Monday, December 10, 2012

The New York Times picks the top 10 books for 2012

Here is the list.

Every book on this list looks incredibly depressing or predictable. Death, despair, poverty and pointless, fragmented lives. That's just the fiction. There's no joy, no heroism. Just nihilism.

The only book that looks even partially interesting is Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, a book which would be better served by dropping the first half of the title. By chance, I'm currently reading Far From the Tree, which is interesting, but not at all about what I thought it was going to be about based on reviews. And, oh look, the NYT is in love with a book about the Kennedys; who could have predicted that? And to prove that deep thinkers do work for the NYT, its final selection is a book on philosophy that asks why we exist. The New York Times should ask that of itself.

Going Your Own Way

Within days of each other I read two items--one a blog post and the other an article from traditional media--that discussed the same phenomenon: the move towards bypassing traditional agents and publishers in order to self-publish, made possible by the new world of e-books.

The article, Authors Exercise Their "Write" to Self Publish, is unexpectedly positive towards self-publishing and quotes authors who earn a nice living without the support of the traditional publishing houses. The counter-argument is given by an editor who argues that the publishing house creates an excellent final package that is proof-read and looks great, and that authors are selling themselves short when they price their work at 99 cents.

The blog post is courtesy of Dean Wesley Smith who makes the more convincing argument that agents are unnecessary, unhelpful, and don't do anything that that an author can't learn to do himself or pay someone (such as an IP lawyer) to do for him--and without receiving a percentage of the author's sales. The same is true of publishing houses, though he suggests that you can submit to them directly (and avoid the agent) if you still want to go that route. His advice is to never cease writing new words, don't waste time endlessly polishing work, and learn to get your stories onto e-book platforms. The more you write, the better you get and perhaps by your 10th novel, you'll be good enough to write something that many people want to read, whereas traditional publishing houses only give you one shot--your first and only shot. If you don't hit it big right out of the gates, you probably won't be given another opportunity to sell a second or third novel, even if they're better.

Learning the business side and the design side--things the publishing houses traditionally had a lock on and is the scarier part for writers--is also doable and advisable. The EPIC BLOG POST is here and the comments are well worth reading. I also recommend immediately following up these reads with DWS's blog post on agents...again, read the comments!

I've learned so much from DWS and KKR in the short time I've been following their blogs and now it seems the traditional media are catching up to them! They've taken away a lot of the anxiety I had about writing and replaced it with a more go-get-'em attitude. The nanowrimo book I stopped abruptly before the end of November...IT'S BACK ON! and I wrote a few thousand words after reading DWS's advice. Thanks dude!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The End of NaNoWriMo (and the end of endless capitalization)

Today starts a new month, which means the end of nanowrimo and the return to house work. Ok, I admit it, my last day was actually a few days ago (although I delayed house work until the proper end of nano out of respect). I finished Act I at 80+ pages and then hit a wall. The opening of the story had been so clear and easy to write, but the possibilities are wide open in the next section and that has me paralyzed. I need to carefully plot out the rest because--and I'm not saying this out of ego because I am my own worst critic--but I have a seriously marketable story on my hands. This is a story that could actually be in a bookstore and sell well. My dear husband, who is forced to read all of my stuff and always gamely says, "I like it, honey. It's good," actually wants to know what will happen next and happily reads the sections I give him.

End result of nanowrimo: an excellent start to a finishable book.

Current plans: return to the YA story like I promised, review it with fresh eyes, edit and send out to readers. THEN I will return to my nanowrimo story. The sci-fi writers I mentioned in a previous post, always seem to be working on multiple things at once. I'm finally catching on.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

nanowrimo day 24

Only six more days left in nanowrimo and I haven't even finished Act I. I blame the elections and Thanksgiving for this. Again I ask: who thought nanowrimo was a good idea in November? I've barely managed to keep up with a thousand words a day, but I should be at 38,400. <sigh>.

79 pages / 23,043 words

Interesting fact...

...the more time I have, the less productive I am.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Go and Read

Even though science fiction is not usually my first choice of reading material, science fiction writers are incredibly inventive, prolific and, it turns out, business savvy. I would be remiss if I did not pass on these amazing author sites. I only discovered them a month or two ago, but they are the reason that I felt I could take on nanowrimo. For these writers, the important part of writing is getting the story down onto the page rather than cripple themselves and lose time over trying to create a sentence of lasting beauty, which will come later with experience and editing. They also delve into the business of writing and publishing, which is a foreign country to me. I've learned much in the short time I've been reading them.

1. I'm linking directly to the Business Rusch page of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's website. She really breaks it down for you. For instance, did you ever consider what happens to your copyrights after you die, or what about your notebooks that you scribble your notes, letters or first drafts in? This is just some of the practical business advice she gives. I'm not quite ready to delve that far into it yet since I haven't yet published anything, but I recently enjoyed her three-part series on why writers disappear:

Why writers disappear Part I, Why writers disappear Part II, Why writers disappear Part III

2. Rusch's husband, Dean Wesley Smith is also a working writer and offers a series of in-person and online workshops. I hope to take one next year because they look amazing. This man also knows his business inside and out. Read it.

3. The third is Sarah Hoyt who writes fantasy--which I read even less of than science fiction--and writes often about raising children and her experiences growing up in Portugal and how that influences her today. Not really writing advice, but still interesting. She also sometimes writes about the business issues she runs into and takes a hard line against political correctness.

