Monday, December 12, 2011

A Special Annoucement

Well, I said I was going to take a blogging break until January, but I lied.

That's because my critique partner in crime Lori M. Lee is now represented by Suzie Townsend of Nancy Coffey Literary!!!

I've been on pins and needles since I learned Lori had a phone call set up with Suzie little over a week ago, and now everything's come full circle. You can read more about the call at Lori's blog.

Be sure you are following Lori through her blog you are the unicorn of my dreams and on twitter as @LoriMLee.

I've been privileged to read two of Lori's novels, and I absolutely can't wait to see them in print one day.

Congrats again, Lori!! *hugs*

Friday, December 9, 2011

Luna Station Quarterly Issue 8 Now Available

My drabble Evolve is now available in Issue 8 of Luna Station Quarterly. The full issue is below. Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Tis the Season*

*Please note that this will be my last official post until January. Happy holidays!

I love writing in coffee shops. I’ve talked about it before here and here (and maybe elsewhere). There’s a shop in town I really like to go to in the wintertime because they have a bunch of slouchy couches that are set around a gas fireplace with a large bank of windows behind it. So you can drink your hot cocoa, watch the snow fall, and dream. Good stuff.

But when it gets colder, it’s harder to ignore the parts of the real world the sunshine hides.

Given that this particular coffee shop is in the middle of town, people from all walks of life congregate here. Last year, with temperatures in the teens and twenties, sometimes homeless people would come in for a few minutes of warmth and beg for money. Depending on how busy the baristas were, they might even be able to sneak a spot on one of the couches and rest awhile before the baristas chased them out.

One time, I was busy scribbling away in my notebook and happened to look up and catch the eye of a man sitting across from me. He said something I couldn’t make out. He mumbled again, and I realized he was asking me for money. I’m a debit card kind of girl, so even if I wanted to, I had no spare money to give. He was soon kicked out after catching one of the employee’s notice. But that was my picture of poverty. Last year.

This year, it’s already different. Poverty is different.

Last week, as I sat down in a comfy armchair in front of the fire, the guy across from me started chatting  about the weather. Said he was just hanging out after doing errands at the Target across the street. He was nice enough, but he would not shut up. I finally had to stop looking at him and keep my responses to “Mmm-hmms” and “Uh-huhs” until I got my notebook out and got down to work. He did the same thing to another coffee visitor who happened to sit nearby later on in my visit.

That in itself isn’t remarkable. Just a chatterbox making small talk. But then I saw him again a few days later. Wearing the same clothes and nursing a small cup of coffee. He was carrying the same doubled-up Target bags too. The first time I saw his bags, I thought he was just being overprotective about the stuff he bought – after all, plastic bags are notoriously flimsy. But seeing them again, seeing the wear on the outermost bags, I realized they were carrying something far more precious. The extent of his belongings.

Despite appearances, this man was homeless, but still made a point to buy a coffee to “rent” space by the fire for a few hours. To make smalltalk with other patrons as if nothing had changed. I wondered what he did after he left the shop. And I felt bad for cutting him off that day he tried talking to me – even though I do that to anyone who bothers me when I’m in the writing zone.

I realize I have a rather whitebread perspective of the world. But it doesn't change the fact that my notion of poverty has changed. It is more insidious than ever, striking people who got by just fine in years past. People who never expected to be out on the streets. People with enough pride to legitimately buy a cup of joe to stay warm instead of begging.

It makes me wonder just what poverty will entail in the future, my writerly brain taking inspiration even from this terrible thing.

The worst part is I know this man who habits my coffee shop is not alone. And besides donating food and money to charities, I don’t know how to stop it.

‘Tis the season to be merry, but it’s hard to do when so many people are in trouble this year. My heart goes out to everyone who is struggling, and I sincerely hope all my fellow writers are in a good place right now despite the economy.

My best wishes to you and yours over the holidays.

See you in January.

Learn more: National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Coalition for the Homeless

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Untangling Plot Threads

I spent yesterday wrangling the unwieldy plot threads of one of my scifi WIPs. Just about all of them. It was intense work, but absolutely necessary if I wanted to, you know, finish the book.

Photo by Gurms at Flickr

My plotting was compounded by the fact that I hadn’t really worked on this story for nearly a year. Sure, I workshopped a couple of chapters over the summer with my writing group, but, for better for worse, this year has been about getting my historical romance ready to query (check) in addition to writing and revising a half-dozen speculative fiction short stories (check check).

Now, with those goals well in hand, it was time to turn my attention back to this particular story. It has a lot of potential—well, at least I think it does—but it also has a lot of problems, some of which I talked about way back in Exorcising Demons.

But it’s not hopeless, which I established after reading through the whole story start to finish. That doesn’t mean those 60k words are beautiful, mind you, but (I think) I can work with them.

The bigger issue is that I essentially have three versions of the story I’m trying to juggle:

Version 1 – my initial draft, with two viewpoint characters, simplistic plot, overblown romantic subplot, and mustache-twirling villain.

Version 2 – partially revised draft (note partially), with three viewpoint characters now including the antagonist (note shift from villain to antagonist), reduced romance, and more plot events of the variety “something cool happens here”.

Version 3 – the supercool idealized version that lives in my head, with new character quirks and backstories, set pieces, and ambitious socio-cultural details to be included.

And yesterday was all about resolving these different versions. Good times. Especially since I never finished resolving the second version with the first version. Note to self: Never do that again.

So how did I make it work?

1) Stew – I always kept this story in the back of my mind, stewing over the characters and plot until I had the time to fully devote to it. This is how Version 3 came to life.

2) Reread – Rereading what I had already wrote helped to clarify what changes had been made and what ones hadn’t, as well as gave me the confidence to tackle even more onerous ones. Also, the refamiliarization was essential for getting me back into this story since it had been so long.

3) Write – I actually tried to pick up where Version 2 left off and make the changes I had originally planned to while working in Version 3 details as well. Got about 4k in, then decided I really needed to start from the beginning.*

4) Outline – Yep, I basically sat down yesterday and wrote out a rough outline for the entire book, synthesizing elements from all three versions. And now I feel confident enough to begin the revisions in earnest.

