Friday, October 28, 2011

a very scary research trip!

last night i went on my first official "research outing" for writing.

i confess, my research often involves me sitting at my laptop doing video, photo and map searches... and scouring "How Things Work" websites. as a writer, the internet has saved me a lot of time and money when it comes to researching my stories.

but i recently realized i needed some information for the Work In Progress (aka next month's NaNo project) that no amount of googling could help me find. i needed to see/experience it for myself. so i was THRILLED when The Nest Haunted House here in Arizona agreed to give me a behind-the-scenes tour!

i am only one short chapter into GRIM (the WIP about a group of teenage boys working at a haunted house), and i have already run into questions about logistics (how do they communicate inside the haunt?), costumes (what are the fake vampire teeth made out of?) and layout (how does mad scientist get into his lab, and where does he go if he has to take a pee, for crying out loud?!)

all of these questions are just background for the actual story, but they have to be accurate for authenticity.




i also had a ton of questions that ARE pertinent to the story, but this is a spoiler-free zone. thanks so much to Brooke Rodda of Angles PR for answering many of those questions and for spending the evening with me.

and thanks especially to Josh Burdi and Skyler Wright, the teenage actors who gave me incredible insight into what it's like to be a teen working in such a wild business. (The Arizona Republic has a great shot of Skyler getting into his makeup here. - link! click it!)

if this book gets published, by the time it comes out, those guys will no longer be teenagers, but i hope they'll still be hanging around haunts like The Nest, giving guests a good scare. in any case, they sure gave me a lot of inspiration. i can't wait to start writing the rest of GRIM, thanks to them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

organized chaos

NaNoWriMo starts in one week, and i have to admit - i didn't sign up until today.

there's been a lot of revising this year - rewriting Billy D and going through the editorial process with Butter. i haven't written anything new in so long, i wasn't sure i was ready to dive head first into another rough draft. so i was considering skipping NaNo, to give myself a break.
but then i thought - a break from WHAT? - a break from my favorite part of writing? from the pure freedom of rough-draft creativity? i don't need a break. writing a new manuscript IS my break - from editing!

so i'm going for it again this year, but now i only have a week to prepare. and preparation is key.

here is how i get organized for the mad-dash chaos that is National Novel Writing Month:

step 1 - story idea.
dude, ya gotta have an idea. otherwise that blank page can kick your butt on day one. for me, that idea has to be fully formed, which means:
step 2 - outline.
it's not cheating! you can outline your whole book - just don't count those words in your November tally. in fact, i go beyond outlining and fully recommend:
step 3 - write a first chapter.
again, i don't count it when i'm adding up the November sprint. chances are, your novel will be longer than 50,000 words - so it doesn't hurt to have a few thousand written ahead of time and a few thousand still to write afterward.
step 4 - make adjustments.
you have an outline and a first chapter. if you're not feeling it, you may want to switch gears. the point of the outline and the first chapter, for me, are to get me revved up for NaNo - to make myself WANT to write the next page so bad i practically can't wait for the madness to start. if you're not feeling that urge, you may want to look at your chapter and your outline and see if this is really something you want to spend 30 days of your life with. if not - go back to step 1 and start again. (if i were clever with PhotoShop, i would build you a little flow chart here, but i am so not talented in that way.)
step 5 - clear your schedule.
clean your house; get your doctor's appointments out of the way; finish up whatever other projects you are working on. these things, if left undone, will become distractions, at best, or give you a guilty conscience, at worst. i know i personally struggle with NaNo if i have a long "to do" list hanging over my head in November.
step 6 - do. not. write.
if at all possible, give yourself a few days or a few weeks to rest your brain and recharge the creative batteries. spend quality time with important people (in case you accidentally ignore them while immersed in NaNo), and do something FUN (there will be very little time for fun in November).
step 7 - strap on a good attitude.
despite what i said about the fun, that's actually what NaNo is all about. it's permission to have FUN writing. have fun staying indoors, unwashed and anti-social. have fun sitting on your butt for hours on end. have fun meeting new friends at local write-in events. however you "NaNo" - make sure you have fun while you're doing it.

personally, i plan to have fun writing something out of my comfort zone. it may end up getting tossed, if it doesn't feel like "me" in the end, but i will still get a kick out of trying.

oh, and part of my fun is in the preparation this year. i have a "research outing" planned for this week that should give me some GREAT inspiration. if i get permission from my outing "hosts," i promise to blog all about it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Revision Diaries (5)

sometime late last night, i tweeted something that looked a little like this:

I fixed it I fixed it IFIXEDIT!!!

except it wasn't bold or in massive type, because - dang it - twitter doesn't allow us to express ourselves through font!
but big and bold is how i felt after getting past a major hurdle in my line edits.

and really, "line edits" is a bit deceptive here.
often, at the line edit stage, and editor will have a few additional suggestions for revision. one such suggestion, for me, required a lot of pacing around the house and muttering to myself. i avoided the scene for a couple days - if you can call obsessing about it, emailing about it and jotting down notes on it avoiding. what i mean is, i didn't touch the scene in my manuscript. i worked on everything else - the actual line edits, the moments that needed rewording and other minor fixes that were easier to tackle. but i was afraid to mess with this one scene for fear of screwing it up.

