you might think of the whole thing as being a chore:

If you have a problem finishing novels, you might start feeling that writing is a chore, because you're never getting anywhere. You start new stories because starting is fun (let's face it, starting is writer crack), but the fact that you pedal without actually going anywhere is hugely frustrating.
Solution: Revisit your plot. Look for plot holes that keep your story from working. Think your outline through. Ask yourself if you even want to tell that particular story.

Bad Critiques
You might think writing is a chore if you belong to a critique group in which you consistently get negative feedback, or feedback that says, "You need to change this and this and this and this, and this and this....or just everything."
Solution: Get out of that critique group. Find one that is SUPPORTIVE and in which you find critiques that resonate with you, at least part of the time. (Supportive means ones in which you are not skewered for every little thing and where people laugh at things that are supposed to be funny as opposed to...not.)

Writing is a time-suck, and if you aren't getting anywhere, I can see where you might be tempted to throw in the towel.
Solution: Sit yourself down, preferably on a comfy couch in a quiet room with nothing else going on and no one to bother you or lick you or whatever. Ask yourself very seriously: in what areas could you do better? Honestly, now. Is your story really perfect? Is the writing really golden? Is the query letter really shiny? If you have a sneaking suspicion that there are some areas where you could improve, then develop a plan and get some help.

Burn out
Like sucking all your time away, writing can burn you out. Burn out is one of my chief fears because if anything makes me quit, that will be it. I don't really do "slowing down" very well. Solution: Burn out can take a long time to recuperate from, so if you feel the signs, slow down. Take a few days off and see if that makes a difference. If it does, take a few more. Two weeks off isn't going to destroy your creative spirit. And it might save your marriage or your mind, or whatever. In other worse, unplug and take a vay-cay.

If you do decide to quit, you're not a bad person or a bad writer. It simply means that writing isn't a priority to you anymore. And for the love of tiny kittens, that is okay, too.

What brings you to the brink of quitting? How close have you ever been? I admit I've had thoughts of quitting. But then the next day I start up again.

Psssssssst! Pssst! Yeah, you! I have 91 followers over in that Google friend thingy! Want to help me out and get me to 100? I know, I know. Who cares, right? Well, it's kind of cool to be at 100. So if you didn't follow me before, could you now? That would be awesome. Awesome, YES! Thank you. Mwah!