Monthly Archives: June 2010

Railroaded

We have train tracks that come up from the south, travel right through town and then exit our little burg heading across the prairie to the northeast.  Our house is situatuated in such a way that it sounds like the train chugs through our living room and out our bedroom window. 

It doesn’t really bother me.  I don’t mind the whistle and the rumble.  What I don’t like is being railroaded.

In my real life  (as opposed to my imaginary, writing one), I feel like I’m being pushed “hastily or without due consideration” in a business transaction.  Thanks Webster

I think it’s because I’m a female and all the other players are male.  Or maybe it’s because I’m blonde or short or 38.  Regardless, the “neutral” party in this matter is anything but neutral. 

Back when I started writing, I subbed directly to editors a handful of times.  Picture books and chapter books aren’t lucrative and finding agents willing to take on a big project with big risk and low returns was difficult at best.  I figured it would be just as easy to deal directly with the publishers.

And back then, it might have been.  However, technology has changed so rapidly and so drastically I realized that having an advocate for my writing would be in my best interest.  I didn’t want to get railroaded into a contract that favored one party (the publisher) significantly over the other (me).

Because even when I know what’s going on (my real life), people still try to take advantage of others.  And I certainly don’t know enough about the publishing industry to sufficiently safeguard my assets.  Nor do I want to settle for a lesser deal simply because I’m blonde, short, 38 or female.

Instead, I want someone firmly in my corner.  Biased toward me and my writing.  Passionate about what I have done and can do and knowledgable enough to keep my train on the right track. 

I’ll leave all that up to Agent Awesome.

How about you: do you want a publisher or an agent?  Are you afraid of being railroaded in an industry you lack sufficient knowledge about, or are you comfortable enough with your skills to navigate the train tracks on your own?

Sibling Secrets

Siblings…I have three of them and love them all dearly.  They inspire me, motivate me and support me.  In fact, when I have good news, they are the first people I call.  I’ve been known to write with them, for them and about them. 

Today will be one of those days. 

Over the past week, I was graced with a beautiful award by the lovely Lisa Gibson and TK Richardson.  I love it because it’s green.

Green is one of my favorite colors this time of year, as it symbolizes growth.  Fresh ideas, new sprouts, a lush back drop for any moment in time.

Green also promotes reading and learning.  For some reason, this soothing color kick starts the brain.   It must be why I love reading and writing in my garden and why the woods are such an inspiring place for writers to hang out.

Anyway, I digress.  Please stop by and visit Lisa and TK if you haven’t done so before.  Both are great friends–inspiring, motivating and supportive–just like my siblings.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart for thinking of me and will try to do justice to this award by following all the rules–paraphrased by me of course.

  1. Thank those who loved me enough to bestow this gift.
  2. Share seven things about myself.  This is where my siblings come in.
  3. Bestow this honor onto 15 newly discovered or followed bloggers–in no particular order–who are fantastic in some way.
  4. Drop by and let my fifteen new friends know I love them.

Seven Things About Me–and My Sibs

  1. My big sister used to be afraid of the basement, so I hid under the steps.  When she went down into the dingey, dark, creepy, smelly dungeon, I grabbed her leg.   I’d take it back now…and not just because I had to do all the basement runs from that day forward.
  2. Once, when my baby brother was crying in the car after a shopping spree, my sister and I let him suck on a bottle of Plotchman’s mustard.  He didn’t complain.  Of course, he couldn’t talk yet either!
  3. We had a lemon tree in our backyard when I was little.  My big sis and I would dig up fresh carrots, poke a hole in a lemon with a stick, dip our carrots into the tangy insides and munch.  I still love lemons.
  4. My little sister used to call our mom “Poppy” and the vacuum cleaner, “Momma.”  Thankfully she’s a little more articulate these days.  She’s the one I’m writing the ABC story with and have cheered on during NaNo.  I can’t wait til she finishes her gummy bear noir.
  5. When my little brother was 1, he snuck into my room and broke my entire kitty candle collection.  I wanted to strangle him, but was told I was the “adult” in the situation.  I was 14.  At 38, I’m glad I didn’t bump him off–who else would I play Cool Words Scrabble with?
  6. By definition, big sisters should be bigger.  However, the moment I outgrew my mine, I held her down and spit in her face.  You know the kind where you let the string hang indefinitely before clamping down with your lips?  While it sounds mean, I was just getting back at her for telling me that if I stepped on a railroad track after a train went by I would burn up.  To this day, I still hop over tracks.
  7. My DH’s been around since before my little sister was conceived.  She used to look just like me, and when we would take her out in public, people would tsk and shoot us dirty looks for being teen parents.  I didn’t mind at all.  Taking care of her and my brother was part of the reason I wanted to be a mommy in the first place.

