Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rejection Rewards

Well, today marks my first rejection of 2010. Uggh. I am a praise-craver, so rejection notices can really bring me down (especially that one from an unnamed horror site that said my story was boring and offered nothing new. Yeah. I'll never send that guy another manuscript!), or at least wreck my diet plans. But I have a new strategy that puts a little bit of "yay" in the experience.

I don't know where I was reading the blog post about rejection, but one of the comments was from Christine, a bona fide genius. She said that every rejection she received, she paid herself a fee! The higher the stakes, the bigger the pay-out: $5 for a query, $10 for a partial, $20 for a full manuscript. And at the end of the year, she used the money for a spending spree.

I love this idea!!

Yeah, I know that rejection is a constant fact of life in the writing industry, and that I should just get used to it. I also know that my rejections give me opportunities to learn more about writing and the publishing experience. And yes, I know that every rejection represents an effort to put myself out there, and I should be proud of myself for even sending things out the door. But dang it, I'm like a potty-training puppy here, people! I like rewards!

So to boost my flagging spirits, I'm putting $2 in my Rejection Rewards Jar tonight. And at the end of the year, I'm going to Powells and buying whatever crap I want. I wonder what they've got in the rare book room ...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Main dish salads (Sumptuous Saturdays)

Okay, it's time for another Sumptuous Saturday food discussion. This is a little harder than usual today because we really slacked on the healthy eating front. Breakfast was Potatoes O'Brien and scrambled eggs, and then we had a really late lunch/early dinner of cheese pizza. Yep. Junk-liscious day.

On the other hand, tomorrow we'll be back to our normal eating habits. Sundays are our grocery shopping day, so we stock up on all our favorite nibbles. What is it about having fresh food in the house to stoke your cooking fire?

Anyway, tomorrow will probably be a main dish salad kind of dinner, and I think we'll be revisiting the Bok Choy Chik'n Salad. It's easy, because I use faux chicken nuggets as a protein source and the "dressing" is easy to whip together out of *gasp* the Oriental top ramen seasoning packet, a dash of sesame oil and lots of apple cider vinegar. I like to throw in plenty of little orange pieces to round out the flavors. It will still be junk food, but when the junk food makes us demolish an entire bunch of bok choy (I also add spinach or romaine to bulk it up a little) in one meal, I don't feel so bad about it.

In fact, we've been eating a lot of main dish salads that use junk food to dress up our greens. A couple of weeks ago, I made falafel balls (baked, not fried!) to top a spinach & romaine salad tossed with blue cheese and ranch dressing (dilute the ranch dressing with vinegar or fat-free buttermilk, and it stops being such a fat nightmare without compromising the delicious junk-food-y flavor). And Taco Salad with soy "ground beef" and tostada shells doesn't seem so bad when you pile on the spinach, cabbage and romaine--and heaps of fresh salsa.

So I guess you've found me out. I looooove salads for dinner. They just need to be laced with delicious junk food.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I'm not busy--I'm abundant

This is my new mantra. I am one of those people who gets overwhelmed fairly easily, and I also hate to mess around with my schedule. I still glare at the front doors of the elementary school, because it's "stolen" an hour out of my Monday--and I'm the one who had the idea to sign up as a parent volunteer.

Yeah. What can I say? I'm a dork. I also sometimes get mad at myself for agreeing to write for Horror-Web, even though it's totally my dream (volunteer) job. I also sometimes resent things like family reunions, holidays and other people's birthdays. You should have heard me complaining about Christmas.

Anyway, I'm trying to change my mindset. Now when I feel overwhelmed because I have too many social engagements, I'm going to tell myself: I'm so lucky to have so many friends. And when I realized I would miss my entire Friday-workday next week because I'm chaperoning a class trip to theatre, I told myself: I've got a wonderful chance to experience theatre! And maybe it will inspire a short story! (Okay, admittedly, I thought this after I had a little temper tantrum.)

So when I start freaking out because I've got two stories to edit and a book to write and two books to review and a backlog on my personal reading list, I will just remind myself: I'm not busy--I'm abundant. I've got an abundance of wonderful creativity to enjoy; I've got an abundance of wonderful learning opportunities. I am so lucky.

