The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible - Vladimir Nabokov

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you - Zora Neale Hurston

08 December 2010

Balancing your writing projects

What do you do when you have too many irons in the fire? In my case, it's too many writing projects while there's a bun in the oven. I have a deadline of May 20th 2011, the baby's due date, but this could be weeks earlier or later because babies aren't as precise about deadlines as editors and publishers.
As an 'aspiring writer' (the kind term for 'unpublished'), you'd think I have all the time in the world to tinker with my manuscript, right? So, so, so wrong. I work full time and have no delusions about finding time to write when there's a newborn in the house. Then after I go back to work, I'm certain my spare time will be spent playing catch up on my career as well as trying to keep up with the baby (and I want to be there as much as possible). So, with a scarcity of writing time available in the foreseeable future and heaps right now (relatively speaking), what do I do first? Here are the current projects to consider:
  1. my first novel (it's actually my third, but the first I really have high hopes for)--currently 130,000 words, fully revised, but it's only one half of an epic fantasy, and I want to complete both parts before submitting to agents, so I can be sure I have the story exactly how I want it and nifty foreshadowing worked in, etc.
  2. a screenplay for a 20 min short, promised to an 'aspiring independent film-maker' friend--currently outlined and at 5 pages (~1/4 done)
  3. a collection of Native American stories, retold for modern comprehensibility, meant for a calendar and an illustrated book featuring my husband's artwork, both of which we plan to self-publish--still in the research stage, but of huge importance to my husband and his art career
  4. blogging and social networking--but I've already cut that back so much there are probably only two or three of you out there still reading this
  5. work-related writing, namely grants to support me when I come back from maternity leave and to fund my child's future--currently at the vague idea stage with the first deadline in February (and this is a real deadline)
Any ideas? I'm currently in the overwhelmed and paralyzed stage, so nothing is getting done.
If I can shake off this freeze reflex (it's not just fight or flight, people--some of us freeze when frightened out of our wits), then, logically, my priorities should be #5, #2, #3, #1, and still-suffering-#4.
Stupid logic.
I SO want to work on my novel right now.
Guess I'll resume staring at my to do list...

04 November 2010

Rich and Poor

I read this great post by Julie Bush and was moved to say something, alot of things, but I'll try to keep my thoughts from going off on too many tangents. A bit of background: Julie writes with raw emotion. Sometimes I steel myself before reading her stuff, knowing I'm going to feel uncomfortable, but that's what I love about her too. This time she made me feel shame, hope, and even a bit transcendent all at once. She was talking about growing up in poverty, not ghettos of South Africa poverty, but the American version, where everyone around you seems so much better off with their shiny new cars and perfect teeth, while you're too embarrassed to even let friends see your house. I know exactly how that feels. I grew up on food stamps, wearing dollar clothes from the Salvation Army, and my house was so trashed you could barely tell where the junkyard next door ended and our place began. Even if my beer-swigging, always-red-with-rage, stepfather had allowed us to bring friends home, I wouldn't have dared.

But Julie has great friends who won't let her dwell, and they told her to write about being rich. Rich and poor are states of mind. She told a story of being a struggling writer, whingeing online about being unable to afford one thing or another, and how a screenwriter in LA looked up her address and sent her $300. Six months later, she moved to Hollywood, paid him back, and has worked as a screenwriter ever since. That guy gave her the money, not because he expected to be paid back, but to show that he valued art and artists...Okay, this is when I started crying. And where I felt ashamed.

My junkyard environment was not conducive to the arts, and I haven't even mentioned to my mother that I write novels on the side. I was told I spent too much time with my head in the clouds, a dreamer. She never expected any of us kids to do anything with our lives. I think she hoped for it, making her life seem less grim in comparison. She's not the reason I went to college, got a PhD, and moved to Australia--that was all for me--but it doesn't hurt that 'I showed her'. And what I'm ashamed of is not so much fearing to talk about my writing dreams with family or colleagues, who'll think I've got my head in the clouds, but of how I talk about my husband's art.

I have always, always encouraged him to follow his dreams, to paint, to enjoy life because it's over too quickly, and I haven't minded being the chief bread winner since I graduated (I'm a patron of the arts after all!), but I never talk about it like that to others. Friends ask how my husband's degree is going, and I say great, and they ask what his plans are, and I say he hopes to teach...It's what they want to hear, but I feel dirty every time, knowing I'm lying. He's severely dyslexic, how is he going to get an education degree to go with his arts degree? He's only sold a couple of paintings to acquaintances, so we can't rely on the art either. I see other people buying houses because they have two incomes, but I can't. Deep down I'm fine with it. I know if things ever got really tough, my husband would get whatever job he could and work hard to help out. He supported me through ten years of college doing hard labor 12 hours a day, so I know he's no slacker. But I made a choice to support a dream, whether something comes of it or not, and I'm not about to tell him to give it up so I can have the same luxuries as my colleagues.

Thanks to Julie, I realized I'm letting others make me feel poor when really I am so very very rich:

  • I have the best husband in the world, and we're still madly in love after 21 years
  • I'm going to have a baby!
  • I have a wonderful brother, several wonderful friends, and two beautiful cats
  • I have a great job that allows me to support both me and my husband's dreams
  • I'm healthy, well fed (unlike my childhood), with a spotless house, and I never want anything but chocolates for Christmas because I already have everything I truly need
  • I'm a writer! To be published someday (fingers crossed)
  • and all those terrible, strange, beautiful experiences of childhood are fodder for the imagination--it's all good in the end
I'm rich in every way that matters, and from now on I won't be ashamed to support an artist. More people need to. Most importantly, I'm happy, and it's not 'stuff' that makes me feel that way. How about you? What makes you rich?

