A Rant Unrelated to Writing… Or Maybe It Is

I love social media.

Usually.

It’s fast, it’s easy. I can keep track of my friends and relatives without calling them. I can laugh at jokes and eCards, view photos and videos from all over the world, and shop for bargains. I can monitor world events, see what’s hot and what’s not, and find large bits of useful and useless information, both meaningful and dumb. I gave up my newspaper subscription, because 1. the Detroit News is a shadow of its former self, 2. news is readily available online, and 3. my bird died.

I especially love social media because I write. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads (social media for writers), and Instagram – writers tend to use these forums to dispense information. I can check out my favorite authors’ new releases; I can research people and places; I can stalk agents (discreetly) and find out what they really think about us poor, helpless writer-schlubs. I can learn about upcoming contests quickly, thus freeing me from blog hopping all over the information superhighway. Saves both time and aspirin.

But social media isn’t all about ONE THING. It’s…well, social, meaning that what happens in the world spills over with some of these personalities. Believe me, I have narrowed my follows to people I really know or like, or authors, writers, agents, and/or others in the business. While I tend to shy away from the troll types, I engage with people who, quite frankly, I don’t agree with on many issues.

I’m not a pithy Tweeter, and I try to stay away from Facebook as much as possible. I love to be sociable, but these Internet water cooler-coffee klatch-parties are a time suck, my friends. My plate overfloweth. I run a business, a household, and I’m trying to write in between many crushing Real Life commitments.

That being said, while I like a nicely executed verbal exchange of ideas, there are things I do not like. One, I don’t care for a constant battering of positions which inevitably winds up some hapless soul being virtually lynched. I (and others) can have our opinions without being called stupid or worse.

Recently, I’ve noticed the online tone changing from an exchange of ideas to a pity party, where people tend to play the victim card with every revelation or change in government. I don’t care if you’re white, black, red or purple, I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, born here or (like me) not, if you had perfect loving parents or were abused, I don’t even care if you’re a Donkey or an Elephant. Honest to God, when I look at people, I see none of this.

What irks me more than any or all of these distinctions is that people tend to claim victimhood as a valid argument for any position.

I suppose it’s because I’ve had my craw full this week. Not only do I see this online, I see this in offline relationships. If your mother was a child abuser, if your skin is a certain color, if your spouse cheated, if your boss is a bitch – all these are reasons to justify bad behavior. WHAT? (That sound you heard was my head hitting a brick wall.) First of all, why give the other side that much power? Secondly, if you’re over 18, why not own your situation and carry on? If you have brains and strength and chutzpah, figure out your problems and devise a workable solution.

I am a woman, I am of mixed race, I am old, I have issues. I’m flawed BIG TIME. A physically and emotionally abusive mother raised me. Never once in the last 57 years have I blamed any of my shortcomings on my external environment, that the “man” was keeping me down as a woman or anything else. That’s because I control my life and my destiny, and the parts I can’t control I deal with the best I can.

After ruminating on this revelation and my subsequent annoyance for a few hours (after shutting down Twitter, because I couldn’t stand it anymore), I realized that the victim card is played by aspiring authors too. I’ve been to plenty of writers conferences where there are a few disgruntled and unhappy attendees. They see other writers as enemies or rivals, and agents as tyrants. Perhaps their manuscripts aren‘t the next Harry Potter and need more work. Instead of taking control of their work and their destiny, they choose to play the blame game.

It’s so much easier, right?

Grow and let go.

Rant over.

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An Omen: When Your Dog Soils Your Query

It’s a beautiful Sunday in the neighborhood, and while the sun shines and the temperatures are mild, I figured I would get up early and finish weeding and planting my vegetable garden. I made significant progress yesterday and want to finish NOW, so I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Gardening used to be a lot easier when I was young(er). I bounced out of bed today with an aching shoulder and a bum knee. Still, I’m on a mission – to eradicate weeds and plant more tomatoes. (Sorry. It’s my Army brat upbringing. Plus, you can never have too many tomatoes!)

On my way to locating my tennis shoes, which were next to my laptop and a six inch pile of printed manuscripts waiting for me to edit, I noticed that my dog had a gastronomical accident. On two pieces of paper that had escaped the tower of editing. Those two pieces of paper happened to be my query. On the query I sent to and received back and edit from a Big Name Agent as part of the Writers Digest class I took on querying back a couple of months ago.

Nothing says “YOU SUCK” better than runny diarrhea on my corrected query.

This, my writing friends, is an omen. First of all, I should have never left my query on the floor. Secondly, I should have spiffed it up and produced a better query from Helpful Agent’s notes a long time ago. Thirdly, I should really impress upon my husband that feeding the dog steak bones and whipped cream is not good for a Boston terrier.

Of course this disaster could be a more serious omen. Like God telling me I should ditch that particular manuscript (FINDING CADENCE) and perhaps channel my time more wisely into something that has more than a snowball’s chance in hell of making it past an agent’s assistant. Or maybe that I should give up writing altogether.

Yeah. Giving up. That would be the easy way out.

After I finish my urban farming, I’m going to work on my edits, dammit. And I’m going to make serious headway.

Because somewhere in my email, I have a copy of that edit from Helpful Agent.

Take that, Powers That Be. Your nasty little omen is powerless against this writer.

Setting My Baby Free – Or, It’s Query Time (Again)

On a cold day in February in 2007, I walked north along Ocean Beach in San Francisco and snapped the photo that now resides as the header of this blog. (It’s also a framed poster over my bed, where it gives me constant inspiration.)

Later that day, on a Northwest Airline flight to Detroit, I began writing in a notebook. It wasn’t a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, it was more a stream of consciousness about my walk on the beach.

When I arrived home, I put my musings into the computer. The seven or eight mini pages grew. And grew, and grew.

