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Monday, May 31, 2010

Brilliant by Rachel Vail

The third book in Rachel Vail's Avery series was released last Tuesday.  I got my hands on a copy, started reading and all I can say is that Brilliant is... well.. rather brilliant.

Although I have not read the first two books in the series (Lucky and Gorgeous) I'm completely sucked in.  While this is the third book in the series, Brilliant stands quite well on its own and a reader who has not read the previous books will have no problem getting into the story.  In fact, I like the protagonist Quinn so much, it's hard for me to imagine reading the other two books in the points of view of her younger sisters.  I'll be curious to read them and see how they compare and how they handle Quinn's character when she's not the central focus.

I think the thing that allowed this book to make such an impression on me is how similar I find Quinn is to myself.  Sure, I've read plenty of books where I identified with the protagonist.  In fact, one could argue that a strong protagonist has some quality, some essence, that the reader sees reflected in themselves and that is what allows us to sympathize with the character.  But this is different.  Quinn is so similar to how I was in high school, down to the way she gets along with her sisters and her propensity for academic achievement.  It's like if someone asked me "if you were a character from a novel, who would you be?" I'd want to answer "Elizabeth Bennet" but really, the truth is it's more like Quinn Avery.

What about you?  Do you have a fictional-character twin?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Scouting Mission at BEA

Yesterday I went to BEA (Book Expo America) for the first time and it was great!  Aside from visiting the various booths and meeting a few authors, I was also on a mission: to represent Verbal Pyrotechnics and scout out new and exciting teen books and authors.

What is Verbal Pyrotechnics?

*Drum roll, please*

Verbal Pyrotechnics is an e-zine dedicated to showcasing great teen literature both from emerging and established authors. We'll be open for submissions starting in July and we'll have our official website up soon.  In the meantime, check out our blog for more information.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ABC's of Writing a Pitch

Some time ago, I took a fabulous workshop where the teacher talked about the ABC's of plot.  She broke it down like this:

A is for Action:  Start your story with some sort of action to get your readers hooked.
B is for Background:  Give your readers the info they need to understand what's going on.
C is for Conflict:  What's at stake for your characters?  What's the conflict?
D is for Development:  This is where you develop the story and build up toward your ending.
E is for Ending:  Which consists of the 3 C's:
Crisis -- the events leading up to the climax
Climax -- the big showdown
Consequences -- the denouement, or how things tie together
Lately my writing group has been grappling with this idea of the pitch.  Some of us need to come up with a pitch for conference purposes, others just need a Cocktail Party Pitch so they have a soundbite ready for when friends or family ask the inevitable: "So what's that novel of yours about?"

Which brings us to the heart of this post.  I believe that writing a pitch for your book isn't all that different from the plot formula above.  I would make only one change: instead of 3 C's, I think a good pitch has only one C... a Cliffhanger.

Let's try out this formula on my all-time favorite book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

When a rich gentleman, Mr. Bingly, moves into the neighborhood Elizabeth Bennet's mother is determined that he must marry one of her daughters, and does everything she can to introduce her daughters to him. (A)  While Elizabeth knows that if she and her sisters do not marry they risk living a life of poverty, she is humiliated by her mother's antics. (B)  To everyone's delight, Mr. Bingly appears to take an interest in Jane, Elizabeth's older sister, but his meddling sisters and proud and reticent friend, Mr. Darcy, do everything they can to keep Mr. Bingly from proposing to Jane.  As Elizabeth is thrown into the same circles as Mr. Darcy, she takes every opportunity to find fault with him (C).  Over time, though, Elizabeth sees Mr. Darcy in different contexts and her opinion of him begins to change.  Just when she thinks she may have feelings for him, a shameful event strikes her family.  Mr. Darcy leaves suddenly and Elizabeth assumes that her family scandal is the cause (D).  Will Elizabeth's family recover from this dishonor and will she and Mr. Darcy end up together? (E)

A Few Notes:
For each letter we have one sentence, forcing the summary to stay short and sweet.  The exceptions, of course, are C and D because they are a little more complex and require a little more information; but even in those sections, we don't get more than 2-3 sentences tops.

Notice also that the primary focus of the pitch is on Lizzy and Darcy.  Jane is the only other sister mentioned, and only in passing.  While the Lydia and Wickham do play a significant role in the novel, their subplot is only described in vague terms and their names are never mentioned.  The focus stays on how the scandal affects the Lizzy-Darcy relationship.

