Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Word of the Week #46

**I found this word in one of the books I'm reading (Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card). It's a wonderful example of a writer taking a word out of it's normal usage, and changing how you view it. I've known this word before, but never seen it used this way. I hope to be able to do that someday.

penumbra - [pi-nuhm-bruh] - noun

Definition:
1. Astronomy.
a. the partial or imperfect shadow outside the complete shadow of an opaque body, as a planet, where the light from the source of illumination is only partly cut off.
b. the grayish marginal portion of a sunspot.

2. a shadowy, indefinite, or marginal area.

Usage:
"Mother was dressed to kill; Alessandra could only strive not to disappear completely in Mother's penumbra." -direct quote from Ender in Exile.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A letter I had to write


To the person I cut off in traffic last week,

Please accept my most heartfelt apologies. I am deeply sorry that I pulled out right in front of you. I realize that the sheepish look I gave you as I mouthed "I'm sorry" when you blew past me in the other lane cannot, in the slightest, amend for the terrible wrong I committed--as evidenced by the dirty look you sent me. (And really, I could only hope to one day be able to give looks that almost reduce others to tears. It's a gift that I'm afraid I don't have. You are so lucky.)

I want to humbly point out that my gross vehicular infraction was an honest mistake. Yes, I know I was talking on my cell phone at the time--a sin of which I have repented for many a car ride. But it was a conversations that required a certain amount of attention, and my children were fighting at great volume in the backseat. As you can see, my failure to check adequately for cars exceeding the speed limit did have some basis. I only hope that you can understand and cut me some slack for making you apply your brakes and switch lanes to pass me. (The *nerve* of me, I know. I probably made you 5 seconds late for that important meeting deciding the fate of the universe. Again, I apologize.)

I've often thought it would be nice to have some sort of marquee that would display messages across my back window, such as "I'm really sorry! I didn't mean to do that!" in neon letters. It would have been good for times like this, but I'm not sure I would have liked your reply. So perhaps it was for the best that we were left to communicate with facial expressions and vague hand gestures (I'm sure that wasn't the finger you meant to raise).

Dear person in the other car, I also want to thank you. Our meeting inspired me to dig out the forgotten Blue Tooth from the nest of boxes when I got my new phone, and figure out how to use it. Now that it is all set up, it really is very handy. I'm not sure I would have found the motivation otherwise. So, "Thank you!"

I hope this letter finds you well and in a driving nirvana unimpeded by cretins like me. I admire you so much that I've been working on my dirty looks for our next chance encounter. Until we meet again.

Best regards,

Jaime

Friday, March 27, 2009

Speaking of vampires

This just tickled my funny bone to no end, which is good considering the crushing rejections that came my way this week in the agent hunt and the anti-spring snowstorms blowing through the last few days.

If you have vampires on the brain (and who doesn't after the DVD of "Twilight" just came out?) then here's a must read: "Why Vampires Would Have a Population Problem."

My favorite line: "I think a more plausible explanation is the tendency for vampires to involve themselves in doomed love affairs with slightly dotty young women, causing them to spend centuries mooning around in crypts not getting much done."

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Great writing resource

Author Holly Lisle has a website with *tons* of great writing and writing-related articles. It's a great resource. From her site: I've put together a site with over 100,000 words of articles and workshops, a writing newsletter, a mini plot-outline course, and a lot more.

Go check it out! Click here to go to her site.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bummed

I just got a rejection from an agent that had requested a partial, so I'm kinda bummed. I'll get back to my optimistic, persevering self tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Word of the Week #45

defalcate - [di-FAL-keyt] - verb

*No, not defecate. But that's what you first thought when you saw it, isn't it?*

Definition:
To steal or misuse money or property entrusted to one's care.

Usage:
No matter which side of the political debate, I think most Americans can unite in feeling that our government has defalcated our tax money.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Writer's Block and other things that make you stop

So you've finally worked your way through Newton's First Law of Writing (a writer at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an external force) and gotten started on your writing project. Perhaps you're even flying along at warp speed, when suddenly you hit it.

WRITER'S BLOCK

*Gasp*

But is it really the dreaded "writer's block" or maybe some more common writing hold-ups (like not having enough time to write, being too exhausted to write, or being stuck on a story problem)? SF author Juliette Wade has a great post about what writer's block is NOT. And really, those hold-ups are much less scary than *thunder & lightning* "writer's block." (Was that dramatic enough?)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Au Revoir, Monsier Printer

Does this look a little like the most retarded printer on earth thrown against the wall, where it lies abandoned?


Why, yes. It does.

And does this look like a snazzy laser printer sitting smugly in the spot the abandoned ink jet used to occupy?


Why, yes. It does.


