Friday, December 31, 2010

A Hopeful New Year!

I have to say, this particular New Year's, I have a wee bit more hope than I have in the past years (regarding literary endeavors). I just submitted my final changes to my agent last night, and his plan is to send the novel out next week, to five NY publishers! Umm, wow. Pinch me, please!

Of course, none of this is a guarantee that I'll get published - I have to keep reminding myself of that. Still, I'm one important step toward that possibility, so I'll try and keep a positive attitude.

Here's a wonderful quote to start us all off this year: We will open the book -- its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day. ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

*raises cyber-glass high* My hope for all of you is that, this New Year, you will each get one step closer to achieving your dream, whatever it may be!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Where on earth did Christmas go?? After all the wrapping, baking, cleaning, and shopping, my family arrived, we celebrated the season and Jesus' birth, played some games, watched some Christmas shows, gorged ourselves on too much food, and the holiday was over!

On a literary front, I sent my agent the revised copy of my novel (the plan is for him to send the book out to publishers, starting in January!). I'm eager to see if he likes the revisions!

Also, I've started editing/revising Book 2 in the series again (this is probably Revision #4 or so...). I'm assuming that my agent will want to take a peek at it, especially if we get any "bites" with Book 1!

So, here's to a peaceful New Year! I can't believe 2011 is upon us already. May you all have a safe and happy holiday, filled with peace and God's love.

And, as always, HAPPY WRITING!! ;-)

Monday, December 20, 2010

What is Writing Like?

My grandfather alerted me to this wonderful Charlie Rose interview with author Nicole Krauss. And in it, she describes the writing process in two ways that I'd never thought of, but completely agree with (paraphrasing, here). Ultimately, that writing is an act of discovery:

1) Writing is like a house. As an author, she visualizes a doorknob, and realizes it's attached to something, a door. Then that door becomes a room she must visualize/describe/explore. Then another room, and another, until she finishes the entire novel, steps back, and is able to see the house/novel structure as a whole. Very similar to the "bird by bird" concept (Anne Lamott) of seeing a novel in small pieces, tackling it sentence-by-sentence, "bird by bird." Focusing more on the individual pieces to create the larger whole.

2) Writing is like paleontology. I loved this example - she described how an archaeologist will get a "sense" that there are fossils below a certain surface, and will pace and pace above it (a writer's brainstorming process, I believe), going on instinct. Then, he/she will start to dig, and will find a small bone, and will know it's the right spot! He/she will start digging further, digging deeper, until the entire piece is finally exposed. Again, it's that "piece by piece" concept, of concentrating on smaller parts to get to the whole.

You can find Ms. Krauss's full interview here (just click on her picture).

Thanks to my grandfather for showing this to me! I'm so appreciative of how supportive my grandparents (and parents) are of my love of writing. I'm a lucky girl!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Make it Rich, and Sculptor-Ready

I was thinking about my book this morning, the one I'm preparing for the agent (he'd asked for minor revisions so we can send it out again to publishers in January). Looking back, I know this book has gone through SEVERAL renovations, some small, some drastic. Most of them, at the kind suggestion of agents who saw some promise, but knew it wasn't "ready" yet.

This revised version looks significantly different than the rough draft I wrote three years ago. And I was wondering this morning, what made the difference? What makes this version so different from (and, hopefully, so much better than) the original rough draft? I mean, the main characters are pretty much the same. The setting is totally the same (charming English village). The primary plot/theme (unrequited love, childhood friendships) is the same.

And the main difference I could pinpoint is one thing: richness. There's a depth and richness to this final version that wasn't present in the original. Every word, every scene is meaningful--it belongs right where it is. Through the months, I've added a couple of stronger sub-plots, fleshed out ALL the characters to some degree, trimmed a lot of unnecessary fat, (caught a few major inconsistencies - ack!!), and added a "history" to the characters--all of which, I think, adds up to a fuller, richer story. It feels weighty now, where it didn't before.

The lesson learned? That I need to recognize when a novel isn't ready to submit. That there are times it's not "weighty" enough for publication. That it takes TIME and energy to make a novel better, richer. To keep chipping away, much like a sculptor would do, until it's ready. Until it looks like something that's ready.

In fact, I think that's a good analogy - a sculptor doesn't stop when the work is half-finished - when it's "pretty good," but not good enough. When parts of the sculpture are still "blob-like," without detail fleshed out. No, he/she keeps chipping away, piece by piece, until it's finished. Until it's ready. Until it's rich with detail, and free of any "blobs."

And, I can tell you, as HARD as it is, getting a novel that ready, it's worth every drop of sweat and every single frustrating sigh. Because I can feel proud of it now. In a way I never could before. I've earned those characters, that story. They were the result of countless hours of thought, of brainstorming, of willingness to make changes.

The good news is that, through this grueling process, I think I've learned some tips and pointers, to the extent that the next book I write will be a wee bit easier. Because now, I'm more prone to recognize weak sub-plots, extraneous detail, not-ready-drafts. Not to say the editing process will go smoother or will be any shorter--but I guess I'll be better prepared for it. And, yes, maybe I'll save myself a little bit of time, by recognizing those weak spots right away and knowing how to fix them!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Facebook - Pitfalls and Benefits

I've been on Facebook for about two years. In the beginning, I had no idea what to do with it, what the benefits were. But once old friends started finding me, I realized I loved it! For me, right now, Facebook is just about connecting with old friends and keeping in touch with family who don't live nearby.

Here's a sort of Beginner's Guide to Facebook that's helpful, talking about the basics. The only thing I personally disagree with is making the profile THAT public. Mine's quite private - and very selective. I only accept friends/relatives I actually know.

In terms of promoting our writing, I think Facebook can also become a useful tool. I have a few author friends on Facebook, and it's interesting to see their writing-related posts. But -- I would caution -- if you use Facebook solely as a marketing tool on your personal Facebook page, your friends/family will quickly grow tired of all those book-related statuses. After awhile, it can seem like you're using Facebook solely to promote a novel, and friends/family can see right through that. It can start to seem like you're a salesman/woman, peddling your wares, and soon, friends will ignore your posts altogether. So, I suggest a nice mix - keep things personal, and sprinkle news about your book hither and yon.

I joined Facebook for personal reasons - connecting with old friends. But, sure, I do post occasionally about my writing, getting an agent (and hopefully, if I get published, I'll post about that too). Writing is a part of my life, so why be timid about sharing it? But - I work hard at not boring my friends with too many writing posts. I save those for this blog. ;-)

If I ever decide to get serious about "promoting" my work on Facebook (again, assuming I might one day be published), I think I'll create a separate page, like an "author" page, that's more public, with the sole purpose of promoting the work. I don't ever want to "use" my personal Facebook page to drive my friends/family crazy with pushing my novel (not that I won't give them occasional updates and such -- I've found that when I do post about my writing, they're incredibly supportive, which is lovely).

So, as with any new toy/tool, use it wisely, use it carefully, and always ask yourself how others will perceive you. I think that's a great barometer for figuring out how to present yourself in this age of Social Media.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Especially in an age where our major bookstores are in financial straits, I thought this link was pretty interesting: 10 Cool Converted Bookstores

Well, not sure if the manure tank counts as "cool" (rather, "ick!"), but generally, yes, these are cool/creative bookstores I'd love to take a peek inside someday...


10 Works of Literature That Were Really Hard to Write

A great list of fascinating back stories behind some famous (and some, not-so-famous) works of literature.

I would add John Milton to that list, dictating his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, entirely orally, because of his blindness (well, and every work of his thereafter - Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, etc). Even by themselves, without the knowledge of how they were written, those Milton works are incredible -- packed full of allusions and references to mythology, the Bible, etc. I can't even begin to imagine dictating my own novels to someone out loud, much less works injected with those sorts of references.

Any other works you can think of?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don't "Shrug" So Much!

You know how, in life, we're all guilty of little repetitions? Little phrases we tend to say over and over, in conversation, that we're not even aware of? "You know." "Like." "The point being."

Well, I've found we can be guilty of the same thing in our writing. Not to pick on her (because I've actually read/halfway-enjoyed two of her books) but I noticed something in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books. The characters "shrug" in and out of their jackets. Like, multiple times. I lost count after awhile. Describing a character as "shrugging into or out of" his/her jacket became a Meyer cliche after awhile. Once is fine, but more than that? Nope. It stands out too much in the text.

