Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Because charity doesn't end when the headlines do

The news of earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010 dominated the news for days. But it wasn't long before the headlines turned to other things. Now, almost eleven weeks later, we hear little about what is happening in the devastated country.

Haiti's problems are just beginning. A "Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment" (PDNA) report issued by Haiti's government and several major donors gave these statistics:
  • More than 220,000 people killed and more than 300,000 others injured.
  • Homes: 105,000 completely destroyed, more than 208,000 damaged.
  • Educational institutions: more than 1,300 collapsed or unusable.
  • Hospitals and health centres: more than 50 collapsed or unusable.
  • Debris: 40 million cubic metres
  • Total value of damage and losses: US$7.9 billion, equivalent to 120 per cent of Haiti's 2009 GDP (by that measure, the Jan. 12 quake was the worst disaster in the 35 years that methodology has been applied)
  • Recovery cost: $11.5 billion over the next three years
These numbers are overwhelming. You may wonder what you can do to help.
You can read!
That's right. Inspired by one author, 100 writers got together and contributed short stories of hope, love, joy, and life that would help raise money for the victims of the earthquake.
100 Stories for Haiti is available in ebook form from Smashwords 
or in paperback from British publisher Bridge House Publishing.
Since it is a British publisher, the cost is in pounds and the shipping is expensive. If the shipping cost is a problem but you would still like to order a copy, please let me know in the comments. I will be going to the UK in June and would be happy to add your order to mine and hand carry them back to the US. (If I order 5 copies at once, it will ship direct from the printer and save money).
If you would like more information, go to the 100 Stories for Haiti website or click the image on the right hand side of this blog. get to read great stories (including my story "The Last Bus to Montreal") AND you will be contributing to the British Red Cross to aid Haiti.

If you want to get involved, please link to this blog or directly to 100 Stories for Haiti and help us get the word out.
Thank you! 

Monday, March 29, 2010

You can't handle the truth

So in a forest of lies, I will now reveal the truth...

1.   When I was in college, one of my good friends was a vampire. This is FALSE, because vampires don’t exist. OK, this is almost true because one of my good friends swore blind he was a vampire. To this day, I don’t know if he was (cuz who am I to say they don’t exist), or if he honestly believed he was (which may mean he needed serious help), or if he was pulling an elaborate hoax on us (to which I say, DUDE!?)

2.   When I lived in Toronto, I decided to get a tattoo. As I was sitting in the tattoo parlor leafing through the book of options, the Chinese restaurant next door caught fire and we had to evacuate. I took it as a sign from the Universe that I shouldn’t get inked. I still don’t have a tattoo. This is TRUE. I should point out that I have made a deal with the Universe that if I get a book deal, I am going to get that tattoo.

3.   When we got married, my husband and I both wore dresses. This is FALSE. My husband wore a kilt, which is nowhere near a dress. He (and any other Scotsman) gets seriously ticked if you refer to it as a dress. Here's a picture...
OK, this one's not our wedding photo but that was a long time ago, before digital cameras. My husband (and any other Scotsman) wears his kilt at every opportunity.

4.   My favorite thing to do is go camping. I love hiking to a place where no one has been and just chilling out by the campfire. This is FALSE. I am a room service kind of girl. I love nature, but I prefer to have a hot bath after enjoying it.

5.   Shortly after I graduated, I was approached by a recruiter from the Department of Defense to work for them on an artificial intelligence computer project I started while in college. This is FALSE. But this happened to a very good friend of mine. I may write a book about this one day because it is such a good story.

6.   I don’t believe in love at first sight. This is so completely FALSE. I honestly believe in love at first sight and have been lucky enough to experience it. Once. I married him. (see #3 above).

