Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Writing Mumbo Jumbo

Is it just me or does writing turn your mind to blubber?

Yesterday I went to my children's school to help out with a project after school and discovered that I have become a blathering idiot seemingly overnight! Picture it: a group of mom's standing around (looking all cute in their matching track suits and fresh mani-pedi's, of course) chatting. Enter me in my jeans and t-shirt (possibly sporting a matching baby puree from lunch) trying to make some small talk. The only difference is that I can't think of a thing to say! I am consumed with my latest character's plight. I mean how am I to think about up-do's and hot lunches when Sadie's about to be sent off to foster care?

My mind is reeling about 10 steps behind each of them...you went where? last night's homework was what? next week's field trip to where? So I stand there innocently hoping that I don't look like I'm writing my next chapter in my head. Crap. I fiddle around in my pocket fishing for a scrap of paper...a receipt...anything to write down a great thought I just had. Nothing. Crap.

All the sudden, the attention turns to me. Hmmm? How many cookies should we order for the end of year party? I try to do the math quickly in my head, but I can't think. I can't do it. My left brain has completely overrun my right. Noooooo!!!!!!!

So from now on I think I'll just have a standard answer at the ready for when people have the gall to speak to me or ask me these seemingly innocuous questions: I'm sorry, you'll have to forgive me - I'm writing a book.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Of course there is no kind way to say we don't like your work, but surely there is a way to say it in the vein of it's not you, it's me.

I don't think any writer relishes the time and effort spent packaging their work to meet each agent or editor's individual specifications...query only, query and synopsis, query and first 1000 words, synopsis and first three chapters.... You fellow writers know what I mean. My favorite is that simply requesting a synopsis isn't good enough anymore. Apparently there is a regular synopsis of 4 or 5 pages, a one page synopsis, a 500 word synopsis and who knows what request I'll have to fulfill next! Don't they get that if I could fit the action, plot and characters of my manuscript into one page, I would do it to begin with?

But nonetheless, I methodically give them what they want and send it off hoping for the best.

Then the rejections start coming back. Now, it's not that I don't expect a fair number of rejections. I do. But it is the way the rejections come back that has begun to irk me. The ones I have received come as form letters on photocopied paper with the left margin faded like their printer was running out of ink on the original copy. They come without letter heads and unsigned...and my favorite was the rejection postcard.

Couldn't these agencies - that make their living off of our work - at least fork out an original print on letterhead so that we feel rejected by a classy, sought after firm? That would be easier to stomach. The ones I receive make me feel that I've been rejected by the last surviving agency on the planet in the slums of the publishing world.

The last rejection I received simply said "I have reviewed your material and it is not anything I wish to work with at this time." Ouch. That's like saying 'you look nice, but you're not anything I wish to date right now.' When then? Maybe when hell freezes over? When all the good stuff stops rolling in? I much prefer the kinder, gentler approach: Thank you for your submission, but I will not be able to represent you at this time and I wish you best of luck with your manuscript.

After all, there's no reason to be rude...I know what you mean either way you say it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm a sponge. Yes, a sponge.

In the past few weeks that I've been networking and hawking my book online and to agents, I've become a sponge soaking up this wonderful culture of writers and editors until I'm fairly brimming with formats and function keys! I look around the house and find formatting notes scribbled in corners of sticky-notes on the fridge and margin dimensions written on receipt edges in my wallet.

So now I've got serious questions rattling around in my head: Courier New or Times Roman? I've got serious format issues to correct: like underlining all my italicized words (errrghhh...) and changing the line spacing to ensure 250 words on a page (irritating!) Let's not even mention that I have to find a way to cut 15,000 words (all of which are essential, of course!) But I guess it's not surprising that writing as a profession has been forced into all the same boxes as other industries...where has the love of creativity and admiration of art in its purist form gone?

Some days it seems unfair that a writer can't just write - why do we have to be responsible for packaging and formatting too? Isn't the computer genius side of the brain completely separate from the creative side? Hmmm...

Although if I'm being honest, on other days, it seems like a relief to have a task with a clear beginning and end. A task with an absolute right or wrong to bring me back to reality. So maybe the editing and formatting side of writing a novel is a good way to bring all us writers back down to earth once in a while. Maybe it's a good give and take after all.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


People often ask me what genre I write, but I am always reluctant to put my book into a box so small. First, it's fiction. Family Saga to be more specific. Women's Literature - even better. But what I really want to write is an Oprah book. You know, the kind. A thought provoking, heart wrenching tale that just won't let you put it down. The kind of book that draws you in and book clubs start talking about the use of metaphor and symbolism. What I want to be is INSPIRING! Whether I succeeded with my first novel remains to be seen, but recently I've decided that maybe writing an Oprah book, isn't the be all and end all of my journey as a writer.

