Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the return of... BEST LINES!

the best part of being done with the crazy writing spree that is NaNoWriMo is that i finally have time to READ again!
and i'm so glad the book i picked up first is one with lines worth sharing.

so after a long hiatus... i bring you more "Best Lines."

these are from the first third of "How I Live Now," by Meg Rosoff. (most are actually fragments of lines, as the writing style makes every sentence about a paragraph long, and i don't want to give away too much.)

...Davina the Diabolical, who sucked my father's soul out through his you know what and then got herself knocked up with the devil's spawn which, when it pops out, Leah and I are going to call Damian even if it's a girl.

Basically we couldn't believe our luck, and for a little while it felt like we were on some big train rolling down a hill, and all we cared about was how great it felt to be going fast.

...sitting in the jeep and bumping down a bumpy old road and the sun was streaming in the windows and it felt much nicer than usual to be alive even if it meant a bunch of fish were going to have to die.

Dad was one of those Never Mention Her Name Again type of fathers which if you ask me was extremely unpsychologically correct of him. Leah's father worked on Wall Street and shot himself one day when he lost $600 million of someone else's money and they never shut up about him in their house.

those are the most non-spoilery ones from near the beginning of the book, but there are some zingers later too.

if any of you are doing NaNo and motoring through the last day - GOOD LUCK!! see you back here tomorrow for a final "Word Count Wednesday."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

word count wednesday 4


my word count: 42,845
words left to "win" NaNo: 7,155
estimated words left to finish the story: 11,000
words to erase and rewrite after NaNo: 10,000 ...at least.

that's a little secret no one talks about at the beginning of NaNo - how much you are going to write after november. all those words you wrote this month - whether it's 50,000 or 10,000 - are just a fraction of the words you will write before that book is done. whether you have more to write, lots to rewrite or just several waves of revision in your future, chances are you will write many more thousands of words - just for this one book.

but really, who has time to worry about that when we're still trying to finish THIS race, right?! so get typing; take a break for turkey; then get right back to typing!

i'm taking a little blogging break over the long holiday weekend. hope you all stuff yourselves silly. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the computer ate my chapter!

...and other blessings in disguise.

the first novel i ever tried to write died a horrible death. it caught a nasty incurable virus and when it finally went into the light, even the best computer doctors could not revive it.
this was ten years ago, and the pain of that loss was so raw, i did not write again for years.

i am being completely serious now.
i allowed a manuscript-eating computer virus to put me off writing... for years. even when someone very close to me - an angel really - produced the first ten thousand words or so from his own email archives, bless him, i could not be persuaded to pick up the story again. how could i possibly remember what the NEXT ten thousand words were? and i couldn't even fathom letting those words go and starting the story again from the middle. i was so stubborn.

but i took the ten thousand words from this angel, and put them in a folder at the back of my file box with a neat little tab labeled: Sammy Vegas. for almost a decade, every time i opened that box to file a utility bill or check a bank statement, the words "Sammy Vegas" would play peek-a-boo with me from the dark rear of the box... taunting me, reminding me that once upon a time i wanted to be a writer.

when i finally started writing again, the "Sammy Vegas" file got moved to a new filing cabinet - one filled with nothing but manuscripts, story ideas and publishing information. now, when i see the "Sammy Vegas" tab, i don't see a painful loss but a story that will someday be brought back to life. SV would have been the wrong first book for me. and maybe i needed to live a little more before i started writing for real. i truly think losing that MS was meant to be, so that all the stars could align for me to write a book some 8 or 9 years later that would actually be good enough to publish.

i tried to remember the SV tale this week when technology let me down once again.
this time, it wasn't a computer virus but a malfunctioning android application that ate my words. (oh, how time has marched on!)
my trusty little cell phone voice recorder app crashed and burned - taking with it an entire chapter of my NaNo project. in the sheer panic of losing those words, i forgot every single one of them, even thought i had dictated them into the voice recorder only that morning. Handsome and i made a few feeble efforts to recover the audio files, but they were lost. i wanted to crawl into bed and forget the whole manuscript.
but NaNo waits for no drama, so i knew i had to suck it up and write something new.

and you know what? the new scene is better. once it was all written, my thoughts cleared, and i could remember the initial scene, and it wasn't half as good as its replacement. losing that first chapter was probably the best thing that's happened to me since i started NaNo.
(but, um, Karma? if you're listening? that doesn't mean i want to lose any more chapters, okay? i AM on a deadline, here.)

i just wanted to share those stories for anyone who has hit a setback in their writing, whether it's:
- a computer virus
- a lost notebook
- an accidental 'delete'
- an identical scene in someone else's book that forces you to press 'delete'
- or just about any other uncontrollable factor that erases so much of your hard work.

