Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fiction Friday: On (Not) Getting Published

Photo by arztsamui courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
This post is for everyone out there who’s been writing for a while, but hasn’t gotten published.

It’s about dealing with the gnawing feeling that you’re this sad, pathetic person who has no talent but can’t let go of the dream. It’s about feeling like one day people will be hanging around your coffin (a velvet-lined box containing a sleeping version of yourself that looks like one of those old black and white photographs someone has brightened up with colored pencils), talking about how you never gave up on writing even though it never got you anywhere. And because people don’t like to speak ill of the dead, at least not directly in front of your open coffin, they’ll say that in pseudo-admiring tones, but inside they’ll be thinking, a la Bugs Bunny, “What a maroon.”

I’ve been writing seriously--writing (almost) every day, taking classes, reading books and blogs, going to conferences--for thirteen years now. On the inside, I can tell that I’m a much better writer. I have a lot better control of my sentences, I’m less likely to fall back on clich├ęs to describe things, my plotting skills (especially since studying with the inimitable Jenny Crusie at McDaniel) have improved dramatically. What I’m writing today is far more readable than the crap my writing group suffered through thirteen years ago.

And I’m still not published.

Moreover, with the current state of traditional publishing, there’s a very good chance I’ll never be published. I can self-publish but, given the lottery-like environment of that world and the very small amount of effort I’m willing to commit to marketing, that’s unlikely to yield any more readers than I currently have--a dozen or so generous souls who serve as beta readers in exchange for my doing the same for them.

One way to deal with this, of course, is to give up. There are plenty of other things I could use to fill my time. There are other hobbies. There are friends and family. We’re in a golden age of television. I could spend years of free time just making my way through the canon of Breaking Bad, The Big Bang Theory and Dr. Who.

But what if that’s not an option? What if you write, like I do, because you have no other choice? What if, against all common sense and sanity, you find your butt parked in a chair, your fingers pecking away at a keyboard, day after day, month after month, year after year? What if you are, in fact, the very definition of a maroon?

I saw a comment in The New Yorker the other day from Deane Yang, Professor of Mathematics at the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering: At  the beginning of a difficult mathematical problem, the mathematician is trying to maneuver his way into a maze. When he triesto prove a theorem, he can be almost totally lost to knowing exactly where he wants to go. But often, when he finds his way, it happens in a moment. Then he lives to do it again.

Novel writing is the same way. You can work on a story for months, sometimes years, getting nowhere. Then one day the characters come to life, shouting to get your attention, demanding you tell their story, as alive in your mind as any actual person you've ever met. A life force flows through you, out your fingertips and onto the page. The exhilaration is like nothing else I've ever experienced. 

And, like Dr. Yang's mathematicians, whether those stories are ever published or not, I live to do it again.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Little Town Tuesday: Birthday Magic

Last week I saw the Illusionists at the VictoriaTheater with my grandson, Sam, in honor of his ninth birthday.

The one on the left, the Escapologist, held his breath for three full minutes while he performed Houdini's Water Cell trick.

Sam was awed. Me, too.

I can barely hold mine long enough to chug a glass of Metamucil.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Stupid Old People Tricks

On Tuesday morning I drove my car through the back wall of my garage.

I'm fine and my dog (who goes to the gym with me every morning) is fine

The car and the garage are not fine.

The wall is pushed out 16". That's snow you see there at the bottom of the wall.

And here's my (new in September) car, missing its grill and looking all sad and smushed.

It's one of those stories you hear on the news where they interview the dotty old lady who flutters and says she doesn't know how it happened.

I know exactly how it happened.

I was pulling into the garage and thought, "Going a little fast there, aren't you, sister?" but when I went to put on the brake, the sole of my shoe got caught on the floor mat and the wall was still coming toward me and I panicked and hit the accelerator.

Old Dog was very sweet about it, saying, "It's just stuff. As long as you're okay, that's what matters."

Because that's how he is.

Until a  couple of hours later, after I stopped crying and shaking. Then he started making fun of me, because that's also how he is.

At which point I, naturally, mentioned that if he hadn't had all this crap piled around the walls of the garage, I would have had another foot to get stopped.

To which he replied, "Yes, but you needed sixteen inches."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thought Food Thursday: Joseph Addison

"Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors."


Friday, January 2, 2015

Fiction Friday: The Devil's in the Details

Last week I was working on a scene where Belial, my demon, snags a dance with the ever-elusive Dara. He only managed to score this dance was because Dara was raised in a teetotalling household and thus was unprepared when someone set what seemed to be a mildly alcoholic drink in front of her and told her it was iced tea.

