Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sonnet -- August's Ending

My power cord finally gave out for good, so until I get a new one, all my blogs-in-progress are locked up in my dead computer. But I found this on my usb stick and thought I might share. I wrote it for a class a long time ago, but it kind of sums up how I'm feeling right now. (That and how absolutely grateful I am to have saved my current manuscript so I won't lose time waiting for the new cord in the post.)
Anyhow. Enough rambling. Poetry commence.

August’s Ending

Paling fringe closes in on a green field
like the cicadas climbing out cases.
Consumed summer, as frost on the windshield –
burnt orange wood grains – clasping ‘tween the spaces
of purple pearl drops in conversation.
What lies beyond the cracks; don’t break the skin –
Tinted cold, we tussle in transition.
The energy might die; fold outside in –
Hues of bottle brown, burgundy red wine
leave contentment to insect skeleton
and the middle class; dull to spark and shine.
These walls know nothing about moving on,
Hope after each season’s golden risings
pays with pain in reincarnated wings.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Big Three Delusions every new writer has.

Don't get angry with the title. I'm writing from experience.

1. The Copyright Symbol

The © is more than a Copyright Symbol. It's the symbol of all the insecurities and neurosis in the deep dark chasm of the authorly soul.

It isn't good enough to put By Authorly Awesome when you submit to a literary journal or print out your piece to let someone read. No. It must be © Authorly Awesome to evoke fear and legality to anyone hoping to thieve thy work!

I make fun of it now, but of course I was there. I don't think I shoved the epic threat of ©, but I made sure my name was on everything I submitted, twice. And now doing bits of freelance editing here and there, every new author I've worked with has either had the © or brought up not wanting to submit anywhere not "legitimate" because the agency/publisher/contest may steal the work.

I also see this paranoia seep in with publishing short stories or blog posts, authors not wanting to put anything out for (Gasp!) free. For some reason the author feels better having a price on it, because someone won't steal the piece if they've paid for it but they will steal it if it was free. What?

All I have to say is this: Authors are far too in love with their own work to steal yours. Do some research, but don't let irrational fears keep you from submitting, publishing or blogging. Deep breath. It's okay.

2. Universal Themes

I wrote a play once that contained Furries, disability fetishists, and a transvestite. All in the same play. But I held on to the idea that it contained a UNIVERSAL THEME of belonging. I would be off-broadway within the next week with such a resounding, relatable theme. Right.

I say this, and some disagree but I will say it again. Any book is a niche book. Writing a "literary" book instead of a "genre" book does not free you from a niche, or a niche market. I prefer reading genre because I more often get what I expect. Most "literary" works I start reading quickly fall into a romance/sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. Until your book becomes a staple like Moby Dick or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest you will not be able to market to everyone just because of a universal theme. Don't be afraid of niche or genre. When I first started writing I shirked on some pieces because "I don't want to get too niche-y." Wrong. Now I write what I want to write in the genres that certain readers want. And everyone is much happier.

3. I want it more/work harder/am not a wannabe

The first advice I got from a real-life, traditionally published author was to start with lit journals. Tune my craft, understand how to pitch to editors and build an arsenal of publication credits. I was a Freshmen in college at the time and I thanked the author but said to myself: "Pshh. I don't need to build! I'm good enough to go straight to publishing a book. Everyone else does other things then thinks they can write. I'm going to school for writing. I'm doing it right."

Once again. Wrong.

It took me five years to get that degree, seven years to write and publish my first book, and in the first year of submitting to lit journals, I only got rejections. The second year, two acceptances, and then I began to grow. And I haven't stopped growing. Sure people publish more than me, are better than me, do things I only dream of accomplishing at this stage. And yes there are people that talk incessantly and never publish, that rush the process and put out typo-ridden ebooks that they beg you to purchase daily via every social networking site they have. But I can't base my growth on what others are doing. Being a writer means a lot of hard work and no guarantees. But it's a risk you must be willing to take and you must be able to turn off the static of the bajillion and one other writers that are trying to be successful at exactly the same thing you are trying to do. Don't get angry with the writing community. Embrace it and learn, and don't let the less-than-helpful aspects distract you from your own work.

So, there you have it, my Big Three that caused me so much grief when I first thought becoming a writer was something I want to do. And right now I might not be able to see them, but in a few years I hope to write The Big Three Delusions the intermediate writer has.

'Til then, a little reality check from Mr. Wilde,

“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.”

― Oscar Wilde

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dissecting a scene

When the grind of the daily word count begins to numb my brain and create stifling trenches of ruts in my story, I like to step back, clear my palette and try new techniques. One I tried a couple years ago and I like to go back to it frequently. I call it Dissecting a scene.

I have three categories when I dissect a scene, but you can add more depending on what you are writing. My witty mnemonics are TEA: Things, Emotions, Actions.

I'll use an example from my current project since it's right in front of my face. The gist of the scene is this: my character Nelson is stuck in the Apocalypse and has for most of the book been traveling with a mean, inconsiderate character. He finally grows a pair and goes off on his own and finds some sanctuary with some nice people in a farm house. He is by himself for the first time since the end of the world for a few minutes in the farmhouse dining room. And go.