Siblings are great for a lot of reasons–novel fodder is only one of them!

Now for my list of new blogging buddies.

Obviously I was too busy spitting on my sister didn’t learn anything about integrity or playing fair as a kid, since I only have eleven new bloggers I’d like to share with you.  Maybe it’s time to go back to my childhood and learn some manners from my wonderful sibs!

Have you used any childhood snippets in your writing?  If so, how?  Feel free to share a sibling anecdote here.  Your secrets are safe with us…

Crit Buddies: the Happy Meal of Writing

This past week/end was a blast.  DH had been scheduled for his yearly golf tourney up in Brainerd, but injured his neck and stayed behind.  Unlike his normal, workaholic self, he actually remained home on his already scheduled days off.  It was great to have him around and we got some odds and ends done.  Lots of relaxing too.

Middle son’s relay team placed 5th (out of 5) at the state track meet on Saturday.  He was so excited to stand on the podium to receive his award.  Eldest marched for band, while our Dear Daughter and Youngest walked the parade.  DD turned 14 and celebrated in style, while DH and I apparently adopted three teenaged children. 

All our kids are highly social, which means a lot of hosting.  Our food count for the weekend looked something like this:

  • 16 hamburgers
  • 36 cans of various drinks
  • 24 water bottles
  • 8 hotdogs
  • 2 brats
  • 3 large pizzas
  • 4 boxes of cereal
  • 1 butter braid
  • 1 angel food birthday cake
  • bags and bags of chips
  • bags and bags of veggies
  • cantelope, pasta salad & other filler foods too numerous to count

Oh, yeah.  And one Mc Donald’s run for Youngest.

“Dad, please take me to Mc Donalds.  I want a cheeseburger with only ketchup.”

“I’ll make you one.”

Youngest is stubborn and knows how to hold his ground.  After much finagling, the truth comes out. 

“Dad, your hamburgers are just a teensy, weensy bit…not as good,” Youngest says and holds his fingers together so they almost touch.  He smiles real big, trying for damage control.  “Everybody likes your hamburgers.  Grant and Davis.  Connor does and Lexi and Tyson.  Mom…”

Youngest ticks off names, his little eyes looking directly into DH’s.  He loves his Daddy and doesn’t want to hurt his feelings.  “To them, your hamburgers are good.  To me…not so much.”

This refreshing honesty is exactly what I look for in a critique partner.  I love the truth.  It’s the only thing that helps me grow as a writer. 

Thankfully, I have a group of critters that gives me what I need.  Two are outstanding Beta Readers.  Another is my Comma Queen.  She makes last minute polishing a dream.  And just recently, I hooked up with another Minnesota writer who has proven to be an outstanding critiquer.  He’s young (by my ancient standards) and has a fresh perspecive.  He’s also not afraid to tell it like it is.

“Everything sounded really good up to here.  This part just doesn’t work for me.  Flesh it out.  Give more detail.  This sounds off.”

I love it.  My critters are the best Happy Meal around.

Is it important to have a well-rounded critique group, or is that akin to too many cooks at the fry basket?  Which type of reader is the hardest to find?  Which ones are the most valuable to you, and why?   

Now let’s go get a hamburger!

Leave of Absence

Due to a very hectic activities schedule as summer kicks into high gear, I will take a momentary leave of absence from my blog. 

Please bear with me as I taxi Eldest to band camp, celebrate 14 wonderful years with DD and chase after Middle Son for his track practice and the State meet on Saturday.  Thankfully the toothfairy came last night to deliver her dollar to youngest after he lost a baby tooth to the garden  hose. 

Have a wonderful weekend and see you back on Monday morning.

P.S. My dog hates your manuscript.

As a whole, our geriatric black lab is so friendly she would lead a robber to the jewelry box.  You could probably strap a harness on her and she’d pull the tv up the stairs and send you on your way with a parting lick.

Unless, of course, you wore a UPS uniform and arrived when we were home.

