Monday, June 29, 2015

Between Breaks...

I've finished roughing out the (almost) total re-write of my sci fi (I got to keep the first 50 out of 380 pages).

This is what I want to do:

This is what I should do:

This is what I'll probably do:

I need more chai, more mulch, ice cream for lunch, book for the kid's summer reading, and I'm sure something else...

But it's good to get away from the desk, writing,

Oh yeah, and I need to trim the cat's butt fur. *Runs to car...


Monday, June 22, 2015

Leave That Cliche Alone!

I know, writers and editors are always telling you to eliminate cliches (unless they are part of dialogue or the piece is tongue-in-cheek).

Weeeeellllll, not necessarily.

There are some cliches I can't eliminate. For example, when writing a scene about food, French bread is always "crusty." That tells you it's a golden color, and when you bite into it, pieces flake off. Mmmmm. You could substitute "crunchy" but that doesn't convey the same feeling because nuts are crunchy, and cereal, and apples. "Crispy" may work, but that's not the same either, right?

Then there's "cat-like reflexes." This phrase has been used so many times that it qualifies as a cliche. But what other animal has such graceful power? Bears are powerful, not at all graceful. Butterflies are graceful, not powerful. (Okay, I may have to rethink about my cat having those reflexes.)

It's a problem. Some words are just necessary to describe exactly what you mean. There are many more though I can't think of them at the moment, but I'm sure you get the gist (see that, another cliche, but what other word would work?).

Sometimes a cliche is the only way to go. What are your faves that you don't want to give up?


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ok, You Went To A Writing Conference...

You attended the annual conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (let’s say the New Jersey chapter which happened this past weekend). You’ve gotten a critique by an editor or agent, did a fast pitch to another agent, attended numerous workshops and panels. You chatted with published authors during lunch, dinner, or the social mixer, bought some autographed books, maybe had a peer review. You’re brimming with excitement and exhaustion.

What’s next?

You may think you should just jump right in and get to those revisions, even if there are contradictory ones. Quick, get it done before you lose the energy!


Some people are so energized and can quickly sort out all the information and suggestions they’ve gotten and get right to work. I was like that.

I’ve found a better way.

Wait it out.

Maybe two days, maybe a week, maybe until I figured out the exact changes to be made. I’ve learned to sift through everything I’ve taken in, absorb only the bits I need or want.

Just because someone tells you to change something doesn’t mean you should. Does it fit your story? (Would it still be great if the Alice in Alice in Wonderland was an Alex? If Dracula was gay? If your story is no longer recognizable?) There is a fine line between a good suggestion (change tense, make main character more likeable, ratchet up the tension between the ex girlfriend/boyfriend) and advice that doesn’t work for you (can you imagine how different The Fault in Our Stars would be if the girl lived?) These things have to be considered before you leap into the lake of revisions.

I find that allowing at least a day to mull over all the suggestions helps a bit. Go through your notes and theirs- cross out whatever is a total no-go (making your horror story a love story). Make a separate list of those things that are under consideration (changing the point of view from third to first person, from past tense to present, from multiple narrators to one or two, etc.) Then, make a list of the things that absolutely have to be done, like correcting grammar mistakes, adding sensory details, changing ‘telling’ into ‘showing.’ Take another day to work out how you’re going to make the necessary changes; will you have to eliminate a character or multiple scenes? Will you have to add more setting detail? Do you need more research?

Go through your ‘maybe’ list again, this time crossing out whatever you know now you’re not going to do, and putting the rest on the ‘must do’ list. Now you’re ready to tackle those revisions. It’s possible that you’re faster than most people in sorting and planning and changing. If you listened to the editors and the agents you talked with, they’ll probably all have told you not to rush; take your time, consider the advice. After all, they’ll wait for a good manuscript, and they’ll rush to reject a bad one.

Now that I’ve weeded all my gardens while I worked out a plot problem, I’m going to carefully and slowly make those revisions. My agent said she’d wait…

Good luck and good writing!


Monday, June 8, 2015

I've Got Dirty Hands...

When my agent said to take out one component of my sci fi, Lethal Dose, I almost died. One small change affected 3/4 of the book. Removing it meant reworking everything after the first 1/4th.

I grumbled, I whined, I stormed out of the house.

Into the gardens.

I needed to completely rethink my story and I can't do that chained to the desk, trying to force it. My coping mechanism is my gardens. (In winter it's de-cluttering or house repair. Sometimes baking.) I was soooo frustrated with the changes she wanted, this is the result:

This is my meditation garden. Seems I didn't do so much meditation as I did murder. Weeds? I don't think so!

Then I moved on....

What was once a dumping ground for the wheelbarrow and all kinds of junk, I used flagstones from our old walkway, dug up the weeds, laid down mulch and a border, and used an old copper fire pit for a birdbath to make yet another garden. But was I done? Nope.

I added pots of flowers around the house, by the garage, in the front gardens, by the mailbox,

on the side of the shed,

added a small veggie garden by the pool fence,

updated the corner pool garden,

added some more herbs to the herb garden (and it still needs some work because those damn chives think they can just take over the place),

and this puppy in the front of the house is in for some serious cutting back and reorganizing. There will also be borders and mulch around the front yard trees.

But those last few will have to wait. I'm on a roll with the revisions (didn't want to take the time to do this blog, but gotta get all my To Do list accomplished and it's Monday after all). I have big plans for summer projects (both writing and house). Summer is when I feel most energized and now that I've 'weeded out' my demons on the sci fi revisions, I must return to the manuscript.

How do you exorcise your revision demons? Let me know because one day I'm going to be too old to do all this digging and planting and ripping up.

