Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Some things I still don't understand about life

Thanks for all the supportive comments on Friday. Our friends are home from the hospital now and are taking a few days together to recuperate and start the healing process.

There is a concept that with age comes wisdom, and while I haven't reached an age ripe enough to give me total wisdom, I can't help feeling like I'm behind the eight ball on being smart about stuff. I'm not sure if technology is to blame because we're not all sitting around reading books to keep ourselves entertained (and therefore learning whether we like it or not), or if some people were always this dumb and we just don't remember or celebrate the dumb ones. But there are still some pretty basic things about life I think I should have a better grip on that I DEFINITELY don't.

1) How to address work frustrations. I'm not a confrontational person by nature, but I've been in the working world long enough that I should know how to tell someone to piss off without pissing them off. Instead I gripe about the person/situation/email/lack of fruit baskets to everyone but the offending party.

2) Paparazzi. I don't understand how to spell it, and I don't understand how they make a living out of what they do. You catch a picture of Brad Pitt frolicking on a beach with Angeline Jolie while he's still married to Jennifer Aniston? Sure, fine. You take a picture of Halle Berry in mom jeans at the supermarket and I'm supposed to pay you? Yeah. No.

3) Why people don't recycle. I'm not even going to get on my compostable soap box about this, but when it's readily available and it helps make the planet a little cleaner for your present or future kids, and you still don't do it? Now you're just spitting in Mother Nature's face.

4) The stock market. Period.

5) Why so many people choose the parking lot of a Wal-Mart to air their family drama. Usually after 10 p.m.

6) What I'm doing at a Wal-Mart after 10 p.m.

7) How this whole being a grown up thing works. I mean, really, I have to pay the SAME bills EVERY FRIGGIN MONTH?!? Do they understand how EXPENSIVE that is?

8) What was my teenage self so angry about all the time?

9) If cupcakes are so bad for me, why do they taste SO. DELICIOUSLY. GOOD? That seems like some kind of cruel trick.

10) Life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

When the universe sends you bad stories

I've settled on a new mantra for myself: if you open your heart to the universe, it will fill your soul with stories. I shared this mantra with the P-i-C on our nightly casing of joints and he liked it.

"But what do you do when the universe sends you a bad story?" he asked.
"No such thing. You might have a bad telling, but there's no such thing as a bad story. Stories just are."

Well apparently I was wrong. Today we found out the unthinkable news: some good friends of ours lost their first baby girl in childbirth. For all of our shock and devastation, there was no possible way for me to think of this story as anything other than bad. Every time I told someone new and felt that awful pit of grief, I knew this story wasn't some emotionless, blameless thing. And the P-i-C's question came echoing back to me.

What do you do when the universe sends you a bad story?

My thought: you make it a good one. Because sweet baby girl was a fighter. She fought to spend a few precious moments in her parents' arms, to say hello to the world and let them know they were loved, that she knew they loved her, and that even if the universe saw fit to take her out of it, she was going on her terms. She would have been a joy to watch grow up, but I didn't have to see her whole life to know what kind of person she was. She showed us in the twelve minutes she was here.

I won't look on what could have been, I'll look on what was and know we were blessed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Apparently I don't heed good advice

One of my aunt's is a prolific writer (she's had more than 12 books published) and editor, and when I told her that I was writing a manuscript she gave me one piece of advice: don't let anyone else read it until YOU think it's perfect. They'll never be able to get that first version out of their minds, and their feedback won't be as helpful.

At the time I thought "yeah, sure, good. I'll make it perfect." And I set out with the best of intentions, childrens, I really did. I figured I'd write a rough draft, go through an edit or two, and then when I couldn't find anything wrong with it anymore, I'd turn it over to some beta readers. Right? Right.

There were things I wasn't prepared for, gentle readers. Things like TIME and IMPATIENCE and HOW MANY FRIGGIN TIMES DO I HAVE TO READ THIS CHAPTER type things. Or the THIS WHOLE BOOK IS CRAP I'M SCRAPPING IT thing. Don't act like you've never had that thing, I've seen your computer files. The manuscripts you'd rather burn than let someone else read. Some of them are there for a good reason, but some of them are there because you just got tired of looking at the same words over and over.

So I thought, ahhh, I'll let the P-i-C read them. He can give me constructive feedback and then I don't feel like I'm huddled in a corner scratching stories onto the wall for six months with no return. And so I handed some chapters over. And then some more. And then it was the whole book.

The whole first draft.

Let that sink in. I let someone read a first draft. Does he know that's a first draft? Sure. Does he know all the things I intend to fix later? No. Can he ignore them if I tell him to? No. It's like on TV, when lawyers will slip in some sentence they know they're not supposed to say so that the jury hears it even though it's stricken from the record (I'm pretty much a lawyer, so I know these things are true). A reader won't ignore something just because you tell them to.

