Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Birds of Paradise

Check out my friend Kathy's new book!

We were in a writing group way back when in Plymouth, and I remember when this full fledged and amazing novel was a collection of intriguing vignettes.

Now look at it:


There's a great article about Kathy here. Check it out!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Irresistibly Sweet (and whiny)

My thanks go out to Elizabeth, for this sweet award.

She could somehow tell I had a lot to deal with these days and though I might appreciate it (which I do). Although I did my best to avoid "the whiny," I guess it leached out anyway. So maybe I'll just go with it and let my seven things tilt in this direction.

Here they are:

1) Having lost all perspective on my manuscripts, I seem to be stuck in a stage of constant revisions. Perhaps this is because I am stalling (and stalling and stalling) before plunging into the disheartening query pool or perhaps its because my manuscript is just not quite good enough (yet) Sigh.....

2) I have a farm-- sheep, chickens, turkeys.-- and lately this feels like more responsibility than I can muster... especially when the sheep are sick (with mastitis and the chickens are being picked off by foxes.)

3) My kids are heavily into baseball these days-- we have "little league" baseball games three times a week. Which is a lot of fun, but also very much a time-sink.

4) My kids take hip hop dance lessons out here in rural New England which is pretty darn cute (if I do say so myself). Their big recital is coming up in a few weeks.

5) I have a bunch of exciting new novel ideas just simmering away in the back of my mind but can't seem to get to them because of all these revisions and query attempts (see fact #1)

6) There are 7 orphaned chicks in a brooder on my porch (see fact #2) and because I brought them into work for a few weeks and my students became attached to them, I worry about them a lot more than I ought to.

7) I really will get back to a somewhat regular blogging schedule soon-- promise.

I'd like to send this award out to...

Krista V at Mother. Write. (Repeat.) which is a fabulous blog. I especially love all the agent interviews

Macy at The Unrepentant Escapist, another super helpful blog

Stephanie Thornton who has an admirable interest and WIP set in ancient Egypt

Robert at 101 Books who is reading and blogging about all 100 of Time Magazine's "Greatest English-Speaking Novels"

Sierra Godfrey whose blog is both informative and terrifically stylish

And Lea at Wanton Redhead Writing, which is a lot of fun.

Check them out!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Your Weekly One Hit Wonder!

(well, monthly.....) Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to these.

Here's a dose of 1982-- Madness with "Our House"

Yet another horribly-annoying-stick-in-your-head hit.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What I Learned from the Muse (Part 2)


While at the Muse and the Marketplace, I went to a few seminars on Revision because of course, this is where the rubber hits the road as far as writing is concerned.

And it's also where things can get awfully muddled... especially if your original vision (see plot post) is a bit murky. It's hard to revise the big stuff, to hold the whole manuscript in mind once you are so firmly-- and emotionally-- attached to it. So I figured I could use a few pointers.

I attended Ann Hood's wonderful seminar (Aptly titled "Revision"). Ms Hood is so charming and witty, I swear I could sit and listen to her describing how paint dries.

But her advice was wonderful, and refreshingly specific.

Here's her technique:

Quit worrying about TIME. Stop rushing to get the revision over with and just figure it will be a long process.

Put your manuscript away for a month or more. Write something else.

Print out whole thing and take it on a "date"—somewhere like a coffee shop where you can work without interruption.

Read as if you've never read it before. Mark your manuscript using a Fix/Cut/Add strategy:

On your first pass through the manuscript, focus on the fix

Here's what to mark:

Word or meanings that are off: Awk.

Underwritten passages: More

Passages that get off track: No

Passages that are working but not done to the best of your ability: close


Oft-repeated words (She says you can only use the word "cocoon" once per manuscript)


Restructuring: move

Check facts.

Inconsistencies, e.g. changes made halfway through.

On the second Pass through, Cut ruthlessly

Here's what to focus on:

Repetition: The reader will get it the first time

Stage directions: Just get them into the car, already!

If your mss started in the wrong place, cut the beginning

Adjectives, adverbs, extra words.

Then focus on Adding

For depth—layers of meaning

For clarity

Sounds like a lot of work, right? But that's not all....

Then you focus on the big stuff:

1) Look at how the beginning and ending relate to each other. The last scene should be sort of opposite of the first 1st (I thought his was a really interesting idea.)

2) Setting. List settings as you read. they should reflect the main character's arc and should NOT be monotonous (10 scenes in a coffee shop are baaaad)

3) List the main characters. And develop an "Emotional timeline" for each. Look at each scene to make sure there is internal movement. You shouldn't hit the same emotional note in every scene. Mark each scene with a + or - to indicate emotional state. Each scene should move character from + to - (or - to +)


Check Grammar, Spelling Paragraphs, sentence variety etc. Use a highlighter to mark low level language glitches.

Find 3 beta readers who are not writers but big readers. Send them the manuscript. Buy them dinner. Listen to them talk about your manuscript and do not speak. Take notes.

Based on what they have to say, Revise all over again...


What do you think? What sort of revision techniques do you use?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What I Learned from the Muse (Part 1)

Thanks for hanging in there everybody. Life and farm sort of got in the way this week. But perhaps that's a good thing, because I think I've finally gotten enough distance/perspective to put together a sort of Muse and the Marketplace recap.