The point is, if you tend to describe something a certain way over and over again, recognize it - and put a stop to it. Change it up. Think of a different way to describe that action: she peeled off her jacket. She wriggled out of her jacket. She abandoned her jacket with gusto. (<--Okay, that one's ridiculous, lol). Or, just stop having her remove jackets quite so often. Maybe that little detail isn't even necessary. Because your readers will catch the unnecessarily-repetitive description. And it will start to annoy them.

I catch my own little repetitions while editing my books -- ways I describe something that I tend to rely upon much too heavily. The trick is catching it, then changing it. Thinking of a different way to describe that action. This will make your writing fresh and more original.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Missing It!

Today, I submitted 150-something grades (whew!) and tonight, I attended graduation (mandatory). I'm spent.

But my semester is OVER, and I'm glad. It's been a rough one, both on the professional front (just super-busy) and on the personal front (both parents in the hospital last week! They're, thankfully, fine now, but things got scary there, for a minute).

Mostly, I'm THRILLED to have some time to get back to my novels. I need some "me" time -- me with my novels: revising, brainstorming, writing. I've missed it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

So Creative!

Yesterday (through GalleyCat), I saw a website called Poster Text, which sells these literary posters. They're clever enough by themselves, but here's something immensely more clever -- the text of the ENTIRE BOOK has been imbedded inside the poster.


They've got all the great classics: The Great Gatsby, Dracula, Jane Eyre. But probably my favorite-looking one is the Alice in Wonderland poster. There's something creepy-cool about having the Cheshire Cat smiling out from underneath all that text.

Personally, I'm waiting on the Little Women poster, coming out any day now. Might just have to buy that one!

What's you're favorite?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Checking in...

So, essay grading and family health emergencies (all thankfully turned out well!) have prevented me from blogging (or doing much else) lately. Sometimes, many times, life gets in the way...

Next week is finals week, so again, there will be little time for blogging.

Luckily, I had a window of time last week where I worked on my rewrites for my agent (we're sending out my book to publishers again, starting in early January). In fact, I'm about 90% finished with them, yay! It'll be good to let the rewrites "breathe," and then return to them after this week of finals. Then, I can enjoy the holidays.

So, here's to a productive, restful, HEALTHY holiday season! *lifts cyber glass and clinks it with anyone reading this*

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Much-Needed Jolt!

Last week, a teacher at work told me his wife wanted to read my book! We've never met, and I always feel shy about sharing my work (only because I'm afraid people won't like it - yep, it's that old Insecure Writer Who's Been Rejected By Agents For Years Syndrome (better known as WWBRBAFYS). Anyway, I sent her the book via email, a few chapters at a time. She warned me that she was a very slow reader (I am, too!), so I really didn't expect to hear from her until well after the holidays.

Well, she emailed me today (only days after I'd emailed her the 400 pages), and she said she "pulled an all-nighter" -- that she read the entire thing! She was so sweet and complimentary, and gave me detailed feedback, which I was so grateful for.

The very best compliment I could ever get is that someone read my book that quickly - because that means (hopefully) that he/she was absorbed in it, which is part of my goal, as a writer - taking readers into a different world and getting them "lost" inside it. How wonderful!

Anyway, all this was a much-needed jolt of confidence for me, especially after that Penguin rejection and more re-writes to do over these holidays. So, a big shout-out/thank-you to this particular person for making my day!! :-)

And a big HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all the readers! I hope you have a safe, healthy, and wonderful holiday!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Year of Editing

Looking back on this year, I realized that I did very little actual writing, but TONS of editing. At last count, I edited one manuscript (the first in my series) four times (with one final set of edits this month, so make that FIVE times), and the second novel twice. Let's see - both books are 400 pages, and each time I edit/revise, I go through the manuscript to make changes, move scenes around, delete, add, trim, etc - and then I read over the manuscript again for inconsistencies. That means I've read nearly 6,000 pages this year (heh, that doesn't include the 2,400 essays/papers I grade in one school year).

Yes, this has apparently been The Year of Editing, and my eyes/brain are exhausted.

But, I have hope that next year will be The Year of Writing!! Sure, revisions are a vital form of writing (I've had to create many, many brand-new scenes within the text of these novels) - but writing a book from start to finish? I miss it so much: the brainstorming process, the rough draft, the fleshing out characters, the completing a novel. I started writing Book 4 this past summer, but had to pause, to do more rewrites on Book 1. So, I'm eager to re-visit Book 4 in the New Year, with fresh eyes, and hopefully finish it during summer.

I'm totally convinced that my Year of Editing was necessary, and yes, it was terribly productive (and hopefully will produce some (published) results in 2011?). But I'll soon be ready to move on. To be a "writer" again. As much as I love all my characters, I've nearly worn out my welcome with them in Books 1 and 2, and am ready to move on to fresh characters soon. Can't wait to see what they have in store for me!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Music and Me

Just saw an interview with Barbra Streisand, where she was asked to explain a statement she once made years ago -- about "not liking singing all that much." Barbra Streisand? Doesn't like singing? Really??

When she had a chance to clarify, she said (I'm paraphrasing, here): "I love singing when it's just about the music and me. When I'm by myself, or recording, and it's just me with the notes, I LOVE it. But when an audience is involved, or when I know people have paid money to see me, that they're judging my performance - then suddenly, I'm aware of someone else in the room, and there's this pressure that takes away a little of the joy."

Just this past week, when I was telling my Creative Writing students about everything - my rewrites, having an agent, getting my novel "out there," then getting a rejection (and yes, a fair amount of criticism in that rejection), I said virtually the same thing about writing -- that I occasionally miss that time in my life when it was just about me and the writing. When nobody really cared what I wrote. Nobody looked over my shoulder, or judged it or critiqued it or offered changes. When there wasn't pressure to be "the best," to perform, to make people want to spend money on my work.

Even a teacher friend of mine told me today, as she was preparing some of her writing handouts to be bound (and eventually purchased by students) -- that when she sent them off to be duplicated, she felt an odd sensation of her "babies" being more "public," out of her hands, somehow. And again, I could very much relate to that feeling, with my writing.

I've also read blogs by published authors who say the same thing -- that it's not all "sunshine and roses," this publication process. And that, yes, they sometimes envy the writers who don't yet have agents, because their work is fully theirs at that time. And back then, whenever I read those blogs, I'd sort of roll my eyes a little and think, "Yeah, right. You lucky son-of-a-gun. You have an agent. I don't. Quit whining." lol But now, I think I know what they were saying. Just a little bit.

I hope no one mistakes this honest post for regret or ingratitude, or even whining. I'm incredibly blessed to have made it even this far, to have an agent I believe in, and who believes in my work. I'm still pinching myself. No regrets whatsoever. But when I heard Barbra Streisand say that, about "the music and me," I could relate on a small level.

Because once you put yourself "out there," once you put your writing out for public consumption, it does change your view of writing. Just a little. I guess it's the sacrifice that comes with publication (or, at least, trying to get published) -- the price you pay for wanting others to see your work. That it's not fully "yours" anymore. You're sharing it now. And if you want to get published, I guess you have to make peace with that...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Exceptional Resource!

From Galleycat, these "tips" for NaNoWriMo* are outstanding! The tips entail good, common-sense advice, and even tools for the writer (character-building questionnaires, plot diagrams, etc). A treasure trove of information for any writer!

I can't wait to peruse these when I have a bit more time!

*National Novel Writing Month - where writers get motivated and attempt to write a novel in one month!! I've never done that, but I did write one in 6 weeks (that's close enough, right?). I somehow managed to get 400 pages down in that amount of time (it was the tail end of my summer off, and I knew if I didn't finish the book before school started, I never would)...

Stepping Back...

So, I just got off the phone with my agent, and had a great conversation. We agreed to pause in the submission process (over the holidays, which is so wise - publishers get way too busy and distracted, from what I've read in articles/blogs). Also during that time, I'll make some more (minor) revisions to the novel. Then, in early January, my agent is planning to submit the book to about 5 publishers at once.

Sure, part of me is chomping at the bit, eager to submit it now, NOW, NOW! But, I totally agree with his judgment and think it's the most logical thing to do, stepping back, revising again, then submitting after the holidays.

Even though I felt the sting of disappointment yesterday (with the publisher's rejection), I'm feeling newly-energized with this plan of action. I know I'm capable of making those revisions (and I thankfully agree with them!), and I can't wait to have a nice (working) holiday, then start 2011 afresh (with an agent(!) -- still pinching myself on that!) with a plan to submit to publishers.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's a "No."

Darn it. I had prepared myself for the probability of rejection, but yes, it STINGS. Ugh.