*This is why I have trouble with Nano – I get to a certain point in a new story then realize that I need to step back and revise from the beginning. I don’t start over per se, but I tend to write a discovery first draft, usually a partial draft, until I really understand what my story is about. When that realization comes, I can’t make any forward progress until I resolve the issues that linger in the first part of the story.

I won’t say I have things figured out with absolute certainty – I’m sure I’ll be switching out plot points and what not, but for now, I finally feel I have a handle on this story instead of the other way around. Which makes me excited to actually dig in and make the changes the book needs.

We’ll see how much progress I make this December.

How did you work through a problematic plot? Have you ever had to straddle different story versions? How did you make it work?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


When this year started, I promised myself I’d start querying my historical romance this summer.

Umm…that didn’t happen. I was too busy incorporating feedback from my writing group and fretting about, well, everything.

Then I said I’d query this fall for sure. October came and went. (Where did October go? I really want it back.)

Then I told myself I’d query before December—because everyone knows agents automatically discount December queries as half-baked Nano novels and if that’s true, I didn’t want that to happen to my story.

I started querying last week.

Delight or Terror. That is the Question.

And the last few days have been full of Exhilaration (A request? They like me, they really like me!), Despair (Form rejection? Form you!) Second-Guessing (No auto-reply? Maybe I should send again.), and now impatience as the holidays take their toll on the industry.

But that’s ok. I met my (oft-modified) personal goal for querying and know the novel is the best I can make it right now. And for that, I’m thankful.

What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

30 Seconds of Self-Promo

We interrupt our weekend radio silence for a special announcement. Ahem...

I just found out my drabble "Evolve" was accepted for publication by Luna Station Quarterly. It will appear in their drabble issue out on December 1st.

Luna Station Quarterly is a magazine focused on speculative fiction written by up and coming women authors. They have some amazing stories available, so check them out.

Also, my short story "The Tradeoff" will be appearing in the Fat Girl in a Strange Land Anthology from Crossed Genres Publications in February 2012. The pretty cover is below.

For your further edification, there's a great post by a fellow author at Following the Lede on why this anthology is so important.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Social Media Considerations

The digital age has given writers amazing opportunities – connecting them to other writers and potential readers, facilitating the exchange of information and resources, and creating new channels to distribute content.

But there are implicit assumptions we all make about social media. After my Social Media Guilt post a few weeks ago, I said I wanted to explore this topic in greater detail, so here it is.

People engage in social media to connect first and foremost.
  • to find like-minded individuals. Ex. I like to write, you like to write, so let’s be friends.
  • to find experts and tastemakers. Ex. I want to stay on top of the writing industry, so I follow publishing professionals.
  • to find consumers for their own content. Ex. I’m a writer so I’m going to build a blog to reach out to potential readers.
In all of these cases, writing could be substituted with, say, knitting or Civil War reenactment, or French cooking, or what-have-you. Most of us have interests outside of writing, and use social media to stay on top of the things we care about.

It is also important to note that there is a degree of self-interest associated with each of these reasons to connect with others. People use social media because there is a benefit to them using it. If there were no benefits, or if the benefits didn’t outweigh the negatives associated with social media, it wouldn’t work.

And there are degrees of involvement:
  • Invisible consumer – Someone who seeks out content but does not engage with the creators/sharers of the content. Your classic lurker.
  • Masked consumer – Someone who seeks out content and engages with creators/sharers of content on some level but uses an online persona to do so. For example, people who leave comments or follow people, but don’t use a real name or have any contact information.
  • Visible consumer – Someone who seeks out content and engages with creators/sharers of content without hiding their true identity.
  • Masked creator – Someone who creates content but does so using an online persona (like me).
  • Visible creator – Someone who creates content and does so without hiding their true identity.
These are simplistic categories, and not mutually exclusive. And chances are, if you have a blog or a website or what-have-you, your followers are combination of all of these types of people.

So what does that mean?

Well, we have people connecting with each other for different reasons with different levels of involvement on the one hand. And on the other, we have analytics that only capture (or imperfectly capture) parts of the activities that comprise social media use and consumption. Things like blog hits, number of followers, RTs and mentions, likes and +1’s. Numbers, quantities, that supposedly illustrate the value of someone’s blog or twitter stream, whatever constitutes their social media presence.

And frankly, regardless of whether they are right or accurate, numbers matter in social media.

We are told ways to increase our followers, comments, etc. We are told that the numbers don’t really matter so long as you have an online presence. We are told numbers only matter depending on what stage of your career you are at.

We are numbers-obsessed as content creators, but consumers of content also rely on numbers to determine how relevant the content is to them. Especially with the glut of writing-related content out there, the importance of numbers and the endorsement of influential experts in the writing blog-o-sphere is huge.

As a content creator, I pay attention to:
  • my number of blog and twitter followers
  • comments on my blog posts
  • RTs and mentions of my tweets
  • Overall blog traffic
  • Referring/incoming links
  • Relative influence of my followers (based on, in part, you guessed it, numbers)
  • Relative influence of people who RT/mention my tweets (based on numbers)
As a content consumer, I pay attention to:
  • Who created the content (how visible are they?)
  • Who endorsed the content (how influential?)
  • How many followers do they have?
  • How many people commented?
  • Quality of blog layout
  • Quality of content
Quality content, for me, is always king, but I’m more likely to give a post a chance to grab me depending on the other, primarily numeric, factors.

Lots of followers? I think, hmm, maybe this person really knows what they’re talking about. Lots of comments? I think wow, what an engaged following they have. But if I scan the comments and they are all clones of each other or bland “I agree” or “Author, you are so awesome,” I tune out.

Same with Twitter. I don’t auto-follow back someone. I see if they are relevant to me, and then I look at their followers to tweets ratio. Lots of followers but a small number of tweets? This is someone on a follower blitz, relying on people’s autofollow policies to inflate their numbers.

These are some of the things I look at when evaluating online content. There’s no right or wrong here, and I’m sure you look at content in different ways or weight things differently than I lay out here.

