Thursday, July 31, 2008


I have to leave much of August open, but that doesn't mean taking all of August off as far as writing is concerned, either.  My happy medium--since any day now I'll get the reading list for the master's course set for next spring, I'll include reading how-to books as part of my August goals.  I think I can manage writing a story too.  When I can I'll write on one of my novels.

August isn't usually a slow writing month for me but I've got a lot going on.  I still may use the hot part of the day to write or read and the cool parts to garden, but a lot has to happen in the month.  I've got a dead-deadline coming up for office remodeling, a big yearly party to plan and execute, have to move all the downstairs furniture and books and clutter out and tear out all the carpeting, and Gilder to frame for it.  I'm swamped!

I know, if I haven't got my health, I haven't got anything.  Right now I'm feeling pretty stressed and nauseated and I had a nasty headache last night (almost certainly from stress) so I've got to tone things down.  Writing goals are not usually my pressure valve.  I always write.  But things are especially pressed right now so I suspect that my ability to do all work, including writing, will be depressed and I'll have to scale back across the board.  While meeting major goals.

It should be an interesting month.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Budgeting for writing time

It's Tuesday again.  That means I'm going to be cranking out the words, enjoying some (mostly silent save the keyboard tappety tap) writerly companionship and drinking weird combinations of tea.  My favorite mix is mint and chamomile.  I have to grab an extra lid and not steep the mint as long or it completely overpowers the chamomile.

When I first started going to these writing meetings it was to get my writing out of my office.  Then I thought it would be good to get out of the house and socialize in general.  Now I'm having to actually budget my week to make sure I can attend.  I never, ever thought I'd be this busy.  I thought quitting my day job would vastly open up my schedule.  Ha!  That'll learn me.  More free time = more work time.  And my list is growing daily, so it makes writing time that much more precious.

I really have to get the mulch out of the back of the pickup truck soon, though.  There's huge dandelions growing out of it now.

On the good news front, I haven't heard anything yet from Writers of the Future.  Wish me luck!  And congrats yet again to C.S. for her Honorable Mention!  Woot!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Phone call from my calling?

"Hello...Oh, hi! Good to hear from you! It's been a long time...where on Earth have you been?"

I know I've spent plenty of meetings yapping about my angst around my writing and I apologize to all of you for having to listen to all of that pablum. Over the past couple of weeks, thoughts of writer support have been flowing anew through my noggin, and I find myself thinking that (perhaps) my calling was one more of providing tools to support the process of being a writer.

I've investigated a number of writing software packages and while there are some good choices available, they are (for the most part) pretty tailored to limited usage. I certainly know that there's no such thing as a magic story maker, or at least that any attempt to create one would create atrocious output,

My software background shows me that tailored software solutions is the right answer and logic informs me why there are relatively few of them. But I also know that a limited number of tailored software packages leaves a lot of space for more tailored software packages.

I do have a couple of ideas for possible tools that would help in some of the situations I've found myself stuck in, but what I'm wondering in here is whether my fellow INKers have ever wondered about software solutions around particular research, planning or writing tasks/problems. I know the biggest tool is the word processor for pounding out the story, but I'm wondering about organization, preparation and planning tools.


Fighting Crime with Radioactive, Magical Mosquitos

At the Fireside today I plan on hand writing again.  I still haven't had any valuable insights about the process.  The thing that I keep coming back to is that it's slow.  Is slow more careful, deeper writing?  So far, not to my experience.  Is transcribing cool?  Does it add a special layer that I can't get through normal editing?  Not that I've seen, yet.  I'll hang onto that yet for a bit longer under the assumption that I'll still be learning more about the process over the next four weeks. 

 I don't have much choice as far as handwriting or not at this point because my options for Fireside writing are, well, let's see, hand write or pout, and I'm not big on pouting.

We do have a laptop in the house, my son's, an old powerbook he inherited from me.  Recently, somehow Snape ended up with a problem--the OS went bye bye for reasons unknown.  So, my original reasoning of "I'm not going to abscond with my son's computer every Tuesday for my own stuff" has become "and even if I wanted to, I couldn't use it."  So as a gift I'm going to take the poor Mac to the mighty techs and see what they can do with it.  