As I was completing this little exercise, it occurred to me that a lot of my fabrications had a nugget of truth to them. I realized that this is very similar to my writing style as well. Many of my stories have some basis in reality, whether it is characters or setting or plot elements. I am a very visual writer, meaning that whole scenes, conversations, actions playing out in my head like a movie before I write them, so it helps if I can picture it. Using reality as my jumping off point works for me. I am in awe of writers who build worlds from scratch.
How about you? How much of your fabrications have a basis in truth?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lies lies lies!

It's no secret I've had a bad couple of weeks. I've been vocal enough about it and I'm really tired of my whining (I'm sure you are too).

So to turn the beat around, I'm going to thank Laurel of Laurel's Leaves for giving me the "Creative Writer" award, which celebrates our ability to pass off the made-up as reality.

The requirement of the award is that I tell five lies and one truth. So here goes: 
  1. When I was in college, one of my good friends was a vampire. 
  2. When I lived in Toronto, I decided to get a tattoo. As I was sitting in the tattoo parlor leafing through the book of options, the Chinese restaurant next door caught fire and we had to evacuate. I took it as a sign from the universe that I shouldn’t get inked. I still don’t have a tattoo.
  3. When we got married, my husband and I both wore dresses.
  4. My favorite thing to do is go camping. I love hiking to a place where no one has been and just chilling out by the campfire.
  5. Shortly after I graduated, I was approached by a recruiter from the Department of Defense to work for them on an artificial intelligence computer project I started while in college.
  6. I don’t believe in love at first sight.
So I ask you, which one do you think is true? Go on... guess!

Please leave your pick in the comments section. I'll post the answers in a day or so.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I blanked

We've all got our little words and phrases that crop up in our writing over and over again, those writing weaknesses that we don't notice, but cringe when someone points them out. I found mine. And boy, did I cringe.

My weakness: I blanked. By that, I mean that I overuse the phrasing "I *ed" such as I looked, I walked, I started, I moved, I gathered. My book is in first person, and while there is no way to completely avoid that phrasing, it is not the most effective way to convey the action that is taking place. As was pointed out to me very recently, too much of it leads to a boring step-by-step run down of what's going on.

I am now enternally grateful to Gary Corby, who wrote a life-saving post on Advanced Searching in Microsoft. With the help of his post, I was able to highlight every instance of "I blanked" -- all 745 of them. (Yeah. Major cringing going on here.) I am well on the way to fixing these (only 650 now!) and my writing is much stronger for it.

On a side note, out of 10+ beta readers, not one commented on that. But a publishing professional did, so guess who I'm listening to.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The worst thought in the world

Today I had a moment. A bad moment. A BAD MOMENT.

As I sat with my head in my hands trying to work through a difficult rewrite, a treacherous little thought entered my head. This tiny dark voice crept around my tired synapses and whispered to me that maybe I should just give up. And for one brief second, it sounded like a good idea. I had a flash of how much easier it would be if I wasn't doing this. I would sleep at night. I would stop staring at a computer screen until my eyes hurt. I would stop checking my email forty times a day. I would stop rereading the same passages over and over until the words blurred together. I would stop getting rejected. I would stop torturing myself with questions of whether I am good enough.

I won't give up. I can't give up. I know that. But this is the first time in my life as a writer that I ever thought of it, even if just for a second. It scared me.

Have you ever thought this? What did you do?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Starting Over

I'm revising again. AGAIN. I've revised once before based on an agent's feedback and while the revision addressed some problems at the end of the book, there are still some pacing issues in the first 50 pages (again, more feedback from that wonderful agent who is being extremely generous with her time).

Those first chapters are a problem. I've revised them many times but, although things have improved, they're just not good enough. So I've reached a conclusion: they have to go.

