Welcome

Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Don't Get Cocky, Woman!

Today, I had a reality check.  I'm currently taking an intense language course--1 year's worth of language in 8 weeks--to finish up my PhD coursework.  I'm the only person in the class (of 3) with extensive background within the same language family.  In fact, this is my 3rd Slavic language--Russian, Polish, and now Macedonian... And, no, it's not Greek.  It's Slavic.  I promise.

And the class--of course!--is moving quite quickly.

But, this weekend, I didn't study.  In fact, I did very little work for class at all (and I'm hoping that my instructor doesn't link to this blog from my other one to see me admitting this).  After a trip to the farmers' market and a little gardening, I spent virtually all of Saturday working on writing the correspondence between my 2 main characters, and trying to imagine what it would have been like for my male lead when he was 14.  Sunday, I got up late, cleaned a little, did the bare minimum of my homework, and then we had people over for a BBQ potluck.

So, how did that go for me, you wonder?  Or do you even need to ask?  How many words were there today that I couldn't remember from just last week?  How many ways did I mispronounce the numbers we learned on Friday?  And yet I could still guess what the verb is for "sell" and "sing" based on the other languages in the family.  But that doesn't mean I know what I'm doing.  That means I'm a halfway competent linguist with a good aptitude toward guessing.

After feeling rather embarrassed this morning by my lack of preparation, I've decided to kick it into a higher gear.  Despite the fact that I've spent the last two hours reading my blogs and finding a few new interesting ones, I'm getting ready to go to work.  You may think I'm procrastinating by blogging first (and maybe that's true), but I felt compelled to write about this.

As Charity Bradford has been comparing her writing process to cake baking in her recent blog posts, I would like to compare my language class to my writing.  When I finished the first draft of book 1 (ahem... Russian), I started book 2 without hardly blinking (Polish).  And then book 3.  Admittedly, my momentum dried up about halfway through #3, and I had to pause and "rewrite".  I put rewrite in quotes because what I did constituted hardly more than copy-editing.  So I "rewrote" #1-2 before making my way back to book 3 and "finishing" (Macedonian).

And then I got cocky.  People started asking me if I would want to get it published.  "Sure!"  Who wouldn't want to do just that?  I hadn't even spent a year on it, so why shouldn't I expect a nice advance and instant fame a la Stephenie Meyer?  HAHA!

A number of humbling experiences have brought me back to reality, and I've gladly pulled my head out of... er... the clouds.  I have good friends who are graciously critiquing my work, telling me which areas I need to work on more, or where I'm just missing the bigger picture.

Is this sounding like a good teacher yet?  There's only so much that a person can do on their own.  Of course, there are those few people in the world who sit down and 48 hours later they have a publishable novel, or they sit down with a textbook and are fluent in Chinese the next week.  I am NOT one of those people.  I need to talk things through.  I need a guiding hand.  Eventually, I can get to the point where I can be self-sufficient and continue learning on my own, but that takes time.  And I'm not there yet.

So, before I let my head inflate to unmanageable proportions, I'm off to study my vocabulary, my verb endings, and my numbers.  And I'll probably post at least one exercise on my other blog... after I go back and revise some of the old ones :)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Characterization

 I'm currently working on numbers 3 and 5 on the suggestions from My Personal Goat Goddess and there's a minor problem:  I'm getting bored.  It's horrible.  I feel guilty.  I love these characters, even with as much work as they need.  But, in writing the correspondence between A&M or trying to write some events from M's POV, I find myself wanting to yawn.

I have to remind myself that most of this will never be seen by anyone but me, and it's not about forwarding a plot, but simply about who they are.  And who out there is exciting and interesting all the time?  Feel free to raise your hand.  It's definitely not me.

But even with that reminder, I'm finding it hard to stick to the course.  I'm not excited about the introductory letters.  It's helpful (I know!) because it's laying out so much background information that is important to both of them, plus it's doing it in a semi-"active" way.  I've also been trying to skip around a little, hitting some of the landmark letters that get mentioned throughout the story, and those seem to be just as hard, even if they're not quite as boring.

Writing M at 14 when he receives the first letter is difficult because I have never been a fourteen year old boy (and I don't think I liked them much when I was 14).  Maybe I need to spend more time with my nephew...

No one said writing would be easy.  If it were, everyone would do it.  And if everyone did it, then we'd all still be riding horses, fighting dragons, reading by torch-light over a good glass of mead.

But who would make the mead?

How do you handle long tasks that are boring or frustrating?  They all need to get done eventually.  What tips can you share?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Impact Initiative

So, I realize that the month is almost over, but I would like to point you in the direction of Lindsey Leavitt's blog.  This whole month she has been featuring stories of people impacting people by various authors.  They've been some of the most wonderful stories I've heard in a while, and a few of them even made me teary.

The story that had the strongest impact on me so far is the one by Lisa Schroeder.  The reason this one touched me so much was because she wasn't trying to impact an entire school, but she did, with just the price of postage for a small package.  Not only that, but she says at the end that she hesitated in sharing because she didn't want others to think she was bragging.  Her one simple gesture impacted so many people, and she would almost rather be anonymous about it.