THINGS: All the physical descriptions in the room. The carpet, the peeling wall paper (and what's underneath it), lace curtains, the table and chairs, what they look like, the old framed photos, a coat rack covered in winter overalls (it's summer at the time the scene takes place), a bookshelf covered in yellowed, flaking newspapers, a saddle in the corner with an old rodeo buckle, the lantern light since the electricity is out etc. etc. etc. Think of as many things as possible, even if you don't think you'll use them. This goes for any setting: a gas station, a Victorian parlor, a jungle, a classroom. Include weather and time of day.

After I make a list of things, I tack on a sub-category of the 5 senses. I've put a lot of visuals, but then I try to add sounds (the way the floorboards creak when he walks, but the heavy silence when he stands still), tastes (I had to cheat as there's no food yet, but maybe he can visualize the table filled for thanksgiving dinner and his mom's pumpkin pie), smells (when he disturbs the dust around the picture frames) and how things feel (the belt buckle, the rough wood of the old table, the heat of the night with no air conditioning).

Keep in mind you don't have to use all of the items on your list, so go nuts. (The actual list I made of things in this scene was two pages long!)

EMOTIONS: He is feeling free for the first time. Relieved. Happy. Excited. These emotions are of course going to play on all the fear he's been feeling and the uncertainty of the future. List why your characters are feeling the way they are, even if it's leftover from previous scenes. Understand their emotional states to play on the visuals and actions.

ACTIONS: Things he is doing while he self-reflects. Looking at the pictures, pacing around the old floor, leaning on the table, sitting back in one of the chairs looking at the ceiling, touching the parts of the old saddle, making shadow puppets on the wall from the lamplight.

Since this scene is very slow moving, I don't have to worry about getting him from point A to point B. But in a scene with a lot of action, this can isolate all the other things to get your choreography down for how characters gets from doing one thing to the next to the next. Don't worry about emotions or other descriptors in this category, purely what they are doing.

Then, you can put it all together. I found it amazing how much better my descriptions were as I picked things out of the list I might never have thought of if I just wrote the scene.

I won't give away how I put together the scene (wait for the book to come out! :-P) but the shadow puppet thing, which I kind of added to my list as a joke, ended up being very symbolic and tying a lot together.

I especially like this in action scenes where I tend to focus all on the action and leave emotions/descriptions behind. Like I said, you won't use every item on the list, but having concentrated on each individually will give you more focus to choose the important things that relate to each other and make the symbolism better and strengthen theme. I also like to use this when I don't have time to think about writing a complete scene. Maybe I'm on break at work or have a few minutes at lunch, I can think of a scene, pick a category and make a list. Then when I have all the lists I can sit down and focus on the scene.

So, there you have it. I don't always use this technique, but it has proved helpful for me in certain situations. And it's much less bloody to take apart a scene before rather than dissecting after you've written the scene. Happy writing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ranty, Updatey Bloggity-Blog

This isn't a real post, but I've tried to put in a few useful bits at the end.

As you can probably note, I'm working on posting weekly to this blog, updating every Sunday or Monday. Eventually I hope to add to this with guest blogs and book reviews, but for now I'm stoked to be doing the weekly thing.

November is NaNoWriMo. And if you are wondering, the only part of that I see is the "No"part. It might as well say NoNoNoNo because that's my answer to that. Not that there's anything wrong with NaNoWriMo, I don't see the problem with typing 50,000 words in a month, or typing that many in a month on one project. I just can't do it right now, and that's it. Maybe someday. But not now.

I've been working full time hours six days a week in a crazy inconsistent part-time schedule. I was pounding away at Matilda's first book but that has trickled into tapping and tinkering away, though I still hope to have the book out by the end of February. Then I have a non-fiction book I will delve into and begin the transition of making my AJ name geared primarily toward non-fiction and sociology writing. I'm kind of nervous about said transition, since 19 Years is a fun PC historical time-travel.
But A) it's only been a week since the first book signing, I have some time and B) I can blog about the experience here! Hooray!

I have some posts in the works about composing and writing, so I suppose I will try to be helpful to my fellow writers who are NaNo-ing and post them in the next few weeks. I also want to look at reading behavior and since I've been helping run a Writer's Roundtable, editing has been heavy on my mind as well. So stay tuned, won't you?

All right, I'll close it up now. Here are some good quotes. Everyone loves good quotes.

Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.
-Don Marquis

It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.
-Noel Coward

I'm not entangled in shaping my work according to other people's views of how I should have done it.
-Toni Morrison

I don't have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.
-Maeve Binchy

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
-Alvin Toffler

If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.
-Michael Crichton

If every library is in some sense a reflection of its readers, it is also an image of that which we are not, and cannot be.
-Alberto Manguel

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
-Groucho Marx

And lastly, a personal favorite of mine,

If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.
-Frank Zappa