Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Usual Difficulties

A new project, a new set of problems, it seems.

While Eric is reading my (very) rough draft, I’ve been mulling over a new long-fiction concept. At first I was supposed to be writing a winter-themed short story for a friend’s upcoming podcast, but once I realized that this was something much too long for an audio format I resigned myself to having come up with yet another novel idea.

I’m still not all that great with novels.

While some people can apparently come up with a legion of characters, a main plot and a half dozen subplots with ease, I struggle to keep one story line coherent. I’m always afraid that I’m going to end up sounding ridiculous or implausible with my plots and dialogue. I’m beginning to come to the point where I don’t care about the end result and plow forward with a feverish determination, but I still have enough self-doubt that it’s holding me back.

I want to get started on this immediately. One of my biggest fears is the loss of interest in a project, and time and time again I’ve been on fire for an idea only to stop caring after a few short weeks. Now I immediately begin to panic when I don’t set upon a project at the first thought of it, worried that I’ll somehow lose the passion somewhere along the way. I’m fairly certain this line of thinking was responsible for my eighteen-day draft of Teahouse, especially the last two days of it. All I could do was type, screaming silently in my head, “Get it out! Finish it! Don’t stop until you see The End!” I was so worried that I’d quit caring, even that close to the end, that I had to push the story out despite the fact that I could have spent a bit more time working on the details.

Thanks to my “motivation issues,” I now have two hundred pages of plot with no trace of subplot, character details or emotion. Nice.

Here I am now, with another semi-formed story, feeling the urge to push my way through this yet terrified of screwing it up or leaving it half-finished. I suppose I could go back to something I really have left sitting unfinished, but all I can think about right now is this story.

On a related note, Eric is reading my draft of Teahouse now. I told him, jokingly, that he should change his away message to “Reading my girlfriend’s first novel. Don’t bother me.” I didn’t think he’d actually do it, but he did. Something that small and insignificant made me feel giddy.

Here’s hoping the book stands up to some criticism. I’m very nervous waiting for his reaction to it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rejection Done Right

Nothing hurts the ego more than being blown off or insulted, and a lot of writers are comprised of more sensitive stuff than others, so sending work out into the great wide world can be potentially painful for some. I know, I’ve been there. As a very young writer, in my late teens and early twenties, I found it very difficult to separate my professional self from my private self and see literary rejection for what it really is, someone letting you know that your work isn’t a good fit for their publication or just any of their upcoming issues.

Sometimes it really stung.

Getting back into the swing of things, I’ve noticed that rejection doesn’t faze me much, if at all, this time around. I’ve received a number of them in the last two years, from one-line “no thank you” type replies to well thought out critiques.

Don’t get me wrong, a “yes” regardless of how it’s phrased will always be more preferable than a polite “no,” but rejection is a part of the life and will never go away. Better to get used to it than it wear you down, no?

That said, I’ve received several decent rejection slips recently. It’s always a disappointment to find out you don’t fit in, but they were written well enough that I’d like to share them here.

The Abacot Journal recently responded to a submission of my short story, Cryptic Coloration.

Dear Jessica,
Thank you for your submission to The Abacot Journal’s fifth issue. While I loved the uplifting and unexpected ending to your story, unfortunately, it was not chosen from the wide range of fabulous stories we received. Good luck in your writing, have a wonderful new year, and please consider submitting to us again. 

Alexandra J. Ash
Editor, The Abacot Journal

The Harrow, a publication I’ve been featured in before, weighed in on my submission of My Neighbor’s Apartment not only with a gentle “no” but also some words of both critique and encouragement.

Dear Jessica,

Thanks for submitting 'My Neighbor's Apartment' to The Harrow. We're going
to pass.

While it's a well-written piece, and provides ample atmosphere, I
ultimately found that this is all the story does.

While it's certainly a point of interest that the protagonist's neighbor
has a vacant apartment beside their apartment, the mystery of such a thing
is not quite enough to engage the reader. There needs to be some sort of
conflict - internal or external - that is provided to draw the protagonist
to the place on the basis of her own decisions. The curiosity of our
narrator simply isn't enough... but perhaps there is a strong reason why
she is so curious. (And if that curiosity is born out of a rather banal
existence of reading spam email - the dullness of the character's
predicament needs to be highlighted strongly in the piece - a violent or
otherwise awful death as a result of her investigations, for example,
displaying that both fates are equally dreadful.)

Regardless, I think if you can provide such a thing here, the rest of the
story may write itself, and the piece will be stronger for it, overall.

Do try us again.

Michael R. Colangelo

I now have quite a bit to think over. Accusing me of only providing atmosphere isn’t anything new – I do it to myself all the time. In fact, this is one of my major weaknesses. I’d rather focus on character, setting and atmosphere instead of plot, and that provides for a very lopsided story. Apparently only Murakami Haruki has license to get away with those kinds of shenanigans.

One of the things I enjoy most with rejections are the encouragements for resubmission. Not only are they show at least some interest in you as a writer but they are also proving to the more sensitive types that “No, you don’t really suck as a human being. Your story just didn’t work, and it’s not universal, it’s just this one time. Keep showing us your stuff.” It’s hard to convince either yourself or other writers this very important fact. Usually it has to come from the publisher.

Unfortunately, I won’t be having any time left over to rewrite My Neighbor’s Apartment for quite some time. I’m still trying to proof
In the Teahouse before Christmas so I can have a copy of the rough draft printed at Staples for Eric. I had a few run off (at twenty bucks apiece!) to pass around for reading/editing purposes but it appears my initial proofing glossed over several glaring mistakes.

After that, I agreed to write a winter-themed short story for a friend’s upcoming podcast. So far the plan includes him reading the story and then the two of us recording some kind of dialogue discussing the piece and writing in general. I’m excited but the business of the season has prevented me from my usual brainstorming sessions. I’ve only got bits and pieces of ideas so far. And two very large holidays are looming in the horizon.

Busy, busy.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Blog!

Actually, it’s a bit of a companion blog to this one. I’ve been meaning to write more about things I’ve read recently, and this seemed as good a place as any. I’ve kept a running tally of books read over at LibraryThing all year, but I find I encourage myself to write more and dig deeper when I’m blogging and not when I’ve just finished reading a book.

Please, feel free to leave comments or reading suggestions of your own. Over the next few days I hope to expand my list of books read and leave reviews or comments for most of them.

The blog can be found at http://alookatabook.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Purple Bar and Beyond

Oh, it’s finally over! I verified my rough draft’s length and got the certificate and purple bar to show for it. I suppose I should be proud of what I’ve gotten done so far, but all I can think about is digging into the draft and revising it. I promised myself I’d give it time to cool down so I could go over it with a more analytical eye, though, so in the meantime (meaning the next month or so – I’d like to start on this early in the new year) I have other projects to focus on.

The Woman Without, last year’s NaNo project and my first attempt at a full-length novel, is still only halfway complete. I had a hard time staying focused with it, most likely because I was winging it plot-wise the whole time. This year I used ten “key scene” note cards for Teahouse and that ended up working out well. I’d like to go back and summarize my first story so far into single ideas for each chapter and give the story the note card treatment as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to salvage the novel that way.

A friend of mine is starting his own writing-related podcast this month, and for his debut episode he asked if he could read one of my short stories and then record a discussion between us to play afterwards. I’ve never been too fond of hearing my own voice (it’s a bit unusual, and certainly lower than most) but seeing as I’m a huge fan of podcasting in general I’d have to be somewhat crazy to pass up that kind of opportunity. Rather than giving him something unpublished that I’ve had on my hard drive for a while (most of my newer stuff has been sent out within the last few months) I think I’m going to write something especially for the show. The idea I have now is a hybrid of science fiction and horror, a style I’ve never successfully tackled before. We’ll see how it works out, I suppose. If I fail I have the entire month to come up with something new.

I have other things to keep me busy, as well. I recently rejoined the Critters online critique group after lapsing a few years ago. This time around I’m having a lot of fun reading other people’s stories, rather than finding them burdensome. I’m still having difficulties crafting critiques that feel satisfactory to me, but the more I write them the easier they are becoming. To be honest, one of the stories I read today makes me regretful I don’t own a publication that could buy it. It’s that good. I’m not sure when or if I’m going to submit my own material. I haven’t gotten past the “force your writing upon your loved ones” stage yet, though I’m seriously considering it. If I’m going to entertain thoughts of querying agents then I’m going to have to become a bit more realistic about opening myself up to criticism.