01 November 2010

She's Alive!

I know my last post was (geez! has it really been that long?) 3 months ago, but I'm BAAACK! Almost in time for Halloween. I've peeked at a few blogs during my absence but haven't commented (bad me), not because I don't still love all of you, or because I've given up on writing (never!), but because I've been trying to focus all my energies on the task at hand, and it's worked--I'm going to be a mummy!!! (That's the Australian version of mommy, by the way). I'm so excited... and sooo sick all the time. Why didn't anyone warn me? Oh, right, they did. After 7 long years of trying, needles, and all the rest of it, I can put up with a bit of morning sickness though.

Now that I'm no longer freaking out about every cramp and strange new sensation, I'm rolling up my sleeves and getting back into that fantasy manuscript of mine. I've been reading George R. R. Martin, so I've stopped calling mine 'epic' fantasy (you could insulate the house for winter with his novels), and I've been devoting some of those sleepless hours in the night to thinking about improving my characters' voices and motivations, so hopefully I'll make some real progress before the little one comes.

Good luck to everyone doing NaNoWrMo! And I will be shambling about my favorite blogs soon to check on you all and say 'hi'. It's so good to be back.

20 July 2010

Just peeking out of my burrow

I only have 863 more blog posts to read! That's what I get for taking two weeks holiday from the blogosphere--two weeks that turned into four or six. I've lost count.
While I've missed you all and the wonderful anecdotes, inspiring stories of writing success, and commiseration among us poor unpublished sods, it has been hugely revitalizing to get away from it all. I feel like I've been living in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains with Old Ben (my cat has a bear-sized temper sometimes), snuggled beneath a blanket with my adorable husband, leaving the cruel world outside and forgotten (except for those zillion calls from telemarketers trying to convince me to change my power company. They even trekked into the deep woods and knocked on my door. The nerve!). It's difficult to emerge from such safe hibernation, but I'm in danger of becoming a hermit, so here I am.

Timid wave.

I finished a massive re-write of 80,000 words, and now I'm 15,000 words into the second half...or the second book. I really haven't figured out where to divide my epic fantasy yet. I want to get it all down and futz with that sort of thing later. For now, I'm all about characters, story, and craft. Everything I write is fantastic or horrible, depending on which day you ask. I have glimpsed brilliance, but it's not all there yet. I'm working on it. No time to talk. I must write! Going back to my cave now...

08 June 2010

Introverts, Extroverts, and Agents of Chaos

I know what you're thinking: "agents of KAOS" are the bad guys in that 1960's TV series, "Get Smart". At least, that's what I would have assumed if I were you, but I'm a bit strange. I'm really talking about character.

As you might remember from my previous post, I've been busy helping with my husband's art exhibition. Opening night was last week. Since I'd organized this shindig, I couldn't hide in the corner and observe people as I normally would. This poor writer had to be in the thick of things and, you know, actually talk to people.

Some of my husband's friends from art school were the first to show up. The discussion was invigorating, covering everything from artistic technique to symbolism, culture, and even writing! I enjoyed myself and didn't want the artistic jam session to end. But some workmates arrived, and I felt obligated to give them the tour. I was talking and gesturing and trying to convey my enthusiasm for the paintings, and the whole time I felt my energy levels plummet. It wasn't late, so I couldn't blame sleep deprivation.

Finally, an old friend of mine showed up with her two children. It was great to see her, and I wanted to catch up, but her seven- and eight-year-olds weren't as interested in the paintings as she thought they'd be. I think they expected "finger painting". I volunteered to watch them while she fetched placating offerings of cocoa from the cafe downstairs. They headed straight for the stage, playing hide and seek in the curtains. Everything was under control, but then I spotted a gallery owner I'd invited. This was the important business end of things.

The kids looked fine where they were, so I darted over, grabbed my husband, and introduced him to the new arrival. My husband is a bit shy when talking about his work, so I had to get the conversation going, all the while watching the kids out of the corner of my eye. They'd discovered a keyboard I hadn't even noticed on the stage, one hooked up to the sound system with the volume on "high". I tried to ignore the first few notes, which were almost pretty, and I wondered if the boy had had piano lessons. Nope. A few raucous, jangling chords later, I had to excuse myself and charge the stage with a shushing finger to my lips. The boy paused at the intervention of adult authority, but then his sister joined in. I have younger siblings; I've babysat, but this was centre stage in the middle of an art exhibition. "Please don't do that. The sign says you're not supposed to touch..." Everything fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, I'm watching the gallery owner and my husband and hoping their conversation isn't too impaired by the cacophony.

Their mother was back, except she was more interested in the keyboard than the noise issuing from it. I think she's grown filters over her ears. She could read the "do not touch" sign, though, and in her arcane mothering manner managed to get them off the stage...but not before the boy almost broke his neck climbing a rickety stool. I think I need to do some child rearing research before my IVF treatment kicks in. The cats are well trained, nothing the threat from a squirt bottle of water won't fix, but the eight-year-old-agents-of-chaos are a bit more tricky. The girl even managed to spill her cocoa all over her mom, so my friend had to head home before we had five seconds to chat.

At least the gallery owner was oblivious to the circus (she must have kids), and my husband managed to line up an exhibition with her at the end of July. Whew!

But, after the art friends were gone, the evening really began to wear. I was stuck with people who left me feeling as drained as a blood bag in a room full of vampires. I recalled something I'd read about psychological traits:  Introverts (like me and the creative art friends) get their energy from quiet time alone and then give it away when they're in groups of people. Thus, the need for a solitary walk in the park later to recharge. Extroverts (like my co-workers), however, are energized by parties and interactions with others. I'd been vampirized!