My agent just sent me the actual rejection letter from the publisher - she was "charmed" by my book and said it was a "close decision" (drat!), but found a couple of storylines to be too thin. And, she wanted it to be racier. Hmm. This series is admittedly old-fashioned in tone, so I guess we just weren't on the same page.

Onward and upward! I'll keep y'all posted on things. The wait might be significant, though. That publisher had a 2-week exclusive, but now that we'll probably send the book out on multiple submission, it could take weeks or months. I'll need to hold my breath well through the holidays, at least.

But that's okay -- I'm in need of a BREAK!! Holidays, here I come! ;-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

No News is....No News?

So, I haven't heard a peep yet, about the publisher's decision regarding my novel. Is that good? Is that bad? I really have no idea at this point.

I'm actually totally okay with it -- I guess years of waiting on agent responses has prepared me well for this. *shrug*

I'm going to assume the editor's been too busy to get to my book, and that, eventually, I will hear something either way. I'll try my best to give it another week (in my own head, at least) so that I won't go crazy, wondering, day-by-day...

Y'all will be among the first to know, whatever the response!! ;-)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Like Christmas Eve!

So, tomorrow marks THE day I'm supposed to hear something from the editor who's got my book! She's had a 2-week exclusive and tomorrow is the deadline.

Tonight feels so odd - the anticipation is growing with each hour that gets closer. It feels like waiting on Christmas morning! And I'm guaranteed one of three scenarios: Christmas cheer (a book deal!), coal in my stocking (a rejection), or....nothing at all (if she's been too busy to meet the deadline).

Here's hoping for Scenario #1! *raises glass of eggnog and toasts whoever's reading this* lol

Wonder if I'll be able to sleep tonight! ;-)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Never Throw Anything Away

I've heard (and given) this advice many times over: When you edit your work, don't ever delete the previous draft. Save the new revisions under a new name.

This advice came in very handy today, as I was editing Book 2. I realized I hadn't properly described some elaborate gardens of a Manor which plays a key role in certain scenes.

Well, long ago, in Book 1, I recall that I had spent time describing said gardens in great detail. But -- while editing that first book, I'd removed that scene entirely. So, today, I went in search of that scene. I found an old version of the book, saved from 2007, and after some scrolling down and looking around, Voila! There it was, the two paragraphs of description I needed.

I love it when that happens. And even though it took me a little bit of time to find the scene (probably just as much as it would have taken to write it again, fresh), it was worth it. Because that particular description happened to be just the one I needed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Speaking of Waiting...

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about the agony of waiting. Good timing, because the KidLit agent site has just posted a great new entry on waiting! I wasn't going to post again today, but when I read this, I knew I had to share.

From an agent's point of view, wonderful info/advice (with a hilarious tone, btw): Is Waiting a Bad Sign?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Waiting...of a Different Sort

So, this is Day 11, waiting on the Penguin publisher to make a decision about my novel. (<--did I just write that sentence? Still in shock! lol). My agent gave her a 14-day exclusive, so really, I could hear something any day, now. Or not. *bites nails*

I'm having de ja vu, remembering all the waiting around I did on various agents who'd requested my full manuscript over the years. The longest wait was 18 months (yikes!), and the shortest wait was two days (the agent I signed with!).

Waiting is just part of the business - whether you're waiting on an agent or publisher. Granted, waiting on a publisher is a waiting of a slightly-different sort. It seems like a faster process (of course, I've only just begun and could be totally naive about that), and it's pretty cool, having someone else (the agent) waiting alongside me, also feeling invested in this publisher's decision. And sure, with this particular wait, I'm one step closer to the publication process than I was with agents - but - just as when I was waiting on agents, it could go either way. Either a "yes" or a "no," which would put me right back to Square One again.

I think what we writers choose to do with our time during the wait is important. Sure, it's tempting to refresh our email boxes 100 times a day, or wring our hands and imagine all the possible "what if" scenarios, wondering why it's taking so long to hear something. But I've learned to fight that (as much as humanly possible) by channeling my energy into one thing: writing. Or editing, like I'm doing now.

I need to have Book 2 ready to go, so that's what I'm trying to do, to keep my anxious mind occupied. So far, I've made lots of progress. The waiting period can actually be extremely productive! ;-)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Save the Words!!

LOL at this, from GalleyCat: Save The Words.

It's a site where one can "adopt" the going-out-of-style words that are on their way to extinction.

The condition for said adoption is that you have to promise to try and fit the word into daily conversation as often as possible!

"Pick me!" "No, pick me!" Ha!! I love a good, dry literary sense of humor....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lessons from Harry Potter?

I haven't read the Harry Potter series (I know, I know - *hangs head*), but I have watched all the movies and really enjoy them.

Anyway, here's a cool link to Nathan Bransford's blog, about what we writers can learn from Harry Potter (or, rather, from J.K. Rowling).

Fascinating stuff and great advice! I highly recommend the article, even if you're not a HP fan.

The Zone

The other day, I watched Huey Lewis being interviewed on a talk show. I'm a Child of the 80's, so I loved hearing him talk about music, about his band. Interestingly, something he said made me think about the writing process.

He said that sometimes, when he gets on stage with his band - when they start playing and they're really into the music and they look at each other for a second and they're all in tune, in rhythm - he said that sometimes, in that moment, the music just plays itself. Like magic.

And so many times, I'll discuss with my Creative Writing students about "The Zone." That rare place in the writing process when you're completely oblivious to anything else - even to your own hands dancing across the keyboard. You're THERE. In another place, another dimension. And the scene seems to write itself. The characters take over, do what they want, say what they want.

That's where the magic happens, I think, no matter what the art form - writing, photography, music, painting. And, if we're honest with ourselves, I think that we write, in great part, for that zone. Toward it. In hopes of experiencing it, tapping into it. It's the sweet spot, the lightning in a bottle. The moment we're transported from where we are to somewhere else.

No, we can't force it - and the harder we try, the faster it scurries away. But, when it does occur, to quote Huey Lewis again, "There's nothing else in the world like it." Couldn't agree more!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Degrees of Writing

I just read this fantastic quote by Anne Lamott (she has a wonderful writing book, called Bird by Bird, that I used to assign my students):

Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then un-hypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.

I'm not even sure this is the way Ms. Lamott meant it, but I interpret it this way (regarding the writing/editing process): There's an emotion, a raw quality that must be inserted into a rough draft. It's important to "feel" the characters, what they're going through - to empathize with them, so that the reader will, too.

But that emotion really does have to be squelched when it comes to the editing process. We have to look at it "cold." We need to be brutal about slashing words and phrases, even storylines and characters that do not belong. It's tough to do that. Sometimes, it feels impossible. I'm experiencing that right now, as I edit Book 2. I'm trimming the fat, cutting or rearranging whole scenes or pages of dialogue, taking out and adding in. This is the time when emotion can't factor into the editing decisions (at least, not to a great degree). I think we have to look at it "coldly," with distance. An editor's eye. And back to the rough draft - the opposite is true. If we look at a rough draft coldly, we remove its heart, its emotion.

In terms of writing, I think there's a time to be warm, and a time to be cold.


I was thinking about this the other day, while revising Book 2 of my series. How the process of writing is so multi-layered, so incredibly complex.

Writing isn't just about telling a story. We have to do so much more than that: brainstorm, outline, prepare, research, write, re-write, edit, proofread. And that doesn't even include the juggling we do, just to tell the story. We have to know about grammar and formatting, about plot and character, about setting and tone. About pacing and dialogue, exposition and flashback, punctuation and description. And then, of course, there's the all-important "showing-not-telling," and making the plot and characters "ring true."

Whew. I'm tired, just thinking about it.

It's such an intricate balance of things, telling a story. If one element is missing, or needs work, it throws the rest of the story out of whack.

I guess I've learned to tell the story the best way I can in the rough draft, not concerning myself too much with anything else. Then, upon many other read-throughs, I can catch those other things. I can look for my known weaknesses and isolate them (dashes!!! passive voice!!! lol). I can focus more specifically on things like pacing, or on detail and cliches and character development.

I really think we writers have to be jacks-of-all-trades. And if I think too hard about it, this whole process can get quite overwhelming. That's why I try to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Stone by stone. Brick by brick.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You've Gotta Love It

I was thinking about this the other day -- no wonder some people in my life used to (and still do?) view my passion for writing as "crazy." Let's do the math, shall we?

17 years
8 and 1/2 novels
3,000 pages (give or take)
150 agents (<--that was just the round of agents from 2010 - doesn't even count previous years)
hundreds of hours spent researching agents
hundreds, probably thousands of dollars spent sending out batches of chapters and full manuscripts (one, Fed-Exed at the agent's request, was $80!!)
= incredible amounts of time and money.

