Thursday, May 29, 2008


There is a difference between obsessions and passions. I have tried to explain this to my husband but the subtlety of it eludes him. Obsession is a brief and fleeting thing that completely sucks all your time for the period in which it enslaves you. It overpowers everything else. A passion is something that you love, that brings great joy, that lasts over time and through trials. It is something that coexists with your life and makes it better.

I'd like to say reading is a passion for me, and overall that is probably true. It is something I love that brings joy, something I have loved since I was very little. But reading a book is an obsession. When I am in the midst of a good book, I can't put it down. I can't get dinner on the table on time, or carry on a conversation, or fold laundry. Life stops until the book is done. That is why I have to temper my reading sometimes, and why I read in spurts and then have to take a break.

Writing is a passion. I love to write, but I can put it down most of the time. Sometimes I get obsessed with it, when I am in the middle of a scene that won't let me go. But for the most part, writing enhances my life, and we live together happily.

Photography, though, is another matter. And not just photography, but more specifically, lately, cameras. I want a new camera. I need a new camera. I am officially obsessed with new cameras. I'm actually even dreaming all night about cameras. I spent the last few days of my writing time looking and drooling over the camera I want and all the photos from other photographers who use this camera. I have made lists of what I need, and where I can get it, and price options. I have researched the companies who sell what I want. I have memorized the extensive specifications. I know why it is better than a hundred other cameras I could have. I have talked my husband's ear off until I think he is faking sleep to get me to stop. Dinners are late. Laundry is wet. The house is a mess. My book all but came to a screeching halt. My DVR is full. This has to stop.

I am once again writing, and today I forced myself not to look at any camera websites. I am like an alcoholic staying away from even the smell of alcohol. I wrote today on my book, again, a lot. It felt good. But now there is a lull in the day, this brief time when I can't focus long enough to write more on the book, but time enough to check email. And then I think, I'll just check and see if there are any new deals. But I'm not going to .... I can't. Or I will fall into it again. I know how the addict feels: even abstaining doesn't mean you are cured. The draw is still there. The need for it is still there. I want it as badly as anything I have wanted (other than an agent) in a long time. I can justify why I need it, and how I can make money off it. I know it is an obsession. I've tried to stop and I can't. Even now, in being good and not giving in to my urge to shop online, I am still writing about it.

I need serious help.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Writer's Groups: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

I finally did it: I joined a writer's group. At least, I joined a group that's called a writer's group. I'm not sure how many people are even in the group, if they actually write or just want to write, and if they know anything at all about writing. When I introduced myself and said I had finished my first novel and was in the midst of my second and querying the first, I got some "ooohs" and "ahhhs" and something a kin to genuflecting. Which did not inspire enthusiasm on my part.

In all fairness, it's an internet group, because try as I might I cannot find any groups in my area. Apparently, no one here writes. Or they are all the likes of John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell and they don't need writer's groups. So all I was left with was to try the internet.

But this group is flexing in size, and I am quite sure I have yet to meet everyone. In the last month, only two people submitted work, one of which was me. At least one person has never written anything and writes with limited English. Only two to three people comment. And very vaguely, although I am thankful for anything.

This all just cements my previous views of writing groups: I don't think they are really for me. I have resisted for a long time. I took lots of writing classes in college. I was always the top writer, the most respected, the most honored, even in the grad level course I took as an undergrad. And this is not to say at all that I was great. It reflects mostly on the poor quality of writing of most of the others. What I learned most in these classes was that there are a lot of people who think they can write that can't.

I may be one of those people who think they can write but can't. Or maybe I am one of those people who can write, and write well, but not good enough. After all, if BookEnds receives 1200 queries a quarter and only signs on one client out of those, you have to be better than just the best in your class. Unless, of course, your class is 1200 students (and I had classes like that... just not writing classes!). But not respecting the abilities of your group members makes it hard to respect their advice - or their praise.

I had a few people I knew who read my last manuscript while it was in progress, but they knew me and liked me, and I could never be certain how honest and straight forward they were. And many, many blogs and writer sites tout the need for participation in a writer group, in a circle of people who aren't invested in you as a friend too much that they can't be honest. I resisted, still. I didn't need no stinking group. I could judge for myself. I could trust my friends.

