Friday, July 30, 2010

100 Words About: Tupperware

Why not? I have to confess, I love my Tupperware. I have lots of other kinds of durable plastic containers, but the Tupperware set I got from my mom when my parents moved is by far my favorite. I love it so much that when my big Harvest Yellow salad bowl got damaged by a friend setting a hot toasting fork on it, The Husband went online and found me a replacement.

It doesn't warp, it doesn't break, it doesn't bubble in the microwave or the dishwasher. You can heat it, freeze it, drop it, and it doesn't leak. It's dependable. I like dependable. I like things you can count on—-flimsy has little place in my house, and no place in my kitchen. And, barring toasting forks, these bowls will probably outlive me. I much prefer that idea to the rampant disposablism of our current cultural attitudes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

College For Writers

One of the interesting topics that came up as I was listening to old episodes of I Should Be Writing was what is a good college degree for a writer?

First, I think you should be thinking about what job you're going to have while you work toward being a full-time writer, if that's what you want to do. Only a fraction of a percentage of writers will get to be full-time writers right out of the gate. The vast majority of us need day jobs, and you should plan your major around whatever is going to pay your bills. If you don't expect your college degree to have anything to do with your day job, skip college. It's nice, don't get me wrong, but it's a whole huge ton of debt that you are going to have to pay back. Save yourself tens of thousands of dollars and several years of your life and go to Clarion or another workshop instead.

However, if someone else is paying for you to go to school, or if you're going to school for one thing but want to maximize your electives with writing in mind, here are my thoughts. Focus on classes that teach things or offer experiences you can't readily learn from books. Books are cheaper than college courses.

Psychology: I got a psych degree because it was the thing I was closest to finishing when I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As far as WTF degrees go, it's a good one; people think that it means you might be good at dealing with people. After all, that's what HR people get a lot of the time. It doesn't actually mean that you're good with people though. What a psych degree will do for you is give you some insight into why people are so screwed up, and some of the ways that people are screwed up. (What you do with that knowledge is, of course, up to you.) This can definitely be useful when developing realistic characters or when you want to manipulate your characters in a realistic way. Get yourself a broad look at psychology—-behavioral, cognitive, developmental, psychoanalytic, all of it. All of the models have their strengths and weaknesses, and since you're just a writer, you can pick and choose all the interesting bits. A lot of psych can be learned from books, but not a lot the really neat stuff, and all the really interesting classes require you to take the beginning classes anyway. (I'll start preparing you now: correlation does not equal causation. Say it with me.)

Folklore: I was one class short of accidentally getting a certificate (roughly the equivalent of a minor) in folklore, so like with psych I'm a little biased. However, folklore is the study of story. I think it's hard to go wrong with that. The way my teachers all looked at it was that history was the study of what actually happened, and folklore was the study of what people believed had happened, and why they believed it, and what it meant to them. Folklorists don't care about what the facts were. They care about the story; why the story is interesting, how does the story change or remain the same from culture to culture, audience to audience, generation to generation. You will learn a lot about good storytelling by studying folklore, as well as get familiar with the plot and character archetypes that you'll use again and again as a writer. (Please note: pretty much all of my folklore professors had two jobs. There is a reason that was not my major.)

History: There are so many interesting stories out there that studying history can be a great way to start as a writer. Many authors have built fine successful careers out of writing historical fiction, and others have been inspired by past events into creating wondrous works in all sorts of genres. I only took one history class in college, but I wish I'd taken more. Still, history is one subject that is very easy to study outside of the classroom. Go for the hands-on sorts of classes, or at least ones with discussion groups.

English: I avoided English classes like the plague when I was in college. I regret that a lot; I probably could've shaved a few years off my learning curve with the right classes. However, in those years I was not ready to learn about writing from other people: a few bad experiences in my high school writing workshops led to my belief that letting other people "tell me how to write" would turn my own original work into someone else's Frankenstein. As with so many other things, I had to grow out of my early 20s before I was able to realize just how much I didn't know. You can learn a lot about writing from books, but nothing substitutes for one-on-one time with a really good teacher. Individual feedback is key. With that said, I will point out that a bad teacher can turn you off from writing—-avoid them at all costs. If you have to ask, it's worth dropping the class. Also note that a hard teacher is not necessarily a bad teacher, and vice versa.

