Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ooooooob! Hamlet's Father's Ghost - Backwards!

So last week I saw, for about the twentieth time, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). And yes, it is still outrageously funny, even when you have the show mostly memorized. It's the Bard on speed. All of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets in ninety minutes, with some slight editorial adjustments. Here, have a taste:

Romeo: Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized...
Juliet: What did you just say?
Romeo: I said, call me but love, and I'll...
Juliet: Call you Butt Love?
Romeo: Can we get on with the scene?
Juliet: Whatever you say, Butt Love.

Now take a moment to visualize Titus Andronicus as a cooking show. Suprisingly apt, isn't it?

And then there was Hamlet. Oh, Hamlet. We always knew he was funny, but this? This was art.

And if you didn't already know Hamlet was funny, you must now read The Island of the Sequined Love Nun (Oh, Christopher, how do I love thee...) & then go watch Hamlet 2 - but only if you have a thick skin & a slightly deformed funny bone. (Mom, if you are reading this, these recommendations do not apply to you.)

So why did I bring this up? Other than just to babble on about how wonderful laughter is? Yeah, I don't really have a point. But I do have a bulletin board. It hangs next to my desk. And on this bulletin board there is a scrap of yellow construction paper. And on this construction paper, in black sharpie, are the words "Ooooob! Hamlet's Father's Ghost - Backwards! Why aren't you______?!?" The blank is currently filled in with a purple post-it note commanding me to edit. So, yeah, this is how I motivate myself. With reminders that anything is hysterically funny when done with enough enthusiasm. As long as it's done really fast. And backwards.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When Inspiration Strikes

I love being a writer. I love that moment when the random rambling of your own thoughts inside your head suddenly turns into a story. I love that having my palm read at an amusement park for a laugh can turn into a novella. I love that my own (exasperating and highly frustrating) experience with a certain internet dating site who shall remain nameless (eBastards!) has spawned the idea for what I hope will be my best book to date. I love sitting in writing workshops and listening to every third word because I am so busy scribbling notes about an idea I just had that has absolutely nothing to do with plotters vs. pantsers and everything to do with a new and creative way to kill off my characters! I love being the kind of person who will sit down anywhere and begin scribbling in my little notebook because Inspiration has Struck! I love that phrase. Inspiration doesn’t tap you gently on the shoulder. Inspiration Strikes! Bam! (Let’s just hope that Inspiration never decides to go on strike.) I love Inspiration all the more because I can’t predict or analyze it. It simply is. There are no rules for the ideas that smack you out of the ether. The Boys in the Basement, the Muse, whatever you call it, it is wild and unpredictable and fantastic. And it is the one thing that I could never train myself to do, but which I could never do without as a writer. Thank you, Inspiration!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's a Business, People

I'm gonna try to keep this one short, lest I get all ranty.

I read a very interesting blog today on bookstores, book buyers, and why books are skipped by certain stores. Fascinating stuff, and awful if you are an established author and you get skipped. But...

I have real issues with accountability, or rather the lack of it, in our culture. I am not going political, so please don't take it there. I mean personal accountability. Excuses. The sense that we are entitled to things (fascinating word, "entitled" - funny how a concept from an aristocratic culture has caught on so fully with our democratic masses) without ever having to work for them.

I am sorry those authors had their books skipped and I empathize. Writers, such as myself, who write for electronic and small presses have much lower expectations for whether or not the local Borders or B&N will carry our books. The sight of our book on their shelves, or even the ability to order it through them, is a victory in itself. But I am not saying that major authors writing for major presses should not have higher expectations of the megastores. No, what I am getting at is this:

You are responsible for your own success.

This is not to say that you are in control of your own success. That is faaaaaar from the truth. There is luck liberally mixed in with the hardwork to get you to the brass ring, but my take is this: If your book is skipped by a megastore, instead of launching into a vitriolic online tantrum (I mean no offense, I'm sure I would be tantruming with the best of them, though hopefully privately), instead of proposing boycotts or publicizing your indignation, write a better book next time. Write one they can't ignore.

It is so much easier to blame someone else for your failures than it is to own them and resolve not to fail again. This personal accountability extends into so many aspects of our lives, and just about every aspect of writing, I think.

We deal with a lot of rejection and it is easy to blame those rejections on the editor, the agent, the reader who didn't "get it." We hold up the stacks of rejections the Writing Gods received before they published and declare ourselves to be just like them. Misunderstood genius. It is so much easier than taking the advice, doing the revisions, making the next book better.

