Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Read Down Memory Lane

I got together with a few friends on Thursday night to see The Lovely Bones. As these friends are the ones I most often do my best complaining about my novel and particularly my troublesome characters to, there was talk of the Shitty First Draft.

Which is not nearly as shitty as a great deal of the fanfiction I wrote as a teenager. I mean, for all their faults, at least the three books that this blog has chronicled the writings, meanderings, and such of have endings. And characters of a reasonably original variety. And yet, I think of the fics with fondness. And I'm surprised at how well my dear friends remember some of the twists in them--and actually, you know, they're not entirely shitty...I'm pretty surprised at that aspect...and also at my terrible sense of fortune telling *sigh*

For fun--here are some excerpts from various fics over the years. Girls--how many do you recognize?

“Neal!” I exclaimed.
“Mar!” Neal said back. “’Sup?” He looked me up and down. “You look so…”
“Corporate?” I answered. “Hey Kyle. Hey Joey.” Kyle raised a drumstick at me. Joey waved.
“Bloggie!” Another voice said. Bounding at me from center stage was a large presence—here was the big kahuna of this band—David Cook, American Idol winner 2008, Grammy Award winner last year in 2010, former bassist in Andy and Neal’s band MWK, and, yeah, the creator of that hideous nickname for me.
Did I mention that he’s occasionally my boss?
“Sugarfoot!” I said back. Hey, man, tit for tat.
He rolled his hazel eyes and enveloped me in a tight hug. I haven’t seen Dave in…oh, what is it now, June? Yeah, so about four months. Which, after traveling with him and the guys for the majority of last year, all over the country, all over the world, is a little weird. It’s even stranger considering that he, Neal and Andy still live out of the same house in California and I’ve been there a few times in the last four months. David’s stayed in Los Angeles since he won Idol, practically, and he has yet to buy a more permanent house for himself.
“How is everything?” He asked. Then he saw my business attire. “Oh, shit. What’d they do to you?”
“This is what people with office jobs wear,” I said, making sure all of the guys could hear me across the small stage. I tried my hardest to glance pointedly at all of them, T-shirt clad with jeans. Their show clothes were a little flashier, the jeans tighter, but they didn’t have to squeeze into heels and wear stockings and crap like that.
David put an arm around my shoulder and then very cheekily said, “I’m sorry.” As in, I’m sorry you have to abide by a dress code.


The monster, in question, was a well-kept secret and Dom often suspected that even the writers didn’t really know what it was. It had already killed a pilot in season one, episode one, and one character had come close to being eaten, but was miraculously saved. Dom’s character, Charlie, had had one run-in with the damn thing this season. It was the perfect threat to give to a prima donna actor: behave or the monster will eat you.
“So, who’s coming today?” Amanda asked. Jessica thought for a minute, failed to remember the names of Hollywood’s best, and pulled out her planner.
“I wrote it all down…where is it?…Oh, here it is,” Jessica said, paging through the book that contained her life. “Um…Josh Hartnett…he’s a little too old to play Jimmy, but we’ll see. Elijah Wood—can’t see him doing that either. Colin Farrell’s coming in for Steve…” Amanda whistled. “Yeah, I know. Oh, and…Orlando Bloom.” Amanda’s eyes opened wider and her mouth did, too. Jessica laughed. “I see that we’re still obsessed with Orli.”
Amanda blushed and sunk down in her chair. “Oh. My. God. Orlando Bloom’s auditioning for my movie? How is that possible?”
“He has an agent. We—well, you—have a really superior script,” Jessica grinned all of a sudden. “And we’re gonna make all those teachers who told us to ‘talk up’ pay.”
Amanda laughed. “Yeah. No one can spot it except us, but I based the teachers in here,” she said, pointing to the script, “on some of the meaner ones at FHHS.”
“I was just thinking…” Jessica started. “Well, okay, we’re casting for Jimmy first, right?” Amanda nodded. “Well, then, whose gonna do Grace’s lines or Jolie’s lines to Jimmy? I don’t think it’s fair to make actors read with monotone studio executives.”
“We should’ve cast for Grace first,” Amanda mumbled. “Oh, well. I guess I’ll do it. I wrote the damn thing, I know how to read it.”
“Besides,” Jessica added, eyes sparkling, “you’re the director. They’re just actors—what do they know?”
They both cracked up, stopped laughing, and then started up again until they had tears of laughter and giddiness running down their cheeks.