Art: I recommend taking at least one basic drawing class. Artists look at things differently: they learn to see what something really looks like, and not what we think it looks like. This useful skill can be applied to all sorts of things. You can also develop this skill by studying philosophy, but it's a lot more straightforward in art. Which is funny, considering how much symbolism is in art—-but then, manipulating symbols (theme!) is a handy skill too.

Phy Ed: Stay active. Writers are a sedentary lot. Some of my favorite college classes were fencing (sabre and theatrical) and Relaxation. Of all the classes I took, I probably use the knowledge I got in Relaxation the most often. (Although Psychobiology of Stress and Coping is up there too.)

There are probably lots of interesting sociology classes and anthropology classes and biology classes and hard science classes that would also be good for writers, but I didn’t take any of those. I did take some in high school and later through the Teaching Company lectures. (I'm desperately hoping my library gets a copy of Impossible: Physics Beyond the Edge soon!) If you find something interesting, look into it. Study broadly. Read a lot. Having a wide repertoire of knowledge will give you lots of idea nuggets that you should be able to combine into interesting stories.

Image: Paul Martin Eldridge /

Friday, July 23, 2010

100 Words About: Sleep Thugs

I went to bed at a fairly reasonable time last night. Only got up once, around 3am. As far as I recall I slept ok, but apparently I also slept through a visit from the sleep thugs. I imagine them to be something like rejects from tooth fairy school—instead of giving you money while you sleep, they beat you up. I'm stiff and sore and exhausted, and I didn't even get to do anything stupid that might have made up for it. I didn't even have a freaking drink. You'd think they'd at least have the courtesy to wait until I did something that I shouldn't have.

Image: djcodrin /

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guest Post Fiction at Writing Under Pressure

Make sure to stop by Writing Under Pressure, the blog of my fellow Wisconsin Writer Christi Craig, to read a flash fiction piece based around the word "bitten."

Gee, what would I do with a word like that? Hmmm.... ;)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Closing the Lid

This weekend vanished a lot faster than I expected, given this was one of the few weekends this summer The Husband and I didn't have something planned. Of course, that meant we went to two early bird movies (Predators and Inception) and road-tripped out to Berres Brothers, a local coffee roaster, and spent time costume-hunting for an upcoming themed wedding. I didn't even get laundry done.

The weekend started on a bit of a down note, which definitely contributed to my decision to blow off serious stuff. After getting home on Friday I discovered a package on my front porch. It was from the editor I'd sent my novel to back in March.

The package was a cardboard box, just about the right size for my manuscript.

That kept me from getting my hopes up, actually, because I couldn't imagine why else I'd get a package that size. If an editor is interested in your manuscript, would they really send the whole thing back before they contacted you? Sure enough, it was a form rejection. I'm not sure why he returned the full manuscript—I'd sent a SASE, and while I didn't specifically say the manuscript was disposable, I've never had anyone else return one before—but there it was. No comments, just the short "thanks but no thanks."

This is far from the first rejection I've gotten on this puppy, but I'd told myself this was my last shot. It's time. So as of Friday the novel is officially trunked. I may pull it out if I do a workshop in the future (I'm kinda hoping to do one next year), but otherwise the plan is to not look at the stupid thing until 2015, and then rewrite it from scratch without reading the old one. I think I'll have enough distance by then that I might actually be able to do something with it. At this point I'm just spinning my wheels on it. I've been working on it for longer that I care to admit, and I hate it. I've been rearranging those deck chairs for so long that I can't tell what's good and what's crap. I love the characters, and even the story—I just hate the pile of words I've put together.