And if the laser printer knows what's good for it, it will never try to print in all green or only in French, or it'll follow in the other printer's footsteps. That's a promise! (Although it weighs considerably more than the ink jet, so I doubt I can chuck it as far.)

Note: We are blissfully free of printer problems now! Hooray!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'll be back

And no, I'm not talking about Terminator (although I'm super-duper excited about the Terminator Salvation movie coming out *bounce, bounce, bounce*).

This is what I'm talking about:



Until next week, then.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Starting a new book...maybe

I've spent so much effort, time, and banging my head on my computer desk on my last project, that now that it's really, truly finished (polished and pretty and all the queries to agents sent off) I've been a little at loose ends. It's now time to start a *new* project. And I'm going to extreme lengths to not start.

I think starting a book is one of the hardest parts for me (next to actually writing it and finishing it, I guess). I actually like the editing and rewriting because then the book begins to take shape out of the messy blob we call a rough draft. I have no problems knowing how to start a non-fiction project. After all, I spent 5 years in college (and way too many credit hours than one human being will ever need) and really got down the researching-and-starting-a-paper thing. But fiction is a different animal. Sort of.

The book I just finished took me 2 years, and along the way I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work for me in writing fiction. Now I have to try and put those lessons into practice so that the next book *doesn't* take 2 years. For me, the problem isn't a lack of ideas, (Check here for a post on where to get ideas) but choosing between the dozens of ideas that constantly pop into my head.

I narrowed it down to 4 ideas that I felt I could get excited about. You have to be excited enough to push you through the entire process. Okay. Now what?

A friend suggested I take those 4 ideas and try to write back cover copy for them. This was a great idea and in doing so eliminated one of the four ideas. It was really hard coming up with a back cover blurb for one idea, and I didn't think I could do it for an entire story. I decided to put another idea on the back burner until later. So now I was down to 2 ideas.

But, instead of diving into either of those book ideas, I went on a cleaning and painting spree while I tried to figure out the next step. Both my ideas were still in that nebulous state of simmering in the bottom reaches of my mind as a mass of "wouldn't that be cool?" thoughts and ideas. Then a fellow author sent me a link to How to Sketch a Novel in An Hour, a writing exercise by J. Steven York and Christina F. York.

**Awesome!**

I did it, and now I have a fabulous springboard to get me going, as well as subplots and conflict that just cropped up from that simmering mass in my mind.

My next step is more brainstorming, where I just sit at the computer and list whatever comes to mind as a numbered list. It can be thoughts about characters, back story, scene ideas, whatever comes to mind. And I number it because I'm a little OCD about organization (I *love* spreadsheets, for example. I know, might as well tattoo "NERD" across my forehead). Plus, then when I go and organize it into categories I only have to look for numbers. (Yep. Nerd. Told you.)

I'll share more about the process in future posts, and about what works and doesn't work. It's been a little slow out the starting gate, but I am off again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Word of the Week #44

inanition - [in-uh-NISH-uhn] - noun

Definition:
1. The condition or quality of being empty.
2. Exhaustion, as from lack of nourishment.
3. Lack of vitality or spirit.

Usage:
After the deadline for a major project, which has had me up until late at night and at the computer for hours at a time, I'm weak and wobbly from inanition.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The French taking over the world - one printer at a time

*smacking myself in the head*

I'm sorry! I realized that I should have shared on this blog the printer saga that happened in my house. And since I'm a writer, computer and printer issues are a BIG DEAL.

It all started last September with the discovery of the "French Conspiracy."

“No!” you may gasp. “The French can only formulate cheese, make any word sound romantic and snooty at the same time, and surrender.”

Au contraire, mes amis. They can also drive you insane through harmless electronic objects. Oh, yes. Forget technological or biological warfare. Why get the world mad at you through overt action, when you can just drive your enemies to surrender—or even suicide—one printer at a time.

Printer? You read it right: printer. Travel back in time with me and I will show you this diabolical plot, and see if at the end of my story you do not also look at your printer with suspicion, or maybe even fear…

To start the story, envision a cheapie printer (probably from China) that required a trip to the ink refill place once a month, so that we could have bought a dozen printers for the cost of those stupid cartridges. Then the cheapie printer decided to wig out and only printed lines—and only in pink. I ran to the ink refill place, and even bought new cartridges, cleaned the attachment points with rubbing alcohol, and tried everything short of tossing the printer out the window. No luck. Pink lines were all we were going to get.

My husband won a brand, spanking new printer at some conference or other (we were so excited, usually he wins something like a set of embossed pencils – go public education). He brought the printer home, and I gleefully set it all up, plugged it in, and followed the instructions that popped up for installing new hardware. Then popped in the installation CD.

Everything was going swimmingly until I noticed that the installation instructions were all in French. That’s strange. I didn’t choose French. Surely I could change it to English somewhere along the way.

