Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Very First Publication Ever!!

A link to Issue 14 of Jersey Devil Press, who were kind enough to publish my story, "The Pragmatist,"

                                                                               here

I feel all kinds of wicked awesome right now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writing Advice, Cont'd: How to "Show, Don't Tell"

Holy crap I can't believe I left this one out when I wrote my post on writing advice.  This one is so f*cking important that I'm giving it its own post.

#8:  PUT IT IN THE BODY
.  Most likely I forgot it because it has become so ingrained in the way I think about writing.  My teacher, Ron Carlson, said, "When you don't know how to say something, put it in the body."  He was talking specifically about the body of your characters: instead of describing an emotion, describe the way your character's body expresses that emotion.  Instead of saying, "She felt defeated," you say, "She slumped in her chair and poured herself a shot of Jack Daniel's."  Same emotion, except you can relate, simply because you have once slumped in your chair and poured yourself a shot of Jack Daniel's in defeat, even if you didn't feel defeated by the same situation.  Doing this draws on the parallel experiences of your readers instead of depending on the importance of the situation in your own writing.  For example, I have never liked Pigs in Heaven as much as The Bean Trees, and I think it's because in Pigs In Heaven Barbara Kingsolver is relying on the inherent understanding of a mother's love for her child.  But I don't know what it's like to be a mother, so I can't relate, and she doesn't put it in the body enough for me to be able to relate.  In The Bean Trees, the main character is overwhelmed by the experiences she goes through, and Kingsolver describes that very clearly. Plus, I definitely know what it's like to be overwhelmed.
    This is why Twilight was so successful; Stephenie Meyer may have overused her adverbs, but by God she could put an emotion in the body.  She knew how to make you feel like you were seventeen and in love, or heartbroken.  None of her readers has ever fallen in love with a vegetarian vampire, but they've blushed furiously every single time a particular person looks at them a certain way.
   This is also something Jane Austen totally sucked at, but she was super good at pretty much everything else so it didn't matter.  That, however, is a combination of talents unlikely to grace another writer, ever, and so even if you think you're super good at everything else, put your character's emotions in their body, anyway.

    But I have found that this advice of putting it in the body applies to other types of "bodies," as well: your plot should be expressed in the "body" of the world you are building, the setting.  Think Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (I've never read it but the entire plot has been actively described for me by numerous persons): as the book reaches its climax, so, also, does the landscape around them climb higher and higher.  They reach the continental divide just about the same time they reach the climax.  Your setting can do a better job of reflecting the events of your book than probably anything else.
     Your characters should be expressed through the "body" of their world: the objects around them (this is also known as inventory). Hands-down best example of this, ever, is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.  All of his characters are male soldiers, of nearly the same age, and wearing the same clothes, but he lists every single damn thing they own and you come to know them that way.  One keeps a bag of weed on him at all times.  One carries a picture of the girl he's in love with.  One keeps extra food.  This tells us more about the characters than any description he could have written: it's a picture, worth a thousand words.  When you're limited to carrying thirty pounds, and you only have two or three to spare, which items will you bring?  That's what your reader needs to know about your characters; and it will make your readers think of what they would bring, too.  Objects are universally symbolic.  Use them. 
And the emotion of the work, the heart of it, should be expressed in the "body" of the text: the language.  This is where tone comes in.  If you are writing a children's book about the perils of not cleaning your room, your word choice sure as hell better be different than if you are writing an adult novel about dealing with rape.  This is the difference between the following: pranced, ambled, shuffled, strolled.  The connotation of each one of these words is different; you should know the connotation of each of them, and use it to your advantage.  One belongs in a story about rape.  A different one belongs in a kid's book.  Ideally speaking, every single word in your book should be the right word for that book.  It's not going to happen, but, you know, shoot for the moon and you'll land in a horse's ass.  Or however that saying goes.

I can't think of a better piece of writing advice than "put it in the body," because this is what agents and editors mean when they say, "show, don't tell," which is a cute little catchphrase, but it doesn't tell you how to do it.  "Put it in the body," however, does.