So I finished the first draft of the current WIP and immediately went into character revisions. My two MCs weren't strong enough, and they didn't create enough of a spark together. So I SLAVE over a revised chapter one and swagger over to the P-i-C with lappy in hand.

"There you go, shiny new revised chapter one."
"Oh, cool." Pause for reading. "Wait, this is just the same thing."
"WHAT?!? This is TOTALLY different!"
"What's different?"
"There's...dialogue. And description. And I made her less whiny and I made him cooler. It's STREETS AHEAD of the original first chapter."
"Oh. Seems the same to me."
Frustrated tearing out of hair.

And that's when my aunt's words came echoing back to me. I couldn't take back what he'd already read. I couldn't take back that he already knew the plot line and so any added mystery was lost on him. I'd put words out there and now I couldn't take them back.

The truth is, I'll keep bugging the P-i-C to read my stuff. I need some kind of instant gratification that I'm headed on the right path, and I've pretty much corrupted him anyway. But I've learned a valuable lesson about when to hand over a piece of work to an outside audience: you better be darn sure you can't think of a SINGLE THING to fix anymore, because you can't take those words back.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some things I've noticed

1) There is an alarmingly high number of people who go mental right outside my office window. Usually toothless and/or homeless and shouting obscenities. Perhaps this is what I get for working next to the homeless shelter.

2) I will not find the concept of gazpacho alluring no matter how you try to spin it.

3) Coffee is better than a high five from Michael Phelps.

4) Sometimes the difference between the way I think I look and the reality that faces me in the mirror when I go to the bathroom is heart attack inducing. Especially after having watched a movie with a bunch of pretty people in it.

5) Women who look really good in monokinis have no soul. I've fact checked this one.

6) I thought all of my shows being over for the summer would free up more time for other things, but it turns out it just encourages me to watch previous seasons of random shows on Hulu and Netflix streaming.

7) This is hilarious. So is this.

8) Having now surpassed five, I feel compelled to carry on to ten.

9) The school zone light still blinks near my house even though school is out. This angers me. Twenty miles an hour is not a good speed to drive while angry. Highly dissatisfying.

10) I got to ten!

11) That last one was kind of lame, so you get a bonus one. I'm finding that being myself is both terrifying and rewarding. And involves lots of embarrassing pictures of me on people's iPhones.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Whoooooooooo are you? Who who? Who who?

Kiddies, as soon as I get my brain on my straight and my veins properly caffeinated, I'll be signing up for a creative writing class here at the local community college.

One thing I'm really looking forward to working on is character development. I tend to let such things fall by the wayside, shoved off the road by the barreling carriage of a good storyline, but then my characters end up covered in muck and faceless (well, not faceless, but there's all that mud, you know, and...clearly haven't had the caffeine part yet). Flat characters are unrelatable characters and a sign of sloppy writing. And while I don't mind the occasional Sloppy Joe, I do mind the occasional sloppy writing.

So question for all you lovelies out there: what are your favorite character building exercises? Maybe if I have a few in my back pocket I won't look like such a greenie.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Confession time

Oh, gentle readers, I got some great comments on the post about good writing in YA yesterday. Looks like most of you feel as I do - YA and poor writing don't have to be synonymous, but there are definitely some perpetrators out there. And while the post yesterday was about YA, I wanted to extend the conversation to all genres.

Because I have a confession to make.

Well, several confessions. About authors whose writing I hate.

GASPSHOCKHORROR! I know, childrens. I know. Am I even allowed to hate other writer's writing? Well, as a reader, sure. As a newbie writer, I hesitate to even say such things.


Because there are big names on this list, childrens. Celebrated authors. Timeless authors. Award-winning authors.

And yet...I can't stand to read them. Maybe Athena will strike me down for this, but it's Friday and I have to go into work early and I'm a little loopy, so I'm putting it out there.

The culprit: Cormac McCarthy
The crime: Gross negligence in regards to grammatical structuring.

The culprit: Charles Dickens
The crime: Overwriting. The best of overwriting, the worst of overwriting. The age of indulgence, the age get the point.

The culprit: Edith Wharton
The crime: Boring the crap out of me, and creating unrelateable characters.

The culprit: Erich Maria Remarque (wrote All Quiet on the Western Front)
The crime: Whining.

So you see, childrens? These are MUY FAMOSO authors whose writing I can't stand to read. And did you notice anything? No? I'll wait...take a look...that's right, NONE of them are YA authors. Sure, I could fill my left shoe with a list of YA authors whose writing I don't like for one reason or another, but this list proves two things (well, three):

1) High school required reading lists scarred me
2) YA authors aren't the only ones out there bucking the rules
3) Writing quality and style are very much a matter of personal opinion

What has this post accomplished? I'm not sure. Do I feel better getting this off my chest? Maybe. But not as good as I'll feel once my caramel latte shows up. Nom nom nom...sorry, what was I saying?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A good story vs. a good book: DEBATE ON!