I honestly couldn’t write a word of dialogue back then, so my paragraphs were full of internal musings. Since I couldn’t write dialogue, I had eight different POVs…yeah. About 7 POVs too many. If there was a rule about writing fiction, I broke it – in spades, over and over.

When I had 70K words (of which 90% was pure garbage), I finally visualized the story: a woman of common beginnings, longing for love, thrust into a world of money and prestige. I leaned toward writing a romance, until I learned what the definition of “romance” was. There are plenty of romantic elements in the story, but this is no Happily Ever After. My main character suffers. A LOT. There was no room for flirtation in this tale.

The story: Cadence’s husband of many years killed in a car accident. His death uncovers many secrets, the kind that could devastate a strong woman, but they totally rattle Cadie. But it’s not just his hidden life and indiscretions she must wade through – in beating herself over his choices, she discovers that the compass guiding her own life is severely skewed. She spends a good majority of the book “finding” herself, thus the title: FINDING CADENCE.

It took two long years and 176K words (still 75% garbage) before The End appeared at the bottom of the page. Two years – I finished the first draft the Sunday before my first San Francisco Writers Conference (2009), scheduled for the upcoming Friday. If you are a writer you know the feeling of typing those two magic words; you’re on Cloud 9 for days. And I was going to attend my first writers conference. I was giddy beyond belief.

I was. Until I realized The End is just The Beginning.

Especially if you attend a kick-ass writing conference like the SFWC. I learned in two and a half days that my work was so not ready for the big time.

With that cold slap in the face, I put the manuscript away. And cried a little. (Let’s be honest; I cried a lot.) At first I’d shuttered it for thirty days, but when I peeked at it again, it was so awful, I put it away for a YEAR. I honestly thought my writing “career” – such as it was – was over.

After many online classes, another SFWC, a new manuscript (VIRTUALLY YOURS, totally different in feel and genre), and much prodding by my writing friends, I decided to give it another go. Opening the now dusty computer file, I discovered that while the execution was terrible, the story wasn’t half bad.

There was editing. Once, to get rid of redundant words, the adverbs, etc. That chopped off 10K post haste. The second go-’round I changed the POV from eight (maybe nine) to ONE – first person. The third, I cut, and cut, and cut some more. By this time the result was about 50% garbage. So off it went to not one, but two editors. I meditated  on this story – A LOT. As there is a musical component, I listened to a lot of music, especially Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2, and the subsequent modern day rip off riffs from the common themes of the piece. Like Cadie, her life appeared to undulate much like the three movements of the concerto. And so I discovered my theme!

I visited San Francisco many times, to get the feel. Also returned to Colorado, because the feel of the High Plains is NOTHING like San Francisco – or Michigan.

I also ran the manuscript through a Savvy Author class, devised a workable ending that made sense. When it was down to about 20% garbage, it went through another developmental edit, and voila! what I have is what I have now. (Hopefully with less than 10% garbage.)

So you can see how I view my work as my baby. 🙂

Now it’s time to set my baby free. Look out agents, the queries are coming, the queries are coming.

Soon.

Writing and Re-Writing is Learning Something New Every Day

When last I visited this blog, I was still in San Francisco, just about to meet the person who is helping me edit my book. Since then I have been inundated. Not only did I come home to a week’s worth of laundry, a pile of Day Job responsibilities and tasks, and my husband unable to find clean sheets with which to change the bed (they were on the couch in our room, right under his cell phone charger), I also left the Bay Area armed with a lot of information.

Things to do! Things to do! Does it ever end? I guess the operative word is “NO.”

First off, I was instructed to make a grid in order to count my characters and their interactions with each other. I’m not much for high tech, being barely able to navigate the internet, so I took a piece of graph paper. Along the top, I listed my characters; same with the side. I then went through the manuscript and made hash marks.

At first I wasn’t sure what this exercise was supposed to do. Then the light bulb came on over head… “Ah,” I thought, “This shows which characters are strong and which are basically wallflowers.” I didn’t start off wanting to make anyone a wallflower – I wanted all the women to be equal, more or less – with regard to relationship to each other. I can now see where some of them are going to need a decent reinforcing.

The second thing I did happens to be something I just finished. I listed all of my scenes and came up with 115. Currently, each character has a chapter, and while that might work out later in the book, the beginning seven chapters are full of people and the reader is lost amid the sea of names. It’s the one thing my beta readers found confusing. Eventually, I will take a scene from let’s say #53 and put it between 5 & 6. I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to work out, and I’m having a difficult time thinking beyond the linear aspect of the book. It starts out on November 1 and ends on November 30. It appears I’ll have to rethink my strategy, which is difficult with two holidays to contend with (Halloween is discussed and then there’s Thanksgiving, or climax day).

I also took a notebook and have started sketching out all of my characters, not only in this book, but in the first one I’m currently editing. This includes a checklist of questions I answer as each one. Then I pen a little bio; it includes age, what the character looks like, schooling, basic likes and dislikes, family members, etc. I realized I had to do this, especially after the editor remarked he thought of one of my characters as Bette Midler-ish, with loud voice and red hair – when in actuality she’s petite and blond and her chutzpah comes from within. I know what my characters look like in my head, but rarely do I ever describe them on the page. Character description is something romance writers are known for. (I’m not really writing romance, but there are elements.) I attribute my lack of attention to the fact that I’m not a girly girl, but it’s something I need to do.

I’m amazed that I never thought of this on my own! Or perhaps I shouldn’t be amazed I never thought of this on my own? After all, I’m not schooled in the art of writing; whatever talent I have is innate and didn’t come via university training.

It might take more than a couple of weeks to muddle out of this edit. What with email, time differences and the fact that my head is thick as a brick, this might take until the end of the year to complete.

Oh, well. I’ll be learning along the way.