I am not telling you to take every rejection to heart and make revisions on your work at the say-so of every Tom, Dick, and Harry (Anyone else get Kiss Me, Kate flashbacks with that phrase?), but neither do I think you should lay all the blame at their doors and march off in a huff to find someone who really appreciates you. The finding someone who really appreciates you, I support. The huff, not so much.

We have to believe we are the Next Big Thing. We have to know that our talent is a shining beacon. We have to have so much faith in ourselves and our work that it almost reaches the point of folly. We need all of that to surf the tide of rejection coming at us. But...

That doesn't mean we don't have to connect with reality every now and then, and take ownership of our own success, or lack thereof. Keep the faith. But also keep pushing harder, reaching higher, and writing better.

And stop the complaining, people. I'm so tired of everyone wanting the world handed to them on a silver platter. You have the right to pursue your dreams. So pursue them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stupid Epiphanies - POV

I love stupid epiphanies. What, you may ask, is a stupid epiphany? Well, friends, a stupid epiphany is one of those things which is utterly obvious to the rest of the world, which you have been told a dozen different ways a dozen different times, which always seems to be somehow untrue and then one day BAM! (Please visualize Emeril screaming this as a magician makes him disappear and the entire stage on which this is being performed explodes in a cloud of realization.) Eureka! Aha! The light bulb goes off. The obvious is suddenly obvious not just to everyone else, but to you also. You feel brilliant, empowered, and yet somehow stupider than the rest of the world because it took you so damn long to come to a realization that everyone else was having months ago. That, my friends, is a stupid epiphany. And I just had me a doozie.

Point of View. The most basic of tools in any author’s toolbox. Writing 101. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. Of course, I know all about POV. (If you feel so inclined, now would be the time to laugh at my arrogance and presumption. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

The stupid epiphany? I was mixing up POV and personality. I kid you not. I thought because my heroine was mouthy and dynamic and completely dominated the scene verbally that any moron would be able to tell that we were seeing the world through her eyes. Her snark shone through, but, alas, characters cannot live by snark alone.

We needed to know what she was thinking. She wasn’t serious about half of the things she said, but people didn’t like her because they didn’t know she was just trying to get a rise out of her fellows. They thought she was just a bitch. Which she is, but she’s the Good Bitch. Like Glenda from the Wizard of Oz. We just needed a tiny glimpse inside her to know she’s really a lovable scamp with a mouth like a sailor.

I got so caught up in “Show Don’t Tell” that I forgot there is really no way to “Show” internal monologue and sometimes a character needs a good internal monologue.

So my realization hit me like a ton of bricks wrapped in a sock swung at the side of my head like a wrecking ball. (Needs a big sock, huh?) And now, I am conscious of something that I had been doing mostly correct on instinct. The consciousness is key. Being able to do good work at will rather than just through some amorphous “talent” means you can reproduce said good work at will.

So good news, yeah? Ah-ha! I understand POV!

And I’m a moron because other people have understood this all along. Stupid Epiphany. I’m so proud.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Embarrassment of Riches

Picket Fences finaled again!

In the OKRWA Finally a Bride contest this time. I actually feel a little sheepish, like finaling in a contest when you have a novella coming out is greedy. I'm still technically eligible since I'm unpublished in book-length, but should I be stepping aside to make room for the completely uncredentialed?

Maybe just one more. Picket Fences wasn't finished by the Golden Heart deadline last year, so it's never had a shot at that particular lottery. I can't deny my baby its shot, can I? Especially since this will hopefully (knock on wood) be my last year of GH eligibility...

So what's your opinion? Am I a bad person for limboing in under the published word limit for the GH? Or is it every man for himself, mercenary rules, contest warfare?

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Have You Learned, Dorothy?

The Emerald City Writers Conference kicked ass and took names. I, also, took names. Many of which I will probably forget, since I have a memory like a sieve when it comes to remembering names and faces. However, a few things I am not likely to forget include:

Susan Mallery is quite possibly the most inspirational speaker I've ever heard. I wish I could recall more precisely what she said, but I do remember distinctly the degree to which I was motivated by her words. I left dinner on Friday night convinced my appearance on the NYT bestseller list is only a matter of time - a delusion I wish had lasted longer.

Julia Quinn was eloquent and gracious. I spoke to her, she spoke to me, and by some miracle I did not dissolve into a pathetic puddle of starstruck goo - although I somehow doubt the experience had quite the same impact on her that it did on me. On the plus side, she did not appear to be visibly annoyed by my questions, for which I would like to nominate her for sainthood. (Though frankly, she should already be nominated simply for having written some of the most delightful books in print.)

