Friday, July 30, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

TGIF! First and foremost I want to remind everyone about my character description contest, which you have until August 8 to enter, and win a $20 Amazon certificate! ($25 if we get 30 unique entries....have to work hard for that one, I'm afraid.)


  • Jenny bent's intern talks about how it really is to read slush. Pretty interesting stuff-- particularly the subtle point that the harder you make it for agents, the longer it will take to get to your stuff.
  • Jody Hedlund, again, has a new web site and blog design...she's moved into a professional package for herself, which is a great idea for an author. To celebrate, she's holding a giveaway that ends July 30. Just leave a comment on this post.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Birth of a Writer

Last week my whippersnapper threw the penultimate of all fits. He kicked, he screamed, he threw his body on the floor in anguish, he pretended to choke, he threatened to puke, he sassed us, he screamed "No!", and he hit himself, beating his own little legs. He was totally out of control--absolutely Mel Gibson style. It was heartbreaking to watch the rage and frustration in that little body.

We calmly sat by him through it-- we were long past the stage when bribery, threats, time-outs, or stern talkings-to would work. I'd gone through everything I had in my fit-combat arsenal. I had no parenting tricks left (not like I have a lot to begin with) and all I could do was look at him strangely and hope he wore himself out.

And then it hit me.

The frustration this kid had was the same I've felt in life, and my blood ran cold. Clearly it was genetic. Clearly he'd observed me in action. Clearly this was all my fault, and I'd be doomed to watch this tiny boy go through all the craziness I've gone through.

Mes amies, I was witnessing the birth of a writer.

He's too young to know it yet, but I feel it must be so. All that angst and existentialism and horror and hysteria will, someday, be rolled into a story.

I sort of hope not. Not that I wouldn't want him to experience the joy of creating and telling a story, but I also think there's a dark side to it sometimes. Many of us have demons that we beat or not, and they drive our need to articulate our struggles through stories. It might be one reason why writers have often also experienced depression. My most favorite writer, Marian Keyes, has been unable to write a book for a year because she's been waylaid by a severe depression. It's no joking matter.

At the very least, I like to tell myself that this passionate little boy is incredibly smart because he continually pushes boundaries with us -- and man is it work trying to combat that. Really most unpleasant. At the very least, he is smart and he's growing. I suppose we all do this (although honestly, Mr. Sierra and I do not remember pulling these screaming fits when we were his age). I guess my only hope is that whatever art form this "expression" takes later on as he tries to make sense of his own feelings, he does not use his mother as a subject of angry work, be it words or paint or music. (But I kind of hope words.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday Word: Crepuscular

Happy hump day (snicker), folks. Welcome to my new followers and thanks the brave first few to enter my spectacular character contest, which you still have plents of time to enter, as it ends August 8!

For today's Wednesday Word, I'm culling again from the Annual Wednesday Word Suggestion Drive (which is really open all year and you can still contribute to!) and this week I'm investigating the word crepuscular, donated by the good Lt. Cccyxx.

Crepuscular sounds creepy and crawly and sort of scary, and no wonder since it refers to nocturnal creatures, or a creature who is primarily active during twilight. Oh sure, you've got your common cats and owls and the like, but what I'm really concerned with are two crepuscular things: spiders and raccoons.

Raccoons are little aholes, but they're really darling little aholes. There is a big huge fat one that uses a creek we have running through our back yard (the creek is actually a glorified storm drain that is overground, but we like to say creek because it sounds woodsy and quaint and not hideously annoying in the rain season when it overflows). It uses our creek as its own little highway between yards and under the street. This is fine, but it's the look on the little pisser's face when we catch him creeping through--the look that says, "Yeah? I'm in ur creek, looking cute. Come near me and I'll scratch your eyeballs out."

Raccoons are, like bears, nature's little jokey-joke on humans. Why a joke? Because they are so CUTE that you want to hug them and squeeze them and pet them and call them George, but there will be certain dire consequences if you do so. Also, raccoons are extremely naughty in the night, and their little thumbs and fingers enable them to do quite a bit of non-huggable trash mess-making.

The other crepuscular critters that I concern myself with are spiders, which are not critters at all, but rather agents of the devil. When I find one in my house, I usually trap it and kick it out the front door, because my cats are completely useless in eating them. But it's the truly crepuscular spiders that worry me. The ones that crawl into my bed at night, or walk across the ceiling above my bed while I sleep, and then drop a line down onto the covers and then hike across the covers until it reaches my face, at which point it will KISS ME and then ....listen. Spiders are just wrong, wrong, wrong. Yeah I know they eat bad bugs, whatevs. All I'm saying is that when I caught a little crepuscular one the other night right before bed, I was NOT SORRY AT ALL to see that four of its legs had been mysteriously ripped off...possibly the work of my cats, but considering their uselessness, possibly not. Possibly a BIGGER spider.

You know, on second thought, maybe we should get back to cats and owls as our poster crepuscular critters.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spectacular Character Contest!

