Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Twitter: Shakespeare Style

So I've been posting an extended poem under the hashtags #twitter #poetry. It was interesting writing (and I'm sure reading!) a poem in such a fragmented manner, but for those of you who didn't cotton on, it was a sonnet, Shakespearean style. I'm posting the whole thing below for those who couldn't follow or just want to see it as one whole poem. Enjoy!

Twitter: A Sonnet

Here I must conform to limits on space
Where letters count and numbers hope to rise.
My thoughts still seek a vast unending place
That does not submit to shape or size.
They cannot fit in characters so small
Softly typed, a breath to the tempest world.
They speak only barely, if heard at all.
Only when seen are they a flag unfurled.
Yet still I type, my fingers pounding keys
An attempt to harness the things within
But the words do not heed my desperate pleas
Laughing at pride, my original sin.

Doggedly I sit, as day bleeds to night.
Hopeless, I know. What can I do? I write.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Value of Leaving the House

As some of you know, about a year and a half ago I moved to Greenville, a small town in rural East Texas. It's a nice enough town and the people are friendly, but it's the kind of place where you meet people through work, church, or children. I have none of these things. So my range of social interaction outside of my house is limited to my brother, his family, and some of his friends. Otherwise it's just my boyfriend and our three cats.

So I've turned into a bit of a hermit.

Though without the epic beard.

I sit at my laptop and work on my book. I go grocery shopping once a week. Bob and I occasionally drive "into town" which translates to a 45 minute to 1 hour drive to some part of the Dallas metro. But that's about it. For a while, I didn't even really see my brother unless something was happening, i.e. niece's volleyball game, game night, etc.

But I have to be careful, because all of this "me" time, this wonderfully productive and creative coccoon ... well, it can be suffocating. No one can exist in a vacuum. Most of all someone who creates. We need to see people's reactions to our creations. We need to bounce ideas off others and be, in turn, inspired by them. So people like me, people stuck in their own little bubble, need to make an effort to leave the house.

I've got a lot of excuses not to. There's no one close to me. The closest writing group I found was an hour and a half away. The closest meetup for NaNoWriMo is about that too. Seriously.

But it gets to a point where you just have to suck it up and do what it takes. This last Saturday I drove to the opposite side of Dallas for a NaNoWriMo plan-in session in Denton, TX. Sure it was three hour drive there and back. Sure there were gas costs and I had to drive it by myself, but it was totally worth it.

I met some really great writers and people and I hope I'll force myself to keep in contact with them. I'm historically bad about that kind of thing, but all I need to do is make the effort.

I'm also going out to my brother's house once a week. Just to hangout. Just to talk and listen to someone different.

So I may be the stereotype of a lonely writer, and it's true, writing is a very solitary activity, but contact and inspiration and connections are like air to creative people. We get lost in our vacuum, our head-space. We need to break out and take a breath.

We just need to leave the house.

Friday, October 25, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

So I've got a story. I've got characters. I've got an outline. But most of all, I have a goal.

This year's NaNo is going to be a bit different for me. Last year I already had a novel started. I had approximately 30,000 words and I used NaNoWriMo to kick me entire gear and write the last 50,000.

This year I'm starting with nothing. No words to speak of and a book that I expect to be 120,000 words long or so. In some ways this is more intimidating. I'm not going to be able to finish such a long book in one month, but I should have an incredible start.

Last year I had difficulties with time management and only barely met the end word goal. This year, it looks like there might be an even bigger obstacle in terms of time on the horizon...


... but I'm still going to try and power through. That may mean doing bigger word counts at the beginning so I have some room in the middle of the month. Who knows.

For me, NaNoWriMo is more than a word count goal. It's a catalyst. It kicks my brain into gear and I can churn out more serious work in that one month of crazy deadlines than I can any other month of the year.

I'm ready. Are you?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Importance of Outlining

Outlining. For some writers it's a dirty word. For me, it's the reason I finished my first novel.

That may sound a bit extreme. There were many factors that contributed to my realizing that goal, but I cannot stress how important outlining was. Especially since I wrote the last half at the break-neck speed of NaNoWriMo. If any book has helped me with this process, it's William Bernhardt's Story Stucture: The Key to Successful Fiction
Insert shameless plug here.

Outlining my story helps me fill out the in-betweens. The segments that happen between major turning points. I knew where I wanted to go, but until I outlined, I had only the vaguest sense of how I was supposed to get there. And like any map, outlining is only a suggestion. A simple route from Point A to Point B, but that didn't stop me from wandering off the map when my characters led me.