But I think it is important to analyze your own behavior when it comes to social media consumption, not only to better understand yourself and your online habits, but to also examine your own content and the way it can engage consumers.

So the next time you engage in social media, ask yourself what are your implicit assumptions in consuming and creating content. How are you really evaluating what you consume online?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Taking the Time to Tinker

My father is visiting me this week. It’s been a good visit so far, and tomorrow we’ll be having an early Thanksgiving, making a mini version of the turkey, stuffing, and other goodies since we won’t be able to celebrate together at the end of the month.

But there’s a twist. Instead of pumpkin pie, we’ve made a key lime pie. Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, we’re having a sweet potato and butternut squash gratin. And we’re trying out a new recipe for cooking the turkey instead of the traditional standby method we’ve used for years.

Part of this is for practical reasons. As great as Thanksgiving is, two full-blown meals just a few weeks apart is just too much for any mortal. Changing up the menu is a way to preserve the symbolism of the meal but keep it fresh for the palate.

It’s also an excuse to try something new. Something different. It's also a way to practice something we both love to do: cooking. Maybe we’ll find a new method or recipe that will replace the old one. Make a new tradition for ourselves. Or, then again, maybe not.

But we won’t know unless we try.

Just like revising, until you take the time to rework that problem scene or brainstorm ways to invigorate the third act of your story, you won’t know what works unless you try.

And in the mad dash to produce a draft, to get an agent, to get published, time is at a premium.

This November, even with NaNoWriMo in full force, I encourage you to take the time to tinker. Take the time to try something new, something different with your writing.

Give yourself the mental headspace to consider the possibilities of what can be in your story.

Your craft will thank you for it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Story behind the Story – Eclectic Flash Edition (part 2)

The Story behind the Story is a blog post series where I share the behind the scenes info for each story I’ve had published.

Last time, I talked about my story Summer in Exile, published in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash. Well, I am fortunate enough to also have another story in the issue—Elegy, my first published speculative story, which is also available online.

Elegy explores the use of implants – think wireless devices linked to your brain – in a religious context. Implants are something that both my speculative fiction WIPs deal with in some way, but I never looked at them through a religious lens. Then on one March 2010 evening, my prompt-based writing group chose to do a writing exercise on religion, and I thought aha! here’s my chance.

I then took my draft, polished it up, and shared it with my now-defunct writing group at the time. Every one liked it, but they wanted more. I’ve talked before about how my writing friends sometimes think my short stories are really novels in disguise, and feedback suggested Elegy was the same.

Later that summer, a different writing friend was visiting me and I was lamenting how people kept telling me to expand this story and how I didn’t want to. He told me, “You are the author. It’s your story. You know best.”

In subsequent months, I tried expanding the story, but nothing seemed to work. I remembered my friend’s advice and focused all my energy on revising that original scene that got me excited about the story in the first place and made it shine.

I started submitting the story in Spring of 2011. On May 3rd 2011, I sent the piece off to Eclectic Flash, and it was accepted the same day as Summer in Exile.

The Numbers:

First Draft – 326 words
Final Draft – 878 words
Days from Idea to Acceptance – 420
Rejections – 2 form
7-day acceptance

The Lessons:

Know what advice to accept and what to reject – This kind of thing can only come with time and experience, but remember that not all feedback you get on a story will necessarily help make it stronger.

Remember that YOU are the author of your work – Sometimes determining the size or focus of a story is as simple as deciding what story you want to write, and then concentrating on every aspect of craft to get it there. Simple, yes, but not always in practice.

No revising or redrafting is ever wasted work – I wrote a couple thousand words trying to expand Elegy, and then threw those scenes out when I decided they weren’t working and that the heart of the story I wanted to tell was in that initial draft. But I wouldn’t have come to that realization if I hadn’t taken the time to try to expand the story in the first place.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing against the Wind

Yesterday afternoon, I fought with 25 mph gusts on my way to the coffee shop for some writing and editing time. The morning was crisp and clear, but as soon as I left the house, the winds came a-roaring. I started pedaling anyway, and when I first hit the resistance in the air, I momentarily questioned my resolve to ride the next 3.5 miles in such conditions.

But the sun was shining, and dang it, I was ready to write. So I kept going and had a productive two hours before the breezy ride back—a tailwind this time.

So what’s the point here? Well, I think as beginning and intermediate writers, it can feel like we are writing against wind. There’s so much resistance in our lives that prevents us from just sitting down to write—distractions and that distracting voice in your head. Or if not that, then the shifting currents of the publishing industry, the prevailing attitudes our friends and families have about our efforts, the sheer odds we face of ever getting our work out there.

There are so many reasons to not pick up the pen and write. So when we do, there’s a lot of stuff we have to write through. But we have to keep going, no matter what. We have to keep going and not stop. Until one day, one day when the winds die down, when we reach the top of the hill, and it’s all downhill from there. Smooth sailing.

Sometimes that freedom comes from small victories (positive feedback from readers, story acceptances, or getting an agent). But I also think developing confidence in your craft can get you to that point without all those external factors—the assurance that you are getting better each day you commit to being a writer.

It can be a hard slog, no lie. And some days will be worse than others. But to feel the wind in your hair and know it’s not holding you back but urging you on?

I hope we all reach that place.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Critique Mindset

For the last two years, I’ve been in at least one critique group, focusing on short stories and longer pieces of fiction primarily, with some memoir and creative nonfiction thrown in for good measure.

I like to think I’ve gotten better at examining a work and responding to it critically. Doesn’t always mean I’m right (or that there is a right way to critique something), but at least I can usually explain why I feel a certain way about a piece of writing.


And the longer I’ve critiqued, I’ve noticed that my mindset has shifted into distinct stages, where my emotional state and my approach toward critiquing differs from how I operated before.


1) The Oh My God, Someone is Going to Read My Work Stage

This is that initial moment when it hits you that you are letting someone else – some stranger no less – peer into your heart and soul that you’ve scribbled onto the page. Or not. Maybe you’ve always wanted to share your work with someone else and now is your chance. Either way, it’s finally happening. As you dig into another person’s work, you are so excited that you scrutinize every single word within an inch of its life, so grateful to be given this opportunity.