I’ve been thinking about starting another blog, as well, not for writing but for reviewing. This year I’ve so far read fifty-five books, and I’d like to read at least five more, if not ten. Many of these are books I read when I was younger (Poppy Z. Brite, L.J. Smith, Christopher Pike, etc) that I come back to out of a sense of fond remembrance or out of curiosity. Sometimes I want to see if the stories I enjoyed hold up to the test of time and changing tastes. Some do, some don’t. I think it might be fun to keep a permanent record of all of the books I read and how I feel about them when I’m finished with them. I know it would take some time to get caught up to where I am now (should I decide to review everything I’ve read so far, which I’m not sure I’ll do) but I think it could be fun.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fifty-Two Thousand Words, Two Hundred Pages

Well, the rough draft of In The Teahouse is finished. I came home from work yesterday with a fire lit under me and wrote about seven thousand words, finishing up with an hour left before bedtime. I spent this afternoon getting the formatting down, exporting the pieces into one .doc file using an awesome piece of writing software , Scrivener, that I've been using for a year or two now. I've never compiled so many pieces into one document before, though.

My first novel-length rough draft. This is a milestone, right?

Now comes the hard part, something that I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading - editing. Now, editing other people’s work comes easy for me. People ask me all the time to go over things they’ve written: papers, correspondence, memos, etc. No big deal. But now the tables are turning and I feel like I’m giving a lump of my own flesh out to people to hack apart and put under a microscope.

This almost feels more invasive than my yearly exam. Almost.

I need this, though. I know I need it, and I want it, but I hope the people I choose to read this end up helping. Nothing could be worse than giving out two hundred pages of direct imagination-to-paper daydreaming and getting nothing but one-word or one-sentence replies in return.

The way I see it, I’ve received rejection slips before, even the cruel form letters that editors use when they’re flooded but always end up seeming more like a personal insult than a convenience. If I can get through those, I suppose I can get through this. It’s what I need to make the second draft plumper and smoother, and unless I plan on putting this in a manuscript box and hiding it in my closet (which I don’t) it’s going to be touched on by other people’s eyes at one point or another.

Might as well be now.

In the mean time, I’m going to pick up some books on revision and plotting and go from there.

I am so glad to be able to read other people’s fiction again, too. As soon as I started this project I was hit with cravings for at least ten different books. Putting them off was agony.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In Response to NaNo's Detractors

... with emphasis on Jeff DeRego’s 6-minute explanation recently aired on The Writing Show, specifically.

This is the second year I’ve participated in this “event” and also the second year I’ve written about the anti-NaNo sentiment that crops up every November. Perhaps this year I should have simply avoided the negative press and gone about my business, but when I found a short file on my iPod under The Writing Show’s folder titled “I’m No Fan O’ NaNoWriMo” I gave it a listen despite the feeling of irritation that immediately made its presence known.

I think the point that most people who disapprove of the concept either don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge is this - NaNo is, above anything else, a social activity, something meant to be fun and lighthearted and silly. Where are all these people who are writing drivel and taking it seriously? I see children and adults who have a natural love of books trying their hand in an enjoyable and harmless activity, something to do just to say they’ve done it and then move on. How many of these people take their unedited “manuscripts” and make an attempt at shopping them around to various editors and publishers? Not many, I’d assume. So what if they have icons on their journals that proclaim them to be “authors”? I doubt that many of them fail to see how tongue-in-cheek it all is. Let them be ridiculous and have their fun. If they go so far as to take their finished piece to a self-publishing company, let them. They have to front the initial cost for the book anyway, so if they do end up failing terribly they won’t make a reattempt.

For the few of us who take this somewhat seriously, please, don’t assume that we don’t know the difference between a rough and a final draft. I spend most of my time reading as many books as I can and writing short fiction. It’s all I’ve ever sold. However, during this one month of the year, I put down other people’s work and I use these thirty days as an extended writing exercise. If I succeed, I have a full rough draft that I can set aside and come back to revise in a month’s time, and if I fail I’ve only wasted thirty days of my life. It’s enjoyable for me and it gives me the opportunity to turn off any automatic editor I have in the back of my mind. I’ve created some decent material this way, in amongst all the crap I will have to excise when I go back through and tighten up the story. I’ve already made checklists of things I want to do in the second draft, aspects of the story I’d like to explore and things that need to be cut. I know that I haven’t written a salable novel quite yet and I’m more than willing to do the rest of the work necessary, which is why I find myself slightly insulted when people claim that NaNo serves no purpose.

There are some points well made in this podcast, and in the arguments of others. I’m sure there are people out there who fail to make the fifty thousand word count and give up, but these are also the people I suspect would give up at the first non-reassuring rejection slip they receive. I’m sure there are also a few people who consider themselves to be master wordsmiths at the end of the month, as well. It no doubt happens. How many of them are actually going to go on and become published, though?

I’m sure a lot of garbage is generated during November, but that’s not the point. The point is that people who love other people’s fiction are coming together to have fun, BS a bit and write little bits of fluff that may or may not have a future in a better, much more polished form. That’s all it is, not some soul-crushing machine bent on distorting people’s views of the publishing industry, or a network of brain-dead “wannabes” looking to steal your jobs or publishing contracts with barely readable verbal vomit.

Those of us who value hard work and dedication will continue writing and those of us who don’t will return to our normal lives come December first. Don’t worry about it so much.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thirty Thousand and Ninety

... and I still haven’t reached that sense of accomplishment yet. I suppose it will only show itself once I’ve finished the entire rough draft.

Part of me wants to stop and cheer at the progress I’ve made and perhaps sit back and bask a while but a much larger part keeps getting in the way. It’s not impressed and doesn’t want to slow down.

“You realize,” it says, “that you still have a bunch of action to write, including at least one more death, and still haven’t come close to the climax or denouement, right? That’s when you relax, and not a moment sooner.”

Party pooper.

I think part of my anxiety is how much I value this story and how much I want it to be told in complete form, regardless how rough it is. I loved last year’s story, but once I hit 50k I left it alone. It’s still unfinished today, which is something I’m really not proud of. I think writing an entire rough draft means more to me than the actual word count. Having a manuscript with a cover page and a final page with a THE END near the bottom is really my goal here, not the 50k. Until I get there I don’t think I’m going to be able to relax.

I bought a nice binder at Staples today and pulled my three-hole punch out of retirement. I have all my completed chapters within reach now, so I won’t need to worry about mixing up facts, dates, characters, etc anymore. That’s kind of a relief.

On the bright side, I’ve estimated that I have close to 100 pages of a rough draft in bound and readable form now, should anyone want to step up to the test audience plate any time soon.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Twenty-Four Thousand and Twenty-Nine

I’m almost at the halfway mark, and I’m on track as far as the outline goes. Not too shabby.

I’m beginning to wonder how the second half of the novel will play out, especially in the pacing department. Every time I start to second guess myself, or criticize myself for what I’ve written so far, I stop and remind myself that this is just the rough draft and that any and all mistakes I make are going to be smoothed out or outright eliminated during editing. I could double the word count if I needed to, add characters and scenes if they end up being necessary.

I don’t think they will be, though. I think I’m worrying over what’s going to amount to being a lot of easily correctible small stuff.

Tomorrow I return to my job and the real world and leave full time novel writing behind. I’m a bit antsy over that, and I may end up taking my laptop with me to work on In the Teahouse on my lunch break. I haven’t decided yet.

I’m exhausted. I think I’ve done nearly five thousand words this afternoon. Goodnight, book.

Friday, November 7, 2008

December Resolution

No more first person narratives.

I’m finally coming to the realization that I might need to change some things up. First thing to go is writing in the first person for everything. The next thing is going to be a relaxation of plot and motion. I have to make my characters go, go, go constantly with little description. I’m rereading one of my favorite novels right now, Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite, and I’m amazed at the amount of detail and commentary she can write about a short car ride. It goes on for several pages, and by the time the car breaks down we know everyone’s age, hair color, eye color, temperament, profession and feelings towards their current locale. And it all feels natural.

That’s what’s lacking in my stories, especially the longer works. I have to have them chatting all the time, and most of the dialogue is one character talking and the other saying different variations of “what did you just say?”

It’s all very depressing, and aside from attending seminars or classes (which isn’t possible at the moment) the only way I’m going to be able to remedy this is through a mix of reading (fiction and writers’ books) and determination. Hence the resolutions.

I’m not touching or changing the project I’m working on now. Whatever happens, happens. I’ve got the first five chapters finished and printed and by God if Eric wants my shitty first draft as a Christmas present he’s going to get it. As soon as November is over I’m going to print two copies, have them bound at a print shop and save one for his gift. The other is going to rest for a month or two while I work on other stuff and will be marked up for revision in the spring.