I never thought I'd do a contest on the blog. However, last weekend in the shower I was thinking about Spain in the World Cup. NO, pervo, I wasn't think of them THAT way. I was thinking about them because EA Sports did a Windows theme for the World Cup that you can download for Windows 7, and they did a superb job of recreating the likeness of the characters, including Carles Puyol, the Spanish defender who headed the ball into the net against Germany and got Spain to the finals. Puyol is a bit of an odd looking guy**, and that got me thinking.

If you were to describe Puyol in words, how would you do it?

This brings me to the contest. I would LOVE to read your descriptions of this guy. To make it fun, I'm awarding the winner a $20 Amazon certificate.

But wait, there's more.

If we can get 30 or more unique contest entries of Puyol descriptions, I'll up the certificate to $25, which, as we all know, means free shipping. And for those of us outwith New York, no sales tax. (Of course you must pay the taxes in your federal tax return, but if you are wise you will put the tax you would have paid into a savings account, earn a little interest, and then pay Uncle Sam at tax time--and keeping the interest earned!! This contest will MAKE YOU MONEY!)

If the winner despises Amazon and Amazon's practices of trying to corner the ebook market and forcing you to use their Kindle, and you're all "But what about my Sony eReader/Nook/other?" then you may have an alternate book store certificate.

So here are the rules:

1. Post your description of how Puyol looks in the comments. The way you do this-- be it in a scene, or from the perspective of another character, or whatever POV--is up to you. The goal here is to describe him as you would in a story, with words. You can be subtle or direct, you can be descriptive or just sketch him, but we want to get a sense of what he looks like.

2. You have until midnight on August 8 to do this. Repeat entries are fine.

3. I will judge the entries and then post finalists on August 9. Winners will be announced shortly after.

4. If you tweet or blog about the contest and we get at least 30 entries, I'll up the certificate to $25.

That's it!

Recommended, but not required:
Learn from the way people describe Puyol. Learn from the words or nuances. I hope this will be a great workshop in describing people. I really look forward to learning some character description tricks from you all.

You can get as much a sense of Puyol as you want for this contest-- you needn't rely on the pictures above only. Watch the World Cup final :) , or type his name in You Tube. Also do a Google images search--lots comes up.

Good luck and I can't wait to read your entries!

**I feel it necessary to remind you all that I am not in love with soccer players nor do I enjoy the game because I find players attractive, and that if I were a guy, you would not even question that. In fact, this post inspired a discussion with my writer friend Mike Chen about who is uglier: Puyol or Mike Ricci of hockey fame (Mike loves hockey). Mike wins. Ricci is uglier. However, I one-upped him with recent pictures of Mickey Rourke, whose nose hairs and scabbed lips are super klassy.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning from Slush

Nathan Bransford had an interesting post last week on how we should all read slush. He said, “If you're a writer, in my opinion there's no better education than reading slush.” I agree, since if you’ve ever sifted through resumes or anything where anyone applies for anything, you quickly see what stands out.

So how do we get our hot little paws on slush, then?

Note that reading blogs like Query Shark gives you a tastes for different queries, but what we really want here is un-critiqued, unadulterated, hordes of queries as they would be submitted to an agent or editor. That is slush.

Nathan, in the comments to his post, suggested finding it these ways:
  • Interning or reading for an agency or publisher
  • Volunteering for or running a literary journal or online magazine.
  • Participating in and offering feedback for an online critique site like Authonomy.
  • Offering feedback for other writers in discussion forums

I found the query forums in Nathan’s forum to be quite helpful in this regard. I had a look-- you don't need to sign in to do so, and the only thing is you have to ignore the comments below the queries submitted for help because the idea here is to get a ton of queries quickly, without stopping to think about how to make them better. That isn't the point. The point is to notice the following:
  • How are people presenting their stories?
  • What format are they using to write their queries?
  • What do you like and not like? What grabs you about the story?
  • What makes you click on to the next query?
If you can figure those things out, you'll be a step ahead in your own process. What works for one person doesn't work for another, but there should be enough there to find what works for you. I did. I found one that went on far past the point that I wanted to know about--the interesting point, the point that made me want to read more. I knew that for my own query (or pitch), I would need to stop there at that point, and even play it up a little.

Can you recommend other slush foundries? Would something like this work for you? If you run away from this post and go look at the query forums on Nathan's blog, come back and tell me if they worked for you.

P.S. Tomorrow I have a SPECTACULAR contest for you-- yes! The first ever contest EVER HELD ON THIS BLOG! YES! You will really love this. Love, love, love. I love it. Let's all love it tomorrow, shall we?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Eric at Pimp my Novel reminds us that we won't be making much money with our writing....and hopes that we never have to eat tarantulas for cash. (For the record, you can be assured that I will never eat a tarantula for any amount of anything. EVER. Can you imagine? Can you imagine those hairy, unnatural, segmented legs going in your mouth and it trying to brace against your lips as you shove it in....and then OH GOD the HUGE abdomen....and OH...the.....juice.....CRIPES ALIVE I HAVE TO GO PUKE RIGHT NOW.)
  • And finally, SlushPile Hell held a Twitter run about bad kiddy book titles. Here are his or her top 25. You should know that none of mine made it onto the list, by some incredible oversight I am sure, but so did none of my evil nemesis' so it's all good.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Social Media: Ur Doin It Rite

Remember when I did the post about branding? And I said that you were presenting yourself as something the moment you made yourself visible to others in cyberspace? Right, okay. I said you should be conscious of how you present yourself and that as a writer who hopes to sell your work, you want to make sure you come across somewhat professionally. Right?