2) The I’m Not Worthy Stage

This is after you have exchanged a few pieces with other people and you are blown away by the quality and wide-ranging ideas of others. You’ve spent so much time typing away in your respective cave that you forget that the world is a big place and that other writers have worked as hard or harder than you. You start feeling insecure and self-conscious about your own work, and you become extra diligent in your editing to prove you are worthy of the attention of others.

3) The A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing Stage

This is when you start reading craft books and blogs and start internalizing all the rules and should-nots and thou shalts of publishing. The next time you sit down to critique something, all these rules bubble up and you start saying things like “Never open with the weather” or “Are you sure you want to have a prologue in your story?” or “Haven’t you been following the serial comma debate?” in your comments. While the rules get to be rules for a reason, sometimes critique is more about determining whether the story itself is sound, not its container.

4) The Means To an End Stage

This is the point where you are critiquing just about anything people ask you to. Not because you are a pushover (or maybe you are). But because every time you sit down and examine a piece of writing, you know that you are strengthening your ability to revise your own writing. Every problem you unearth in someone else’s manuscript is a problem you’ll hopefully be able to see and correct in your own work. Maybe, maybe not, but you’ve bought into the idea, and the track changes and insert comment features in Word are now your best friend.

5) The I’m Busy, Don’t Waste My Time Stage

This is when you’ve reached a certain level of confidence in your writing and you think, hmm, maybe I should cut back on some critiquing to make more time for writing. Where you start being more selective of the folks you do exchange work with. You also start to figure out ways to remain supportive of but not beholden to those people who, for whatever reasons, are well-intended but unreliable in their critiquing, or aren’t making the same strides you are in their craft, or are writing more for fun than for publication. It takes a lot of time and mental energy to critique someone else’s writing, and you are now at the point where you want the time you do spend to be worthwhile and valued by others.

Did any of these critique mindsets ring true for you?

For more resources on critiquing and critique groups, check out the following links:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Story behind the Story – Eclectic Flash Edition (part 1)

This post is the first in a new, irregular series where I talk about the path to publication for each story I’ve had accepted.

Thanks to the response I got from my post Pen Names and Other Problems, I’ve decided to go ahead and share my writing credits. I haven’t officially linked my name to this blog, but baby steps. We’ll see how it goes.


My story Summer in Exile was published in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash, which is now available online.

I first drafted the piece at my prompt-focused writing group way back in late November 2009. The particular prompt had each of us select a phrase from a book that we would then later incorporate into our story. The phrases were as follows:
  • A. S. Byatt’s Little Black Book – “whistled oddly in her petrifying larynx”
  • Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima – “his big horse eyes looked up at me nervously”
  • Margaret Atwood’s Dancing Girls and Other Stories – “what the bloody hell was he doing on top of that sixty foot tree”
  • Mary Doria Russell’s Children of God – “Sometimes if he kept still people would go away.”
  • Wallace Stegner’s Collected Short Stories – “Shame made him turn over and lie face down”
I was pretty happy with how my story came out and decided to tinker with it a bit before sharing it with my now-defunct crit group. The other members were positive about the piece, and their only suggestion was to try to incorporate some backstory to make the character more real. But after a few attempts, I felt I was changing the heart of the story too much, reverted back to the original version, then went ahead and submitted it to a few markets starting in Fall 2010.


One market was kind enough to offer me some personalized feedback and again pointed out the issue of character. By now, some time had passed and I reworked the piece again, trying to flesh out the main protagonist. I shared the story at a local open mic night, tinkered some more, and finally found a good balance between character and story.

On May 3rd 2011, I sent the piece off to Eclectic Flash, and it was accepted.

The Numbers:

1st Draft: 441 words
Final Draft: 692 words
Days from Idea to Acceptance: 520
Rejections: 4 form, 1 personal
7-day Acceptance

The Lessons:

Get other people’s eyes on your stuff – My critique group at the time was able to pinpoint what I needed to do to take my story to the next level, even though I was unable to execute their suggestions to my satisfaction.

Stories take time to get right – I am convinced the iterative process of revising, submitting, revising, submitting is what led me to the version of the story that was published. This means waiting for each market to get back to you before submitting it somewhere else. I was/am too new a writer to think I’ll get my story right the first time, so trial and error was a great way for me to learn and grow my craft.

Don’t expect overnight success – 520 days. Enough said.

Intrepid readers will note that I have another story in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash, but I’ll talk about that piece in another post.

In the meantime, happy writing!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pen Names and Other Problems

So my name is not Bluestocking. Did I just blow your mind?

Blogging under an alias is something I started for a variety of reasons, including the fact that:
  • I was unpublished.
  • I was uncomfortable with labeling myself a writer.
  • I wasn’t sure if this whole blogging thing was for me.
All those things made sense back in February 2010 when I first started the blog. But now:
  • I am slowing getting publishing credits.
  • I’m growing more comfortable calling myself a writer.
  • I’m still blogging – less as an experiment and more for a platform.
So having a blogging alias is not so necessary any more. But I’m still using it. Why? Well, as I was telling my CP Lori M. Lee the other day, it’s complicated, and it mostly comes down to what I write: historical romance and speculative fiction. Two very different genres, with different expectations and readerships. It’s not so bad as say picture books and erotica, but the gulf between the two is still there.

Despite whatever level of success I attain in either area, these are the genres I see myself writing in for the long haul. Considering the prevailing wisdom out there about author branding and platform-building, I should have an author persona for each genre I write in. Some people like Kristen Lamb predict that pen names will eventually go away in the digital era, but for now, like a lot of other things in publishing, pen names are still around.

Since I have three stories either published or forthcoming under my own name (and two of those are specfic), it makes sense to put out my historical romance (if I ever do) under a pen name:

Historical Romances ---> Pen name
Speculative Fiction ---> Real name

So now the question is where does my blog fit in?

Now occasionally I will talk about my historical romance or my speculative projects on the blog, but to me, these distinctions don’t really matter since ultimately this is a blog about writing and writing-related things (putting aside the whole writing blogs are bad argument).

