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

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 Rather than giving him something unpublished that I’ve had on my hard drive for a while (most of my newer stuff has been sent out within the last few months) I think I’m going to write something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.