So I just wanted to make a few notes about social media.

Here's what it isn't:
  • Not a brand
  • Not a program
  • Not a tactic
Here's what it is:
  • A way to build relationships.

Brand is separate from social media. Social media is a channel of communication. Author Christina Gombar tell us in this guest post that frequent pings on facebook or twitter looks a little pathetic, and that all of her favorite authors don't have web sites. She ends the post by asking for tips that can help her with her online promotion, because she understands that method is here to stay.

No, no! No! It isn't about promotion! It isn't giving speeches from the podium of your blog and tweeting that you just puked, or facebooking that you just picked your toe until it bled!

Christina says that she is paranoid (me too) and dislikes speaking loudly in public (check), and has a close knit group of friends (also check). But I swears to you, mes amies, swears, that those of you who tweet with me and comment and offer advice and love me up and I love up back are PRECIOUS to me.

And when one of us gets published, who do you think is going to help digitally champion the author?


Humans do not want the cold sell. People buy on recommendation and they go by what they know. You don't have to play in the social media sandbox, you really don't. For for heaven's sake, IT'S FREE. WHY WOULDN'T YOU. It costs nothing but a little time.

Caveat: Just because it's free does not mean that you can pretend. You may not post on people's blogs that ha ha yeah they had a great post but guess what, why don't they come along to your web site where you regale them with contests and other malarkey?

Cause we can see right through you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday Word: Penumbra

Special message from Sierra's Blog:
Dear Readers,
I want to thank everyone for putting up with the rash of typos and sloppy execution in Sierra's post yesterday. I don't know. I don't know. Sometimes it's downright painful being her blog. This is why I drink.

Love and kisses,
Sierra's Blog
Now, back to our regularly scheduled post.

Thanks to everyone who participated in last week's Annual Wednesday Word Drive, which you can still participate in, yes, yes! Although that post was a total and complete cop-out as far as post-writing goes, many of you came through magnificently and left some great words in the comments. Also, I might have been slightly misleading when I promised that I would write a story using the word. What I will do, however, is write something. Yes! Something.

Anyway, this week's word comes courtesy of the enigmatic JCK Ferreiro, who, I have surmised, works in marketing like me. JCK suggested penumbra. This is, admittedly, a word I'd never heard of, but which sounds totally fun to say. Penumbra! I'm going knock the penumbra out of you! (Except that would be silly, because that is not what penumbra means.)

Penumbra means many things having to do with space apparently, none of which I really understood (I was in a breezy mood when looking), but the easiest meaning to understand was a shroud that covers or obscures. Ah, obscures! Yes, now if penumbra means to obscure, then we have something interesting indeed. At right is a photo showing a dense plasma penumbra.(Riii-gggh-tt.)

Even more interesting is that a Google search for penumbra reveals a bunch of companies (.com, .net, .org, etc) with it as their business name. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't want to do business with a penumbra. What kind of secrets is the business hiding? What is the business shrouding or obscuring? Penumbra Literary Agency....not so much.

How do we use penumbra? Well, when we want to be nice-sounding smarty pantses. We say, "A penumbra of shadows caressed the room." (Or not. That's some pure malarkey there.) Or we just sort of use it...when we want to be creative with the idea of obscuring, surrounding, or shrouding. But note that there is a definite creepy element to the word. I don't want hordes of fans creating a human penumbra around me while I'm, say, signing books. That would frighten me.

Did you know how to use this pretty (but creepy) word? Can you use it now?

P.S. I had an argument with the blog last night about some things, so if anything weird shows up in this post, just totally ignore it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Underlining Words

Last weekend I found a book from my graduate school days called “The Grammar of Visual Design” by Gunther Kress. Thumbing through it, I found that the text was fairly instructive and focused on a deep discussion of images, and that my own hand had meticulously underlined several key sentences, presumably because they meant something to me at the time.

I tell you, it was like taking a time machine back to my graduate school self. Or worse, like looking in on someone else’s life. Someone I didn’t know.

For the life of me, I couldn't understand what I’d seen significant about several of these sentences. They weren’t earth shattering thesis statements in the world of visual design, nor did they make a stunning point. I just don’t know. It was a little embarrassing, quite frankly. I appear to have lost my mind since those days, and I certainly sure have lost all the good that graduate degree did me, haven’t I. I blame my whippernsnapper, who sapped me of a great deal of brain power in the first year of his life when I rarely slept, as yet to be restored (perhaps never).

