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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Psycho Maria

After surgery my surgeon prescribed some pain meds. I still take them occasionally but only if I really hurt and then only if Greg forces me. If he notices me grimacing more than usual he'll bring me this big horse pill and water. “Take it,” he orders.

“I can make it,” I groan back. -sigh- He never believes me.

It’s not that I’m that stoic. I just don’t like depending on anything. But this is where one of those funny stories I told you about comes in.

Right after surgery, they had me hooked up to an IV and the nurse attached this pump to my hospital gown. I vaguely remember her explaining to me that I was to press this button if I were in pain. Normally, I always ask what it is they’re giving me but I was just too out of it to care at the time.

Anyway, for the first 48 hours I was in horrible pain; the kind of pain that hurts just laying there. So I hit that button to take the edge off. It would help for about 40 minutes then I’d go back to grinding my teeth. (I kept time constantly. There was a big clock on the wall in front of me.)

After the first 24 hours, which by the way seemed to last forever, I started hearing voices in my room even though I was alone. Then came pulsing shadows that zoomed from the doorway to my bedside. Other times, I’d get brief glimpses of grotesque half human/half beast combinations standing over my bed or fat flying fairies shooting past a nurse's shoulder.

I don’t know if it was because I was too beat up to care or if I knew that my subconscious was creating these creatures, but I was never frightened. …all right, the horse-head nurse licking her chops was kind of creepy but the rest of them were acceptable monsters.

I knew they were hallucinations because they were in full color and I dream in grays. Besides, I couldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time on the first day. They also had me strapped into this blood pressure suit that wrapped around my lower extremities and kept me stabilized. It was noisy and constrictive, making it pretty uncomfortable and impossible to sleep for long.

But the weirdest part happened on the third day. Twice a nurse came into my room and I answered her question before she spoke it. I think it freaked her out the second time. She asked me if I was psychic. I will swear to you I heard her ask those questions plain as day. I would have passed it off as part of my hallucinations, but they had taken me off the morphine by then.

My sister told me later that she had a similar experience when they put her on morphine, although she didn’t have the precognition.

It was an interesting experience. Not interesting enough to repeat it, but it certainly gave me some good story fodder. Too bad someone didn’t ask me what the next day’s lottery numbers were going to be. We could’ve been rich!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Markets & Links

Mother Earth News
Bimonthly magazine that promotes more self-sufficient, financially independent and environmentally aware lifestyles.
Payment: $25 to $50 for shorter pieces up to $150 (1,500 to 2,000 words).

They used to be a real homesteading magazine. More yuppy oriented today, but they still have good info.

MommyThink, USA
Web site for mothers who are thinking about natural mothering, attachment parenting, natural childbirth, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, babywearing, co-sleeping, homeschooling, alternative health and more. Pay: $25 to $50 for most articles, but sometimes up to 10 cents per word for 'extra special articles'.

Links-o-Fun

How Stuff Works
I could wander around here for days. More information than you have time.

Bored.com
Go here when you're stuck in bed or bored out of your mind. My sister sent me this. A very cool site with lots to keep you occupied when you don't feel like writing.

Yes, Mike. Another one of my evil plans to lead you astray. LOL. Enjoy.

Networking potential

Every time I think I’ve caught up with my email, 25 more emails show up. I stay active within a lot of groups. It’s interesting to note what a delicate balance I’ve maintained when it came to my available time. Drop off the game for more than a few days and you wake up to an avalanche of mail.

That’s okay. Mail diminishes on the weekend so I should catch up by then.

I can’t sit for long periods of time. My insides feel like they pinch if I stay in a bended position, so I’m constantly returning to bed throughout the day. Doc says I’ll feel that tugging feeling for months but every day should get better.

One of the emails I answered today came about from my last workshop on marketing. Two of the students offered to form a Writing Career Coaching group. If I understood it correctly, it will be the basis of a relationship where we encourage and support our writing peers with information and camaraderie.

We are still in our infancy so details are sketchy but I’ll give an update as more information becomes available. My spidey sense tells me this is a golden opportunity so I wanted to take advantage of it while I could.

But this brings me to today’s topic on how to choose networking partners. It never hit home more poignantly than something that occurred to me about a year ago. They call it networking for a reason. If you exist merely to take, you are a pariah and detrimental to the whole. I believe even newbies have something to offer if you are willing to look beyond the surface.

Last year I attended a function where I met some really big movers and shakers. I was grateful a few of them chose to include me in their circle even though I hadn’t been published in fiction yet. Among these people, I met one particular woman who was clearly in control of her destiny. She had a contract for three books, had been published in several other venues and understood the publishing industry intimately. We also had immediate chemistry. We just liked each other.

At the same function, I also met someone else. She wasn’t published, and even admitted that she knew her skills weren’t sufficient yet. She was still in the learning stage. But this young lady had something that none of the other accomplished writers had. She had a presence that I recognized immediately. When she walked into a room her smile made you feel important. When she spoke, it was as if you were old friends. What she possessed was a gift that few people (including myself) lack.

While I know I will someday reach the acumen level of my first friend, I will likely never develop the charisma of my second friend. It’s a gift that few people possess.

Which one of these ladies will make the better networking partner? Both! I’ve learned a great deal about the publishing industry from my first friend. But deep down, I think I learned something even more valuable from my second friend.

I think as long as you’re willing to offer instead of take, to inspire instead of whine, to focus rather than scatter your forces to the winds, you'll have what it takes to succeed.