I hope these people inspire you as much as they have inspired me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

nanowrimo day 18

Still horribly behind, but making progress. The problem is, I'm at the end of the part of the story which I've mapped out. Everything beyond this point is unknown territory and will therefore be harder to write. I don't know what happens next or even what I want to happen next! Pitiful, I know.

60 pages / 17,226 words

Sunday, November 11, 2012

nanowrimo day #10.5

Finishing up from yesterday, which was horrible. Still many thousands of words behind.

Current count: 36 pages / 10,410 words

Thursday, November 8, 2012

nanowrimo day 8

Three days lost due to an election which means 5 days of writing. 5x1600=8000 so technically I've nearly reached my writing goal every day, but I know in my heart of hearts I should be at 12,800 words. I have a lot of catching up to do on Saturday. I feel tired just thinking about it.

Current count: 26 pages/ 7613 words

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why the HELL is nanowrimo in November?!

It simply isn't possible to write in election season. Election night jitters. I have them. We can scratch productivity from tomorrow's to do list. We might as well toss Wednesday out the window as well since I'll be staying up all night on Tuesday to hear the results.

There's always the weekend to make up the word count. Who needs sleep? Not I.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

nanowrimo day #3

I don't know if yesterday's advice worked. One the one hand, I wrote eight pages today, an all time record for myself. On the other hand, I feel like I've been sitting on my tush all day.

Current count: 15 pages / 4262 words

Friday, November 2, 2012

nanowrimo 1st day experience

The 1st day of nanowrimo started inauspiciously with me waking up exhausted from a much interrupted night of sleep, getting to work late and not having a chance to sit down and write a sentence until after Munchkin went to sleep at 7:30pm. Husband was home from work by 8:30pm with a toothache. I tried to be sympathetic, but I'm friggin' serious about this novel. Take some Advil and visit the dentist.

While I thought I had the first chapter pretty well mapped out in my head, it still took hours to knock out four pages. I don't have hours. I'll have to learn to get my words done in one to two hours max. I didn't make it to my goal of 1600 words yesterday, but 1100 is nonetheless respectable.

Lesson: Think less, write faster!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This time next month, I'll have a novel completed

Whew! Between hurricanes, work, trick or treating and the regular business of life, I nearly forgot that tomorrow starts NaNoWriMo. I've got a good start to THE FUN IDEA mapped out in my head, but the middle is currently unrevealed to me. I assume that all will become clear as it progresses. Although 50,000 words is hardly a novel worth reading, I'll shoot for around 1600 words a day, which is doable if I cease all house cleaning and cooking (which actually happened long ago, but I didn't have a good excuse for it before). Some writers produce too much and have to pare down their work during revision, but I always write too little and have to insert and add and layer to get to the proper word count.

So dear friends, pens at the ready, now write!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Currently reading

Fiction: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (they got Rob and the music store characters just right in the film).

Non-fiction: Self-editing for fiction writers

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Outlining my ass off

NaNoWriMo--(I hate hitting the shift key so many times to type that)--is coming up in a few days and I have definitely decided to do the fun idea rather than work on something already half-completed. Since it will be difficult enough to try squeezing in 1,000-2,000 words per day in November, I won't have the luxury of staring at the screen to wait for inspiration to strike. I'm not a strong outliner because I can't see that far ahead in the stories, but I'm giving it a shot so I can just get down to business each day.

Writer's Digest has a good article on outlining for NaNoWriMo: How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: To outline or not to outline?

Writing leads to suicide or suicidal people are writers?

From The Atlantic:

When the researchers looked specifically at authors, they found that they are overrepresented among people with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety syndrome, and substance abuse problems. Authors were also almost twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population.
I think the reason for this is obvious: healthy, happy people have things to do and people to see, but sad people are debilitated by their sadness and isolate themselves with their thoughts...which leads to writing. Not all writers are unhappy, but there seems to be a strong David Foster Wallace-ish strain to the occupation.


What is the purpose of spam sites visiting the blog and how does that even happen?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wearing Wellies and Having a Fag

This article is utter bollocks.

I don't see it as silly or pretentious that Americans are using more Britishisms. I'm sure Americanisms have likewise crept into Eliza Doolittle's daily vocabulary.

Perhaps this trend doesn't bother me because my grandparents, despite perfected American accents, were subjects of the Queen until their adult years. I love the British! Tea with milk was served in my family's house and NEVER coffee. When I made the switch to coffee in college, I was deemed a traitor to the Union Jack. I'm much poorer for it too, thank you very much Starbucks.The Beatles were my first and favorite band. I always make time for As Time Goes By. I own omnibuses of Orwell and Kipling and have actually read Churchill's A History of the English Speaking Peoples (abridged). I'm also that very rare American species: a Francophobe.

From Julie Andrews to Hugh Grant, Bridget Jones, Harry Potter, Craig Ferguson and any number of British shows, bands and celebrities, our ears have become accustomed to British English, as have our eyeballs: The Daily Mail bests American media hands down because where else would I be able to view a picture like this?

Let's face it, Britishisms are just fun. I've adopted the word "mental" into daily use after hearing Rupert Grint use it in Harry Potter. One British word which I love, but has not made it over the pond yet is "wanker." I'd like to popularize it, but would probably get slapped in the face.