But it turns out that maybe none of us know why we underline things at the time. I’m reading a book I picked off the shelf at my library last weekend called “Three Bedrooms in Chelsea” by Liz Ireland. I picked it up because the back cover copy promised wacky roommate adventures, plus the first few lines were interesting. I’m reading along, and then I see that someone at some time has underlined some lines in pencil. They are:

She wanted a little excitement. She was a writer. Well, wanted to be a writer. Writers needed excitement, didn’t they?

Okay, these are not earth-shattering lines. What was it that the person found special about these? I was fascinated. I thumbed through more of the book, looking for further inspiration. Soon, I found it-- in PEN, no less!

But that was the thing she really loved about New York. You never knew what was going to happen.


And then again in pen:

He’d come from the West Coast after college.


What on earth was this naughty underliner thinking (naughty cause it’s a library book)? I mean, what. There are some great lines in the book, but those are pretty simple.

Certainly I've wanted to underline things before--funny or clever or profound things. But I just can't see why the naughty underliner did those above.

Have you done this? Have you underlined stuff? Was it genius that you underlined, and why?

Monday, July 19, 2010

How do you feel about your writing skills?

I recently had the dreaded “performance” talk with my boss, where we discussed goals and whether I was meeting them or not, and then my competencies in certain areas. One of the areas was written communication.

“Ha ha,” said I. “I have that one in the bag.”

But it turned out that I hadn’t, really. I’ve blogged about this before. You can never assume you’re perfect or even great at something just because you do it a lot, or blog, or are in a writing group--or even published a book! And writing is one of those strange beasts where there are a ton of different ways to do it, no “right” way, and always room for improvement.

My boss knows I’m pretty good--but there were times when I'd been sloppy. I certainly don’t have problems with grammar or style. Word choice? Always a challenge because in marketing, word choice is key. And time also plays a part. You need to be able to take the time to edit, proofread, and rewrite-- and as writers of fiction, we all know this. We know that the largest chunk of time we spend on our novels is in the revision stage. (It should be. If it isn’t, ask yourself why.)

I tried to explain myself. I said, “We must all build time in for editing. That must be part of the writing cycle.” My boss couldn’t disagree with that, but he suspiciously failed to say, “Yes, Sierra, that is true, and apart from that, you are a superb writer.” That didn’t happen. I don’t know why. Probably he meant to say it and forgot. Probably a Tweet popped up on Tweetdeck and he was distracted for a second. Oh wait, that was me.

Where were we?

We were here: you must be careful about judging your own writing skills. Just because you can string words together and make them sound coherent, and even sometimes please people with your arrangement, does not an artist make you. For myself, I could say that I have a master’s in English, plus have been paid for my writing for many years, plus people do not scurry to the nearest toilet and let loose with their lunch after reading what I write, so perhaps it is okay. On the flip side, I am continually wowed by others who are far cleverer than I with their words. And I am never above improvement.

In fact, I will tell you a secret. One of my first bosses in my professional life sometimes looks at this very blog. Yes. And this boss, who is a very smart writer, once vomited over my writing. Or at least choked it back. I particularly remember an instance once where I clearly demonstrated a complete failure to grasp a grammatical element. He said nothing, which was kind, but I know now that he really threw up in his mouth. And it is slightly embarrassing that now I call myself a writer, and that he knows it. (Although it pleases me to defy that long-ago opinion that was no doubt formed.) There is no way for him to know that after I left my employment with his company, I studied every grammar, style, and writing book I could get my hands on. I ate the Chicago Manual of Style for brekkers, and then after that I ate the AP stylebook for lunch, and the the APA stylebook for dinner. I did everything I could to get serious. I had to because I was working as a technical writer.

In all seriousness, I try really hard not to think too highly of my writing skills, because I am afraid of being deluded.

How about you? Where and how do you rate your writing skills? Are you like me, and judge your level of competence based on whether people vomit or not? What do you use as your measure?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • The fabulous DL Hammons is holding a Drama blogfest. Go sign up -- lots of time left.

Finally--there's still time to contribute a word to my Annual Wednesday Word Drive. And a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to give me such thoughtful feedback about the toxic critique group.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Toxic Critique Groups

Today let's discuss toxic critique groups.

Namely, how I'm in one.

I've been in my in-person critique group for over a year, and I like it. I've learned tremendously, both about myself, about others, and about writing. I've learned the art of taking and giving critiques. The group is varied and writes diversely, which is both good and bad. And I love devoting an evening every other Wednesday entirely to writing.

However, it has recently shifted. There are three people (out of a regular 5, sometimes 6) that really don't care for my book. And by "really don't care for" I mean "hate with the passion of a thousand white hot suns." Spitting hate. It is a raging hate that has blurred the lines between critique and downright rudeness.

At first, I just took it as par for the not-everyone-likes-my-book course. After all, the people who did like the story in the group were my target audience, and they got the story and character. So it wasn't so difficult to discard the negative critiques. Now when I say "negative critique" I don't mean critiques that I disagree with. I mean, critiques that made it clear that the reader saw nothing of redeeming value in the story. The ones that made it clear under every circumstance that my story and characters were "shallow, unlikeable, unintelligent, annoying, repulsive." (Verbatim.)