Then she would hate you.  As soon as your truck rumbled down the street, she would stand, stiff-legged, at the end of the driveway with her hackles raised.  Geriatric Lab, who never barks, would growl deep in her throat and bare what’s left of her teeth.  You would then pass by the driveway without slowing down and take my much anticipated book with you. 

If, on the other hand, you arrived when our little fam was gone, she’d welcome you with a wag.  Garbage men leave empty-handed, but the recycling guys are adored.  Apparently she hates when the trash dudes steal our rubbish, but knows the value of a green world.   She also despises the friendly neighbor who jogs by daily and offers her doggie treats, but can’t wait for a visit from traveling salesmen.

She’s rather eccentric in what she likes and doesn’t.  For example, if you were a pheasant, she’d snatch you out of the air as you tried to flee.  Troublesome rabbits that eat my flowers, however, are as safe as a baby in the nursery.  Tennis balls she’ll chase.  Sticks, not a chance.  She’ll even pick her pills out of her food and eat those, leaving her kibbles for another time.

There is no rhyme or reason to what floats her boat, and I thank God she’s not an agent.

Her profile would look something like this:

I love food, except when I can eat medicine.  Thieves can take whatever they want, unless it’s the trash.  Don’t suck up with treats if you jog by everyday.  Random strangers are welcome to visit sans biscuits.  I’m a ferocious predator and quite talented at nabbing pheasants on the fly, but turn my nose up at robins, rabbits and red-winged black birds.  Fetch is okay as long you throw the right toy.  Please recycle when possible unless you’re peddling a new set of encyclopedias.

No wonder the UPS man only delivers when Geriatric Lab is not outside.

And yet, there are agents exactly like her.  Their sites invite us to indulge in their submission buffet policy.  “We’ll look at anything.”  Or, “If in doubt, send.”  Or, “The only thing we look for is good story-telling.”  We assume this means they are open to anything.

We happily bundle up our middle grade novel, The Fantastic Felines  Outer Space Adventures.  The one with endorsements from fourteen award-winning authors.  The one we interviewed Neil Armstrong for. 

Two days later, we get a rejection.  

Duh, Newbie.  I don’t rep middle grade, and sci-fi was so yesterday.  Please, don’t waste my time submitting a book outside my area of expertise. 

They might as well send a post script with their rejection.

P.S.  My dog hates you.

Have you run across obscure preference lists on agent’s websites?  How does this open door policy appeal to you?  Have you submitted to agencies like this only to be rebuffed for indulging in their hospitality?  Or, do you submit to agents with clear likes and dislikes to avoid wasting everybody’s time?

What do you look for when checking out an agent’s website or blog?  How far do you research before submitting? 

My dog wants to know.

Introducing the UMTS for Writers

I ordered a book last week.  If you haven’t heard, TK Richardson’s debut novel, Return the Heart, was released earlier this month.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for the better part of a year. 

My book was supposed to arrive last week Friday.  However, a quick click on my UPS confirmation link confirmed that the very important package I was tracking would not arrive on time. The reason?  A late train.  At exactly 5:07am on Thursday.  Thanks to a pokey engineer, my book languished in the UPS station all weekend instead of on my nightstand.

I was bummed that I couldn’t read it, but thankful I knew where it was and when to expect it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could track our manuscripts so easily?

A simple link to the Universal Manuscript Tracking System would make our lives so much easier.  We wouldn’t have to worry and fret over where our manuscripts were at any given time.  We would know with the click of a key.

  • Monday, June 21, query departure via email at 7:42am.
  • Monday, June 21, query entered agent’s spam box at 7:42am.
  • Monday, June 21, e-query resent at 7:43am.

Already the stress is washing away.  Our query reached its destination.

  • Thursday, June 24, agent read query at 6:19pm.

Aha!  We got a read.  No more wondering if Dream Agent was out sick with H1N1.  He’s in the office and ready to roll!

  • Thursday, June 24, agent requested a full at 6:39pm.
  • Thursday, June 24, sealed envelop and put full in mail box at 6:40pm.
  • Saturday, June 26, full delivered to agent’s desk at 4:28pm.

By Friday, July 30th, we would be going a little schizo with the old, wait-and-see method.  Did our manuscript get lost in the mail?  Did Agent Awesome get in a car accident?  Is his mother giving birth to twins at this very moment?  What in the green blazes can possibly be more important than the Next Great American Novel?

Enter the Universal Manuscript Tracking System and we would know that Wonder Agent’s plane had been delayed and he was still hanging out out the Zimbabwe airport awaiting the next flight home.   