Mantra for today: Make your life an active verb and discover all the fun you've been missing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Baby stories

Today is my birthday so it seemed appropriate to share one of my baby stories. I have no idea if this story is true but my mother has repeated it verbatim so often I’ve come to believe her.

My parents lived in Chicago but my mother insisted on birthing her firstborn with her mother nearby. My grandparents lived in Mexico right at the Texas border. The plan was to shuttle my mother across the border as soon as labor started so I could be born an American citizen. (good thinking, guys)

As per my nature I jolted my mother awake very, very early on the morning of March 28. Labor didn’t last long and I was out within a few hours. I was tiny, so small that my “helpful” relatives whispered that I wouldn’t survive. They gathered together to offer support.

To their amazement I survived the first week. (silly people, they didn’t know who they were dealing with) I was not premature but I was way smaller than normal, so the family insisted my mother remain behind even though my father had to return to work in Chicago.

Many weeks went by and by this time my unnatural silence was shattered by persistent crying. Now my poor distraught mother was certain something was wrong with me. With tears in her eyes she brought me to yet another pediatrician for help. The doc examined me at length and finally laid me back down on the table. Mom says he studied me for a bit and then extended both his index fingers to either side of me.

She says at that moment I stopped crying and focused directly on the doc's face then latched on to each index finger with my tiny hands. It took all her courage not to cry out when the doc lifted me straight off the examining table. I held on to him, my eyes boring into him like an eagle on prey (her words).

According to the story he held me up in midair for several seconds. He laid me down again then put me back into my mother’s arms. The doctor insisted there was nothing wrong with me. But she was to quit nursing and put me on whole cow’s milk. I was to eat as much as I wanted regardless what the other “experts” advised. He was certain I was just hungry.

--Now there could be some truth to that. I’ve been known to put up quite a fuss when I’m not fed regularly.

Anyway, my mother did as she was told and switched me to whole milk. And I went back to being my naturally quiet self. Never did put on much size but evidently I make up for that with true grit.

I always liked that story. Sometimes I think I’ve been hanging in midair ever since. It’s been a heck of a ride so far.

Today: I don’t know what Greg has planned for me. He’s been unusually mum which always raises my radar. Whatever it is it should be low key. I can’t be up for more than a few minutes at a time anyway.

Most of my recuperation has been spent watching the Stargate series dvd's. Evidently, they don't start getting interesting until season 6. They still have some serious logic flaws that drive me batty but I've learned to like most of the characters.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Greetings from Earth

I'm back. Well, most of me anyway. Textbook surgery with the complication of a miserable cold just to make it exciting.

The best news is the pathology report said that all the masses were benign. Woohooo! They removed the staples from the belly wound and I am feeling more human today. Still sore as hell and weaker than I'd like to admit, but every day is better.

I have more than 250 emails to look at and at least a third of them require a response so I am slowly working my way through them all.

A lot has happened while I've been in the land of Oz, some of it even writing related so I'll be posting regularly again soon. There were also some funny stories during my hospital stay--well, I imagine they will be funny with the distance of time. Right now, not so much. But they churned up some interesting writing topics.

Anyway, just thought I'd say hi. My warden, er...husband is ordering me back to bed.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Last post for a while

Today will be my last post for a few days. I go in for surgery tomorrow and get my insides taken out side. I've been dreading, postponing, and finally resigning myself to the inevitable.

I went in for my pre-op appointment, trying to hide the fact that I hadn't been feeling well lately. That darn lab work turned me in though. Still, they'll go ahead with the surgery because they loaded me up on antibiotics tonight.

If all goes well I shouldn't be in hospital more than a few days. I'm a demanding rabbit so I expect nothing less than smashing results. But you know all about best-laid plans.

I've cleaned my house and my desk at work from tip to top. Then I loaded poor Greg down with all the important phone numbers and life information for “just in case”.

I’ve had so many friends rally around me that I feel unworthy. So let me get my thank you’s off my chest while I’m still conscious. Thank you, Pari for meeting me in the middle of your busy day just to pick up newsletters. Thank you, Mel for offering to dog sit so Greg could spend more time with me. Thank you, Robyn for loading me down with hot romance reads because you knew I couldn’t handle Sodoku after anesthetic. Thank you, Kevbo for your super secret phone number and a sympathetic ear. Thank you, Maya for offering so many things just to make my life easier. You guys are the best!

Thank you to all my employees. You looked stunned and mortified that I won't be there to harrass you regularly. I was touched by your hugs and heartfelt wishes. Yes, you can come visit.

Thank you to all my online friends who have wished me prayers, good karma and speedy recovery. I won’t let you down. I’ve got a birthday coming up next week. I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.

It would seem insufficient to thank Greg. He is my soul mate, and in all but body is going through this surgery with me. As always, he keeps me centered, but I know he bears the emotional brunt of this experience. No one is as lucky as I am.

You can call Greg if you absolutely have to have an update on me. He will complain and moan loudly about what a rotten patient I am. Go ahead and feel sorry for him. For once he won’t be exaggerating.

Browse around my website while I'm gone. I have lots of good posts on various experiences (writing and otherwise). There are also author interviews and a page full of helpful writing links. Visit here.

See you when I get back!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday news

Pet Food Recall: Menu Foods, a Canadian based company has recalled 48 brands of cat food and 40 brands of dog food, including premium brands like Eukanuba and Iams. At least ten pets have died from the affected food across North America. Symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite and kidney failure.