“I know!” Amanda said back. By this time, the boys were openly laughing at the girls.
“Amanda,” Jessica whispered. “Look.” She glanced at a table near them. Johnny Depp was sitting there, sans the eyeliner he wore in Pirates of the Caribbean. Sure, he was in his late forties now, but he was still pretty hot for someone that age.
“Oh, my God,” Amanda breathed back. “ Too bad: no eyeliner.”
Colin and Orli follwed the girl’s gazes. Orli and Johnny nodded and smiled at each other. When Johnny looked their way, the girls pretended to be fascinated with the table setting.
“ Uh…Jess? Jessica?” Colin waved a hand in front of her face. “ No sexual fantasies during the show.”
“ That goes for you, too,” Orli told Amanda.
“ I wasn’t having a sexual fantasy,” Amanda replied. “ At least not about him…Orli, honey?”
“ Yeah?”
“ Would you put on eyeliner for me?” She asked, giving him her best “ I’m so cute and you love me, now do what I ask” look. He just grinned at her in reply.
The show was pretty uneventful, the first awards were mainly for TV. But then the award for Best Supporitng Actress in the Motion Picture, Drama, was called out and the members of their table tensed up until the name was called out and Alex wasn’t the winner.
The first commercial break came up and that was when Johnny Depp walked over to talk to Orli. They hadn’t seen each other in awhile. All Amanda and Jessica could do was look at him without seeming like what Orli called “ fan girls.” After all, Amanda was 24 today. They were mature women.
They might be mature and women, but idols from their teen years would never die.
“Wrong,” she continued writing. As she continued writing, she pictured her friends in California, casting and writing a movie. She pictured her friends’ husbands, both actors. But most of all, she imagined a blue-eyed actor with talented acting chops. Bah. What was she doing? She was too old for a celebrity crush.
Once she finished the column, after about four hours, she went online and found herself going to Google and searching for Belfast. Closing her eyes, Shari repeated her mantra: Two more months and I can be in journalistic glory. Two more months and I’ll be recognized. Two more months and I’ll be honored as a brave American journalist who helped the country.
Just two more months until her utterly normal existence changed.

But the biggest surprise had to be Sonal and Brian. In early August, during a business trip to the West Coast, Sonal rang her friends up. “ I’m in Las Vegas,” she said. “ And Brian’s here with me. He asked me to marry him a few weeks ago. And we’re doing it. Now. Wish me good luck.”

Shitty First Draft: done!

On January 31, 2010 (only 10 or so days behind my arbitrary "oh, I'd like to finish this before I'm 24" deadline), the first draft of My Last Request (officially and affectionately known as the Shitty First Soul Swapping Draft) was finished.

Official stats:
26 chapters
259 pages
68, 427 words

Thank you all for your indulgence, advice, swift kicks in the ass, encouragement, deletion of clogging blog emails in your inbox, possible perusal of occasional inbox messages (it's only that way 'cause I know without bringing it to the people, the people don't come), actually reading, and waking up with thoughts of my characters in your very confused mind.

Seriously--that last is the best thing to happen to me as a writer, ever. Period.

Now I can mark up the last 12 chapters of this book, read, read, read, absorb, learn some new writing tricks, and get crackin' on a serious revision process.

Otherwise known as: Marginally OK Second Draft.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Questions, Questions

So this is a question I thought of while on the phone bitching about the not-yet-finished first draft to Sunny (thank you for listening, by the way. I really appreciate it.)

How do I make a character--a major character--seem more real and redeeming when the story I'm writing has constraints--namely the first person narration?

And a more fundamental question:

What exactly is the difference between showing and telling? I thought I understood, only to find that I really don't.

Also, I just read a blog entry by a favorite romance author, Sherry Thomas, and her latest Shitty First Draft (not her first; apparently, as she's discovered, it's just how she writes) and it made me feel oodles better.Sherry Thomas: "So About His At Night..."