It's truly beautiful when people do things just to do them, just to help, whether they receive the thanks or not.  And I know that Lindsey didn't decide to run these stories because she wanted thanks, or wanted others to praise the authors who have shared their stories.  She's doing it because, well, it's just a good thing to do.

Thank you, Lindsey.

Quote of the Day

"I would much rather shoot zombies than read Sartre."

Ah, how I love freewriting. :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Personal Goat Goddess

Dear Laura,
Thank you so much for your initial critique of #1 in my Anabelle series.  Your comments are invaluable, even though you considered them vague.

Love, Rosie



The Highlights:

1) Title (oh, dear God, yes!  This MUUUUST be changed!)

2) more sensible setting

3) more letters (?)

4) flesh out what makes the world different (magic, language) earlier in the story

5) more character development of the main 2
     a) give Anabelle more flaws


Things I need to work out in relation to above:

1) This has already been a struggle.  But, I've also been slacking on it.  I needed the kick in the ass on this one.

2) Write my alternative history of the US (abbreviated, of course).

3) I'm going to have to work out if and where I can add more letters, or portions of them.  And unfortunately I'm not terribly poetic personally, though Marcus is.  I need to really think through some of the ways he would write more of the later ones.

4) Write:
     a) my abbreviated history of the royal family (although, how abbreviated can it be to cover 1000 years?)
     b) my handbook on their religion.  That will also take some work.

5) Yeah, Anabelle needs to be a bit more believable.  I guess I need to work out the balance of how to give her more flaws while she remains the true narrator.  She's a bit stubborn, and I don't think she'll want to admit to her own issues.

Wait, who's in control here?  Me, or her? .......... I suppose it depends on the weather that day.

I also need to find the balance between developing Marcus more and still maintaining some of Anabelle's innocence and idealization of him.  That's a fine line to walk.


The Plan:
1) Write my tweaked US history, my royal family history, and my guide to all things spirit-related.


2) Write more full letters between them.  Even if they never make it into the story, it'll be good for me.


3) Maybe write the story from Marcus's perspective (yeah, I'm stealing this idea from Stephenie Meyers, I'll admit).


4) Brainstorm a better title already!!!

5) I think I probably need a complete overhaul of Chaps 1-7.  And I am NOT allowed to do this until I have accomplished 1-4 above!!!  That will be the hardest part, I think.

6)  And I'm not allowed to even think about starting Zoe's diary!  That's going to be really hard....


Wish me luck!  

And thanks again to Laura.  I'm so glad to know you, and very lucky that you married my friend.  I can't wait for the rest of your comments. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day

This marks year 2 of not celebrating this holiday.  And it's weird.  Last year I avoided it like a wasp's nest, not talking to people about it, avoiding websites that might talk about it, changing the channel when an ad came on.  It came and went, and avoiding it didn't make anything any better.

This year I started in the same pattern.  I hit the mute for those sales commercials.  I instantly deleted the B&N and Amazon emails offering the most amazing deals on gifts for dad.  And I didn't talk about it.  I didn't say anything on Facebook at anybody.  Nothing.

Then on Sunday, there were two posts on blogs I follow offering up the most beautiful odes to their respective fathers.  Teary?  Yes, I was.  You can read them both here and here.

So, having gotten through the day itself relatively well, I want to say a few things about my dad.

My dad was one of the friendliest men you could have ever met.  There wasn't a person out there who knew him and didn't like him.  It simply wasn't possible.  And he had the biggest heart, and loved my mother more than anything.

He was a great dad when I was a kid.  Despite the fact that we lived in southern Maryland and he worked in DC, leaving at 4:30 am and not getting home until 8 some nights, he always made time for me.  When I panicked and cried because I didn't understand the science of candle light, he helped me after his long day and even longer commute.  I can't remember what the assignment was about at all.  I just remember sitting in the dining room with the lights off, a candle burning on the table, and holding up papers for whatever reason.

On summer weekends, we would take the boat out on the river, cruising around, lounging, what have you.  My first life jacket that he bought me called me his Little Fishy.  The first time he took me crabbing, he helped me net one on the end of the line.  I always loved going out on the river (who wouldn't?).  And I never complained about putting the gear away or cleaning up the sides or tugging extra hard on the canvas cover with my ten-year-old hands.  It was time with my dad.

As I got older and we moved again, he was around more.  He tried his best to help me through junior high.  He always came to my plays in high school.  Less than a week after I got my license, I scraped up the side of a woman's brand new car.  He convinced the woman not to file with the insurance company and paid for the door (yes, I worked that off).  A while later I was washing my car--Daisy, the 1967 Dodge Dart--and was thoroughly confused to find a bandaid on the front left corner of the bumper.  I mentioned it to my dad and he said, "Oh, I was wondering when you'd notice that.  Did you notice the number 1 on it?  That was your car's boo-boo number 1."  Under the bandaid, there wasn't even a scratch.

By the time I got to college, my dad was just my friend.  I'd come home on weekends, and we'd just hang out in the backyard, drinking a beer and enjoying the sun.  It was the best we could do since we'd moved to a landlocked state and sold the boat years before.  But it wasn't the location that mattered, or the water, or the sun, or even the beer.  It didn't even have to be about the conversation.  He was the king of the comforting silence.