And you know what? I really am!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

World Horror Convention is rocking my brain!

Now that it is suddenly the end of January--how did that happen??--March looks insanely close, and with it, a cross-oceanic voyage to the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England. I am almost too excited about it to think straight!

Here are just a few of my thoughts on the matter:
1) I have never been out of North America. Just the idea of seeing the UK makes me insane with glee. Of all the places I've dreamed about visiting, the UK has been at the top of my list since I was, oh, 5.

2) I will be traveling BY MYSELF. I have only flown on an airplane with Fiona, so this alone is reason for excitement. (I am doubly pleased about being able to pee without sharing that teensy airplane bathroom with a wiggly kid.) But there is a touch of nervousness, too. I mean, I've never slept in a hotel room alone before--every traveling experience has always involved friends or family. Gulp.

3) Somehow I got on the reading list. Yeah, this year at the WHC, they're running The Reading Cafe, where any body with the urge can sign up to do a reading, and since I'm a total publicity slut, I put my name in the hat. And they said yes.

4) Oh, did I mention that I'm leaving my kid for close to an entire week? Sure, she's in the best possible hands and she'll be enjoying a week of junk food, movies and video games with her Pops, but we've never been apart more than one night before, and honestly? One night has been more than long enough for me. I get a little misty-eyed over a breakfast without the kid.

5) I have no idea what to wear.

Of course, all these fears and excitements can easily be overcome. Excitement can be eased by tedious research and lots of deep breathing. Fear can be worn down by plenty of tedious research and practice, and when I finally reach the con, judicious application of alcohol. So really, of all the items on the list, the only one that should be occupying my mind right now is #5.

Oh my god! What will I wear????

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pwn your story

This WIP will be my fourth novel, not counting many false starts and trashed outlines. And after setting aside three completed--completed if never fully revised--books, I finally understand why those others will never my desk. Why I will never successfully pin down their loose ends and send them out my door. It's because I did not have control of my story.

You can have amazing skills with wordsmithery and fail to write a good novel. You can create memorable, lovable characters that stay within the readers' hearts. You can have a killer concept that is timely and engaging--but you won't get a book out of it until you own every inch of what happens in that plot.

And there's a difference between knowing what happens in your story and owning it. When things happen without absolute engagement between you and your characters, you're dropping the reins. When two characters interact and you describe how they look at each other, you're probably disengaging--you're watching them in a movie, not controlling their every move. And every move has meaning. Every movement, every moment, every sip of tea needs to be rooted in your intellectual and emotional understanding of the story, of what things really mean in your text.

You make the world. Your characters don't just do things on a whim. They are not the authors. You are. Unless you disengage and let things slide.

Learning to spot the moments where I have let things slide is the best thing I have learned over the past year. I don't catch everything--thank god for my amazing First Readers--but I am starting to catch my personal symptoms of disengagement. For me, here are some tell-tales:
  • 3-sentence paragraphs that sound like Hollywood.
  • moments with a lot of action and little emotional response from the characters
  • passages of amazing dialogue with descriptions of how people's voices sound
  • traveling, eating or drinking scenes

There are more, but they become specific to the work itself, and they happen on every page and sometimes every paragraph. I'm getting better at catching them. I don't even have any advice for others at how to catch the points of disengagement yet, because it's such a new skill for me. I can only guess that it is something that comes with writing for hours on end and begging someone to critique my work. Writing short stories has been an invaluable lesson in creating characters that I bend to the meaning of my story. I am learning how to pin each detail into place to make it sing. It's like a miracle.

So even if you're a lover of the long form, I can't recommend short story writing enough. Take a moment every week to challenge yourself to create some kind of short fiction. Pay attention to what you repeatedly screw up doing. After a while, you'll see those spots and you'll slap the words around until they cut through the expected, slice through the psyche and punch your reader in the gut.

You'll make them do it. After all, you're the writer. You pwn those words!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sumptuous Saturdays

One of the things I've always tried to include in this blog is a lot of talk about food. After all, I'm a recovering foodie, so I find myself blathering on and on about my favorites quite often. But this year I'm taking a different tack. I'm giving myself a more focused blogging schedule these days (after all, I've got a lot of writing to do over at Horror-Web!), and I've decided that Saturday will be my food-post day. With any luck, I should have lots of new recipes coming your way!