Yesterday was the first Saturday in nearly a year that I did not choose to sit and write. It was a strange and untethered feeling. Although I had a nice day with the Munchkin getting some shopping and yard work done, always in the back of my mind I was composing sentences for a book I've  shoved in the drawer for the time being. I don't want to add one jot to the thing. It needs to rest--or should I say "I"?--before I can take another stab at it. Or just stab it. What a cruel and lovely feeling it would be to stab a book and see it bleed like Tom Riddle's journal. Goodbye figments of my imagination; may you never torment me again!

But now I'm undergoing another torment: what to write next? Nanowrimo starts in two weeks. Should I use that time to brain dump the fun idea  I had, or to really try to get a significant portion of one my previous attempts completed? Time is scarce and I've made enough mistakes in my life. Let's not add wrong novel choice to the list!

Sidenote: In this month's Writer's Digest, there is a profile of an agent who hates sentence fragments, but writes in sentence fragments himself. I'm all about the sentence fragments. All about. I like italics too.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Giving it a rest

I've hit a wall. At page 226 I can go no further. For the last several weeks I have stared at the screen and tinkered with scenes already written, but can't seem to finish the last scene or insert two scenes that need inclusion. So I'm giving it a rest. NaNoWriMo is coming up and I have a fun idea for that. Perhaps after focusing on something else for a while, I'll be able to come back in seven weeks, find a printer with actual ink and a working motor, print out the mass of pages and review it with fresh eyes. That will be the end of Draft One which will be sent out to a couple of people who have graciously agreed to read it. I want this practice novel done and out of my life!

Monday, October 1, 2012


I'm number 112 on the library waiting list for JK Rowling's newest release, The Casual Vacancy.

The New York Times has decimated it, but after all the countless hours of reading pleasure Ms. Rowling has provided me through her Harry Potter world, I owe it to her to give the new book a fair shot. It looks like a lot of other people are doing so also.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The dangers of not writing quickly

I almost had a heart attack today when I saw a book review for a new novel whose main character and main event sounded extraordinarily similar to one that I have planned for the future. Fortunately, upon further reading, I discovered that the entire context and plot of this other novel was very different. Whew! But I worry every day that my idea--which I feel has solid commercial potential--will get written by someone else who had the same brainwave and was able to write it and sell it faster.

Who can forget the Deep Impact vs. Armageddon showdown? Or the dueling cookbooks about tricking kids into healthier eating by Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Lapine, which turned into an ugly court case? Sometimes it's theft and sometimes it's zeitgeist. Sometimes it's the same brilliant thought occuring independently to two different people.

But before starting on THE BIG ONE (henceforth to be known as TBO) I still have to work out the plot because it's going to be a much more complicated piece than I've attempted before, and I still have to finish this blasted practice novel and then work on a novel that's been swimming in my head for years but was finally clarified last week when a key plot point clunked into place while I was thinking about something else. It's amazing how that happens. Let's hope that Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule holds true because by the time I finally get to work on TBO, I'll be a goddam master of the art. Let us also pray that nobody else writes it first!

Added thought: I will deliberately refrain from reading this other person's novel--even though it sounds fascinating--in order not to be influenced by it. I don't want to end up like this person!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Current count

I'm in the home stretch and will be more than happy to put this piece behind me for a while. This started out as a practice novel, but it has taken longer than anticipated to complete a first draft. I figure there's about 20 more pages left to do before I can stuff it in a drawer for a month. I need fresh eyes to do any more to it. Then I can burn it.

219 pages / 70,371 words

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Non-MFA MFA post

With a sigh I opened this month's issue of Poets and Writers. Yup, it's the MFA issue. Thousands of bright-eyed 22 year-olds across the country are eagerly examining the contents to determine the best "fit" and wondering if they should apply to the most selective program or the one with the most fellowship placements. Page after page of MFA program advertisements entice the prospective applicant to imagine herself sitting on the beach with her open laptop, taking inspiration from the waves. The Miami Writers Institute and the University of Tampa used the identical beach-laptop photo, prompting the identical thought that I will never attend a program whose biggest perk is the beach because I DON'T DO heat, humidity, hurricanes or bikinis! Emerson College's advertisement oozes charm and I can picture myself sitting by a window looking out on the cobblestone streets, moleskin notebook on my lap and a cup of tea at hand, while glowing streetlights and windows provide a merry atmosphere....Yeah, right. Charm is expensive and  I'd probably be living in a cockroach infested basement in a dodgy part of town. Emerson is therefore out of the running.

And then there's Michener. Time, space and money. That's the best advertisement of all. Perhaps next year....

Seth Abramson has been feeding my MFA statistics mania for as long as I've been looking at creative writing programs. Leave it to a former law student to infuse hard-nosed data and analysis into the lives of a bunch of free-spirited, number-avoidant dreamers (if you are not familiar with law students and their rank[ings] obsessions, please visit lawschoolnumbers or the US News & World Report to see what I'm talking about). Personally, the only stats I'm interested in are Funding, GRE--can someone please explain to me why a GRE is necessary? I'm really not going to be admitted because I forgot all of my high school Algebra, really?-- and one that isn't on here, but should be: Literature course requirements, so you can know how much of your precious time is going to be wasted on term papers.