Monday, October 11, 2010

THIS IS WHY I NEED TO GO TO GRAD SCHOOL

    I just picked up a copy of my book (draft, not published, obvs, or else I would totally be at a booksigning and have air conditioning in my car) from a friend who was sweet enough to read and give me beta feedback on it.  And I've seen enough critiques that I can read between the lines: basically, she liked it, it was entertaining and well-written, but that was all.  There was no "this sticks with me" factor.  A lot of her comments were "I love this paragraph, I wish more of the book was like this!" on the sections of the book that were more emotional and compelling.
   Which is fine.
   The first draft of this book was a f*cking hot mess of emotional vomit re: The Road Trip which I chronicled as I was going through it; before I rewrote it I sat on it for a year and a half in order to get enough distance from it.  It needed cleaning.  Over the summer I cut everything that wasn't strictly plot-relevant, rewrote it all in the past tense, and turned it into an actual story with a real plot.
    But I've had a sinking sort of feeling lately that in doing that, I also cut a lot of the emotional urgency out of it.  And this copy with my friend's notes confirms it.
    The first draft made a different friend depressed for four days after reading it because she was dealing with the same issues in her life.  I wasn't glad it upset her so much, but I was glad that my writing had that kind of emotional resonance.
    This is supposed to be a story about how I went from being a lost 21-year old who thought the men in my life could give me the answers I needed to being a self-contained, if still somewhat blurry-edged, woman who knew that whatever I wanted I had to bring myself.
    But now, it's just kind of a story about a road trip I went on.
    Which is fun.
    But it's not the story that I had needed to tell.  It's not the one I want to give to my friend's sister-in-law, a lost eighteen year-old who isn't quite sure how to handle all the changes in her life.
  
   So, obviously I have to rewrite it.  And somehow, four years later, I have to find a way to reintegrate the pain and frustration of not knowing who I was, and also the joy and heartache of figuring it out, into a perfectly functional draft.

   IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS HOW TO DO THIS?!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Literary Crushes

There being a fairly serious male babe drought here in Arizona, since Steve Nash is relatively inaccessible to 24-year old writerly types who can't even afford (nor desire) televised access to Suns games, much less season tickets, I thought I would compile a list of my all-time biggest fictional crushes.

Also, it's Sunday afternoon, and I have two hours to kill before my run.

So.

1.  Gregory House
    I know he's not from a book, but he's based on Sherlock Holmes, and he's fictional, and I'm insanely in love with him.  And yes, I can differentiate between Hugh Laurie and Greg House, and I'm in love with Greg House.  As I've already clearly established via my life choices, I am wholly uninterested in a long-term relationship with a sweet, caring man who honestly takes my concerns into consideration, and would pretty much be willing to sell my soul for regular sex with an incisively witty, tortured, gimp genius/ex-drug addict who, deep down, cares far too much for people and can't show it.   The blue eyes and five o'clock shadow don't hurt anything, either, except my heart, which breaks every time I recall that this man is not real.  (And can I send a shout-out to the flame cane?  HOT)

2.  Marcus Didius Falco
     He's funny, he's a genius, he has issues with authority, he solves mysteries, and he wears a toga.  And he knows how to use a knife.
    I'm sensing a pattern, here.

3.  Prince Caspian
     He is the authority, but he earned it by overthrowing a usurping uncle in an epic underdog battle.  He kicked the hell out of some giants and then sailed to the edge of the world on a quest to find his father's lost knights; he got almost to the very edge of the world, but went back in order to fulfill his duty to his country--but he never forgot about his unfinished quest.

4.  Ged
     Has scars: check.  Bad-boy past: check.  Limitless power: check.  Hangs out with dragons: check.  Strong, silent type: check.  Learned to use said limitless power for good after long, drawn-out confrontation with the evil residing in his own soul: check.  I'm in love with him: check.