I was grumbling last night about revisions making me feel like my WIP is very lackluster when the P-i-C said something that surprised me.

P-i-C: It's a good story.
JEM: Well, I hope so, but I just feel like the writing isn't there yet.
P-i-C: Who cares about the writing? You're not trying to write a great literary work or anything.
JEM: Well, no, I'm not trying to be Tolstoy, but that doesn't mean it can't be well-written.
P-i-C: (shrugs) It's YA. What does it matter?

Ouch, my friends. Ouch. But it occurs to me that many other casual readers have this same opinion of YA. Some of that reputation is deserved and some of it is not. To be honest, when I search my brain for YA books that could stand as adult books, only a few names come to mind - Suzanne Collins, Madeleine L'Engle, Sharon Creech (who is closer to middle grade, but I'm throwing her in there). There are a lot of YA books out there right now that have a high energy plot with clean writing, but no one's going to put those books up for the Pulitzer. Whatever the genre may have been before, it now seems to be about paranormal activities and romance (my own included, ahem). And I suppose it's hard to wax philosophical when you're fighting werewolves/vampires/ghosts/a zombie homecoming queen.

So my question to you, gentle readers, is this: do you think the YA genre has sacrificed good writing for a good storyline? Has it gotten so commercial that a good plot can cover up poor word choice? Or has it ushered in a new way of looking at writing, as a vehicle for the story?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This is what happens when you wear t-shirts

JEM: (stumbling around at 4 in the morning trying to get dressed to take her mother to eye surgery) Why would anyone wake up this early? These pants seem tiny...oh, these are underwear. Need shirt. Shirt! (puts on P-i-C's shirt and stumbles to car)

Mom: That woman looks like she's staring at me.
Woman: (stares)
Mom: Do you think she knows me?
Woman: (to JEM) Did you go to Johns Hopkins?
JEM: (looks down at shirt, blushes) Uh, no, this is my husband's shirt.
Woman: Did your husband go to Johns Hopkins?
JEM: (more shameful blushing) Uh, no. I think he visited?
Woman: (look of disillusionment before turning away)
Mom: I guess she wasn't looking at me, then.

University education FAIL.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Holy sh...

I got some GREAT comments on the post yesterday. In particular, Lola Sharp gave a very good (and very useful!) in-depth view of what's out there in YA and how kids are reacting. How does she know? Because she's got a 14 year old daughter.

Look, I'm not going to pull the whole "when I was your age we had to walk uphill two miles in the snow with bare feet" adult thing, but holy crap do these kids know everything. In high school, I knew kids who had not only been into drugs, but had already gotten out of them by the time freshman year rolled around. Sex was very commonplace, R-rated movies were no big deal, and I thought I knew everything.

BUT. I wasn't doing those things. I knew about them, they weren't taboo topics, but I wasn't doing them. So that whole high school experience is inauthentic to me. I walk a confusing line between wanting to be authentic to modern teenagers (now I do sound old, blah) and wanting to be authentic to the kids who I know are like me, and my own past.

Like drugs, for instance. I wasn't into drugs, I didn't hang out with people who were. I knew people, sure, but that wasn't my thing. And to be completely honest, I don't want to write about people who are into that kind of life. Those aren't really characters I want to explore. No judgement, but it's like writing about a marine biologist: how many of you really find them interesting? Yeah, that's how I feel about people who do drugs. Not my scene, not what I'm interested in learning about.

But do I nerd myself out of the market by not including it? That's hard to say. I'd guess some would say yes, some would say no. I also get on a weird church lady moral streak sometimes and don't want to promote that kind of life. I don't want kids to feel like they have to live that life to be "real." I'm not out to moralize the world (I cut people off on the highway way too much for that), but I do want to create MCs that I can admire.

Thanks, everyone, for the great comments yesterday. After going back through more of my WIP, I decided to stick mostly to damns, hells, and the occasional bitch. Siiiiiigh, I'm so saintly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dropping the F bomb

After a grouchy week of bouncing around my head between new stories, old stories, and books, I'm officially into revising! To be honest I feel better getting my hands back in there, and after a week away (and reading a popular YA book that I thought was a little bit crap), I'm ready to take on the world. Of publishing.

So! Let's talk profanity. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a genre writer, but the current WIP is a YA. Which means...rules. More rules than I'm used to having previously written mainstream novels. Among the rules debated are: sex, drugs, rock and roll, drinking, and cursing.

I'll tackle some of the other issues later this week, but I'd like to address profanity today primarily because the P-i-C told me to cut the curse words in my current WIP. I'm on the fence about this one because I can see both sides:

For profanity: Kids curse. Hell, I was cursing in middle school. To leave that out might feel inauthentic and too sugary to some readers.