Yes, I was daddy's little girl, spoiled and coddled, but also raised to make my own decisions at every turn.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  He used to say that I was 7 going on 34.  Well, I haven't quite hit 34 yet.  I'd hate to think of what I'm going on now.

I love you, Dad, and I miss you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Contest Giveaways

What to win some new books?  There are a number of giveaways going on right now for different releases.  Check these out:

Win a copy of SEA by Heidi R. Kling (ends 6/20... HURRY!)

Win an advance copy of The Evil Within by Nancy Holder (ends 6/20... HURRY!)

Win an advance copy of Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus (ends 6/21... HURRY!)

Win a copy of Poison Study or Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder (ends 6/26)

Win a prize pack in honor of The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride (ends 6/28)

Visit The Book Vixen to win a multitude of different new releases (ends 6/30)
The Book Vixen

Win an advance copy of Matched by Ally Condie (ends 7/1)

Good luck!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

For this quote, two definitions are necessary:

1) sex: ... well, maybe you know this one.

2) subjacency: (noun, linguistics) a restriction on grammatical movement in the sentence that prevents elements moving over more than one boundary, the definition of boundary varying as a parameter from one language to another.

Completely understanding number 2 isn't vital.  Number 1... well, Darwin thinks you need to know this one.

Quote: "Subjacency has many virtues, but... it could not have increased the chances of having fruitful sex."
From Lightfoot, D. (1991) "Subjacency and sex". Language and communication 11: 67-69.

This is one of the many reasons why I love linguists.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Experiment

Hook your reader.  That's the key, right?  How do you do that?  That is the question.

The answer:  QUICKLY.  Nathan Bransford—agent extraordinaire—critiques the first 250 words of the ms (here's a sample of the last one).  He does this every Monday (although, this week he'll be critiquing a query letter).  But what are the odds of your 250 words being selected?  Oh, so slim.  So, as an experiment, I'm posting the first 254 words of a story that's been knocking around in my head for months (at least).

I encourage your comments.  Either comment below or shoot me an email.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

----------------------------------------------------
Title:  The Demon Inside
Genre:  Adult Fantasy (vampires and werewolves and demons, oh my!)


Her eyes snapped open.  A muffled alarm was beeping somewhere, drawing her attention into consciousness.  She blinked several times in the dark, suddenly unsure that her eyes were open.  Am I blind?  She raised her right hand carefully in front of her face.

A thin, metallic reverberation echoed loudly around her as her hand hit the… ceiling?  Instead of worrying about her eyes, she turned her hand and laid it flat against the cold metal only inches above her face.  What the hell…?  Feeling the panic pooling inside of her, she reached her other hand to the left.  It had hardly drifted away from her body before resting against the cold metal wall.

She quickly calculated: six inches above, three or four inches on the sides.  A metal coffin?

Panic and adrenaline took over.  She considered trying to kick the bottom out, trying to punch the metal above her, slamming both her hands behind her head.  Anything to get her out…. if that were at all possible.  Since she couldn’t see anything, including her hand directly in front of her face, her cell must be tightly sealed. 

How much oxygen did she have?

She reached her hands over her head, feeling the metal, judging the distance, mentally preparing herself to slam her fists into it when she heard the noise.  She froze.

“But how do you know?”  It was a woman’s voice, oddly familiar.

“She can’t be dead,” a man responded.  “And we have to get her out of here before the autopsy tomorrow.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Weekly Writing Challenge

Hi all (however few of you there are :)

Last week my personal writing challenge was to write something without dialogue.  I haven't seen any comments about it yet (please, leave comments! even if it's just to tell me you like my hair!), but I'm hoping you enjoyed it.

So, for this week, I'd like suggestions for what my challenge should be.  It could be as simple as something like having a male narrator (I don't think I'm very good at this) to something incredibly specific.  I'm open to anything.  I need to push myself out of my safety zone.  I'll pick the one (or two) that look the most challenging to me, and I'll use them for my challenge(s).  If I get too many challenging ideas, I'll just schedule them for the weeks to come.

Thanks!  Looking forward to your ideas.

PS--Prose suggestions only, please.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Short Story Interlude

A few days ago my husband challenged me to write a story without dialogue.  This, to me, seemed virtually impossible.  I spent hours going about my day while the wheels continuously cranked in the back of my mind.  Come evening, I had an idea.  It made me laugh, but I couldn't resist.  It's not 100% dialogue-free, but for my first attempt, I think it's respectably minimal.

So, here it is.  As always, comments and criticisms are all welcome.


The Temptation of Cinderella

Alone.  I had to be alone.  Other people didn’t understand.  My mother just thought me masochistic.  My husband thought it was a waste of time.  And the kids?  Why would I bring them along on my hunt?  Besides, who was I to prevent them from developing their social skills in daycare?

Well, in all honesty, I wasn’t alone at all.  There were hundreds of people all around me, not paying any attention to me, going about their personal business as if no one were paying attention to them.  But that wasn’t exactly true.

I sat on the bench, the wood digging into my thighs and my back from my two hours of inactivity.  The pot of tiger lilies next to me made my nose tickle.  The cola sitting on the bench next to me had made a puddle of sweat at its base that was slowly drifting toward my shorts.  The discomfort seemed to fit, considering this was work for me, sort of.  And no one is ever entirely comfortable in a mall—especially a mall that caters to patrons who believe that such locations are beneath them and only send their servants there to buy hand lotion for $72.50 per ounce.