5. Corlath
    Apparently I've been into Corlath since I was five and my mom read me The Blue Sword for the first time.  He's stubborn and has a nasty temper and could ride a horse before he could walk; mostly he's just sort of kingly and reserved, until someone threatens his country with demons.  Oh, and he can walk through walls.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Like Running Second Best

    I was hiking at South Mountain today and thinking vaguely about my writing dilemma, and also about the half-marathon I'm running at the Grand Canyon in less than a month (29 days to be exact, and holy God it's almost here), and the way that a certain friend of mine doesn't seem to actually like running as much as he likes, you know, being done with running. Or having run so-and-so far. He complains a lot about running, especially while he's doing it, and as a person who runs solely because I like the way it feels when my body is in motion and I'm outside in the sunshine, and endorphins are f*cking awesome, his complaining gets irritating.  
     Now, sometimes running sucks. Sometimes you didn't get any sleep and you ate crap the whole day before and your shins are on fire and you had to squeeze in your last meal an hour before your run but that's the only time your running partner can go, and you end up pretty much walking your entire run because your gut feels like someone dropped a brick into it.
     Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it is 110 degrees outside at 8 p.m. and your legs feel like jelly and you still have another mile-and-a-half to go and you're all out of water and even when you get home you still have to climb two flights of stairs before you can get any more water, or sit down.
      But the question is, when that happens, do you still like running?
      If the answer is yes, then you are a runner.
      If the answer is no, you need a new hobby. One that's more suited to you and your habits. One where you can answer that question with a grudging, "Well, yeah. I guess. F*ck."
      And while I was hiking up the third hill on the San Marcos de Niza trail at South Mountain, I thought to myself, "The real question is, Would you rather be the worst runner in the world than quit running?"
 
   At which point I realized that the same was true of writing. When writing sucks--when you sit staring at your computer screen blankly and then write a bunch of stuff, realize it's crap, delete it all, write more crap, delete that, write something else, sit on it for a year and then realize it was all crap and you need to write something else--do you still like writing?
      It was never a question that had even occurred to me, because the answer is "Duh!!!
      And the real question, the one at the heart of my recent issues with writing, is "Would you rather be the worst writer in the world than quit writing?"
      And the answer is, of course, "Yes!!!" The strength of my "Yes!!!" stopped me in my tracks right there on the top of that third hill, and I stood there grinning like an idiot.
      Then I debated with myself about whether I should do the full hike I'd intended to do, or whether I should cut it short, and then I realized I had just told myself that a real runner would rather run than do anything else--
      at which point I realized that the real reason I wanted to cut my hike short was to get home and write this blog post.
     
     Because I would rather be the worst writer in the world than win the Boston Marathon.
    
     So I went home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Have Performance Anxiety

I am used to writing for other reasons than publication.

I am used to writing because I have too many feelings and I need to get them out.  I am used to writing because I have something to say and my friends are tired of me reiterating my diatribes in new and improved witticism form.  I am used to writing because it is one in the morning and I have no one to talk to.  I am used to writing because I see an image in my head, or because something struck me in a certain way and I need to get it down to look at it better.  I am used to writing because it is easier to judge the truth of an idea if it appears in black and white on a page rather than inside my head.

My  blog has ten followers, and most of them are my closest friends whom I've coerced into reading it.

I am not used to writing because other people want to read it.

This is a totally stupid anxiety that I'm having lately, and not even founded on anything worthwhile, because I've gotten one story accepted for publication, and it hasn't even been posted yet.  But I am freaking out.  All of the whatifs that most people have before they get published are coming out now: whatif I am only a so-so writer?  whatif I can never learn to do what I want to do with my words?  whatif no one cares?  whatif people hate it?  Now, suddenly, one of my pieces is actually going to get read by someone other than my mother, and I don't know what to do--and more specifically, I don't know what to write.  I have three different ideas going right now and every time I sit down to work on them I jump back up and go running or clean my dishes, because I am skittish.  Now I know I am capable of this thing that I wanted, that I am capable of writing something good--so what if, now, I write something bad?