Income I've actually earned from all this, so far? ZERO, zip, nada. Not a single dime.

Okay, yep, that's insane. Who else would spend that many hours, that much money, on something with NO GUARANTEE of getting rewarded monetarily, or even rewarded emotionally (ie, other people reading what I've created and enjoying it)?

My conclusion after seeing this in black and white -- you gotta love it. You have to LOVE writing to put up with its frustrations, setbacks, criticism, and agony.

And, truly, if I ever had any doubt about my sole purpose for writing (which is to write, and not to get published, as the primary or sole goal), doing the math showed me for sure. Because I would've given up AGES ago, trust me, if publication had been my only goal. Because it's just too hard. And too expensive. And too unsure.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - if someone could see my future inside a crystal ball and tell me with absolute certainty that my books would never be published, I would NOT STOP WRITING THEM. I guess that's the true test.

I have to write. I want to write.

If I get published, YAY!! But if I don't, so be it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Inner Editor

I'm sure I've mentioned this in a previous entry (or entries), but it's good to reiterate it -- always, always listen to your gut. That still, small voice that tells you something's not quite right with a scene, with dialogue, with a plotline. What I call the "inner editor."

How many times has this happened to you: You hand over your precious novel to a trusted friend, and if they're honest enough, they'll tell you that a certain scene, or phrase, or even character, isn't quite "working." That something just doesn't fit. And how many times do you find yourself already knowing it? Deep down inside, as you were writing that particular scene or chapter, you knew it, too. That something wasn't quite right.

That's happened to me MANY times. Especially when an agent in the past would be gracious enough to offer me feedback and make suggestions on my novel. Nearly every time, I found myself nodding at their email, agreeing with the change, already knowing something was wrong.

How much time I could've saved myself, if only I would've LISTENED to that inner editor! But I'm getting better at it, paying attention to him.

Just this morning, in fact, I spent lots of time reworking the beginning of Book 2 in my series. That all-important first paragraph. I ended up writing about five different versions of the first paragraph before I was satisfied. Before I found the one. And you know what? When I wrote the one, I didn't pause, not for a second. It flowed out of me. I didn't stop to question whether it was right -- I just knew it. I guess I was getting confirmation from my inner editor. No red flags, no snags, no doubts. Whew.

It takes extra brain power, extra time and energy, to keep fighting until you get it "right." But it's always worth it!

Friday, November 5, 2010

To Series or Not to Series?

I was talking to my mom yesterday about my women's fiction series -- and how, when I sat down to write the very first novel (I'm on Book #4, currently), I didn't envision it as a series. I hadn't planned on a series.

But, what made me turn it into a series was that I didn't want to leave that "place" yet. I wasn't ready to say good-bye to the characters, or to the setting (the beautiful Cotswolds). I still had stories to tell. And so, the series idea was born.

I'm sort of glad it came about that way -- that I didn't really sit down and plan out a series from the get-go (nothing wrong with that, of course). I love that it just seemed to make sense, that when I neared the end of Book 1, I wasn't ready to leave. It showed me I was on the right track, expanding into a series. And that, just maybe, if future readers picked up Book 1, they too would want to stay a little longer (and, thus, buy Book 2, lol).

I'm no expert on series, but I'd say that if you're thinking about doing one, make sure it's something you can sustain over more than one book. And that you, as the writer, won't bore easily of the setting/characters. Because when you get bored, so will the reader.

Another "plus" for the series (besides the obvious marketing advantage of people having the incentive to read more than just one book) is that, as a writer, my setting is already fixed. Most of my characters are already in place, already fleshed out. It's not that I don't still have work to do, but much of the time-consuming parts of writing a first novel take care of themselves in the second, third, fourth books of a series. Thus, I find that I have more time to devote to plot, since I already know the setting and characters so well.

I never, ever saw myself as a "series" writer. Never. It wasn't a goal of mine. But, somehow, I guess I have become a series writer. And I must say, I love it!

Don't Quit Your Day Job!

I find it cute, and sort of endearing, how many well-meaning friends/acquaintances have come up to me in the past two weeks (since I've signed with my agent) and said a version of this: "Are you about to be famous?!" "Are you about to be super-rich?!"

I think they're kidding, but they might not be. I think most people (who aren't writers!) have a false impression about what getting published really means. And, even before that, what getting an AGENT means. I find myself carefully explaining to these friends that my getting an agent ups my chance for publication, but still doesn't guarantee it. Many seem to think that "agent" and "publisher" are one and the same...

And, they don't realize - even if I do get published someday, I'm a first-time nobody, in the publishing world. I don't have a "name." A publisher certainly won't be shoving handfuls of cash in my direction, or guaranteeing they'll publish my next book. And the next and the next. (By the way, I think that an advance for a first-time author is around $7,000-$10,000. Sure, that's good money, but it's not going to sustain someone year-to-year). Getting published doesn't guarantee a CAREER (as much as I'd love for it to). In fact, something like only 4% of novelists can actually make a living at it (I think that's what I read somewhere...).

So, nope - I certainly can't quit my day job! (Not yet, at least. ;-)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wisdom from Yoda

I adore the Star Wars series. Yoda, especially, cracks me up. That weird voice of his, the inverted language, the bold determination coming from that small, hunched-over frame...

And I never really thought of it before, but he was full of wisdom. Sparse, inverted wisdom - but wisdom, nonetheless.

Here's a good example. I read this the other day, and thought of how much it applies to the writing process. I've been asked dozens of times before, by students and other writers - How can a writer get motivated/disciplined? How do we make ourselves be productive?

From now on, I think I'll respond to them (and, to myself) with Yoda's wisdom: Do or do not. There is no try.

Profound, isn't it? Don't just "try." Instead, DO. Sit down, poise your fingers on the keyboard, and write something. Anything. Because anything is better than nothing.

Here's that scene - see it from a writer's perspective. Wow, it really fits, doesn't it? Frustrated writer: "I'll never do it..." Feeling he/she isn't worthy, isn't capable, wants to quit. Yoda shaking his little green head, and saying simply - DO.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Cliche-Finder

LOL - GalleyCat recently posted this link to something called a "Cliche-Finder." It posts 10 random cliches (with a button to push for more).

Sure, it's an amusing little time-waster, but it's also valuable to writers as a tool, to recognize cliches. I always teach my classes to avoid cliches like the plague (lol) because cliches show lazy writing. I learned this pretty late in my writing journey, but once I realized how to recognize them -- and why it was important to avoid them -- my writing started becoming more fresh, more original.

Why are cliches so bad? Well, using cliches means we're leaning upon another writer's clever way of describing something. It's not plagiarism (because the phrases are so common). But it is "borrowing," in a sense. Using something we've heard before. Something that wasn't ours, to begin with...

Plus, cliches, by their nature, aren't unique, original, special. And we should always be striving for "unique, original, special" in our writing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Love This Blog!

Yes, I do mean my own blog, but NO, it's not the arrogant statement it seems, lol.

What I mean is that I love this blog's purpose -- that I can come here, to this safe little place on the web, and talk (and talk and talk) about my passion, writing. And that I'm not (hopefully!) bugging anyone BY talking about writing.

Because sometimes, in my regular life, I'm afraid I'll go too far by talking too often about writing, with people who really don't care. Or maybe they do care, but just not as much as I care (about writing).

So, that's why I love this blog. I love that it allows me to talk about writing every day, if I want to, and to know I'm not burdening or boring anyone (again, hopefully not!). That those who read my words are choosing to seek them out -- and that those readers are probably just like me: writers who have a passion for writing. Who rarely get tired of hearing about or reading about our craft, or other people's experiences or other people's writing journeys.

I'm so glad that there's a group "out there" who understands, and who allows me to write...about writing! So, thanks!!! ;-)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rachel? Who the Heck is Rachel??

So, I wrote a novel three years ago. Since that time I've probably read it through -- all 400 pages of it -- oh, give or take, a good twenty times. Or more. And about five of those times, I read it ALOUD, slowly, checking for inconsistencies. And I thought I'd caught them all. At least, the big ones...

Well, I thought wrong.

Here's the crazy part -- the main character's name is "Brooke." My mom (my biggest helper/editor, who's also read this book at least six times, carefully, for me) caught something in her sixth reading -- the name "Rachel." It was in a piece of dialogue between the main character and another character (not named Rachel): "Yadda yadda yadda," said Rachel.

My mom stopped, showed it to me, and said, "Umm, who's Rachel?"