words get lost.
but sometimes it's a blessing in disguise.
fortunately, we know where the words come from, and we can always make more.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

forget me not

tonight i finally filled up my virtual shelves on goodreads. i started by sitting in front of one shelf at a time (actual shelves, in my house) and typing titles into my laptop. this is tedious work, people! if any of you have actually entered every book you've ever read into goodreads, then i salute you. personally, i gave up after a hundred or so titles.

something struck me as i was going through my books, title by title - something alarming.
there were several books - not one but several - that i sat in front of thinking, "i know i want to give this 5 stars. i loved this book. i raved about it. look how the spine is all cracked and worn. i carried this book everywhere." but i could not give 5 stars, because for the life of me, i couldn't remember ONE SINGLE WORD of what was inside that beat-up cover.

now, i'm not talking about books i read this year or last but at least a decade ago. STILL. how can i not recall the stories? one book, in fact, by my beloved Kurt Vonnegut, i actually had to pick up and flip through. just looking at the cover, i could quote some of the lines - and sure enough, many of those lines were marked inside, by me - but even after reading the first few pages, i couldn't remember the plot.

i'm certain i'm not suffering from memory loss, so why is it i can't recall these books? was i not a careful reader for a few years of my life? or is it possible these books are just... forgettable?

that thought really scares me. i have too many books in the "to-be-read" pile to go back and reread all the ones i can't remember, but what if they are worth remembering?
i'm also afraid, ten or twenty years from now, i won't remember some of the amazing books i've read recently.
and scariest of all - i'm suddenly terrified my own books have to be more than smart or funny or moving or well-written. they must be memorable. but damned if i know the magic ingredient that makes a book memorable.
then again, if Vonnegut can write something forgettable, i guess i would be in good company.

Friday, November 19, 2010


i hear stories of writers who spend years researching a topic before starting a story - who interview experts, read text books, etc... to absorb all the facts they want to put into their fiction.

other writers i know make it all up as they go along in the first draft and save the fact-checking for revisions, which i imagine can mean lots and lots of rewriting, depending on which facts they got wrong.

i think i fall somewhere in the middle - researching as i go.

for my current WIP, i had to do quite a bit of preliminary work, because i knew before i started that one of my characters would have Down Syndrome. i had to compile medical notes, research family dynamics and do a lot of observing.
it's probably the most research i've done before actually putting fingers to keyboard.

what happens more often is a situation arises in the story that requires me to know what i'm talking about. if i can see this coming, i'll stop, do a day of research, then get back to writing.
(example: i had a quirky scene that required one of my characters to know a little something about small towns and geography. i decided to make that quirk a thread throughout the entire story, but i had already used up the limited facts i knew in one scene. so i had to stop writing and spend some time expanding my knowledge base in order to pull the thread through.)

occasionally, i'll fall into the pantser category, when the writing is just going too fast and smooth for me to stop. who can be bothered with research when the facts i'm making up work so well?!
i don't let myself get too far, though, because i don't want to rewrite thousands and thousands of words all based on a mistaken fact. what i'll do is stop at the end of the chapter and do some fact-checking. then, if i got anything wrong, i'll fix it. but sometimes even waiting a whole chapter is too long.
(example: i had an entire chapter and plot development that hinged on a certain type of government office being open at a certain time of night and operating a certain way. i did some vague research online, but it wasn't until the chapter was over that i actually contacted someone at this office to verify my facts. turns out not only is the office closed and its operations nothing like i described - but it doesn't even exist in the town where i put it! (*&$%$&^#). i couldn't bear to rewrite an entire chapter in the middle of NaNo, but you better believe i spent half an hour typing up a list of corrections and plot changes in my revision notes. the good news is, the changes will make this little piece of plot better anyway.)

since that incident, i've been very careful to check my facts every step of the way - whether it's placing a building on the correct street corner or confirming a state law. but i'm still doing the research as i go, letting the story tell me what it is i need to look up.

i'm curious what other writers do!
*if you do loads of research ahead of time, how much of it do you think goes unused - and do you think that time would have been better spent writing? or do you think having the knowledge still makes the work better/more informed in the long run?
*if you're a pantser and later find a factual error that requires changes in 23 chapters, does it make your revision process more stressful? or do you prefer rewriting later to stopping and starting while in the middle of a first draft?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

word count wednesday 3 and a story

well, we’ve hit the halfway mark. NaNo sure makes November go by fast!