Tech voice in Kami's head:  Did you try starting it with a bootable CD?
Little kid sulky voice:  Yes
T:  Did you remember to hold down the c key?
L:  Tried that.
T:  What about the CD reader, does it sound like it's spinning?
L:  Yes!  I'm going to pout now.  See my lip?

I'm sure the boy would loan it to me if I asked, especially if I showed my lip, but this is good for me.  At least, I think it's good for me.  Is this just a case of me being stubborn?  Why do I want hand writing to be different, better, or at least teaching?

I guess because I haven't published yet and I want a magic radioactive writing mosquito to come along, annoy me by whining near my ear, land a couple times so I swat at it but it escapes with blinding mosquito speed, and then zap!  It bites me where I can't get to it and infuses my blood with that special something that turns me into The Belly Avenger!
Hey wait, I wanted a writing--
The Belly Avenger, mild-mannered housewife and goat wrestler by day,
Stop, no, I wanted--
Superhero by night, she fights crime with her hypnotic belly dancing, helping the helpless, saving the savingsless, and bringing jerks to justice.
Oh I give up!

Time to head to the place of all things good techie, Power Mac Pac.  See ya at the Fireside with my pen, paper, and apparently my hidden powers of belly dance.

Structure and Style.

I'm deep into reading about story structure and style, something I didn't know anything about. Three-act structure? Uh, what's that all about? I get that now though I'm still struggling with how exactly one goes about accomplishing it.

In an amusing moment, I discovered what structure style I use, one completely un-taught, the one I had always gravitated toward writing: The Slice of Life. I already knew what this was called but had always been told it wasn't a real writing style. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that outside of the westernized world, it's a preferred story structure. Apparently, it's accepted, somewhat loved even, in parts of Europe. Interesting.

To help me internalize the traditional three-act structure, I printed up a cheat sheet of steps and requirements. Whenever I find myself straying from turning points, temporary triumphs, reversals, and final obstacles through to climaxes and resolutions, I'll slap my hands and delete all that Slice of Life nonsense...until I'm no longer a newbie writer and can get away with writing in my former, preferred style once again while getting paid for it. But for the time being, it'll be all about identifying each in stories. Easier said than done.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I'm being bad and jumping the gun to congratulate C.S. on her amazing honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest.  Awesome work, C.S.!  

It's nice to have my opinion of how great a writer she is reinforced by some very high level judges.

Results are still coming in, so for those of us who are potentially still potential honorable mentions, semi-finalists or (gasp!) finalists, good luck!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Respecting the Story, and the Perils of Poetry

A discussion on Flogging the Quill about author voice and respecting the story worth checking out.  I encourage INKers to join in.  This is an area of critiquing that's been on my mind lately and I don't think it's looked at as much as it should be. 

I've decided that I'm terribly undereducated about how to critique poetry (and how to take critiques of poetry) so I found this which will supply me with reading material for some time.  I thought I'd share because it looks pretty extensive and potentially useful.  On my initial perusal there appears to be a lot in common with prose critiques, but I noticed there's more emphasis on maintaining/supporting the poet's voice.  Prose critiques are expected to support an author's voice too, but that isn't talked about or constantly reinforced like I see in the poetry critique advice.  

I've got to learn to shut up more and listen more when getting poem critiques.  Not that I expect to write a lot of poetry.  It's a complex art form and I've already got my creative attention divided in too many directions.  But when I include a short poem or a partial song in a book I want to be sure (as sure as anyone can be, seeing as poems are even more subjective than prose) that the eye-roll factor is kept to a minimum.  I've seen poetry in fiction that's done well, but a lot more that's done very poorly and I don't need the reader distracted from the story.  It's supposed to add atmosphere, lyrical voice and immediacy, not make the reader feel like he has to squint and squirm in his chair or inspire someone to skip ahead.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


As of two minutes ago I've set a personal record for number of manuscripts out.  Six manuscripts is not a lot but it's a big number for me.  I think I'm going to strive for double digit submissions and see how long it takes me to get there.  For now I feel like I've just massively increased my odds of getting something into print soon.  I'm excited to get more out there but I'm keeping myself reined in so that I don't, in my haste to submit, start mailing out stories that aren't my very, very best work.