Barbara Dawson Smith

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird:
Bird by Bird: Shitty First Drafts

Friday, January 15, 2010

Inventory: 12 hours, no stopping

Inventory night began at 10 pm on 1/12--a Tuesday night. I started out recounting rods in Junior's Dresses that had already been counted (literally, counting dresses). Then I was put on reticketing.

Reticketing is this, basically: price tags fall off. During inventory, new tickets have to be put back on. The information and price is printed out from the register on cardtag-paper and stapled on the clothing. And that's what I did, chasing down items in all areas while the others scanned items (for counting purposes).

We were running on schedule until...

this rod full of clothes with no tickets appeared around 9 am. Mind you, 9 am was when we were supposed to clock out and go home. But no.

So a swarm of tired, irritated associates swooped down on two rods. We reticketed. We sorted. We found the same items with tickets and brought them back to the register to ticket the next item. Half the rod was "out of town"--clothes not from our floor, so at 9:45, we split up the clothes and ran around the store looking for those UPC numbers.

As one of the morning shift girls said, "What are y'all still doing here?"

And then I came home, ate, played with Grayson, and crashed out around 2 pm. Woke at 10, ate, crashed at 12, woke up at 2:30 pm on 1/14. Got ready. Went to work.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I wanted to be a writer so I could avoid charts

I hate math. No, really, I despise it. I know why it's necessary and all, but excuse the petulant child in me who didn't understand the purpose of subtraction. Or the one who didn't get what teacher meant by "1/2 is part of a number" because, well, didn't she just write a 1 and a 2 and separate them by a line?

When I was in high school, I had this brilliant novel idea. No, really. It had something to do with Ireland and a female ancestor of a modern American woman and I was going to tell both stories in the book fizzled out. I didn't know have a plan, so I wasn't sure what to research and since I wasn't living during the Potato Famine, research is kind of important.

Dad found a workbook called The Marshall Plan at B&N and I wrote out my plot and characterization stuff in there. It's still on my bookshelf, in case I find a time when I need an aid again. I'm not one of those people who reads very many, if any, writer craft books. I have a Merriam Webster dictionary, a copyediting workbook, and the Chicago Manual of Style on my bookshelf, but actual writer craft books? Two.

One of them is called Revising Fiction and it can be irritating sometimes because it's a serious of niggling questions. (Should your POV character be changed? Should the POV be changed?). The other one is Romance Novels for Dummies and it's not so much a craft book as an all-out genre advice book.

I haven't found crafty books very helpful in the past and that might've been because I didn't understand the literary references or didn't see a way to apply them to my own thing--because I was usually battling laziness and just getting the damn thing down and most craft books are meant to be used on works that already exist or are ready for revision. They seemed to be more about the overall when I didn't have an overall.

Oh, and I'm stubborn and don't take well to books written in even the slightest of condescending tones.

In The Emily Contest critiques, I noticed that one of the judges mentioned a woman named Margie Lawson, who I Googled. She's a writing coach/ editor and a psychologist and gives workshop lectures. So I sprung for two of her lecture packets and am reading them closely.

So far, they involve charting every scene, paragraph, line and rating them with a set of questions,such as--Do they serve a purpose? Do they set the scene? Here are some language techniques you might want to use, such backloading (putting the most powerful word at the end of a sentence, paragraph or chapter, if possible).

Then--Katie, you'll laugh about this--there's this bit in her editing system that involves highlighting the manuscript in different colors based on different elements. Blue for dialogue, yellow for internalizations, green for setting, etc. It's so you can see how much or how little of each is in every scene. I've done it on the printed version of Chapters 1 & 2 and I'm already seeing how most of it is character internalizations, so I should vary on that.

It seems nitty-gritty, within each line and scene type of editing, which is what I need. Hopefully, it'll come out more detailed and visceral and better written.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Some news!

was just revising something on the blog, literally right this moment in time (if you happen to visit the blog, you'll notice in the right-hand corner a new text box. I'm keeping track of my daily word counts on the novel.)...

...when I opened my Gmail account...

and found an email from Patty Henderson of The Emily Contest, the contest I entered the first 35ish pages of the romance novel into. Remember that? Well, I didn't final (I would've been notified New Year's Eve), but I got score sheets and comments back! And guess what? It's not terrible!!!

