Friday, July 31, 2015

Restaurant Week NYC: Lafayette

New York Restaurant Week is twice-annual, when many restaurants have specific discounted prix-fixed menus. This time around, it goes from July 20th to August 4th and, being a little inspired by Michelle Tran's restaurant posts, I decided to take pictures of my meal.

My best friends Nali and Jessi and I went to Lafayette, a French bistro on Lafayette and Great Jones in NoHo, Manhattan--not our usual neighborhood and not our usual fare. Which is the point of Restaurant Week! Lafayette has a bakery in front--and a bar tucked into a corner, from which I ordered a cocktail called the Raspberry Fix.

My drink, the Raspberry Fix

It was fizzy and fruity and sweet. I drank that first one wayyy too quickly. Nali tried a sip and said it tasted like Tang. :-) It was on the lighter end of cocktails, almost tasted like soda, and therefore, I was buzzed rather quickly. Nali ordered a mint Julep. Once we were seated in a comfy corner booth, Jess ordered a drink called the French Melon, which tasted much more of lemon than melon, but was pretty yummy. I think we cooed as we took sips of it.

Jessi's drink, the French Melon

 So we ordered. Nali is a vegetarian, so her meal was pretty set by the menu: salad (which was huge), heirloom tomato risotto (delicious), and then a dark chocolate ice cream bon bon, which looked very good (and so full of dairy). Jessi had the glazed pork belly for a starter, then the short rib ravioli, then the dark chocolate ice cream as well.

This was my meal:

Grilled octopus on chickpeas with fennel and two sauces--one of them was pesto. So good!
I also had the short rib ravioli for my entree:

Also super good, but it was about the same size as my appetizer. Just sayin'. This was my dessert, the the almond chiffon cake with raspberries and chantilly cream. The right size for dessert, spongy but not too sweet, and the cream went well with the slight bitterness of raspberries. 

Throughout the meal, we also kept checking on whether or not Nali was finished with her drink yet. This is what she was left with at the end of our meal:

However, dinner would never be complete without the often-random and varied conversation and company of my buddies.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

How To Write Contemporary

This week, I hit a wall while writing my novel. I've been having problems with Sagging Middle-itis and I was up to a transitional part where Victoria, in 1895, is about to embark on something and...

I just couldn't move forward with it.

I know where this story is going, but it's not getting there--it's just useless amounts of words on the page.

This GIF accurately depicts how I felt about this particular draft.

So I thought. And I angsted. And I critiqued Michelle Tran's first three chapters, which reminded me what writing good chapters were like. And I read fan fiction. And I watched some movies. And I watched Hayley Atwell's Dubsmash clips, 'cause they amuse me. And my best friend told me via email: "You probably know this by now, but you're your own worst critic." Yes. Yes, I am.

I figured out what's been bothering me about this book: it's in thinking that it's going to be half historical and half contemporary. I've read books where there are two protagonists and I've read a lot of books with a contemporary or 20th century setting and characters, with a related historical component.

But in practical writing terms, I need to decide which of my two protagonists gets the majority of the screen time because otherwise, this will turn into Les Miserables, which I'm still only 4% through. My inkling is that it should be Nicole, the contemporary character, because more readers will probably identify with her issues. Victoria is Nicole's ancestor and her actions have affected some of the hows, whats, and whys of Nicole's life--including the reasons why Nicole is even getting an inheritance in the first place.

But then we get to the issues of me writing contemporary fiction, which I don't feel I'm good at.

I made a list of what Nicole's main conflicts are through the story:

  • She's getting an inheritance from a very distant relative in an irregular way, from a branch of the family she didn't even know existed. She doesn't know what to feel about this. 
  • She grows curious about this part of her family, but then worries about what her closer family members will think if she actually inherits.
  • She works in a job that she loves, but it wasn't what she wanted out of life--and she wonders if she talked herself out of doing what she really wanted because she was afraid
  • She's getting over a breakup
So, contemporary writers, how the heck do you it? How do you write about the world and people as they are now? It's funny; I'll read the occasional novel set in relative contemporary times and I like movies that take place now, but to fictionalize something is a different beast. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Guest Post: What Editors Wish You Knew

Guys, we have a very special guest blogger today--the woman who corrected my grammar and comma splices in Pearl, acquiring editor and freelance editor extraordinaire, Jess d'Arbonne! Jess agreed to write a post explaining those mysterious creatures of the publishing world: editors.

