Saturday, July 29, 2006

I am not a weiner

Although I am second runner-up to one. Yay me!

And yay North Chicago RWA for putting on such a lovely little do. The champagne was great, the chocolate fed my soul, and the women were the best and the brightest. It's an honor, ladies. See you next year.

(August update: I also heard from the Valley Forge RWA, where I was also a finalist in their competition. FMT came in second. Thanks, ladies! Smooches right back atcha.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Rise of the zombies, call of the contestant

Every West-Coaster I know here at Atlanta is walking around bleary, exhausted and wired. Eileen is carrying it off admirably, but my eyes are so red I look like the evil undead.

But then, I am the evil undead, so what're you gonna do.

Happily, though, I'm behaving myself. I know, brace yourselves, sit down, I'm actually having a good time even though the place is absolutely crawling with people I have to be nice to.

But they're people like Chandra, who is a Cherry and from her posts on the Forums, a top-notch writer (not to mention the one who corrects all the bad information I pass around like a drunken sailor), and best of all, she lurks here! I love lurkers. I love you all so much I boycotted Delurking Day because baby, if you want to lurk, I support that.

Although I wouldn't say no to a little love by email.

But I digress. What was I talking about? Oh: Complete exhaustion; also, contest results, which I will have tonight. So at lunch today, I met three women from the Chicago RWA, who saw fit to make me a finalist in their writing contest - probably while wearing beer goggles ("Hey! This one swears on every page! Let's make her a finalist! Bring that beer bong over here, Esther") ------ -

---- and tonight they're having their cocktail do/awards ceremony where I will find out whether or not I am, in fact, a weiner.

When I told them I was one of their Anointed, they advanced on me. "Who are you? Which category? What's the name of your book?"

They looked like they wanted my blood. Eileen and I backed up a step and grabbed our plastic knives just in case things got ugly.

Then the one on the left held up a binder that was red as the gates of hell. "You know I have the results right here," she said.

"You grab it, I'll hold her down," Eileen said. This is why Eileen is my friend.

I told them I'd written FMT and the one in the middle gave me a dirty look. (See swearing, above.) The one on the left - the one with the binder that is as red as my most egotistical, base desires* - looked focused for a minute, like she was trying to place me, and then looked back at me.

Then she fixed a smile on her face.

It was not that "You may already be a weiner!" smile. It was also not that "I've got a secret!" look. It was that, "Oh, right, you're going to be disappointed" look.

Then she said, "You know, it's just casual. It's the kind of thing where, if we run out of champagne, we run out of champagne."

In other words, we're not buying more champagne for you, you loser.

All of which leads me to believe, friends, that I'm not going to walk outta there with a two-foot-tall crown on my head, draped in jewels and lauded for my fabulous first however many pages.

I mean, OK, the crown and the jewels thing might happen, because God knows I love to accessorize. But I won't be bearing the Golden WhoseyWhatsit they will give to the winner, I suspect.

But? That's OK. It's already been an incredibly good conference. All this would do would be to make me impossible to live with. Like my husband doesn't have it hard enough already.

Here's the deal: Contests are great, but they can get ahold of you like the worst kind of publishing jones can. They can make you think it's all about the external stuff, the rewards, the recognition, the buzz - when really, those are false gods.

They're like crack, actually. It's no longer enough that you know you're a good writer - other people have to know it, too. Other people have to worship at your feet, in fact, which is seductive and addicting and incredibly, incredibly damaging. It's a bad thing, giving up that kind of control. You should never rely on other people for your own self-worth.

Unfortunately, lots of people do. You can sense it at big conferences like this one. You feel the vibe of the desperate, the grasping. It's what makes it hard to breathe deeply, and it is fool's gold, believe you me.

So whatever happens tonight, I am going to enjoy the hell out of that free champagne. I hear there is also a chocolate fountain. These, these are the things worth getting excited over.

Well. These things, and accessories.

* My most egotistical base desires come down to this, more or less:

  • Win this award
  • Land incredible superstar book deal
  • Appear on Oprah (goddesslike and suddenly thin and stunning)
  • Pocket enough long green to quit job permanently (and for C to quit his job, as well), buy boat, villa in south of France, and fabulous house on enough land for a whole fleet of mini schnauzers
  • Become entirely new person who is not awash in neuroses and judgement, but who is perfect perfect perfect, all the time.
Careful readers will note that there are things missing from this list, namely:

  • Finish book
  • Land agent who loves my writing and wants to partner with me in my career, come what may
  • Become decent human being at last
  • Stay balanced, love my loved ones and give back to my community, writing and otherwise
  • Accept the craggy, cranky, neurotic me and try to be the best craggy, cranky, neurotic me I can be, rather than chasing perfection, which is boring anyway
  • Find the perfect toenail polish, which I think might be the OPI shade Yellin' for Watermelon. (It's the little things that really matter.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Property of Agent Meg

So I am in Atlanta for a writer's conference, and I just met with the person I hope will become my agent. Her name is Meg and she is an absolutely lovely person.