over the weekend, i finally ran out of other edits, and i knew i had to face my fear. today, i want to share with you how i faced it and what i learned from it.

face the fear:
- my paralysis came mostly from the fear that the manuscript is pretty well polished, and this edit would require me to tear apart some of those polished pages. to help curb that fear, i took the chapter that would be mostly changed and copied it into a new word document. this way, i could mess it up all i wanted, and the original chapter would remain untouched in my ms. - a small, obvious, solution probably... but it really helped me relax.
- in fact, i liked working in this new document so much, i made THREE of them. and i started to write 3 different scenes - each with a different approach to the "FIX." one scene fell apart so fast and furious, i deleted the whole document. it wasn't even worth archiving under "experiments." the other two scenes worked a little better, and i treated them both like rough drafts - i gave myself freedom to make mistakes ranging from typos to total character revisions.
- then i did what i would do with any rough draft. i sent the scenes to one of my crit partners. with her notes, i was able to see which scene was working. i rewrote that scene, revised it again, then took the now-polished chapter and plugged it back into the manuscript.

lesson #1 - the domino effect:
- as polished as that chapter was, i had created changes that required me to now go through the rest of my clean ms and start mucking things up again - the one thing i wanted to avoid!
but now that i knew i had "fixed it," the other changes weren't so scary. i went backward from the scene to plant some clues of the scene to come, and i went forward in the manuscript to create a few moments that would be altered by the new scene.
- the lesson for me was - no matter how much i tried to isolate the issue, to make it this one small fix in this one small corner of the story - the fact is, any important change will have a domino effect throughout your story, even if the change is small and at the almost-polished stage of your revisions. if the change doesn't ripple through the entire manuscript, it probably wasn't that important to begin with.

lesson #2 - don't be afraid to TRY:
- i agreed with my editor that we needed this "fix," but i wasn't sure if her suggestion for fixing it was the right way. i got it all stuck in my head that i could fix it another way - a way that i had already tried and that wasn't working but that i was sure would have a different result if i kept doing it. hello, definition of insanity!
- the scene i wrote first was my own solution. i wasn't happy with it, but i couldn't figure out how to fix it. so i told myself, just TRY to do what your editor suggested.
well. yeah. my editor - she's a pretty smart cookie.
i liked the second scene so much better. i knew this before i even sent the scenes to my crit partner, but i wanted an outside opinion. ...and that opinion was a clear smack down on scene one and hearts for scene 2. lesson learned: even if an idea doesn't sound like the right solution, just try it out. you may surprise yourself.

so i tweeted to the world that IFIXEDIT! and now i can start my final pass through the manuscript, making sure everything is still polished. of course, it's always possible my editor will say:

Yo. You SO did NOT fix it.

(well, no, that's not actually possible, because my editor is much more eloquent than that - but you get the idea.)
if that happens, you'll know, because i'll be back here with another round of the revision diaries.

but for now:
Line Edits. Conquered.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Revision Diaries (4)

i got my line edits this week, so you know what that means...
we're in for another round of:
The Revision Diaries: Confessions of an Author on a Deadline!

first, a brief word about line edits, for those not in the know. (those of you who are in the know, feel free to nod your head all, y'know, knowingly as we go along.)

line edits come after an author has done most of the major revisions. instead of big story or character suggestions, your editor will focus in on smaller moments on the page - bits that aren't working or need rewording, beats that are missing, moments that need to be amped up, and of course, lines that need fixing.
the accompanying editorial letter is probably shorter, but the manuscript pages probably have more marks. it's the detail work.

so i have had my line edits for all of 24 hours, and of course, i have already busted out the colored Post Its, consulted with my crit partners and sent one - possibly deranged and definitely way-too-long - email to my editor.
now i am ready to begin the work.

here's all i know for sure about the work that is to come:
it doesn't necessarily get easier.

when you are revising a rough draft, you can take a sledgehammer to that thing. you can go all demolition derby on it and rebuild from scratch.
when you get to revisions with your editor, it's more like tearing down a single wall and building it back up in a different spot, with better support beams and a fresh coat of paint.
and now i'm learning, when you reach line edits, you have to trade that old sledgehammer for a scalpel.

(yes, i know my architectural metaphor just turned surgical. i would fix that, but i'm saving all of my editorial skills for the manuscript right now. thanks for your understanding.)

what i'm trying to say is this step in the editorial process is all about being careful. there may be a scene to add or rework here and there, but mostly my job is to make the fixes without mucking up the manuscript too much, since it's so close to being done. it's making me just a little bit afraid to touch the page, for fear of smudging what is already polished.

as soon as i get over that fear, i'll be back with another installment in the revision diaries!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


"I cannot go to school today" Said little Peggy Ann McKay. "I have the measles and the mumps, A gash, a rash and purple bumps.....

i can still, to this day, recite that entire poem from memory. in fact, i startled myself driving to work yesterday by trying it out loud, sure i would have forgotten some of it, but suddenly i was at the end. it had stuck with me all these years.