The estimated recall will cost the Canadian based company up to 34 million dollars. --Buddy, that’s not the worst of your worries if pet owners find out you killed their pets.

For a complete list of products go here.

We went to Walmart this morning and noticed that the affected pet foods were still on the shelves. I contacted the manager immediately and told her that unless the company wanted new lawsuits they needed to pull those products asap.

Early birthday present: Greg bought me one of those 22 inch flat screen monitors. Very nice. The new flat screens are actually better for your eyes too. They don’t flicker the way the old monitors do. Less strain on the old eyeballs. (BTW, you won’t consciously notice the flicker but your brain does, forcing your eyes to work harder.)

Today: I’ll update later with a review. I think we’ll be seeing “300” today. Ancient Greek history is a hobby of mine, so I’m looking forward to it.

Update: Review of 300
Okay, I’m about as difficult to please as they come, but I LOVED this movie. This is the best movie I’ve seen in years, bar none.

It was graphic, violent, testosterone-driven and as sensual as mortal man can devise. Most of the time I tut-tut artsy films because the director tries too hard to impress with snobbish "statements of art". This was true art. It had an aesthetic that rose above the art of dilettantes.

I judge a film by how much I squirm during its showing. No squirms. I was engrossed from the very beginning. As an amateur historian I was also pleased with the care they took in keeping the accuracy of weaponry and tactics. A few things they exaggerated for the film’s sake but it did nothing to diminish its quality.

300 is the story of the 300 Spartans who sacrificed their lives at Thermopylæ rather than submit before the Persian, King Xerxes.

There was only one flaw that annoyed me and that was at the very beginning when the narrator explained how Spartan boys were sent to agoge, a military education regime at the age of seven. A mother is seen grieving as she reluctantly releases her child to two men.

Spartan women were the original liberated females; educated and given the same rights as men. They understood their sons’ roles in society as well as any man. I was happy to hear King Leonidas’ queen utter later to her husband, “Come back with your shield --or upon it.”

One last thing. Never have I seen so much male magnificence on one screen. The battle scenes were exquisite. The cinematography while unusual was intuitive and mesmerizing. My compliments to the art director and cinematographer. I am buying this film as soon as it comes out on dvd.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hook'em, Dano

I mentioned the other day that hooks come easily to me. It's probably due to the fact that I've worked in advertising for a long time. When I used to freelance, clients would dump reams of information on me and I was expected to digest and encapsulate their dissertations into a couple of sentences. Yeah…and that's why I make the BIG money. LOL.

Let me define hook, at least to my understanding. A hook is the abbreviated thrust of your story that compels the reader to know more. For our purposes, let's confine ourselves to the hook I would use in a query---which is different than what I would use on a back cover blurb or a synopsis. All three carry the kernel of the story idea, but each is unique in its own way because each does something a teensy bit different.

I've always given myself a limit of fifty words for a hook. This fits nicely inside a query letter without getting too unwieldy. I've read excellent hooks that are much longer than this, but it takes a really good writer not to over-explain. Less is more, especially if you know how to focus. Remember this is only the hook. There's other stuff to include in your query, which I'll cover in a later post.

The true purpose for a hook inside a query is to instill interest. If it's a cool enough premise, the agent will read a few pages to see if she likes your writing. And then she'll read the synopsis to see how the story as a whole pans out. But right now, all we want to do is achieve interest.

I focus on several criteria for writing hooks that I learned from my copywriting days.
• the conflict • the characters • the stakes

Go ahead and get wordy at this point because we'll chop it down in a minute. Sometimes it helps to write down everything you think you need first, just to get it out of your system. Call it a catharsis.

Now, look at your "thesis" and highlight only the most critical parts. Here's an example.

Jarvis, the German shepherd thinks he's going crazy because he's sure someone is spying on him. Little does he know, his ex-girlfriend, Buffy the poodle, has sent Mugs, a Doberman with a temper to tail him. Buffy thinks Jarvis dumped her for her sister. But the truth is Buffy is a bitch with a bad attitude. All Jarvis wants is a warm home and a family who'll love him. When Mugs chases him into an alley he finds himself surrounded by killer cats from outer space who think Jarvis would make the perfect sacrifice to Isis, their queen cat. Jarvis finds himself caught between a Doberman and disaster if he can't escape these feline claws of death. That's when he meets Lucy, a half-blind Samoyed with a heart of gold who hears his frantic barking and comes in for the rescue.

Agh! 141 words of meandering! But here is how you break it down.

The characters: Jarvis is your central character. / Buffy, Mugs and the killer cats are the antagonists. / Lucy is a possible love interest or ally.

The conflict: A relentless thug chases Jarvis right into the claws of an alien feline cult.

The stakes: Lucy interrupts the kitty parade giving Jarvis a chance to get away. But will he run and let Lucy take the fall?

The real hook:
Jarvis, a homeless German shepherd, is trapped by murderous alien cats intent on barbequing him at the altar of Isis. But Lucy, a half-blind Samoyed, barrels through the rabble and upsets the balance. Now they’re both in trouble and only one of them will make it out alive.

A cool 48 words.
Notice the active verbs: trapped, barbequing, barrels, upsets
Notice the specific nouns: homeless, murderous, altar, rabble
Notice I kept the focus on the emotional stakes. They're in trouble and it looks like only one of them will make it out.