One surprising statistic is that Iowa is #20 in selectivity even though it is #1 in popularity. I would have thought that the two things correlated more closely. Also not sure why it is only #24 in funding when another column says ALL students are fully funded. Perhaps because the money isn't purely in the form of grants, but often requires teaching? The amount offered by Iowa is also less than the $27,000 per year offered by Michener. Suck it, Iowa (but please let me in)!

Each MFA issue is a reminder that another year has passed and I still haven't joined a program. Writing is a lonely hobby. Whereas knitters can join knitting groups and runners can find other runners to pound the pavement with, writing requires space away from others to work, but then needs others to read and critique and encourage. And yes, even to learn. "The Teachable Talent: Why Creative Writing Can Be Taught" by Gregory Spatz was a welcome read in this year's MFA issue. Nobody who believes that writing is purely a God-given talent and not a skill that can be honed, should ever teach in an MFA program.

To all would-be MFAers out there, I wish you luck and success.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Currently reading

I just finished DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes and have started on the prequel, The Seven Daughters of Eve. Seven Daughters was published in 2002, which is like five decades in science years, but still wonderful and fascinating to read. I can't look at my Mexican friend now without envisioning his painted gene map...there must be lots of "orange" in it. You'll have to read DNA USA to find out what that means. It's worth it!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

My brain is on vacation in London

The Olympics are not conducive to writing. It is vitally important that I witness men in tight shorts twist and flip and slice the water with perfect lines.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Currently reading

I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Here is what I currently have checked out of the library:

1. DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes

2. The Western Canon by Harold Bloom

3. A History of the American People by Paul Johnson

4. The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

Do you get the sense that I feel my public school and prestigious college educations were substandard? Lest you get intimidated by all of this heavy reading, my bedside book is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Real world vs. real world

I live all the time with stories in my head. The characters and storylines are very real to me. This is the place I want to spend time in. I want time to write these things down. However, the real "real world" is banging at my door. It is telling me that I need to sojourn in graduate school for 2-3 years to get an advanced-but-pointless degree in my field (as told to me by the person who interviewed me for a job). It's yelling through the window that I will be let go from my current job if I miss any more days because of the daycare being closed or Munchkin falling sick. The idea of spending mental engergy on boring classes for the next few years--while still holding down a job--makes me feel sick to my stomach. Not one extra minute will be left for anything else. Welcome to the desert of the real.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Poets & Writers just earned its subscription price

When I regretfully declined my FREE opportunity at an MFA program last year, I took out two subscriptions to writing magazines. I couldn't afford to leave my full time job, but I could at least afford $40 in subscriptions to Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers. P&W came second on the list because it wasn't practical like Writer's Digest and it often contained horrible poetry, long feature articles about people writing horrible poetry, and generally very little of interest. I kept up the subscription for the agent interviews, but still wondered if it was worth the $26 per year. I mean, I could have a nice dinner out with that.

I take it all back because the July/Aug 2012 issue is AWESOME!

The awesomeness starts with "Why We Write", a column that is penned by a different person each time, on why they do what they do. This issue's columnist is Jennifer Baker, an MFA graduate who got sidetracked from writing for a while by real life. Yep, it's hard to earn a living, have kids and maintain enough brain space and energy to create. Refreshingly, she does not include a sob story (no cancer, no child with cancer, no unresolved memories of parents. Not that those things aren't hugely impacting, but it seems statistically impossible that all writers of this column should be afflicted with these calamities). She begins with an anecdote of her MFA instructor informing the class that most of them will not continue to write when the program concludes. To her dismay, she discovered that yes, many of the most talented students ended up calling it quits, though it was never so declarative a statement...simply other things got in the way over time. We have to be accountable to ourselves, she says:
We are the only ones keeping tabs on our writing, and when we fail--because we're too tired or stressed or just need to take a break and not think--no one else is going to force us to reconsider. 
True! One of the reasons I desperately want to join an MFA program is for the accountability and tab-keeping of the teachers and other students. Not being in a structured program means I have to create my own motivation, make sure some writing gets done when I know there is a huge pile of laundry or I'd rather catch up on the sleep that Munchkin steals. This determination on Ms. Baker's part led to some journal publications. My favorite sentence is the close of her column because I, too, cannot turn off the characters in my head. They are always talking and reacting, which is why I'm forced to write on the weekends rather than garden:
I continue to write when my brain is ready to sleep yet the characters I've created engage in conversation, in situations I have designed for them. Through all the obstacles the "real world" has thrown in my way, I continue. And whether I get my way, I continue. And whether I get rejections or acceptances, I know I am part of the small percentage of writers who are beating the odds.
I guess that means I'm beating the odds too.

ME, YOU, AND CHARLES YU by Kevin Nance
The second article on P&W's roll to greatness is an interview with fiction writer Charles Yu, a mild-mannered everyman who writes down the conversations we have in our heads (but makes them more interactive and interesting, natch), and who reveals painful levels of self-awareness and then more layers on those layers:
"I'm one of the most self-conscious people you've ever met.....I can't do anything without examining how I'm doing it. When I walk down the street, I'm seeing what's in front of me, but then also I've got a camera looking down on the top of my head. And sometimes there's a surveillance camera looking at me from across the street."
 Intrigued yet? Well,  you will be after you discover that he wrote a story about people getting paid to take on other people's pain. I can't wait to read some of his stuff.