The Results:
In this exercise, we get to the heart of the story, stripping away all side-plots or tangents.  Those familiar with Pride and Prejudice might ask: Where's Mr. Collins?  What about Lady Catherine?  And why don't we see more of Elizabeth's sisters?  The answer is that these characters and story threads, though interesting, are not the main focus of the story.

When you have only a handful of sentences to capture the essence of your novel, you need to stick to the central plot.  This can be especially difficult in novels with intricate plots or many subplots (try doing this exercise on George Eliot's Middlemarch and you're likely to give yourself a migraine).  It's equally challenging to write a pitch for a novel that is very character-driven and where plot is sparse.  In that case, I think your best bet is to think of character-development as being the protagonist's inner journey.

While this approach may seem a bit formulaic, it is a good starting point and can lead to a strong pitch after some revision.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Queue

With me, reading works a lot like a NetFlix queue.  There's always three or so books at the top, which are the books currently in progress or up next.  These usually have an order, most of the time dictated by school deadlines and the like.  The rest of the queue, though, tends to be rather amorphous, with books moving up and down depending on my mood or what book I happen to pull out from under the sofa first.  (Yes, book storage in this house has become so dire that I've taken to hiding books under furniture.)

Here's my list at the moment.

Up next:

  1.  Brilliant -- Rachel Vail
  2. Jane Slayre -- Charlotte Bronte and Sherri Browning Erwin
  3. Flash Fiction Forward -- Robert Shapard and James Thomas
In the Queue:
  • Dial-a-Ghost -- Eva Ibbotson
  • The Great Ghost Rescue -- Eva Ibbotson
  • Out of the Dust -- Karen Hesse (for the verse-novel challenge)
  • Witness -- Karen Hesse (novel in verse)
  • Make Lemonade -- Virginia Euwer Wolff
  • This Full House -- Virginia Euwer Wolff
  • Gully's Travels -- Tor Seidler
  • The Graveyard Book -- Neil Gaiman
  • Going Bovine -- Libba Bray
  • Catching Fire -- Suzanne Collins
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society -- Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Seeing Redd -- Frank Beddor
  • Where I'm Calling From -- Raymond Carver
  • Tooth and Claw -- T. C. Boyle
What's in your queue?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Schedules of Reinforcement and the Query Process

Once upon a time, a behavioral scientist called B. F. Skinner discovered that if you rewarded rats with a cookie every time they pressed a button, the rats were more likely to repeat said behavior.  The same is true for people.  Give a kid a cookie when the kid asks for one and chances are, she'll ask for another.  And another.

Where things get dicey is that if you mess with how frequently the reward is given, you can actually increase the reward-getting behavior substantially.   It comes down to what researchers call a Variable Ratio (VR) Schedule.  This is the most treacherous schedule of reinforcement because reward is given after a random number of responses (red line on the graph).  In other words, give a kid a cookie, but only after she asks for it a certain number of times.  Then keep changing that number on her.  Chances are, she'll ask even more often than if you just gave her the cookie when she asked in the first place.

What does this have to do with the query process, you ask?  Some might argue that the query process is a variable ratio schedule.  This carrot of publication success is dangled in front of us and as writers we have no way of knowing which query or which submission will be "the one."  We never know when we're going to get a "yes" so we all keep sending out more queries and more submissions, inundating the market, thus making the reward schedule even more random.

Personally, I think that's a rather glum way of looking at things.  To me, writing is more than just a behavior motivated by the reward of publication.  Rather, it's a quiet act of persistence driven by the knowledge that if I do what needs to be done, something good will come of it.  Maybe it won't be the thing I wanted or when I wanted, but if I show up at the page good things can happen.

What about you?  How do you view the writing process?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Story A Day Challenge Weekly Update: Part 3

Getting back into my story a day routine has been more challenging than I anticipated.  Just as writing often leads more writing, not-writing simply perpetuates the not-writing cycle.  Last week I wrote an update about the things that help me get my daily writing done.  Today I will discuss the things that are not helpful.

In order to protect my daily writing, I will not...
  • ...allow one false start to sabotage the rest of the writing day or week.
  • or complain about writing.  I'm doing what I love; there is nothing to complain about.
  • ...rationalize or make excuses for not writing.  Excuses take up energy that could be poured onto the page.
  • ...procrastinate.
And if I do have a bad writing day I will...
  • ...acknowledge and move on.  I will not mentally flog myself until every ounce of creativity has been beaten from my brain.
After all, the point of this challenge is to jump-start my writing and in that regard, I've already made some progress.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Paperless Critiques using a Kindle

I don't know about you, but one of the things that drives me crazy about critiquing pieces for workshop or critique groups is the mountain of paper.  Not only does it mean that a lot of paper gets used in the printing of individual pieces, but it also means that after receiving critique from a group, I end up with piles of paper clogging up my apartment and when it comes to implementing the changes, I have no idea where to start.