I usually don't have to worry about energy-suckers when observing from the fringes, but being in the fray made me vulnerable. Still, despite the lack of observational/note-taking time, I did learn a lot about character types. In fiction, there should be introverts, extroverts, and, especially, agents of chaos around to make a scene more interesting!

29 May 2010

Facets of Character

My weekly blog post is a bit late for several reasons (such as preparing for my husband's art exhibition), but the biggest setback was having two days eaten up by a lab retreat at Umina beach. Normally, driving one and a half hours out of the city to stay in a cabin by the beach would be a great thing, but winter is closing in (so no snorkeling) and this was a work get together--which means no free time and no fun.

I spent both days listening to talks, giving one of my own, and engaging in scientific discussions. I was forced to eat too much food, but that's another story. Afternoons were spent in group bonding, which, with icy rain pelting the tennis court, meant board games in the boss's cabin.

There's nothing like the fish out of water scenario to reveal whole new facets of people's character. Most of the group banded together for a game of "Cranium", similar to charades, except people can draw, sculpt, act, or sing the clues. It was a surprise to learn who could sing well and who couldn't even hum. One girl had a talent for guessing, getting "James Bond 'Goldeneye'" from an abstract line sketched on paper. And apparently everyone has seen the dead-body-being-dragged-around episode of "Fawlty Towers". There was lots of laughter, and the fun sides of people (who are normally severe and composed in lab) were revealed.

I was not in the "Cranium" group. Somehow, I ended up playing "Scrabble" with a bunch of Type A personalities, including my boss. I tried to tune out all the jokes and laughter behind me so I could focus on the serious business at hand--winning a game I'd never played before. Yes, odd that a writer has never played Scrabble, but I've seen it on TV, so I at least knew how to set up my tiles.

My boss is a kind and supportive person, and he helped me learn the rules and get going. Cranium is not the only game to bring out different facets in people, however. Once I did start winning, my boss's ruthless side emerged. He was constantly questioning the scorekeeper, making sure every point was properly credited to him, and he insisted that the oddest words were "in the dictionary". Whatever. I like to win, but I don't get crazy about it.

Still, luck was on my side, and I was the first to use up all my tiles, after composing "Zen" and "grout". The points were on my side too--I'd won! No, the boss quickly demanded a recount. Even upside down he could see the addition had an error. OK, he won by three points, and all was right with the world. Calm, friendly boss man was back. I had a hard time stifling my mirth but shared a few rolled eyeball looks with the scorekeeper.

I also saw a whole new side of our usually perky, resident chemist. He lost badly and refused to play again, preferring to sit cross-armed in a childish huff.  I smothered my grin and slipped away to my cabin at the earliest opportunity.

There's nothing like competition to bring out people's true character. When you're writing your next story and creating protagonists, ask yourself whether they're the Cranium or Scrabble type and how they react to winning or losing. You'll understand them a whole lot better.

22 May 2010

Donate a book!

Another post already? I know, my head is swimming too, but I just wanted to link to this site where they will donate a book to a needy child, if you leave a comment describing a book that changed your life.

Go on over.
Uhm...that is all. See, this is why I only post once a week, I'm all out of ideas. Hats off to you who do it everyday!

21 May 2010

Nature of Imagination

We are so fond of being out among nature, because it has no opinions about us. -Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)

There's nothing more inspiring than nature. Ask Frost, Walden, Thoreau... even Nietzsche (who I otherwise abhor). Whenever I need to recharge, I take a walk in the twelve acre park right across the street from where I live. There's a million breathtaking sights every day, whether it's a field of crows hunting insects in the green grass at dawn or a sky full of fruit bats soaring across an orange sunset.

As a writer, or maybe because I'm an imaginative person, I tend to anthropomorphize. Give me a teddy bear and I automatically assign him a personality (a beanie bear I got for my anniversary inspired a series of picture books for my niece). I do this with trees too. I have about six or seven favorites I pay a visit to when walking through the park or on my way to work. I don't call them "George" or share my day or anything, but I acknowledge their existence. Sort of a casual nod to acquaintances. There are wise-looking ones, beautifully shaped picture postcard-worthy ones, ones that hold a birds' nest every year, one the possum climbs at night, a long branch where a line of fruit bats dangle... So many trees, so many personalities.

Then last week I was on my way to work and ran across a scene like this:

A massive tree I'd often admired was suddenly on the ground in cedar red chunks and piles of sawdust. The workman were still sawing as I watched open-mouthed. It felt as though I'd stumbled on a murder scene. George!

I wanted to do something, but it was too late. And it's not like you can report arboricide to the police. I know there are reasons to chop a tree down--power lines, too close to a building, etc--but this made no sense. It was a waste. I mourned him for days.

I lost another tree friend last year, which was an even bigger shock at the time. He'd been around forever, and I thought he'd last forever. I take these things too hard. It would be easier to stop anthropomorphizing, but I can't. Instead, I gaze on my favorites a bit longer now, touch their bark, and imprint them to memory...and I buy more ebooks. Anything to save the lives of a few leafy friends.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. - William Blake (1757-1827)

And don't forget to Green Your Blog !

Did you? It's easy, and the tree they plant for you just might be named George!

10 May 2010

Too Much Drama

Fiction is full of impossible things: magic, international conspiracies, convoluted murder plots in sleepy little towns, Armageddon...but at what point does it become unbelievable?

I know I can accept pretty much anything if I'm introduced slowly. When I first started watching "Buffy", I had no idea that by season 7 I'd be saying "they've averted their fifth apocalypse, and she's died twice, but this time I'm really worried because they're descending into the mouth of Hell, and she's had tearful goodbyes with both her vampire boyfriends, including the one she killed and who came back and got his own show...". Pretty crazy stuff, but I accept it because I was there for the journey.