What Editors Wish You Knew

When my author friend asked me to write a post for her blog, my initial reaction was giddy excitement. At last! An opportunity to reach out to writers in one small corner of the Interwebz and dispel all their misconceptions about editors and our nefarious ways! I could bridge the divide between creative types and the heartless overlords who alternately crush their dreams and dangle the carrot of literary immortality before them! I could be the Jimmy Carter of the publishing world.

Or I could make things much worse. Probably that. But hey, points for good intentions, right?
By day I’m an acquiring editor for a university press. By night I do freelance developmental editing and copyediting for whichever authors will have me. This means I spend my days helping authors make their books the best they can possibly be. It does not mean I spend all day reading and sipping tea whilst propping my immaculate Manolo heels on my desk and sighing contentedly in a haze of self-satisfaction and superiority. 

There are a lot of pre-conceived notions about editors that are downright false, and the perpetuation of these misconceptions leads to strained author/editor relations. What better way to bridge the divide between authors and editors than by dispelling some of those misconceptions and putting an all-too-human face on the editors of the world?

1.    All editors are failed authors. When you were a kid, you loved books. This love of books inspired you to think the best way to pay homage to reading was to write books yourself. So you started writing. When editors were kids, we too loved books. But our love of books translated into a desire to read more, to have more books in our lives, to get them sooner and make them better. Two distinct and reasonable reactions to the same inspiration. I enjoy editing much more than I enjoy writing. I have no desire to write a book. I much prefer to read them. You’ll find that’s true of most editors.

2.    All editors do is read books. Would that this were true. The majority of my time is spent communicating with authors. So get the image of the introverted, soft-spoken editor out of your head. We are a verbose people and most of us wish we had more time for reading on the job.

3.    Editors are dying to hear about your work in progress. When people ask me what I do, I change the subject or talk about their work instead. In truly dire circumstances I’ll spill a drink on my lap, excuse myself to clean up, then leave the state. When I used to admit to being an editor in public, aspiring authors would home in on me like predator drones. Did they want me to bestow my professional endorsement upon them? Validate their genius? Offer them a book contact? Give them the card of my friend who works at Simon&Schuster? It was always uncomfortable and I could never help them. There are exceptions: authors who are honestly interested in engaging in conversation about publishing, or people who want to hire a copyeditor. Those authors are always a pleasure to meet. But for every well-informed author who has done their homework and understands social interaction there are nine who think the only thing standing between them and the NYT bestseller list is a beleaguered editor at a party who just needs to be convinced of their genius. Think of it like this: few people enjoy doing their job when they’re not getting paid to do it.

4.    Editors are all evil, money-grubbing creativity-killers. Wait no. This one is true.

5.    Just kidding. None of us are in this for the money, nor do we try to destroy creativity in favor of commercial success (most of us, anyway). One look at my paycheck will disabuse you of this notion . . . and inspire a little pity. We got into this business because we love books, remember? I usually find the Evil Editor stereotype perpetuated by disgruntled rejected authors in the comments section of publishing blogs: “An editor rejected my staggering work of genius therefore they must be a clueless moron who wouldn’t recognize true literary craft if it held a gun to their head and I know this because Snookie got a book published while I got a rejection letter and something about the commercialization of YA fiction.” To them I say: if you’ve been rejected, look within before placing blame without.

6.    Editors hate self-publishing. While I have a complex relationship with self-publishing, it could in no way be characterized as hateful. Far from it! Many of my freelance clients go on to self-publish, and I think the self-publishing industry is very useful on a number of levels. For one, it provides an outlet for unique, niche work that would otherwise be hard to house at a traditional publisher. For another, it gives novice authors an eye-opening lesson on all the hard work involved in writing, producing, and selling a book. Some authors even decide they prefer the entrepreneurial model of self-publishing and embrace it with skill and enthusiasm, and then we all get more awesome books to read. What’s not to love? Lastly (put down the pitchforks), self-publishing can serve as a dump for all the books that should never be published in the first place. There are terrible things in my slush pile that I mark “KILL IT WITH FIRE” that eventually end up self-published simply because the author’s relationship with reality is Complicated on Facebook and they see a “no” from a publisher as a challenge. I envision these terrible authors rubbing their hands together and cackling, “I’ll show them. I’LL SHOW THEM ALL.” But in the end, self-publishing allows these “authors” to publish a book while I don’t actually have to work on said book, so we all leave happy.

