Monday, February 28, 2011


Unless you've been living under a writing rock (which, for the record, I have), you've heard about Borders filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. I worked at a local publisher a few years ago and Borders was on the verge of bankruptcy back then, so I wasn't surprised when I heard the news. I was saddened, as I always am, about another blow to the publishing industry, but I think most professionals in the industry saw the writing on the wall long ago.

I found myself near a Borders this weekend as I was out shopping and decided to stop in and see if they had any good deals. To be honest I haven't shopped at a brick and mortar store for years because of the competitive prices on sites like Amazon, but I was right there. The discounts were still fairly low - 20-30% - so I didn't expect much movement at that point. Boy was I wrong. The store was like a madhouse, books strewn about and laying on the floor and unalphabetized (I take my alphabetization VERY seriously). I found sports books in the middle grade section, DVDs in Science Fiction/Fantasy, and random merchandise all over the shelves. I wandered up to the YA section for research purposes and was at first delighted to see so many books of blogs that I've been following for months now. It was almost like meeting up with new friends.

Which is why I think it hit me so emotionally to see the books so mistreated. I mean, don't get me wrong, no one was ripping out pages with their teeth or anything. It was just that everything was in such disarray, it was like seeing my friends disrespected. Having been on this journey for two years now, I know the time and energy and passion and long nights that go into every single book on those shelves, and to see them treated like bits of shiny paper at a cat convention was hard for me. I actually ended up leaving the store without buying anything because I was so upset. It was, in a way, heartbreaking for me to see the physicality of the decline.

How do you feel about Borders' announcement and the shifting landscape of the book market?

Friday, February 18, 2011

In which I get to the root of the problem

My advanced creative writing class started last night (yes, I loved the first round so much I decided to indulge myself for another semester), and with it came crashing home a certain reality that I've been avoiding for a while. It's a niggling thought that had occurred to me on a previous WIP (R.I.P. WIP), but I had thought it was singular to that writing endeavor. I'd made all kinds of excuses for myself - it was too much story driven without enough character, I don't do the angst thing well (which is true), etc. etc. Surely this disease wouldn't infect the others.

Turns out, the bitch is airborne.

It wasn't new information to me. In fact, last night was mainly a review of the techniques we'd discussed last semester. The instructor passed out review copies of things we'd already been over - character background worksheets, plot pyramid dissections, and guidelines for different levels of children's books and their associated content. But it was the last sheet, cut into thirds for each class member to save paper, that dropped the bombshell. It only had five lines of text, and no more than 10 words per line. Some of the lines had less than 3. And they were all questions.

Wants what?
From whom?
Who/what stands in their way?
What are they willing to do to get it?

You should be able to answer these questions for ALL of your main characters. Really, you should be able to answer them for all of your characters, but certainly the main protags and antags. Why? Because it's the action that drives the story. Who wants what is the end goal you're trying to reach, and from whom and what stands in their way establishes the tension. What are they willing to do to get it is the fun part.

So what's wrong with my story? What can't I answer?

What does my main character want?

Please, childrens, don't judge. Don't point at the silly wannabe writer making rookie mistakes. It's unkind. The funny thing is, the story is still a good one. I've managed to fluff up the other parts of the story enough that it's enjoyable, and I distract people with flashy words and funny dialog, but the truth is there in black and white and bold. And as soon as I realized I couldn't answer the most basic of questions about my MAIN CHARACTER, the veil came off. I started analyzing other things I'd written (or tried to write) and found the same problem over and over. I had good, strong characters, but they weren't making their own decisions. They were being led around by the story and everyone else's whims. This is, as the kids like to say, a problem.

But a known problem is a solvable problem, and that's why I'm taking the class. I knew the problem existed, could feel it in my plotting and revising, but I didn't know what it was. And because I didn't know what it was, I didn't know how to solve it. I know it will be hard work to figure out the answers to this question and work it into the WIP, but it's like GI Joe says: knowing is half the battle.

What about you? What are your glaring (or not so glaring) issues? Can you answer these questions for your own characters (say no and make me feel better)?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I'm all out of words for you, chitlins

I've used them up while trying to finish the first (second? third? I've lost track) draft of the current WIP. I've set myself a deadline of completing the manuscript before my second semester of creative writing starts (yay!), which is next week. So I have some self-butt-kicking to do, and let me tell you, that's not pretty.

So while I finish up this draft and try to form more cohesive sentences here than "me like coffee" or "how I type so good?" why don't you tell me where you're at with your writing.

How's it going? Are you in first draft finish out like me, or just starting a new idea? Are you polishing up for queries or already sending them out? Are you languishing away in the middle of the plot land like I was a few weeks ago, no light at the end of the tunnel? Are you in the flurried first few chapters stage where the world is yours and there's no possible way you could burn out on this story?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Come on, snow, why you gotta hate?

So apparently the whole rest of the country is buried under mounds of snow, including the top half of my fair Lone Star state. And what do we get down here in Austin? All the blah of cold temperatures without the whee! of iced precipitation. Call it a holdover from my younger years but snow (we call it snow, don't judge) means skipping school and sliding around on the back deck and using a cardboard box as a temporary sled until it tears in half because your butt is too big. Fun!

But no. Snow sent out its Valentine's Day cards and turns out it doesn't choo-choo-choose us. We're the kids who are bundled up warm inside with our faces pressed against the glass watching everybody else make snow monsters and igloos and all the other fun stuff I assume people who get snow do. Like make snow cones and write their names in the snow with pee (maybe don't make snow cones out of the pee snow).

And don't try to talk me out of my fantasy snow day by saying cars and houses are damaged and businesses are losing money because people can't work or buy stuff and it's one of the worst storms anyone's ever seen. And I don't want to hear about how we had rolling blackouts all yesterday because the power grid couldn't handle all the electricity people in Dallas were sucking up because it's cold there or something. And don't complain to me that flights are grounded all over the country and people have been stuck in airports for hours without access to their luggage because it's been in a cargo hold for three days. You're only trying to make me feel better about snow not inviting us to its basement party while its parents are out of town.

All I'm asking, snow, is to show a little love. You don't even have to last all day, just long enough that I can't get out of my driveway because it's iced over so I have to stay home with a mug of hot cocoa and lament the fact that I'm not working. Is that too much to ask?

Did you get the invite to the snow party? Are you loving it (say no to make me feel better)? Does this weather inspire you to write?