Today I just want to take a moment to talk about cruciferous vegetables. These nutritional powerhouses are among the most widely hated veggies and if you're not eating them, you're missing out. Study after study shows that the brassica family (that's the botanic family name for the cruciferous vegetable group) provides some the strongest protection against cancer you can eat. Cruciferous veggies can also help regulate estrogen levels and contain nutrients that protect against macular degeneration. So for your own sake, get busy learning to appreciate good old broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and bok choy! (Mustard, turnip & collard greens are also part of the family, as well as arugula, kohlrabi and radishes.)

I have to confess that we eat brassicas almost every day in our house, only occasionally passing them over in favor of the chicories (romaine and endive are favorites) or spinach. I am pretty hard-core about eating green stuff. Days with nothing green make me droopy. But this year has been extra-great for us. We've begun using bok choy as a salad green, braising brussels sprouts, and roasting broccoli. Last week we went through *5 pounds* of broccoli and two bunches of bok choy, not to mention romaine and a big bag of spinach. It was one of our healthiest weeks ever.

You can do it, too. Try using bok choy as a salad green--just cut out the big white ribs and mince them separately. Then stack the green leafy pieces, roll and cut en chiffonade (that's in little leaf ribbons). We used our bok choy in a delicious Chinese-Chicken-style salad (with fake chicken, of course), delicious tangerine bits and some dried cranberries. Even the kid loved it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day jobs

About a year and a half ago, I finally had a revelation about the relationship between work and writing. I was in the middle of planning a career change, scheduling classes to prepare for a teaching degree and all of the sudden, walking home from the grocery store, knowledge just slammed into my brain: If I wanted to be a writer, I needed to make peace with my day job and stop looking for fulfillment in that world. If writing was going to be my art, I needed to sacrifice something for it.

This was hard for me to accept. I think I even went into a kind of mourning. Deep down, I've always been fairly ambitious, and I've also always been pessimistic about my chances of making a well-paid living from writing. That's part of the reason I spent so much time and effort as a younger person rejecting my love of writing. So to think about sticking with my (not very well paid and highly non-glamorous) part-time day job was painful. But I am so glad I have.

Having a day job that is flexible enough to create a functional life-work-art schedule is wonderful. Having a day job that I can leave behind when I clock out is amazing. Having money to buy groceries and even having enough cash to put into books and conventions is UNBELIEVABLE. It's given me the strength and courage to focus on writing.

I dream every single day that I will someday be able to leave my job and just write. It will probably never, ever happen. And you know what? If I made a killing writing blockbuster books, I might be tempted to have a part-time job just to get out of the house.

Of course, I'd probably pick a cooler job. Wendy Wagner, Pet Detective, has a pretty awesome ring to it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Judged to Be Dread

This is the week I begin my next real novel. It's outlined; it's planned; the notebook is sitting there, primed with names and ideas and doodles. And I'm stalling. I'm actually kind of terrified of starting my next book.

I haven't started a new novel since Nanowrimo 2008. All last year, I edited and wrote short stories and learned a lot--but I didn't start a new novel. I thought I would in November, and I did write the first scene, but then I made myself wrap up my revision project, promising myself I would start Dark Fantasy Work-in-Progress (DFWIP) on the New Year.

Then I got an idea for a short, mid-grade novel. I could do that and have it done before World Horror! I began outlining, then realized the idea was flat and lifeless. So I threw myself into a new short story project. And then I realized something: that I was putting off my DFWIP. On purpose.

Why? It's not because I'm not excited about the project. I love the idea and think the characters have all kinds of potential. It's not because I don't love writing, because obviously, I'm putting off writing DFWIP to pursue other writing. It's just because writing a novel is a humongous commitment. Writing a book commands all your writing time for a long time, and when you get done, there's a chance you might not have anything to show for it.

I know this for a fact, because I've written three "practice" novels that are now fit only for recycling (or harvesting for future world-building exercises). I am terrified of creating another piece of crap, even if I have learned a great deal from producing literary excrement.