I used to think I’d figure it all out when I had to. But when it comes to blogging or any social media presence, it is important to have a strategy. I want to know how I will handle my online presence now even though it’s rather self-indulgent to assume I’ll succeed in any genre let alone both. At the same time, I don’t want to make a wrong choice at this early start of my career, and have it haunt me later on down the line.

I don’t know. But after blogging for over a year and a half, after putting together so many posts I’m proud of, losing this blog or starting over isn’t appealing.

I don’t have any easy answers here. I’m still Bluestocking for now. We’ll see how long that lasts.

What are your own thoughts/concerns about the pen name debate? Here are some other resources for you to peruse if you are considering a pen name:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Etiquette versus Intentions

I’ve run into a bit of a dilemma.

One of the people I’ve have shared my novel with locally is convinced “I’m ready for publication” (her words). A good feeling, right?

Yes…and no.

When she sent me her feedback on my novel, she said she’d be happy to speak with her writing friends to get me some agent recommendations and referrals.

That was kind of her, but I wanted more information on who these people were before she did anything. So I simply thanked her for the feedback and waited until our next meeting a few days later so we could discuss it in person. That’s when I found out she had already started talking me up to her friends.

And I was upset. I didn’t know who these people were, what they wrote, who they were agented by. Since this woman doesn’t write commercial fiction, I question her evaluation of my work in the first place, and wondered if her contacts would even be relevant to me.

Her help, while generous of her to offer, rubbed me the wrong way. We went from her offering to contact people on my behalf to her doing so without bothering to secure my permission.

I explained to her my reservations, and naturally she was offended. Said that she was only trying help. Didn’t I know that networking is how things were done these days?

Ugg. Yes, I’m not an idiot.

But for me the problem was etiquette. She should have asked. I should have the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered as to whom she wanted to approach. It is my work, so ultimately, I should have a say in what she does on my behalf. Right?

However, she was so certain that because her intentions were good, that she was doing me a favor, I shouldn’t have a problem.

But I do. I’m really close to querying this novel again. I feel I am at a delicate place, and any step forward with this project needs to be deliberate and well thought out.

Because I’m half this woman’s age, because she’s been agented twice before (most recently the early 1990’s even though no publications resulted from these arrangements) she feels she’s qualified to dictate to me what I should do. I joined the writing group she was in for feedback – not a self-elected mentor. I also think part of my aggravation stems from her motherly “I know better” attitude. Drives me crazy since some of her info is way out of date for today’s marketplace.

She wants to help, and I’m grateful for it. But she also jumped the gun (since I’m still collecting feedback and making edits) and went over my head. She thinks my objections have to do with me being “afraid of success” when really my concerns stem from a breach in etiquette, trust, and respect of me and my work.

Etiquette versus (admittedly good) Intentions.

Who is right? Am I blowing this out of proportion?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Digital Archaeology and More About Me

I was bestowed two blogging awards last week thanks to Laura Marcella of Wavy Lines and L. Blankenship of Notes from the Jovian Frontier. I meant to post this on Friday, but life got in the way as it is wont to do. Anyway, here we go.

Laura gave me the 7 x 7 Link Award. Laura posts writing prompts, inspiring quotes, and other factoids that help keep you motivated. The 7 x 7 award asks the winner to sort through old posts that match the criteria below. Kinda like digital archeology. Thanks, Laura!

MOST BEAUTIFUL: Anatomy of a Story - Not beautiful in a traditional sense, but it was one of my better early posts and the ideas I put forth in the post still resonate with me.

MOST HELPFUL: My Resource Roundup posts, hands down: Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, Crafting Dialogue, Opening Your Story, and the NanoWriMo Edition.

MOST POPULAR: Best of the Best: The Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players - A little dated now, but still has some good resources here.

MOST CONTROVERSIAL: Social Media Guilt - Not controversial per se, but I got a range of comments and have long-term plans to explore this issue in greater detail.

MOST SURPRISINGLY SUCCESSFUL: Coffee Shop Etiquette - Thought this was a silly post at the time, but got tons of traffic (for me).

MOST UNDERRATED: A Case of the Not Enoughs - Still relevant. At times it seems no matter what we do, what we produce, it won’t be enough.

MOST PRIDE-WORTHY: Acknowledging My Fears of Submission - This is particularly poignant as I plan to query my novel (again) later this fall.


L. Blankenship gave me the Versatile Blogger Award. She writes both science fiction and hard fantasy and blogs about writing, with particular attention to worldbuilding. Check her out. For the Versatile Blogger Award, I must share seven facts about myself.

1. The only states I’ve never been to are: Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Florida, Wisconsin. 39 out of 50 ain’t bad.

2. My parents took my sister and me to Paris and London for a two-week vacation while I was in high school. It was an amazing time. A London cabbie made us blush and we learned that drunken dirty old men in Paris aren’t stereotypes. The only international trip I’ve ever taken (so far).

3. My husband and I never had a proper honeymoon because he was still in grad school. We spent a couple days at my family’s beach house, but that doesn’t really count. So we are saving up to a trip to Peru to see Machu Picchu.

4. I run with my dog at least three times a week and I make her wear these because of the terrain. She’s not a fan of them, but she loves the activity.

5. I hate getting dressed up. Skirts and dresses and suits and dress slacks are the bane of my existence. I’m eternally grateful I never worked in a profession that required business dress all time.

6. I hate bananas. The smell, the taste… gives me the heebie jeebies.

7. I love seafood, but I’m starting feel guilty about it after doing research on overfishing for one of my specfic stories. It doesn’t help that a lot of the tasty fish are labeled as “do not eat” in many guides like this one.

Thanks again to Laura and L. for the blog awards! Happy Writing!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Write. Revise. Rest. Repeat.

The four “R’s” of writing. Well, five if you count “rejection,” but let’s not go there today. Instead, we’ll focus only on the creative process.


Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But sometimes this can be the hardest thing to do. Butt in chair and all that. Dig in and draft, even if you are convinced that your story is crap. You must not only be willing to spend the time getting your story down but also find the clarity of thought that generates the words in the first place. Some writers love this phase, others don’t. Here are some links to help you make that oh-so-important first draft happen:

Love to write but don’t have ideas?
Don’t have time to write?
Get stuck at key points in your manuscript?