Until I realized maybe an outside opinion wouldn't be bad after all, and might give me the chance to read some other really good WIPs and get to know other writers in the process like me, or better yet, a step or two ahead of me. I'm always looking for a little experience to draw on if it saves me from looking like a fool.

But now I am a member of a group that, from what I've seen so far, has much less experience than me. And frankly, that is a little scary. Not that I am one to be all taking and no giving, but I don't want to be the one who knows the most, because what I know about the publishing industry could be written on the head of a pin. Okay, maybe a big pin, but a pin nonetheless.

The other writing sample given for critique was so all over the place I had trouble even critiquing it. I sat for three days looking at the it, trying to figure out where to start. And I thought, this is sucking up my own time for writing...

So what about writer's out there? Do you belong to a group? Is it worth it? How did you choose it? What keeps you in it? What do you get out of it? If not, who reads your work?

Most of you whose blogs I follow mention people reading your work. How do you choose? How did you find them? And most of all, if you like them, can I join???

Friday, May 23, 2008

Beginnings and Ends

Today is my daughter's preschool graduation. It is an end to one phase of life and a beginning of another, for both her and me. I am usually big at celebrations, big at memorializing in our lives the beginnings and ends. We are doing that today, but in the process I missed a big end in my own life.

Wednesday was my last day in what has become one of my favorite rituals this year: writing in the library.

I missed celebrating - or at least savoring - it. I almost didn't go. I was preparing for a host of women to descend upon my house for lunch yesterday, and I contemplated, for the first time all year, dropping my daughter off and preschool and just coming home to clean and cook. But I didn't. I kept my ritual and walked over to the library and sat down in my favorite chair to write.

And write I did. 1600 words. A significant amount for me in that two hours. It came so easily. It was the most fun writing I've had in a while. And it wasn't until the next day that I realized, that was my last day to write there, in that quiet haven. For the next three months all the kids will be home all day, and I will have to have a different plan to get the writing done. And next year, all the kids will be in elementary school, and I won't be near the library, and I will find a different place, a different schedule.

So today marks the end of an era for me, too. The one that led to writing every day, for two hours. One that saw me finish my first book, send out my first queries, get my first request for pages. All of that happened in the library quiet room. And it will sorely be missed.

Next year, there will be a new place, hopefully a new book finished, new queries.

In the meantime, summer looms, along with some great trips, lazy days at the pool, a tan I will half-heartedly pretend to fight in the name of skin cancer.

And much to celebrate.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tribute to Miss Snark

One year ago today Miss Snark's blog went dark. The sad part for me was that I was late to the parade. I hadn't even considered the next step at that point. I was tiredly still pecking away at a manuscript that was months from being completed. Still, when I did begin my hunt for how to get published, she was the first help I found. I spent hours and hours and many late-night, wine-induced hours reading her blog. My husband complained that when I got testy I began to channel her. I learned more from her blog than any other resource I found before or since. She was my indoctrination into the world of publishing, and I felt sad that I missed knowing her, looking forward each day to her posts and checking minute by minute for comments, and pathetically obsessing over whether to put myself on the line and write her.

She introduced me to the dream that is walking Manhattan in red stilettos. She kept me from being clueless and a nitwit when I began querying. Mostly, in times when anxiety and doubt wracked me, she made me laugh.

Check out the comments in Patricia Wood's tribute to Miss Snark... add you own... think about how many words and phrases you use daily that she devised. Or, even better yet, go back to Miss Snark's blog and relive the memories. Maybe even learn something new. About publishing, writing, and a little even about yourself.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why I'd Like to Stop Reading Agent Blogs (and Why I Won't) - Part 2

I've received some traffic from my link to BookEnd's Time to Vent post, and I have been doing some thinking about it and my own comments, and I want to clarify a few things.