Next stop on our tour of P&W is the absolute best feature on agents I've read. It's chock full of useful and sometimes enraging little details. The author follows the agents of Folio Literary Management in NYC.

First enraging detail: the agents are all younger than me. This leads me to conclude that they all come from upper middle-class or wealthy families because who else would be able to afford putting in the time at an agency as a twenty-to-early-thirty-something in NYC? The plebes don't have a chance of breaking into this business. Interesting detail two: the women dress like glamourous 1950's housewives. I had noticed that the female real estate agents in Selling New York dressed like this and thought it odd, but supposed it was a personality quirk. Alas, no. This is really what women wear in New York.

The author throws out some astonishing numbers. The agency receives about 100,000 queries a year, but there are only nine agents. One of the agents only took on four clients in the past year. The reason for this is because an agent will spend 100 hours on a new work...if it doesn't sell, he doesn't get paid. That's the brutal truth. Thus, the majority of new clients are actually referrals by old clients.

Take this in, readers. If you don't already know a published writer, you are not likely to find yourself an agent. This does much to explain why so much of what's published seems like versions of each other. It's all about risk reduction. The agents want a writer who has already been vetted. Makes sense, but it means finding a writing community is imperative. I'll need to say goodbye to my hermitage.

Later the author watched as another agent went through a batch of email queries. This is worth quoting at length:
The queries she opens on her computer are already more than a month old, and Brower [agent] spends less than a minute reading each one. Few queries make it past the opening lines of the plot synopsis, and a number never make it past the title if it strikes Brower as cliche or denotes a genre that doesn't interest her. In other cases, she rejects queries if the author claims the work is similar to that of another author whom Brower doesn't care for, or if the letter seems off-putting or creepy in some way.
In roughly fourteen minutes, Brower clicks through nineteen queries, sends form rejections to eighteen of them, and sets one aside for further consideration. When asked for examples of successful queries, she mentions a few in which the writer points out either a connection to someone Brower knows in the publishing world or deep research into the sorts of books Brower tends to represent. They also display a strong understanding of the genre in which the writer is working.
Wow, 18 quick rejections out of 19 in mere minutes, and a plethora of reasons why your application will likely be among them: no personal connections, a title she doesn't like, something that isn't perfectly genre, etc. It makes the head spin. This is an uncomfortable reality check...the idea that no matter how brilliant our work is, an imperfect detail will derail it.

There are some more interesting articles that add up to making this issue worth the cover price. Speaking of which, my subscription is up for renewal. Consider it done!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Another addition to the Over-the-Hill file

Time and technology are galloping forward and leaving me in their dust.

Today a twenty-something young lady asked if she could borrow a pen for the day because she had left her laptop at home and was unaccustomed to carrying a pen.

Listen up, whippersnappers! In my day, a pen or pencil was an essential item to have in your purse. It was a useful object for writing notes or reminders, jotting a shopping list, getting down the brilliant twist you just thought of for your novel before you forgot it, or hastily scrawling across your arm the phone number of the hot guy you just met.

In this modern, techno-advanced world, a pen is now as defunct as a cassette tape (those cannot be destroyed, by the way. Love 'em.) None of the afore-mentioned uses of the pen are now actionable. Notes and lists are inputted into the mobile device in your pocket, and nothing so formal as an exchange of phone numbers occurs--all you need to know is the person's name to "friend" him on Facebook.

And sometimes fails whereas the pen goes into space with the astronauts. A scroll or a book may last millennia if cared for; a digital file degrades and becomes inaccessable when the software or hardware becomes obselete. When Munchkin destroyed my laptop, I continued to write by using parchment and quill paper and pen. There is even a blog devoted to the intricacies and beauty of pens and ink. Go check it out. Go, and be reminded of a simpler time when all you needed was a pen and a scrap of paper to do work rather than a $600 piece of machinery.

Books for every decor style

Fairly Distressed Vintage Leather

If you're an aspiring writer or book lover like myself, books have a central place in your life. Sometimes we love books a little too much and end up collecting, magpie like, every book we can get our hands on. I have an affinity for library book sales where hardbound books can go for a dollar and trade paperbacks for 50 cents. Since I do not have a large income, buying cheap used books becomes my chief indulgence and I end up slogging home with books spilling out of my backpack and arms. The problem then becomes where to store these volumes? Every time I moved to a new apartment, I had to be strictly honest with myself and weed out the books I had bought on a whim, but was likely never to read. Hauling heavy boxes of books between apartments is horrible work, but it was just as horrible to have to re-donate boxes of books to the library. The centrality of books even became the clincher in our choice of house. We bought the house with the built-in bookshelves--a library all my own! I love perusing my shelves and coming upon an item I had forgotten about. Everything is jumbled and mismatched and that's how I like it.

Nature Parchment Accent

But if the "eclectic" look doesn't work for you, or you just want to look smarter without having to bother with selecting books or reading them, NEVER FEAR! There is a business which can fill your shelves with any kind of book arrangement. can ensure that you look suitably educated or that the spines do not clash with your sofa slipcovers. This idea is truly genius and I wish I'd thought of it. I'm a fan of the Fairly Distressed Vintage Leather as it feeds my fantasies of becoming an Oxford professor .

But there are styles and looks for every taste. Acres of books wrapped in monochromatic white, or animal prints for the wild at heart. Books bundled with twine or books stripped of their covers. You can select from a whole rainbow of colors to match any mood or decorating scheme. I'm particularly fond of this shabby chic arrangement called Nature Parchment Accent.