Eileen Cook gave a fantastic workshop on Emotional IQ and how it can relate to character development. Too fascinating. I must now run out and get my hands on Daniel Goldman's book on the subject. If you have the opportunity to catch her Psych 101 for Fiction workshop at an upcoming conference, I highly recommend it.

Oh, and Delilah Marvelle's Sex Through History workshop? So hot it set of the fire alarms. Luckily, the heat was all metaphorical so we were alllowed to re-enter the building and continue.

The editors and agents were all charming and accessible... and I found myself thinking a lot about what an odd experience it must be to be on the purchasing side in these situations. We, the authors, are all so nervous, so eager, so hopeful and so terrified. How strange to be in the position of putting us at ease, but also simultaneously on the spot. To have us all staring at you, pinning our hopes and dreams on your words. How awkward that must be. What an odd responsibility. Last year at M&M, I was too preoccupied with my own neurosis to pay much attention to how bizarre it must be to be sitting on the other side of the table, the recipient of all that feverish hope.

But above all, what makes these weekends so spectacular for me, what makes them worthy every penny of the conference fee, is the feeling of camaraderie that comes from being surrounded by people like me. Writers, writers, everywhere. At the volunteer reception, one of the other volunteers said she often felt like a horse among cows at home, but at the conference she was running with Preakness winners. We are all at different stages in our careers, from the wet-behind-the-ears beginner to the multi-published best-seller, but we are all writers. The passion for books, both reading and writing them, is constant in all of us. Where else will someone understand the delirious joy of finishing your book? The high of getting a full requested? The bite of a rejection or the agony of boiling down your baby into a pitch, a query, a synopsis, a blurb, or a tagline? Who else will know what you are talking about when you start blabbing about Golden Hearts, word counts, GMC or deep POV?

At a conference, surrounded by three hundred women (and four men) who speak our language, we house-bound hermits come out to play, for one weekend leaving the landscapes of our fantasy worlds behind and taking a few steps toward making the perfectly visualized fiction of our writing careers a reality.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Off to See the Wizard!

I'm not sure who, at the Emerald City Writers Conference, will be playing the role of the Great and Powerful Oz (an agent? an editor? a small man with a hot air balloon?). Whoever the Wonderful Wizard may be, I'm off to see him/her and be blinded by the light of the creative energy that will no doubt be radiating from the Bellevue Hilton. (Okay, so I just got the song "There's a Light" from Rocky Horror stuck in my own head. Crud.)

Enjoy your weekend, faithful reader, and I'll be back on Monday (or Tuesday if conference-lag sets in) to share everything Dorothy has learned. (Did you get the reference? Volunteers? Tom Tuttle from Tacoma? Yeah. It's too late for coherency. G'night, world.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The X Factor (Soul for $ale!)

I am reading a good book. I daresay even a very good book. But I can put it down. I set it aside for hours or days without any desperate longing to know what happens next. I do not feel like I should be staying up all night or calling in sick to finish this puppy. There are very few authors who have that effect on me, the I can do nothing but read this book until it is done and then I will cry because it did not last longer effect. I know when I pick up a book by these authors (I can count them on both hands, but I am slavish in my devotion) that I will need to dedicate a full five or six hours to reading them. These are the single sitting novels. The ones that dig their hooks in nice and deep and don’t let go. I know they are fantastic and addicting. But I don’t know why!

What is it that makes these books so extraordinary? What separates a Julia Quinn or Jennifer Crusie from the delightful, but far less demanding, experience of a Loretta Chase or Christie Ridgway? What is the mysterious X-factor that keeps me up at night devouring Stephanie Rowe when I am perfectly capable of sleeping with the ending of the latest Julie Kenner unknown? All six of these women are goddesses. They are all brilliant wordsmiths. But why are some of them single sitting addictions while others are rip-roaring good reads that I can actually set aside. Why?

Of course I want to write something that will be someone’s X-factor. The page-turner that keeps you up at night. But the quality that makes them so addicting is illusive. I cannot pin it down, so I cannot replicate it.

I wish I had some great revelation to impart. Some brilliant analysis of what makes the great ones so great. Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to come up with one theory: They’ve sold their souls for this power. Which is not helpful, unless they can tell me where I need to go to auction mine off. Soul for sale! For the low, low bargain price of literary genius!

So if you see a suspicious character with literary brilliance in his back pocket and soul purchasing on his mind, point him in my direction, will you?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Just Because...

Just because it's Wednesday. Just because it's October. Just because everyone seems to be panicking about the economy at the moment and couldn't we all use a laugh?

Check out: Poetry for Profit!

Ah, the Onion. Slice it open and laugh until you cry.