In terms of process, it's a lot easier for me to sit down and write an entire scene. I pick up the next index card (yes, I'm old-fashioned) and I write that scene. I know where it's going and I know where the story is supposed to end up. Some people prefer to write from middle to middle that way they aren't starting with a blank page. As for me, I tried that, but I could never bring myself to stop in the middle of a scene. If I got started I had to go until it was finished.

I also believe outlining gives you a chance to look at the story structure as a whole. Outlining defines the trees, but it also gives you a pretty good idea of what that forest is going to look like when you're done planting. You can see things like, are you ramping up the intensity? Do your subplots find resolution?

Above all, the reason I'm talking about outlining today, as I prepare for yet another NaNoWriMo, is to remind myself. Yes, coming up 60-100 scenes is time consuming and exhausting. Yes, my OCD means I have to have the index cards fully filled out and in a semblance of order. Yes, I could be watching Netflix. But outlining is important.

So I'd better get busy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Crazy Process: Creating Side Characters

So in preparation for this year's NaNoWriMo, I've been hammering out my new book. Think Salem Witch Trials + Book of Job + a pandemic plague, all on an abandoned, near-future Galveston Island. Most of the book takes place in a religious commune and I want this community to feel solid and real.

I've had some trouble coming up with side characters (aka, the members of the commune), but I finally figured out a process.
Piles of people!

Now, I admit it looks kind of crazy. It's the kind of stuff that might raise questions in more stable-minded folk. But I gathered almost 150 pictures of random people - all ages, genders, races, etc. - cut them out and started making families out of them.

I'm totally normal, right? Right.

I think the reason this has really helped me is that I'm a visual person. I've had "concept photos" of my main characters since the beginning. Looking at a person's face helps me envision an entire life for them. Helps me figure out who they are. A face is the starting point. Give me that and I can create an entire world.

I know a lot of people don't function like this. They're less visual or perhaps just less OCD. That's great.

This is the kind of background work that often isn't obvious in a finished novel, but even if you don't memorize the charts, even if you don't keep track of who is related to whom and how they got there, I hope I can give you a depth. The impression of a real community - of real people who live and love and work together through all the trials that I will undoubtedly put them through.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Classics Project: A Year of Classic Literature

I've always considered myself fairly well-read. After all, I read all the time. Then I saw one of those lists. You know the ones. "100 Best Books of All Time" "100 Must Read Classic Works of Literature" Those. And while I do usually score above the "average" person, that has always felt like a really low bar. Many of these books have been influential in our society, and I'm starting to feel like I'm missing out.

So I've decided to start a project. The Classics Project. I'm going to take one year of my life and devote all of my pleasure reading to the classics. I'll give myself a pretty large selection and write a review for each one so you, my readers, can follow along in my literary journey. Honestly, it's kind of shocking which books I haven't read, but please don't judge me too harshly! After all, I'm not listing the plethora of books that I have consumed. ;-)

Here are some quick rules about the list. 1) It has to be something I haven't read. 2) It has to be fiction. I prefer novels, but I do have one or two plays on the list. 3) It has to be a work of literary importance. I honestly don't care if it was written 200 years ago or 10. If it's great, it's great. 4) I'm trying not to duplicate authors with some notable exceptions, in which case, I either really love the author or I couldn't decide which was a better representation of their work. If you think I've picked the wrong book feel free to let me know in the comments! 5) The final decision is mine. I know a lot of you have very strong opinions on what should or should not be on a list like this, but ultimately this list is for me. You can definitely make one of your own though! 6) No Dickens. Just no. I'll watch his stories on the BBC.

I don't expect to finish in one year, because let's face it, some of these books will take longer than three and half days. I do plan to continue reading and writing reviews beyond 2014, but I will no longer be limited to classics.

So without further ado....