Whatever your book desires are--whether to read or just to gaze upon--booksbythefoot is your solution!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Turf Protection?

This is one of the most demoralizing articles I have ever read. Why would a beautiful and successful woman want to crush other people's dreams?  I've already failed at Ms. Breslin's Number One piece of writing advice, which is to be pretty, but don't many people get lost in books and words precisely because they aren't one of the pretty people? Apparently, no unattractive person has ever sold a novel. Winston Churchill, don't you even think of writing a history of the English speaking peoples! Jane Austen, you'd better get a nose job first.

Here is some of Ms. Breslin's most recent constructive criticism:
 Can you make the words sing? Does your prose have that certain something? Are you gifted at showing not telling, or telling not showing, or creating an entire world that didn’t exist before that is born again when someone else reads your work?
Probably not. Most people cannot write well. This is a fact. This is something that is true. This is a hard thing to accept. Most people cannot write well, and that includes you, and what we can conclude from this is that the person we are talking about here who cannot write well is, in all likelihood, you.

No, my writing doesn't always sing; that's what the second draft is for. And some stories are better than others. Is it any use to point out that there have been countless bestselling novels filled with clunky, songless writing? I tried to give a certain author the benefit of the doubt and read several of his/her novels, but was disappointed by each one and left scratching my head at how these pointless, badly written books could have been turned into so many successful films. More power to him (or her). Susannah Breslin probably would have told the author early in his/her career that he didn't have what it takes. She finishes with a flourish:
This is your roulette wheel, and when it lands on every number but the one you picked, and you realize that after years of work, you haven’t made more than a pittance at what you thought would be your new career, you will call it a day.
Because you didn’t have “it.” And you didn’t work hard enough to become it. And you will see you should have picked something else: something easier, something less complicated, something other than a writer.
 Emily Dickinson, you loser! You wrote for years and never earned a penny. I have given up every Saturday and countless opportunities of doing something more fun. I have called out sick from work so that I could stay home and write while the kid was at daycare. Writing is the only thing that makes me feel like there is a possibility of breaking out of the hourly grind. But because I'm not successful NOW and may never be, I shouldn't even bother. No child should ever pick up a musical instrument because there is no guarantee that his hours of practice will monetize. No artist should ever attempt, mess up, or try again because somebody is standing over his shoulder telling him he doesn't have "it". Frankly, I think Picasso sucks, but many other people think he's a genius. He had "it" for lots of people, even if not for me. Which is worse: spinning the roulette wheel and losing, or never bothering at all? Here is my favorite comment, which echoes my same thought in the title:
The best way to ensure one’s success as a writer is to dissuade as many others as possible from becoming a writer.

On Brevity

Sometimes one clever line says more than an entire book.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Yesterday I posted about two former attempts at novels that I'm not ready to throw away yet. One thing which struck me as I was reading these old scrawls, was that I could tell what literature I had been reading during their writing. For the first, I could tell that I had been reading the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich due to the style of humor. In the second, I knew I had been reading a lot of Harry Potter due to the detailed descriptions. I know what I've read, but would a stranger reading my work be reminded of these other authors or see similarities? How much of what we read contains barely concealed influences on the author we're reading? At what point is a line crossed between stylistic similarities and outright theft, like what happened to this young lady?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The perspective of time

I first put pen to paper in 2006, which means it has been six years since I started writing and I have nothing finished or published! If that realization isn't a motivator, I don't know what is. Of my practice novel, I've written nearly 180 pages and I'm sick to death of it overjoyed about this.

But this isn't the first novel I've attempted to write. I attempted two novels prior to this and I quit about a quarter of the way through because I either got tired of concentrating on one story for too long, or I didn't know where to take the plot. Today, I opened the ancient files and revisited those first two attempts. I came away very how good they were! At the time of writing them I felt overwhelmed and lost in them. But reading them with fresh eyes, after a period of several years, I can see not only what they were missing, but where they need to go. If I ever finish this unimportant "practice" novel, I have the makings of two decent stories to work with and expand. In fact, I'm a little concerned that my writing years ago was better than my writing now. Is it possible to get worse over time?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Catching Fire Conspiracy

Catchy title, no? Here's the thing. A few weeks ago I bought The Hunger Games at Target because I was number 300+ on the library waiting list. While I was picking up Hunger Games in paperback (because us would-be writers can't afford hard cover), I noted that the second volume, Catching Fire, was also available in paperback. Good, I thought. If I like this first book I can come back and purchase the second. Fast forward to this weekend. Once I got to Hunger Games, I devoured it and was ready to move on to Catching Fire. I run to Target down the street and search around the stacked piles of hard cover volumes of the trilogy. Where are the paperbacks I saw? The clerk says they don't carry it. Hrmph. I go to Barnes and Noble (because my beloved Borders is no more) and see entire tables piled with Catching Fire in hard cover.

 "Excuse me, do you have Catching Fire in paperback?" I ask the clerk.

He doesn't make eye contact with me. "No, we don't have it in paperback. Never did. It doesn't exist."

It doesn't exist.