Firstly, I am not upset at Jessica or any of the other agents that blog. They are a godsend. Their advice is invaluable and their often encouragement is a huge boost. What does frustrate me is the comments, mostly by unpublished authors. And that is not even to say that what they have to say is bad... just discouraging. To continually read over and over about people who are dedicating their lives to writing, and following the guidelines, and still time and time again are rejected, or picked up by agents who don't ever try to sell their work, can make this business seem like it has impossible odds.

Secondly, the truth hurts. Even when doled out by well-meaning and helpful agents. In going back through Nathan Bransford's archives, I discovered this post in which he says "it's rare for the query route to work." You need connections. Now, he did later amend that, and recently touts the use of the query, but still, I know that with many agents this is true. And since I lack any real connections to agents or authors, I find this discouraging. Is this Nathan's fault? Absolutely not! Still, it does feel like it's suddenly raining on my parade!

BUT: I continue to read agents blogs for many, many reasons. They are so full of help, I'd be an idiot not to take advantage of all the advice. And, sometimes, they offer a glimmer of hope or lay their own hearts on the table, and I am both touched and encouraged beyond belief.

Jessica at the BookEnds blog wrote a beautiful post today about all the things she loves about being an agent, and how she admires writers.

Janet Reid recently wrote a post that almost made me cry, titled "I'm in Awe of You." It is probably illegal to copy and paste some of it, but I'm going to anyway.

In fact, it is I who must thank you.

I've said it before, and I'm saying it again here. I'm profoundly grateful for those of you who write. Your work, your effort to improve, your willingness to listen and try again, all those things allow me to earn a living and live in the city I love more than any other.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I love agent blogs. Even when they don't always say what I want to hear but still need to hear. I love agents who are passionate, because it makes me dream of one day having someone who is passionate about my book like that.

There are bad things about any job - even ones you love. Being a writer is no different. And there are always people who want to focus on the bad parts. I'm not one of them. I love writing. I love querying. I love the whole of it. And if the worse happens to me - if I am never taken on by an agent - if I am taken on by the agent from hell and I am never published - life goes on.

And even without a published book, my life is pretty good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

An Extended Metaphor For Your Thoughts

My oldest two kids are taking piano lessons. It's great to have it in the house again. They are even using my old books, so there is a sweet remembrance when they play songs that take me back to being seven again.

My daughter, though, also has two theory books she is working through. Her teacher is a classically trained voice teacher, and thinks theory is very important. My daughter probably knows more about chord inversions than I knew existed. This week she has spent several hours trying to complete the theory work. She spends her time on the couch with a pencil drawing and labeling and hardly has time to sit at the piano to play the pieces she should be practicing for the end of year recital in two weeks.

My point? Writing is like this. I can spend so much time learning the "theory" - the craft - of writing, reading books about it, reading books by people who have mastered it, reading blogs and websites, that I don't have time to practice. And in the end, it may make me a better critic, but it doesn't make me a better writer. Unless I practice. Unless I actually sit down and write.

I spoke to my daughter's piano teacher and told her she was spending so much time on theory she didn't have time at the keyboard, and we adjusted the homework. And my daughter is much happier. Who wouldn't be happier playing the music than learning how it's made?

And I - I have stopped reading so many blogs and books and I have stopped worrying that I am doing it wrong, or that picking first person present tense is going to be the kiss of death and researching to find out if I am right, and I am now just writing.

There is joy in writing. Even when it is hard, even when I stare at the screen wondering where the story is going from here, there is almost nothing else I'd rather be doing. Okay, maybe skiing. Or laying on a beach. But for a living, or a hope of a living, there is nothing else. The keys of the computer are like the keys of the piano: music, life, breath. Joy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why I'd Like to Stop Reading Agent Blogs (and Why I Won't)

(The second part to this can be found here.)

This morning the sun is shining, the birds are LOUDLY singing, the sky is clear and deep blue, and one would never know the past few days of weather ever happened (well, except for the mess it left behind). David Cook and David Archuletta are the finalists on American Idol. Spencer and Heidi are back together. Our economic stimulus check is in the bank. All is well with the world.

You know.... except for the fires, earthquakes, cyclones, wars, and poverty. But other than that...