But today it hadn’t been entirely worth it.  The mall was almost entirely empty.  Stupid recession…  I had sat here for two hours already, watching the people pass, looking for someone interesting, some interactions, some noteworthy dialogue that I could incorporate into my writing.  But my notepad only had three lines of transcription this morning.

Tired of being bored, I picked up my sweating paper cup, slipping slightly in my grip, and headed toward the exit.  I rubbed my sore thighs, sure that there were visible engravings there for any passerby to see.

As I neared the exit, though, something flickered, winking at me through the storefront window.  Dropping the slick cup in the trash, I let myself be sucked in by its eager twinkle.

If I were one of my children, I wouldn’t have been able to help myself from pressing my hand and face directly into the glass.  They were exquisite, this single pair of chunky high heels, sitting on a small, sleek, white pedestal—where they belonged.  The dual greens wove in and around each other to form a strap just above the toe.  Another strap grew like ivy around the heel before strangling its host around the ankle.

I had felt the lust for material things in my life before, though I’d recently tied everything to keep myself away from temptation.  But these!  These miraculous heels!  My blood pressure pounded in my ears, my whole body reacting and demanding that attention be paid to their goddess-like presence.

The tiny, rational, annoying voice—meek as it felt at this moment—chirped in the back of my mind, reminding me of how impractical it was to wear a pair of three and a half inch, dual shaded green chunky high heels while chasing after a two year old girl and a five year old boy.  I had enough trouble keeping my balance barefoot or in sneakers.  I’d be lucky if I only broke my leg.

My adrenaline screamed, telling that meek little voice to pipe down.  I felt my hands shaking, imagining the feel of the soft leather coursing under my fingertips.  I breathed in deeply, trying to catch the smell of a virgin shoe straight from its box.  The glass between us was the only thing preventing that sweet aroma from reaching its destination.

I took one step toward the door, taking me the same distance away from my personal binary stars.  I felt them tug at me, refusing to let me go, even though I was trying to go to them.  My feet fled swiftly, carrying me along the gravitational trajectory, until I was close enough to reach out and touch them.

But I hesitated.  They were so beautiful.  They didn’t deserve even the slightest smudge of a human fingerprint.  I needed gloves made of a material no less gentle than silk.  But the pull of their electromagnetism was more than I could handle, and I reached out…

“What size?”

I jumped, my obsession interrupted by the mundane of other people.  The girl was half my age, wearing too much makeup and too-expensive clothes for barely being on the cusp of graduating high school.  Her perfect chestnut hair was haughty in its own expensive styling, and her boredom reeked of old money and the resent she had toward her parents for making her work.

I told her my size and she disappeared.  I gazed at the display pair for much too long, imagining those ivy vines snaking their way around my ankles and never letting go.  The thought of actually having these shoes for my very own threw my heart into an arrhythmia. 

The girl returned, the boredom still painted in bold colors across her forehead, and she waited for me to take a seat before handing me the box.  The pulsing vibrations from the cardboard sent shivers down my thighs to my expectant feet.  I slowly lifted the frail lid to revel the gems beneath.

And there they were, perfect and untouched with the same virgin-shoe smell I had imagined through the glass.  Desperately wishing for the special shoe-handling gloves that didn’t exist, I tentatively reached into the box to extract one of the two most perfect shoes ever made.

After asking me if these were the correct style, she took the box back from me and removed the shoes.  She handled them roughly, as if they were rabid dogs on their way to be euthanized.  I wanted to yell, to tell her to handle these beautiful creatures with the respect they deserve, but I kept my mouth shut because, before I could formulate any angry words, one perfect shoe was being slipped onto my foot.

The satin-lined sole slipped along the bottom of my foot, tingling, making my breath shudder in ways that didn’t normally happen in public.  The girl laced the strap around my ankle, forming an everlasting bond between foot and shoe.  And I knew they had to be mine.

“How much are they?” I asked.  But her look was enough of an answer: if I had to ask, they were too much.  I stared at the perfect green accent to my long legs, and realized that I didn’t care.  It didn’t matter how much they cost.  I could go days, weeks, a month without food.  I would get another part-time job.  I could convince my husband to work overtime.  But I had to have these shoes.

She laced the other shoe onto my left ankle, and we had become one.  I stood, hesitant since I hadn’t worn anything this tall since I got pregnant the first time—enough time that my boy would be starting kindergarten in the fall.  Slowly, worried about how unsteady my ankles would be in front of this ungrateful shop girl, I reached full standing position. 

The shoes emanated their splendor, engulfing me in their glow.  I stood tall, confident, poised, feeling more beautiful than I had in years.  I took a small step, concerned about my balance, until I realized that these luxurious shoes would never let me fall.  They cradled the arches of my feet more tenderly than a newborn.  I strode toward the mirror, all but ready to toss my hair over my shoulder if it weren’t pulled back in a messy ponytail.