Shel Silverstein's poems have a way of doing that - of sticking with you.

that's why i snatched up his new collection, Every Thing On It, even though i sometimes have reservations about books published posthumously. i am going to read it piece by piece, to make it last, but i am already impressed by the arrangement. it feels 100% Shel.

it eases you in with a reminder that, while he's gone, these words are still his.

Although I cannot see your face
As you flip these poems awhile,
Somewhere from some far-off place
I hear you laughing--and I smile.

and it ends with a note that will soften even the hardest-hearted writer. if you don't want the final poem spoiled, stop here. but if you want to read the four lines that gave this writer goose bumps, scroll down...
When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter--someone new?
Someone better--maybe YOU!

Friday, October 7, 2011

best lines, A.S. King edition

last night i attended the west coast launch party for A.S. King's "Everybody Sees the Ants."
and since i am currently reading her Printz Honor Book "Please Ignore Vera Dietz," i thought it would be a good time for another episode of... BEST LINES.

first, though i haven't read it yet, i have to share a line from Ants. this showed up in King's reading last night and really struck me:

Mom told me once she thinks she's a reincarnated squid. Maybe she thinks being a squid means she won't be swallowed by the hole in our family.

and here are some of my favorite lines so far from Vera Dietz:

"Ew," I said. "I think we should tell my parents." I knew his wouldn't believe us or care. There was a reason Charlie was such a bright blazing sun. He came from endless cold, black space.

There are still children starving in Africa, right? There are still children starving right here in this shitty little town.

this line comes after an encounter with the mean kids:

Seeing it makes me feel delayed embarrassment. I wonder did I handle it okay? Did I look like an asshole?

normally, i don't like to comment too much on "best lines," because i don't want to detour into review territory. but i have to say something about this last quote.
if nothing else of interest were to happen in the rest of the book, i would still like it for that one quote and the entire passage in which it sits. that moment would have spoken to me as a teen more than anything i've ever read.

here are these kids who are mean to you, whose opinions you shouldn't give a damn about, but you can't help hoping you still looked - i don't know, cool maybe? - while they were torturing you. because maybe if you handled it well, they won't torture you again. or at least they won't know they got to you. and the feeling that accompanies all that is an inexplicable shame. it's a very hard - very uniquely teenage - emotion that is hard to capture. and King did it in a few spare lines.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the great cat invasion of 2011

feral cats have taken over my neighborhood.

and my backyard is their home base.

i've never been a big fan of cats. i'm a dog person, through and through. but i don't hate cats. i don't hate any animal with a cute little face. at least i didn't until the great cat invasion of 2011.

it started with 3.
a black and white scrappy little guy (or gal) who prowled the wall around our yard..
a nervous cat always looking over his shoulder and sprinting at the sight of any human..
and a too-well-fed fluffy gray beast that would sit on a post perfectly still for hours while the other cats bowed before him.

i didn't mind that trio so much. they left my dog alone, stayed out of the yard and generally minded their own business.

the night the first litter was born, it was raining. Handsome and i heard this tiny terrified mewing sound coming from the neighbor's backyard. we peeked over the wall and even in the rainy darkness, we could see there was a little pile of newborn kittens struggling in the cold, without a mother cat in sight. it was sad. i felt pity for the little guys, knowing they wouldn't all make it.

fast-forward a few weeks. the black and white is roaming the walls, but wait! she's much much smaller than before. in fact, she is one of the kittens. "oh yay!" i thought. "one of them survived."
no, not one. all of them.

soon, there were half a dozen kittens on our walls at a time. and this generation was much bolder than the last. they didn't run from my dog's barking, and even when they ran from me, they would retreat only for a moment, then quickly return, challenging me.

after that, the cats started multiplying. this new litter had a litter of its own. a few more strays joined the colony. and either there is strength in numbers, making them more bold... or there simply isn't enough room left on the walls for all of them, because they have started to spend their nights in our backyard. if we step outside to take out the trash, it's a good bet we'll see three of them lounging in the grass, another two circling the firepit, one on the wall as a lookout and one more - usually old black and white - prowling the perimeter of the house.

most of them still run, but a few boldly hold their ground, not scared off even by my dog's yapping. one of them even perches on the wall, pretending to take swipes at my poor stressed-out puppy. because this is their headquarters. my backyard has become the HQ for the evil cat posse, and they feel as much ownership of it as i do.
too bad they don't help pay the mortgage.

and if you thought all that was a pain, get this:
it costs $25 bucks a pop to have the little jerks trapped, neutered and returned.
or worse - you can trap them yourself, take them down to animal control and pay $96 per cat just to TURN THEM IN!

i did a count this week and figured, at $25 a head, i'm looking at at least $300 just to have them fixed and brought right back to my backyard. and that will fix the problem ONLY if we catch every. single. one.
no thanks. i'm not betting $300 with those odds.

if anyone has ANY alternatives, please share before we become overrun by the feral felines!