But as time wore on and the same negative--by this time toxic--critiques came, it became harder to ignore them. I know what you're thinking right now, because I'd be thinking it, too. You're thinking, "So get out of the group." It's not that easy though, because I do get a lot of value out of the group critiques. Value that improves the story. And, I think participating in a critique group is super important. Giving back is important.

Last time I submitted, a week ago, was the worst yet. To be fair, I don't think it was meant maliciously. After all, it's not their fault that they hate everything about my story and they would rather gouge their eyeballs out with a spoon than read another word.

I'm undecided yet as to what to do. I questioned whether to do a post about this, but I think it's a really important topic, and some writers don't recover from such toxic feedback. Some writers quit writing as a result. I don't think the three read the blog, but this post isn't really about them. This post isn't to vent (well, a little), or to call out people for being big meanie-heads. It's actually about me, and my limits, and our limits as writers in what is ultimately unhelpful to hear.

In general, the critique for me is helpful if you say "I don't like this/think this is viable, but maybe if you did this or this or this, it might work." Or, "Your character reads as a selfish piranha to me. Here is a way you might fix that," or even "Your character seems to be a selfish piranha. Did you intend that? Here are examples where I got that impression." I was only getting, "Your character is a piranha and I EFFING HATE PIRANHAS."

You see the difference, yes?

Because here's the thing. When you don't give examples, and when you only frame a critiques as personal opinion, it turns toxic to the writer. All I hear is "Opinion opinion blah blah opinion." And when you argue it, it doesn't help. And then when you say things like, "Wow, I can't believe you're writing a character this awful. You must be trying to make her unlikeable," that doesn't help. Making it clear that perhaps the story sucks because the genre is shite doesn't help. Here's a tip: I didn't like your story, either, but I sure as hell never said that. I only provided suggestions where I thought things could improve--and it wasn't to press the delete key.

I'll be fine. I'll never stop writing, and as I think I have pretty good instincts, I'll follow them as to what makes characters work or not. But this isn't possible for everyone, and we're all sensitive. Ultimately, I'll need to decide whether it's healthy to remain in the group.

What would you do?

(P.S. Anne Allen has many posts on critique groups, including one on best and worst critique group experiences, and Bad Advice to Ignore from your Critique Group.)

(P.P.S. My online critique is AWESOME, and inherently understands that this kind of critique is not on. And I swear I'm not just saying that because they read this blog. I mean it.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday Word: Annual Word Drive

What happened is this: it's 10:19 PM on Tuesday night at this writing, and I'm super, super tired. I am also busy writing and do not wish to stop. Also, am still grossed out by the guy who sat next to me on BART today and reeked of garlic and other sinister odors. Could see green waves of garlic stink coming off him. It colored the air. There was no where to go. I breathed shallow, into my hand. I tweeted it on my phone (because duh, what else is twitter for but to tweet about stinky garlic guys?). I closed my eyes and prayed for him to feel the need to change cars.

Thankfully, he got off in four stops, but it left a mark. It's okay to eat garlic, goodness yes. But you musn't roll in it, or dig a hole and then fill it with garlic paste or crushed garlic in olive oil, or any derivative of garlic at all, and then bathe in it. And then expect to sit next to people on BART. It's just not on.

Anyway, I don't have a word today. I can't think of any, actually, except ones that have to do with Spain or the World Cup, which I am STILL (YES STILL) thinking about and super excited about. I know you're not. It's okay. I understand. (Not really.)


I know, because I've seen, comments here and there and not even on this very blog! On other blogs too! Where you say that you wish I'd cover a certain word or two. Well. Now is your chance. I shall hereforth and hereby and therein and whereby and thusly announce the following:

The Annual Wednesday Word Suggestion Drive

Add suggestions in the comments! If your word(s) is(are) chosen, I shall write an amusing story about it for you and then link to you of course. You get all the credit AND you get an amusing story!

But wait! There's more!

If you act now, within the next few minutes, you will get this lovely compilation DVD set of all Word Up Wednesdays in a handy list! (not really)

Hurry, operators (well, the comments) are standing by to take your order!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Substitute for Time

Roni at Fiction Groupie had a kind of retrospective look back at a year of blogging yesterday. I had mine in May whereupon I was granted an exclusive interview with my blog. In Roni's post she asked what we've learned in a year of blogging.

What I've learned is that there is no substitute for time.

We're all looking for a quick fix, a magic bullet, a golden goal. We think that if we send agents weird cups with granola bars, we can bypass the slush. We think that if we just say that our mom is more excited about our novel than anything she's ever been excited about before, including our own births, then the agent can't help but be excited, too. We think that because we blog or twitter or breathe or passed third grade, our novels will not only sell but be overnight sensations with people falling over themselves to hand us cash. We think that the second we set pen to paper, or words in Word, we will have an overnight success, if only someone will see our genius. We think that because we write, we don't have to go through the time, the betas, the revision. We think one round of revision is sufficient.

We're wrong.