The image I found staring back at me would have made me laugh if I hadn’t been basking in greatness of the most sensuous sandals.  My cotton tank top had a stain on the left strap.  My shorts were long and flared in that way that mothers’ shorts are, but also coated in dog hair.  There were loose strands of delinquent hair fell on my shoulder.  I turned around and could see the slat marks from the bench on my thighs.  And then, there were the phenomenal strappy shoes.

The only thing that made this moment less than perfect was that I knew I would have to take them off to buy them and take them home.

Until we were at the cash register.  The total, with tax, was $634.72.  I gawked for a moment too long while the bored child stared at me.  I swallowed, burying my inner miser, and pulled out my credit card.  It would be worth it, in the end.

She asked me if I would like the little, pale blue receipt in the bag.  I shoved it deep in my wallet instead.

                    *    *    *    *

I went home.  I should have picked the kids up from daycare, but I wasn’t ready for them yet.  I needed the extra time alone with the new amazing extension of myself.  I stood in front of the full-length mirror, examining my new and improved, sexy self, stripped down to my underwear, the new shoes, and a pair of thigh-highs.  The exhilarating thrill of my purchase surged through me, extending the confidence and beauty I had felt in the store, compounded with the sexiness now.  The angle of my ankles made my legs longer, made my ass tighter, and made me feel like a jaguar.  How was it that a shoe could erase the extra fat and stretch lines from two children from my vision?

I glanced at the clock.  It was close to one, but I knew my husband always took a late lunch, seeing as there was no need to eat before one or one-thirty if he didn’t get to work before nine-thirty.  I picked up the phone and called him, inviting him home for “lunch”.

While I waited, I begrudgingly unraveled the loving straps from my ankles, slipped the satin sole along my foot, and placed the shoes back in their box.  I hid the box under the bed, behind the toys and slippers and dust bunnies.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to know.  It was that they were mine.

My feeling sexy, however, did not disappear after stashing the shoes where they were safe.  Confidence bounced with the electrons throughout my body from cell to cell, electrifying even my toenails.  But patience… the shoes did not imbue me with patience.

So when he got home, I was waiting for him, standing in the laundry room between the garage and the kitchen in nothing but underwear and the thigh-highs.  His appearance threw an extra spark into my already dangerous electricity.  Before he could take off his shoes, before he could ask me anything, before he even said hello, I grabbed him by the collar and shoved him against the washing machine, holding him in place with my pelvic bone, devouring his lips and unbuttoning his shirt.

“Where’re…?” he managed to inhale as I took a second for air.

“Dayc’r.”  I couldn’t even wait long enough to complete the entire word.  I whipped off his shirt, threw his belt aside with a clatter against the white-painted metal.  Holding his belt loops, I started pulling him backward, through the kitchen and down the hallway.

Even though I had called him, through it all I felt like something was missing.  It wasn’t until the orgasm was beginning to blind me, my head tossed back, noises in my throat that the neighbors surely heard if they were home, when I realized.  As my eyes began rolling back into my head, I caught a glimpse of my feet, flailing above us.  I knew exactly what was missing.

                    *    *    *    *

I found something in the refrigerator that he could eat while driving, and he rushed back to work, already having taken much longer than allowed.  Alone in the kitchen, I leaned my shoulder against the cool fridge door.  I was at a crossroads.  I could either pick up the kids from daycare, or I could spend a little more time alone with my new babies.  The options tore at my chest, fighting between themselves in an unending war.

A mediator stepped in, negotiating the truce between the sides.  The budget reminded me that the longer I left the kids at daycare, the more we would have to pay.  Knowing that there was a pale blue receipt in my wallet with the total of $634.72, I dressed quickly in my typical mom garb, grabbed my purse with that heavy receipt, and trudged to the car.

As I crossed the town, I rolled down the windows, letting the wind help to sober me after my high from shoes and sex.  And sober me it did until the world became much more clear.  Every time I stopped at a light, I would glance down to my right at my enormous mom-purse.  After the second or third time, I noticed that it was growing.  The huge pale blue receipt was swelling in size and weight, the stitching pulled taut, pushing the seams of my purse to extremes when it was already overloaded with a mommy rescue kit.  At the sixth light—why were there so many goddamned lights, anyway?—the zipper sprang apart, and the engorged pale blue receipt fell out onto the seat.

I stared at it, my blood beginning to boil under my skin as it mocked and taunted me, until the car behind me honked in irritation.  I sped forward, so distracted by that skinny piece of paper, confused by how it could weigh so much.  Turning left across traffic, I went a little too slowly, bewildered and angry enough that I forgot what the proper acceleration should be, and got honked at again in the midst of screeching tires.  Finally, I pulled into a parking space, threw the gearshift into park, and stared at that fucking little piece of paper.

It stared back, a macabre sneer spreading around it, formed by those five digits, period, and dollar sign, aided by the original price of the shoes, the amount of tax, the date, the time, the store number.  It cackled at my sobered mind, the one that remembered that we still had credit card debt and owed my in-laws money for helping us pay our hospital bills from when our daughter was born.  It heckled me and my work, reminding me that I hadn’t sold a story in months, that I couldn’t be a decent writer if I didn’t earn enough to pay the bills. 

But I had bought these shoes.