To that end, I've come up with an almost-paperless method of critique, using my trusty Kindle and MS Word on the Mac.  Why a Kindle, you ask?  Personally, I like the portability of it; I like being able to read critique pieces on the subway or bus.  In addition, I'm not a huge fan of reading pages of text on a back-lit screen and I find the Kindle screen easier on the eyes than other paperless alternatives.

Here's a step-by-step how-to for using your Kindle to read and comment on workshop pieces.
  1. Get the critique piece on your Kindle.  The best way to do this is to convert the piece to a mobipocket file (.mobi) or an Amazon Kindle (.azw) file.  My critique group emails MS Word documents to each other for each submission so all I need is my Mac and a little program called Stanza (which you can download for free on the web).  Here's how you do it:
         Step 1:  Open Stanza.
         Step 2:  Go to:  File -->; Open -->; [Select the file you want to convert]
         Step 3:  The file should open on your screen.  Now go to: File -->; Export Book As -->; [Select either mobipocket (.mobi) or Amazon Kindle (.azw)] and save file.
         Step 4:  Now just transfer the .mobi or .azw file to your Kindle and you're ready to read on-the-go.
  2. Why a .mobi file?  Why not just a .pdf?  When you open a PDF on a Kindle, the entire page of shows up on the screen meaning that the text is very small. Also, the page is "locked" that way so you can't make comments using the Kindle's note-taking function.  If you use a .mobi file (or .azw) it adjusts the text that appears on the screen depending on the size of type you choose.  It also allows for taking notes.
  3. Making Comments on the Kindle.  I haven't figured out yet how to export comments I make on my Kindle back to my computer, but I do find the note-taking function on Kindle useful and I use it like this:

    • I make a note of something using the Kindle note-taking function.
    • Once I'm done reading, I go back and retype the notes in more detail using track changes in MS Word, which I can then email back to my critique buddy.
    • TIP: I delete comments from my Kindle as I go so I know which comments I've already done.  When all comments have been deleted from the Kindle document, I know I've finished my critique.
    • Finally, I'll type up a page or two of "big picture" comments which I bring with me to the workshop or critique group meeting.
I'm still working out the kinks in this process, but overall, I'm enjoying not having so much paper everywhere and also having the portability of the Kindle.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

I first learned about this book at a conference and from the minute I heard the premise, I knew I had to read it.  A teenage girl who sees invisible faeries... how cool is that?  These are not cute little pixie faeries either, but creepy, dark, scary things and from minute one I expected this to be the best.  Book Ever.

Right away I wanted to like this book, and I have to admit, when it came to living up to every expectation, it delivered.  Sort of.  Problem is, it delivered a little too perfectly.  Every time I got to a part where I wanted something as a reader ("gee, I really want to know what Grams thinks of all this..." or "What's Seth been up to during this scene?") bam! Marr would hit me with the answer in the next scene.  I felt like I was reading this as a piece from workshop and Marr was anticipating every possible critique I could make.

There's a fine line between a book that fills a reader's expectations and one that is predictable.  Wicked Lovely skirts that line throughout.  There was a bit of a lull in the middle when it became very clear to that there was no "easy" way for the central conflict to be resolved.  This meant I had to keep reading in order to figure out exactly how Marr was going to paint herself out of this corner.  Thing is, making a reader keep reading just so they find out how the author resolves the conflict means the reader's focusing on the mechanics, not the story or the characters.  This is not entirely a good thing.  Also, the inevitability of the central conflict--the fact that there was no solution--meant that the plot slowed down.  After all, there's only so many times a character can think "there's no way out of this situation" before the reader says "I get it.  Now get over it and get to the point."

Also, the way Marr always seems to know just when the reader needs something (a nugget of one character, a hint of a plot thread) means that I never felt like she was holding out on me.  There's something comfortable about a book that always delivers and in a way, that comfort worked against this novel.  For example, at the end, during a somewhat gruesome scene,  I read the words but I didn't feel the characters' agony because I was so used to being in that comfort zone.  Marr did such a good job of making me comfortable as a reader that the book lost its edge.  I know this book is supposed to be dark and edgy with scary-looking fey and characters that have lots of piercings and live in steel train cars, but while my brain registered these details, I didn't feel them.