As long as a book lets me know early on that there are monsters or whatnot, I'm prepared to go further. I don't like being plunged into the deep end.

Whenever I deal with my family, it's like being air-dropped into the middle of the pacific. My childhood was such a drama that I stopped telling the stories to my friends because I think they were starting to believe I'm someone with too much imagination (like a writer). My brother is one of the few people who knows it all--he was right there with me from the start. We share everything. So it was a shock when I call home for Mother's Day and my mom answers using a different name (that wasn't the shocking part--I didn't even ask her what that was all about as I really don't want to know), and she's too busy to talk, so she puts my sister on the phone. My sister, relishing the chaos like some demonspawn, joyously tells me that she knows something bad about our brother but can't tell. "I want to know," I say. There is one more token protest before she spits out that he's having heart problems, a hole in his valve, and the doctor says he can't even climb ladders at work anymore (he does alot of that at work too).

The deep end alright. I hastily research the subject and learn there are medications to treat it and valve replacements with high success rates (although I'm worried about how good my brother's insurance is). Armed with this information, I call him and immediately jump down his throat for not telling me. We had talked for hours on the weekend (he's one of my best friends), and he hadn't mentioned a word! With no way to hide it from me anymore, he becomes doom and gloom. He doesn't want to change his career and lifestyle, yada yada, and I say he'd better because he has a daughter to raise and a family that cares for him.

The admonishments out of the way, I get all optimistic and supportive. There are tears and "I love you's" then I hang up the phone, talk things over with my husband, then call up the computer repair people and deal with that drama (they're going to replace it finally). Next day it's my friend's mammogram scare, my injured toe, antibiotics, an early meeting to decide the course of someone's professional life... Sometimes you just want to scream "stop!" and order the whole world to take a break.

I would never put so many disjointed dramas into one story and one character's life. It's too confusing. A series, where you've had several books or tv episodes to build up the web of interactions and problems, is another matter, but even then you want your various storylines to intersect and form a greater theme.

A character can have dozens of different failed relationships, for example, but it should accomplish something or give insight into the protagonist. Why is he driving these people away? Is there a part of his psyche and upbringing that's causing him to make bad choices? Is this his real problem? (aside from the bad guy and a nuclear bomb to diffuse or whatever)

It's hard to see themes in fiction or real life (and some argue there aren't any), but I believe it's a writer's job to find them, to choose the dramas that fit into a larger, cohesive story and make sense of it all.

As for my personal story, I'd like my main character to always be there for the people she cares about and never give up, overcoming all obstacles to be a published author and showing her beloved brother his name on the acknowledgments page. Love and dedication are the themes I want in my life.

What's the main point of your story--either fictional or real? Do you think story is meant to reveal underlying themes and make sense of it all? Or, do we merely sample the chaos for entertainment, as a means to distract us from our own unsolvable dramas?

04 May 2010

Going Luckless

I've always been able to feel "the luck groove" as I call it. It's sensing the right time to leave the house for a walk so I avoid the rain and run into an interesting person in the park to chat to yet still make it to breakfast before they stop serving at 10:30. I thrive on that feeling. It's how I win pool games. But I also know there's a universal law that luck never holds. That's why I've lost as many pool games as I've won.

When I feel the needle bump out of the groove and hear that screech like fingernails on chalkboard (those of you old enough to have owned a turntable and seen chalkboards will know what I mean), I choose to lay low. I putter and carry on with activities set in motion when the luck was there. I've been wrestling with a new computer, setting up a home network, promoting my husband's art exhibition, researching IVF, learning to read guitar Tab, and troubleshooting my Western blots at work, but the hardest thing has been keeping my writing and revisions from grinding to a halt. I know its not working. Everything I write is crap.

My writing is too important to me to rely on luck, moods, or the weather. I want to perform whether I'm in a comfy chair with my favorite coffee mug and writing tiara or scribbling with a leaky pen on a bumpy bus ride. I've been good about pressing on through the ups and downs for the last two years (since I fully committed myself to this life), but the last month I've stumbled. I'm not feeling the luck or much of anything. The writing mood starts to build then drifts away. I keep going with the edits, but now everything I've done before looks like it needs to be redone. Have I accomplished anything? Am I the Sisyphus of writing?

I work on my manuscript for at least an hour everyday, aiming for 500 new or revised words. It's agony, but I do it (most of the time). I'm too stubborn to give up. And now, here I am posting again! I've redecorated the blog and put up a photo without a speck of cat hair in sight (it took a while to find one). I'm feeling the first trickles of returning luck, so I hope the writing fever comes back too. If not, I'll learn to do without, because, even when the writing aches, I'm happier with it than without it.

What about you? How do you live without the luck groove? What keeps you going when the writing doesn't work? Are you an optimist or just plain stubborn?

14 April 2010

The Anti-Query Contest

I've been query letter writing (in an effort to delay revisions as long as possible), and I've stumbled across some helpful resources: Elana Johnson did a terrific and motivating blog series; Nathan Bransford has lots of useful tips; and Query Shark isn't afraid to tell you what agents really think.

I, however, am not an expert on query writing. I'm working on it. If I figure it out, I'll let you know. So why am I posting on this topic? While fiddling with my query, I got side-tracked again and had heaps of fun writing the opposite of a good query: The Anti-Query. Behold...