That's right. Gone. I am going to throw them away and start fresh. After a several difficult days of muttering to myself and frantic highlighting and scribbling in the margins of the latest draft, I came up with a lot of reasons why this is necessary:
  • Those chapters were written four years ago. The rest of the book (where there are far fewer problems) was written last year. I know I am a much better writer now, the way that a dancer is better for practicing every day.
  • They have been picked apart and put back together so many times that they don't flow they way they should.
  • Trying to fix the problem using what is there is clearly not working. I need to approach those chapters in a new way and I can't do that with the old words staring at me.
  • I know my characters and better. Because of this, I can communicate the backstory and motivation much more effectively and efficiently now.
I have to admit that when I decided this, I felt sick. I thought I was finished. I wanted what's there to be good enough. There is still a lot of writing in those chapters that I like (I may use some of it, but I will make that decision AFTER I finish the new chapters). But it has to be done. And the more I think about it, the more eager I am to start writing. There is that thrill of possibility in writing something new. I am optimistic that it will show and make the book much stronger.

Fingers crossed.

What about you? Have you ever done this? How did it work out for you?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Writer's Shoes

I find I walk differently depending on which shoes I'm wearing. I also find that I feel differently too.

When I wear these, I have this rolling, strutting walk (can't help it - that's what boots do!). I feel flirty, a bit sexier, a bit wild. I feel like I should be in Gruene Hall, listening to some rockin' Texas folk music and drinking Bud longnecks.

These are my new Skecher Shape Ups, which I love. To walk in them, I really have to slow down and take careful steps. When I wear these, I feel healthy and a bit smug. I also feel sore. They really make my butt and legs hurt.
(And, yes, they really do work!!)

And when I wear these... actually, I never wear these. I'm not sure why I bought them since they are totally different from my usual style. If I wore them, I think I would feel self-conscious. As for the way I would walk in them, I'm fairly certain I would just fall down.

All these shoes make me think about writing. There are types of writing that I slip into easily. I feel comfortable. They fit. I feel like I can run. Some types of writing make me feel reckless and excited, like I'm a different person. Other types of writing pinch in places and just don't feel right. I might try it anyway, just to see. After all, we've all worn shoes because they look good, even if they hurt like crazy!

What about you? Do you slip into some writing easily while another type just doesn't fit? Do you force yourself to try on new writing, even if it doesn't feel quite right?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Digital Dirt

Things have gone all kinds of wrong this week, on both the personal and writing fronts. I would love to rant a little about the writing side of it and get some of the support and commiseration that fellow bloggers and writers are so good at. But I don't dare, for fear that some day an agent or editor might do a search on me and my digital dirt would be revealed. I've seen warnings all over the blogosphere to be careful what you put out there because too much complaining or too much personal information might cause a publishing professional to pause or even pass.

I read a blog of another writer and while I find her posts interesting, I cringe to read some of the REALLY personal stuff that she puts out there. I understand that it is who she is and she writes about it because it defines her in many ways. But I also know that it is the kind of thing that would throw up warning signs about her ability to be a professional writer (meaning one who can meet deadlines, market herself in a polished way, and so on). This writer is in the query stages and I want to email her and say 'Be Careful!!' But I don't know her enough to do that, although sometimes I feel I do, courtesy of the strange pseudo-intimacy that blogging sometimes promotes.

In the meantime, I try to keep my own thoughts and blog posts free of digital dirt. How about you? How careful are you about what you post? Do you read other blogs that are too personal? Do you know anyone whose digital dirt came back to haunt them?

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Clock Springs Forward

I've never been a fan of daylight savings. It throws me off for days and I hate losing an hour of sleep, whether in reality or in theory. And it is safe to say that this year was the worst clock change ever.

At 5:00am on Sunday morning (or 6:00am, depending on which clock in my house you were looking at), I was awakened by a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. I immediately sat up in bed, heart pounding and knees absolutely weak, thinking for sure that someone was breaking into the house. What freaked me out even more is that my husband didn't even move. I swear, that man could sleep through an air horn held to his head. I kicked him (literally) a few times and whispered "Did you hear that?" to which he replied "Huh?"