That’s when I can worry about adding, subtracting and rearranging, which this manuscript is desperately going to need.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Portrait of the Writer as a Morbid Young Girl

I swear, everything I’ve ever written involves someone killing themselves or dying in a very tragic, over-the-top fashion. Even when I was younger I was penning either tearjerkers or straight horror.

Case in point: “Letting Go,” a short story I wrote in the ninth grade for this odd project we had going in class. The teacher gave you a blank hardback book, like an artist’s sketchbook that was white instead of black, and you designed a “novel” out of it. Cover, illustrations, text, the works. Most of my illustrations were stolen from teen girls’ magazines, with captions underneath them quoting my own text. Much like a real magazine story, right?

Oh, this is painful to even look at.

I don’t know why, but mine was published by a “Technicolor Publishers” out of Brussels, Belgium. The “copyright” is 1994, so it was either the second semester of ninth grade or it was the first semester of tenth. Either way, I was sixteen(ish) when the project was assigned. I was apparently in the throes of a hardcore ellipsis addiction, too.I must have been taking periods and shooting them straight into my arm, three at a time, every hour on the hour. I’m amazed I was able to break the habit and live to see adulthood.

The dedication cracks me up.

I would like to dedicate this book to all the people out there that hadn’t had a book dedicated to them before. This one’s for you!

What an unoriginal smartass, right?

The actual story is even better.

Sometimes I wonder if a human being can ever forgive themselves after they have done something so terrible that it could hurt someone... to death.

I wandered aimlessly for hours, with nothing but a pair of short shorts and a halter top on. I was freezing cold, but that didn’t matter. I needed to find Jami’s grave. I owed her that.

Jami had been my best friend, up until the night before she died. She had laughing brown eyes and pale blond-red hair, and skin so white and smooth that it seemed transparent. We’d never had a fight until that final day, when I spoke out the words that terminated our friendship - and Jami’s life.

It all started with Mike. At least, that’s what everyone else called him. Jami and I called him Michcael, and to us he wasn’t just another guy in out high school. He was our best friend, and maybe more if I hadn’t gone and ruined our triangle. I’d be lying to myself, Jami and the rest of the world if I say that I wasn’t in love with him.

Jami was too, I knew that, but neither of us spoke about it. It was as if the topic of our feelings was off limits to us. We talked about him as a friend, but never more than that. But deep in our hearts, we both knew the truth. We just never chose to acknowledge it.

I think it was the first day of ninth grade that I first started to noticed Michael... and Jami. They were always together, but it didn’t bother me... at first. In the beginning, we were all in a group, a tiny group, that only the three of us could belong. We hung out together, went everywhere together, and even ended up in many of the same classes together. But, very slowly and subtly, I ended up the odd man out. They started to go places, do special things that should have included me, by themselves. I couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous.

By the end of freshman year, getting into the summer, I was almost never with both of them at once. I hung out with Jami every day, she was my best friend, after all. I first started to notice that she was holding back on telling me things, keeping way too many secrets for a best friend. When I asked her what was wrong, she would get angry and snap, “It’s none of your business... forget it!” We started to drift away from each other, and she came closer to Michael. It irritated me. I felt so helpless standing there, watching m best friend and the guy I loved come crashing together only to leave me out in the cold.

One day, around the thirteenth of June, I was up in my bedroom, reading the latest copy of Cosmopolitan. There was a funny article on page 201 called How to Fix a Droopy Sex Life, and I was sitting on my bed having a good laugh over it. I remember wishing that Jami was there to share it too, but she was probably out with Michael.

A knock on the front door upstairs snapped my attention back to the real world. I nimbly jumped off of my bed and thundered up the stairs, throwing the door open while I gasped desperately for air.

I threw open the door and said, trying to catch my breath, “Yes?”

“Andi?” It was Jami... and Michael. They had such happy smiles on their faces that I instantly got jealous. Overwhelmingly jealous.

I felt left out even though I was standing right there. The feeling, how common it may be, is unexplainable.

“What do you guys want?” I hoped I didn’t sound too upset or anything. I didn’t want to start a fight.

“What’s your problem, Andi?” Michael asked me. I guess I did sound a little bit ticked off. “We just came over to say hi.”

“Oh.” Now I felt really stupid. I motioned towards the house. “Want to come in and get a drink or something?”

“I will.” Jami wiped off her forehead. She looked as if she had been running. “I need a drink so bad.”

“I’ll stay out here,” Michael said.

Once we were inside, things started to go downhill. Jami knew me too well for too long to let my mood swing go by unnoticed. “Andi, what’s wrong with you? Are you mad at me... or Michael?”

“You know very well what’s wrong.” My fingers were trembling. I felt so stupid but so angry at the same time. Oh, how I wish now that I could take back the words, all of them, that I said that day. I just wish I could erase the whole day.

“No, I don’t.” She didn’t get it. “Does it have something to do with us?”

“It depends on what you call ‘us’.”

“I don’t get it.” Wow, I was right.

“Oh, too bad. Poor baby Jami. Why don’t you go talk to Michael about it?”

“That’s low, Andi. You know how much I like him.”

“You never told me how you felt. You never talk me to me at all anymore.”

“You’ve been such a skank that I can’t. I don’t understand why, either.”

“Go away, Jami.”


“Go away.”


“I don’t want to talk to you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“If you were really sorry you wouldn’t have stolen him.”

“I didn’t steal him - he was never yours.”

I glared at her with anger burning in my eyes. “He wasn’t yours either.”

“Why can’t we all just be friends?”

“Because I don’t want to be your friend anymore - or Michael’s.”

“We’ve known each other for years, Andi. You can’t just let it go all of a sudden.” She sounded desperate.

I didn’t know what I was saying. It just came out so fast. “Oh, yes I can. You hurt me, Jami.”

“Fine, have it that way,” she said as she left the house. She never even got her drink.

I sat and read magazines and watched movies all day long. The sun started to come down when the phone in my bedroom started to ring. I thought maybe it was Jami. I’d thought long and hard about how I’d treated her and decided that no guy would ever come between us. If she wanted to go out with Michael, that was find with me. I was sure that there was a way that we could all be friends. “Hello?” I said cautiously into the phone. Maybe she didn’t want to be friends.


“Yes?” It didn’t sound like Jami. In fact, it sounded a lot like her mother.

There was a lot of sniffling on the other end of the phone. It sounded as if she had been crying. “Jami - Jami... Andi...” She sighed. “Jami is dead.”

It couldn’t be true! I knew it had to be a prank all. “No...”

My voice was choked as the tears slid down. Jami’s mother would never lie to me. As soon as I could talk again, I said, “How? Why?”

“She and Mike were swimming at the little cove about five miles from here when the tide came in. Jami caught her foot under a rock and drowned. Oh, God, my daughter, my poor baby...” Her voice faded as she started to sob. “Why Jami, why my little girl?” I felt my throat closing in on me. “She was so young, too young for what happened. Why Jami? Anyone but my little firl!” I closed my eyes, but that helped very little. Explosions like firecrackers danced behind my eyelids.

Suddenly images came to me, still-motion pictures of her in pigtails, of her in her too-big overalls, giggling. I saw her when she had hardly any teeth and a pocketful of quarters, grinning because the tooth fairy had arrived. Then I saw her as she was eight hours ago, her face mixed with anger and sorrow. The tears welled up in my eyes. I could still hear Jami’s mom talking, but I couldn’t bear it. The phone dropped out of my hand and into its cradle, cutting off her bother’s anguished cries.

Six months later, after the pain had dulled to a faint throbbing inside me and the tears had dried up, I walked into the graveyard with a bouquet of roses in my hands. Finally, after two hours of searching, I found her tiny headstone. It was smooth and black with Jami’s picture embedded in the lacquer. I felt the old familiar tears search their way up to my eyes, and they fell in such a torrent that I could hardly even see. “Jami,” I whispered, “I’m so sorry.” I dropped the flowers down on her grave. Her picture seemed to be smiling at me, as if our fight had never happened. But I knew better. It had occurred, and the guilt could very well rot me inside out forever. “I’m so, so sorry,” I whispered again. Then I turned and walked towards the graveyard gates. I could swear on the way out I heard these words float on the breeze as I left -

It’s okay, it’s okay...