I wanted this book to push me outside my comfort zone--to mess with my head a little--and it never quite went there.  When it comes to a good, comfy read, this book does exactly what it should.  It pleases because it's predictably edgy and conventionally unconventional.  The characters are complex enough to be interesting but not complicated enough to make the reader confuse the good guys from the bad.  We know from the get-go who's coupling up and who's going down in the big show-down.   All we need is to find out how the author plans to get there.  This is not a challenging book, but it's a fun, entertaining read... good for summer and the beach.


iggi says...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kindle: The Good, the Bad and the Not-So-Ugly

Last night I finished the first full-length novel I've read on my Kindle.  Let me say first and foremost that when I started reading said book on the Kindle, I was rather reluctant to buy into the whole e-reader hype.  I wanted to like the concept of electronic books but I was afraid that the experience just "wouldn't be the same" if I wasn't holding the book in my hands.  While the idea of having all these books in my e-library (and not on my shelves) was a happy one, I was skeptical.  Something about the feel and smell of a real book seemed irreplaceable to me and I was fairly certain that the Kindle would not live up to the experience.

The verdict?  It took a little getting used to, but I have become a Kindle fan.  What I realized while reading this book on the Kindle is that if the story is good and the writing is engaging, the page (or in this case, the screen) fades away.  This is true whether the page is an actual piece of paper or e-reader screen.  In the end, good writing can transcend the medium in which it is presented.

Those who know me and know how strongly I feel about the "book as experience" are probably shocked that I have been so easily won over by the digital page.  Truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages to the Kindle and the trick is finding a balance and using this tool in the way that works best for you.

  •  You can store thousands of books on a device that's smaller than one book.  This frees up tons of shelf space that you can use for... what else?  More books.
  • The Kindle screen (unlike the iPad which is back-lit) doesn't strain the eyes the way a computer screen would and is pretty similar to reading a printed page.
  • It's portable and great for travel (says the girl who packs a suitcase of books for a one-week trip).  You can take all your books with you in your carry-on.
  • You can download tons of classics for free (check out project Gutenberg).
  • The Kindle has a cute little built-in keyboard for easy note-taking, which is great for reading critique pieces on-the-go.
  • Let's face it, in terms of graphics, the Kindle still leaves much to be desired.  Apple's iPad definitely wins in the pretty department and has the lovely full-color screen, but that device has a host of other downsides (which is a whole other post topic).
  • When the battery runs out, you have to charge it.  Paper books don't require batteries.
  • The note-taking feature, though useful, does not export to your computer (not in any pragmatic way... at least, not yet).
In the end, I find that the Kindle is great for storing and reading average, everyday books.  I am certain that there will still be plenty of books in my apartment (more than I'll ever be able to read in a lifetime) but my shelves will now be reserved for books where the function of "book" is key.  This would include signed books, art books, books where pretty pictures are important, antique books and other books that hold a special place in my heart.  But for all those regular books that make it into my library but are not books I absolutely need in book form, having them digital and stored on my Kindle is a great space-saving alternative.

iggi says...

Friday, May 14, 2010

8 Things I Know about Reading in Public...

...I learned playing the violin.

The violin and I have a love-hate relationship.  I started playing at age 4, and have continued on and off for over 25 years.  Some of the time this was by choice, other times... not so much.  After all, how much choice do you really have when you're 4?  It scares me a little to think that, with the exception of maybe my parents and siblings, I've had a longer relationship with this instrument than I have with most humans.

The "hate" part of the love-hate relationship is what comes to mind first.  I hate that from the minute I started school until today, everyone thinks of me as "the violin kid."  I mean, sure, the violin was an important part of my formative years, but it's not like I was born with the thing strapped to my arm.  Another thing is that I can't hear a car horn or an elevator "ping" without thinking: d minor 7th chord, or seeing the note in my head.  Most people listen to music to "check out" and relax but I listen to music and my fingers start playing air-violin.  Oh, and the next person to make a violin-hickey joke is seriously going to get smacked.

But for someone like me, playing a musical instrument was probably the best thing that ever happened (even if I hate having to admit it).  I will admit that I'm really shy and playing violin taught me how to get up in front of a crowd.  Today, in honor of my Thesis reading (which is tonight) I'd like to share the...