This meeting has been planned for a while. For weeks, I've been mentally preparing. I was calm, for the most part: collected, centered, ready to meet this person whose clients I've been reading, whose literary habits I've been studying. In the end, it's about fit, and you can't control fit, so? Calm.

But this morning, before the meeting, I was so nervous that my hands were shaking. She asked me to tell her a little about myself and it almost made me burst into tears. But she was so calm and kind and lovely that eventually I couldn't keep shaking because honestly, WTF? Plus, she had excellent jewelry. Trustworthy jewelry, like something my best friend would make.

Then she said she'd read the chapters I sent her - and LOVED them. She had pages of editorial feedback, all of which was right on the money (and stuff I basically knew, but I needed to hear it from a pro). Best of all, she told me to finish the thing and get it to her.

She said I'm enormously talented (OK, OK, her exact words were very talented but she said that three times and I round up) with a great, fresh voice, and she said I needed to simplify the story because it could be a great romantic comedy. Which, God yes.

AND she said that the only thing a writer really needs to do is create compelling characters that leap off the page, and that I have done that.

When she said this, she smiled at me with such meaning, I felt like I was being knighted, or brought into the sisterhood.

So now I want to tattoo "Property of Agent Meg" on my left cheek.

And as if all that wasn't good enough, then she said "I hope very much that when you're ready to send it out, you will send it to me." I think my heart exploded.

And we talked about career stuff and she seemed relieved that I have a job that pays the bills and still allows me time to write. And she talked about how she guides writers in their careers and editorially, and that not everyone wants that, and I about broke a leg telling her that I am in crying, pleading, desperate need of that.

She also wanted to introduce me to Susan Wiggs (one of her clients). In fact she sort of pitched her to me as a mentor, which would be great, although not as great as my current mentor, the brilliant, miraculous, and did I mention utterly gorgeous Jennifer Crusie gobuyherbooks. (And once Jenny heard all this - Jenny's Meg's client and referred me to her in the first place - Jenny leapt into action setting me up with mentors left and right.)

She loved the title (Fool Me Twice), she loved George, she loved Jane, and she told me she wondered if Jane's the lead rather than Claire, and in the same breath she told me not to jump off the roof, which means she's got me all figured out.

And then she said my voice is eerily like Jenny's, which could be kind of weird for her, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Regardless, she wants the Rotrosen Agency to work with me.

I cannot tell you how serious she sounded when she said this, like if I didn't, if I should send my work to anyone else, she might have me hobbled.

THIS is why people go to writer's conferences.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Weird dreams and more Persephone

So we are refinishing the floors upstairs. We're starting with the ones in my writing room. They're all fir, so they're bruised and in any case have been painted over. But a week ago we decided, hell with it, we hate the faded pink carpet upstairs, it has to go.

Since then, every night, I have dreamt of walking toward an antique armoire - not one I own or have seen - and every night it terrifies me and I wake up. I don't know whether, in the dream, I'm in this house or some other house, or if I'm even me. The only thing I'm sure of is that the sanding C is doing is uncovering more than our old fir floor.

In other news, the Persephone/Hades story continues to entrance. Maybe I need a break from FMT, or maybe there's no heart to that story after all - which seems like a strange thing to say when it's finaling in competitions.

But the other day, I was thinking about Hades, and death, and how death - fallow periods, winter, dry spells - are necessary. Rest is necessary. We may not like it when it happens, but it allows us to repair and regenerate.

Not to get all woo-woo on you. Remember being told to go to bed when you were about 8 or 9? How awful it was, how you fought, and how you probably laid away for all of 10 minutes before dropping like a stone into deep black sleep? Sleep that fed you.

That's the heart of Hades. Misunderstood. Wielding great power, sometimes badly. Sometimes maybe even letting it get away from him a little bit. He fights being corrupted by it. And sometimes he hates it. His older brother uses fear to control people; Hades doesn't want to be like that. And yet, he has this power and sometimes when he sees someone in pain, he uses it, even though it's not their time to go.

And then there's Persephone, sick of being all goodness and light all the time. Drawn to his dark side, but really only playing with it, until she finds herself needing to take a rest. Needing her old life to die so her new one can start. And maybe watching her mother cling to her old life, not letting it die.

I don't know quite how to write it yet or what it'll contain, but at least I know what the story's about. I have a - God, sit down, this is going to sound really pretentious - but a deep belief in the purpose of deaths, large and small, and that's something I can bring to this story.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

This post cadged from a blog comment

I wrote this a few days back to someone who said she's always wanted to be a writer. I liked it, and have tarted it up for your benefit.Tomorrow: The adventure that is refinishing floors!