There you go. Fifteen hundred words of vintage Jessica. Bonus points for for the irony-free usage of the word "skank."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thirteen Thousand Nine Hundred and Sixty

I’m starting to suspect my plotting may be off a bit. Two deaths and two very shaken survivors and I’m only slightly above the twenty-five percent mark. I still have quite a bit of conflict to lay down but I’m beginning to worry that a reader might be overwhelmed with the amount of deaths within such a small cast. I’m halfway tempted to introduce a bunch of throwaway characters and additional plot but I’d really rather not.

I think I’m going to keep the story going the way it was outlined and worry about any plot holes or overwhelming parts once I get to rewriting. I really shouldn’t start second guessing myself at this point but it comes almost automatically anymore.

I finally bought my own (used) copy of the book every writer and wannabe writer seems to own, bird by bird, and I’m starting to get the impression that all writers end up having the same fiction writing-related neuroses that I have, especially with getting started and/or entire rough drafts. Everybody seems to be susceptible to worry and self-doubt, which has been leading me to believe that it’s not such a big deal after all. We’re all just too melodramatic for our own good, that’s all.

So, that’s it. Sticking to the 10-scene outline, and if I need to I’ll add, delete or rearrange later. The same theory applies to fact-checking. There’s going to be some IT-related stuff that I’m going to have to consult Eric about sooner or later, especially in regards to cell phone graphics capabilities and whether or not movable in-game graphics can be done in watercolors.

Four chapters, twenty-seven percent completion, five days. Not too shabby. And it’s readable, which is a serious bonus for high-speed rough drafts.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Eight Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Nine

Funerals are hard.

I cheat with a lot of the stuff I write. Despite it being fiction, a lot of small details are pulled from my own memories. Background characters, locations and situations all have a tendency to have already been experienced by me at some point in my life. These things are universal, though, and can be applied to almost any story with minimal tweaking.

I’m writing a funeral today, and I’m amazed at how angry my narrator is. I don’t recall ever being angry at a funeral. As a child, the infrequent ones had me puzzled, and as an adult the ones close to me had me heartbroken, but I don’t think I ever found myself angry at the deceased. It feels odd to be writing this scene in this way.

I told Eric earlier today that this doesn’t feel different to me than my everyday life. Last year, taking on this challenge left me feeling disoriented and extremely stressed. I had to brainstorm like crazy and force the plot in places. This year, though, I just look at my light outline and go from there and the story flows almost as if on its own. It’s unusual to be writing something this long without feeling much stress.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Point of No Return - Written!

The point of no return, in a piece of fiction, is the exact moment when a protagonist can no longer shrug, say “hell with it,” turn around and go home. Something happens to change their life forever, and they cannot ignore it and continue with their life the way it was before. For some, there is no home left to go back to. For others, they’re forced to take action against a threat they were previously unaware of. There are a thousand different plot ideas that can put a character in motion.

Mine is the death of someone who had absolutely no reason to die, someone very close to our protagonist. Now we’ll have to find out why this happened and how Angela is going to deal with it.

Word Count: 5298/50000

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Three Thousand Six Hundred and Twenty-One

That’s the number of words I’ve hammered out since midnight. Chapter One’s rough draft is done. Since I’m using the very opening of the novel as my “excerpt” on the site, I may as well recreate it here.

I don’t think any of this would have happened if Maddie hadn’t wanted to show off. It was her night, though, so I kept my mouth shut and went along with it.

She’d just “discovered” tea, the kind that’s not pulverized and shoved into a teabag and stapled closed, and in celebration of her new job she decided to drag us all along with her to a proper teahouse. “It’s Japanese,” she said, “and kind of expensive, but these things only happen once in a lifetime so who cares, right?”

Once in a lifetime.

I found a lot out about my characters that I didn’t already know while writing this initial chapter. For instance, Maddie’s newfound love of tea, and her interest in the teahouse, is the responsibility o f a coworker named Kiyoko. The fact that she goes by Maddie and not Madeline surprised me as well. She didn’t strike me as a Maddie right off the bat. Amanda is not a medical researcher like I’d thought - she’s a librarian, and though she’s quiet and seemingly somewhat meek she’s got some strong opinions. The narrator worries about Lucy, who’s way more of a bitter underachiever than I’d imagined her to be. Lucy, however, just doesn’t give a shit. Maintain the status quo and have fun outside the office, that’s her strategy.

Interesting. Very interesting.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Writer's Little Helper - "The Nugget"

In forty words or so, write down what your novel is about.
In the Teahouse
Horror/Dark Fantasy
A young woman watches as her friends commit suicide for unknown reasons, suspicious of a teahouse they had been celebrating in shortly before. She must find out why her friends are dying or face the spontaneous urge of self-destruction herself.


Forty words exactly. Not too bad.

NaNo Just Ahead...

Less than a week to go before the start of NaNo. On one hand, I feel quite lucky that I have a coherent plot already mapped out (loosely) on notecards using James V. Smith's "Ten Key Scenes" technique. I can tell where the story's going to go without feeling the need to have a death grip on my characters, so I'm free to let them do whatever they like within reason.
But that brings me to my main problem. I don't know my characters. I know that there are four female friends comprising the cluster of mains and there are a few male supporting characters, but aside from their professions and (in the case of only a few) their physical details, that's it. No names, hobbies, tics, quirks, weaknesses, backgrounds, nothing. The sections of the Mole I'm using to organize details for the characters is blank in most areas. I'm beginning to become somewhat nervous, though I generally come through in the clutch so I'm more worried about putting myself through unnecessary stress than I am about failing.
There are a lot of things I'd like to have right now that I haven't produced yet. Mostly I'd like names, a little background, some character-specific playlists to add to my iPod like I did last year. I'd really like to know my main character, since she'll be telling the story. She's in every scene, for crying out loud.
Last year I used small bribes to make my deadlines on time, some of which I failed to meet. This year, I think I'm just going to go with one main bribe. If I finish NaNo in time, with a complete story, I'm buying a brand new Zojirushi lunchbox set. Otherwise, nothing. Who knows whether or not I'll be able to stick to this plan. I have a terrible habit of deviating from things at the last moment, the way I did with my 50 Book Challenge itinerary. Once I hit 50 back in September, I petered out and went back to writing my own fiction.
And that brings me to my final point of bitchery. Other people's fiction. This year I'm going to find the time during November to read. I'm going to read voraciously. I'm going to read every YA title I've wanted to read from the 1960s forward, including L'Engle, Bradbury and Dahl. I'm going to finish my Francesca Lia Block books. I'm going to read Poppy Z. Brite's short fiction. I'm going to even, believe it or not, read Breaking Dawn. I'm not putting the rest of my life on hold this year. Considering the fact that I'm taking the first week off work and immersing myself completely, this shouldn't be too hard of a task to accomplish.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Brush Pen Evaluation

Forgive me for not including handwriting photos at the moment. I’ve used two separate digital cameras and I’m still unable to capture decent handwriting samples. Regardless, I’m going ahead with this review and hopefully by next weekend I’ll have pictures included for each pen mentioned. Also, the photos of the pens themselves I rather blatantly lifted from Jetpens’ own website. If this is not allowed, please email me and let me know and I’ll take them down immediately. Now, on to the reviews.

First of all, let me make clear that I’m not using these pens for their intended purposes. I’m no artist and I am as Caucasian as they come, and these pens are really meant for Asian fonts, calligraphy and artwork. They’re great pens and I’ll continue using them as long as I have a reliable source for them, but I just don’t feel my giant, loopy Anglo handwriting is doing them much justice, especially in the aesthetics department. I really wish I knew enough Kanji to take full advantage of these, but until then making my journals and writing notebooks legible is going to be their main purpose.

Zebra Disposable Brush Sign Pen, Fine Nib. This is my standard journaling pen, the one I’ve been using for the last couple of years. Before that I had some fountain pens, which I still occasionally use, but the dark, thick lines of this pen just couldn’t be beat.

Zebra Disposable Brush Sign Pen. Super Fine Nib. Companion pen to my original Zebra, this one has a much finer line and a stiffer feeling nib. Not my cup of tea, really. My handwriting looks a bit childish and hesitant with this pen, as if I’m unsure of what I’m writing. It looks rushed and awkward in my journal, and I’ve resigned it for use at work when I need to jot down notes and I’m hiding my better pens from my coworkers. As an artists’ pen, though, this would make a great tool.