Octave of Things I Learned About Public Reading from Playing Violin
  1. Practice.  There's this old violin joke...
    Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
    A: Practice, practice, practice.
    My violin teacher used to say: "You practice 120% so that if you mess up 30% at the concert, you still get it 90% right."  I've learned that the best way to prepare for reading in public is to read the piece over and over to anyone who will listen.  Read it so many times you practically have the thing memorized.
  2. Pick a piece that shines.  If the goal is to wow the audience, selecting the right repertoire is key.  In particular, try to pick a piece that shows your work in its best light.  It always drove me crazy that I'd play a difficult baroque solo sonata and the audience would snooze but if I chose a short, easy, flashy piece I'd get a standing ovation.  It's ridiculous, I know, but if all you get is one chance to stun an audience, sometimes short/easy/flashy is the way to go.
  3. Remember: the audience is on your side.  Unless you're defending your thesis in front of a panel of professors or you're a lawyer giving your closing statements to a jury, chances are are the audience is not there to judge you.  They're rooting for you.
  4. Don't worry about mechanics.  The fastest way for me to mess up a violin performance is to think about my bow hand, or my posture, or my feet.  The minute I become hyper-aware of some mechanical detail of playing all bets are off and I start making mistakes left and right.  The same is true for reading.  If you start to think about the actual words or grammar, that's when fumbles can happen.  Which brings me to #5.
  5. Hear the story in your head.  Whenever I feel myself focusing too much on the mechanics of what I'm playing, I force myself to hear the music in my head.  Same is true for writing.  When I read, I try to get caught up in telling a good story, rather than the minutia of my writing.
  6. If you make a mistake, just move on.  Don't stop or go back.  Pretend it's part of the piece.  After all, who's going to know that it's not?  Especially if you're reading something that's not yet published.
  7. Don't make faces.  This is a corollary to #6.  I'm queen of face-making when I play.  If I'm playing something difficult, I snarl at the fingerboard.  When I make mistakes, I mouth swear words.  I know this because my parents have oh-so-graciously captured all these moments on tape.  My point is, if you act like you've made a mistake, everyone's going to notice that something's up.  If you just keep reading, no one will ever know.
  8. Smile and have fun.  Even if you think this experience is about as enjoyable as getting a root canal, smile at the audience.  If you pretend you're having fun, chances are, you'll find yourself enjoying the moment and the audience will respond.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Story A Day Challenge Weekly Update: Part 2

I have hit the wall.  Actually, "hit the wall" would imply that there is something in my way that is stopping me from writing but that's not quite the case.  Instead it's the nothingness, the absence of writing momentum that is keeping me from getting back into my daily-story discipline.

It started last week, when I stalled in the middle of a story.  Then with my thesis and other obligations in the way I decided to give myself a few days off.  Big mistake.  That's the thing with writing; it's all about momentum.  Just as writing can lead to more writing, not-writing can cause inertia so bad that it would take a volcanic explosion of creativity to get out of it.

Of course, the worst part about not-writing is that it can be a hundred times more painful than it is to just do the writing in the first place.  Between the guilt and the endless rationalization, writing usually ends up being the easier path, even if it's not the one of least resistance.

To that end, I've come up with a few small tricks I use to cheat myself into writing when I don't want to do it.
  1. Set small goals.  I force myself to sit and write even if it's only one paragraph or ten minutes.  Usually once I get going, the momentum kicks in and I'll write much longer than I originally planned.
  2. Write something easy.  I start with the easy scenes or mindless assignments first, leaving projects that require more planning and thought for when my mind has loosened up.
  3. Write first.  The days I've been successful with the Story A Day have been those when I've done my story first thing in the morning.  With the story out of the way, I could then get on with my day and get on with my life.  If I let the story hang over my head, it inevitably doesn't get done.
Anyone else have some good tips on how to break out of writing inertia?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Those Who Paved the Way

Today I'm going to deviate a little from my blogging schedule because I have something on my mind.

On Saturday, I attended a huge celebration commemorating my school's 125th anniversary.  I went to this school for eleven years--from second grade through senior year--and in many ways, this school has shaped who I have become as a writer and as a person.

Perhaps the thing that most impacted me at Saturday's event was that I ran into my eleventh grade creative writing teacher.  While my eleven years at that school taught me to write, it was Ms. T's creative writing class that made me into a writer.