Against profanity: It will bother parents, and it can pull the reader out of the actual story. And if you overdo it, it can also feel inauthentic. I've always felt that curse words carry so much more weight in print, and one f bomb on the page is worth ten in casual conversation.

So you see? Torn. The P-i-C (as he is wont to do) makes a good argument, but I don't want the book discounted because it doesn't connect with the reader. And if my characters feel too goody goody, it definitely won't connect with the reader. Even the goody goodies drop a damn once in a awhile. I also don't want to put off parents or teachers by filling the book with extraneous content that distracts from the really good story (I hope).

I put it out to the blogosphere: what are your rules for cursing (or not) in YA?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In which I'm feeling a bit...tetchy

I've heeded the good advice dispensed on this blog and taken a break from revisions on my current WIP. I know I'm doing the right thing, and I'll thank myself for it later when I'm on revision six and just want to kill off all my characters so I don't ever have to write about them again, but...I can't figure out what else to do.

I tried working on a different story, but in the process I discovered an old outline I threw together of a story I came up with out of a dream, and I got sucked into that story. So now I've got two stories that are on COMPLETE OPPOSITE ends of the spectrum (for REALS), and my brain won't pick one to run with. They both have their allure, but I haven't been able to choose.

So I thought, "I'll read something." I perused the to read shelf (which grows by a stack of books each time I'm allowed into a bookstore), and picked a YA book I've been meaning to read for a long time but haven't gotten to yet. I won't say which one, but I got a few short chapters in and realized there was no way I could read it. I have really high hopes for this one and definitely plan to come back to it, but last night it just felt...stilted and overwritten.

And it doesn't help that my brain is still going "write! write! write!" and clapping its hands together like the monkey with the cymbals. I keep telling it I want to, and can it please choose an idea to stick to, but it's not interested in the semantics. It also keeps demanding bananas.

Add a busy work week and some family brouhaha to that, and you've got one tetchy blogger. Hello, hot cocoa coffee, feel free to work your magic.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Short post, gotta work

We've got clients coming onsite today so I can't really post, but I wanted to drop a quick line to say thanks for all the awesome suggestions and comments about the next steps after finishing a WIP. I've decided to step back for a week and read/work on other projects while I hand it over to my first beta reader to give me feedback.

I'll be creeping around the blogosphere later today, though, so don't be surprised if another post pops up. Have a good Tuesday!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Yay, I'm done! Wave a flag! Now what?

I finished my current WIP last night, huzzah! It was about 7K words shorter than I originally intended, but I wasn't about to fluff up the text unnecessarily. The story stopped when it should have, and I already had two or three major things in mind for revisions based on early feedback from my alpha beta reader (or beta beta reader?). So as soon as I was done I did a little victory dance, then dove right back into edits.

Which got me thinking: what do you do when you've finished draft one? Do you dive back in as I did, or do you usually need a break? And what about beta readers? And how do you go about the revision process? Do you make one broad sweep to capture everything, or do you make several passes with very specific changes in mind?

What's your revision process?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What do you do after your climax?

And DON'T be gross. I mean the climax of your story, the high action or drama sequence that brings all the disparate elements of the story together in one grand big bang. The part that readers will stay up until four in the morning reading because they NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. Not that I have any experience hiding in the bathroom with a flashlight curled up in the bathtub so my parents wouldn't see the light.

But as we all know, that's not the end of the story. That's the end of the story arc, but then you have the clean up. Even Shakespeare sent Prince Fortinbras in after Hamlet up and caused a massacre (sorry if I ruined the end for you. Also: the ship sank). But really, peoples, how do you follow up a climax? If you've done it right, both you and the reader should feel excited, exhausted, catharsed (word? it is now), heartbroken, vindicated, or any number of deep, abiding emotions. That's like having to be the person to give a talk after The Last Lecture guy. So what's the follow up?

As you might have guessed, I just recently finished writing the climax of my WIP. It was an exhausting process, pulling all of that out of me, and definitely led to some 4K word days, but it was glorious. So glorious, in fact, that the P-i-C got ticked at me because I gave him a chapter to read that ended in a cliffhanger and he refused to read anything until it was done because he wanted to know what happened. So. Fun.

But now I need to wrap things up. There's still more story to tell, and the fallout to deal with, and the set up for subsequent books (book one of an intended trilogy). But I'm feeling...drained. Much like my MC. She's all like, "what do I do now?" and I'm all like, "I don't know, what do I do now?" And we're at a stalemate.

So how do you follow up your climax without feeling like you're just sweeping everything in a nice neat pile to be picked up with the dust bin? How do you follow up such emotional scenes, staying true to the drama that's just happened but still driving the story forward?