Pentel GFKP. This is an artists’ brush and I have no business owning something like this. I found this on eBay a few months ago and, knowing Shinkawa Yoji uses this same pen for his Metal Gear Solid artwork, I bought it simply so I could brag to Eric that I have one. He was thoroughly unimpressed. Rather than having a stiff, felt-tipped style nib, non-disposable brush pens use synthetic bristles to mimic traditional brush instruments. I’m still having a hard time controlling my handwriting with this, as it’s more difficult to master than a disposable. I have a Sailor Profit that is very similar in style to this and, despite not having used it in a while, I remember encountering the same difficulties with that pen as well.

Kuretake Fudegokochi Brush Pen, Super Fine Nib. Both samples Jetpens sent me to try are thinner than what I am used to using. They’re similar in thickness to the Zebra Super Fine, but neither leave me with the feeling that my handwriting looks bad using them. This one leaves my handwriting looking very thin and loopy, though still legible. The nib stays firm a very long time, regardless of how much writing is done with it. This is probably why my handwriting looks so decent with it despite the overall thinness. I like this pen quite a bit.

Kuretake Disposable Pocket Brush Sign Pen, Extra Fine Nib. Now this is a nice pen. Of the two given to me, I’d have to say I like this one slightly better. The pen itself is very classy, with a matching dark teal barrel and cap, complete with sparkly little “stars” embedded in the plastic. The gold embossing is a nice touch, as well. The nib itself is almost perfect, though still thinner than what I’m used to. The lines are just slightly thicker than the Fudegokochi and darker as well. It’s the perfect journaling pen and I’d imagine as an artists’ pen it also works very well. After using this I’m starting to think that perhaps my trusty Zebra makes my handwriting a bit too thick. I may need to make the switch to these pretty little blue pens sometime soon.

Much thanks to Jetpens for giving me this opportunity. I really like this company, not only for giving me the chance to review their pens but also for stocking the things I’ve needed for the last year or two. Their site is great, their prices reasonable and their shipping really quick. I’ll be a customer for a long time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jetpens Rocks

I like to use Japanese brush pens for journaling. They’re the only thing I’ve found that make my notoriously ornate handwriting even semi-legible, and the jet black ink stays bold on the pages of my Moleskine while my normal fountain pen inks tend to fade. I collect pens the way some people collect coins or stamps, and I like my pens to be refillable and durable (and too expensive for my budget now, sadly), but for lined journal paper I really can’t find anything better than disposable brush pens.

For a while I was buying disposable Zebra-brand fude pens on eBay off of a seller in Hong Kong or Taiwan, but the last time I needed to order them I found that they’d closed their seller account and I couldn’t find anyone else who had them in stock. A friend of mine, whose love for gel and roller pens more than equals my fountain pen obsession, introduced me to Jetpens (http://www.jetpens.com) and we’ve been making combined orders ever since.

Jetpens sells all manner of Japanese writing instruments and stationery, from expensive fountain pens to disposables to pencil cases. They even have my Zebras, in three different thicknesses (I prefer Fine, myself). I don’t need to scour the Internet looking for a seller halfway across the world anymore. They ship from the US and most times I’ve received my stuff in a day or two.

A week ago that same friend showed me a Facebook ad from Jetpens asking for reviewers to test new Uni-Ball Signos. I emailed and explained that I mostly use brush pens but I’d love to review anything for them as I’m a big fan of their site. They emailed back and told me they’d already given the pens for review away but they had some brush pens to give out. I now have two Kuretake brand pens waiting to be tested out and reviewed. I’m really excited. Not only do I get free stuff (and I love free stuff), but I also get to post photos of writing samples and compare all the different pens I have. And I get to promote a site I really love. I can’t forget that part.

Anyway, in the next few days expect to see a nice long post showing off my very frustrating handwriting and all the different pens I’ve been using lately, especially my brush pens.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

1000+ Words "Techonology"

This was another Eric-suggested exercise that exceeded expectations. “What about a ghost that can communicate only with technology? What if it can only appear as glitches in electronics?”

I took the idea and ran with it, though in a slightly skewed direction, and came up with a 1,800-word short I’m calling, simply, “Hello.” The ghost doesn’t show up as glitches, exactly. It does use electronic hardware as a way of getting their message across, though.

I wasn’t too thrilled when I started writing this. It really had the feel of a story that I’d end up abandoning halfway through. I used to write a lot of those. I’d come up with an idea, write out what I’d thought through (which was only about the first half of the story) and when it came time to flesh it out and finish it I’d balk. My idea would feel very stale to me, not worth spending time on, and I’d scrap it. Up until recently I’d probably write three or four of these half-stories for every one I’d actually finish.

Lately, though, I’ve been finishing more and more of my stories. In fact, most of what I start out writing simply for exercise ends up longer than I’d expected starting out. It’s a glad reversal, for me, and I feel like writing every day now. I no longer feel anxiety at having to come up with a new idea. Granted, not all my ideas end up panning out, but once I’ve committed to putting something onto paper I don’t feel a lack of inspiration anymore. In his book Writing Short Fiction, Damon Knight called the subconscious mind, the part of your brain that floats ideas up to the surface, Fred. Having a dialogue with Fred meant sending ideas or thoughts into the subconscious and accepting what was given back to you. The more you talk to Fred and use what he gives you, Knight explained, the more ideas you’ll end up receiving.

It seems like Fred’s been working overtime lately, and I really appreciate it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

1000+ Words "Baking"

I asked Eric for story ideas today. Occasionally I’ll go to him for inspiration and he’ll come up with a theme for me that ends up working well. Since I made cupcakes this morning and took photos and posted them to my Livejournal, he suggested I try a writing exercise with a baking theme.

What I ended up two hours later is a 3,125-word short story titled (for the time being, at least) “The Scavenger Girls,” and it really only has a slight involvement in the flour and sugar arts. It’s another ghost story. I can’t stop writing them. It’s a horrible, possibly fatal, affliction at this point.

Always the ghost stories, and always the tragic suicides. I can’t divorce myself from them, and at this point I’m not even sure I want to anymore.

At this point, I’d like to write anywhere from three to five more shorts this month. After that I’ll become serious about NaNo and my “month-long writing exercise,” and when I fill my daily quota on that project I can stop and busy myself with edits for the stories I’ve written. I’ve written four this month so far and there are several from last year I think I could reread and make a bit better.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"My Neighbor's Apartment" Submitted!

Instead of doing writing exercises today I opted to edit, polish and submit “My Neighbor’s Apartment” to a double-blind peer review journal I’ve had some success with in the past. I’ve read it, reread it, rewritten it in parts and have had other people give me their impressions and I have to say I’m really happy with it. I wish all short stories were this fun and painless.

“Wings” is still out at the Nocturnal Lyric. It’s been out since March and I’m still eagerly running to the mailbox every few days, looking for a self-addressed return envelope in my very obvious pen and handwriting. Every time I get one my heart jumps a little and I run back into the house to tear into it, almost afraid of the verdict.

It’s been a while since I received and acceptance letter or contract the old fashioned way.

I should send my stories out to another round of publishers, though I’m starting to doubt the quality of a few of them. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much. Of everything I’ve written in the past twelve months, aside from the two novels in progress, I think I’ve enjoyed “Cryptic Coloration” and “Canned Aisle” the most. “Cryptic Coloration” was my first real foray into magical realism, a story of two very different women paired up on a business retreat together and the odd things that surround the hotel they’re in. “Canned Aisle” is one of my “ghost invades the mundane world and goes on its merry way” stories, something that seems to be becoming almost a hallmark of mine. That theme and the theme of the suicide jumper have shown up so many times that I’ve lost count at this point.

I really ought to take all my unpublished short works out in October, dust them off, rework them if necessary and send them to publishers before November comes around.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

1000+ Words "Unoccupied Apartment"

Write 1000 or more words describing an empty apartment and what can be found inside. I ended up with another somewhat pleasing short story, this one 2.640 words in length. This one is titled “My Neighbor’s Apartment.” I think I’m slipping in the story titling department as of late. My titles keep coming out bland.

There’s something about Autumn that turbocharges my fiction-writing initiative. Last year I wrote four or five short stories in October and November, and this year I’ve written three in a week. Granted, not all of them are going to see the light of day (what writer has a 100% publication rate?) but they’re fun to write and make for great exercises. Plus, each new story adds an entry to the body of my work as a whole, which makes me happy. I like to see my collection of stories grow, even if they haven’t been published and possibly never will. There’s a little fragmented piece of me in each and every one of them.