I use the collective "we" here, obvs. You and I know these things. But I still see and hear people rushing into things. The Slushpile Hell blog has made this abundantly clear.

Take your time to learn. Take your time to get into a critique group. Take a year. Take a year, or a few, to write more books. There's no magic ride here. We all have to learn the hard way, and we do that by practice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How Writing is like the World Cup

You knew this was coming, didn't you?

First, let me say how big my heart is for Spain, and how just over the moon I am for them. I predicted their win from the start of the World Cup over a month ago and followed every move. I screamed for Villa (and gentled corrected the whippersnapper when he pronounced it "Eva") and shook my head in disappointment for Torres, who had such an uneventful performance in the Cup, ending with yet another injury in the last minutes of the Final's overtime. I admired the captain-keeper Casillas, and I watched Iniesta with pure admiration for being an incredible, humble, world-class player. The Spanish win was well-deserved.

Now for the similarities between writing/publishing and football.

Football, like writing, is all about a set bunch of tactics. There's dialogue, plot, showing. These are the mechanics that get you on the page and get you playing. For every story, the tactics will vary slightly and what works for one will not work for another.

Football players who rise to the top have a great hook: they have something incredible to offer, be it David Villa's goal instincts or Andres Iniesta's cool-headed midfielding. These things are what most strikers and midfielders hope to offer, but the best show it off. So with our hooks--we push those just a bit further to be really interesting and catch a reader's eye.

All the writers out there who have been rendered senseless by rejection from agents or editors know how players and coaches feel when a ref makes an obviously incorrect call, or lose important matches like the World Cup final. It's the indignation that we all know. Doesn't make it right--but people still feel it.

Despite the best-laid tactics, inherent talent, or preparation, things often come down to chance. Like the goalie who has to decide which way to leap when a player shoots a penalty, so is so much of a writer's publishing efforts. You have to have the right book at the right time for the right agent or editor. Sometimes the leap is the other way, and we have to deal with it.

Like any hugely successful, international sport, there is a large degree of intensity, talent, and commitment to playing in the World Cup. So with writing. If a young player decides he doesn't want to work as hard as his teammates, he'll probably be benched. You have to work, work, work and persevere in the face of challenge and huge odds, and when you do, you may find your dreams of the World Cup New York Times Bestseller fulfilled.

Congratulations, Espania. My team is a Scottish team, and my country's national team got kicked out of the Cup early, but Spain has shown itself to be humble, talented, and as passionate about their sport as I am about mine (writing). I'll always admire Spain's national team and look forward to seeing where these talented writers players go in their careers. Spain became my adopted national team early in the cup and the win was sweet -- just as the success of each of you writers is sweet to me. *Monday hugs to everyone who has a dream, be it football or writing a fabulous story!*

Friday, July 9, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Web Strategist Jeremiah Owyang tells us why your company may own your tweets, pokes, and YouTube videos.

Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Lit talks about the politics of offering representation.

The indefatigable Anne Allen gives us 7 tips for avoiding bogus agents.

Agent Jim Dystel talks about what happens when his agency can't sell a book.

Roni at Fiction Groupie discusses the value of weather in your story.

Jane Friedman shows us a writer iPhone app for brainstorming! Totes awesome...unless there is no version for Android in which case this is only marginally awesome.

Great post on back-story from Clarissa Draper, although I secretly question the hyphen.

Guest blogger KA Stewart on Janice Hardy's blog on how character is king. This is a great post and KA is a smart, funny writer.

Via Janet Reid, the Twilight saga, Lolcat style. Ones of funniest thing I haz evr seen.

Kristen Nelson tells us why some books can't be bought in English as eBooks outside the US.

Great post from Alexandra Sokoloff on the lover taking the stand in romantic comedy.

And lastly, I hope you didn't miss the story of my missed opportunity for telling a leprechaun where he could stick it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How to Play with Balls

Mr. Sierra has always played with balls.

Let me explain.

Last week and the week before, I was hideously stressed. It had been a hard couple of weeks at work. I came home one evening and lay on the floor. I tossed one of the whippersnapper's toys--a foam ball-- up in the air, over and over. It was strangely relaxing. Mr. Sierra tussled with me briefly for possession of the ball, as he likes to lie on the floor and toss balls too (hee hee, that sounds so dirty). It was so effective, in fact, that I felt completely restored when I got up. This was probably a combination of lying down, the satisfaction of catching something, and the even greater pleasure of not getting up to get the ball when it happened to fall and roll away -- because the whippersnapper is at an age where he still thinks it's fun to go get something his mother asks him to get.

The next day, I came home and did it again. No--I looked forward to it.

I am a classic stresser, an intense, slightly uptight person. (This must come as a total surprise, no?) However, I don't like being that way, so I look for ways to let go. Letting go is terrifically scary but so exhilarating. Turns out, Mr. Sierra has been doing this for years.

Please try it. It's so much fun. So give it a go -- play with some balls.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wednesday Word: Capricious

On 4th of July, we went to the beach with some friends who also have small children. We thought grandly that it would be relaxing and fun to sit on a broad beach blanket with a cooler full of icy snacks while we watched the wee ones frolic.