Unless you are practically perfect in every way, chances are you will need to revise your work. Spelling- and grammar-check can catch a lot of sins (and introduce new ones), but most stories need polish at the story-level as well. Things like structure, character arc, the mix of external and internal conflict. Although revising is a topic worthy of its own Resource Roundup post, here are some links to get you started:


Now that you’ve revised your story to the best of your ability, let it rest. This is always hardest for me – I’m usually so eager to send my story out into the world, convinced it’s as good as it can get. Whether this impulse is out of confidence or impatience, it’s almost always a bad idea. Set it aside, work on something else, send it to a trusted reader. But avoid the temptation to keep tinkering. Come to it with fresh eyes. Your story will thank you.


After you’ve taken a break and are ready to sink your teeth back into your story, you will be better able to objectively evaluate it. Maybe you’ll need to rewrite some sections or start over entirely. Maybe you need to revise some story aspects or revert to older versions. Make the changes. And then (and this is important) let it rest again.

This cycle can repeat indefinitely, but at some point you will either give up or decide you are done. Here are some resources to help you decide when you can put a project to rest:

Happy Writing (or Revising, or Resting, or Repeating…)!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Novel Ideas Masquerade as Short Stories

I’m coming off a summer of insane productivity. For me.

And although I’ve done some work on two of my novel-length projects, the name of the game has been short stories.

Five of them in the 4-6k range, all speculative fiction. Two were written before the summer, and I’ve been revising and soliciting feedback on them. The other three were drafted this summer. One was accepted by an anthology. The remaining two I hope to have submission-ready by next month. Fingers crossed.

I’ve started to workshop the pieces with like-minded members of my local meetup writing group – a breakout group of those who were actively pursuing publication and were already at a certain level with their craft. This group of ladies has provided some hugely helpful feedback (even though we all write very different things).

Something that has been consistent in their comments is that each short story could be so much more. Sometimes that means I have to flesh out the world or the story a bit more. But most of the time it means they think I should be writing a novel instead of a short story. That my short stories are novels in disguise.

I’ve talked before about my difficulties in writing short – and believe me, I’m aware of the irony that my other publishing credits are flash fiction.

What’s a girl to do? Well, I’m not opposed to writing novels, obviously. In fact, my “natural length” is probably more novel than short story (and writer Juliette Wade has a great post on this: Natural Length and the Fractal Nature of Stories). The problem is I’ve got two speculative fiction projects already queued up. So converting any of the stories in this current batch into a longer work won’t be happening any time soon.

Then there’s the advice that writing short can be a great way to jumpstart your career (see Lydia Sharp’s post The Benefits of Writing Short and The Long on the Short post from Magical Words). And that’s what I was trying to do with these stories that I’ve turned out this year.

So, as I revise, I’m working hard to do the following:

1) Streamline story elements as much as possible without compromising my view of the story world

This may mean simplifying plot points or removing certain features of the world – especially if they open up a whole host of questions that my story doesn’t address. I often add in aspects that I think flesh out the worlds in a shorthand way, but oftentimes these are the same things my writing group calls me out on. As Juliette Wade points out in Worldbuilding for Short Stories: “in a short story, you have very little room to explain or explore. Everything you do has to be done in as few words as possible.” So Poe’s assertion that every element of a short story should work in concert to achieve a unity of effect is something I need to keep in mind.

2) Find ways to develop character without developing character

Calm down. I’m not advocating one-dimensional characters. But in SF/F stories, where worldbuilding and story action demand a not insignificant portion of the story, that doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of room to devote to your characters. This is where voice is so important – and it’s no surprise that all the short stories I’m working on are written in first person. I vowed at the beginning of the year to write in first person to help me really sink into my characters and that’s proven doubly helpful in terms of developing character without slowing the story action down.

3) Analyze all the themes/issues/plot points and decide if they are best served by the short story form

This is always tough. I have to decide if I can fit everything into one story. Or, if I remove some elements, will the story be stronger? If not, maybe I should just save it for a novel. I fear this is already the case with one of my short stories, but I will give it the old college try at keeping it short. Besides, more than other genres, lots of SF novels started out as short stories, and I’m just following the trend…

Have you ever been told you have a novel masquerading as short story? Did you end up paring your story down? Or did you turn it into a novel? Happy writing!

Friday, September 9, 2011

First Campaign Challenge and Blog Award

For the first challenge as a part of the Writers' Platform Building Campaign, hosted by Rach Writes, we were asked to do the following:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

So that's what I did. Behold:
The door swung open as Mrs. Fawcett took the rattling tea service out to the parlor. Bright bursts of laughter invaded the kitchen before the door cut it off, swinging back on well-oiled hinges.

Kitty caught the sickly-sweet whiff of roses from the funeral home bouquets, set out like trophies in the hall. They would need to throw them out, but Madam enjoyed her life as a widow too much to destroy the evidence just yet.

Kitty couldn’t blame her. The Master was not well-loved in life, nor would he be sorely missed in death. The increase of afternoon teas was the only impact his death had below stairs. But talk of gambling debts and unrealized investments made Kitty wonder just how secure her placement at Bethany manor was.

She had gotten better at interpreting Madam’s imperious tone, knew how to avoid the son’s roving hands, and which cook didn’t mind her sneaking a bite here and there. She didn’t want to start over. Not again.

Mrs. Fawcett pushed back into the kitchen with a look that said “Mind yourself, Kitty.” The only thing she knew how to do.

More laughter. More roses.

Kitty shuddered as the door swung shut.
200 words exactly. Boo-yah!

Also, I learned today that Gail Shepherd who blogs at Paradoxy gave me the Versatile Blogger Award. I met Gail through the campaign and have been impressed with her series of interviews with other writers. Thanks so much for the award, Gail!