I've had less time than normal to catch up with blogs recently, but yesterday I tried to hit all my favorites and was dismayed by the BookEnds blog. More specifically with the comments. In her generosity, Jessica gave writers a chance to vent about the publishing industry, and agents in particular. Is there anything more depressing to a writer than seeing all the things that can and do go wrong, all the bad agents and horrible experiences, all in one place?

It's particularly distressing to hear how many people have agents, even ones considered top in the industry, that are lousy at doing their jobs. There seem to be an inordinate number of authors who have an agent but can't get their agent to submit their work. There are lots of authors who have an agent who submits their work, but can't get any interest. There are lots of authors who have an agent who don't ever hear from them. I mean, NEVER.

If this were the only post I'd read on this, I'd be merely disturbed and puzzled, but this is not the first. The more blogs I read, the more I realize how frustrating this business is, not just the first few steps, but the entire process.

I am usually a glass-half-full kind of gal. But this.... well this is depressing. The mountain in front of me continues to grow larger and larger, a veritable Mount Everest looming with many bodies scattered along the wayside, and very few, select triumphant summits.

I started exploring the agent blogs as a way to be informed, to have a head start, and to avoid the pitfalls that would bring immediate rejection. Now, I am more often discouraged. I'd like to stop reading them and put my head in the sand (preferably white, soft sand, somewhere very warm, with clear aqua water close by). I'd like to say I am just going to focus on writing and leave the rest to fate.

But what if I miss something important? What if I miss the news that now agents really do prefer queries on pink paper, and they love hypothetical questions in them? What if there is suddenly a urgent need for exactly the kind of book I am writing? What if a new agent opens shop and is practically begging for new clients? What if the entire publishing industry says, "No more first person! No more present tense!"? What if Nathan Bransford continues to write really funny post that make me laugh, and I miss them?

I want to stop reading them. Really I do. They are like drugs: you know they are bad for you but you still hope to get something amazing from them, so you keep doing it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tornadoes, Rain and Wind, oh my!

It's a bad day, but I'm making the best of it.

It is 45 degrees. We have had more than six inches of rain in the last twelve hours. Tornadoes are whipping off the tops of houses just a few miles from ours. Roads are closed because the rivers and creeks are flooding and creating lakes where no lakes should be. And power lines are down in our neighborhood. Two large trees were uprooted by the winds and now they are laying in our road with great curling vines of electric wires, coned off with police and fire trucks and nary an electric company official.

So I dropped my daughter off at preschool and picked up a LARGE coffee and have been making the best of it in the local library reading room, where I have been typing away at my book. The words are flowing today (I should get coffee every day!), but in five minutes I will go pick up the kids from school and head back to our dark and cold house, where there is no electricity and no internet, and no way to keep writing. Sigh. It seems like the days I have the most to write are the days that conspire against me.

But I have a house, with it's roof intact, and no flooded basement, so I am counting my blessings.

Update: the lights are on! You could hardly see the driveway under all the leaves and branches (some substantially large enough be called trees in themselves) and some bushes and plants are completely flattened, but all is well! Writing will have to wait until after dinner and bedtimes, but the promise is there.

I'm just glad I didn't have to resort to this!

Friday, May 9, 2008

To Write or Not To Write (today)

My writing is slowing down. I am reaching that point more often when I stare at the page and wonder what to write. It isn't writer's block. It isn't that I don't have something to write. It's that I could take the narration in several directions. It's that as I am putting the words down I think, "This is going to take a major overhaul." It's that, when looking back on some of the writing I did earlier that I thought was great, it is pretty stinky, and I am afraid of writing more of the same.

So the question I have for you, fellow authors, is this:

When you worry that what you are writing is going to require tons of rewriting and editing, let alone polishing, do you barrel through it, writing anyway, or do you stop and really think about what to write, getting much less if anything on the paper (or computer screen as it is)?

The fear is that if I stop, I will stop for too long, and I will lose the voice, and valuable time and if I don't, I will write stuff that will ruin the book in the long run.

Am I taking this all too seriously?

Thursday, May 8, 2008


So the cat is out of the bag. I am writing this story in present tense. Of all the choices I make in writing, of all the elements I choose to write about, this is the one I am most hesitant to share. It is one of those things readers have very strong opinions about, which is because it is so noticeable. And is it good for a reader to notice the writing? Or should they only be caught up in the story?