Now, I don't know if Gabriel will leave me alone for five full years. (For those of you who've read A Wild Hunt, yes, that Gabriel.) He tends to get restless if I ignore him too long, so you may see him crop up in new stories from time to time.

But anyway, I was kinda down about it. That's a significant chunk of my life I just stuck in a drawer. I know most writers have a trunk novel, and I don't regret the work I put into it because I learned so much while writing and rewriting and rewriting again. However, I'm really glad I've done all the short stories this last year or so. I think it would've been a lot harder to keep writing after trunking the novel if I hadn't. Not that I've actually done any fiction writing yet, but I'll be working on a flash piece for Cristi Craig's blog tomorrow, and I still need to get "Succor" in the can like I said I would.

As I type this I am sitting on my couch with The Crazy Dog curled up next to me. The dishwasher is going, and I have chores to do, and a husband to wake up in fifteen minutes. I have a dog that needs her walk and cats that need to be fed. I need to get down to the gym and get my workout in. I have laundry that must get started or I will have no socks to wear tomorrow. But what I don't have is a 70,000-word albatross around my neck anymore. It's done. I'm closing the trunk lid.

On to the next novel.

Friday, July 16, 2010

100 Words About: Making the Most of Work

As I mentioned previously, I've been listening to podcasts at work a lot lately. Right now I'm going through the archives of I Should Be Writing, a podcast I very much recommend. I've been getting a lot of good ideas from the podcast, and I can't wait until I'm all caught up so I can send Mur an email.

I love being able to listen to these at work. My day job is one of the things that really sucks away my writing time and my energy, but it's a totally necessary evil. I don't read blogs or websites at work (except occasionally on break), so if I want to keep up on industry blogs then it takes time away from writing. But with podcasts I can listen to advice and get ideas and good industry information while getting paid—and I'm still working, so it's not like I'm really stealing time from my job. It's the best of both worlds!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Slump Dog Blues

I'm in a bit of a slump of late, and I'm hoping my new critique group which starts tomorrow will help snap me out of it. I'm not sure how much erotica I'll be able to bring to the group—I'll read just about anything, but I don't expect other to read things that make them uncomfortable—but I hope I can at least bring the non-nookie bits of 1794, plus I have other non-erotica stuff I plan to bring as well.

Writing has become something of a chore, which makes me sad. Even projects that I'm interested it make me cringe, because I have this feeling that I should finish this other project first, or that other project first, and wasn't I going to start researching this other thing? Ugh.

I have a short I'm still trying to finish for an anthology that closes on the 15th. I think I'll make it. All I have left is the sex scene and the wrap-up. Part of the reason I want to do this one is the fact that I haven't been submitting near enough stuff this year, and part is I would love to see more money rolling in. (And part is it sounds like a cool antho and I would not mind a free copy!) Even though I wouldn't get paid for this antho until next year, I'd at least feel a little better. Now that my netbook is paid for and upgraded I'm putting all of my writing earnings toward debt. A little extra incentive to write, I hope, although I could spent my time more profitably by getting a part time job. Still, for flexible hours you can't beat writing.

I have a couple of projects I've been meaning to work on but haven't because I don't know what happens in the story yet, and my attempts to outline have been a miserable failure, as usual. Once I get this short story and 1794 done, I think I will just sit down and start writing the first chapters of the YA that's been poking around in the back of my head for awhile. Maybe I'll figure it out with the old pantster method.

Of course, that means finishing 1794. I got to the end of chapter 3, and now I'm stuck. It's another thing where I need to just sit down and write pure first draft. I'm planning on adding a completely new chapter 4, and I need to just suck it up and write it even though it means I'm going to have to edit the hell out of it later. I hate editing soooo much. I'm so jealous of my colleagues who love edits.

I did get some good feedback from last week's critique group on my story "Succor the Child." I'm hoping to finish the last tweaks on that one this week and then boot it out the door. That will feel good.