i’m at 29,519 words, and i’ve hit the climax of my story.. or the build up to the climax.. or the build up to the incident that triggers the climax.. or something. anyway, we’re getting somewhere.

so, today is the one year anniversary of the event that pretty much ended NaNo for me last year.
i came home that night planning to grab some dinner, let my dog out and get over to a write-in going on at a local bookstore. i never made it.
because when i got home that night, my gate was open and my door unlocked. a quick trip through my house - that made me want to throw up in a way i’d never quite felt before - confirmed that strangers had been there, had gone through my very personal items, had stolen my family heirlooms and plenty of other things.
i spent the next three days talking to police, insurance agents and security specialists. i replaced the locks, installed surveillance cameras and woke up terrified in the middle of the night. i did not write a word.

it was weeks before i realized everything that was gone and months before i stopped checking my closets with a huge kitchen knife in hand every single time i came home. i don’t remember when i started writing again, but i know that i wish i’d started sooner.

writing is therapy, escape, distraction and occasionally – revenge. (those chapters of a non-existent book are filed away on my hard drive, never to be seen by the public. they contain way too many curse words, but they sure made me feel a lot better!)
i was writing the first time my power went out after the burglary, and i’m grateful for that because i was so focused on finding a flashlight, pen and paper to finish my thoughts that i forgot to be frightened.

my point is... life can give us a lot of good excuses to not write, but you might find in those tough times that turning to your writing - instead of away from it - can actually help you through something... and that your life experiences (good or bad) can inform your writing in a way that makes it feel richer and more real.

now, as for this year - the only excuse i have for possibly falling behind on NaNo is the fact that the full version of "Angry Birds" was finally released for Android, and i am in a race with Handsome to see who can beat the game first. :p

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

fave features

i suspect the infrequent posting on the blog here might continue through the end of November, as i have not yet failed at NaNoWriMo. (one reason - choosing to write instead of blog)

but i don't want to be one of those bloggers who apologizes for my long silences, so i decided to be more productive than that and give you some places to visit when you find my blog dark for a few days at a time.

this is a collection of my favorite features in the blogosphere. they are either weekly or very regular, so you'll probably get addicted and keep checking back for them every day, just like i do. if you visit, be sure to leave comments and tell the bloggers who sent ya! :)

(the links are in green. click 'em!)

*my current fave feature and my go-to place for covers is at Naomi's inkcrush blog. her Cover Comparisons are so much fun to examine. she pulls covers from all over the globe for a single book and puts them all in one place, so you can study the subtle - or sometimes completely obvious - differences. i have no idea where she finds them all.

*Kate Hart's Field Trip Friday posts must take her forever to put together. she provides a collection of writing, publishing and otherwise entertaining tweets from the week. i used to love following this feature even before i caved and joined twitter. it's a great way to feel connected if you're not ready to start tweeting... and a great way to get caught up if you just haven't had time to tweet!

*i am loving the Trailer Talk on E.J. Wesley's blog. he shares two book trailers, generally very different from each other, then gives some insight into why they win or fail. it's been educational, as trailers are a total mystery to me. (says the girl who works in TV. haha.)

*finally, a great feature for readers on the run! check out Debra Garfinkle's Book Review Haikus. the link takes you to her blog's home page. if you scroll down her page, you'll see several of the haiku entries. they are indispensable for a reader who doesn't have time to read lots of long reviews. i think she always does 5 books... and you'll have her honest opinion on all of them in less than 5 seconds.

happy blog bouncing!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

now playing in an imagination near you

someone asked me recently how i would cast my novel. it's a fun game writers like to play when they dream of their books becoming movies... and i suck at it.
i guess i like to think of my characters as totally new, so i can't imagine them looking like anyone else. (i promise this isn't ego talking. i have a hard time picturing actors playing the characters in everyone else's books too!)

but in the interest of NaNo procrastination, i decided to kill some time on the internet, looking up hip young films to see if i could imagine any of the people as characters in BUTTER.
and i found some! they are perfect! score me a movie deal, because i am ready to start filming!

this is Butter:

this is Anna:

and this is Trent, Parker and company:

hmmm. i like this so much, i'm wondering how my editor will feel about me rewriting the whole book to make them all penguins...
okay then, i guess if i ever score a film rights sale, i'll just leave it up to the casting directors. ;)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

word count wednesday 2

first of all, thanks to the cool people who posted BUTTER on goodreads! :D (and thanks to Susanne for letting me know about it!)
i signed up for the author program to "claim" the book, but i don't quite have GR all figured out yet, so we'll see how that goes. (i'm ejwriter, by the way, if any of you are looking for me on GR. i'm looking for you too!)

okay, on to word count wednesday! i am at... 17,230 words.