Good day, good writing, and good things!


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Don't Touch the Cool Stuff

Every 'job' has it's 'cool stuff.' Rocket scientists have rockets. Designers have cool computer programs to make hypothetical products. Football players have pink shoes made just for them.

Well, writers have cool stuff too.

This is a gift I bought myself:

It's a writing book shaped like a typewriter. (If you don't know what this is, I don't think we can be friends...) The pages inside look like the cover, only in very light ink, so you're not distracted, but encouraged to keep going. I can almost imagine the click of the keys and the bell at the end...

This was a gift from my Blonde OPS and Sirenz series co-author, Natalie Zaman. (I had a black one from my cousin for my first book signing, but a 'fan' stole it while I was at the Boston Teen Book Fest. If you took the pen, please return it, no questions asked, and I'll send you a free book....)

It's a Swarovski pen, all pink and glittery. I'm one of those sentimental slobs who likes to have little mementos of special occasions, so I use a special pen. (Which is why I really miss the black pen because it's from MY FIRST BOOK SIGNING EVER.)

This is probably the first, no second, writing gift I ever got (the first being a typewriter with stiff keys so that it was easier to write a book by hand). My mom got me this:

Although it doesn't really work to clip papers, and it's pretty heavy (see how big it is next to the average size hard cover?) it's cute and fun, and I'm that sentimental slob, remember?

This was made by a sweet fan (I know I've showcased this before, thanks Melissa and her mom!) but it's just so awesome.

A photographic collage for Sirenz. I almost cried when I opened it. A gift from the heart. Sniff.

Writers get great gifts from other writers and organizations. This came to me from the New Jersey Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators as a thank you for helping out during the annual conference.

 It's a Lucky Duck (which can be used to relieve stress by squishing it. At the moment, if I squish him, it may tear him to pieces; ah the not-so-tranquil life of a writer.) And he floats in the tub, so it's fun too.

So, back to editing and the two most useful things for a writer: the delete button and the keyboard...


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And That's My Life...

My agent just sent me a "if you revise your sci fi ms" email with suggestions that mean reworking the entire novel after the first few chapters. This is me:

But I'm going to do it. It's what real authors do; they revise and edit and revise again until it's right (although in my mind, I thought I had it right). I'm not happy or excited about the changes, and yes, it's my prerogative to refuse or try to self publish it as it is, but that's not how the deal works. My agent works hard to present my books to editors so it's only fair that I work just as hard (if not harder) to provide the best possible story (even if I don't happen to agree with all the changes). Life, and publishing are like that. (And if I hear my mother tell me one more time that Dr. Suess got over 50 rejections, I'm going to look like the above picture again.)

Editing, to me, is like cleaning the bathroom. There's the easy stuff, like hanging out fresh towels, it's a visual upgrade. In editing, the equivalent would be fixing the spelling, formatting and grammar mistakes- instantly noticeable (especially with Word using all those green and red squiggle lines). Rereading the manuscript and checking for awkward phrasing, lost story threads, having the character in the wrong place, etc. is like picking the dirty laundry off the floor, emptying the garbage, and putting away the hair brushes and beauty products. The read after that is when you scrub the sinks and tub- you're 'cleaning out' excess words, tightening the sentences, getting rid of what isn't necessary.

It's the last part I hate the most- scrubbing the toilet.

(With 4 males in the house, I know you have a good mental picture of my dilemma.) You have to flush away. It's like a favorite barrette, the one you love for pinning back your wild bangs, has fallen into the bowl. Do you flush it (i.e. send chunks of your manuscript down the pipes even though you love it) or do you man-up and stick your hand in the water and save your barrette? I've changed a lot of diapers so bowl water doesn't frighten me. (I've flushed manuscripts from the first sentence to rewrite the entire novel.) So, I'll save my barrette, the same way I'm going to save my manuscript and make the suggested changes. It's better to risk dirtying your hands to save something you truly love then to watch it swirl away into the septic tank of never-going-to-see-it (or, have it published).

Now, it's time to go flush a good chunk of my manuscript.

And that's my life...


Monday, May 18, 2015

Doing It Old School

(Yes, I've been absent. Sometimes there are bigger things to contend with than doing my blog.

But I'm back.)

See this?

It's my dog-eared, 2002 version, I'm-the-only-one-who-uses-it thesaurus. My sons prefer the Google or Microsoft versions.

To which I say "Pbbbbbbbbbttt!"

The electronic versions SUCK. You get what, maybe 5 or 6 synonyms and one antonym. Excuse me while I don't get excited. Yeah, you find a word that works and use it, taking all of 10 seconds and go on your writing way. That's fine for amateurs.

I'm in the Big Leagues.

Nothing compares to picking up this baby, thumbing through its pages to uncover what you seek- a more precise word instead of settling for an 'ok, this works' substitute.

Example: you've used 'friend' a lot in your manuscript, play, short story. In my Oxford University Press American Thesaurus (the publisher knows and uses English better than Google or Microsoft) are the following entries:

soul mate
alter ego

See the choices? Each one a little more subtle in meaning than the next, opening up a flood of inspiration for the next sentence or even paragraph.

And that's not all.

As I thumb through some of the dirty, wrinkled, maybe torn pages, I am reminded of words that I haven't seen or used in a long time. I'm introduced to new word friends that might just appear in the next sentence or paragraph. Sometimes I like to peruse (word I haven't used in a while, see that?) the verdant pages of words waiting to be discovered, used, or leading to other words. For a writer, it's like an ice cream store (better than candy).

So go old school once in a while and rediscover the thrill of all those words at your fingertips...