Which one? Why? Those are the questions you hope to stir in the reader.

That's how I create hooks. Hope this helps someone.

Hmm…alien cat society and a dog named Jarvis.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Turbo-Edits

I am in so much awe of people who edit for a living. It's like having super magic powers.

I'm fortunate to have a couple of editors in my crit circle, and others who are blessed with that methodical gotta-get-it-right gene. I had to have gene therapy just to keep up with them.

Below are the things I check for in my edits. It's probably not an exhaustive list, but I'm exhausted when I finish so that's got to count for something.

Spelling: If I'm tired my brain slips out of gear and sometimes I type a word that sounds like the word I want. For example: peek/peak, fowl/foul. To help me spot any errors I'll change the font before spell checking. Oh, and don't trust your Word dictionary. That's gotten me into more trouble.

Grammar: While I appreciate my critters pointing out my faux pas, what I love is when they explain the grammar rule to me. It's like the fish story. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for life. As a non-native English speaker, I appreciate the lessons more than the corrections.

I do two passes for both typos and grammar throughout the manuscript….then comes the hard stuff.

Edit backwards: Since I'm bass-ackwards anyway this comes easy for me. Yes, I'm that weird person who reads magazines from back to front. But you'd be surprised how much you catch this way.

Time continuity: I keep a log of time of day, season and weather. You want to maintain consistency between events. If the mc walks into a house in early morning, make sure he’s not seeing the moon outside his window.

Character continuity: I added this edit this go round. I go through the manuscript one pov at a time and read it all by itself. This shows me if the character is acting according to his makeup. I found it very helpful in strengthening my characters' reactions and dialog.

Character language consistency: One of my characters doesn't speak with contractions when he speaks English, so I had to make sure he remained consistent in his speech patterns. If you do this one pov at a time, it makes it easy to catch too.

Style sheet: This is where I list every alien word and all proper names with a description and a page number. This keeps me honest in making sure they are always spelled the same. Very handy.

Read it aloud: Or drop it into a voice program that will read it to you. Hearing the words will help you weed out chunky sentences.

Cut and condense: This includes tearing out beautiful prose that no longer fits and tightening sentences until they sing soprano.

Editing is a lot more work than most people want to handle, but I firmly believe it makes or breaks a manuscript. I've read so-called polished stuff that was nothing more than a few rearranged paragraphs. That's not an edit, it's a cop-out. Do the work. There's no easy out.

Editing should be the most ruthless thing you do to your novel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Outlines

Ahh, outlining. One man’s bane, another man’s panacea. I have to thank Spencer for introducing me to outlining. I’d never done it before and he was kind enough to send me CDs and beautifully written notes on the process. You gotta love methodical people!

Anyway, it changed my whole perspective on writing. Once I started outlining, everything flowed so much easier and faster. Fast is good. Maria like fast.

Spencer warned me from the get-go that outlining would take a big chunk of my writing time. Boy, was he right. It is the most time consuming and mind wracking part of the writing process for me.

But once you have it behind you, you move like greased lightning through the story.

My outline starts out with the basic conflict of the story. What’s the problem? Who’s involved? What do the characters have to lose? Answer those questions and you end up forming a very rudimentary hook.

I can’t help creating hooks. It’s the only thing I can say comes easily to me. So thank goodness for small favors.

Once I have the kernel of my idea in concrete form I work on the main characters. I list who they are, what they want and what keeps them from achieving their desires. I don’t submit to the idea of “interviewing” characters and finding out what their favorite ice cream is.

I know that helps some people but I think it clutters your thinking too early in the game. In order to keep the story fresh I don’t want to spend too much time decorating characters with attributes that may change as you learn more about them through the actual process of writing.

When I work on my character profiles I make sure I note how their wants are in direct conflict with their counter characters, the antagonists. There has to be a balance of point and counterpoint.

Next, comes the semi-solid plot points. Call it an in-vitro synopsis. This is where I let my mind wander a bit and make blanket statements that flesh out the problem and the solution to the story. This is usually not more than a couple of paragraphs.

And on the next day, Maria rested. Yup. I usually let the idea sit there for a few days. I find I’m thinking about it in the background anyway, but I’m not fiddling with it. I’m just contemplating my options and seeing what I have to work with.

When I feel I have enough to give it substance I start the chapter summaries.

My chapter summaries are no more than two sentences. I also list the pov of the character within that chapter because by now I know who has the most at stake at any given point in the story.

Listing the pov within the chapter has turned out to be a really good tool for me. It helps me plan the story around the people who have the most to lose. It also helps me create counterpoint. For example: My mc is worried about her secret being exposed. In the next chapter, I have the antagonist closing in on that secret. Point, counterpoint. Conflict escalation, big bad stuff ahead.

My first pass at the outline will look kind of skinny. That’s because it’s usually only one thread, the main thread. As I flesh it out, I pull out my minor characters and give them a subplot, nothing big, just something to give them purpose. If I do my job really well all the subplots and the main plot will converge at the end.

I don’t create subplots willy-nilly. They have to have a basis with the main plot.

My outline is usually about two pages long. The nice thing about it is that you can tell at a glance where you need to tighten up the story and build characterization. The other benefit is that I know something pivotal happens in each chapter. Otherwise it wouldn’t be there.

One last thing to bear in mind is that an outline is a living document. As you write your story you may encounter an "aha moment" that changes the course of human history...or at least the course of your novel. Go with the flow. If it feels right, go back to your outline and update it.