As the tiny set of red shiny horns emerged from the top of the receipt, I tasted venom on my tongue.  I realized how stupid I had been to do something so impulsive when we’d had to take out an advance on that very same credit card, already riddled with debt, to make our last house payment.  I grabbed the pale blue receipt, squeezing it between my fingers until it whimpered, reminding it that I was the only human here.  It wasn’t animate.  The laws of nature denied it the rights to mock me in my guilt.

The numbers put themselves back in order.  I shoved the pale blue receipt back into my wallet, took a deep, steadying breath, and hopped out of the car to retrieve my children.

                    *    *    *    *

The next day, I was exhausted.  I had tossed and turned all night under the steady beating of my shoes’ binary hearts directly under my head.  When I actually did sleep, multihued green sandals danced in my head, wrapping themselves too tight around my ankles so that one of my feet actually fell off.  When I woke with a start, checking to make sure I still was a biped, a quick glance at the clock told me the baby would be awake soon, anyway.  I might as well get up and start the coffee.

My husband left for work early, feeling pity for me and the dark circles under my deep red eyes, offering to take the kids to daycare this morning.  I gladly accepted.  After they left, I stormed into the bedroom, my robe billowing at my knees, and yanked the wretched box from behind the dust bunnies.

But the box.  The box was so beautiful, a deep, shiny red with a bold, white font, pronouncing the name of a man who was known by any female across the country capable of speaking.  I gathered my resolve, and slowly lifted the lid.

There they lay, in all of their beauty and charm and appeal.  They beckoned to me, begging to be slipped around my supple toes and luscious heels.  They made me promises of wealth and fame and eternal beauty, if only I would let my foot slip once more along that satin sole.  And they cried a little when I resisted.

My right hand began reaching forward, and the shoes gulped the air in anticipation.  But my left hand held the reason.  It slapped the right back down to my side, ripped the box top from the crumpled bedspread, and encased the shoes once more.  Both hands lay on top, pressing down against the fighting sobs of those all-too-good-to-be-true shoes.

After wrapping the box in a plastic bag and tying the handle tightly—just in case—I dressed quickly in my traditional mommy camouflage and rushed back to the mall.  A series of scenes flashed through my mind, all ending with that bored brat refusing to refund my money.  I damned her in as many creative ways as I could muster, but that didn’t change the fact that I might not be able to return them.  That arrhythmia kicked up again.

In the store, I walked boldly, my head held high, trying to smooth the worry lines from my forehead, and approached the counter.  Ah, if it weren’t my old friend, Old Money’s Daughter, waiting for me there with the exact bored and parental-hating look of my imagination.  I laid the bag, still tied against the gravitational waves pulling at me from inside the box, on the counter.

“Is there something wrong with them?”

This was the question I had been waiting for.  I’d heard stories of these overpriced designer stores refusing to accept returns unless there were problems with the merchandise.  But I had thought it through—sort of—in the car on the way over.

“They’re the wrong size.”

“They fit fine yesterday.”

“They’re much too big.”

She rolled her eyes with a sigh.  “So, you want to exchange them?”

I shook my head and deftly swatted my credit card with the pale blue receipt at her manicured hand. 

A few minutes later, emerging from the store empty handed, my purse one kiloton lighter, I inhaled the sickeningly sweet smell of shopping, laced with sweating drink cups and cheap flowers.  I sneezed twice.  But it felt good.  Atlas had taken his weight back, and I could walk free.

And I vowed never to search for characters in a mall again.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Top Twenty

Rory and Jennie are my superstars right now!  I emailed Rory on Wednesday, asking if she could help me with the twenty titles of books in a YA romantic/fantasy vein, and she's already responded.  She's done this in the midst of starting her library's summer reading program and, well, having a life.  And Jennie, being an expert in the genre (apparently, since I didn't know this before) helped with the list. So, I say...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU :)

And here's the list:

1. Book of a Thousand Days
2. A Northern Light
3. Tender Morsels
4. Evernight
5. Lips Touch: Three Times
6. Possession
7. The Kind of Friends We Used to Be
8. City of Bones
9. Perchance to Dream
10. Graceling
11. Before Midnight
12. A Great and Terrible Beauty
13. Brightly Woven
14. Madapple
15. The Silver Metal Lover
16. The Iron Daughter
17. Sunshine
18. Wicked Lovely
19. Trickster's Queen
20. How I Live Now

Now I really just need to get my ass in gear and work on my own word-webs.

Personal Writing Challenges

Yesterday the finalists came out on Nathan Bransford's blog for the chase/action sequence.  Unsurprisingly, out of the 450+ entries, mine did not make the top ten.  While not unsurprising (the odds being 1/90+ for making the top 5 finalists), the fact that I didn't make it plus my own extreme perfectionism hit home that, yes sir! I'm still an amateur.  It was a good thing to remember, and humbling all the same.

So, what to do?  Be proactive.

Challenge 1:
I joined a group on She Writes for peer-critiquing.  Last night, I introduced myself to the group, offered my own humble reading eyes, and explained what I've been working on (specifically referencing Anabelle).  Less than 12 hours later, someone offered to read for me!  Whoot!  Thank you, Greta!