Dear Agent [I didn't bother to look up your name so imagine your name here]:

A Ninja with a dark past, a tortured soul who has tortured many souls but not soles, because Ninjas don't wear shoes, though sometimes they have those funny flats with the cloth bit that goes between the toes; I don't know what it's called, but you must know what I'm talking about, because everyone knows about Ninjas.
Then he goes riding real fast through the desert on a motorcycle (I don't know how he got there, but I'll work it out later) with zombies. Yeah, zombies! 'Cause it's cool. And he loves Megan Fox. He's dating her. Well, he has her poster, which is like dating her, 'cause she's there whenever he has sex. The book's not written yet, but I expect it will be about 10 pages, maybe 12. The ninja's name is Johnny or Bob or he might be a woman. Johnette? Bobette? I don't know. I'm only halfway through the book--that's SIX pages, which is lots of writing. There's no robots in it though. Robots are stupid...unless they're sexy robots. I haven't worked out the ending, but he either gets the girl or a bigger poster.
BIO: I am a 50 year old professor of socio-economic anthropology at Harvard, so I know nothing about Ninjas, and I have never written fiction before, because it's for stupid people, but I do have a poster of Megan Fox, and how hard can it be? I've attached all 6 pages to this email. I will stay online until you get back to me. Buy my book or burn in lakes of fire! I know where you live :[


So...I'm pretty sure I know what NOT to do. Just so everyone else can have a bit of query writing fun and to celebrate my having almost 50 followers (wow! thanks guys!), I'll make it a contest. Write the worst query you can and either leave a link to your blog post in comments or email me your entry to lorelclayton(at)hotmail(dot)com -- one winner will receive a fabulous prize! It will be good, I promise.

Now, just to prove that my query writing skills really aren't that awful, here's what I have so far for my last manuscript (not the one I'm working on now). I don't think it's publishable, but I thought I could use it for practice...

Dear [well researched agent's name here]:

Eva Thorne is a human refugee in a city of rude elves and matriarchal dwarfs. After the detective she tries to hire slams the door in her face, she is forced to investigate her brother’s murder on her own. She kicks off her high heels and delves into the muck of Highcrowne society in search of the killer. As a Thorne, she has a lot of muck to deal with. Her family has a sinister history and many enemies. What she discovers brings her up against a powerful slave-trading cartel, dark gods, and, worst of all, her twin sister.

Both her family and the elven authorities want her hushed. She has no money and no magic of her own with which to combat them, but she does have an illegally-freed slave, a senile nanny, and an ex-almost-boyfriend on her side. Even when she loses her job and almost loses her head in a sword fight on the same night, she isn’t deterred. It’s when the nanny goes missing that she really starts to worry.

“Tangle of Thornes” is an 80,000 word stand alone fantasy detective novel. The first five pages and a synopsis are included below this email. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Any suggestions for improving it will be welcomed with open arms and grateful cheek kisses (the sterile internet kind). And don't forget to enter the contest!

09 April 2010

Blogfest blood

I bet you weren't expecting to hear from me again so soon? I try to post about once a week, but I'm back with a bit of bloodshed for Anne Riley's Murder Scene Blogfest. Australia is a day ahead of most of the Western world, so I get to post now! Head on over to Anne's blog "tomorrow" and see everyone else's contributions. They'll be great.

Sorry to disappoint anyone looking for gore, but I'm a bit squeamish about that stuff and tend to show the aftermath in my writing rather than the murder itself. This is a scene from my very first manuscript (so be kind) and I'd love to hear your comments. Here goes:

Shawn felt a premonitory chill. He moved in front of Lori and turned the knob on the door. It wasn’t locked. He slowly pushed it open.

“Maggie?” Lori called.

He put a finger to his lips to silence her.
What was he doing? He had the urge to run away; instead he kept moving forward. He crept into the hall, wincing as floorboards creaked. He looked into the living room where Maggie’s easel sat. She spent most days working in front of it or tending her garden. She was in front of the easel now, sitting in her rocker. He didn’t relax. There was something wrong.

He inched toward her, looking around the room for any sign of what had put him on edge. Then he noticed the plastic ties that bound her arms to the chair. There was no movement. He remembered what had happened to Barney, and he couldn’t go any closer.

Lori reached her grandmother’s side, and her eyes widened. Shawn waited for her scream but heard tape ripping, followed by Maggie’s pained gasp. She was alive. He hurried to them and saw the bruises on the old woman’s wrists and ankles where the ties dug in. Her head lolled weakly to the side, mouth red where Lori had torn off the gag.

“Dave.” Tears glistened in Maggie’s eyes.

He noticed the chair was angled away from the easel, facing the dining room. He looked through the doorway and saw horror laid out on the formal table. Bright red blood, lots of blood staining the white lace, and the remnants of a person. He looked away before it could sink in. Bile rose in his throat. He saw Maggie’s tormented stare and knew she had been forced to watch as her friend was tortured and killed. He turned her chair away.

“I can’t take them off!” Lori struggled with the plastic ties, growing more frustrated. She kept her back to the dining room; she must have caught a glimpse as well. “I need something sharp.”

“Just a second.” Shawn headed for the kitchen, glad to get some distance from that room.

He opened a drawer and searched for something to cut with. He found a paring knife. As his hand grasped the handle, he felt that chill again. He turned around.
A figure dressed in black jeans, windbreaker, gloves and ski mask stood there, calmly watching him. Shawn jumped and pressed his back against the cabinet. The killer was still here.

Thanks everyone who stopped by! Hope to see you later!

07 April 2010

It's so frustrating...

It's so frustrating when a main character is passive, boring and dragging the whole book down with them. The novel I'm reading now never shows the resolution of a conflict. The girl runs away and her protector dispatches the villain off camera. Argh! Why is she even the main character? I'd rather be viewing events through his eyes.