Looking back, there wasn't a lot of craft or deep analysis involved in that class.  Instead, there was acceptance, encouragement and permission to take risks, all of which came through in Ms. T's calm and nurturing demeanor.  In college, when I took my second creative writing course, I was so used to this creative freedom that I had no problem taking plenty of risks and writing things that were a bit... unconventional.  Unfortunately, my professor and classmates did have a problem with this and that semester every ounce of creativity got squelched out of me.

For years, I didn't touch pen to page.

But slowly, Ms. T's docile voice started talking to me from the back of my memories.  "Don't worry what comes out.  Just write," she'd say.  And that's what I did.  Ms. T's quiet insistence saved me when I went through that period of creative drought. Wwhen I saw Ms. T on Saturday, I gave her a huge hug and told her that I've always remembered everything she taught me and that it's made me the writer I am now.

Her bashful reply was a quiet: "Oh dear" followed by a smile.

Friday, May 7, 2010

It's All Been Leading Up to This

My short story It's All Been Leading Up to This is being featured in the current issue of Clever Magazine: The Ezine for the Neglected Demographic.  This story, which was previously published as an advice-essay has been republished now as short fiction (which is what I had originally envisioned).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Anyone Want to Play Catch?

Yesterday I posted a question about whether publishing something on a blog meant that it was considered "already published" for the purposes of trying to submit said work elsewhere.  In particular, I wanted to know whether publishing a short story on my blog meant that then I could not submit this short story to literary magazines.

Later in the evening, I spoke with LawyerFriend--who knows all about copyright and publishing stuff.  He said that yes indeed my assumption was correct.  If you put something on your blog, it's considered "published material" so if magazines want First Rights to your piece, you can't submit to that magazine.  He went on to spout a lot of other legal garble that was somewhat complicated and I didn't quite understand.  The long and the short of it is: if you think there's a chance you may want to submit a piece somewhere, don't post it on your blog first.  Thanks LawyerFriend!

That said, I still like the idea of posting some Story-A-Day work because it's the thought of knowing that someone out there might be looking at my stories, thus keeping me accountable.  Which is when I got this idea:

Anyone out there wanna play catch?

Here's how it works:
  • I toss you a story via email and you catch it.  You can toss a story back if you like, too.
  • As for what to do with the story: you don't have to read it (though you're welcome to if you want).  You certainly don't have to critique or comment on it.  You just have to catch it.  And know that your story will be caught on this end.
  • If more than one person decides to play, then I'll put an email list together and we can toss to the whole group.

If you want to play, comment below then send me an your story at:

p.s. If you want to keep the game separate from your regular email, just open a new gmail account and use that for catch!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Story A Day Weekly Update

I've been working away at my Story-A-Day goal and I've come across one problem.  While I love the idea of posting the stories here as a write them, there are some pieces that I think may actually be worth revising after May.  The thing is, though, that once content is posted on a blog, it's considered " already published."  Or at least, this is what I've been told.

My question for today is a two-part deal.
  1. Is it true that if you post a piece of fiction/poetry/etc. on your blog it's considered "previously published"?
  2. How does one get around that when participating in a challenge like Story-A-Day?  Do you just not post your work?
Happy writing!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

iggi Tips: How to Make Writing No Big Deal

Sometimes it feels like getting any writing done is this Big Screaming Deal.  Those are the times when writing feels like work and I need to force myself to sit and hammer out a certain number of words.  A lot of times I end up wasting time, procrastinating, doing everything else I need to do but not writing.  This is because the writing feels like such a insurmountable hurdle that I psych myself out before I even get started. To get out of these slumps, my only solution is to let iggi take over.

iggi Tips for Making Writing Less of A Big Deal

1)  Write NOW.  iggi is impulsive; when it wants to do something, it has to happen right that second.  Thing is, when it comes to writing, iggi has a point; "now" is always the best time.  Instead of waiting for a four-hour block of time to free up before I sit down and write, I've started carrying a notebook so I can jot down things in those snippets of time between all the "life" in my life.  While 4 minutes of writing might not be as long as 4 hours, it's certainly longer than no writing at all.

2)  Make a mess.  I have to learn to embrace the supreme ickiness of my first drafts.  I shouldn't try to make a masterpiece on my first go-round because masterpieces are hard.  iggi tells me just to throw some words on a page and not be afraid of what comes out.  I can always come back later to revise.

 3)  Me, ME! MEEEEE.  iggi is all about iggi and iggi knows everything.  Trouble with me is that I've turned second-guessing into an art-form.  What I need to remember is that even the worst verbal spillage can contain a nugget of something beautiful if I take the time to look.  I have to trust that I'll be able to find that one treasure amid the junk.

