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 Drives me crazy since some of her info is way out of date for today’s marketplace.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?

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