During the dance, there's a lot of sexual sparring and eventually he brushes his fingertips over the back of her thigh, just below the hemline of a very short dress (another first for our Dara). 

Only then I got to thinking: If a 6'2" guy was dancing with a 5'5" woman, would he be able to do that? Or would he need long, monkey arms to be able to reach?

Old Dog is really good about helping me block out scenes between my lovers, but he's my height, so he wasn't a good option for figuring out this question.

When I got into work, I was still turning this over in my head. The I spied my co-worker, Craig (who, it should be noted, I've worked with for many years and who is 15 years younger than me, a mere child).

"How tall are you?"

He looked startled. "Six-two."

"Perfect," I said. "I need you to do something for me. If this makes you feel sexually harassed, just say so."

His eyebrows shot up all the way to his hairline.

I explained what was happening in my scene. He looked a little freaked out. 

"I don't need you to dance with me, " I said. "I just need you to stand beside me, so I can see where your hand would come on my thigh."

He's a good guy, so he obligingly stood there while I determined that, yes, a six-foot-two demon could definitely graze the back of a five-foot-five woman's thigh with his fingertips if her skirt were short enough.

"I feel so used," he said.

But that's okay. What matters is that he made a contribution to art.

And he didn't call HR.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fiction Friday: Layering Motivation

"Mille-feuille 01" by Miya - Miya's file; My partner Miya took it in a teashop in Osaka, Japan.. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mille-feuille_01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mille-feuille_01.jpg

The best single workshop I attended at RWA 2014 was on character motivation by New York Times best-selling author, Madeline Hunter.  According to Madeline, you can escalate the tension in your novel without necessarily escalating the action by layering your protagonist's (or antagonist's) motivation. Since I've really struggled with how you keep raising the stakes without always getting into bullets flying, this was great news.
Applying this to my own work-in-progress:  Dara, my protagonist, wants to keep her clinic open because:
1) She founded it. It's her clinic, dammit, and no demon is going to take it away from her. (Motivation: Ego)

2) It's the only source of medical care for uninsured people in Alexandria, Florida. (Motivation: Compassion/Altruism)

3) It has her dead husband's name over the door and no one is going to sully his memory. (Motivation: Love, Honor)

4) After losing her husband and kids, it's all she has left. If she loses it, she's got nothing. (Motivation: Identity)

So when Belial, a demon from Hell, invades, her first reaction is based on motivation #1. But he doesn't let up. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Dara really cares about the people of Alexandria and she can't stand to leave them in the lurch. Still Belial keeps coming after her. Then we learn that she co-founded the Clinic with her husband, who was killed in a fire along with their two small daughters. Letting anything happen to this clinic that has his name over the door would be like losing them all over again. But Belial keeps up the pressure. Everything else Dara has--her money, her friends, her reputation--are gone. She can survive that, she's survived worse, but the Clinic is her final battle line.
Conversely, Belial has his own set of escalating motivations:
1) He's been promised a promotion by Satan if he can win this wager. (Ambition)
2) When things don't go well, Satan threatens him with a millennium in the maggot pit. (Fear)
3) Even after he falls in love with Dara and no longer wants to corrupt her and destroy the clinic, he really doesn't have a choice. (Lack of free will) 

When you pit those two sets of escalating motivations against each other, things are going to just keep getting worse.

And that's what well-plotted fiction is all about.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fiction Friday: The Randy Ingermansson Challenge

I get a monthly email from Randy Ingermanson called The Advanced Fiction Writer's Newsletter. Randy is a fiction writer and a purveyor of great writing tips, so it's one of the mailings I get that I actually read. He also holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics, which may be why he seems so smart.

This month, he put out an interesting challenge: Write 500 words a day. Every day--on your birthday, on Christmas, if you're sick or if you're well. For the rest of your life. No rollover words--the counter resets at midnight. Also, tweaking existing words doesn't count. They need to be fresh.

His reasoning is that people who want to become professional fiction writers can churn out 500 words with their eyes closed.

Which is, well, true.

I'm not sure I'm up for every-day-for-the-rest-of-my-life, but I'm committing right here, right now, before God and the entire blogging community, to add at least 500 words a day to my current manuscript until I complete a first draft. Which means I should complete that draft by the end of September.

So there you go, Rachel Cotterill. Set aside a few days at the beginning of October, because you're going to have some reading to do.
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