Maybe I should have used six verys in that last sentence, like a six gun salute or some such.

I hit a point like this with my artwork (which is languishing at the moment) where I had a deep enough portfolio of current (as in created within the last year) work that I actually had choices about what to put up in the art shows I attend.  It's more than a feel-good moment.  It's a sign that I'm getting my act together as far as creative production.  

Speaking of production, a long time ago I had a discussion with someone about the commercialization of one of my favorite musical groups.  Had they sold their souls to become commercial successes?  I thought not.  I think they grew and improved from their early, if passionate, days.  I still hear that passion in their music but without the raw and, I feel, unrefined quality.  As far as lyrics and political messages I still see lots of compassion, philosophy and, yes, politics in their music but they're no longer whacking their listeners up side the head with a 2x4.  When the message is clear its still artful, not screaming for attention.

Although I may worry occasionally about  'production' and whether I'm just cranking out words because I can (or because I want to get paid,) I only worry about that when I examine my overall volume or how many subs I have out.  When I'm actually writing instead of handling the business part of writing, I'm fully engaged in the story.  I care about the characters and what happens and what means what and pay attention to whether I'm connecting with the reader or not.  When I stop caring, then I'll be in trouble.  I think when a writer stops caring their stuff becomes less compelling and less publishable, and we see less and less of them in print until they fade away.  Same with artists.  

Part of caring is striving and stretching limits.  If it's comfortable, it's not my best work.  When I'm struggling with those words, or the paint, I know I'm trying to achieve something that may be beyond my skills and I really focus.  That focus shows on the page or canvas, for better or worse.  Maybe that's an element of my older work that has staying power--I tried to write something beyond my skill level and although I didn't quite make it, that struggle and passion ended up on the page and became memorable.

Well, it's back to the creation part of my day.  Time to produce, and strive, and struggle, and reach for something that may be beyond me.

And Snap! The job's a game!

I booted a new flash fantasy out the door tonight.  It feels good to be submitting on a regular basis.  I can hardly remember what all the fuss was about, but when I go deep I can connect with the anxiety and stress that comes from offering work for publication.  

It's rarely about whether or not the story will hold up, although I do spend time beating my head against the first line/first paragraph/first page wall.  It's all about that darned cover letter.  When I get my first pro sale, though, I'll finally have something to say other than here's my story, thanks for your time.

At the INK meeting we listened to some great podcasts about writing.  One thing new I picked up that I hadn't thought about much before is the sorting process that incoming manuscripts go through.  The podcast speaker (the wonderful Gardner Dozois) said that many (not all) editors sort the incoming manuscripts into piles which then get the following treatment.  The slush pile, being the largest, gets the most cursory look.  Sometimes all you get is two lines.  It's a slush pile reader survival thing.  Yes, perfectly good stories get passed up but that's the nature of the beast.  If the reader gets to the end of the story it goes on the okay or maybe pile.  The semi-pro and pro (sometimes they're on two separate piles) get a much more 'fair' shake.  Still no guarantee of publication, of course, but the reader will probably give them a whole page to distinguish themselves.  

One way to get out of the slush pile and into the semi-pro pile is to have something interesting in the cover letter.  A sense of personality in the cover letter is a bonus too, as long as you don't make yourself sound like a crazy person or come off as obnoxious.  A professional credential, no matter how tenuous, like if you studied sea stars in college and the story is about intelligent sea stars taking over the ocean, sometimes helps too.  The fact that you met the editor at a small press party and you had fun discussing fine wine and cheese pairings can help, but you'd better be sure that the editor had fun and bear in mind that some editors don't like things like that mentioned in cover letters unless the editor invited you to send in a manuscript.  Now why would this last item help?  If the editor had fun talking with you then that editor knows that you're not crazy, that you're polite, and you might be easy to work with.  Given a choice between two stories when one is written by a known pain in the you-know-what and the other enjoys the same single malt scotches as you and is respectful without being cultishly in awe, the scotch drinker will get the sale, right?  Right.