Suddenly I am forced to question my sanity. Did I really see what I thought I saw? Or have I become Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight who hears footsteps in the attic and trembles as the gaslights dim, but can't get anyone to confirm that they see it too. It's a conspiracy. It must be. Otherwise, I'm a crazy-haired woman with her face pressed against the bookstore glass seeking the unseekable, questing the unquestable, insisting on paperback when all the Good Lord has chosen to show me is hardbacks. As a last resort--because I'm still not much into this computer technology thingy--I search on Amazon for Catching Fire in paperback.


I'm not crazy after all! I can only assume that the bookstores have yanked their paperback copies of Catching Fire from the shelves knowing that readers are eager for the next installment and are willing to pay any price for it.

I'm going to order the paperback copy even though the shipping costs bring it up to the hardback price in the store. Just to spite the stores. And because I like all the books in a series to match. My Harry Potter collection is an absolute mess.

In the meantime, I'm number 171 on the library waiting list at the library.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Current count

136 pages / 43,562 words

Sensual Writing

Stephanie Meyer managed to create tons of sexual tension while keeping her characters chaste, but I'm feeling quite stupid as I try to write a scene that involves two people dancing closely. Cliche, cliche, cliche! I'm hideously embarrassed and can already see that this will involve tons of rewriting. Dear readers, do you have any examples of sensual, non-explicit writing that I can learn from?

Currently Reading

Fiction: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

I might not be able to finish this one, even though I'm intrigued, just like I couldn't finish Child 44. Brutality against children is too difficult. I will never be able to read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, no matter how excellent the reviews.

Marines vs. Romans

This is a truly phenomenal story about how a guy with a big imagination went from being a complete unknown to internet superstar to being contacted about writing a big budget Hollywood screenplay in the space of a day! Congratulations to James Erwin.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Tao of Po

It appears I'm on a Po Bronson kick because I'm enjoying the stories in What Should I do With My Life and I've already stopped telling my toddler how smart he is (read Nurture Shock to find out why). The story that hit closest to home was the one about the guy who just needed to be around other writers, which is my entire reason for wanting to get an MFA. I need the support and encouragement of other people who have similar goals because this writing schtick is lonely. I need a group to talk shop with. That guy, by the way, was Po Bronson. Po gets it. Maybe I  just like saying Po because it reminds me of Medea saying po-po.

Po (tee hee I said it again) has got a great list of books he recommends. His blurbs make me want to run out and read them. If you're looking for something to read, try this list:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Current count

I'm disturbed to discover that since February 18th, I've only written 26 pages. I've reached a point where the initial excitement has faded and now I'm a little unsure of what to fill the middle part with. I already know the ending, but I have to write at least another hundred pages to get there. There is a multitude of possibilities and I'm having difficulty in deciding what the chararacters will do in the meantime. Speak, inspiration!

126 pages / 40,490 words

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'm back!

My two readers are probably wondering where I've been. Actually, they already know so this blog post is for the benefit of all of my assumed future readers...

My laptop was in the hospital having surgery thanks to a well-aimed toddler fist. The laptop is recovering safely at home and out of the reach of children. Blogging will now recommence.

In the interim, I managed to get down a little more of my story in the same manner as my ancestors: using a pen and a spiral notebook. Transferring it to a typed format will be difficult since it will mean deciphering strange and illegible scrawls.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mind Stuck

So I reached a 100 pages. Great. My brain has rolled through bubble gum that was spit on the floor and now I'm stuck, lost and confused. I feel like I'm blindly clawing my way forward and not moving very far. A bad writing day. A very bad writing day, indeed.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Despite my ridiculous laptop, I managed to reach 100 pages today! This is monumental. I've never before written 100 pages of something coherent. It's always been a scene here and a scene there that needed long stretches of middle parts to make the scenes hang together. And I would get frustrated with the middle parts, of trying to figure out how to get from A to B.

This, my friends, is an actual story taking shape. I'm very excited, but daunted by the fact that I'm still only about halfway to the end of the story. Deadline is March 1st, which is looking more and more unrealistic. I wish I could take a week off from work to do nothing but work on the story. Wish me luck!

Current count: 100 pages (oh yeah!) and 31,675 words

The dangers of a toddler

My toddler managed to damage my one valuable material possession: my laptop. It still works, but it's hard to see what's on the monitor through the digital rainbow streaks and smudges. I'm old enough to remember how to hold a pen between my fingers to write, but still....There's nothing like scrolling backwards and forwards  to remind yourself of what you've written or see the wall you're about to hit. My penmanship has devolved to the point of chicken scratch. I suppose if I were an MFA student I could use some of those nifty student loans to buy a new laptop. <sigh>.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How much debt for an MFA?

One of the reasons--actually, the reason--that I did not pursue an MFA was the financial toll. Granted, I would not have paid tuition, but the wages lost from not working full time would have made life impossible. If I worked part-time, I would have had to borrow close to $40,000 to close the gap for a two year program. And that's just partial living expenses! Unacceptable. Imagine if you were admitted to your dream creative writing program without any tuition remission or grant money for living expenses. You must borrow the full tuition amount and probably close to full living expenses amount because your part-time waitressing gig just isn't going to pay the bills. And after you graduate from your wonderful, enriching, craft deepening must pay it all back. How much might this amount to? For private college tuition plus living expenses, you could be looking at $130,000. That's the amount of a caller into the Dave Ramsey Show seeking his advice. $130,000 in debt and $20,000 in income. You do the math. Go to the Wednesday February 8, 2012 show and begin listening at the 18:30 mark.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Apparently, there is an important competition of athletic prowess going on today. I didn't even realize it until this afternoon when a three year old girl at the playground informed me that she was going to watch the Super Bowl. Why is a toddler better informed than I am? Because my head is buried in my a--...manuscript. Yeah, that's it. I don't even know who's playing. The only thing I've heard about football lately is Tebow. Tebow tebows. Alec Baldwin tebowed ironically. How awesome is it that a person's name has become a VERB!