So here's the text of the email:

Thank you for participating in The 2010 Emily Contest. As you know by now, your entry did not make the finals. Attached are two score sheets, possibly three, along with a corresponding judged entry. The judge's number is noted after the entry number in the saved files. If you have three, it means that the two original judges’ scores were more than twenty points apart, and that one judge’s score was 85% or more of the possible 100 points. Many times, this denotes a writer with a strong voice. (Not every judge 'gets' it.) In those cases, the third copy of your entry was sent to another judge, then the lowest of the three scores was dropped. The two highest were averaged, that average being the score used when we determined the three finalists.

When comparing your scores, please focus on the similarities between the judges’ comments on the score sheets and on the manuscript. You may find valuable advice. If you are overwhelmed, put the score sheets aside for a few weeks and return to your writing. Remember, this is only one judge’s perception and opinion. If two judges remark on the same thing, you might want to consider it. If, after a time, you still disagree, simply ignore it. Regardless of how your entry fared in this contest, your time is well spent if what you learn from these judges helps you to improve your writing skills.

If you would like to send thank you notes to your judges within the next few weeks, I know they will appreciate receiving them. Send the notes to me at this email addy. Show "Emily Contest, Judge Thank You" in the subject line, and please note the title of your entry, the entry number and the judge's number (noted on the score sheets) within the note. I have a master list and will direct notes to the correct judges.

The winners will be announced at the West Houston RWA Chapter Emily Awards Ceremony and meeting, which is scheduled on February 13, 2010. For further information, please check our web site at or e-mail me.

Thanks again for entering the 2010 Emily Contest. I know, firsthand, how much courage, hope and hard work is sealed into every entry. I wish you the best with your writing.

And stuff from the score sheets:
Scoring: 5 Excellent, ready to submit
4 Almost there, needs only a little polish
3 Average, shows promise
2 Below average, needs work. Author may not be aware of this element.

STYLE: 19/30. Far too much telling and explaining points that could be illustrated with action or dialogue. It's deadening, which is a shame because you have a strong premise. As for viewpoint, you have not moved into close pov for any of your characters unless it's Mady, and even then we feel we know her beyond the superficial.
PLOT/CONFLICT: 13/20. Because there is very little action, there is very little tension. All the telling and explaining make for a slow pace with low key conflict. Example: you have a great opportunity at the dock when Mady realizes she could be a slave herself - but it fizzles. A man looks at her funny. What if you made an Event of the moment - have something actually happen? - a man grabs her arm, or she sees another child just her age and color who is in chains, crying. Give us more incident and drama and up the tension.
DIALOGUE: 12/15. As you move through your revisions, this can be an area to concentrate on. If you do less telling, you'll naturally make each character more distinct. You've already told us how different Mady and A. are, so now just add those differences into their speech.
CHARACTERIZATION: 11/15. Frankly, I'm a little confused who the heroine is. If Alex and Mady are to get equal billing with each having her own romance, that isn't yet clear. Not sure what Mady's goals are - Alex's seem to be to run the estate. You've spent more time telling us about Mady's personality than you have about Alex's, yet I don't know what she really wants other than to not marry (though I don't know why).
CHARACTERIZATION-HERO:12/15. I'm assuming that Henry is to be the hero. His introduction is confusing. He seems menacing at first, a bad guy, spying on the woman. And then maybe not so bad. His attitude toward the woman who'd been whipped would be helpful. His world-weariness is a good start, but how is his ennui to carry him into drama and heroics? Need a hint that some sense of responsibility will spur him into something more interesting than fatigue. What does he want? What does he fear?
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:The old evil telling instead of showing is hampering this manuscript. Aim for an incident, a happening, a visual scene with strong verbs over and over. You almost gave us an incident on the dock when Mady sees the slaves - start there and rewrite to make it vivid and emotionally wrenching for the reader, not just for Mady. Explain less, show more. Tie every event to an emotional reaction to the event - how did Alex and Mady feel when they learned their sister was gone. Think visceral. Margie Lawson has some excellent how-to material on just that factor of energetic writing. Congratulations on coming up with this premise - I think you can turn this into an exciting novel. (a very small point -- I think you mean for Jane to have TB instead of chronic pneumonia) I love the era, I love the idea of two very different but devoted sisters, of your grounding us in the slavery goings on, etc.