As I've mentioned previously, I write ALL the time and ANYWHERE, so it isn't unusual for my kids to saunter up on the beach, boogie board in hand, and ask: "So what's your book about?" It isn't strange to glance up from a park bench at the playground and find a jump rope wielding 7 year old wondering: "Is there a horse in this one?" They'll offer names for pets or suggest themselves as characters, but I have never taken their interest as more than a passing whimsy.

But the other day I found a post it note stuck to the door of the computer room. On it was written a poem in my 10 year old son's handwriting. It was a haiku. When I thanked him for the lovely poem ( which was really quite good...but I may be biased!), he said: "It's for your blog to go with your picture of the ocean at the top. Maybe you can put it on there with your writing."

Since then I have found haiku's in every place imaginable - random index cards abound in nooks and crannies alive with colorful adjectives and adverbs of note. It turns out that he loves writing these short poems of the things around him...just the way I write stories about things I think and feel.

Hmmm...maybe I have already inspired someone.

Maybe I have already succeeded:

In the ocean a

Dolphin plays joyfully and

Silence returns again

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Music moves me.

It doesn't have to be a certain genre or a particular artist, but the right song with the right lyrics can really inspire me. Perhaps it's because a good song is really just poetry set to music. So for me, great music is kind of like reading a best seller while driving the car or making dinner...

When I was in the middle of my first novel, I happened across my husband's James Blunt CD in the car and, being too lazy to change the setting (or maybe just too pregnant!), I discovered the songs that would be my motivation each day. As my story began to delve into topics that were often dark and painful...childhood abuse, suicide, loss of a parent...it was a daily challenge to find my heroine's 'truth' as a real person with a heart and mind of her own.

But there on that James Blunt CD, I found the "theme songs" of my hero and heroine and I played them religiously on the way home from dropping my kids off at school each day. I'd listen to the songs (tracks 4 and 5 respectively...) and instantly reconnect with Andie and Tony and know what they would do next. It was largely this music that let me see my characters in my mind's eye as real and human.

I still listen to the CD, though less often, with a certain wistfulness of days gone by.

So now, I'm currently stumped at 8000 words on my latest work and wonder if maybe I'm just missing the requisite music. I've heard of method acting: maybe this is my "method-writing". But finding that just right piece of music that particularly moves me is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I'm driving myself crazy!

I'm sure it's like anything else and when I stop looking - or listening - I'll find it. Until then, I'll plod along getting to know Sadie, my new heroine, by what she chooses to do today...and tomorrow...and the next day...

As a newbie writer, the process just keeps amazing me! I love feeling like I'm reading the book even as I'm writing it...

Just wondering if anyone else has an interesting way they get "connected". The more off-beat the better!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An excerpt from Scream Out Loud

Maggie sat down on the floor at her mother's feet watching the yarn unravel in small circles from the knitting bag as the needles click clacked together in a rhythm of their own. She always seemed to know when Maggie entered a room- as if they shared a magnetic charge that pulled them together over and over.

"Feeling better?" Her mother's eyes remained fixed on the sky blue yarn.



"No. Maybe later."

"Okay." Click clack. Click clack. "Maggie?"

"Yes, mama."

Click clack. Click clack. Silence. Maggie looked up as the yarn stopped unwinding. Her mother's weather beaten face was drawn taut like leather and tiny wrinkle lines showed around her eyes and lips. A single tear escaped quickly from her eyelashes and rolled off her chin leaving a tell tale line of clarity in the path it had traveled.

"You know I love you." She said.

Maggie nodded, wishing she could hate this woman but knowing that she was tied to her forever...knowing that she was just like her.

"Because I really do." Her mother reached down to run a hand through Maggie's poker straight locks. It flowed through her fingers like a sheet of satin...soft and elegant.

Behind them the screen opened in the kitchen and Wayde's bare feet padded across the linoleum floor toward the TV room where his mother and sister sat enmeshed in wordless conversation. The click clack resumed with a renewed fervor and in its wake the yarn began to unwind again - just as it did every evening in the little farmhouse on her father's ranch.