Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Character of San Antonio

There have been some great posts on setting, like this one at What Women Write, and this one from Laurel over at Laurel's Leaves.  I like the idea of thinking of the setting of a story as a character, because places are as unique as people.

I'm working on a new serial for a UK magazine. This story will be set here in San Antonio and I'm feeling the pressure to capture the city faithfully. I would think the majority of the magazine's readers (40+, female, British) have never visited and will never visit Texas, so my story will, in a sense, represent San Antonio to them.

Texas is a place like no other. And in some ways, it is difficult to explain why in words. Let me show you a brief selection of sights I pass on my daily drive to work:

Like this:
 And this:
And this (which, by the way, holds the record for the largest cowboy boots in the world):

Unfortunately, the picture of the Jerky Outlet was out of focus.

Throw in the excitement of our annual Rodeo and Stock Show, the Hispanic influence on the culture, amazing food, and of course, the unique Riverwalk.

See what I mean? We're talking one quirky character here. I hope I do her proud.

What about you? Any favorite posts on setting? Do you have a setting that you are particularly proud of/anxious about representing faithfully?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cooking up more strange stuff

As I mentioned last week, my former job was a recipe developer.  I was given a product and had to use it as an ingredient in a recipe, which might be printed on the back of the packaging or perhaps put on a website for users to access. For three years, I worked for a company that made gravy, sauce, and bakery mixes. After a while, you use up the run-of-the-mill recipe ideas for beef gravy or pancake mix and start to get a little creative (read: weird).

Here is a list of the some of the strange recipes I made:
  • Rootbeer Float Pancakes: I had to come up with 15 pancake recipes in one week. (And we're not talking about "Add 1 cup blueberries.") I used rootbeer instead of milk to make the pancakes. They tasted a little strange with maple syrup, but they very tasty with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • Instant Stuffing Sauce: A restaurant chain wanted a mix they could combine with water and pour over day-old biscuits to make stuffing. It smelled just like Stove-Top , but was kind of thick and sticky so that it didn't make the biscuits soggy.
  • Mole Sauce: Mole (pronounced Mow - lay) is a wonderful Mexican sauce made from roasted chilis, corn tortillas, almonds and chocolate. Somehow, I managed to turn Beef Gravy mix into a passable mole (OK, not passable here in San Antonio, but they accepted up north just fine). This one took me about twelve attempts to get it right. 
  • Chocolate Cream Pie: I made chocolate pudding out of Biscuit Gravy. This is not quite as weird as it seems when you realize that biscuit gravy is basically flour, corn starch and milk (no seasonings), which are the same main ingredients as pudding. I made up the hot gravy and stirred in sugar and chocolate chips. When the chocolate was melted, I poured it in a prebake pie shell and topped it with whipped cream. OK, yeah, that is pretty weird.
So there you have it: culinary strangeness.

If you missed it, go check out my last post on recipe development as a writing analogy for a little contest. Comment here or at that post and there might be a cup of coffee in it for you (I'm giving away a $5 Starbucks gift card -- sorry, I'm cheap these days as I am no longer employed as a recipe developer!).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cooking up another writing analogy

Writers love analogies. And we really love analogies about writing. Some days, it seems like every other blog post out there ends with a comparison of how the day's topic compares to the writing process. I did one on shoes not too long ago.

In my past life (meaning the era before I chucked my career to write full time) I was a recipe developer, working in the test kitchen of a food manufacturer. This also happens to be the job of Lara, my MC in THE SHADOW SCRIBE. As I was revising, I came upon this passage, something Lara says while working:
Recipe development is not a job with immediate gratification. Some projects – like this one – take me five, ten, even twenty tries to get the recipe perfect.
So of course, that got the analogy juices flowing. Let me tell you how recipe development works:

You start with an ingredient (usually a product made by said company). And then you come up with a target recipe. You write out a version of the recipe using the necessary ingredient and then you make the recipe. And you taste it. And you change a few ingredients. And then you make it again. And adjust a few more things. And then you make it again. And taste it again.

By now, you are getting tired of the taste and you are losing your objectivity. So you have a few other people taste it. They give you their opinions; some think it needs more salt, some think it needs less. So you change it again. And you taste it again. You start to think you never want to taste that recipe ever again. But you must, because it is your job, you've worked hard on it, and you are a professional. You remake and retaste a few more times until you think it is perfect.

When you are confident it is finished, you serve it up to the VIPs (usually sales and marketing types). Sometimes they say it isn't quite what they are after (at which point you go back and rework and retaste a few more times). And sometimes, their eyes glaze over, they make yummy noises, and they eat the whole thing. Score.

I'm not going to draw the writing/editing analogy for you -- you are a bright group and I'm sure you'll figure it out.

So that is my "_______ is like writing" analogy.

Let's have a contest (my first ever)! In the comment section, give me your best/most obscure/most ridiculous "_____ is like writing" analogy. If you've already posted an analogy on your own blog, link to it. If you've seen someone else with a great analogy, link to that. If you don't have an analogy, comment anyway. I get lonely over here sometimes.