Alas, it was disgusting and cold and miserable. The coast sat shrouded in thick fog that didn't bother lifting until later afternoon. But we gave it a go anyway and went to the tide pools. I showed my whippersnapper how to poke sea anemones until they puckered, and compared hermit crabs to filthy spiders, which they totally look like. We had fun despite the winter weather, and I remembered one of the most important things in life: relax. Don't take things so seriously, even if you're freezing to death and your small child can no longer feel his fingers. Poke a sea anemone! (Gently, of course. Gently.) And above all, take time out to be capricious.

Capricious means to be impulsive and unpredictable; determined by chance, impulse, or whim. I suspect people use capricious to describe people who are silly or unwise, but it doesn't have to mean that. It just means unpredictable and according to whim rather than reason.

It seems like I write a lot of characters who are capricious. In fact some members of my writing group get a bit disgusted by it. But a capricious character tends to let go and follow his or her dreams. There's always a price to pay for it, but it's interesting, no? I probably write characters like that because I don't allow myself to be capricious very often.

Do you like capricious characters--to write about, or to read?

P.S. Tomorrow I have some special anti-stress advice. Involving balls.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In the Name of...a Good Name

I put a lot of stock in names. When I use a certain spelling, it's done deliberately and because I have some kind of meaning or attachment to it. For me, names kind of set the tone for the character.

And no where have I had more fun with names than World Cup matches.

This is partly due to the way the British announcers enunciate the player names when they do something worth watching, and partly because twisting my tongue around wonderfully-pronounced names is extremely fun.

Take the German team, for example. One of the midfielders is named Bastian Schweinsteiger -- a mouthful any day, but he's a very good player and so they constantly call out his name: "SCHWEINStaaaaaaaaaaiger!" It's so much fun to say. All weekend in my house we've been calling things a Schweinsteiger. "Oh yes, I must go Schweinsteiger." "Now it is time to Schweinsteiger." To the whipsnap: "Come here, you little Schweinsteiger." We have also enjoyed yelling "Muller. Muller. Muller," in Ben Stein fashion after midfielder Thomas Muller.

It also must be noted that there is a goalkeeper on the German squad with the unfortunate name of Hans-Jorg Butt, which has provided endless fun in all the ways you might imagine. (Picture a happy dog bounding up to Hans-Jorg and licking him. Yes! The dog has just licked a Butt!)

On the Spanish team, there's the joy of screaming "VILLA" (pronounced via) in a high-pitched screachy voice. There's also the very talented midfielder Andres Iniesta. "Let's go Iniesta and get something to drink," I told the whipsnap just yesterday. And Gerard Pique, a defender, whose name is pronounced "pi-kay" and which is super cute to say. "I feel a little Pique, I'm going to lie down."

Quite apart from incorporating these lovely names into our everyday vocabulary, there is the fun of finding some amazing new names for my character repertoire--or not. For example, you can count on me not to use Iker (as in keeper Iker Casillas, a fabulous goalie) as a leading man's name, nor Maximiliano (Maximiliano Pareira, Uruguay). In fact, I have a whole list of names that are a definite NO for men in my stories (and these are not World Cup team names, either). Here are some on that list: Boris (why? why would you name an innocent baby boy Boris?),Walter, Eugene, and Seymour, Maurice.

For girls, there will never be any: Gertrude, Edith, Hepsibah, Ethel, Agnes, or Penelope.

What names do you particularly dislike and would never use in a story? I was going to ask your favorite names, but we're protective of good names, I know.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Stupid Answers to Creepy Questions

Hello! Hope you all had a lovely fourth of July Sunday and that you're kicking up your heels today on this federal holiday.

A few weeks ago, I had some family visiting from out of town. We went to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco and did the touristy bit. We had lunch and ended up at another tourist destination. We went into a little artisan shop that offered an array of carved wood um...well, it was mostly crap. I'm sorry. I'm sure someone spent a very long time carving intricate little things, but it was mostly just awful. And extremely expensive, which offended me.

Anyway, we walked in. No one else was in the shop (as you will see, perhaps with good reason). We moved carefully among reams of carved crap. The shopkeeper, whom I remember as a strange gnome of a man, said to me, "Are you vulnerable?"

Oh dear.

A thousand different answers flitted through my mind, except of course one that would sum up why I, a potential customer of wooden carved crap, should perhaps not be spoken to in this lecherous and cryptic way. His question was so odd, you see, that only odd answers came to mind, like "Blueberry."

Eventually, my sense of order settled on a simple "No." I felt that by delivering this without indignation would be odd enough. (I was wrong.)

He said, "It would be better if you were."

GROSS! Now the red alert system went off in my brain: Attention. Attention. All personnel please get the hell out of creepy Leprechaun's Crap Shop. I said, "I'll keep that in mind," even though I had no such intention, and then hauled ass out of there.