4)  Stuff.  iggi liking stuff. The blank page freaks me out so I've had to learn to avoid blank-page-syndrome.  If I'm working on paper, I scribble or doodle on it first.  If I'm working on computer, I put something in the document (quote, prompt, assignment, idea...)  The point is to have something already on the page before I start to write.

In the end, the important thing is that I'm writing, whether it's fifteen minutes of total garbage or fifteen pages of lyrical goodness.  I will now sign off and go write today's story.

Happy writing!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

One of my favorite picture books is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.

This book contains various drawings with titles and captions to inspire a story.  The idea is that the reader is left open to devise his or her own narratives from these pictures, captions and titles.

Not only does this book provide several different story possibilities, but the drawings alone are enough to inspire a writer for dozens of stories apiece.  The art is dark and haunting and beautiful.  But before I get carried away, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Story A Day Challenge: Day 3

Today my story count jumps up to nine.  Granted, each story was only six words, so really I only wrote 54 words today, but who's counting?  The project: write six word stories for different images I pulled from my image file.  This project was inspired by Hemingway's shortest story "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."  Here is my favorite six-word story that I have written to date:

 Lost: one pram, baby still inside.

For more on six-word stories check out this article from Wired.  Whether all of these stories are truly stories is up for debate, but they are interesting to read.  Some are hilarious, some tragic, some downright chilling.  A few of my favorites from this list include:

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card
I’m dead. I’ve missed you. Kiss … ?
- Neil Gaiman
Dinosaurs return. Want their oil back.
- David Brin

Before I sign off, I'll leave you with one more image, a six-word epitaph that tells the whole story.

What about you?  Have any six-word stories to share?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Story A Day Challenge: Day 2

This story came from an exercise in which you must take the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill and rewrite it in the style of a well-known writer.  I chose Jane Austen.

Marriage and Missteps
    It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in possession of a bucket must be in want of a hill to climb.  That he may climb this hill in the company of a young woman is often preferable sometimes even inevitable.  This truth is so widely believed that when a young man climbs such a hill with a young lady, her friends and family imagine them engaged.

    “My dear Mr. Jarrett,” his wife said to him one morning after breakfast, “do you realize what a sum we should get if we sold that old well?  We could get upwards of five hundred pounds.”
    Mr. Jarrett raised his eyes from his morning reading, coughed twice, then returned his gaze to his paper companion.  “I do not think we should be selling that well any time soon,” he replied.
    “But Mr. Jarrett,” his wife continued, for she knew she must convince him ere long, “Mr. Jingly, the young man who has let the Holloway estate, he wishes to buy the well.  And as it hasn’t given much water these last twenty years, we would do well to oblige him.
    “My dear lady,” her husband replied, “we have done quite well by that well, if I may speak honestly, and it would be imprudent to sell before inspecting it first ourselves.  Pray, will you join me in a walk up the hill?”
    Mrs. Jarrett clutched her hands over her heart.  “You know what walking does to my fragile constitution,” she said.  “You have no respect for my poor nerves.”
    “On the contrary, dear lady,” replied her husband, “I have great respect for your nerves, as they have been my constant companions these many years.
    Mrs. Jarrett opened her mouth to protest, but just at that moment a servant entered the drawing room: “A Mr. Jingly is here to see you, sir.”
    There was much rustling of needlework and skirts as Mrs. Jarrett and her five daughters arranged themselves so as to appear industrious, though not rudely interrupted by this visit.
    “Mr. Jingly!” cried Mrs. Jarrett, when the young man entered the room.  “How good of you to come to visit.”
    “Thank you, M’am,” Mr. Jingly replied, “but I came to see the well, as I have heard much about it.”
    “Why, Mr. Jarrett and I were just about to journey up the hill ourselves,” Mrs. Jarrett exclaimed.  “But perhaps you would rather visit at your leisure.  Jillian can accompany you.  Surely, you’ve met Jillian, our oldest daughter.”
    Miss Jillian stood up and offered her hand.  Mr. Jingly bowed.
    “I daresay, she is not only our oldest, but our loveliest daughter,” Mrs. Jarrett added.
    “Mama!” said Jasmina—also called Jassy—in a hushed tone.  Mrs. Jarrett waved her second daughter to silence.
    “Now you two run along and visit the old well, while the rest of us take care of our daily business.”  Mrs. Jarrett ushered Mr. Jingly and Miss Jillian toward the door.  Before stepping outside, Jillian gave her sister a pleading look.