Friday, July 9, 2010

100 Words About: Waiting for Godot

Last night I went to see Waiting for Godot for the first time. I knew nothing about the play: I'd heard of it, and it was supposed to be a classic, one of those bits of culture I'd never quite gotten around to.

American Players Theatre always does an excellent job with whatever they set their mind on, and this was no exception. (If you ever get a chance to go, I couldn't recommend it more!) Not only was the acting freaking phenomenal, but the actors held a discussion of the play afterward. Many audience members said that this was the best version of it they had seen, but one thing I found very interesting was a comment by young Marco Lama, who was playing the boy. A member of the audience asked him what he thought of the play, and he replied (in part) that people often talk without actually saying anything, and whenever he hears people do that he thinks of Waiting for Godot. (For those of you who haven't seen it, a large part of the play is filled with people killing time with ridiculous and obtuse conversation.)

Of course, this percipient observation was followed shortly by a woman in the audience who, in the guise of asking a question, babbled on without really saying (or asking) anything. And I honestly don't think she realized that she was doing it. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Outlining: Do I Really?

Outlining. A contentious subject among writers; some feel lost without one, others couldn't outline ahead of time if their life depended on it. Most writing books espouse outlining in some form, as it generally saves the writer a lot of time and energy.

For many years, I thought I was a no-outline person. But a recent conversation has made me reconsider that view.

When I first started writing I was a total pantster. I had a handful of characters and a supposition, and I rarely had any idea what was coming beyond the next scene, or maybe two. Sometimes I had an idea for what the ending might be, but often it changed a lot before I got far into the story.

When I started writing short stories, a lot of times the characters-plus-supposition was the bulk of the story. These are the characters, this is the situation, this is how they got in the situation, and this is the resolution. Boom. Done.

Note that there isn't a lot of middle in this. The middle was always what messed me up before: if I had the beginning and the ending, I had no idea how my characters got from one to the other. Now, with the stories so much shorter, there was a lot less middle to muddle through. I was usually starting close enough to the end that by the time I got through the set-up I was almost to the end anyway, especially since I knew that part of the middle (and possibly part of the end) was going to be the nookie bit. And the ending had to be HEA or HFN.

I didn't think much of this transition, because as far as I was concerned I still couldn't outline. I tried, to be sure. I tried using note cards, I tried doing summaries, I tried drawing plot lines. Nothing worked for me. I'd just sit there and stare at whatever I was supposed to be writing on, because I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to get the story down. My brain would tangent like crazy until I gave up and started just writing the darn story.

So imagine my surprise when I was sitting down with E Victoria Flynn and Christi Craig over coffee, complaining about plotting, and Victoria says to me, "Yeah, but you outline."


"You do. You know where your story is going before you start writing it."

My first thought was, "Well, of course I know where it's going. How could I start if I didn't?" And then I remembered how I used to write, and I realized she might be right. This was a bit of a shock.

I still can't do a traditional outline. I spent some time in the last couple weeks trying to do an outline for 1794, a story I've already written, and still failed miserably. I know roughly what I want to change, and roughly how I might go about it, but I'm still not sure what the actual form will take or how the two characters are going to react to the changes. But I've managed to get the first three chapters revised without a clear outline, and I think I know where I'm taking the changes from here.

Does that make me an outliner? You be the judge.

Friday, July 2, 2010

100 Words About: July

Looking like a big month for me. Next week the monthly critique group I recently joined will be giving me feedback on my short story "Succor the Child." My first time getting feedback from this group, and only my second time attending, aught to be interesting.

The weekly group a few of us have been talking about should be starting the week after that. The tentative format for that one will be everyone brings 4 pages and reads them out loud. I'm looking forward to that. My intention is to only bring new stuff to that, so hopefully it will be an incentive to keep butt in chair.

I'll be doing a guest flash fiction over at Christi Craig's blog, more details soon!

And at the end of the month I'll be giving my very first informal workshop, woohoo! Fortunately I have my notes mostly written out already, but I'm a little nervous. I hope I don't start babbling like an idiot.