As often as both of us had read the manuscript, we'd never caught that MAJOR mistake until that read-through. Rachel must've been my original name for the Brooke character three years ago (or, I had just watched an episode of "Friends" before I wrote that scene). My eagle-eyed agent also caught the mistake, before we had caught it. Oops. I hope he chuckled instead of winced, lol.

Anyway, it all goes to show that, even as many times as a manuscript is read, it still needs to be RE-read. Slowly. Carefully. Painstakingly. Many, many times over. And, by different pairs of eyes.

Because, somewhere along the way, you might just have a "Rachel" embedded in there. Sneaky wench. :-P

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Research the What-If's!

One of the coping mechanisms I had this past summer, when facing agent rejections (lots of them!) was to look ahead, and to dream about the "What If's" -- what if it actually happened? What if I actually got an agent?

I knew it might not ever happen, and knew I was potentially getting my hopes too high, thinking this far ahead. But I began to research the specific "what if's" -- what if I got that elusive agent phone call, or got a contract? Or what if I got an offer, but still had other full manuscripts out? What's the protocol? I even went further, starting a file with "what if I get published" info - like creating an author website, managing finances/taxes, figuring out the etiquette along the way, marketing the book, etc. (By the way, agent-run blogs are the BEST resources, here - they'll tell you what happens on their end of things, and the information is invaluable. Kristin Nelson's blog is my personal favorite --it's called "Pub Rants" on the left-hand menu).

Well, for me, the agent stuff came true (wow), and guess what? It happened FAST. Faster than I'd ever, ever imagined (in fact, less than 2 weeks from when I first queried my agent). From one moment to the next, I was a dejected, rejected writer, and then suddenly, wham - I had an offer! So, in hindsight, I was glad I had researched the "what if's" - because when the moment came and I had to contact other agents to say I had an offer, I didn't have to scramble, worried about what to say or how to say it. I was already prepared. Same for "the call." I had already made a list of things to say and questions to ask, just in case. It might sound silly, preparing for things that might not happen, but it really made the whole process smoother. Calmer. I felt like I had knowledge in my hand that made me more confident.

So, today, if you're looking for an agent and are discouraged by rejection - I've been there, for sure! - I'd suggest researching your own "what if's." Give yourself permission to prepare ahead, in detail, for that day - even if you think it'll never come. Because guess what? It just might. And it might happen so quickly it'll make your head spin. So, be prepared!! It's never too early to consider the "what if's."

And Away We Go!

Up until this weekend, I've been so busy with revisions that I haven't looked up from them, or looked ahead. I haven't really allowed myself to think about WHY I'm doing them, or about the next step. Just too busy...

Well, yesterday, I submitted the final changes to my agent, and his response today was that he would look them over, and then --- he'd send them to a publisher! This week! Maybe even in the next couple of days!! He even called her by name (someone he's already contacted and told about my series - she sounded very interested!).

I mean, duh, I realize this is the next logical stage in the process, the one I've been waiting for, hoping for. But it wasn't until I saw that email that I really got it. That my work will be seen by a publisher. An actual publisher. Very, very soon. Umm, wow!

Away we go!

P.S. - though I'll try not to center every single blog entry around this new agent/publisher situation, I plan to keep y'all posted on stuff - even the rejections! Who knows what lies ahead - more waiting and heartache and frustration? Probably. But it's all part of this writing journey I'm on, and I welcome every single bit of it! ;-)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dashes, Ellipses, and Numbers -- Oh, My!!

Often, writers are so protective of their work - of every word, every comma, every detail - that they're unwilling to try something new, to open their minds to the fact that there might be a BETTER way to do something. Thankfully, I'm not one of those writers. I'm not saying it doesn't sting a bit to know I'm doing something wrong, or that I need to make some changes. But, in the end, it's about the work, making the work better, the best it can be. So, yes, I'm more than willing to learn. To entertain the idea that someone else knows better than I do.

Well, all during this editing process (particularly in the past 10 days or so), I've been enlightened by my new agent, learning new ways to do things, to make the work better. On the surface, these seem so minute, so insignificant, but I think they've made a real difference in my writing.

So, here's what I've learned:

1) I've been doing dashes ALL sorts of wrong. I love, love, love dashes - as you can tell from my blog. Well, here's what I'd been doing in the past - <--just a hyphen and two spaces. But, my agent pointed out that here's how it should actually look--like this. Who knew?? Not me, apparently. lol Can you even imagine how many dashes I had to correct in 400 pages? Umm, a lot. Like, easily over 1,000. Yikes. Lesson learned. (Well, except for writing this blog. Out of sheer habit, I'll probably continue - writing - like - this. Just sayin').

2) I use wayyyyyyyyy too many ellipses, both in my dialogue and in the narrative. I had NO CLUE I was doing this. None. Until it was pointed out to me by my agent. When I realized what I'd done, I changed them, and really liked the improvement it brought. Subtle, yes. But here's what I learned - that when I put ellipses (. . .) so constantly in character dialogue, it makes the characters feel...well...hesitant. Not...confident. Even...wishy-washy. And something neat happened when I turned most of those ellipses into periods -- the writing became a bit more assertive. A bit more sure of itself, more confident. And that includes the way the characters seemed. Again, who knew??

3) Numbers should be spelled out. Now, this one I did know. But, there are really two schools of thought on it (in fact, I just taught from my 1301 textbook about this). Some feel that all numbers below 10 should be spelled out, while others feel that all numbers up to 100 should be spelled out. I was of the former school of thought, and my agent was of the latter. I trust his guidance and made the changes, and liked them even better.

This has been such a learning process for me. And I look forward to learning more in the future! Edits are tedious and challenging, but they're necessary. Anything that makes the work better is......necessary. lol

It's Real Now!!

I just signed/mailed the agent's contract (what a surreal moment -- I made myself slow down and "experience" it, rather than just rush through, as I was tempted to do).

Now, it's back to work - making the final changes to the manuscript (his notes arrived, by mail, this morning (he'd put his notes in the margins)). Then, tonight, after I send him the final final final copy, I'm finished!! Well, for now, anyway. I know this isn't the last set of changes/edits I'll ever make, but at least I'll get a wee break.

Time to put my feet up tomorrow and REST <--what does that feel like? I've forgotten, lol.

Just wanted to share my news! It feels more official, more real, signing that contract. Yay!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I was thinking today about all the different hobbies/activities people are passionate about. For instance, I love watching food shows on the Cooking Channel. I don't cook, myself (well, not often, anyway), but it's fun to watch these people, these chefs and experts get so excited about food! About tomatoes or steak or pasta. Part of me keeps thinking -- "Umm, it's just FOOD. Why get so excited?" lol But I love their contagious enthusiasm. I love watching people find their passion.

Or, when I grade a student's paper about his favorite activity in the Really? Fishing? Just sitting there, sometimes for hours, waiting for a bite? But, again, it's his passion, something he loves to do.

Here's the funny thing -- so many people who aren't writers would look at MY passion, writing, and be confused, too. "Sitting for hours in front of a computer? Making up characters? People who aren't even real? Why??" And here's my explanation - because it's an amazing experience. It removes me from my own life for awhile, and sets me up in a universe of my own creation. I feel alive when I write - energized and excited about something that's beyond myself.

And, really, isn't that one of the top criteria of ANY passion - whether fishing or cooking or knitting or writing? To move our attention to something other than the routine doldrums of or day, or a tedious/stressful job, or even a traumatic life experience? A passion is an escape of sorts. A portal we can step through, if only for a few minutes or hours a day, and do something other than live the lives we've been given. Now, that's not as gloom-and-doom as it sounds. I do love my life. I have a good job, wonderful friends, supportive family. But yes, sometimes, it feels wonderful to step outside that, to leave it behind for awhile, and just write.

So, today, be thankful if you've found a passion in your life. And if you don't have one, seek it out. Look for it diligently until you find something that rises you above this life for a little while. And, something that makes you enter your life again afterward with an even stronger sense of purpose. And once you've found that passion, don't ever let it go.

*edited to add: talking about passion, I love watching people do incredible things I know I could never do -- not only do they have raw talent, but they also have spent endless amounts of time on their craft/hobby/passion, perfecting it. Much like this young woman, and her classical guitar - link. Amazing to watch. WOW.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can I Get an "Amen?"

Found this great quote -- perfect for all the rewrites I've been working on the past week, lol:

Writing is the hard manual labor of the imagination. ~Ishmael Reed

Is that a perfect description of heavy-duty writing/editing, or what?! It's so true -- just because we don't feel the physical pain of our labor doesn't mean it isn't labor. Our work is labor of the MIND.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Telling People

If you're anything like me, there are people you've told about your writing, and people you haven't. I learned early on that certain people didn't respect my desire to write. They would look at me sideways, or their eyes might glaze over when I tried to talk about my new book idea. Or worse, they would actually talk about me behind my back, whispering that I was "wasting my time" with my efforts, which they didn't understand in the first place.