Despite NaNo season coming up in three weeks, I dusted off my old copy of Damon Knight’s book “Creating Short Fiction” today for a reread. It’s a great book, full of ideas, charts, writing samples, exercises, you name it. Despite being 27 years old, it’s still one of the best books on the subject I’ve found.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

1000+ Words "Street at Night"

Yesterday I assigned myself an off-the-cuff idea. Describe a street at night and what waits at the end of it. An hour later I had a rough 1,700-word short story that I edited and polished into a somewhat pleasing little piece I’m calling “Humidity at Night.” Since it has a very concrete beginning, middle and end I’m not going to reproduce it here. I just want to give an update so I can prove to anyone reading (and myself, really) that I’m not slacking off. I am still writing.

It’s just going way better at the moment than I’d expected, and I’m keeping more of it to myself than I thought I would.

I’m still not sold on the title “Humidity at Night,” though. It seems a little generic to me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Funny Observation

I did another Room to Write exercise today, “Rantings and Ravens,” but I ended up with a 1,200-word short story that really pleases me. I’m not putting it up here just yet, in the off chance I may be able to use it somewhere. For the time being I’ve named it “Curious Morning.”

I wrote it in the first person and kept the protagonist rather vague, not for any concrete reason but because it was intended to be nothing more than a short writing exercise. However, I had in my mind a picture of a woman while I wrote it, probably because I am a woman.

When Eric read it, he saw the protagonist as male. Funny how we inject a little piece of ourselves into the things we read (and write).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Room to Write - "No Experience Necessary"

Today write about something you haven’t done… Don’t be concerned with accuracy or believability. Instead follow your feelings and your imagination.


Every year I say that this is the year I’m going to do it. I’m going to lose enough weight and get in decent enough shape and I’m going to take lessons, and once those lessons are done and I’m certified I’m going to take the money I don’t have and fly down to the Caribbean and dive.

I haven’t done it yet but I have grand plans, plans that include swimming with sharks, touching an orca, discovering an untouched plane or ship at the bottom of the ocean and witnessing skeletal ghosts with my own eyes. I’m going to see clusters of tiny barnacles with my own eyes, iridescent squid and miles of glowing jellyfish too. I’m going to witness a wobbegong hiding in the sand, a cookie-cutter shark taking ragged little chunks out of the hulls of boats.

I’m going to be there, connected to a portable metallic lung, while dolphins chase fish, while kelp dances, while manatees do whatever it is they do while they aren’t fleeing boat propellers. I’m going to touch the sides of giant tuna as they go by, grab onto the fin of a whale.

I’m going to touch a seal. It will even sit on my belly as we float on the surface.

Maybe I’ll discover something down there, artifacts worth money perhaps, or maybe personal effects that mean something to someone still living.

I haven’t gone diving yet, but I’ve had a subscription (a free one, but still) to a scuba magazine for two years now. I don’t always have time to read all the articles, but the pictures take my breath away. I’m taken by multicolored little fish, giant cetaceans, the sleek, dark divers beside them. The beaches are all beautiful, with shiny white or matte black edges meeting the water, the vegetation tall and well watered. The plants in magazines never go thirsty, never dry out.

I’ve never been diving, but I will. I’m not sure when or how, but I will.

And I know it will be nothing like my imagination.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Room to Write - "You're Such an Animal"

“... write from the point of view of the animal with whom you identify most.”

Try to guess who this is. /sarcasm


I love going to the bathroom in my neighbor’s yard. There’s something about wandering into someone else’s grass and dropping a deuce that appeals to me, though I’m not exactly sure what that is. I just like it. It’s the perfect way to start the morning.

Life is, for me, somewhat boring, and because of that I have to find my pleasures where I can. Entertainment is often watching a movie on the television with one of my housemates in a language I cannot understand, harassing people as they walk by my house or napping.

Napping. Oh, God do I love napping. I’ve made sleeping in odd places practically a competitive sport. I can sleep on linoleum, grass, pavement, hard carpeted stairs, anything. I can sleep inside a claustrophobic plastic prison with bars across the door, on my soft-foam bed (just like the ones they advertise on TV), on those stairs for hours upon hours. My favorite place to sleep, though, is in a carpeted corner, twisted up like a corpse, my legs thrown up on the wall like an afterthought. It looks like someone’s murdered me and tossed my body somewhere convenient. It never fails to freak the housemates out, especially the girly one who makes me watch those movies with her every day.

Another thing I do to pass the time is eating. Normally my food is bland and even the water I drink liberally does little to help me choke it down. Sometimes, though, people buy me cookies or give me chips. I love snack food. Once in a blue moon I’m caught by the urge to thieve food, just for the fun of it. I’ve stolen meat, cheese, cookies and even a whole salami sandwich once. American cheese tastes funny.

More than stealing, though, I love manipulating people into giving me what they’re eating. It’s so much more fun to wander around the house, following people as they make their lunches or dinners or snacks and harassing them until they cave. One of my most successful techniques is to sit at the top of the steps and stare at them until they cannot ignore me any longer. That usually yields some decent results.

Sometimes, though, I end up with food I don’t like. Those are the times I really wish I hadn’t begged, but usually I just throw the nasty stuff on the floor and someone takes care of it for me. It makes me feel like a celebrity. Some of the foods I’ve manipulated people into giving me that I don’t like are cucumbers, raw mushrooms, zucchini and dill pickles. If it’s green, cold and crisp I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like it at this point.

Just give me your Sun Chips instead.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Room to Write - "The 'D' Word"

Today write about discipline... Or, you can follow one of your characters through the process of dealing with an aspect of discipline.

I think perhaps I did this one a little closer to spec.


Today was the day that Natalie finally admitted to herself that she lacked discipline. It was that morning, while brewing coffee to take to work with her, that she could no longer ignore it or blow it off.

It was staring her right in the face. Her countertop was so cluttered she couldn’t get to the paper towels she needed to clean up the coffee overflow (she’d used two filters again, damnit) before it cascaded onto the floor.

Now she was going to be late. This was the second time this week, and she had an evaluation coming up.

As she scrambled to clear the way to the towels, she banged her knee on the bread drawer she often forgot to close. She howled and dropped to the floor, bumping her head against the overflowing garbage can. Bits of last night’s taco salad, which she never could finish, jumped out of the open bin and came to rest atop her head.

She did the first thing that came to her. Natalie let out a string of expletives. Then she started to cry.

This was it. No more. The days of being a slow were over. She’d organize everything, toss out what wasn’t needed, pare her belongings down to where she knew where everything was. She’d even make a cleaning schedule, and she’d stick to it.

She’d start it tomorrow, for sure.

Room to Write - "Eat It"

Today write only through your sense of taste. Speculate on and imagine the taste of whatever surrounds you. Without necessarily writing about food, experience the world as flavors.

I’m not sure I went about this exactly as instructed.


My flavor is bitter, spicy and smoky, permeated completely by the tea that flows through me. When I’m angry I become as bitter as an early spring crabapple, as hard and inedible as a cold, rough stone laying in someone’s driveway.

Full of happiness, I am as smooth, creamy and sweet as the finest chocolate ganache. I flow over the lips and tongue with little to no resistance, forming a brilliant symbiotic pleasure.

Those times are few and far between, however. For the most part I am lukewarm and full of quiet smoke, a fine Formosa oolong in a chipped cup. You can pour me full of sugar, but that only serves to mask my true nature.

Writing Exercises

For quite some time I’ve been conjuring up my own writing exercise ideas, things that I call my “1000+ exercises” simply because I force myself to follow the idea to the one thousand word mark and beyond. Many of these have become short stories, some better than others, and it’s for this reason that I’ve generally kept the ideas to myself.

However, I’ve been reading some writers’ books lately (most notably Room to Write) and in them there are many suggestions for story fragments, character studies, essays and simple ideas that get the creative juices flowing but do not necessarily end up with the creation of a salable story.

From here on out, I think I will be typing these up and posting them on this blog. I think I would really enjoy throwing things out for people to read and even share their own ideas, so long as there is anyone still reading this blog. It lays dormant for long periods of time, and for that I apologize.

Today I’ve done two exercises, short ones, and I hope to have them up shortly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Where Have I Been All This Time?