In Nancy Kress's book "Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint", she says you have to decide who you're going to tell the story through. I dismissed her advice at first--I start with a great idea and a main character and I can't *gasp* change it!--but I've seen many instances where it would've been better to axe the main and use the sidekick or the opponent as the focus of the story.

The main protagonist should drive events, make the choices that affect how everything turns out, and preferably be strong. In Stephen King's "On Writing" he talks about how Carrie was never his favorite character because she was so meek and passive most of the time. It was a very successful book, but I don't think it would have been if she hadn't transformed into the evil, scary, exactor-of-vengeance she became at the end. Nowadays, most people's attention spans are shorter (as we are overwhelmed with books, TV and movie choices) and I doubt few people want to wait until the end before the character is interesting. I know I've decided to never buy another book by the author I'm reading now, no matter how it turns out. There's been too much agony along the way.

My feelings on this subject have affected my own writing lately. I've noted where a character behaves more passively than I'd like. I also found one instance where my main was saved by somebody else! That won't do. I'm now rewriting it so, even though people who care about him are trying to help, they can't, and he has to find a way to get himself out of hot water. I think it will make for a more engaging story, so it's worth the effort.

What about you? What really annoys you in books? Do you often find a secondary character more interesting than the main? If you're a writer, have you ever thought about making someone else the main protagonist?

30 March 2010

Be Happy Right Now

I remember when I first started reading blogs, I came across a post by Nathan Bransford that warned writers (who tend to dream about the future as much as they dream about the imaginary lives of their fictional characters) to make life their priority and not sacrifice work or family for their writing. At the time, I thought: what's with the serious attitude? Are you trying to scare us fledgling writers off? You telling us we shouldn't hold out for a dream that may never happen? Well, I'm not listening to you buddy. I want this, and I'm not giving up!

I'm still not giving up--don't worry, that's not the object of this post--but I now understand where he was coming from. Writing and learning to write better takes a tremendous amount of energy and spare time (even time you can't really spare) and there are no guarantees you'll achieve authordom, let alone the success you imagine. I've often been tempted to slack off at work to sneak in a bit of writing time, and I even gave up a sunny potential-snorkeling day last weekend to work on revisions. But I'm learning to balance my writing obsession with my life.

I still scribble book notes at 3 AM like any other writer, because I'm willing to sacrifice sleep, but I'm not willing to sacrifice time with my husband. I read, go to the movies, snorkel (I spent the whole day at the beach a week ago), and I'm about to take a few guitar lessons, not to mention the IVF I'm planning later this year after seven years of trying for a baby...The point is, life has to go on, even while you're writing, and you have to be happy right this minute if you have any hope of being happy in the future.

Natalie Whipple (in her interview at Elana Johnson's blog) said, "You have to make the choice to live as presently as possible, and be okay with things not happening when you hope they will." This is a girl who's fairly successful, represented by Nathan Bransford, and she still goes through down moods where she's frustrated with the slow pace of building a writing career. I love hearing this sort of honesty from writers. I want to know it's not all sunshine and rainbows ahead. I need to know what to expect. I say, "Bring it on", but I know the way I've got to deal with it is to have a happy life on the side.

There is plenty of scientific evidence (wonderfully summarised for lay audiences on TED--I hope that's the right link) that we all have a preset happiness level. One man, a year after winning a $350 million dollar lottery, was just as happy as a paraplegic a year after his accident. What this means to me is I won't be any more content a year after I'm published than I am right now. Therefore, I must enjoy the process of writing, learning, and getting there. Happiness starts right now.

Are you happy? Is your writing stressing you out or are other aspects of your life to blame? Is there anything you plan to do to improve the balance?

Finally, a shout out to DL Hammons at Cruising Altitude for making me feel happy and loved with the Prolific Blogger Award!

I'm passing it on to some truly wonderful (and prolific) bloggers whose energy and up beat attitude I admire: Elizabeth at Mystery Writing is Murder; Dezmond at Hollywood Spy; Mason Canyon at Thoughts in Progress; and Elana Johnson. Congrats guys! Hope I made you a teensy bit happier ?

24 March 2010


Lately, I've encountered some great posts on characters (All Write with Coffee, A Woman's Write...and others that I can't find again, sorry!). I've ended up typing paragraphs on the subject in people's comments, so I decided this might be a better forum for my long windedness.

A topic that comes up again and again is how much of your self do you put into your characters? I know one of my beta readers is always trying to figure out which character is "me". The answer, of course, is all of them. Even the villains. I'm not talking superficial traits, appearance, habits, etc. (there may or may not be some of that there)-- I mean emotions. You have to feel it to write it.

I often imagine myself with a character's history and present dire circumstances and ask, "How would I feel? What would I do?" Sometimes (like with bad guys that are way meaner than me or main characters that aren't as cool and James Bond-like as I'd imagine myself to be in their shoes) I have to do some method acting. I don't wander around the room muttering like a mad villain or anything, but I use my own experiences of anger or frustration to imagine myself as that person. Same goes for characters experiencing joy or sadness. Nothing like the memory of my old St. Bernard, Bernie, to get me sobbing like...well a girl. Once you're "in character" it's much easier to write their dialogue and actions. That's when they do things that surprise you. It's a great feeling.

Paradoxically, the most important thing a fictional character needs is honesty. Interesting characters do and say the things we hide away in the deepest parts of our subconscious. When someone comes to work wearing a hideous purple shirt adorned with giant polka dots, most of us will keep quiet to avoid being rude, maybe even grasp for a compliment. An interesting character, however, might blurt out, "My god! You're not quitting to join the circus are you? We're so far behind schedule even you're needed." That's a nasty example. Few heroes can get away with saying our worst thoughts.