    It was a lovely hill, green and grassy, taller than any other hill in the district so it afforded an expansive view of the surrounding farms and estates.  From the top of the hill sprung a natural stream, which had been trapped into a well years before Jillian had been born.  She suspected that the well was even older than her parents.  The ground around the well was slick from the recent rainfall and the walk up the hill demanded a certain attention that prevented the young couple from making even the most innocuous of pleasantries.
    When then reached the top, Mr. Jingly lowered the bucket into the hole and let it splash down in the water below.  It was a wrought iron bucket, heavy to lift even when empty and now that it brimmed with water, it took all of Mr. Jingly’s strength to pull it back up from the well.  As he tugged the rope and hauled the bucket, the ground loosened and he lost his footing.  With one last pull, up came the bucket, the water and the rope, but down tumbled Mr. Jingly toward the bottom of the hill.  Miss Jillian extended her hand to steady him, but he pulled her down with him instead.  The two rolled and tumbled down the muddy hill until they lay unconscious at the bottom.

    When news of the fall reached the drawing room, Mrs. Jarrett let out a wail.  “Oh, Mr. Jingly.  Oh, oh, oh,” she cried, unable to form any words beyond these.
    “I do believe he’s broken his crown, m’am,” said one of the servants.  “And Miss Jillian has twisted her ankle.”  The servants dashed to tend to the injured pair, leaving the Jarretts and their remaining daughters in the drawing room to await news.
    “Oh, what are we to do?  What are we to do?” Mrs. Jarrett cried.  “He will die of this broken crown and he will not marry Jillian and then where will we be?”
    “Mama, I do believe that the broken crown is of greater concern than whether or not he and Jillian will marry,” Jassy said.
    “What are we to do?  If Mr. Jingly should die, his friends will duel with your father,” Mrs. Jarrett replied.  “Surely they will kill your father and then we will all be evicted from our home and forced to live a life of misery.”  She wrung her hands in desperation.  “At least, we will still earn some income from the well,” she added.  “It may not be much but it will sustain me and the girls within modest means.”
    “If modest means are your preference,” Mr. Jarrett replied, “ I wish you might have told me before I sold the well and its plot to Mr. Jingly last week.  It would have saved me from that insufferable negotiation.  I did sell it for five thousand pounds.”
    “Five thousand pounds!” she stood and clutched her husband’s hands.  “Why that’s a modest fortune.  Oh, Mr. Jarrett, I knew you could not be unreasonable and that you would do what was right for our daughters and family.  Just think, when she recovers, we can marry Jillian to a proper gentleman.”
    “Yes, I am sure Jillian will find the twisted ankle a modest price to pay for the hand of a proper gentleman,” Mr. Jarrett replied.
    “Whatever would you do if I should fall down the hill?” said his wife, linking her arm through his.
    “That would depend, my dear lady,” he replied.
    She frowned.  “Depend on what?” she asked, pronouncing the words carefully.
    “On whether you should happen to survive the fall,” he said.  Before she could protest, he continued: “Should you survive, I would carry you home and summon the doctor, but if you should perish, I believe an undertaker would be more appropriate.”
    At that, Mr. Jarrett resumed his reading.
    “Mr. Jarrett, you are too cruel,” his wife said.
    No reply.
    “Mr. Jarrett.”
    “MR. JARRETT!”
    But he would not meet her gaze.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Story A Day Challenge: Day 1

Today begins the Story A Day challenge!

I wrote today's story first thing this morning and even though I was a big groggy while I was writing, I managed to get through it.  The story came out to about 600 words*, but I haven't gotten up the nerve to reread it just yet.  (*Note: Word counts are approximate since I'm doing all my first drafts by hand.  This count is based on the estimate that I can fit around 200 words per handwritten page.)

In order to keep my inner-critic in check, I've devised a system using a notebook wherein I will write and store all my stories for this challenge.  After each story, I'll be leaving 3-4 pages blank before starting a new story so that I can come back and write notes on previous stories later on.  This way, I can give myself a few days away from a story before going back to it and making changes or comments.

It's also occurred to me that given the daunting task of writing a new story every day, most of my stories this month will probably be flash fiction.  In light of this, I've also decided to do some reading in this category so I picked up a copy of Shapard and Thomas' Flash Fiction Forward, a collection of short-short stories.

Question to flash fiction fans out there:  Any suggestions for good flash fiction reads?

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