It's easier to make your detours on an outline than on a 100K manuscript.

That’s it. Outlines are the hardest to write, but they’re beneficial in so many ways throughout story building. I wasn’t a believer before, but I am now.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Markets

Chelsea Award for Short Fiction
Award: $1000
Word Max: 7,500
Fee: $15
Fiction Deadline: June 15
Guidelines

Chelsea Award for Poetry
Award: $1000
Max: 4-6 poems, not to exceed 500 lines
Fee: $15
Poetry Deadline: December 15
Guidelines

The First Line
I thought this one was kind of fun.
Not a big award, but good for exercising your writing chops.
Every quarter they have a new first line and you have to write around it.
It can be fiction or nonfiction. 300-3000 words.
Guidelines

Mslexia
Women writers only (heh…cool)
They have poetry and a flash fiction contest as well as fiction and nonfiction needs.
UK publication
Guidelines

Housekeeping...
I think I've changed nearly everyone to the new email address. If I haven't contacted you, you can always reach me at the address listed under my Profile in this blog.

My email is not easily accessible from work, so my response times may be a little slower than before.

It's kind of scary moving everything over. I knew I had a lot of contacts--just didn't realize how many. Again, forgive me if I've missed you. If you haven't written me in a while you probably fell off my email list, so please feel free to write me again and I promise to put you on the e-rolodex.

Tomorrow: Outlines!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Promoting yourself is not bragging

I'm currently taking a workshop on marketing for the introvert and extrovert. It's kind of an intriguing perspective for a class. It's too early to tell but supposedly the instructor will show us the kinds of marketing avenues that are best suited for our personality type.

But one of the students posted an interesting comment about promoting herself. She said she hated to brag. Aside from semantics, the instructor sympathized and mentioned how it could be due in large part to being a woman.

Maybe that's true for the general population, but I don't think that flies in the corporate world. The women in my company who are leaders in the industry have no trouble saying: Yes, I instituted this, or wrote that, or created those.

We are not talking about bragging rights. We are talking about taking ownership of our actions. Does that make more sense?

Bragging implies that it is an over-dramatized statement of an accomplishment.
Self-promotion is the act of encouraging awareness about a true accomplishment.

How you define bragging and self-promotion is colored by your personal perceptions.

If you wrote a book and you want others to know about it, why is it boastful to promote it? Why write it at all for publication if you don't believe in your work?

Hiding behind the misconception that it's bragging or conceited implies that you don't think you're good enough.

I had a teacher at university who yelled at me once when he praised my work and I stuttered an apology thinking it vain to agree with him. He looked me straight in the eyes and told me in his cruelest voice, "Maria, if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will." That's always stayed with me. I've never apologized for my talent since.

He was a wonderful mentor and friend who made me face the music whenever I was tempted to crawl back into the shadows. He also taught me the value of confidence when I was still finding my place in the world.

So yes, my marketing instructor is correct, some of our inhibitions are partly gender based and partly environment based. But neither need be detrimental to our marketing efforts.

Like everything else in life, it is a learned skill.

Tomorrow: Markets

Friday, March 9, 2007

Modified Men & Modified Words

Modified Men:
Over the weekend, I caught an old episode of Star Trek called Space Seed with Ricardo Montalbán as Khan, the genetically engineered super-human who took over control of the Enterprise and released his crew from cryogenic sleep.

I loved that character! I loved his aggression, his arrogance, and his absurdly high levels of testosterone. It made me hot just thinking about how bad he was. I would probably never date a guy like that. (sigh--it would only end in his bludgeoning.) But for fiction, this is exactly the kind of guy I like to read about.

Woody Allen men need not apply. I'm not saying there's not a place for sensitive guys, but for space operas, I think the main character ought to be larger than life. This is strictly personal taste though. I just like bad boys. Nice guys are the kind you bring home to mother. Bad boys are the kind you take to bed at night, and in the morning they help you fight off the monsters.

I feel the same about fictional female characters. I like gutsy women doing stuff I could never pull off--yet live to tell the tale. I want them sensual and seductive and confrontational. By golly, if I can't hunt frackenzellers and woo Brad Pitt lookalikes, I want to live vicariously through the heroines.

Again, personal taste. Stories with emotional baggage and long, drawn out personal journeys live best in the literary market. A space opera is just that, it's exciting, monumental and outside the realm of reality. It's escapism in the purist sense of the word.

I enjoyed watching that Star Trek episode. It reminded me of the reason I like SF so much. It also reminded me that I watched it as a first-run episode…agh! 40 years ago.

And Modified Words:
Darn “ly” words! One of my reviewers cautioned me a few weeks ago to watch my modifiers. So I did a hunt-and-destroy through my manuscript and she was right. I got lazy around the middle of the story and started using “ly” words rather than real description.

I have a feeling it was because I tend to get impatient with the middle. I want the story to hurry up and finish so I probably cheated to get on with the story.

What’s the best way to replace “ly” words? Concrete verbs and nouns. I found whenever I replaced a modifier with specific language it snapped to attention.

For example: She looked at him hungrily.
Replace with: She licked her lips, watching him like a panther.

Both sentences mean the same thing, but the second one gives you a concrete image.

And then this happened: Yesterday morning I had to wait for my computer at work to reboot so I walked over to our office-friendly lending library to see what they had on the shelves. The people at my workplace read a lot of mainstream and mysteries. No SF. I’m sooooo alone!