So, I started keeping my writing private (with the exception of some very close friends and a few cherished family members who were nothing but supportive and wonderful).

Thus, it's been FASCINATING, now telling people I have an agent. Those who supported me all along are amazing -- they smile and cheer for me and get all excited. Genuinely excited. But those who did not support me all along are....baffled. LOL They're actually stumped by it. Shocked that I actually "did it." That I actually legitimized myself in their eyes.

But here's the part that frustrates me the most, and even before I got an agent, I struggled with this -- why should getting an agent/publisher "suddenly" make you legitimate? Why should it suddenly validate the work you've been doing FOR YEARS, all this time? It's the same work, isn't it? And you're still a writer, just like you've been all that time. Part of me doesn't understand that mentality. A writer is a writer is a writer. Published or not.

Anyway, it just cracks me up, seeing the various responses I'm getting. For the most part, people have been nothing but kind and genuine and happy for me. But I can't help but roll my eyes at those who are finally "catching up," whose shock has turned to ACTING like they care, who now feel that, suddenly all these years, I haven't been wasting my time. Oh, brother....

For two seconds, I hesitated being this honest in my blog -- even though these people aren't mentioned by name -- thinking maybe I'll hurt someone's feelings. But here's the irony: those "stunned-by-my-agent-news" people aren't reading my blog in the first place, lol! Sure, they have the link, but they don't ever visit. Because they just don't care. (Oh--until I get published, that is.... ;-)

P.S. - it goes without saying that you guys have been amazing - so sweet with your comments and support. That's what I love most about this blog format, about this particular circle of writers who understand each other - and are genuinely happy for each other!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Call!

So, I wanted to share "the call" with y'all (hey, that rhymed!). The one in which the agent called after offering representation by email last week.

I've read all about this before - the all-important "call." I'd done my homework, researching it on writer's boards, on blogs, on writer websites. I've read what could happen, and what might not happen. I've read about the etiquette, and the details. In fact, here's a GREAT site I referred to the most, pre-call: When Agents Offer Representation. It gives wonderful detail and advice.

My experience happened quickly: the agent offered a contract by email, after reading the full manuscript in 2 days (<--unbelievable!). We spoke on the phone, and I brought up the weather (yes, I know, I can see you rolling your eyes). I was nervous, and wanted to break the ice a little. And, it thankfully worked. He talked about the NY weather, and I mentioned my region, and it flowed into other conversation. That first call, because I was still in contact with other agents, was pretty much only to chat. To hear each other's tone, to see if we could speak on the phone easily, to get our feet wet. It was nice, that I didn't feel I was "selling" myself. He already wanted my book at this point, and made it clear, so I didn't feel pressured to "win him over" on the phone, as I'd imagined it might be.

5 days later, when I'd made my decision to go with his agency, I phoned him at an agreed-upon time, and we hammered out all the details in about 30 minutes -- he talked about an editor who was already interested in my book (yay!!!), and about revisions that would need to be made (thankfully, minor, but when you're talking about a 400-page manuscript, nothing is that minor). We agreed on a general time period for the revisions, and emailed each other with minor questions that same day, back and forth.

In the end, the call wasn't as frightening as I'd feared (well, at least not after that initial two minutes, lol). Mostly, I just reminded myself to breathe, to speak slowly, to let him do much of the talking at first. And yes, I had notes. Questions I wanted to ask, or things I wanted to remember to say. I highly recommend a cheat sheet for that first call, because trust me, your mind could go totally blank and you want to be prepared.

Honestly, I prefer email to phone ('cause I'm a writer, I guess), but that first phone call is CRUCIAL - to hear tone of voice, to see if you "gel" with the agent, to see if your personalities can work together.

To me, looking back, yes, the call was critical/important/necessary. But, in the end, I think it's the combination of things that's even more important to the agent - professionalism from the start (the writer's query letter), quality of the work/novel (which, truly, is what the agent will base his decision on, not the phone call itself), and the willingness of the writer to be flexible and easy to work with.

Oh - one more thing - don't forget that you're also selecting the agent. In other words, this isn't just a one-sided situation. If the agent isn't right for YOU, then listen to your gut and be brave enough to say "no thanks." There's nothing wrong with that. Here's my own example -- there were a couple of agents I'd spoken with about the book who had different "visions" of my book. (In fact, one was willing to offer me representation "if" I'd consider their changes, which were completely drastic). They wanted to change core parts of the book, which would've made it a different book, entirely. I'm not talking about minor plot revisions. I'm really talking more about genre, or even character. It's okay if there are some things you, as the creator of the work, are not willing to change. So, when you're looking for an agent, make sure you have similar visions of the book - that he/she "gets" it. If not, maybe they're not "the one" for you...

Best of luck to those about to receive "the call!" I'd love to hear about your own "call" experiences in the comments, btw...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Write the Book You Want to Read

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

This is something I've always told my students - that even beyond writing for pleasure, or writing because it's something you "need" to do, it's also good to write a book that you, yourself, would want to pick up at a bookstore, purchase, and read. Something you haven't quite found already, from a book you've read. Something you need to write. For yourself.

In fact, that's partly the reason, I think, that I started writing my own series. I wanted to be transported to the Cotswolds in a book, and I hadn't yet found "that" book to read. So, I wrote one. I also wanted to write a story about a first love, an unrequited love, in a way I hadn't quite seen, either. Not that my plot is terribly unique, but I wanted to write a story like that from my own point of view. To see what I might do with a plot like that.

Also, I think that's the BEST mentality to have, regarding getting published. There's a fine line between writing something in order to get published (never a good idea), and writing something because we'd love to read it, ourselves, on our own pretend bookstore shelf. Then, if it ever gets published, wonderful! We wrote for ourselves first, and then someone else happened to read and enjoy it, too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Revising, Revising, Revising

I think I just figured out why this "I have an agent" thing still hasn't sunk in, even days later -- it's partly because things feel the same as they did before. I find myself in the position of working. Hard. Of taking (very helpful) notes from an agent and incorporating them to the best of my ability into the manuscript -- to make them smooth and natural. Not an easy task. In fact, quite tedious. Oh, and I also have to manage to go to faculty meetings, grade papers, and hold down a full-time teaching job at the same time, lol.

In other words, I'm working. Not sitting back and drinking champagne (well, I don't drink champagne, anyway), or out celebrating with friends or kicking back and relaxing. In fact, my work has ramped up so much in the past few days that I have very little free time, if any.

And before you shake your head at me and accuse me of complaining, or maybe feeling sorry for myself -- just know that I'm not, and that I don't. Firstly, because I know how fortunate I am to be in this position (and I know how many years it took!). And secondly, because this is work I do gladly. It's work I ADORE. I'd rather edit/write than just about anything else. It's hard, hard mental labor, but it's also (to put it into a nauseating cliche) a labor of love.

So, back to my main point -- I haven't really had time to digest the fact that I have an agent. And yes, I still catch myself thinking that he'll email me and say he's changed his mind - that he doesn't want to represent me anymore. I know that won't happen (he's so enthusiastic about my book!), but having experience Rejected Writer's Syndrome for years, it's difficult to make myself believe it's real.

Maybe one of these days, when I actually look up from my keyboard for a few seconds, I'll start to believe

Monday, October 18, 2010

He's Just Not That Into You...

So, here's a bit of news: I've gotten a formal offer of representation AND contract from a literary agent. SQUEEEE!! It happened fast, and I'll give details soon, I promise. But first, I'm waiting on 4 other agents (who have the full manuscript) to respond, before formally making my decision/announcement. Which leads me to this...

When I contacted those 4 agents (to tell them I had an offer, and to give them a few days to respond - a professional courtesy), two of those agents replied immediately, saying they would read the material quickly and respond by the deadline. But the other two?? Ehh...not so much. Nothing. Nada. Crickets. Now, granted, perhaps they ARE reading the material right now and PLAN to respond in some way, but simply forgot to tell me (lol). Or, the greater possibility is this:

They're just not that into me.

You know that book, right? With that same title? It was even turned into a movie. Well, I admit that I gave that book a skim a couple of years ago, and it had some really sound advice about relationships. The premise is this: IF a guy is interested in you, he'll let you know. He'll make it very, very clear. And if he's not, he'll make it clear, too.