Another podcast (this one by Shawna McCarthy) discussed the odds of getting published.  I've heard the numbers spelled out before but this time I was heartened.  90% of the stuff in the slush pile is unpublishable.  That's great news!  I don't believe I'm unpublishable, though of course I could easily be deluded.  The point is that if I'm right about where I'm at on the scale of all things slush, I'm really only competing with 10% of what's in the slush pile.  That's much, much better odds.  Out of 300 manuscripts a month, for example, I'm only vying to get into the okay pile with 30 of those.  I can live with that, and I don't feel badly about not out-competing those so far.  Actually, I can't say that.  I've been blessed with the knowledge that I've made it into the pile for the final cut before.  That's even more heartening.

So I'm feeling better about cover letters, I'm happier with my odds, and I'm looking forward to submitting on a regular basis.  It's a different kind of persistence than I've felt before.  It isn't something I force myself to do.  In fact, it's kind of fun!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Many, but not infinite markets

I got a rejection from Realms of Fantasy Magazine today.  Ah well, time to ship off that story to another market.

As another INK member noted earlier during a conversation, there are a lot of publications on hiatus right now as far as being open to submissions.  That makes it a little tougher to submit, but not impossible.  It may take a little longer to find a place to submit, especially if a story has made the rounds, but there are lots of fun places to publish that aren't on the main lists and it's just a matter of hunting around.  Luckily I still have lots of options with my current story.  

So here's a thought--what if a story has really been to every conceivable market and you're sure (based on unbiased reader and critique group feedback and gut feeling) that it's really a winner.  What then?  You can try contests.  

Some writers, if a story has been published and the rights have reverted to the author (often after one or two years after a magazine publication) will post the story on their website as an example of their writing skills.  I like that idea a lot, but before I put an unpublished story that's made the rounds up on my website I'd want to be extra, extra sure it was a good idea before I post it.  After all, if a hundred publishers have seen the darned thing, unless there were a lot of personalized or glowing rejections, I'd have to wonder if it wasn't in fact flawed in some subtle way that makes the story good and yet not memorable or strong.  I wouldn't want to advertise with anything except my very best.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I can rest on my laurels when I'm dead

It's been an intense couple of weeks on all fronts.  I'm holding it together with one raw nerve.  Thanks for listening.

In writing news I've got my energy focused on one short fantasy and one flash fantasy that need to come back from critiques before I send them out.  I'm very tempted, especially with the short, to send it out as is.  Although I always welcome critiques and I truly believe that I come out with stronger stories after I've heard what tripped people up and what they took off running with, I have just enough confidence (or is it arrogance?) in my writing to feel that the stories do okay without the critiques too.  

I think unpublished writers really have to make their stories extra tight and compelling before they'll make it into publication.  My goal as a writer is to write that irresistible first published work and then keep writing tight and well-paced stories and novels throughout my career.  I don't ever want to become lazy and rest on my laurels.  Yes, it would be very nice to relax.  There's a part of me with a silken, seductive voice that says once you're 'made it' then readers can sit back and really appreciate every thought, every sentence as it comes to you unadulterated by hair-tearing revisions and word by word editing.   They'll be amazed by your brilliance, Kami, you'll see ...

Stupid voice.  Shut up!  The goo goo goo that babies make is only awe-inspiring to their parents.  Let's go put some words together and then make them shine with careful editing!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Writer Want Ads.

Okay, here's something for your brain. Using this Want-Ad post create your own writer want ad. How would it read? What would you look for in a market, an agent, editor, or publisher? How about what you'd want in your own platform and your readers? Will you open your soul to your desires? Will you surprise us with something no one but you knew wanted out of your writing career? Will you be truthful? Or will you hold something back for reasons only you and your potential agent/editor/publisher/reader would understand?

So many directions this could go...