Anyway, I picked up The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. She sprinkled modifiers like salt on a pretzel! It gave me a chuckle.

As writers, especially within our writer circles we pound our peers about adverbs, adjectives, head hopping, passive voice, and characterization. But you know what? Successful writers are getting away with just that.

The reason they can is because they are telling a good story. The second reason is that the majority of their readers are not writers.

I have to admit I don't enjoy reading the way I used to. I find myself analyzing the story as I go along rather than allow myself to be absorbed in it. But that’s okay. I learn lots.

Reviewers, you keep right on nitting me. I don’t mind in the least. Writing a killer story is my responsibility, but if I can write it with powerful language, I’m all the better for it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Business Practices, part 3

If I have one saving grace as a wife and partner, it’s the fact that I am really good at saving money. Greg often brags to his friends that I’m the reason we’re financially stable. But financial responsibility is a family obligation especially if burdens are added to the mix. In our family that’s a team effort.

I hate to call writing a burden, but until it starts making money, it is, in a manner of speaking. It takes time away from your family and your other obligations. There has to be a trade off somewhere. Now I’m speaking to you people who are looking to make writing a paying career and not a hobby.

If writing is a hobby then it won’t matter to you how much time or money you spend on it. A hobby is for pure enjoyment. Few of us count pennies when it’s something we want for self-gratification. (says the ultimate dog figurine collector)

But to those of us who are juggling a family, a job and a writing career then it’s a constant battle to keep all the balls in the air without spending a ton of dough.

I have an annoying habit of needing to justify everything I buy. (It’s annoying to Greg, not to me.) I always ask myself: Will I get multi-use out of this purchase? Is it cost effective? Can I get this cheaper elsewhere?

This is how I break down my expenses.

Education: Workshops, classes and conferences fall into this category. Go to these venues whenever they are online or near your physical location to save on travel and lodging. Shop around, especially with online classes. Do an internet search and you’ll find loads of information on what’s out there. Investigate the teacher and check out the class synopsis to give you a better understanding if it’s the right class for you.

That goes double for cons. As the deadline looms, they’ll start posting the panels and speakers. Are these speakers people you want to hear? Are they offering information that might be valuable to you? Do your research.

My rule of thumb: Venue vs. the cost of eating out. If the workshop or con is under $50, I know I can brownbag it for a few days and not lose any sleep over the money. Anything more than that and I will sit down and list the pros and cons of the event.

Equipment: Buy the best you can afford at the time. Equipment is the one thing I don't scrimp on. Buy the best, but buy only what you need. For example, if you're not an artist or a gamer, you don't need the top of the line graphics card.

Computers upgrade almost monthly it seems. I bought a top of the line pc a few years ago, yet it was a dinosaur within six months. That’s how fast technology evolves. So buy exactly what you feel you’ll need to be efficient. I use a lot of graphics programs so I need a lot of memory and speed. That’s where I focus my money.

Books: You can borrow, or buy new and used. I’m rather possessive so I prefer to own the books I read, especially if they’re reference books. If it’s reference, I tend to buy them used. If it’s a book from an author I know and talk to, I buy them new. It’s my way of showing support.

Note: Some people frown on buying used books. Here’s my thinking on it. That book has already been sold once as new, so I’m not taking any money that was due to the author originally. The item is just being resold either by the original private owner or a vendor. Some authors get really bent out of shape when they see their work resold but I’d rather see my book in the hands of someone who wants to read it rather than have it sit in obscurity. As an author, I’m okay with resale as long as it sold at market value the first time around.

Reference material: I belong to a lot of writing forums and receive tons of newsletters electronically. I usually spend several hours a week reading then copying and pasting anything of interest into documents that I can reference later.

Supplies: I am a scrounger and a cheapskate extraordinaire and proud of it. I run my ink cartridges until they're dust and keep my printer settings on "draft" unless I'm printing something to be sent out (then I switch it to "best" quality).

Paper: Use both sides. Most of my printing needs are for things I use only once, like instructions or maps, or old manuscripts. I take them and run them through the printer on the clean side.

Learn to proof off the screen. My workplace has switched to a paperless environment so we have to read most things off the screen now. Some of you will squeal that you can't proof that way. They squealed at my job too, but you know what, you get used to it. I do print one copy of my manuscript for my physical beta readers and that's the one I proof off of.

Writing tools: My house swims in writing implements. Sad to admit, I am a kleptomaniac when it comes to pens. I will steal them right before your eyes. I can't help it! Currently, I'm on a 12-step program to curb my evil ways. That said, I always have a blue pen, a red pen and a yellow highlighter at my side. (Yes, they're probably yours.)

Printed pages are almost always black so using a different color ink stands out while proofing.

Miscellaneous supplies: I always keep a supply of scratch pads, post it notes, a stapler and hole punch in my supply bin.

Where to buy: Here is my secret from the queen of cheap. Garage Sales! I have bought reams of paper, notebooks, even ink cartridges for my printer. I buy very little new. Savings are out there if you know where to hunt.

Postage: This is the one item where you can’t cut corners. If I want to query, I usually hit magazines that take electronic subs first unless I feel an article or story would fit better in a magazine that only takes snail mail.

If you are querying for a book, you are at the mercy of each individual agent or publisher. Again, research is key. Don’t shotgun query. Focus on people who will be your best bet on asking for a partial.