Well, the same can probably be said about agents. For most of them, upon reading a manuscript, it's a fairly-clear "yes" or "no." They're either "into" your book, or they're not.

And sometimes, it takes a LOT of months or years of various agents being "not" into your book to finally find the one who is. That agent who GETS your book, who loves it, who understands it - who wants to represent it! You'll know. Trust me, you'll know.

A flaky agent, a wishy-washy "I'm not really sure about this" agent is not the one for you. Because the one who is into your book will TELL YOU. They'll be excited about your book and will talk about its possibilities. They'll feel an urgency about representation. They'll make it clear how they feel, no games, no serious doubts.

*Note - I do believe that some agents will have great faith in a novel that's "not quite there yet" and will request rewrites, without offering representation. That's not being wishy-washy; that's being realistic. But - when the rewrites are completed and resubmitted, there should soon be a moment where that agent experiences that urgency, that excitement about the book which tells you he/she is "into" the book. If not, then you should probably move along...

*Another note to clarify: Re-reading my own entry just now, it seems ridiculous of me to "complain" about agents being "not into me" when I'm lucky enough to have a formal offer on the table. But that's really not what I meant at all - I'm utterly flattered and humbled by ANY offer that comes my way. I only thought that this was a unique opportunity to discuss an agent - any agent - being "into" our work....or not...and seeing the difference so clearly.

So, more tomorrow on the agent situation! Stay tuned for the details......

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's Official: I HAVE AN AGENT!!!

Okay, so here's how it happened:

About two weeks ago, I queried an agent (one of a billion I had already queried since May of this year, lol). A few days later, he requested 50 pages. Great! I was excited, but I'd been through this before. Many times, in fact. So, I submitted them (by snail mail). The evening after he received them, he emailed me again. He enjoyed the chapters, and requested the full manuscript. Even better! More excited, but still realistic, I printed off the entire manuscript and sent it. Of course, a Sunday and holiday (Columbus Day) prevented it from arriving at his doorstep until 6 days later.

But 2 days after he received the manuscript, there it was - an email in my mailbox. I saw his name and KNEW it was a rejection. What else could it be? He'd read another 50 pages, gotten bored, and decided it was a "no." Right? Wrong!!

I opened the email and skimmed through the first (very flattering) paragraph, searching for the "but." You know the one -- "I really enjoyed the story, the characters, the plot - BUT - it's just not the right fit for me..."

But the "but" never came. The second paragraph held words like "contract" "offer of representation" and "let's chat by phone." SQUEEEEEE! I literally hyperventilated, started breathing fast. I called my mom and read her the email. She was ecstatic, as I knew she would be (my biggest fan).

The next few hours were a blur of emails (responding to the agent, then informing the other 4 holding full manuscripts that I had an offer), and of course, real life called, and I had to go to work and grade actual papers and teach actual classes (blech).

It's taken me the past 5 days to realize it's REAL. That I have a full-fledged contract from a full-fledged agent. I can't even tell you how surreal it feels. Truly. I keep expecting him to send an email that says, "Just joking. Ha!" or maybe "I've changed my mind. I was mistaken and want my contract back." It's just so unbelievable...

As for the other 4 agents (see previous post), 2 of them never returned my email (for shame!!), and the other 2 graciously sent a rejection. Which is fine. MORE than fine. Because it only confirms what I knew the minute I hung up the phone with the offering agent - he was "the one" for me. Plus, and I know this is easy for me to say after the fact, lol - but I had already made up my mind to reject one of them if she were to offer representation. So, it all worked out very well in the end, and I'm at total peace with it.

In fact - and remember that "He's Just Not That Into You" book reference I made in yesterday's blog entry? Well, one of the rejecting agents (the one I'd planned to say "no" to) actually used the word "lukewarm" in her email. She wasn't being rude, just honest. And I was glad for her candor. She's right - in the months during our contact (she'd asked me to re-write and re-submit twice), she never showed that "spark" I was hoping for. Yes - she liked the book a LOT - or else, she would've let it go months ago. But she didn't love it. Not enough to fight for it. And I'm glad. Because just as she wouldn't want to feel lukewarm about a project, I certainly would not want a lukewarm agent.

And I don't have one! I have one who read the book in a day and a half, who didn't dilly-dally around and waffle about my book - no, he sent a contract right away! It's always how I imagined, hoped it would be.

In the next week or so, I'll be posting other little details of my experience (like the agent call, or how I researched that agent in the first place to query him, or the various reactions I've received from friends and family), just to continue documenting this writer's journey that I'm on.

And what a roller coaster it's been so far! *straps in for the rest of the ride*

Friday, October 15, 2010


Yesterday, on the board, I wrote down this quote for my Creative Writers:

‎Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Then today, by email (ironically), I found this terrific article in Chuck's Blog - 5 Articles on Perseverance

I can't say much right now (sorry to be so cryptic), but some good things are happening, with regard to my book and certain agents. Finally! (I can tell you more specifics next week...).

So, today, I want to encourage everyone reading to KEEP GOING. Never give up. If you want to get published, then do what it takes to get there. Learn, read, write, re-write, submit, accept rejection, KEEP GOING. Sure, it's no guarantee that if you do these things, even for years, that you will finally get published. But I can tell you this guarantee for sure - if you don't do these things, you have no chance of getting published.

On this Awesome Friday, I offer the Rocky Theme Song. Look at those billion steps in front of you, the ones that seem impossible to climb. Stare them down. Conquer them. And then, when you reach the top, do a glorious, gleeful, victorious dance!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Music of Words

Here's a great quote I just received from a former student:

To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the music the words make. ~Truman Capote

I so agree. I'm constantly telling my students to read their work (whether a formal essay, poem, or short story) ALOUD, not only to catch awkward wording or choppiness, but also so they can hear the language, the music inside the language -- the rhythm, the beat, the "melody."

I admit it -- sometimes, I just love language for language's sake. Have you ever read a sentence or passage from a book and read it over again, just because that particular combination of words sounded almost melodious?

May we never forget to enjoy the music in our language!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Importance of a First Chapter

My students' next assignment is to submit a first chapter. What great timing -- I've just found this article on Nathan Bransford's blog, all about that all-important first chapter. I couldn't agree more with everything in this article.

I actually can't think of a (first-draft) first chapter I've ever written that stuck around in the final edits. Usually, my problem is that I start my first chapter too soon. I give unimportant information - or, offer it in a way that doesn't draw the reader in like it should. I find that if I ditch the first couple of pages, that is where the action is. Page 2 or 3. That's where my story should really begin.

It's also a good idea to take a stack of 10 novels (whether from your own bookshelves or the library or a bookstore) and read their first chapters. See how other authors are doing it. Do they start with dialogue? Description? Action? And what, in your opinion, is most effective? Study the masters; see what works.

And, no matter what, remember to start en medias ras -- Latin, for "in the middle of things." It doesn't have to be as dramatic as a car chase or bomb going off. But it does need to be intriguing - to compel and coax the reader to want to read more. That's really the sole purpose of the first chapter (aside from offering key information). Because if you can't "hook" the reader in that first chapter, you likely won't hook them for the rest of the novel, either.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Don't Push It

So, here I sit, on a rare non-working, non-grading Saturday. I had decided to devote much of this day to writing. Well, editing is more accurate - there's a novel in the series I'm trying to polish and tighten at the moment.

I've sat down about three times, opened the document, stared at it awhile, tried to brainstorm -- but nothing's happening. I think my brain's a little fried from the hundreds of essays I've been having to grade lately, and I feel too fatigued to be creative. Or even to make sense, for that matter.

So, I've decided something. I won't push it. As eager as I am to get something accomplished today, I will go forth and relax, spend time online, take a walk - anything other than editing/writing. At least for this afternoon. Perhaps tonight, when I feel less antsy, better-rested, I can feel those creative juices flow once more.

Sometimes, I think writers do more harm than good (to their own writing) when they try too hard to push it. Sometimes, the better choice might be to walk away. At least, for a bit...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Upping the Stakes

Passing along a link today:

I came across this great article from Writer's Digest - How to Up the Stakes for Your Characters. Some strong tips/advice for heightening conflict and tension in your prose.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Author Website

I love browsing websites of authors I enjoy reading. Well, today, I searched for Kate Morton's website (author of The House at Riverton, the book I'm currently reading).

It's one of the most creative sites I've seen - the layout is sort of haunting and mysterious and nostalgic-feeling (much like her books). I also love the "sneak preview" for her new book, The Distant Hours. Can't wait to read it!