The Classics Project:

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift
  3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  6. Middlemarch by George Elliot
  7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  8. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  9. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  10. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  11. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  12. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  13. The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells
  14. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  15. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  16. Ulysses by James Joyce
  17. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man  by James Joyce
  18. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
  19. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  21. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  22. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  23. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  24. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
  25. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  26. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  27. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  28. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  29. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  30. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
  31. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  32. The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas
  33. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  34. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  35. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  36. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway
  37. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway
  38. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  39. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  40. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
  41. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  42. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  43. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  44. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  45. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  46. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  47. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  48. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  49. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  50. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  51. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  52. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  53. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  54. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  55. The Plague by Albert Camus
  56. The Bell Jar  by Sylvia Plath
  57. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolf
  58. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  59. Native Son by Richard Wright
  60. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  61. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
  62. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  63. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  64. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  65. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  66. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
  67. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  68. The Heart is a LonelyHunter by Carson McCullers
  69. Blood Meridian by Cormac MacCarthy
  70. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  71. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  72. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  73. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  74. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  75. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
  76. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder
  77. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  78. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
  79. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  80. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
  81. The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie
  82. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  83. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  84. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  85. Last of the Mohicans by James F. Cooper
  86. Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
  87. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
  88. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  89. The Thin Red Line by James Jones
  90. The Source by James Michener
  91. The Hunt for RedOctober by Tom Clancy
  92. Babbit by Sinclair Lewis
  93. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by James Ford

What do you think? Is there a book or two you think I should add? I'd like to get this list up to 100, so please comment below!

Edit: As I write a review for these books, I will change the title to a link. Check them out!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Learning to Sit Still

Lately I've had a lot of trouble reading.

Not comprehending, but just sitting still long enough to read more than a paragraph or two. I work at home and I usually have some Netflix show or Spotify playing in the background. So not only is the sitting still a problem, so is the silence.

I honestly think that I've just fallen out of the habit. When I was a child, I read all the time. ALL the time. But now, it feels almost like work.

As an aspiring writer, this is no good. I need to read for research and inspiration. I need to read fellow books in my genre to get an idea of the market. I need to read.

So last night I laid down (I love reading in bed) and I read. And read. And read. I didn't go to sleep until sometime after 2am. When I woke up I still had my glasses on, a frequent experience when I was a kid.

So maybe I don't have trouble reading. Maybe I have trouble starting.

Knowing that, I'll sit down today at an appointed "starting" time and I'm pretty sure I'll have no trouble at all.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fixing the First Page

I attended a writer's conference recently and so much importance was placed on the first page. I understand that many agents completely reject a manuscript if the first page isn't amazing. Good isn't good enough.

So I've decided to rework mine.

I've written and rewritten the first page countless times already. I'm planning on moving the dialogue up. I plan on moving some of the description down (or completely eliminating it). But how do you know when it's finally good enough?

I feel like I've gotten to the point where I can't even see what I'm writing. I've read and reread the words so many times that they no longer have meaning. There's so little objectivity left in me that further editing seems impossible.

What do you do to make your first page sing? Do you feel like you've come up against a wall of words and have no idea where to go from there?

Sylvia Plath said that the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Truer words have never been said.

I think I'll make the small changes I can see and let go. I'll fix those little things and send it out into the world to fend for itself.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Birthdays and Rejections

So yesterday was my 24th birthday. It was also the day I got my first rejection letter.

As a writer, I know that I am bound to get more rejections, that this is just the first of many. That rationale did not stop me from feeling desperately disappointed. In many ways it was a trauma. This was an agent that I'd met in person, who'd heard my book win 1st place, and with whom I'd felt the possibility of a connection. And after all that, she still didn't like my book.

So what did I do? I cried and called my mother. Then I sent out five more queries.

It's okay to feel sad. It's okay to be disappointed, but it's not okay to quit. I am a writer and, one day, I will be published. That's all there is to it.

I've got a long list of agents to query and I've got another book in the works. I'm going to keep writing and keep working and I am going to have a career.

I knew that the business side of being a writer was going to be hard and it is. And I don't like it. But that's part of what being a professional is. Doing the job completely, even the parts you hate. Because writing isn't just a hobby for me. It's what I do. What I want to spend the rest of my life doing, because in the end, the good parts - the stories, the language, the people - completely outweigh the bad.

So go ahead and cry. Then get back to work.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Rose State Conference Part 2: Finding an Agent

One of the best parts of any writer's conference is meeting amazing agents and editors. I've tried to narrow my focus and I pitched two different agents last weekend. It can be surprising which ones you connect with and which ones you don't.

I pitched last year to an agent who requested my manuscript, but I never heard anything back. A year later I was ready to try again.

For someone who always enjoyed acting, pitching creates a unique sort of stage fright. Perhaps it's more intimidating in a one-on-one setting. Perhaps it's just knowing that these people took time out of their busy New York lives to listen to a ten-minute talk about a book they've never read by an author they've never heard of.