Originally I didn't choose to write this story in present tense. I have never written anything in present tense, and frankly, it often annoys me to read books in present tense - although there are obvious exceptions. There are books I've loved in present tense; some I've even read a hundred pages or more before even noticing it is present tense, such is the deftness of the writing and the appropriateness of the tense to the tale. But overall, past is the preferred and overwhelming choice for books, and writers and agents have advised sticking with it. It is safe, I assume. No one is going to look at a manuscript and say, "Wow, look at this one. The author chose to write in past tense. What a bold move!"

But they do say that about present tense, and not always in a good way. Some have said it draws attention to the craft and draws attention away from the story itself. Miss Snark commented once that it was the criteria for elimination in judging contests because it is becoming so overdone. But others say, it's only bad if you are trying to hard to make it work.

And I am not trying to make this one work at all.

It came out, without me even making the choice. I began to write, and it wasn't until I was on the third or fourth page that I realized Babs was talking in present tense.... that she was telling the story as it unfolds. I stopped then, and realized I had to make my own choice. Do I override her and go with what is safer, and more commonly acceptable? Or do I let her do the telling in the way she wants to?

People who are not writers do not understand this. I thought, for many years, that I was really wacked out treating the characters like real people, and thinking that the story is theirs, and that I am merely the pen. What kind of lunatic writer isn't actually in control of the story, and finds herself surprised sometimes by the discoveries she makes along the way? Me, that's who. And, it turns out, Madeline L'Engle. And J.K. Rowling. And a host of other authors, published and unpublished. We are all lunatics. How comforting!

I did some research, and though risky, I stayed with Bab's original voice, the one that is telling the story as it happens instead of telling it from the future looking back on it. It's important this way because from the future looking back we have perspective. We can see how far we've come. We can see that what might look like an insurmountable obstacle is, in fact, surmountable. We know if someone lives or dies. We know if people who say they are friends show up when we need them. We know.

And it is important that Bab's, at every point, doesn't know the future. It's important that life hangs in the balance, that she doesn't know who to believe, and that she feels the full thrust of panic and obsessive need for control that the unknowing brings. The story could be happening today, right now, to someone you know. To you.

The trick is going to be in doing it well. And that remains to be seen. But the good thing is that it is entirely changeable, if, in the end, I decide I really can't pull it off. But for now I'm sticking with it. It is a challenge that hopefully will help me as a writer, and what good is writing if I can't learn a little along the way?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Working Titles

I have been neglecting the blog because May has kicked spring into high gear, and if I am still going to write everyday, other things are going to have to go.

Yesterday was a banner writing day: 1,469 words. If I could keep that up I'd be done before the end of summer! Of course, the writing may all be really stinky, and when I look back on it, I may reconsider my "calling" to write, but for now, I am pleased with the progress.

When I write, I almost always have a title in mind right at the start. This time, my document is named, Book 2. Hardly dignifying, but there it is. That's the extent of my creativity. I've pondered several option, but couldn't even come up with a decent working title, and so it remained Book 2.

Then I joined an online writer's group, which requires a real title when submitting something for critique. So I finally decided to take a dive and let other people - strangers - read the first chapter with the hopes of some honest feedback. But I needed a title.

And yesterday I found it while writing.

This is the passage:

I sink into the chair again. Ashley waits until they are gone before she asks, “Do you think God will heal me?”

I look at Travis, who looks back at me. “I don’t know,” I say. “Just because He can don’t mean He will.”


“I don’t know,” I say again.

“Because,” Travis says, “sometimes we become better people – stronger – by going through adversity.”

A tear slides down Ashley’s face. “I don’t think I want to be stronger,” she says. “I think I just want to be normal again.”

I move to the bed and hold Ashley’s head against me. “I know, baby girl. I want that, too.”

So the working title is (drum roll please)

Some Kind of Normal

I'm not sure I love it, but it will do for now. What do you think? Is that the kind of title that you might take a book off a shelf and flip over to see what it's about?