Main characters need an even deeper honesty. They have to be self aware and show the reader all those internal doubts, fears, hopes, and dreams that the writer and all humanity share. How can you not feel sympathy and care about the fate of a character who has the same fears you do? A woman's child is stolen from their front yard and she's frantically knocking on every neighbor's door asking if they've seen him; you're so angry with your spouse you scream at them until they leave, and then they die in a car wreck and it's all your fault...I could go on, but those examples were getting me depressed. How about a teenager with Down's syndrome who learns flower arranging and gets a job at a local florist where he meets a girl that doesn't look at him with pity but with interest? You may not know what it's like to be disabled, but you do know what it feels like to accomplish something that seemed impossible or to experience the first stirrings of romance. The honesty of those experiences and how they are processed in your character's mind are what makes your story matter to the reader.

The problem with dredging up too much real emotion and honesty from your own experiences is that sometimes your characters come out alike; they're too you. That's why it's important to have different backstories and behaviors so you can hide that underlying "you-ness". Having a multiple personality disorder really helps with this :) Otherwise, you can borrow tidbits from other people's lives, friends, relatives, observation at the mall, people in the newspaper.... It's never a good idea to use their details entirely (a friend might recognize themselves and not like what you did with the character--ok, in my case, it was a relative), rather mix things up a bit. I have this scientist friend who truly believes that gummy bears count as a fruit because they have 10% fruit juice. I thought she was a logical person. Sometimes truth is more interesting than anything you could think up, so use it. However, I wouldn't make my gummy-bear loving character a scientist but maybe a health nut. Someone always exercising and trying the latest organic diets, so when the gummy bear thing comes up it's out of left field. Much more interesting.

Another thing (which I constantly struggle with, by the way, so any suggestions are much appreciated) your character needs in order to be a distinctive individual is a voice. This can be how they speak in dialogue, the length of sentences, vocabulary, rhythm etc., but, when it comes to a POV character, it's also how they think in their head. With some characters, I have no problem writing in a distinctive narrative voice, others end up sounding like me. The only thing I've discovered so far to help with this is to write the character's thoughts down (like a journal) in first person, even if the book is 3rd person. I make them tell me about their life until I start to hear their voice in my head.

Well, that's it. That's all I've got on this subject. What's your approach to writing characters? As a reader, what makes a protagonist sympathetic? And do any of you struggle with voice as much as I do?

21 March 2010

Guess what I've been up to...

Writing! Can you believe it? After months of having to devote extra effort to that pesky day job, I've finally got some free time for the fun stuff. I was so worried my muse would abandon me, but she didn't! As soon as I sat down for a full hour on Saturday, 1200 words poured out. They weren't bad, either. Much better than the sentences and bits of paragraphs I'd gotten down during the Dark Times (aka when I was grant writing). I've also been revising the first half of my book and dealing with those frustrating comments I left for myself: "Needs more threat"; "SHOW don't tell, stupid"; "should give this character a name..." and so on.
I'm 65,000 words in, which feels like alot, but it will be around 130,000 in the end. They don't call it epic fantasy for nothing. I also want to complete the second book in the series, so I know I can finish the story. That means another 130,000 words to go. Plus, I'm working on revisions for my last book and hoping to query Australian agents soon (I should say 'agent' as there aren't many open to new fantasy authors). AND I'm helping my husband get his dissertation on 'Art and Dyslexia' in shape for academic publication. Oh yeah, I thought it about time I did a blog post too.
Can someone out there please help me get organized? I'm feeling overwhelmed with everything that I want to do. Likely a side effect of being constrained with work for so long. Should I finish the revisions of the last book first and get querying, or should I plow ahead with the current epic while the vision is still fresh in my mind?

As for blogging, I have been speed reading people's posts, if not always commenting, but I thought it about time I stepped out of the shadows. Michele at Southern City Mysteries gave me the Beautiful Blogger Award several days ago, and I've been remiss in passing it on. Part of the reason was that I felt so flattered. I thought I needed to live up to the award, so I scribbled notes on a couple of grand topics like memoirs and forgiveness but didn't post any of them (at least not yet). In the end, I settled on the above humble progress report.

To finish fulfilling the requirements of the award, here are seven "interesting" things about me:
  1. I'm quick to anger and quick to forgive

  2. I know all of Darth Vader's lines in Episodes IV-VI

  3. Episodes I-III were SO disappointing

  4. I've become proficient at recognizing dialogue, even without quote marks, as my new Kindle often leaves them out for some reason

  5. Some colleagues were telling ghost stories about weird sounds in the building at night and one guy, in serious creepy storyteller mode, said, "...and then I heard Lorel's laugh, but she was no where to be seen..." And they all shuddered! So, apparently, I have a ghostly laugh.

  6. I wanted to be a veterinarian and did some work study at a clinic, but decided I liked animals too much to see them in pain every day

  7. same goes for why I decided not to become a medical doctor

I pass the award on to some seriously beautiful bloggers: Portio Sisco, whose posts often reflect just how I feel; Niki at Wool'n'Nuts who brightens my day with her beautiful animal photos; Jemi at Just Jemi who is so positive and seems like the sort of teacher I would have adored when I was a child; Heather at Heather's Odyssey, my long lost twin (the blonde version); and finally Crystal at Crystal Clear Proofing who is trying so hard to help all us writers with our poor grammar and spelling--a Herculean effort! I would pass this on to Michele too, who is also a beautiful blogger, but she gave it to me so that's against the rules!

Until next time...Maybe I'll post something about memoirs after all?

08 March 2010


Critiques are what we need, what will actually help us become better writers, but we can all use the occasional compliment too.