In accepting the award, I must share seven random facts about moi:
  • I'm a big fan of tennis and I've been trying to catch US Open matches this week in between my writing and reading time.
  • I have a freckle smack dab on top of my right foot. Growing up, my parents used to take a marker and put a polka dot in the shoe intended for my right foot, so I'd know which one went on which foot -- just connect the dots. I contend that this is why I still have trouble distinguishing between right and left today.
  • I got a little verklempt last week when I went to my local Borders to buy books for the last time. I've been going there since middle school and have fond memories of the place despite all that's happened.
  • I tripped getting out of the limo at prom. I tripped and nearly fell on my first date with my now-husband. I tripped and fell on a run with my dog last year. I fell off the sidewalk walking around the neighborhood with my husband and my dog. Clumsiness is a constant in my life. The good news is I know how to fall without hurting myself. Usually.
  • I love spicy food. Not so hot I can't feel my tongue -- no hot wing eating contests for me -- but I love a little heat and bold flavors in my food. So bring on Mexican and Thai food.
  • I'm allergic to cats. The only thing that I know of that I'm allergic to.
  • I have never broken a bone in my body. Pretty amazing given #4. Let's hope it stays that way.
Thanks again for the award, Gail!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Social Media Guilt

Last week I did something I don’t usually like to do. I posted a book review on Wednesday – the day I tend to post more craft- or writing life-related content.

Things like book reviews, awards, internet memes I try to keep to other days of the week. Especially because Wednesday is the day for this blog, ever since I decided slow blogging works for me.

But last week I didn’t, and now I feel guilty.

I had good reasons of course (it was the last day of the month to post an August review; no other content was readily available) but I still feel like I punted.

Social media is flexible, but sometimes that flexibility can bite you in the ass. That’s why we are told to have a blog, post regularly, and no matter what, don’t stop.

Other writers, far more successful in both blogging and publishing than me, like Elizabeth Spann Craig, Jody Hedlund, and Roni Loren have all talked about the demands of social media and ways they’ve balanced promotion, writing, family, and (gasp!) personal time.

Elizabeth Craig had a post today on this very topic, Juggling Social Media and Writing, about how she balances her social media demands, with some helpful tips we can all use.

Jody Hedlund also offers up some ways to protect your writing time in When Social Media Becomes a Time Suck. She also has examined the amount of involvement writers at all levels should have in How Much Time Should Writers Devote to Social Media? – I’m probably in the B-C range, based on her definitions.

Roni Loren uses blogging and other social media obligations as her version of Julia Cameron's morning pages. And in fact, this is often something I do too, where I’ll draft a blog post before starting my real writing or editing work for the day.

The good news -- there are ways to harness social media to your advantage and keep it from taking over your life completely. The bad new is social media will take as much energy as you give it and still want more from you. Which makes it that much harder to walk away from it sometimes.

If I’m feeling the pressure now, I can only imagine how it will increase if/when I transition from an apprenticing to a professional writer. When platform building transitions into promotion. And what of the spread of social media outlets? Facebook and blogs, and Twitter and Tumblr, and then Goodreads, and now Google+… There’s pressure to have some sort of presence on all these sites (and more still to come). When will enough be enough?

I still feel guilty -- about something that means only as much as I’m willing to let it, as much as I’m willing to buy into it. I think this dynamic is worth puzzling out – but that’s a post for another day.

What ways have you found to banish social media guilt? How do you balance your social media demands?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review - Old Man's War by John Scalzi

For my August selection for the 2011 Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by the review blog Floor to Ceiling Books, I read John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, a military science fiction novel in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein.

Before I get into the book, I wanted to let you know that NPR recently released their reader’s poll for the 100 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. Old Man’s War is ranked #74 (Heinlein’s works are at #17 Stranger in a Strange Land, #31 Starship Troopers, and #34 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). Sunshine, another book I’ve reviewed for this challenge made an appearance on the list too at #92.

Old Man’s War is set in a future where people who turn 75 have the option to enlist in the Colonial Defense Forces and extend their life as a super solider instead of dying of old age on Earth. John Perry decides to enlist in the CDF, a military organization wholly dedicated to ensuring humans stand a chance in a universe where other alien races are far more advanced than the people of Earth ever thought.

Perry becomes bigger, faster, stronger than he ever was thanks to genetic engineering. He is also issued a BrainPal, an implant that provides him with information, logistics support, and a means to communicate instantaneously with his fellow soldiers.

I must confess that this book was my first foray into military science fiction. Old Man’s War took a unique concept and managed to balance developing a main character while plunging him into an impossibly huge milieu.

There was a good bit of action and I appreciated the fact that each fight scene had a different character to it to keep things from getting repetitive: ambush, one-on-one, ground attacks. Despite all the gee-whiz technology, people still got hurt, still got killed.

And I kept turning the pages. The writing was tight and largely unadorned. But I’m still left feeling a bit underwhelmed. I don’t think this is the book’s fault – more my lack of connection with the subgenre.

But Old Man’s War is still worth reading for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in science fiction. There are two more books in the series The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony. For those of you who have read the trilogy, is worth reading on?

Be sure to check out other August reviews for the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My First Rewrite Request

I sent off a short story to an anthology in recent months. My first anthology submission.

In the past, I’ve shied away from such things. Sometimes the calls are simply too vague. Other times they are so specific, I wonder how the editors can get anyone to write a story for them let alone a whole book full.

Plus, when you write a story for an anthology on spec, you automatically reduce the appeal of that story to other markets. If you get rejected, that’s it. (Don’t believe me? Clarkesworld Magazine specifically lists "stories originally intended for someone's upcoming theme anthology or issue" as something they are NOT seeking in their submission guidelines.) That and we’ve all heard horror stories about anthologies that never materialize despite best efforts on all sides.

So writing a story worth writing for an anthology can be a risky proposition. But this case* was different. Within a few days of seeing the call, I had a story idea. And then I was writing said idea. And the next thing I knew, I had a fully realized story I was proud of. So I figured, why not?

I tinkered a bit, and then as the clock ticked down on the deadline, I sent it off. And I was fairly optimistic. I was pleased with how the story turned out and I knew the story was flexible enough I could rework it for another market if it was passed over. And best of all, by submitting, I was pushing myself to do something different. I was showing up to work, so to speak. I was taking my writing seriously.