Oh blessed, mercy.  Our manuscript is still in the running.  With UMTS we wouldn’t fret about the fate of our manuscript–maybe the agent, but not our writing.

Assuming Uber Agent arrived back in the States, UMTS would alert us the second our manuscript left his desk and landed at the round table during the weekly editor’s meeting.  We could track when the marketing department sketched out the sales potential.  A confirmation email would pop up on our desktop when Agent America popped our return letter in the mail.

Estimated time of arrival: August 28th at 11:34am.

Still too stressful?  Upgrade to PUMTS, the premium service, and receive a summary tracking form delivered on June 21st the second your query leaves your email.

  • June 21: resend query due to spam catcher.
  • June 24: please send your full via snail mail.
  • July 30th: don’t fret, agent stuck in Zimbabwe.
  • August 28: Agent response due.  Estimated time of arrival: 11:34am.

With UMTS we would only have to stress over our morning coffee on August 28th.  Which is much preferable to getting hives for two months straight every time the phone rings or the mailman passes by in his little blue uniform. 

Wonder how much the Universal Instant Response Manuscript Tracking System would cost?

UIRMTS Confirmation Response

June 21st: 7:43am

Dear Author,

Please note that you will receive a contract for representation via snail mail at 11:34 am on August 28th.  While this sounds like a long wait, our system informs us that you will need to resend your query due to Greatest Agent Ever’s spam filter.  In addition, you will need to send a full via snail on June 24th.  After a difficult time with international travel, Agent Incredible will return to the States in early August.  He will immediately send your manuscript on the editorial rounds and respectfully submit an acceptance letter as soon as humanly possible.

Thanks for using the UIRMTS.  It has been our pleasure in furthering your literary career.

Happy Monday~ cat

Happy Father’s Day

I was blessed to be loved by a father, not out of obligation, but out of choice.

Thanks so much to my wonderful dad who put together my little purple bike, taught me how to change brake shoes on the pinto and walked me down the aisle.

Warm fuzzies to all the dads who love their children and are loved by them.  We couldn’t do it without you!

~cat

Raw Talent or Learned Behavior?

I’m fickle.

Last night I had my post written for today.  For some reason, I didn’t schedule it to post, figuring I would post it this morning.  Along the way, I got sidetracked by another blog.  Good thing I’m fickle, because I now have another, more urgent topic to discuss.

The Art of Story-telling.

Okay, not that I know anything about it, but it is a topic I feel strongly about.  And it’s Kate’s fault that I waffled from my previous post, fell in love with this idea and am now sharing it with you.

She said, ” I think I write because I’m a story-teller at heart.”

This statement sums up, for me, how a writer finds his/her voice.

I always say voice is something a writer has.  You can’t buy it in the book store or find it like a penny on the sidewalk.  Ebay does not sell it, and mapquest won’t help either.  Voice is something you have or you don’t.  According to me, that is. 

According to everyone else, “When a writer finds his voice, he will know.”

I absolutely agree.  But I think we look for it in the wrong places.  We look for it in style and try to emulate what worked for other writers.  But I don’t believe it can be found in POV and story arc.  Nor can it be found in good writing mechanics, characterizzation and conflict.  Those are simply the by-products of good story-telling.

To me, voice is the difference between telling a story and story-telling.  It is the difference between a perfectly executed song and a song with soul.  It is the art of expressing the story from within.

To quote Kate, voice comes from being a “story-teller at heart.”

Which is not to be confused with passion.  I can have all the passion in the world for the written word and still not have the soul to lay it bare in that magical and spell-binding way.

Some things are just inherent.  Like comedy, for example.

I suck at telling jokes.  My timing is off and I mess up the punchline.  This is telling a story at it’s worst. 

Good comedians like Billy Crystal and Robin Williams feel the power of the joke deep inside them.  When it comes out, they don’t have to work for it.  The magic is there.

That is the art of story-telling.

So, thanks to Kate and my inherently fickle nature, I have created a loaded post for those in the writing industry.  Your input will be valued as we explore the art of story-telling.

Do you believe there is a magical component to story-telling?  Or, can a great story be told with good mechanics and attention to detail?  Is voice something that can be learned/taught or is it an intuitive, yet elusive talent? 

Is there even a difference between the two?

Rules of a Writing Fort

It’s fort season.