No, I'm not dead. I've just slacked off somewhat. A terrible shame on me.
Over the last couple weeks I've found myself caught up in house cleaning, video game playing, exercising and reading the Murakami novels I hadn't gotten around to yet. I'm still about 15 books shy of my goal in the 50 Book Challenge, and I'd like to have most of that done by November before embarking on my second NaNoWriMo project.
I have written a few more small chapters for Rain and a few 1000+ Words exercises, just to flex the writing muscles once in a while. I suppose if I honestly don't want them to atrophy I'll have to use them more. I'm a bit ashamed of myself at the moment. Something that makes me so completely happy and fulfilled should be a bit higher up on my list of priorities. At least now, though, I have an orderly area in which to work, rather than that sty of a bedroom I used to spend all my time in. It took several days to get it to where I wanted it, and now that it's clean and organized I'm amazed at the amount of space I have to work with.
I've come to the realization that without structure and organization I am nothing. I can't get anything accomplished if I allow myself total freedom. Without putting things in writing I can't remember my goals. So from now on I'll have to go back to making daily To-Do lists, including both my household chores and my writing ideas. I'd ideally like to write a chapter of Rain a day before the enthusiasm for the project wears off, but barring that I'd at least like to write one 1000+ Words exercise daily or every other day. The exercises I'd really like to share, maybe even post here, but since a few of them grew into full-fledged short stories (and some are even still out for submission) I don't know if I can do that or not.
For today, though, I think before I wind down mid-afternoon in preparation for sleep I'll get to reviewing and adding to Rain. It's a neat little story that I'd like to finish not only for myself but also for Eric, who has been waiting patiently for the next several chapters.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Few New Rejections

“A Poor Self-Image” was recently rejected from Fail Better (www.failbetter.com) and “Cryptic Coloration” was sent back from Ideomancer (www.ideomancer.com).

Oh, well.

“A Poor Self-Image” may end up being too heavy-handed to sell, considering the message it’s pushing. I didn’t really want to tell the story like that, with a moral nicely baked in the center, but it was the only way I could write it that included everything I wanted. A rejected reflection only comes about from one of a few things, most of which are going to sound cheesy when put down in writing.

“Cryptic Coloration,” though, I’m very fond of. I can go back and read that any number of times. It was my first attempt at Magical Realism, and though there’s not much in the way of an exciting plot (and zero in the way of real conflict), I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished it. It was a delight to write. Only now, during the submissions process, I’ve come to realize that this story really doesn’t meet any genre criteria. I might have to go the way of literary magazines to find a home for this one. It’s not horror at all, nor science fiction, and it could only be categorized as fantasy in the loosest of senses. Ideomancer requires a genre to pigeonhole the story in, and gives you a list to choose from, so I picked “slipstream.” I’m not even sure that was accurate, to be honest.

So now I have four or five stories I need to shop out again, and two I’m waiting on hearing back about still.

Back to the Post Office I go.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Brief Update

I must not have been paying close attention to the dates recently, because it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted anything here. “The Orchard” came out in the June issue of The Harrow the other day, and I have to say I’m really excited about it. Seeing my work in print, whether actual print or on a website, paid or unpaid, encourages me to do more. Sometimes, like recently, I find it easy to get caught up in other things and let my writing fall by the wayside. Seeing my own work as if it were that of someone else legitimizes things for me, convinces me to keep going, to type these stories out instead of playing them over and over inside my head for an audience of one.

On a related note, I’ve resumed work on Rain. I’m finishing Chapter Thirteen today. I’m not sure where I’m going with the story but I’m having quite a bit of fun typing it out. I’m sure I’d have a more concrete tale if I were to outline or plan somehow, but aside from the notes file I’ve been keeping (which is really just a glossary of things I’ve already written in previous chapters) I haven’t felt inclined. It’s coming along nicely, though, and it’s keeping me focused.

On the other hand, I’m also still making that run at the 50 Book Challenge this year. I finished #27, Max Barry’s marketing-themed satire Syrup, on May 31st. Right now I’m reading Koji Suzuki’s Spiral, the new Metal Gear Solid novelization (obligatory Eric comment goes here) and a book of food journalism called How to Pick a Peach. I’m staring to become interested in food-themed nonfiction again. I’ve noticed that my interests tend to come and go in cycles.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


My short story "The Orchard," which has been desperately searching a for a home for a good seven years, has finally found a place to roost. The Harrow has accepted it for their June "evil trees" issue.

I feel good. Really good.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Difference a Year Makes

Day two of the “novel experiment” and I’ve got four short chapters done, none of which are more than a thousand words. It feels very odd to write chapters that only span three or four double-spaced pages.

I feel kind of lazy, to be honest.

I’m liking it, though. I’m liking the story and where it’s going, liking the oddball chapter titles, liking the apartment building that serves as the current setting and liking the two characters that have appeared so far. I’m not sure where this is going to go or how long it’s going to be, but it’s something fun to do and I am learning a bit about myself along the way.

I’m not really all that happy unless I’m doing something like this. If I’ve gone a while without writing something, even if I have manuscripts out at different publishers, even if I’ve recently received acceptance notifications, I feel lazy and a bit unhappy. This is apparently what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be notable or even decent (aside from my own opinion and that of Eric’s) but unless I’m doing this I’m going to feel like crap.

No wonder most of my twenties were so miserable.

I still don’t feel like I’m on the top of the world, but I’m getting there. I’ve been published, I have stories out at different places and I’ve lost almost sixty pounds in a year… Yeah, I could be doing a lot worse. I haven’t reached any long-term goals yet, but I’m making a strong and steady pace and that really means a lot to me. A year ago I was a totally different person, jealous and angry and bitter and full of spite. And now, I’m just slightly disgruntled.

I can deal with that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Adventures in Postmodernism

I’m writing a piece of shit “postmodern” novel, and I’m having a blast. It’s about a woman who had a frightening experience during an evening rain as a child and is now terrified of thunderstorms.

Calling it a piece of shit could be an overstatement, and it’s even possible that I’m being self-depreciating for no real reason. It’s a deviance from my normal writing style, at least as far as chapter length and attention span go, and the subject matter is a bit, I have no other way of saying it, “weird.”

But I like it, and I’m having a hell of a good time thinking things up for it, so it’s all good, right? When this is over and done with, even if nobody gives a damn about it but me I’ll still have written a bizarre experimental novel and tested my own abilities. That’s not wasted time.

Ever since I read Takahashi’s “Sayonara, Gangsters” I’ve been thinking about this. What would it look like, and read like, if I threw convention out the window and created a story with short chapters, bizarre characters and odd situations? Would it be good? Would it even be interesting?

I don’t have a whole lot else to do right now but experiment and find out where my strengths lie, so why the hell not, right? I spent most of my younger years obsessed with reading and writing horror, striving to pen the ultimate in vampire and ghost stories, only to realize once I got older and back into the game that perhaps the ultimates in those arenas have already been created. There isn’t a lot more to say about the standard “boogeyman” type characters. I’m sure that there are more ghosts and vampires and creepy crawlies to be written, and someday I may possibly conjure one, but for now I’m enjoying expanding my universe.

It feels good to write. It feels good to format and send out manuscripts, but being in the middle of the actual process of writing is what feels best to me. I’m glad to have something to work on again. “Pages” may need to take a backseat for a while, but that’s all right. Once a story catches my attention and forces me into action, I can either go with it and start writing immediately or I can put it off and run the risk of losing interest in it.

I’m going with this one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Wait Begins

As of yesterday, all my previously unpublished fiction has been submitted to various publishers, both print and online. "At the Flea Market" is at The Three-Lobed Burning Eye and "The Orchard" has been submitted to The Harrow, an online horror magazine that uses a peer review submission style. Before this I was never aware that being nervous and serene could be accomplished simultaneously. On one hand, I’m confident in these stories (especially the newer ones) and feel they deserve a home somewhere. On the other, who knows how reliable my own opinion is, and waiting to hear if my work is a good fit for where its been sent always makes me a bit jittery.

Since getting back into novel reading I’ve noticed just how much other peoples’ work influences my own. I’ve been branching out into different genres and, inevitably, my own writing has followed, malleable and easy to reshape. I don’t identify with the horror genre so much anymore. In fact, I don’t really identify with anything at this point. After watching Gary Braunbeck read “We Now Pause For Station Identification” I decided to try my hand at a zombie story, something I’ve never done before. The result was “Wings,” a much shorter story that has little to do with Mr. Braunbeck’s work, but the inspiration remains the same.

After reading several novels and short stories by Haruki Murakami, I was eager to try my hand at something a bit more surreal, less horrific but still fairly odd. “Cryptic Coloration” was the result. Even back in my high school days I was influenced by what I read. If I dug up the short stories I penned back then I’d no doubt see a glaring Anne Rice influence, backed up by pulpy genre paperbacks and the now-defunct Dell Abyss line of novels. I loved them so much. I hope I still have them boxed up in the attic with the rest of my old books.

It’s funny how much your environment ends up influencing you.