Ha. That’s just what the French *want* you to think. Lure you into a false sense of hope.

It all installs, but everything is still in French. I could deal with that, but the stupid thing wouldn’t print. Everything said it was printing—the printer display, the printer & faxes folder, the program I was printing from—but no printing pages. Not even pink lines.

Hmmm. Maybe I did something wrong. Uninstall, reinstall. Still in French. And still no printing. Uninstall. Reinstall. Still French with no printing!

Ok, time to break out the instructions. First, take printer out of package. Check. Install ink, plug in power, yada yada yada. To install: Do not follow Windows Add new hardware pop-up. Well crap! I wish I would have known that 3 installations ago!

Uninstall. Reinstall following the directions. Still in French! Still no *&(*%^$# paper printing out!

Follow the troubleshooting instructions which say to uninstall then reinstall. Well, brilliant! I already tried that, like 5 times! Remember, all the instructions are in French so I *think* I’ve been uninstalling and reinstalling.

My husband gets home. I am absolutely fuming at this point and both printers are about to be used as speed bumps in my neighborhood. I am not only livid, but frustrated to the point of tears. I dare you not to be after THREE FREAKING HOURS installing the French printer from hell with its Easy 1-2-3 installation.

Hubby takes over. After he uninstalls, and reinstalls, the printer decides to be a smart aleck and actually prints out the test paper for him—in French!!! Then it changes its mind and does the whole not-printing thing. By now we have a print cue of like 100 or so.

We break down and call tech support. It takes my husband and some nice, baffled guy named Francois (or something) over another hour to finally get the printer to print. But tech support has no idea why it insists on doing everything in French. “Je suis vraiment navré” Francois says, all the while laughing up his snooty sleeve I bet. (translation: I’m really sorry)

I go to print the next day and NOTHING will print. I call up Francois at tech support again. We walk through everything for another hour, and the printer deigns to print a couple things for me. Until I turn on the computer the next time.

I’m ready to slit my wrists, but before I do it, I have a stroke of genius. I download a free complete uninstaller, run the printer program through it. Then reinstall following the instructions. Voila! Now we have a printer that *Gasp* actually prints. And the menu is in English, too!

Ha ha, you French! Your plan was foiled. Thank goodness for brainstorming in the shower. And now I will spread the word to everyone far and wide. I will expose your scheme for what it is!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Word of the Week #43

You thought I forgot, didn't you? Never!

rancor - [RANG-ker] - noun

Definition:
Bitter resentment or ill will; extreme hatred or spite.

Usage:
Queryfail brought out a veritable avalanche of rancor in some writers, which was countered by a bombardment of sympathy from others. Who says the written word doesn't have tremendous power over emotions?

*OR* rancor can also be this guy.

(Thanks, Ruth! How could I forget from Star Wars??)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Twitter's "Queryfail" - Pass or Fail?

I'm going to push my word of the week until tomorrow just because I feel like weighing in on an interesting debate in the publishing world. Last Thursday on Twitter some literary agents and editors participated in "Queryfail," the brain child of FinePrint Literary Agent Colleen Lindsey, where professionals read query letters and then tweeted in real time some of the reasons they rejected them.

Sometimes the agents/editors quoted actual lines from the queries, but were careful to maintain the anonymity of the authors. It was highly entertaining due to some real gems like, "My book is about a friendship based upon mutual vomiting practices in high school" and the claim that one manuscript is "easily the boldest novel so far written in this fresh century of ours." Some of the quoted lines/premises were either so bad or so outside of what is even acceptable in publishing (a 400,000 word book 1 in a series of nine books, for example) that some people accused Lindsey of saving up truly awful queries in order to parade them on one day for entertainment. However, she assured readers that she was going through the queries in her inbox as normal. It was a pretty eye-opening sample of what agents/editors must see on a daily basis.

I admit it was eye-opening. And darn good entertainment. Like, milk-spewing-out-my-nose entertainment. I didn't get a single thing done on my WIP or any of my own queries sent out because I was glued to the computer. I even called my mother and fellow author, to read the tweets to her. It was way better than some of the stuff on TV. *Way.*

The next day the backlash began. People called the queryfail participants unprofessional and expressed outrage that people's very real hopes and dreams were aired for public mockery and entertainment. While on one hand I can see their point, on the other I think perhaps those tender egos may want to reconsider a career where you rip out a part of your soul to put into a book that is then sold to the public for their entertainment, and--yes--sometimes mockery. Ever read a bad/scathing review?

I'm also curious about outrageously popular (and incredibly helpful) blogs like Miss Snark and Queryshark. Part of the reason they are so popular is because aspiring authors submit their queries to be ripped apart publicly. And the process is *very* instructive to those of us who are on an agent hunt. (Yes, I've sent my own in, just hoping it will get critiqued.)