The rotten* thing about writing is that you can’t buy your way in, and while knowing people helps, you must, at the base of it, have talent, perseverance, confidence in your writing, and at the same time, a deep and abiding willingness to learn what you don’t know. Which means that confidence will take hit after hit.

Which, ahem, blows chunks, but beggars can't be choosers.

* And by rotten, I mean damn good thing, because it saves us from people who can't write, and only think they can.**

** Not you. You're fine.

But I digress. If you love writing, and you are confident enough to walk that path, to learn what you need to learn, to take the slings and arrows with aplomb and then go out and write the book you were born to write, then honey, you’re golden.

First thing to do is join a writer’s group. Second thing to do is to figure out what you want to write. Third: Educate yourself about the process, the industry, and your craft. Joining a larger writer’s organization can help with this - Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, SFF - they have great resources, great networking, and great writers on board.

Fourth: Write the best book you can. If you’re compiling blog entries, look for ways to create/develop an arc. Your book should show you in one place at the beginning, and in another place - you’ve grown - at the end. Read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Robert McKee’s Story, Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story. Anything Jenny Crusie ever wrote, if you’re writing commercial fiction, just to see how it’s done.

Fifth: When you have written the best book you can - which will mean writing a first draft, getting feedback from people you trust, crying a little, rewriting, tearing your hear out a little, rewriting some more, tearing MORE hair out, drinking quite a bit, and finally rewriting one more time-----------------

(A note on Step 5: Trust me, EVERYONE goes through this, that’s simply the process of writing; no one - ever - gets a book right the first time.)

Sixth: ---------------THEN, and only then, start researching agents. Query smart, but query widely. Read Miss Snark and Evil Editor. Also Publisher's Marketplace. Go to writing conferences; talk to agents and editors there. Get to know the market, the industry, the people you need to connect with to get where you want to be.

If you want this to be your career, put in the time and give it the respect your career deserves.

And then? Simple: Keep going. You may rack up a ton of rejections; I got at least 75 for my first novel. My third has racked up some 10-12, but they’ve been good rejections. Some have pointed me toward things I needed to learn; others pointed out big old holes in my story. Helpful, if painful. You accept it, use what you can to make your book better, and move on. You keep going.

Monday, July 03, 2006

On tightening your writing

I just wrote this on another site, and thought I'd put it here too.

The question is: How do writers tighten their writing? Make it more compelling, more interesting? Spill the blood on the page?

IMHO, there are two parts to this problem: language and story. If you tighten the language, you have a much better shot at telling a clear story. The clearer your story, the more powerful it will be.

Happily, tightening language is a skill that can be learned. Read Strunk and White's The Elements of Style - and internalize it. This will not be hard to do; it's 85 pages long.

Here are my rules of thumb, taken straight from Elements:

  • Prune unnecessary words. Don't use 10 words where 5 suffice.
  • Eliminate redundancy.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Be specific. Use concrete language.
  • Be clear. Know what you want to say, and say that.
  • Put yourself in the background. Limit self-conscious writing. It's not about you; it's about the story.
  • Write in a way that comes naturally to you.
  • Use nouns and verbs that really work for you.
  • Do not overwrite.
  • Do not use qualifiers.
  • Trust your reader. Do not overexplain.
  • Let your words speak for themselves. Limit exclamation points, italics, and other trickery. (I violate this one all the time.)
  • Avoid fancy words. Prefer the standard to the offbeat. (In other words, don't be quirky just to be quirky. Make the quirkiness serve the story. Eileen is a GREAT example of this.)

When you first start writing this way, every cut is painful and you may start worrying what you're doing to your voice.But do it enough, do it until it's second nature, and you will learn what your rhythm is and what words not to cut. You'll end up nurturing and protecting your voice - and improving every story you write.

Now, how does tightening the language help you tighten the story? By helping you find the story.

When I write a first draft, I wander all over the page - but by the second draft, I'm tossing out the stuff that obscures the story. It's like an archeological dig - you may have to overwrite, at first, to get the layers that you'll sift through to find your story. It's OK. It's a process. Go with it.

But whatever you do, figure out what your story is about, and then write that. Get rid of anything that gets in the way: a funny line, a charming aside, that scene that showcases your brilliance. Out! Out! You can always save it in an Ideas folder and shoehorn it in a later story - but for now, focus! Kill those darlings.

The whole subject is dear to my heart. As a young and deeply stupid reporter, working at an absolutely tiny newspaper with no editorial support, I memorized Elements and made myself look critically at every single thing I wrote.

It paid off. It's still paying off.

Doing this is a lot like running: when you start, it hurts for the first two weeks and you wonder why the hell you're doing it. By the time a month goes past, you realize it's gotten a lot easier. Three months go past and you realize you're way faster than you were when you started. And then it becomes habit. From hell to habit in three short months. Of hell.