Now that I have nothing at the moment to shop around, I need to get back to writing. I have spurts of inspiration, ideas, motivation, whatever you want to call it really, but for the most part I have no idea what I want to do. The days where I sit down and tell myself “Alright, you’re going to write a thousand or more words on X subject,” and it works out are lucky, not the norm. I might have completed seven new stories since this past fall, but there are just as many incomplete ones, waiting for me to return to them. Some I may never go back to, and some amount to little more than plain writing exercises.

I remember the promise I made to myself last fall, the little “Author’s Statement” I signed and stuck to my wall stating I’d produce at least one work of original fiction

Author’s Statement

I, Jessica Brown, do state my intent to write one piece of original new fiction per month minimum from October 2007 forward. These pieces need not be perfect, nor do they have to have a specific word count, but I must be writing constantly. This is in addition to reading.

In order to be a competent writer I must be well practiced and well read. No more procrastination.

October 7, 2007

So far, I haven’t defied it. I’m still writing at least one piece of fiction a month. But now that doesn’t seem like enough. I wrote “At the Flea Market,” “Canned Aisle” and “A Poor Self-Image” all within a week, with “Cryptic Coloration” following shortly. That’s the kind of momentum I like best, that bam bam bam of words onto paper, paper in order, a short story becoming complete. And then, admiring your work and moving on to the next neat idea that’s taken up residence in your head. That’s how I like to do things. Any time spent not writing is time where my ability to write could begin to atrophy. At least, that’s how it feels to me sometimes. If I don’t keep writing, I could wake up tomorrow unable to write at all.

So how do I keep this balance? How do I continue to feed my hunger for novels and short story collections and still find the time to write?

For now, I think I’m going to get back to working on Pages. I have no idea where I’m going with this or how long it’s going to be, but that’s part of the fun in it I suppose. Since finishing NaNo, I don’t really worry about a story’s length or keep to a strict plot outline. It’ll go where it wants to go, and if where it wants to go is rancid and worthless we’ll just try again. I haven’t had that happen yet, though. The stories never travel in that direction of their own volition. They always end up ruined when I try to force a group of characters through a plot I think is too cool to pass up.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Biggest Obstacle Appears to Be Me

First off, much appreciation to both Eric, my boyfriend and Rob, a buddy of mine, for helping me get this machine operational again. I’d have given up blogging if they hadn’t bailed me out. Hopefully everything’s in order now and the Macbook won’t be acting up again. If it does… I really don’t even want to think about it. I’m sick of having to trudge up to the Apple Store for help, and now that my warranty has lapsed there’s no help to be had there without a steep cost attached. I’m going to be avoiding that place for as long as I can.

How much objectivity is there in the opinion of loved ones? I’m sure there are parents out there at ballet recitals somewhere who, despite having witnessed their daughter’s inability to differentiate between her left and her right, still believe she could make prima ballerina. The rest of the audience knows it’s just not so, but to the parents of the confused dancer, no obstacle is too high to get around. How much of the encouragement and support of my own family and loved ones is love and enthusiasm for me alone and how much of it is for my writing? I know I’ll get in trouble with Eric when he sees this but I feel this way sometimes.

I suppose the easiest way to test this theory is to share it with others, but I’m apparently too much of a chickenshit to do something like that, at least when there’s no grade or college credit involved. I’ve no problem sending out manuscripts, but sharing my work with fellow writers isn’t something I can easily do. I can sit and shoot the breeze all I want at 100 Words meetings but to actually produce a writing sample, now that’s a whole new thing completely. I’m not sure why this is, exactly.

I know my writing isn’t complete trash, because I’ve seen complete trash and there’s no way to even compare the two. I at the very least put the time and effort into a manuscript to make sure it’s clear of grammatical and spelling errors and there are no glaring contradictions in plot or stilted, cliché dialogue. That sets me above most of the stuff being passed around message boards or personal homepages, at least for the people who take things only half seriously. I’m not really proud of this because that’s the way it’s supposed to be, so really by setting that standard I’m only assuring I meet the most base requirements of fiction writing.

When I write them, and even when I read them, the short stories I come up with seem entertaining to me. When I read sample short stories for magazines I’d like to contribute to, sometimes I think mine are better. Usually, though, I’m fairly confident they’re on an even par. So, with that being said, what do these stories have that mine so far haven’t? Am I lacking in something? Am I unlucky? Have I just not found the right fit yet? I’ve received a handful of rejection slips since I started submitting again this past Fall, and most of them have included either a gentle “not the best fit for us, good luck elsewhere,” or a short bit of constructive criticism. I appreciate them both, quite a bit, especially the ones where the rejection comes with an invitation to submit something else. Those make my day almost as much as acceptance slips. Almost.

If I take the advice of both my loved ones and my rejection slip folder, I’d have to say I’m being a bit unnecessarily gloomy about the state of my own writing. That makes me feel a bit better. I spend a lot of time in bookstores, especially on weekends, and I can’t help wandering the rows staring at the published books wondering, “Why not me?” I know the chances of being published are somewhat remote and the chances of making a profit off repeated publishings even more so, but if some of these people are making a living off of it there’s no way it’s not an achievable goal for me. No way in Hell. I just need to knuckle down and write more. It’s the only way to fly.

I’ve got six manuscripts out at various publishers right now, all of them short stories. “A Poor Self-Image” has been sent to Fail Better, “Canned Aisle” to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, “Commute” to The Abacot Journal, “Cryptic Coloration” to Zahir, “In My Office” is still at East of the Web and “Wings” has been submitted to The Nocturnal Lyric. Out of those six, hopefully at least one will be accepted. I’m particularly fond of “Cryptic Coloration,” though I really am pleased at how they’ve all turned out. I’m still looking for the right places to submit two of my other stories, “At the Flea Market” and “The Orchard.”

“The Woman Without” is currently over at Horrotica, as well.

Monday, March 3, 2008

No, I Didn't Vanish

I just had a hard drive failure followed by a sinus infection followed by a bricked laptop battery, that's all. I haven't given up on writing, blogging or anything else. It's just very hard to find a way to post when Blogger is blocked from work and your home computer has been rendered nonfunctional.

Back to business, I suppose. Since I last posted I've taken up the Fifty Book Challenge, and I'm currently on book thirteen of the year. Not too shabby. I've actually got about five different books going at once, bouncing back and forth between lighter novels and thicker ones, so it feels like I've read a lot more than just those thirteen books. I'm still on a Japanese lit kick, trying to burn through all the translated works in my stack. It's going to take a while to get through them all, especially when I keep buying more and picking more up at the library. I need to return Sayonara, Gangsters and Life in the Cul-De-Sac to the Carnegie Library by Sunday. Chop, chop.

I sent out four manuscript submissions today. I always feel a mixture of confidence and unease when I mail them out. I see other peoples' works in small press magazines and I honestly feel my own work matches up, but shortly afterwards my confidence inevitably begins to falter. Am I too gimmicky? Too unrealistic? Am I only 'good' to myself and Eric? Sometimes I just don't know. Logically I know that it's mostly a game of finding the right manuscript for the right publisher, but sometimes I feel like an amateur. I suppose, in a way, I AM an amateur. 

I have another meeting of the 100 Words Club to go to on Saturday. It's a group that evolved from the Pittsburgh NaNo board. There's some really interesting people there. The concept is that you should devote time to at least 100 words of either new fiction or editing a day. Easy enough, right? Well, I hate to admit it, but I don't write every day. I try to, but I spend most of my time reading other, more successful, authors' works, hoping to better myself in the process. The days I do get down to writing, however, I tend to get my wordcount up into the thousands. I'll just have to keep pushing myself to stick to a regular schedule. It's the only way I'm ever going to build up a collection of works. 

Monday, January 7, 2008

It's Been a Month

Playtime's over. 

I started another short story today, this one based upon a short story I wrote a dozen or so years ago. It's almost a rewrite except for the fact that I'm taking a simple ghost story featuring two sisters as the main characters and expanding it to involve dissolving of the immediate family when one of them dies as a child.

The NaNo novel is due to be worked upon again any day now, as soon as I'm done with the handful of short stories I have in the pipe. They've been waiting for me for too long and I really need to get them finished before I can focus on longer works again. Also, to be completely honest, I'm a bit afraid to go back to the novel at this point. It's almost like I've lost the ability, and just after I learned how to boot. It's all in my head, I know, and once I'm at the point where I can focus on just this one project I'll get it done. Eric's been asking about it lately as well, and I'd like to make him happy by giving him a conclusion to look forward to.