My family, however, was oblivious to the scene, and remained. I, still operating under a misguided sense of propriety (shut up, stop laughing), said nothing except that I would wait outside. Truthfully, I felt that if I said something, his orcish hearing would pick it up and he would spring into action and trap us in a cave hollowed out of the rocky floor under a trap door.

Anyway, I was out of there, and that was the main thing. My family remained inside an awfully long time, considering the crap on display. I was just debating whether I should run and get help when they emerged, and apparently something had happened. A piece of crap had been knocked to the floor and the Leprechaun had tried to pretend it was worth $130. But he would do them the enormous favor of knocking of 30% of that price. My cousin asked to see the piece of crap knocked off the crap, but the Leprechaun couldn't produce it, and then, according to their account, did a strange little dance. Not joking.

We still don't know how they emerged unscathed.

The thing I've wondered since the scary incident was: why can I never think of the right place-putting thing to say when I need it? Blueberries? Really? I notice I have no trouble giving my characters the right thing to say, although I worry that it will come across as unrealistic (and I do think it's a fine line). If this had been a scene I'd been writing, here is how it would have gone:

Troll: "Are you vulnerable?"

Me: "What? WTF kind of question is that to ask a customer? How terribly rude."

Him (taken aback a bit, but still so desperately in love with my vision of gorgeousness that he is unable to stop himself from sounding like a creepy crap-carving cave-orc): "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it like that. Please, won't you take a carved pirate ship, on the house?"

Me: "Certainly not. Good day."

What about you? Do you have trouble saying the right thing at the right time? When little crap-merchants say outrageous things to you, what do you do? Do your characters have this problem?

P.S. The Leprechaun's web site boasts that many visitors come by the shop and are blown away by its beauty and say things like "WHOA" and "OOOH." I put forth that they say these things in relief after escaping his clutches.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Janet Reid points out that you shouldn't query when you're dead. I found this to be a good reminder, because I often worry that I will expire before seeing myself in print and wonder what would happen then. I think I thought Mr. Sierra would submit for me, but that assumes Mr. Sierra would be able to handle using email enough to even find an agent. (He is rather a Luddite in such matters).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Blow me: 5 Uses for Your Left Over Vuvuzela

My dad is not a soccer football fan, but he is an all-around sport fan. He loves baseball the most, but he's a gamer so he tries, in theory, to support soccer football. He thinks it is funny to pretend he likes Manchester United, which is not funny at all, of course.*

*ManU is a glory-hunting team, and for those of us who support crappier real teams, we resent the arrogance of ManPew and their supporters.

When the World Cup started, my dad bravely gave it a go. But he called me, concerned.

"Gah!" he said. "I was watching a game and had to turn the volume off because of those horns. Why do they allow them? It's so annoying!"

I didn't have a good answer, because that was one of the first matches and the debate was still going on for whether to ban those annoying horns that create one seamless buzz. The vuvuzela isn't a new thing, and has been in use worldwide, but it is a particular fixture at South African football matches and so really took center stage during this year's World Cup. (Vuvuzela is a South African word of dubious origin, but probably came from the Zulu language.)

And despite its unrelenting drone during World Cup matches, I have come to love it. There's an app for both iPhone and Android that allow you to shake your phone and plays the sound (of course I downloaded it), and a twitter feed. There's an internet radio station, too. Digitally, you're covered.

But I wondered, for all those lucky, lucky, lucky people who went to World Cup matches and got one of those things, what are they going to do with them after the World Cup?

Luckily, I have a list of suggestions.

1. Get your kids up from bed.
I am told that teenagers have a hard time getting up. I don't have a teenager, but I was one, and I can attest that teenagers do not like to get up in the morning. That's where a vuvuzela comes in. Go into their room, give a few blasts, and my guess is they'll get up. They'll protest first, but a few more blasts should take care of any sassy back talk. (French air horns, also a World Cup fixture, work well for this, too.)

2. Home security.
Keeping a baseball bat underneath your bed is just silly. It assumes you'll pull it out while disoriented and manage to whack an intruder on the head in the dark while you're panicking. No, no. Better to blast a little vuvuzela in their faces. They won't expect that. And if done right, it'll wake up your neighbors too. It's a low tech and free home security system all in one.

3. Funnels.
I don't know about you, but I can never find my kitchen funnels when I need one. I have borrowed at least two, found old ones, and still I couldn't tell you where any funnels are in my kitchen. It has been suggested that funnels are not often needed, but this is beside the point. When you need one, man you need one . Hi, World Cup vuvuzela!

4. Chasing dogs off your lawn.
Like waking your surly teenager and chasing off intruders, the vuvuzela is effective when trying to keep neighborhood dogs from crapping on your lawn. A few long, passionate blasts right as the dog squats, and both beast and owner will give your house a wide berth next time the urge arises.

5. Decorative arts.
If all else fails, you could stick the vuvuzela in one of those large floor vase things and pretend it is a rare flower. This works well for colorful vuvuzelas. If you are questioned by visitors as to whether you have tried to pass off your vuvuzela as a flower, you can feign indignation and insist that they have no idea what beauty is.

And then give them a blast in the face.