First off, I want to thank Grub Street Writers for putting together an awesome conference. The thing that distinguishes "the Muse" is the combination of craft (muse) and publishing stuff (marketplace) and also the quality of the presenters and participants. And I got to hang out here:

This time around (my 3rd) I wanted to focus on plot (my big struggle) and revision. So I signed up for 3 plot related seminars and 3 revision/critique related events. I also attended an agents' Q&A panel and a face to face meeting with an agent, met a bunch of old friends and a few new ones and totally (totally!) exhausted myself because really I am sort of an introvert and schmoozing is HARD work.

So, where to begin?

With plot, I guess.

I attended Lynne Barrett's "Understanding Plot: The Fundamentals." Lynne was wonderful. I'd met her at Saturday's breakfast, and despite all my first day jitters, I think I managed to be coherent. Lynne talked about plot in context, using Cinderella as a model because, as she said, fairy tales are narrative in their most basic form.

We graphed the action in the familiar story and among other things, assessed when the "situation" became a plot and which characters acted on the plot. Expendable characters were those who did not "plot" or act to influence the events of the story. (An interesting aside: In some versions of the story, Cinderella has a father. But because he never "plots" he is expendable and dropped from most versions)

This was a great first dip into the intricacies of plot (Thanks, Lynne!)

I also attended Hallie Ephron's "Plotting a Page Turner." At first, I felt like I might be in the wrong class for this one, because we kept talking about "The DaVinci Code" and "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (my novels are more literary-ish).

But although Ms Ephron IS a suspense writer, she used these books as examples because most of the audience had read them. The class was not about a certain genre so much as using good plot technique to keep your readers engaged. We reviewed Aristotle's three act structure

and how it might apply to our own work.

Ms Ephron talked about "penny drop" moments when reader sort of get a small surprise or thickening of plot and how scattering these moments throughout the story makes it more engaging.

One of the practical things suggested in this seminar was to revise/assess plot by highlighting action in green, exposition in red and building suspense in yellow. You should have more green as the story progresses and more red in the beginning. (I'm going to have to give this a try!)

I also attended Micah Nathan's "The Essentials of Plot." Now, I must confess that when Mr. Nathan pulled out his own fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, I gave a little inward groan, expecting the same sort of information as in Lynne Barrett's seminar (Which had been wonderful; I just didn't want the same info twice). When he started talking about the three act structure like Hallie Ephron, my groan may have become audible.

But then Mr. Nathan did something awesome: he talked about the way plot and character are linked and that really we can't talk about one without the other. (I really needed to hear that I think, because I approach writing in just this way and I'd begun to get the sense that I was just plain wrong.)

Instead of recapping "Hansel and Gretel", we developed it-- asking ourselves a series of what ifs and why ifs and connecting the actions to "conflicts of noble ideals" and bigger moments of decision. In our Hansel and Gretel, for example, the children were abandoned by their father during a famine. (Backstory: Their mother was hung for stealing food while the father did nothing and is now wracked with guilt. He believes they have a better chance with the old lady in the forest.) But although Hansel is happy to live in the forest with the nice old lady, adolescent Gretel doesn't trust the old woman who she believes may be a witch and she conspires to trap the old lady in the basement and escape, only things go horribly wrong and... etc etc. You get the idea.

What was so cool about this plot stuff was that it was, as Mr Nathan said, "like playing in the sandbox." I can't tell you how freeing it felt to just try stuff out and see where it might take me. Usually, once I establish my characters, it's hard for me to see anything else but my original plot idea.
I spent the last session of that day playing in the sandbox, building (and wrecking) castles of what ifs.

Here are a few more random gleanings from the seminars on plot:

Micah Nathan said that basically stories are about getting your characters stuck in a tree (a metaphorical tree, of course) and throwing stones at them. This image has helped me think about how all the little twists and troubles (the metaphorical stones) help the narrative.

Lynne Barrett talked about how all fiction is "contrived" but that readers hunger for interesting contrivance and are willing to suspend disbelief for it.

Ms Ephron talked about how each scene contains its own story arc. Even at the scene level, characters move from one state to another, never staying static.

In a discussion of outlining. Mr Nathan talked about how outlining the major events of plot shouldn't stifle creativity. He talked about the plot as being like a road map for a cross-country trip.
It doesn't describe the sights along the way, the conversations and music, cool diners and seedy motels. It just keeps you from getting lost. There's lots of room for creativity and you can always choose a new route when necessary. I found this really helpful as I am trying to evolve from being a "pantser" to a more careful plotter.

Okay-- Whew!There's lots more I could say, but this is probably already a bit much. I will talk about the revision stuff next and then the "Marketplace stuff" which was.... wow, intense!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Whew and Woo-hooo!

Ah, The Muse! I have a looong post coming about the conference, how wonderful and horrible, exhausting and energizing it all was. I will even try to decipher my handwritten notes and put up a bit of what I learned about plot and editing and the world of publishing. But I am not quite there yet: back in my work week and seriously dragging.

Here's something that put a little more pep in my tired typing fingers:

I got this brand new shiny blog award-- twice! Thanks, Jenny Phresh and KO. This was just what I needed today.

This award's only requirement is that you pass it on to some other fiery folks.

So here goes:

Nina Badzin at Nina Badzin: The Writing Life, Married Life and Motherhood This blog may literally catch fire thanks to a kind (and well-deserved) mention by Janet Reid.

Mary Frame at It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets an Agent (Great title, huh? This blog is new and lots of fun.)

Amie Kaufman at Amie Kaufman, Writer, Buccaneer, Etc (Tremendously helpful, this one)

France Rants at FranceRants (Who doesn't enjoy a good rant now and then?)


Saumya at Left and Write Brained (Love the variety over there!)