7.    Editors don’t even read your query letters. This one is partially true. We depend on interns and editorial assistants to comb through the slush pile to bring us the cream of the crop. So while someone at the publishing house undoubtedly reads most of your query letter, it might not actually be the editor. I wish I could show you just how many submissions editors receive on an annual basis. It’s a deluge of Biblical proportions. If I read every word of every unsolicited submission we received and then responded with personalized letters, I wouldn’t have time to work on the books we have under contract, let alone acquire new ones.

8.    Editors sit around waiting for the next big thing to land on their desks. You know those videos of grizzly bears standing in rushing water with their mouths open during salmon spawning season? Yeah, that’s not us. We don’t wait for the big juicy fish to leap directly into our open maws. Publishing is a competitive business. As an acquiring editor, it’s up to me to snag the next big fish before my competitor at another press does. We do this by actively seeking out new talent, establishing relationships with authors we love, and commissioning new work. In trade publishing, literary agents are very involved in this process. It’s a lot of pounding the pavement and research, but in the end more than half of the books I publish every year are projects I actively sought out.

9.    If you can write, you can edit. I studied for years—years!—to become an editor. When I’m copyediting, I have at least one style guide open on my desk and several Internet browser tabs. I force myself to take frequent breaks because it’s hard to keep up the level of concentration required without making mistakes. I constantly double-check long-standing grammatical rules I’m pretty sure I know by heart because they might have changed since the last edition of The Chicago Manual of Style was released. You think good grammar is all you need to edit? You know nothing, Jon Snow.

10. Your editor will wrest creative control from your cold, dead hands and literarily neuter your work till it’s but a shadow of its former self. This can be true, depending on your editor. Let me reinforce one of the most important tenets of authoring: do your homework. Not every publishing house is equal, and we’re certainly not all the same. It’s up to you as an author to research the publishers you’re querying to choose the ones who are right for you and will treat you and your work with respect. There are tons of excellent resources on the web to help you. You’re starting off strong by visiting publishing blogs and engaging in a community of aspiring authors. Don’t take shortcuts. Ask questions. Proofread. It’s important that you don’t tie the knot with a publisher you’re not compatible with.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

30 Books Read!

I've now read 30 books this year. I think this list is particularly diverse in genre and form. There's a nonfiction book, a contemporary romance, a dystopian novella, a book of plays, poetry, and short stories.

21. China Dolls by Lisa See. Historical fiction/Chinese-American History/Japanese-American History/1930s/WWII. 3 stars.

22. The One In My Heart by Sherry Thomas. Contemporary Romance. 2 stars.

23. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson. Poetry/American poetry. 4 stars.

24. Cutting The Bloodline by Angeline Trevena. Dystopian/Sci-fi. 4 stars. Review.

25. The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3) by Diana Gabaldon. Historical fiction/Mystery. 3 stars. Review.

26. The Summer Queen (Eleanor of Aquintaine #1) by Elizabeth Chadwick. Historical fiction/Fictionalized biography/Medieval/France. 5 stars.

27. Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn. Short stories/Horror/Fantasy/Supernatural/Folklore/Japanese culture. 3 stars. Review.

28. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Literary fiction/Historical. 5 stars. Review.

29. Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu. Non-fiction/Biography/World War Two/Spies and Espionage. 4 stars. Review.

30. The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays by Oscar Wilde. Plays/Classics/British Literature. 4 stars.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Happy 1 month, Pearl!

Once upon a time, in a not-very-exotic land called Queens, there was a short, shy-to-the-point-of-stupefication young nerd who realized that she liked stories. Loved them, in fact. Absorbed them quickly.

At age nine, influenced by her best friend who was a brilliant storyteller and the books she loved so much already, the girl decided to try to write a story that wasn't for school.

It was about eight pages long, was a direct plagiarized version of Interview With The Vampire (don't ask what this girl was doing watching movies like that at her age; her parents had no concept of movie ratings), but she'd had fun writing it.

Twenty years later, she wrote and published a novella...

PEARL has been out for a month today. That went by fast! (As opposed to the twenty years of creative writing. That did not go by fast.)