I salute the English language for its wonderful flexibility. Flexible for some. Me, I usually butcher it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Feeling the writing

I'm sitting in a very public coffee shop while I write--my place of escape, if you'll remember--and realize as I'm writing that I have a very stupid smile pasted on my face. I'm in the middle of penning a happy moment in the story and I feel happy as I write it. I feel what the character is feeling. The patrons don't know this and probably think I look like a doofus. I also cry when I write something sad so it's a good thing I'm not writing one of those scenes today. I spend so much time in the character's head, it's hard not to feel what is happening as I write it. I'm sure this is normal. I remember Fantasia Barrino's fantastic rendition of Summertime and how she really FELT the song to the point of tears. It's good to get involved in what I"m writing, but on the other hand, it means mood swings.

Counting down

Where did the time go?! My first draft deadline is March 1st and I'm not even half-way finished. What was I thinking? There are only three more Saturdays to write, which amounts to roughly nine hours of writing time. Panic will now ensue....

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When can you call yourself a writer?

Great post from John Scalzi on when you can consider yourself a writer. The answer: right now! We're all writers, but few are good writers and even fewer make it to the professional paid level. Keep writing and maybe we'll make it to all three levels!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yeah, but what will he write about now?

One of the harder parts of life is watching jerks do well and rise to the top. In the case of Tucker Max, however, I'm glad he rose to the top because it helped him realize what a jerk he was. If there's hope for him then there's hope for anyone. Read the fascinating interview!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Perfect Job

What is the perfect job for a writer-in-training--apart from being paid to write, obviously? I am very impressed by people like Tess Gerritsen who manage to excel in both a serious career and in writing. She was a doctor before she was a writer. It takes so much brain power and effort to be a doctor how could there be any energy left to produce a novel? Me, I want the most brainless, highly paid job out there so that I can be free to think about my stories, or, better yet, write stories. A job that simply requires my presence, but doesn't require me to actually do anything. Any thoughts on what that might be?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Currently Reading

Fiction: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Non-Fiction: Confederates in the Attic; Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Sweet Escape

I'll be honest, I'm not in a writing mood. I was at home all day with a discontented toddler and it was too cold to venture outside so there wasn't even the option of breaking up the day by taking a trip to the store. I feel sapped physically and mentally. Now that Hubby is home to watch Munchkin, I have a couple of hours to myself. Bliss! If I was smart, I'd take a nap. If I was diligent, I'd clean the house. I'm neither of those things. So even though I'm in no mood to write, I will sit in this Starbucks and pound out a 1,000 words, sitting next to college students who have no idea how lucky they are to be lounging in this little den of caffeinated luxury. Writing has become a reward and an escape.

Update: That was the worst 1,000 words I've ever written. At least it's there and maybe something decent can be made of it later.

Current count: 22,177 words and 71 pages.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Practice Novel

A few weeks ago I finished a short story that I wasn't thrilled with. I decided that the 30 pages made a pretty good outline for a longer novel and have been trying to work it into such since then. I have a goal of getting a first draft written by March. This is a very short timeline, but I chose it because it seemed doable if I was dedicated and, because I'm not very invested in this story idea, if the first draft is putrid, it won't bother me very much.

I'd really like to complete a draft of an actual novel to get some practice and for confidence. It's worked a little bit so far. I used to struggle to write a 1,000 words and now I bust them out. I can do this writing thing! Anyhow, I thought the idea of a practice novel was original to myself (seriously, for about 5 minutes I thought I was a genius), but then I read in this month's Writer's Digest that Diana Gabaldon also wrote a practice novel that turned into a huge success! What an inspiration. Practice makes perfect!

Why no MFA?

Hi blog world! This is the premier post of Non MFA Writer. The title speaks for itself.

I was accepted to an MFA program in my big urban town and even had free tuition, but with a mortgage, daycare, and other bills to pay for, I couldn't leave my full-time job to pursue a degree that was really for my own gratification. When my husband finishes his technical degree in a few years, I have great hopes of getting into the Michener Center (three years to write with a STIPEND!), but until that hypothetical day occurs, I will be writing on Saturday mornings and occasional other stolen moments. This vocation is all about the writing and I fear that even if I had attended the MFA program, I would be doing a lot of time-consuming things that don't involve writing down the novels in my head. There would be literature classes and term papers (uh, excuse me? didn't I finish my last term paper ten years ago?), writing short stories I don't want to write and reading other people's short stories that I don't want to read. I don't have anything against short stories--I've written a few myself and may post them one day--but I don't really enjoy reading short stories in the same way I enjoy a novel....they're just not juicy enough.

Even as I type this short post, I've had to interrupt myself about fifty times in order to rescue my toddler from hurting himself or stop him from ripping pages out of books (already a fierce book critic!).

Whew! I just rescued him again. Time to go!