Tag Archives: the business of writing

PNWA 2012 Moments from Friday

red pen correctionsThe first time I came to the PNWA Conference I was by myself, staying as a guest in the man cave of a friend’s house and commuting to the conference hotel by bus. I got to the event early and stayed all day, rumbled home on uneven roads, and zonked out until it was time to repeat the process in the morning. The next year I came with my sweetheart in tow, who was 9 months pregnant at the time, so I ducked out often to grab a meal with her or check in. This year I’ve got a family with me, meaning that I’m attempting to cram baby watching time in with networking, going to panels, and pitching stories to industry folks. Now that exhaustion from two years ago seems tame in comparison.

Also, this is the first year I’ve attended the conference as a published author. That’s pretty rad. Even still, my self-pessimistic nature continues to knock at my mind’s door. Oh, look at your puny stack of one book. And you call yourself a writer?

I’ve written before about how I’ve sent my inner critic away on a permanent vacation. Sometimes it pops back for a rendezvous with the rest of my thoughts, and I have to shoo it away again. Yesterday it tried to set its suitcases down and I handed it a ticket to Argentina. Go see the llamas and glaciers, I said. It slumped off, pissed and dejected. Read More…

First Lines, Hooks, and Asking Too Much of Ten Words

First lines are the mules of literature these days—they do the heaviest lifting in a given book, needing to “hook” the reader into reading more. Writers, I’ve been told, need to show the characters, the overall context for the story, at least a glimpse of the story’s novelty, and the conflict that will drive the plot. That’s a ton of work for the start line of any marathon. Come to think of it, real starting lines only mark a space. First sentences in fiction mark well more than the small area they occupy. Blog after writing blog expresses concern for writers who send in the first several pages of their manuscript—are there enough motivators for readers right at the outset? One conference I attended had a “first page review” with a panel of agents and editors, and more often than not, the industry experts laughed at the submissions presented to them. Surely there were a few ugly dogs among the contenders, but even so, one mere sentence that is supposed to stand above all others is a precariously high bar, and it’s something that feels (to me) less about art or creative integrity to the piece, and much more about marketing standards and focus group data. Consider the following first sentences:

  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It was like so, but wasn’t.
  • All this happened, more or less.

Yes, I picked openings that set up the narrator (Moby Dick, Galatea 2.2, and Slaughterhouse-Five, respectively). Do they say enough as a discrete sentence? I may be a more generous reader than average, but I’m willing to stick with a text past the first 50-300 characters or 5-30 words. (Robinson Crusoe starts off with a 50+ sentence, by the way.) Some ideas may work better with a little set up and delivery. Read More…

The Inconsequential Days of a Mostly Unknown Writer

writing process diagramMy writing has been a struggle for the last two months, what with my office needing significant chunks of my time, and an active baby who requires I chase him around the house giggling for hours at a stretch.  Sometimes when I sit down to type–much less write–I wind up staring at the keyboard through two old episodes of Law & Order, and then I need to get started on something else like dinner or another round of The Baby Chase. Lately my sleep number has been out of whack, putting another limitation on my writing time, as I contort myself to find a position that doesn’t sting my hip socket.

And yet there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This Friday we will no longer be understaffed at work. Emile is sleeping better through the night, and I have hope that balance will stop by for a long visit in my routine. I will be faced with a decision of which writing project to ramp back up for headway-making.

  • There’s the YA novel about time travel with LGBT themes that has come close to representation twice now but that needs some work in the transitions (sic) between eras.
  • There’s the YA novel about parallel universes with trans themes that is in the first draft. I’ve done all the work on plotting and characters, but I could stand to push both of these efforts deeper. And I’m at 18,000 words, so I’ve barely cracked past the beginning of the story.
  • There are two novels for adults that I’ve plotted out and finished the back story but that haven’t seen me start writing. Those are probably going to stay back-burner until next winter, in all probability.
  • There’s the sequel to Bumbling that my publisher would like to see me start, but other than this blog I’ve done no writing on it, nor have I mapped out the scenes or characters. Read More…

New Writing on an Old Story

story time for 3-5 year oldsLet’s say you stepped away from a project for a while–anywhere from 2 months to a year, or thereabouts–and now you’re ready to dive back in. How do you do it? It’s an intimidating prospect. The names of the characters are fuzzy, or you can’t remember which was the daughter of the failed violinist, and which has the secret dream of finding her long-lost brother. Or you’re ready to deal with and extend the main story arc, but there are two subplots that annoy you. It could be that you’re no longer in the head space to continue the original tone of the piece for that matter, but whatever the issue, the story is haunting you enough that you’re ready to sit back down and give it another chance. If the pressures of real life have made you step away and you love each and every inch of the manuscript, it’s still cumbers0me to get back into the groove. Here are some of the things I do to re-start the engine on a languishing project: Read More…

Useless Fears About Reading One’s Work

in other words bookstore frontI’m reading this afternoon at In Other Words, the last nonprofit feminist bookstore in the country. The one featured in Portlandia, but I won’t mention that today when I’m there, in case they’re sore about it. As is typical for me and my neuroses, I have some worst-case scenarios in my head that won’t leave me alone, even though I know they’re extremely improbable. Here is the list of “what ifs” that I’ve dwelt on so far:

1. I will get motion sickness from trying to figure out how to use my new bifocals that I throw up on myself or the audience.