And sure, I admit it - one day, if I'm ever fortunate enough to be published, myself, I'd love to have a great website. I'd have different blog entries for my characters, or maybe include a map of the Cotswold village where my series is located. It's fun, getting ideas from other author websites. Hey, I can dream, can't I? ;-)

Do you have any favorite author sites to recommend? I'd love to see them!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Help for the Series Dilemma

How many times has this scenario happened....?

You're standing in a Barnes & Noble, and you come across a book you think you'll love. You're instantly attracted to the cover, and when you read the flap, you can't wait to plunk down your hard-earned dollars and dive right in! But, wait! You look closer and see the word "SERIES." This is both good news, and bad. Good, because, hey - if you like this book, you've got at least a few more that will be similar to it - characters and settings that will carry over to the next book. There's something so comforting and familiar about a series...

Bad news? Surely the book in your hand doesn't just happen to be #1. It's never that easy. Or worse, you can't TELL which number in the series it is. So, you panic and flip to the front cover, and see 8 previous titles listed. Ack! You have to start at the beginning, don't you? So, you return to the bookshelf and scan the titles again, and pray that #1 is among them. But it isn't. Deflated, you shelve the book in your hand (because, really, who wants to read #9 in a series first?), and make a mental note to look up the first book online (and then you usually forget the author or title, by that point...).

(Even worse is when the series books aren't numbered!! WHY aren't all series clearly numbered? I'll never understand that...)

Well, this may be just the solution you need -- I stumbled across an invaluable site for booklovers, called FictFact. It's a huge database of SERIES books that tells you the exact order in a particular series, and even notifies you when the new releases are coming out. So, just get out that fancy i-Phone in the middle of Barnes & Noble, and start tapping in the title in your hand. This database should give you all the info you need. And, if the book isn't available in the bookstore, the site even has a button that leads you directly to Amazon, to purchase the book, then and there.

Dontcha love the internet??? ;-)

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Little Nugget of Magic

For me, the best literature is a book (or even movie) that stays with me a long, long time. I don't forget it the moment I close the last chapter - instead, I mull it over in my mind, reflect on characters or a storyline that was powerful.

I think part of the "magic" of this is when an author nails it. When he/she, usually in just one unexpected sentence, one little nugget, takes a feeling, emotion, or a truth that we knew all along but never found the right words for -- and plucks out of thin air the PERFECT words to describe it. When that magic happens, I find myself nodding along, and think, "Yes. That's it, exactly." I love it when that happens.

And it happens so rarely. Even in the best modern literature, it only happens a handful of times in one novel. But, I guess that's the beauty of it. If those authors could "nail" a specific feeling or emotion with every single sentence, it would be commonplace, rather than rare.

Elizabeth Berg, a favorite author of mine, describes this moment I'm talking about, in her writing book, Escaping Into the Open:  "You want to solicit in your readers that pleasant rush of recognition, that satisfying surprise of finding out something they knew, but didn't know they knew."

Here's an example that I found from her own novel, The Last Time I Saw You -- about a 40th high school reunion. Here's a main character, at the end of the reunion (after some disappointments of expectations, some old wounds re-opened, some truths confessed):

"It comes to her that all of the people in this room are dear to her. As if they all just survived a plane crash together or something. All the drunks and the show-offs and the nice kids and the mean ones. All the people she used to know and all the ones she never knew at all."

I haven't been to a reunion, but I've recently reconnected with a lot of old high school friends, and this is SO much what it feels like to me. Ms. Berg nailed it - high school was rough, in different ways, for just about everyone. There were wonderful moments and heartaches, moments you'd rather forget. But, we all went through that experience together, for better or worse. Nobody else but that exact group of people in that exact graduating class could go through that exact experience the way we did. So yes, I think high school, in hindsight, feels very much like surviving a plane crash together. Some unique experience that can't be replicated, that can't be experienced except by the people inside the plane together. What an interesting way to look at it.

I love those little nuggets of magic. In fact, I seek them out, bookmark the page when I come across them. And, I'm lucky if, as a writer, I can ever sprinkle a truth like that inside my own work...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


When you're editing a book or story - I mean, REALLY editing - cutting whole scenes or changing character traits or moving scenes around - the decision-making can feel overwhelming. Because one single decision you make, with a character or scene or plot, has ripple effects. It can change the entire rest of the story, so each decision has to be made carefully. And almost always, something has to be sacrificed.

Here's my example: In the novel I'm currently editing, the male and female leads are old college friends who meet up 5 years later. Well, for reasons too long to explain here, I've decided that it would be better if they didn't have a history with each other at all -- that instead, their friendship starts fresh, developing in front of the reader's eyes.

When I made this change, I realized a few things were sacrificed, but the biggest one? Their comfortable history together was gone. So, I had to re-work the entire beginning of their relationship. As well, the original way they got reacquainted had contained a "bead" (symbol) that I'd integrated into the end of the story, to create a full circle, a connection. Well, with these new changes, that bead vanished. It had to be sacrificed. So, I have to brainstorm another bead instead.

I think, in the end, it will be worth it - and that's the main point, really. You have to weigh everything as you make your decision. Ask yourself whether the sacrifices are worth it in the end. If they are, you'll know you're doing the right thing. Of course, if they're not worth it, you might need to re-think it. Again.

Sacrificing ANY plot, character, or even dialogue can be so tough. But the bottom line is always this: if the sacrifices are made for the greater good of the novel, it's always the right decision.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I knew this day would come, but not quite so soon. Text-speak has officially been entered into the dictionary. No, seriously - right here.

Now, sure, being internet-savvy, I like my LOL's and my ROFL's and my BTW's well enough. But do I think they should be legitimized as actual words? Or should start to be seen as some sort of substitute for "real" language? Umm, no. Not at all.

My worry, of course, is that text-speak will creep in to my students' formal essays (it already has! I've seen rampant use of "u" instead of "you!"). And that this generation of readers/learners/texters will rely SO heavily on abbreviated versions that they'll begin talking in them. *imagines a funny conversation occurring, with "LOL" being spoken in place of actual laughter*

Something else that's occurring? A book-less library. (<--oxymoron?). That's right. A library filled only with....chairs and tables. No books. No tall shelves that house rows and rows of glorious literature. Instead, the books are digitalized. The wave of the future?? I certainly hope not. Because I still enjoy the sensation of having a book in my hands, turning the pages, smelling that new-book smell. *imagines a future world in which children point to a hardcover book and say - "Mommy, what's THAT?!"*

I guess I'm just an old-fashioned, old soul. I don't like these changes that are a'coming, though I know I'm powerless to stop them....

People Don't Change...

In my Creative Writing class, I often relate examples of real-life people when I talk about fictional characters. Because even if we're not basing our characters on anyone in particular, we still have to make them "feel" absolutely real. They need to have flaws and quirks, good points and bad - to be more than one-dimensional.

This might be a bit controversial, but I tell my students that, in my personal experience, (real-life) people don't change. That the CORE of who they are (personality, belief system, the way they view the world) is often established at a pretty early age (or, they're even born with it, in the case of personality). And that they rarely, if ever, veer from that main core.

Sure, people grow and learn and stretch themselves. Absolutely. And sure, people can have religious experiences, which often are accompanied by significant alterations in their beliefs. But most people I know react the same way to the same situations time and time again (myself, included). In fact, I could present a hypothetical situation and just about predict how a certain person might react.

Maya Angelou has a fantastic quote: "The first time someone tells you who they are, believe them." To me, that means that people show you who they are, and they will CONTINUE to act that way, time and time again, so we'd better brace ourselves for it.

Another great quote comes from Don Draper, the fictional character in Mad Men. I jotted this down from last week's episode: "People tell you who they are, but we ignore it. Because we want them to be who 'we' want them to be." Again, meaning that as much as we want someone to change, they most likely won't. They'll most likely continue to be exactly who they always were.

So, back to fiction -- just as people tend not to change who they truly are, at their core, so fictional characters shouldn't either. At least, not without justification. Here's an exaggerated example: if Sally starts out in your novel with a passive, meek, introverted personality, she probably won't end up at the end of the novel with an assertive, sanguine, outgoing personality -- unless something significant has occurred within those pages to justify the "change."

The reader gets to know a character better with each page he/she turns. With every sentence, the writer is building a background for the character, laying a specific foundation. So if, suddenly, for no reason, the character changes drastically - does something completely OUT of character - the reader will know that. And will be frustrated by it. Because, suddenly, the characters don't seem "real." They seem "written."

So, what do you think? Are real-life people - or characters - capable of drastic changes in their lives that are lasting, sustainable? I'd love to hear your thoughts!