For anyone who comments or links, I'll throw your name in a hat for a $5 gift card for Starbucks (yeah, it's a small prize but, heck, every writer could use coffee, tea or a muffin). There's an extra entry for anyone who makes a "Writing is like Starbucks" analogy or who mentions this contest on their blog. You've got until Thursday, April 29 to enter.

Come on... you're a writer! I know you've got an analogy floating around there somewhere!

Monday, April 19, 2010

My big ol' but

(Note: This post was originally titled "I have a problem with my but" -- I was a little worried about what Google would bring. Even now, I am a bit concerned.)

Last week, I asked if anyone had experience with AutoCrit or any other editing software. I wanted a program that would flag if I had repeated words or phrases and similar glitches because, frankly, after eight drafts, I am just a tad bit overfamiliar with my manuscript. And overfamiliarity breeds typos.

I signed up for AutoCrit ($47 for a 1 year membership) and ran a few chapters through. With the wizard, you cut and paste a single chapter in (or up to 5000 words at a time) and select the report you want to run.   I selected the report on overused words (-ly adverbs, just, that, conjunctive phrases, was construction and so on) on one chapter and noticed the conjunctive beginning box was checked. When I looked through the highlighted, I found a whole bunch of buts. I'd never noticed this glitch in my writing before so I went back to my manuscript and highlighted every but in there.


At first I wasn't sure whether it was a problem, so I went to Strunk and White and asked them. As usual, they sniffed down their noses and said "The too frequent use of but as a conjunction leads to the fault (of) loose sentences. Loose sentences are common in easy, unstudied writing. The danger is that there may be too many of them."

S**t, if you'll pardon the pun.

I am now much better friends with yet, however, although, and except.

But that's OK.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

For this reason

I've been rather iffy on the whole blog thing. I know I'm supposed to do it to build my platform, but that feels a bit forced to me. Recently, I've been questioning whether it is worth it at all.

The response to my last post showed me that it is, and not for the "supposed to" reasons. We all know that writing can be a tough business. Sometimes,when the rejections come rolling in, it can be a downright lonely and soul-destroying business (and I've had a few lonely, soul-destroying weeks). But on Wednesday, a bunch of strangers with nothing to gain said some really nice things about my writing. It cheered me up a lot, so I went and said some nice things to other writers. It made me feel like a part of a community. It made me feel like a writer. And it made me feel like these strangers weren't strangers, but friends that I have a lot in common with. And it is for this reason that I will continue to blog.

So, thank you to my lovely new friends.

And while you are here, maybe you can give me your writerly opinion. Take a look at this sentence:

Pages clutched in an outraged hand.
What do you think of this line? Can a hand be outraged? I was thinking a hand could show that someone was outraged (white knuckles, tension, etc.) but I'm not sure if this is one of those weird lines that just doesn't work. I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fun and exciting news

Fun and exciting news -- Laurel at Laurel's Leaves has chosen my excerpt from THE SHADOW SCRIBE as the third runner up in her Eleventy One Celebration Contest!

For this contest, the scene or story had to be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation and/or persuasion. I selected a scene from THE SHADOW SCRIBE, my novel out in query-land. Here's the brief blurb:
Soon after Lara Ramsey moves into Heraldsgreen House, a Georgian house in the Scottish countryside, she starts talking in her sleep. Every night, Lara’s story is captured by the voice recognition software on her computer. Every morning, Lara wakes to read a new chapter about an artist who loses the woman he loves and tries to find love and inspiration once again. Stranger still, the style of language she uses is from two hundred years ago. Lara is beginning to think she’s crazy, her dream home is starting to scare her, and her skeptical husband, David, is never there. For the sake of her sanity and her marriage, she must find out what the story is and why she is telling it.

In this excerpt, an exhausted Lara meets with her friend Isobel and tells her of the strange goings on.

“Lara, has it occurred to you that there may be more to this?”

“Like what?”

“There is a huge amount of energy in this world that most people are completely unaware of,” she said, pointing her biscuit at me.

“What do you mean by energy? Currents?”

“Sort of. Forces, like the life force, move through all of us. Some are more sensitive to it than others,” Isobel said with a meaning look. “Maybe you are channeling some of this energy as you sleep.”

“Channeling? Like a medium? Ghosts? Are you serious?”

Isobel shrugged. “You live in a really old house. Are you telling me you’ve never considered the possibility?”

I didn’t answer right away. “I guess I never really thought about it like that,” I said slowly. “I don’t think I believe in ghosts.”

“That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.”

I was glad the waitress came to take our order because I needed a few minutes to think about what Isobel suggested. We were both silent until the she placed a basket of rolls on the table and left.

“Isobel, it can’t be ghosts.”

“Why not?”

“I haven’t seen anything, or heard anything weird.”

“Other than the sleepwalking or telling a historical story while you are unconscious?” she asked patiently.

“Right, good point.”