Woosh! There’s probably volumes more I could cover but let’s quit here for now. Saving money is all about knowing your options and deciding how cost effective it is over a given span of time.

Hope this helps someone.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Business Practices, part 2

Okay, now that you have your desk in order let’s go directly to your business manager hat which is different from that stylish fedora you use for your office manager gig.

In the next post, I’ll cover some of the things I do to save money. But in this one let’s cover the essentials of running a sound ship.

Act the part. No businessperson is going to take you seriously unless you present an image that inspires confidence and ability. People just don’t hire people that are flakey. So it’s important to always present a solid, stable persona that stays above board all the way through.

Last month, Maya brought up an author on her blog who groused about his cover. Despite the fact that St. Martin’s Press allowed a redesign, the author was still dissatisfied and ended up hiring his own artist to redo it. To add insult (and perhaps copyright violations) he also self published a version of his book without St. Martin’s edits. I don’t know how long St. Martin’s Press will put up with his shenanigans but what do you think his chances are of getting a second book published with them? You get the picture. Choose your battles wisely.

Networking. Networking goes under the business manager label too. It’s important for name recognition but be wary on how you go about it. Recently someone on one of my writing forums posted a blog like article on writing. Some people liked it, others thought it was presumptuous. Some forums welcome blog posts, others look down on them as grandstanding. And forums age and change, so investigate before you populate.

If you do find a forum that welcomes blog articles post sparingly. You want to create a dialog and not a wall.

Networking can dominate a whole set of posts on its own but I won’t cover that topic at this point. Just make sure that networking is part of your agenda as a business manager. The people you meet and help today may be helpful to you years down the road. Networking is a long-term relationship, so don’t expect results immediately.

Keep good records. A good spreadsheet can tell you at a glance where you are in your business practices.

Compartmentalize. Allocate a day only for business matters. Holly Conger, artist, uses one day to handle all her business. She queries, creates promos, and sends out billing statements on one day of the week. I’m not THAT organized but it’s definitely a good tip so I thought I’d include it.

Money. If you kept good records you already know what money goes in and out. Keep a log of money spent on items such as supplies, postage, magazine subscriptions, educational forums (like workshops and conferences) and reference material. Maintain a mileage log any time you drive to and from writing related business activities.

Tax laws vary by country but if you are making money off of your writing you need to keep track of what you spend so you can deduct your expenses. Even if you are not making money yet, keeping track of expenses is a good way to judge how much you are spending and if you need to cut back.

Tomorrow: Saving your dough on a daily basis, financial boot camp for writers

Monday, March 5, 2007

Business Practices, part 1

Writers and money are often distant bedfellows. John Scalzi wrote about what he earned in various years from writing SF. It wasn’t too shabby, considering it was just a sideline of his other work.

Let me preface this by telling you Scalzi is a successful writer with a huge following. His blog is one of the most widely read forums by a genre writer. Last I heard he gets a minimum of 12,000 hits a day.

But Mr. Scalzi is the exception to the rule. So while he makes a great role model, it sets the bar pretty high for the rest of us still trying to make a living off of writing alone.

He does demonstrate good business practices which I try to incorporate myself, so I thought I’d share some of my tips on saving money and time for the writer. Since this might be a lengthy post I’ll break it down into three.

We’ll start with the basics.

The first order of business is to get organized. Stop that groaning! You know as well as I do that it’s important. Unless you know where all your assets and liabilities are you’ll never get a handle on how you’re progressing.

Writing as a business requires several hats.

The office manager
Space & equipment: If writing is something you are going to do seriously, a dedicated place to write is paramount. Some people (like me) need absolute quiet. I can get that most days if Greg’s not here. If he is present, one of us is doomed to wearing earplugs or a head set.

Other people are fine with extraneous noise. It’s important to know your comfort level. You don’t want anything impeding your progress.

Laptop or table model? Again, comfort is key. I have both but I’ve never liked using laptops so for me the laptop is strictly for when I’m on the road.

Other equipment: Since I also do artwork occasionally, I have lots of other equipment the rest of you won’t have cluttering my desk, but things you should have are a printer, a disc holder for your programs and an external hard drive for your backups. If you can’t afford the external, invest in the smaller jump drives. I love those and carry my most important work on them wherever I go.

Put a big calendar on the wall, something you can see from a distance, and mark your deadlines and projects as you go through the year.

If you’re super organized you’ll also have a file cabinet or library with books, reference materials and a binder full of tear sheets from the work you’ve sold (this mostly applies to nonfiction).

Last but not least: Give yourself a totem. It can be anything you deem to be the protector of your computer. I have a little dog with a bobbing head. Bocephus doesn’t say much but he carries a sign that says: Each scene must advance your story. Each line of dialog must either show character or advance your story. Bocephus is very wise. Whenever I’m stuck I look up at him and he always gives me the best advice. (But I hear he originally got those nuggets from James Gunn.)

Tomorrow: Business manager

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Contest & Conferences

Contest
Jim Baen Memorial Contest
Categories Accepted: SF short stories about space exploration
Maximum Word Count: 8,000
Deadline: April 9, 2007
Entry Fee: FREE
Prize: Pro rate pay & invitation to the International Space Development Conference
Guidelines

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Had lunch with Maya Reynolds yesterday. I love visiting with her. She’s one of the most interesting people I know and a hoot to boot. She’s also well informed and stays abreast on the latest publishing news. Visit her blog any time and you’ll see what I mean.