So after you get the best possible pitch written, after you practice and practice (Not too fast! Enunciate!), after all of that stress and anxiety you sit across from an agent and you sell your book. Or try to.

This year there were some pretty big names at Rose State. The two I was most interested in were Regina Brooks and Marcy Posner.

Regina is younger and has an interesting background (she worked as an engineer at NASA!) and for some reason, I just felt like we would click. On Friday, we were told to just sign with one agent to make sure everyone got a chance to pitch, so I signed up with Regina.

The next morning, I'm sitting outside of the designated room, waiting on my time when I notice the sign up sheets on the wall. When I'd checked earlier, all of Marcy Posner's slots were filled. Oh well, I thought. She wasn't my first choice anyway. But now, there were three blank spots where someone had whited-out names. What the heck. It can't hurt to pitch twice. I signed up for Marcy. 

With Regina, I started out a little rocky. There was no one to keep track of the times and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to go on in or wait until I was called, so I missed the first few minutes of my allotted time. She was very nice and I gave my pitch (which was a little rushed). She listened politely and pointed me towards a contest her agency does for YA books. She also gave me the name of another agent in her company that might be interested. Those all sound positive, yes, but the reception was less enthusiastic than I'd hoped for. To be honest, I was pretty disheartened.

So I went to lunch and came back. By the time of my next appointment, I was feeling pretty laissez faire. What happened, happened. It was good practice.

This time, everything seemed to work out perfectly. My appointment was at the beginning of a chunk of times so there was no one in front of me. Marcy was already seated and seemed a little bored, so I went right on in. This time, my pitch was near perfect. It came out more conversational and Ms. Posner and I ended up discussing the book for quite a while. She asked me questions about myself, about my writing process and what my goals were. We even chatted about various television shows and books we liked. Turns out she's a big fan of dystopic/post-apocalyptic fiction. Even though we started early, we ended up going over our time limit by five or six minutes! 

But I think the best thing was that she said she'd get back to me within a couple of weeks.

After waiting months and months for the first agent I pitched to (who still has never contacted me back), it was refreshing to speak to someone who was serious about me.

While it's still very possible she may not be interested in representing my book, it was a great experience. So now I sit here, refreshing my email every five minutes, cautiously optimistic.

Maybe she'll be the one.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rose State Conference Part 1: Winning First Place

Talk about a weekend of ups and downs. This last Friday through Sunday was the Rose State Writer's Short Course in Midwest City, Oklahoma. It's a small, but intense gathering of writers, aspiring writers, agents, editors, and practically everyone with an interest in the publishing industry. It'll take me several blog posts to cover all of my experience, but it is definitely worth sharing.

I attended the convention's debut last year where I won an honorable mention in the poetry contest, pitched to an agent for the first time, and met some amazing aspiring writers.

This year was even better.

Friday kicked off the weekend with an introduction by William Bernhardt, the New York Times bestselling author, organizer of the Rose State conference and, most importantly, the best writing teacher I have ever had the pleasure of studying under.
William Bernhardt

Guest of Honor, David Morrell - author of First Blood and creator of the Rambo character - also gave a great introductory speech. But for me, the most exciting part of the evening was the announcement of the contest winners. 

Like I said previously, I won an honorable mention in poetry last year. This year I submitted to three categories: Poetry, Flash Fiction, and Writing for Young Readers. While I was very disappointed about not winning any recognition in poetry, I was thrilled for my mother, Claudia Wagner, who won an honorable mention in the new category, Flash Fiction. Then came the Writing for Young Readers category.

I waited without much expectation as Bill Bernhardt read the list of winners going through a considerable number of honorable mentions to second place and - finally - to first place. Instead of immediately calling the names of the winners, he read from their entries. 

I felt almost numb as Bill's deep, expressive voice read out: 

"They took me to the interrogation room again the next day. The room was entirely white. I’d never noticed before. Though it was the same room I’d been questioned in, it seemed somehow different. Why did they bring me here again? There was nothing left for me to tell them."

My words. My book. 

My friends started cheering before I fully comprehended what was happening. I'd won. I was shaking as I got the certificate and check for $100. I'm still not sure I've completely processed it. 

My book - the book that took one year of my life, that has cost me tears and time, that I poured myself into until I had nothing left to give - my book won.

And that's not a bad feeling.