Challenge 2:
I've also decided to be a little more proactive about changing the titles of the trilogy, especially thanks to the advice of Rachelle Gardner.  I've emailed my beautiful, wonderful, amazing children's-librarian friend Rory to help me in finding 20 titles of YA books with similar themes, and she's happily accepted the challenge.  The next step is for me to sit down with a pencil and paper (real paper, not the post-its on my computer) and brainstorm more words that directly connect to my work.  I still think the biggest problem will be creating titles that are thematically connected in some way between the three novels (without going the route of Anabelle Lindsky and the Tale of...), but one step at a time, please....

Challenge 3:
I was feeling extremely reflective yesterday about my writing, and it wasn't necessarily positive reflection.  I had checked out The Secret Year from the library to see what kind of books Nathan Bransford represents, and read it yesterday.  It's a wonderfully well-written, emotionally gripping book (though the ending left me hanging just a little).  But it made me question my own style.  To date, whether it's the writing that I've done in the past year and half, or the writing I did in JHS, HS, and college, it's all been heavily dialogue-driven.  My husband has said in the past that my writing reads like a screenplay.  So I was lamenting my dialogue-based work to him yesterday afternoon, saying how difficult it's always been for me to write colorful, emotional, descriptive prose over telling dialogue.  And so, he says to me, "Write a story without any dialogue."  And the heavens opened and the angels cheered, and I mentally smacked myself for not giving myself such an assignment long ago.  It's such a simple idea.

Of course, it's been an excruciating journey since then, almost 24 hours ago.  I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since he made the suggestion.  I now have 850 words, and almost every one of them has been an agonizing choice.  I'm going to work on it over the weekend, and then when I can squeeze in a minute or two next week (we'll be out of town with family and probably without internet access—eek!—for five days).  Hopefully I can have a draft of something up here by the 15th.  I'll be interested to see what reactions I get from it.

Challenge 4:
Find a site that offers weekly writing assignments, and do them.  Keep up the harder work that comes with an assignment like Challenge 3.  I definitely need the practice.

Challenge 5:
Don't beat myself up over the fact that my style is different from others'.  Dialogue-based, minimal prose is not my personal bastardization of fiction.  Hemingway comes to mind (though I'm hardly comparing myself to him).  While my descriptive prose needs the heavy hand of a nun with a ruler, that doesn't mean that my work is awful.  It just needs more work.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Looking for Validation in All the Wrong Places

I love writing.  That's why I do it.  I love the sweat and angst that comes with editing.  I love that I reread the damn stuff so many times that I hate it... then move away from it for two weeks, and then I love it again.  I love being able to say, "I created this."  And maybe it's mediocre dribble, but it's still mine.

My problem, I think, is that I seek validation constantly.  And since, before, oh, Monday I had only been writing for myself and not seriously considering polishing it for publication or networking or taking writing classes or working with professionals, I was looking to my friends and family for that validation.  The problem is that I send them chapters and then they don't read them, or they promise they will later, or they just kind of say, "Oh" when I say that I'm writing again.  And that hurts more than for someone I don't even know (well) to tell me my writing is crap and to ditch it and start from scratch.  I would much rather have that.

So, I hereby vow to myself that I will not solicit validation from any one of my friends and family from now on.  I've joined an online community of women writers that I can't wait to delve into.  I've found a local organization that has writing classes for women, and has a drop-in class once a month so I can see if it will fit me and my work (the women who run it are all amazing activists, and I'm a little intimidated....).  I've started following blogs of authors and agents, entering contests and trying to get my name out there.  And I'm just diving in without a safety net.

Am I scared?  Oh, hell yeah!  But is it the best thing for me?  Absolutely.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Don't Give Up Your Day Job

This is advice that I should actually listen to.  For the past month since classes ended, I have: written, rewritten, edited, rewritten, started something new, weeded the jungle that is our back patio, rewritten, played on Facebook, rewritten, and started looking at literary-related blogs.  Where in there do we see anything about writing one of those three papers I had planned for the summer or working on the freelance book-editing jobs that I agreed to?  Hmm...

So today, exactly 4 weeks since I turned in my last project of the semester, I decided to get back to work.  I left my house--always a big help to get away from the scene that sucks me back to Anabelle all the time--and went to the public library.  Bear in mind, I never spend more than 15 minutes in the public library (tsk!), and when I do, it's usually in the CD section (double tsk!).  If I want a book, I usually request it a couple of days in advance so the staff will pluck it off the shelf for me and all I have to do is go to the desk, hand them my card, and leave again.  Lazy much?

Oh, but not today.  First thing I did was actually try to find books on my own.  While it doesn't help that the library seems to be under renovations right now, that wasn't really the issue.  The fact is that I've never had to find the fiction section before, and I thought that the YA section would be in the Children's area.  Wrong!  As I was walking around down there, I thought, "If I were 15 and looking for a YA book, I'd be pretty sprickin' pissed if I had to go to the kiddie area."  So, off on the hunt again.  I finally found the fiction, first stumbling accidentally upon the YA, which led to the adult, SciFi, Mystery, etc.  *whew*  That was rough.  At least now I know for next time.