And let's face it: writing a novel opens the doorway to chaos in my household. Just creating a rough draft will take me close to two months. Two long, tiring months where many days I won't feel like folding laundry. Or sweeping the floor. Or cleaning the fridge. And the mess is just the tip of the iceberg. During those two months, I'm going to be pissed off at all of my friends. There's nothing like writing a book to encourage people to invite you to potlucks and parties and gaming nights and meetings, and saying 'no' to them over and over and over makes me really grumpy.

In fact, there are so many good reasons not to write another novel that any normal human being would just walk away from the computer and go watch tv.

But I'm not a normal human being. I'm a writer. And I've got a new novel to start.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Good in a crisis, bad in front of the news

I can't say that I've lived through that many emergencies. More than some folks, less than others. There have been fun minor ones, like the two-week power outage with no running water when I was kid. There have been short, terrifying ones, like the night when one of our friends came to our house with a stab wound and my mom bandaged him up. There was the house fire, it's own, massive pain in the ass. And of course at work, there's one child-related disaster after another.

I keep calm enough, I guess. My brain goes into problem-solving mode and chomps into the nearest solution--if not the best solution, the one closest to me. Like the night my roommate and I discovered a man in our car and instead of going to the nearest business to call the police, I opened the car door and started to pull him out of the car.

I'm 5'4". And a girl. With glasses and asthma. *idiot*

But when I sit at home and I hear about disasters, I just break down. Today at work, I damn near started crying, just thinking about what it's like in Haiti right now. I want to row down there and load up all the orphaned kiddos and bring them home with me. Right now.

I don't have a boat. I don't have the room for a thousand orphans. But I can open my heart to the forces of good in this world and urge them south. And I can open my wallet and make a donation to somebody like Doctors Without Borders, who might actually be able to do something.

In the meantime, I'll be moping around. And of course typing up the minutes from our Zombie Squad meeting. You know, because we actually do stuff, like organize food drives and clean trails and try to get it through their heads that when an emergency comes, you need to put on your thinking cap and think through to the nearest solution.

Just leave the guy in the car while you call the police.

Monday, January 11, 2010


"There are three things you need to write a great book: a pen, a book, and penguin you set on fire."
--Brandon Sanderson, today's Writing Excuses podcast.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Be the candle

So here's a bit of advice for budding authors who have hit a certain kind of wall. That "I'll never be good enough" wall. That "I can't believe X wrote Such & Such and they were only 23 years old" wall. That "my god, what if this is the best I'll ever be?" wall.

Here it is: Let it go.

So what if you're not a genius? So what if Kirkus (the new zombie Kirkus that wants to snub your braaaaains) thinks you're a hack? So what if editor after editor tells you your characters aren't likable or that your plots are too simple or that they've seen this kind of story too many times? (Those are some of my favorite rejections right now.) So what?

In 200 years, Barry Manilow will be forgotten. But for a certain generation, his jingle "I'm stuck on Bandaid (TM) cause Bandaid's stuck on me!" will never leave their heads.

In 50 years, Taylor Swift will be reminding her grandchildren that she paid for their college tuition because she was famous, damn it! But when I am on my deathbed, I will still be able to sing the chorus of "You Belong With Me".

Piers Anthony will never be a part of the literary canon, but I will always refer to that lake in Florida as "Ogre-chobee". Dean Koontz will never win a Nobel Prize, but I will never forget the creatures he created in Watchers. Tamora Pierce might fall short of a Pulitzer, but she changed the course of my entire life.

What I'm trying to say is that writers are artists. And artists have the job of being a candle in the darkness. You don't have to be the biggest candle to be the brightest thing in the Eastern Washington desert. You just have to be seen by that one person hungry for a gleam.

So be the candle.

If you keep writing and striving, the other stuff will take care of itself a little at a time. You'll find a publisher, no matter how big or small, that will be the right place for your work. Your skills will get stronger. As long you keep writing, keep pushing to create and share an artistic vision, you will be lighting up the darkness.

And if the winds batter you on the open steppe, you've got people like me around to come over with a book of matches.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The important stuff

Finishing Old Man's War seemed way more important than the dishes tonight.

I can't believe how great it was, or that it was such a beautiful love story!