Score Sheet 2:
STYLE: 22/30. Your research is impeccable. I know you've really done your homework and undrstand the period completely. Maybe you'd like to feed the information in smaller pieces.
PLOT/CONFLICT:16/20. I'm not sure what the plot is. I know it's difficult with just a few pages of ms to explain a whole book, but we really need to know sooner. Each scene should have conflict.Pace could be much faster.
DIALOGUE: 6/15. There is very little dialogue
CHARACTERIZATION: 19/30. I'm not sure who the protagonist is.
This is an excellent start. The opening hook is excellent. The idea of a mixed-race family in Georgian England is compelling. Good for you for finding something new and fresh. Watch your grammar. Make sure verbs agree. Vary the length of your sentences. Avoid using all the research you did. As long as you know it, it will come through in your story. It slows your pacing down if you use too much backstory. I hd to read several sentences many times to understand them. I'm sure you can do this. Remember, these are only my opinions, so use what you can and throw out what you can't. Whatever, just keep writing. You have a new and fascinating premise here.

And General Comments:
Thank you for letting me read Keenan Inheritance. You have found a fresh and exciting premise for your story. I love the idea of a mixed-race family in Georgian England. Good for you.

Your research is impeccable, so I hate to say this, but you may know your subject too well. At times, the history reads like a textbook. It's not necessary to tell us everything. If you know it, it will come through in your story.

You may want to rethink Mady as the protagonist. She comes across as shallow. However, on the flipside, she has plenty room for growth. Right? Who is the hero? Who is the antagonist?

I don't have a feeling of what the plot is. I know it's difficult to get it all in on the few pages a contest offers, but we should know much more than we do by now.

And most importantly, remember these are only my ideas. It's your book; use what you can of my judging and throw the rest out. Just keep writing. You have a unique and fascinating story perking away here.

!!!! They didn't hate it. Truth is, I haven't looked at it since I sent it in, but still!

So, anybody have any tips for the ol' showing-not-telling? I've always had problems with that. And what do you think of the critiques? If y'all want to see the email (with the chart with the numbers and everything), let me know, because I'll forward it.

Friday, January 8, 2010


As I'm sitting here fighting with the employee website to find out my schedule for the week of 1/17-1/23 (seriously, they'd better not have me scheduled on my birthday), I think I'll pop off a quick blog.

I've been thinking a lot, as I write more of Eva's story and specifically, Eva's story with Brixton, about friendship. It's a pervasive theme in this story due to Eva and Brix being friends for so many years and how they support each other through hardship and success all the way into adulthood. I've been re-reading Little Women lately after so many years (I found clips of the 1994 movie version on YouTube, the one starring Christian Bale as Laurie and Winona Ryder as Jo). When I read it as a 12-year-old, I related best with Beth, the shy, quiet, feeble sister but I wanted to be Jo the writer. Now, I relate better to Jo, in quite frightening ways (right down to the nighttime writing and mood swings and disdain of being too girly).

The thing I will always remember about Little Women is Laurie and Jo's friendship, his proposal to her and Jo turning him down. Laurie's Proposal to Jo. Even at 12, I hated that moment because I so thought Jo and Laurie should be together. And I never understood the Jo-marrying-the-German professor-bit. And was Laurie marrying Amy really necessary?

But I digress.

Reading Jo and Laurie reminds me of Eva and Brix, though I'd say my characters are definitely modern and darker.Eva smokes. Brix drinks a lot. They're definitely not 19th century characters intended for children. Or proto-19th century romance characters. Thank the Lord.

But there's also stuff about Jade and her best friend; Eva and Lana, who no longer speaks to Eva; and Eva and her childhood friend Nicole. I know that as an only child, friendships have been incredibly important to me--not just in an emotional sense, but just plain social (there's only so much talking to yourself that you can do)--and it's one of the things I think I'm good at writing. Usually, I give my protagonists too many friends for the length of the story, in the interests of realism.

But think about it: where would Frodo be without Sam? Where would Harry be without Ron and Hermione? Elphaba without Glinda? Bella without...oh, wait, she has no friends.