Okay, so, check out, pick up the CD we had on hold, and then off to the silent reading room (in which I am currently making a lot of noise because both my keyboard and my mouse button are far from silent... triple tsk!).  After once again procrastinating for a good half-hour, I close down my A&M #2 epilogue, I hide my two open Firefox windows, one with Facebook, my email, and a random page on natural mosquito repellents, the other with my Blogger dashboard and a number of other literary blogs (especially this post, which is proving to be invaluable to me right now).  All this done, I open my other email account (yeah, #2) and start looking for the email from my boss with the working files for one of the books I promised to type-style.

.........

Fifteen minutes of hunting through my university email, scavenging through my migrated email on another account on this computer, searching the whole HD with Spotlight (oh, this now works so much better than it did on OS 10.4!!), and I remembered:  G gave it to me on my flashdrive.  So, I reach into my handy bookbag, into the little bitty mesh pocket where that little flashdrive lives and only ever leaves if it's stuck into a computer, and.... it's not there.  Of course.  Then I vaguely remember leaving it on the coffee table last week, then moving it for the Memorial Day party we had over the weekend, and realize that it's sitting on the bookcase next to the couch.  Mother sprickin'....

Okay, yeah, I could blame the flashdrive for my problems, but I know it's my fault.  So, now that I've been at the library for, oh, at least an hour.  I'm ready to pack up my bag and head back home, have lunch with my husband, and then potentially come back here WITH THE FLIPPIN' FLASHDRIVE and work in the afternoon.  Assuming I don't leave it until tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

------------------
UPDATE:
So, I originally posted this at 1:15pm.  It's now 3:30.  In the last 2 hr 15 min, I have played on the blog, tried to add a widget from Goodreads that I made infinitely more complicated than it needed to be, and then played around on Goodreads.  Oh, yeah, I ate lunch with my husband, and I copied the files from my flashdrive to my HD.  So, at least I did one thing that could lead to potential productivity, right? :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Figuring Out the Market

I'm terribly new to all of this, but, on a whim, I started looking at different websites for literary agents yesterday, and have spent the vast majority of the last 24 hours--through sleep deprivation and the incessant buzzing of the fire alarm in dark, dank scary basement of my rental that is the dungeon horror films are made of (and therefore I refuse to go down there and turn it off)--looking at literary blogs, writers' workshops, editors' blogs, writing community websites, etc.

This has all caused me to realize a few things about the trilogy I've been working on for a year and that I need to change (e.g., *hook your reader on the first page*, which I think I fail at terribly).  While I have two people currently reviewing book one for me (and yes, they're friends, but see below as to why), I think I need to go back and completely rewrite chapter 1 of book 1, making it more of the "show" and less of the "tell".  Somehow I am a lot more aware of this everywhere else in the 425,000 words, but this first chapter somehow keeps avoiding the big red correction pen.

The second thing I've realized is that now is probably not the best time to work on my marketing skills.  I'm taking my PhD exams this fall, and I know I'll need to put a lot of effort into that, as well as my summer class and that darned incomplete I have from December.  Of course, I've spent the last month of my summer working on, what?  Oh, that's right.  None of the above.  Instead, I've just cuddling up with my new computer and writing at the work that doesn't pay me.

And, finally, I've realized that I'm terrified of the whole huge process of selling myself and my work.  I like my work (mostly... on the good days), but that doesn't mean that anyone else will.  The fact of it is that, in a shameful, shameful effort to build my own self-esteem about my work, I've given draft copies of the first few chapters of book one to about a half-dozen people.  To date, only two have read past chapter 10 (there are 28 in book 1 alone, I might add), one of whom is one of the two people currently reviewing it for me.  While this does wonders for my self-esteem (here, let me give you a rag to clean up that dripping sarcasm), my confidence level in my work is far from high at the moment.

A few weeks ago, on a whim of advice--*always have a minimum of two projects at once*--I started another story which consumed my life for eight days (the story that I'm slowly posting here).  I sincerely needed a break from Anabelle and Marcus (the protagonists of my trilogy), and took it eagerly.  After a couple of weeks, I felt ready, reinvigorated, and I went back, making the final revisions to A&M #1 to send it off for review.  I moved on to A&M #2, fleshing out what had been 110,000 words of "semi-showing" into 140,000 of "telling", including inserted chapters for character development and extended dialogues.

But now, on the epilogue of A&M #2 (these novels do have names, btw, though I sincerely dislike them at the moment and have no interest in committing them to the ether that knows and remembers all), I'm stuck again.  It hasn't been six weeks since I spent so long working on the wedding story, and I'm frustrated that my momentum has run dry.  I know that taking a break is healthy, and I'm not a writing super-hero. Honestly, I should be proud of what I have and that I churned out the bare-bones of it so quickly (though that just means more revisions now and later).  But still, my confidence is low.

I will mention, though, that I entered a contest for a consultation with literary agent Nathan Bransford in celebration of the release of a client's book.  My confidence isn't necessarily high enough to think I'll win, or even make it into the finalists, but I entered.  Yesterday my confidence was low enough that I almost didn't enter, but I forced myself to do it, drawing from A&M #3 from one of the six chapters of action that come after a very central event (for give my vagueness).  I won't know which 500-word snippets made finalists until Friday.

So keep your fingers crossed for me (whoever you are, if you're out there).  Even if I don't make the finalists, something has to come my way soon to raise a wave of confidence in me again.
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