The worst thing about reading John Scalzi is knowing that when you grow up, you still won't be John Scalzi.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Fiction about science

Okay, so I've been talking a lot about science fiction. I have to confess that I wasn't thinking too much about SF before I went to ORYCON in November--I hadn't written any science fiction since a misbegotten novelling attempt when I was ten. That was the zenith of my SF phase, the years I devoured most of Heinlein's production (how I missed Starship Troopers, I will never know) and everything else that featured people in outer space. In fact, now that I think back, that novel I started was pretty heavily influenced by Tuf Voyaging, a hunk of fun from George R. R. Martin. I might just have to re-read it.

But I digress.

One of the big reasons I stopped writing science fiction is that for a brief time in my life I was obsessed with science. Real science. I even started college as a chemistry major, and I got into philosophy via (you see this coming, don't you?) philosophy of science. If my kiddo hadn't shown up, I had planned to continue my journey along the edges of science by pursuing a degree in philosophy of the mind, a misbegotten child of science and daydreaming if ever there was one.

And now I've circled all the way around to what prompted my love of science and I'm writing a middle grade science fiction novel. Soft science fiction, not space opera. But it's set in the future, and there is science. Good enough for me.

Of course, the other day I found myself daydreaming about a project set in a fantasy universe inspired by Plato's Timaeus, which just goes to show that once a philosopher, always a philosopher--the writing style just gets a lot less academic.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Specting, Retro & Intro

As a former philosophizer, I'm used to using normal words in weird ways. Like "intention." Normal folks use this word to mean something like "purpose." Philosophers use "intention" to mean "meaning" or "to point at" or "refer to." A picture of a four-legged animal with pointed ears and whiskers INTENDS the concept cat. And that's just one example.

The most odd word usage I ever picked up from philosophers is the word "specting." Does anybody else say "specting?" No. Regular people talk about "introspection," and they mean to turn their attention to their workings, musing over their thoughts. Philosophers talk about "specting-intro": looking inside. And don't even open the can of worms about what that means. Depending on your paradigm, looking inside things can be completely imaginary or impossible or maybe just gooey.

Anyway, I've been spending the first few days "specting." Looking back over things in my life, in the last year, looking inside my thoughts. (This is easy to do when you've just spent an entire day in pajamas. Stupid cold.) It's given me plenty of fodder for critical thought and plans for the next few months.

2009: The year of writing short fiction. I've never been much of a short fictionist, and this year I set out to overcome that flaw. I read short stories; I wrote short stories; I sold a short story! I feel much better about my relationship with the short forms.

2010: A year to balance the force. Hopefully, I can stick to my rough writing schedule, giving myself time to write long pieces AND short pieces.

2009: The year I finally figured out how to revise a book unto completion. After about a jillion false starts, I did it. It's hard, and it sucks. The novella I completed may someday be published. Maybe.

2010: The year I use planning and careful construction of story structure to eliminate some of the drafts created by my old "draft after draft," pantsing method. They probably amount to the same amount of actual work, but at least I won't have to read the same dumb words over and over again.

2009: The year of less reading, more Twitter.

2010: Bring back the books! I know I read a lot last year, but this year, I hope to hold myself accountable for how many books I read. I hope to delve into SF & Fantasy classics this year, and possibly delve deeper into more serious literature. Anything to be a better writer!

What about everybody else? Have you been doing any "specting"?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Expanding horizons

I have a confession to make. Even though I live with an artist, occasionally paint, have a membership at the local art museum and love speculative fiction, I do not like science fiction and fantasy art. There's nothing like a painting of a pegasus to make my stomach revolt, and frankly, highly air brushed visions of space suits don't get me too excited, either. But the other day I decided to push my limits (okay, and to get all nostalgic over favorite book covers), I got a book of Chesley award-winning art.

And it was fun.

Admittedly, the nostalgia factor helped quite a bit. There's nothing like seeing a painting and getting all excited because it was on the cover of one of your favorite books. But also, I remembered that I love to look at stars and space ships. I love Saturn! I love moons! I love Chesley Bonestell!

Anyway, looking at all those great images only made me more certain that 2010 was going to be a great year for SF. Hooray!