I jumped out of bed, realizing that the phone was in the other room, that my children were sleeping upstairs, and that I had nothing I could grab as a weapon. So, armed with the only heavy thing I could find -- a copy of Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" -- I crept out of the bedroom and into the living room. My husband finally got up and snuck up behind me, almost getting himself Manteled in the process. While the smart thing to do would have been to turn the light on (thereby surprising any possible intruder), we stumbled around in the dark trying to find who or what made the crash. And finally, we discovered what it was.


Our Wall Clock

Apparently, my husband had come home from a work party late Saturday night after I was already in bed. He decided to change the clocks before retiring. He changed the wall clock and replaced it on the wall, but managed to miss the hanger on the back. It took approximately four hours of ticking for the clock to slide off the end of the nail.

Next year, I'm going to skip daylight savings all together and just keep my own time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are Debut Books Better?

It has been a disappointing month for me in the reading department. There are several books I have been anticipating, all new books from authors I love. Of the four books I was eagerly waiting for, I was let down by three of them.

On one of them, I didn't get past page 50 because it was all backstory and informationg-dumping and I didn't care enough to keep going. Another kept my interest through the whole book, but I was constantly thinking "Did an editor even look at this?" because I felt the writing was a bit... well, sloppy. Another felt like a retread of the last book.

I would expect this from some of those author machines who churn out 2 or 3 books a year, but it surprises me in literary and commercial fiction.

If I had to go through the last twenty books I read and rank them for how I liked them, debut books came out on top by a long shot. It had me wondering -- is this because in this tough publishing climate, debut novels have to be better to get published? Once an author has a track record, are authors, agents, and editors taking less time to make sure the books are better than perfect?

I'd love to hear some opinions on this because it has me wondering if it is just me reading too critically these days.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Long time coming

I finished the revised draft of my manuscript a few weeks ago. Right after I clicked the 'Send' button to get it out to the agents waiting for it, I updated my Facebook status, which is how I've kept my friends and family up-to-date on my writing process. Out of curiousity, I looked back at my status updates from the past year and a timeline of writing my novel emerged. I'm a big nerd when it comes to stuff like this, so I thought I would break it down here, starting with when the idea hit. Note that the during the years-long gaps, I wasn't writing at all.

  • Spring 1992 – write ‘Night Words,’ a 20-page short story
  • Fall 2002 -- decide to turn 'Night Words' into a novel. Do an extensive outline with 17 chapters.
  • Fall 2006 – complete three chapters of ‘Night Words’ and submit it to a (very) small opening pages competition; selected as the winner of the suspense category, and also given Reader’s Favorite award.
  • February 19, 2009 -- Start working on 'Night Words' full time.
  • May 31, 2009 -- Complete beta draft (renamed The Shadow Scribe); 67,000 words; 24 chapters; submitt to 8 beta readers
  • August 3, 2009 -- All feedback received and digested; begin revision
  • October 1, 2009 -- The Shadow Scribe is commended in the Yeovil Literary Prize
  • October 19, 2009 -- Complete 'final' draft; 78,000 words, 24 chapters
  • October 20, 2009 -- Send out first queries
  • October - December 2009 -- Receive 6 full requests and 2 partials.
  • December 2009 -- one partial and four fulls rejected, but one with feedback and invitation to resubmit with changes
  • Decmber 15, 2009 -- begin revision (massive restructuring with rewrites)
  • January 4, 2010 -- contacted by remaining two agents with fulls; arrange to send revised manuscript when ready
  • January 24, 2010 -- complete revision; 80,000 words, 30 chapters; send to one reliable beta reader
  • February 14, 2010 -- receive feedback from beta
  • February 19, 2010 -- complete 'final final' draft; 82,000 words, 31 chapters; sent to agents
  • March 1, 2010 -- waiting, waiting, waiting....

So in theory, it took me 18 years to write The Shadow Scribe. In practice, it took exactly one year (February 19 -- how weird is that?!)  from the point where I seriously buckled down and started writing to the point where I had a manuscript I knew was 'finished' (noting of course that there could be agent-requested and editor-requested changes, if I should be so lucky to get to that point).

What about you? How long has it taken you with your projects?