One thing we share in common is that we each have a game plan when it comes to our writing. Each of us is very serious about writing as a business and moving to the next level as expediently as possible. She mentioned that joining the RWA was probably the single most advantageous thing she did for her career.

It didn’t start out that way. She wasn’t interested in romance writing and RWA membership fees are the highest of any organization, but what they give you for that membership more than pays for itself.

What’s unique about RWA is that it’s not a social club like so many (non-romance) organizations are. It is an organization that is dead serious about publication. --Folks, I mean DEAD SERIOUS. I’ve visited some of the chapter sites just to see what they offer and these people are not playing cutesy girl games. These are determined professionals.

I will be the first to admit I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been. The nuts and bolts of writing and publication are the same no matter what genre you write in.

I value Maya’s opinion highly, so I may look into membership. They certainly have clout and credibility. I can try it for a year and see how it goes. This year, their major national conference meets in Dallas for the first time in twenty years. That’s gotta be an omen.

Speaking of cons:
So far I’ve got four on my list. The Writer’s League of Texas holds its conference in June. I went last year and loved it. It was definitely worth the money.

RWA is in July. I’m pretty sure I’ll go. It’s probably the mother of all cons (no pun intended) I’ve been told by many people that it’s the most awesome event they’ve ever attended.

FenCon is in September. This one is strictly SF, fantasy and horror and is always fun. Connie Willis is the guest of honor this year!

The Muse Online Conference is in October. It’s free, online and you can go naked.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Markets

WERGLE FLOMP Humor Poetry Contest
Here's a weird one, using (and abusing) the vanity presses.
Categories Accepted: Poetry
Deadline: April 1, 2007
Entry Fee: FREE
Prize: up to $1,359
Guidelines

The Blue Review
Categories Accepted: Articles about children's writing topics
Pay: $10-$25
Guidelines

Chick Lit Review
Categories Accepted: Chick Lit Short Stories
Max. word count: 2,500
Pay: $50
Guidelines

This and That

Big hug to Philip at Verizon who helped me get my email boxes working the way I wanted. It turns out my software was corrupted. Not only did he figure out the problem within seconds, he found a workaround to fix it and then set up my email boxes so they were more efficient than what the "official" instructions allowed. I love smart people!!

This weekend I will start the long arduous task of moving my newsletters and contacts over to their respective email boxes.

Thanks to all of you who gave me a mention. If you have a writing blog or website, be sure to let me know.

PS…pay no attention to any deleted remarks. That was me. For some reason my replies are printing in multiples when I okay comments in batch mode. -Live and learn.

Back-up the truck:
Greg bought me an external hard drive and then backed up all my work. It was easy for him to convince me this go around. One of my friends, a freelance graphic artist, just lost all his work in a crash. Most of it was unrecoverable. The poor guy was sick with grief. I understood completely. If you've ever suffered a computer crash, it’s like getting your guts torn out with a spoon.

For warm weather, come here:
A good many of my friends and family live north of the Mason-Dixon line and they are freezing their keesters off. What a rough winter we've had. I think (hope) ours is over. We've had mild temperatures up to the 80s here for the last few days. I'm going to take the chance and get the garden ready for planting this weekend.

**Woohoo:
To Mike who is now awaiting his contract for his story coming out in the anthology Strange Stories of Sand and Sea

And to Daw, who was named a Fellow at the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing.
Way to go, guys!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The voice in your synopsis

Welcome to my new home. If you’d like to see some of my earlier posts, go to my website. On the left hand side you’ll see links to my hit list of favorite topics.

The voice in your synopsis

I’ve mentioned earlier that I took an online workshop on synopsis writing. The instructor, Laurie Schnebly was a sweetheart. She was very kind and supportive.

The Selling Synopsis was one of the better workshops I’ve attended. Laurie was organized, timely and she answered every question with well thought out answers. She also left me with a strong sense of accomplishment and confidence.

You guys know I only plug stuff I believe in. This was a good class. I recommend it highly if you are looking for help in building your synopsis. It was so good I intend to take other classes that Laurie teaches. How's that for an endorsement? Here's the link for WriterU. There are lots of other classes. (I'm taking the next three on the list so holler at me if you are taking them too.)

After her class, I went back and created a new query and synopsis. I threw out all the white bread stuff and then I did something remarkable. I let my voice shine through both pieces.

Let me preface this by saying there was nothing wrong with my original synopsis. It was pretty darn good. Good use of white space, perfect grammar and spelling and a solid outline of the story---in under 500 words, mind you. It did everything it was supposed to do--except I couldn’t hear my voice in it. I had all the important stuff in there, but my individuality was lost in all that perfect pontificating.

The query wore the same britches. It was the ideal business letter, short and to the point. I've written enough of them in my career to know how to write a proper business letter. But to my mind's ear it was a little too perfunctory, a little too zzzzzzzz, when what I needed was something to excite the agent about this project.

When I wrote the new query, I tossed out all the politically correct words and replaced them with the color of the novel. What a difference a change in perspective makes.

My first stab at this new query and synopsis feels good. They read naturally, as if I was telling something interesting to a friend. I don’t know if it’s ready for primetime yet, but it feels close. For the first time, they each sound like the voice in the novel. ---Thanks, Laurie!

Later this month, I'll go through the steps I took to put that voice in my query and synopsis.

Tomorrow:
Markets