“Look, I’m not saying that ghosts are strolling down the hallways of Heraldsgreen. I’m only suggesting that there may be some unresolved energy in the house.”

“David is going to think that is ridiculous,” I said, more to myself than to her. “He doesn’t believe in anything like that.”

“Why not?

“He’s a scientist. If it doesn’t have academic backing, he’s not interested.”

“Scientists drive me crazy,” Isobel snorted, tossing her long hair back over her shoulder. “They are always so sure what they know is true, right up until the next big discovery proves them totally wrong. Then they hold on to that theory as if it is the one true answer. Look, if he says anything, throw this at him: The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, right?”

“If you say so.” Where did she come up with this stuff? It was pure Isobel. She probably had copies of Popular Science next to Reflexology Monthly.

“And we’ve proven the body has energy: brain waves, electrical activity in the heart, the energy we create by eating and drinking, the heat we give off and so on. David would have to admit to this, right?”

“Of course.”

“So what happens to all the energy, the electricity we know about – and all the energy we don’t – when we die? Is it so hard to believe from a scientific perspective that the energy remains after the body passes on?”

“You make a good point.” Isobel blew me away. She was always like this, sometimes she seemed so flaky, yet she was so intelligent. Her brain just seemed to work a little bit differently.

“Just something you can use to get David on board. Tell him not to eliminate something just because he doesn’t understand it.”

Thanks, Laurel, both for running the contest and for giving me a lift when I really needed it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wanted: Feedback on Critique Software

Recently, I posted about using Gary Corby's neat little wildcard string for searching out one of my grammar quirks. Since then, I've been playing around in Word trying to find a way to highlight echo words, only to come up empty-handed. I then searched on the 'net to try to find a macro for finding repetitive words and phrases and came upon the AutoCrit Manuscript Editing Wizard.

The wizard allows you to paste in a scene or chapter (the amount you can paste and how often you can do it is dictated by your subscription level) and get feedback. The basic subscription (listed as $47) gives you reports on overused words, repeated phrases, sentence variations, repeated words, dialogue tags, first words, names and pronouns, frequent phrases. The higher subscription levels give you more.

I am intrigued. Normally, I am skeptical of software that analyzes writing (don't even get me started on Word Grammar check). But these days, I am so over-familiar with my manuscript that I feel I am missing some basic stuff. So I wonder if AutoCrit (or similar) might help me with some nitty-gritty mechanics.

Any thoughts on this? Does anyone have any experience with AutoCrit or any other program that would do similar things?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The many elements of rejection

Rejection sucks. I was reminded of that on Thursday when I got the big R on the revised full I sent to an agent. As I sat wallowing in self-pity (I always give myself six hours of wallowing time before forcing myself to get back to work), I started analyzing what it was about this rejection that hurt the most.

1. It made me question my ability. This one is pretty obvious. It is hard to hear someone say that they just don't think your book is good enough. It made me wonder if it is good at all. Will anyone think it is good enough? Will this book end up in the bottom drawer? Have I just wasted 15 months?

2. The schelp isn't over. For a few weeks there, I was starting to think I would be done with synopses, query letters, submission tracking tables, trips to the copy shop, postage, SASEs, and all the little chores that go with querying. Um, nope.

3. More money out the door. I am a very frugal person and I hate that I might have to spend more on manuscript copies and postage. I feel guilty spending the money, knowing that nothing may come of it. At times, it feels very self-indulgent. I worry that my husband (who is extremely supportive, both emotionally and financially) will finally look at me and say "Enough! Go get a real job and stop spending on a book that may never happen."

4. Admitting it. There are way too many people who know that I reached the stage of having agent interest, which means that I am (too) often being asked "Have you heard anything?" And now I have to 'fess up. Meh. In truth, I think this one bothers me the most. My pride is wounded and I would prefer to lick my wounds in private. Lesson learned. Next time, I will be very careful who I tell.

Like I said, I ruminated on this for about six hours. And then I gave myself a mental slap and reminded myself that this is just part of the journey. There is still another agent looking at the manuscript. There are hundreds of agents still out there. I won't give up. I can't give up. I remember the words of Randy Pausch:

Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What I learned this weekend

I learned a few valuable things this weekend and I thought I would share them with you.

1. Do not mail chocolate bunnies to south Texas in April, because they will go into the mail looking like bunnies and come out of the mail looking like this:

2. Easter egg hunting in the Hill Country takes on a whole new dimension. You have to watch out for cactus. And scorpions.
3. Texas has some real pretty weeds. The bluebonnet is the prettiest. There must have been twenty people who pulled their car over to take pictures in this field.

4. Sometimes, you meet a character from one of your stories. I'm working on a serial short story and have been struggling a little with developing the main character. I knew what I wanted her to be but couldn't quite get her backstory to fit. At a party this weekend, I met someone and it just went off like fireworks in my head -- this woman was my character. Suddenly, my backstory was clear and Serina came alive. She won't be based on this person (who is so fabulous and kind that I know she wouldn't mind) but she will be the person I picture as I write the story.
Anyone else learn anything new this weekend?