it's good, no? if you're following the suggested NaNo pace, you should be at about 15,000 words. so woohoo! i'm 2200 ahead!
however, i'm about 2K behind my own schedule.

see, at the start of the month, OCD EJ wrote out a chart/calendar for the month of november. i included all my appointments and plans that would keep me from writing and figured out about how much i could write on each day. since there are a few days coming up when i won't be able to write at all, i front-loaded my NaNo so i would be ahead and not playing catch-up later.
according to my little anal calendar, i should be at 25K by Saturday. yeah... not gonna happen.

a lot of folks thrive on the rush of catching up, but i am not the tortoise. i am the hare. i have to be the hare, or i'll get overwhelmed by how far there still is to go and give up.
also, i know how things can happen to derail your NaNo efforts entirely. i know - because this happened to me last year - that some really nasty stuff can go down that basically stops NaNo in its tracks. in fact, the anniversary of that nasty stuff is one week from today... so more on that next wednesday.
(in other words: ...to be continued.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

having it all...

...in your book.

one of the ongoing great debates i see among writers and publishing peeps online is the battle between writing and storytelling. which one is most important when trying to land an agent/editor/reader?

of course, the winning answer is always... both!

but that's not really where the discussion ends. if you cruise around the internet, you'll find agents and editors are looking for even more than prose and plot. any one of them might be looking for any or all of the following:
- concept! good hook! - if you can sell your story in one line, you can probably sell it to a publisher.
- characters! - the heart and soul of your story. agents and editors fall for them before falling for you.
- angst or grit or romance or humor or something that strongly defines your MS, makes it easy to categorize.
- originality!
- voice!
- pace!

holy crap, that's a lot of stuff to squish into a book! it puts pressure on a writer, no?

well, let me tell you a secret. i just scanned my bookshelf, and i can honestly say there is no book that excels at all of these. "Lord of the Rings" wows with characters and originality, but pace? ummm, no. history of pipe-weed. 'nuff said.
several books on my shelves have brilliant hooks but only 'meh' writing. in one book, a break-neck pace takes time away from characterization. in another, the incredible voice makes up for a not-so-original plot. all over my shelves, i see books shattering rules and still making readers smile.

i'm not saying don't reach for all of the things on the list above. i'm just saying don't punish yourself if some of them come through stronger than the others.
one of my books has a hook that probably helped it sell. the concept of the current WIP is harder to pin down in one line, but the characters are strong.

i'm trying not to get caught up in the pressure of fitting everything into one book. instead, i'm concentrating on showing off my strengths one book at a time. (at least, that's the goal. haha! i'll let readers be the judges.)

what about you? do the same strengths shine through in all your stories? or does the story itself dictate which skills come through?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

word count wednesday 1

happy first week of NaNoWriMo!

at least, i hope your week is happy. mine is fairly miserable, as i've started NaNo with a nasty cold. all of my words are alternately fueled by fever and cold meds. although, being home sick has its upside - like plenty of time to write. that's why my word count is already....

5,568 words!

i know some folks out there have already blown that word count out of the water, but that's pretty great for me - especially considering all of those words are from Monday. (yesterday's elections required me to work 13 hours). but i'm back on the couch with my tissues and my laptop today, so hopefully i can bang out another few thousand words and stay ahead of the game.

observations from week one:

- for me, writing fast = writing sloppy.
(lots of little typos and missing or misspelled words)

- i must break the "don't look back" rule.
i just can't confidently move forward on a book unless i look back at yesterday's chapters and at least do a cursory edit.

- my outline is a jail cell.
it's a lot easier to write fast and furious if i'm not bound by my outline. when i hit a scene i don't feel inspired to write or don't know how to transition into, i slow down. i may be in danger of veering off the outline just to keep pushing forward.

it remains to be seen whether NaNo will work for BILLY D. the way it worked for BUTTER, and i may end up having to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. (yikes! i hope not!) but i just don't know if NaNo is right for every book... just as it's not right for every writer.
Phoebe North wrote this great post on her blog: "NaNo No More." (link! click it!) she makes some good points about NaNo and why it might not help you accomplish what you really want to accomplish. (and she writes from experience, having done NaNo several times, both "winning" and "losing.")

if you're still committed to making NaNo work for you, check out the NaNo word sprints on twitter. (link! click it and follow!)

don't forget to share your word count in the comments, and tell me your own week one observations!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

no really, your vote counts

i don't care who or what you vote for. i only care that you vote.

i also respect your right to NOT vote. however, if you choose to exercise this right, i hope you will also exercise the right to quit your bitching.

happy election day!