Since this is a "writing process" blog (at least in part), here are the numbers:

-16 sold. Of those, 1 of them was me (checking on the formatting), 15 were from Amazon, 1 on Barnes and Noble. Of the 15 that are not me, 14 were sold on Amazon US, 1 on Amazon UK.

Because the sales are overwhelmingly Amazon, I decided to pull Pearl off the other vendors and use Kindle Select, which requires you to be exclusive to Amazon. This means that come August, when I've hit 30 days of Pearl being in Kindle Select at the same price, I can put it up for 5 days of discounting but still make my desired royalty. Plus, I think it's also in the Kindle Lending Library, too.

So. What else?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

An Excerpt from Chapter 19

So. . . I don't know what's going on, but it's like the dam broke and all of a sudden, I'm just typing like it's NaNo at the Vic/Nic story. Which is great! I'm not going to question it. But I realized something today: 
1. I'm in love with The Remains of the Day, which is my current read.
2. It's been twenty years since I started writing creatively. So henceforth, we're celebrating!
I wrote something today that I think kind of describes what it's like to be a creative person. It's a draft, it's kind of rough, but I'll let Nicole take the floor:

Monday, July 6, 2015

Don't be paralyzed; just write

In the past, when I'd finished a story and it sat on my computer waiting for the day when I would revise it, let a friend read it, feel like I knew more in order to fix it up, or shelve it, only to be read on the occasions when I felt nostalgic or for a blog post, I could let the story pass from my mind and move on to the next thing.

But here's the thing about having released a book into the e-book universe: you can't just forget about it. It's out there. People--well, people I know--the day someone I don't know reads it, I'm going to have a heart attack--people are reading it. I want to promote it a bit, here and there.

I put the novel I'm in the middle of...drafting, I suppose...on hold for a bit while I finished and then published Pearl. But now Pearl's out and I've been getting back into the headspace to write Nicole the modern day existential heiress and Victoria the Victorian Age poor relation turned actress turned businesswoman.

All I could see were the flaws: I'm 170 pages in, why am I not at the point in the story where Victoria is already on stage? What is with the lack of description? It's confusing switching between Vic and Nic. What is this idea anyway? What am I trying to say?

And then I found above the pretty quote.

Dear Self:

Seriously, girl. Chill out. It's a draft. Remember when you were reading really boring academic reports on plantation economics for The Keegans of Banner's Edge? Or that book about the Atlantic economy in the eighteenth century? Zzzz. You had a better grasp on why you needed to know those things because that book was in third and fourth draft stage. And then you ended up using, like, almost none of it when you reformed it into Pearl and that story works!

So, in conclusion, try not to worry about why the story is such a mess right now and/or about the timeline of the story. Let's not read very many boring academic books for this project. Embrace the fact that you're a historical writer but not really a historical writer.

And who knows? If Vic and Nic stay a mess, it may end up being a novella about Beatrice anyway.

Which I guess means I need to read something on Girton College, Cambridge University.

At least Simon stopped trying to morph into the latest Man I Am Google Stalking. That's always a plus. It's nice when the characters don't change description mid-draft.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

IWSG July: I Wrote a Book

This is a post for IWSG. The Insecure Writer's Support Group posts every first Wednesday of the month, releasing our neuroses into the world. Come join us!

Thanks to this month's co-hosts: Charity Bradford, S.A. Larsen, AJ, Tamara Narayan, Allison Gammons, and Tanya Miranda! 

I wrote a book.

I wrote a book?

I wrote a book!

On June 13th, I pressed the "publish" button on my self-pubbed historical novella PEARL. So now, three weeks later, I can say "I wrote a book," but more importantly, "I wrote and published a book."

Since then, I've been getting back into the sagging middle of my Victorian/contemporary novel while also wrapping my head around the publicity and marketing side of having your book out by ear:
  • I played with my Amazon keywords. 
  • I've had my tight little writing group let me do guest posts and interviews on their blogs. Here, here, and here
  • I've joined a historical fiction group on Facebook. 
  • I joined an author's group on Goodreads---which seems to consist of people messaging me about their books and if I want to review them, which strikes me as not the right way to market anything. 
There's something really exciting about having something of yours out in the world. There's also a feeling of puzzlement, of "Oh, yeah, I wrote that, didn't I?"

It's a learning process and an experiment. If anything, I'm feeling insecure about the next project. Will I ever write something as good as Pearl? If I do, hopefully it won't take as long to get there!