It was one thing if I didn't have it in me.

Now I know I do, and it's terrifying.

How do I forget about all of these things, and go back to writing just because I like to write?  Just because I have something I want to get down, something that is beautiful to me?  How can I go back to knowing, as William Faulkner said, that "the basest of all things is to be afraid?"  How can I stop asking myself, "Now, when will I be blown up?"

Note: these are not rhetorical questions.  I really need an answer.  Thanks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Twilight I Really Want to Read

I'm really mad that I thought of this because now I wish I could read this book instead of Twilight:

    Bella is the Native American
    (helloooo, minority main character in a story that isn't directly about dealing with her minority-ism (AWESOME #1)) 
     who turns into a werewolf
     (hellooo, main female character doing something badass instead of sitting around waiting to get eaten by Vampire Pattinson (AWESOME #2)) 
    when vegetarian vampire clan shows up at local high school/hospital
    (hellooooo love interest being mortal enemy (AWESOME #3 (DEAR STEPHENIE MEYER IF YOU ARE GOING TO USE YOUR HUGE $$$$ TO BUY RIGHTS TO EPIC LITERATURE QUOTES AT LEAST DO IT IN A NON-BORING WAY: I.E., DON'T RIP OFF DIALOGUE FROM WUTHERING HEIGHTS TO MAKE YOUR ROMANTIC POINTS DO IT YOURSELF WITH AN AWESOME REVAMPED* STAR-CROSSED LOVERS PLOT WE WILL GET THE ALLUSION WITHOUT YOU BEATING US OVER THE HEAD WITH IT KTHXBAI))).

Ugh, too bad I think fanfiction is pointless and vampire novels are tired already.


*Yes, I know, but it was the appropriate word choice. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Things I Resent

1.  The institution of tipping.
     Now, I still tip.  I tip outrageously considering that I work 25 hours a week on nonprofit pay. I tip 20% whether my server is awesome or completely sucks. Because I know that these servers make $2.15 an hour, and that serving is a hellacious job, etc. etc.  But I resent it, and I resent that I can't protest the ridiculousness of this institution without looking like a jerk or inconveniencing an innocent party.  I would rather have every single restaurant in the country raise their prices 20% and pay their workers a decent living wage than have the burden of their welfare placed directly on me.  It's not my f*cking job to pay them.  It's their employers'.  This is America.  Stop oppressing your own labor source under the guise of a service-oriented business strategy.
2. People who drive automatic cars and assume that you do, too.
    I drive a manual.  My resentment is not fueled by a need to feel superior over something trivial (I'm looking at you, everyone who argues about which way to put your TP on the roll. Get over it, you wipe your ass with it either way).  No.  This is about the assholes who pull out in front of me on a hill when I'm doing 65 in 5th gear and you are doing 55.  Sorry that the guy in front of you is doing 52, but for serious you just made me lose my momentum and now I'm going to have to waste half a tank of gas trying to get up this damn thing in fourth, when you could have just waited until I passed you because there was no one behind me. This is about you f*ckers who insist on stopping two inches from my bumper on an incline while we're at a red light.  One of these days I won't hit my clutch right and your car is going to get dinged when I roll back, and it won't be my fault, but my insurance rates will go up anyway.  God, I hate you.
   On the other hand, maybe I just hate hills.
3.  Health and car insurance
     Do you realize that we pay exorbitant amounts of money every single month on the offchance that we will one day contract a life-threatening disease in a completely unpredictable manner OR be involved in some kind of horrific, expensive accident?  We are basically gambling on getting our sh*t seriously torn up.  Why can't we have some kind of social security savings account, instead?  And then, if we don't die of cancer, or get cut off on the freeway, we will not only be healthy and happy but we won't have dropped the equivalent of a whole retirement fund on nothing.  A savings account seems a lot less wasteful.  Unless you make your money off insurance.  Then maybe not.