2. A recent rain in Portland will create a puddle over by the electrical panel and my mic will electrocute me when I’m talking about intimate like packing or breasts.

3. My ex will show up to challenge everything I wrote about him like I’m the next and more disappointing version of James Frey.

4. My bow tie will be too tight and my head will explode.

5. Everyone will realize that they’re so tired of my announcements about this reading they’ll decide not to show up after all. The coffee shop on the next block, however, will be swamped with an impromptu open mic event.

None of these are likely to happen, I know. But neither are they impossible. At least I haven’t envisioned the zombie apocalypse beginning at this very event.

Damn it!

5 Reasons I Wrote Bumbling into Body Hair

Folks don’t have to bring it up a dozen times; I get that this is one of people’s top questions for me. After all, there are a lot of books out there that depict the author’s life in some fashion, and not all of them are memoirs. Certainly very few of them are about people who are gender nonconforming. If we presume I was going to write something and not just make my way through life–which is a big assumption,  granted–then there was a specific decision-making process at work here. I picked this story and told it in this way. Perhaps people see memoir writing as narcissistic in the lowest common denominator. I hope my book doesn’t strike readers that way, not the least reason because I attempted to describe a story that allows for everyone else’s story to be told. Nothing in this book represents anyone else’s experience, and in that way, I hope I’ve done something that stretches beyond vanity. Here’s where my motivation lies: Read More…

By Way of Cover Design

Authors don’t usually have much say in the covers of their books, idioms about judging books notwithstanding, but in the digital revolution sometimes conversations about cover design make it to the writer, who naturally has  opinions about the thing. Trouble is, nobody else in the publishing house really cares about those opinions, and maybe it’s best if they ignore us writers. We may be too invested in relaying a scene or theme from the book as opposed to creating a visually appealing cover that will sell books. After all, we’re wordsmiths, not graphic designers.

Unless we’ve also done graphic design work (cough, cough). But even then our input is presumed to be minimal. Read More…

Overwriting on Purpose

Minneapolis corner

It’s a good thing for us writers that we come at our craft differently, in our own ways. Some folks dwell over every sentence, taking a long time to make it through the first draft of a manuscript. Others of us are barnstormers and get languid later, during rewrites. We talk about writing skeletons and adding on, or finding ourselves in a process of paring down our original prose like a sculptor looking for the form inside that block of marble. It’s good that we take our individual approaches because we get individualized end products out of this, and a diversity of voice is a good thing for readers, much as some critics insist on all literature sounding the same.

I’ve noticed that my stories themselves have their preferences toward being written in a certain manner or other. I shot through the first 150 pages of The Unintentional Time Traveler, and then slogged through the next 135. Rewrites came to my aid to help smooth the narrative out, thank goodness. My latest work-in-progress is like wading through golden molasses, every step of the way, but I’m liking the base writing more than I usually do. Read More…

Narrative Transitions

time travel clockI bring this up today because ineffective transitions killed my most recent back-and-forth with an agent on a novel of mine. You’d think an individual with personal experience transitioning would handle these story shifts better, but apparently, they’re two different things entirely.

Now then, with this case in question, much of any transition in the book had to do with the main plot point, uncontrolled time travel. With the protagonist at the mercy of something–or nothing–pushing him between the Prohibition Era and the 1980s, in different geographic locations, it was up to me to make sure readers could come along for the ride. A couple of my beta readers who looked at an earlier version of The Unintentional Time Traveler noted some bumps in the last third of the novel when time jumps occurred. So I sat back down with the manuscript and examined the language, the necessity of those movements. Read More…

All the Details Fit to Print

Prospective or emerging writers place so much emphasis on landing an agent or publisher that we may forget there’s a whole lot to do after the contract is signed. Rather than sitting back and waiting for my 5-star reviews to come in and my phone to ring off the hook (not that my phone even has a hook anymore), I’m working hard on getting my literary ducks lined in a row. I’ve created a press kit, gotten head shots, staged a fake interview so I have a Q&A to give to bloggers and readers, talked to the cover designer, lined up some reading gigs, and asked a few author friends for blurbs or to be part of the blog tour. And there are still more items to consider here.

What’s the ISBN? Are there advance reader copies available, because some reviewing organizations have a 3-to-4 month lead time or won’t run a review after the publication date. What’s the expected price of the hardcover or paperback? Will it be available in Canada? The UK? Which ebook readers is your publisher working with for the title? Read More…

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