A few days ago, Dear Daughter had a friend over to spend the night.  When I walked in the next morning, I couldn’t find them or the floor.  Blankets stretched from her bed to the four corners.  Books precariously held the blankets in place from their stations on her vanity, chair and night stand.  DD is almost fourteen (Guess what happens in seven days, Mom?) and has apparently not outgrown the magic of an impromptu fort.

Taking a cue, and a table, from big sis, the littles turned their bedroom into a fort.  Last night they both slept under their beds, which were connected by a series of blankets and books, night stands and card tables. 

It is fort season, indeed.

I understand the joy of forts.  It wasn’t so long ago I constructed them myself with my sister.  They are secret and safe and adventurous.  They turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Secrets are whispered, promises made and friendships solidified.  The world’s problems are always solved within the confines of these fabric walls.

At least until the books come crashing down and we are left under a tangle of blankets.  In that one fatal moment, it seems as if the magic never happened.

Over the years I’ve had several writing forts.  Critique groups can be invaluable to any writer, no matter how inexperienced or advanced they may be in the craft.  They also vary as widely as the blankets kids use to create their clandestine worlds.

But, not all forts are happy, safe and productive places.  Some members can be bitter.  Some are unmotivated.  Some want to socialize, while others want the nitty-gritty.  Some cry at the drop of a hat (not me this time, I promise).  Inevitably, somebody stands up or waves their arms in a way that knocks the books off the night stand and we are left with a disgusting pile of rubble and a mess to clean up.

The side-effects can be disasterous when this happens.  Writers return to their closets and vow never to never share their work again.  They fear their writing is no longer valid.  They may even turn in their laptops and notepads.  They can become bitter and distrustful and a harsher critic should they ever erect another writing fort.

So, dear friends, in your vast and varied experiences, what are the rules of your writing forts?  What works and what doesn’t?  How often do you exchange passages, how much and how?  Who do you share your secret handshake and password with?  What tips have you learned along the way to help other writers succeed in creating the best fort of the season?

~cat

When Rushed Works

I’ve always done my best work under pressure.  Got a paper due?  Write it the night before.  A test to study for?  Reread notes the morning of.

What I didn’t know was that this state of existence applied to other parts of my life.  Okay, I knew it, but it was a nice segue. 

I’m in the process of putting together a business that includes buying some property.  At the last second, I needed to get an application and past tax returns to the banker–before he left his office for men’s league.  I was under a serious time crunch. 

Even though rushed, I’m fairly organized.  I found the tax returns in minutes and sat down to finish the last of the application.  Driver’s license number?  Grabbed my purse, penned in the number.  Issue date?  August 2005.  Expiration date?  Sh*t.  August 2009.

Today’s date: June 2010.

I rushed to the court house and dropped my expired license to the counter.  “I think I’m in trouble.”

Turns out I had a whole two months before my license would have truly expired and I would have had to retake my test.  Turns out the clerk whisked me to the photo footprints and told me to watch the light for my new mug shot. 

Something you all should know about me if you’ve followed me for any length of time: I’m laid back and messed up.  My hair, which had just been cut–too short and not what I wanted–the previous week, was simply tucked behind my ears so I could sort through the basement to find the tax returns. 

As I rushed out the door, I had thrown on a 12 year old cardigan to protect my tank top from the pouring rain.  I was totally unprepared to let the DMV snap a four-year photo. 

DMV Clerk tried twice.  The first time, the camera misfired and took a picture of my non-existent cleavage.  No kidding.  We both laughed out loud.  The second picture was blurry.  I looked like I was standing across the parking lot in a downpour at midnight.  Great stuff.

The third time was a charm.  By then we were both caught up in a fit of giggles.  I’m sure it’s the only DMV photo in Minnesota history where the suspect is grinning from ear to ear.  It’s also the best impromptu picture I’ve ever taken.

Seriously, I want to scan it and use it for my profile pic. 

I have a theory about why this turned out so well.  Really, why everything turns out better for me when I’m on the cusp of a deadline.  It’s because I let go of my inhibitions and actually relax.

I quit worrying about the outcome and enjoy the process.  It needs to get done, so I do it.  Freed from my Internal Editor, my Internal Critic, my missing muse and my fears of failure, I simply let go and write, find errant tax returns and smile for the camera.

What about you?  Do you thrive under pressure, or does it send you into fits of unease?  Do you second guess yourself when you have unlimited time and end up paralyzed because of it?  Or do you need structure and schedules to stay on task?