I worry that the publishing community may fall prey to the "lowering the bar" disease that is permeating our society. The idea that just trying is as good as trying, failing, re-doing, and trying again until you get it right is ludicrous. Here's a blog by another queryfail reader and writer Katherine Owens that expresses it a little more strongly.

All that being said, perhaps I can feel this way because my own query to Colleen Lindsey didn't crop up. Note to self: do not write a coming-of-age book about bulemia. In fact, I'm feeling much better about my own slew of queries out there in the agenting world. Not only have I spell-checked, but I also used salutations and did not claim to be greater than Shakespeare. And right now I can use any sort of encouragement I can get while I wait.

So, I give Queryfail a rousing passing grade. With maybe even a "+".

I'll just end with this: "My heroine just mustard her courage." You can't tell me that's not funny. And even more so because it's not my query.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Writerly humor

There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed a desire to become a "great" writer.

When asked to define "great" he said "I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level,stuff that will make them scream, cry, wail, howl in pain, desperation, and anger!"

He now works for Microsoft writing error messages.

*Thanks to Jeff Savage for the joke.*

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Authors need a piece of the reality show pie

There are some inalienable truths in entertainment today: celebrities are usually much more intelligent when they're saying someone else's lines, computer graphics are getting freakily realistic, Hollywood thinks bigger chests sell more, I gotta get a new Kindle (this doesn't mean I have an old Kindle, just that I want the new one, especially since I've read rave reviews of the new app which syncs your Kindle to your iPhone--of course, then I'd have to get an iPhone, too), and America is crazy for reality shows.

And I think it's time us writers get a slice of the reality show mania. Studies show that 85% of Americans feel like they have a book in them, and they should get a chance to completely skip all the hard work and due diligence the rest of us put in.

So, announcing my truly fab idea. *drum roll...*

American (American...American...American...)

Writer (Writer...Writer...Writer...)

*In case you're wondering, that's what cool echo sound effects look like in print.*

Here are our judges.

1)
The Simon-type who gives brutally honest (or sometimes just brutal) feedback:

Stephen King
(Don't let this happy, innocent-looking picture fool you. The person running the "beep" button will have to stay on his toes.)

2) The Randy-type who will have to contractually say "molten hot" at least once a show:

Nora Roberts
(Can't you just seeing her calling every other contestant "Dawg"?)

3) Because we need a British accent:

J.K. Rowling
(She can just gush incoherently. As long as she shows up, we're good.)

4) And just so we have some conflict between the judges (after all, conflict is what drives plot, right?):

Stephenie Meyer
(And I'm sure Stephen King didn't really mean it when he said her writing was total crap or that she can't write worth a darn, right? And maybe Meyer can rig a bucket of animal blood to fall on King's head or sabotage the teleprompter to read "REDRUM." The ratings will go through the roof!)

Now that we have our judges, this is what the contestants will face. Dressing up in various survival gear and voting people off by a campfire is optional (I'll let the network that picks this up decide on that).

*Genre benders: Each writer draws a character, a situation, and a setting from a hat. Then they have to write a gripping story/chapter in the chosen genre. For example, you could pick Leon the shape-changing chameleon obsessed with finding his parents. The situation is that a glowering... I mean, good-looking beyond anything on earth ... girl keeps staring at him like she wants to eat him, but he's inexplicably drawn to her like a moth to a flame. And the setting could be a head-hunter's village in the Amazon. Then write it in epic fantasy style like Tolkein. I tell you, the true talent would just shine!

*Book signing role-playing: Put the writers in the middle of a mall, sprinkle in some slightly eccentric people (like the guy who's memorized his entire first page of his yet-to-be finished book and strikes a pose and recites it--loudly--and waits for your reaction), and see which writers can pull it off. They have to get a certain number of people to buy their book, without actually tackling them.

*Assign the contestants to write a brilliant query letter for either a new story or ones that are well-known. Query letter for Gone with the Wind anyone?

*Play capture the manuscript, but throw in some pretty cool weapons--paint guns, camouflaged pits, butterfly nets, etc.

* Hollywood week. Pair the writers up with a celebrity and see if they can put together a cohesive memoir.

*Split the contestants into teams, assign a drill sergeant to each team, and make them lose weight. (Oops, sorry. I don't know that we can pull from that reality show.)

And those are just *some* of the veritable bottomless pit of ideas. I think it's only a matter of hours before this idea takes off.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Word of the Week #42

vox populi - [voks pop-yuh-lahy] - noun

Definition:
the voice of the people; popular opinion

Usage:
In America the vox populi should determine what our government does - at least in theory. In practice disenfranchisement is alive and well.