A few weeks went by and then I received an email that my story had been shortlisted for the anthology – not a sure thing, but it was welcome news nonetheless.The only caveat was the editor wanted revisions.

I stared at my computer screen and blinked. Revisions… I had already shifted gears and was working on another project, and now he wanted me to go back? My story was fine as it was…wasn’t it?

He told me he loved the story concept and my character’s voice, but he wanted more. Especially at the end when the story just sort of stopped without a clear resolution.Ambiguous endings are kind of my thing, didn’t he know that? Maybe he fell into the camp that thinks ambiguous endings are a copout. Maybe they are…

I didn’t know what to do. I wanted another publication credit so bad, I thought I would do anything to get it. But how could I expand a story I thought was complete? How could I not?

Just like everything else with writing, a rewrite request can shake the foundation of your self-confidence. As writer Wendy Wagner describes in her Rewrite Request post for Inkpunks:
Getting a request for revision scares the crap out of me. On one hand, it’s wonderful to hear that your story has caught the attention of an editor. The things that are good about your piece are clearly working. But then you’re challenged to go beyond your original concept and make changes. I always worry that in fixing the problems (or shifting the concept, in the case of one piece), I might destroy all the good stuff by accident. And I also worry that I just don’t have the talent or intelligence to solve a problem I clearly missed on my own.
I was seriously considering writing back to the editor and saying I couldn’t make the changes he wanted, that it would change the vision I had of my story. And that’s when it hit me. How to expand the story in a way that would flesh out some of the things he was concerned about but stay true to my original concept.

And as I dug in and made the changes, I realized he was right –- there was more to tell, and my story only got stronger. After seeking reassurance from some writing friends, I sent if off a second time. This time I got a firm acceptance, and needless to say I’m thrilled.*

I still shudder when I think I almost withdrew my submission when faced with a rewrite. I could have gotten precious about my "art" and refused to make changes, but I didn’t. And I’m glad because it:
  • Resulted in stronger story
  • Forced me to look at my work in a new way
  • Gave me the confidence that my work and abilities are strong enough to handle bumps like this
  • Gave me a taste of what professional writers deal with regularly
  • Resulted in another publication credit
How can you argue with that? Have any of you faced similar problems? How did you negotiate changes with the editor?

*I have declined to name the anthology since the editors have not yet made the formal announcement as to which authors are included. When they do, I will be sure to share the details. Anyone with a burning desire to know may email me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writer's Platform Building Campaign

Just a quick note to tell you about the Third Writer's Platform Building Campaign, hosted by Rachael Harrie of Rach Writes.

The goal is to connect bloggers with one another to foster networking and genuine connections between writers in similar areas. The Campaign will run from August 22nd to October 31st, with campaign challenges scheduled over the next few months. There's even a twitter hashtag for the group: #writecampaign

To learn more about the campaign, go HERE.

To sign up to be a campaigner, fill out this FORM.

Whether you choose to join the campaign or not, happy writing!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Get Thee to WriteOnCon

What, you actually expected a post today with actual content? During Day 2 of WriteOnCon 2011? Silly human.

In case you don’t know (somehow), WriteOnCon is a free online conference put on by Kidlit authors, agents, and editors. It is the place to be if you write picture books, middle grade, or young adult.

The full schedule is here.

You can register here to post in the forums and potentially have your work critiqued by ninja agents.

There’s also a forum dedicated to matching up critique partners.

Missed yesterday? Lydia Sharp has a post with the highlights of Day 1.

And if you want to start at the beginning, read my 2010 Write On Con Recap covering the best content from last year.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Description and Your Characters' Lens

I’m in what I think is the final round of revisions for my historical romance. I’ve said this before, but hopefully, it’s true this time.

I’ve been incorporating feedback from my critique partners, trying to eradicate nefarious narrative distance, and have found a group of local writers to serve as betas as I get closer and closer to the finish line (the finish line in this scenario is the querying phase).

One thing that came up after my betas read the first section of my novel was the need for more physical description of place and character – something both my CPs alluded to as well. Admittedly, description is tough for me – I find long passages of description boring as a reader and tend to keep the description in my own writing as concise and functional as possible. Especially in my historical romance, where many details are the result of conjecture despite the research I’ve done. Basically I'm terrified of getting my wrists slapped by a history buff for any assumptions I've made about the time period.

This is complicated by the fact that my heroine is already well versed in my story’s setting, so it doesn’t make sense for her to spend her “stage time” waxing on about the castle where she lives, the people she interacts with. They just are to her. Familiar. Taken for granted. A given.

But to my hero (and newcomer to this world), these things are worth mentioning as he takes in the sights and sounds and passes judgment on them.

Therefore I’ve created a rule for myself: In a character’s POV, the description is going to emphasize primarily new information.

Character ------> New Information

So, in my story, my characters will be focusing on different things in their POV scenes:

Heroine ----> hero and his men
(since she is already familiar with the setting)

Hero -------> heroine and setting
(since he is already familiar with his men)

What’s left over is context, exposition, backstory. As well as character's thoughts, emotion, and physical markers of emotion, which to me is different from physical descriptions of characters and setting -- the type of description I'm focusing on for this post.

Unlike a story in first-person, where all the information must reach the reader through one perspective, in dual-POV stories (like most romances published today) the choice of what is described, when, and by whom, can not only move the story forward but speak to character as well.

As I revise and look for places to reduce narrative distance and add description, I’m trying to keep in mind the notion that my characters will be more aware of others’ actions and their surroundings, and place less importance on their own actions:

Therefore, when I’m writing a scene from my hero’s POV, he might acknowledge the fact he smiles to some comment another character makes and leave it at that. But when the heroine smiles, he’ll pass judgment on that action, no matter how slight. Does her lip curl up? Can he see her teeth? Does it remind him of the kiss they shared the scene before?

Not only does this help me vary physical cues, but enhances my hero’s perspective (and by extension his character) and give me an opportunity to flesh out parts of my novel that need more description.

This is a subtle shift, but an important one for someone like me who tends to let the reader’s imagination do the heavy lifting in terms of fully visualizing scenes.

What ways do you use your characters’ lens to pass on information to the reader?
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