I feel energized today because my boss told me my grant proposal was the best written and best thought out series of experiments to ever come out of his lab! I suspect he's been taking management classes on how to motivate his employees, but it worked. The slog doesn't seem so bad today and the sun is shining a little brighter (it also took the sting out of him saying that I need to get more papers published).

Artists (be they writers or painters or whatever) thrive on compliments. Maybe it's because we're more in tune with our emotions. I have to critique my husband's paintings all the time, and when I tell him he's done something good--better yet if some random person on the street tells him the painting is good--then he's soaring and far more productive for months afterward. If, however, I have to admit that he didn't quite pull something off then he's in the doll drums for at least a week before he can get the motivation to go back and fix it.

Writers have to put up with a lot of criticism too (for our own good), and we wouldn't get any better without it, but there's nothing like a small compliment here and there. When one of my lovely followers says something nice in comments, I feel great and want to blog and write more. I think that's part of the reason my writing confidence has grown--this wonderful community of compassionate people. It's also why I try to compliment other people whenever I can, spread the love. We know we need criticism, and we expect it when we send something off to test readers or discuss our work in a critique group, but sometimes we just need someone to find one good thing in what we do and say "good job". With that, we can gather the energy to keep going and do better.

So, I wanted to say to all you struggling writers out there (published, unpublished, thinking about it...) good job! Keep trying, don't give up, and hold onto what you love, that's the most important thing.

Has anyone else received a compliment lately? Do you try to find something good to say to people even if you have to criticize some other part of their work? What keeps you going?

05 March 2010

The Truth

The best lies (and fiction) have an element of truth. I think this is what they mean by bringing honesty to your writing and the whole "write what you know" thing. The characters and events may be slightly altered or entirely made up, but the emotions are real, inspired by your own life or elicited by imagining yourself in the same situation as your protagonists.

For example, right now I'm at my workplace, on a Saturday, picking away at by grant in a dark little room when I just know the sun is shining outside. This (combined with the fact that I've been in caves before) makes it very easy for me to imagine an old time miner stuck underground all day, chipping away at hard stone, trying to find some valuable gem that will reverse his fortune and keep his family fed in the winter.

Since I don't want to leave you all in the dark like me (or that poor miner), I will now cast light on all those lies I had so much fun telling in my last post. The truth (in random order and aided by pics my husband enjoyed putting together) is:

#4: I saw a sea lion swallowed by a killer whale.... Lie. My husband saw this, but I've never laid eyes on a whale in the wild. I'll give partial credit to all of you who picked this one, since it is the truth, just not mine.

#5: I won $10K on Deal or No Deal and bought a Mazda2....Lie. While I do love my bright green Mazda2, I didn't win the money to pay for it on a game show. Actually, I still haven't paid for it, so maybe I should see if I can become a contestant?

#2: I was bitten by a shark...Lie. While I wouldn't mind having a cool scar, I prefer to avoid pain. I did see a small shark while snorkeling once; I freaked out and swam the opposite direction as fast as I could (which wasn't as fast as I'd have liked).

#7: My mother chases after rich men...Lie. I wish she had that good of taste! It wouldn't have taken me ten years to pay off my college loans.

#6: I thought I could get by with ancient Greek when travelling in Greece...Lie. I listened to language tapes ahead of time and carried a modern Greek phrasebook. However, there was a girl in my ancient Greek class who thought she could get an easy 'A' because she spoke Greek. There was a lot she had to unlearn, so she had a harder time than the rest of us and dropped the class after a few weeks.

#1: I was Homecoming Queen...Lie. My dyslexic husband was a first string, inside linebacker when he was in High School (in America), but I never did his homework, and I didn't get to accompany him to Homecoming because I didn't go to high school.

Therefore, #3, "I Was a Child Prodigy" is the correct answer. I'm actually quite embarrassed by this. People assume I'm smart and don't make mistakes (which is utterly wrong), but I think of it more as being precocious. I learned to read and studied like everyone else, I just did it earlier. I think I peaked earlier too. Nowadays it feels like my brain is full and can't hold anymore. I have to write everything down or forget it. I worry this means I'm getting dementia earlier too!
So, congratulations Crystal! You were the only one to guess it (although you said it disbelievingly).
Thanks everyone for your encouragement. With a 20% success rate, I need all the luck I can get with my grant writing, so this prematurely demented miner is getting back to work...See ya!

02 March 2010

First words out of my mouth...and they're lies

I have one week before my scientific grant is due at the university research office. One week. You know what I have so far? A two page outline.

Can you hear my heart beating really loud right now?

Moment of panic over. I'll be fine. There's tons of time, and the content of the outline and the gazillion research articles I read formulating it were the hard parts. The writing is easy.

I wish fiction writing was the same. Fiction writers not only have to come up with some great ideas and a believable plot, they have to weave a spell of words that draws the reader in and doesn't let them go until the last page. You can't simply say stuff; you have to say it well. On the upside, fiction is basically lying, which is tons of fun! Thus, I am giddy with delight at receiving the Creative Writer award from the sweet and lovely Niki over at Wool'n'Nuts. Even with a grant deadline looming, I've decided to come up for air and have a little fun.
The rules of this reward require me to post the pic (check), provide a link to the blog of the person who gave it to me (check--and thanks Niki!), pass it on to six other creative bloggers (will do in a second), and, the best part, tell six outrageous lies and one truth about myself. Here I am rubbing my hands with anticipation...
Six Lies, One Truth:
1. I was Homecoming Queen. I think it was because, somehow, I ended up dating the quarterback. He said he liked me for me, but I suspect it had something to do with him being dyslexic and in need of constant homework help.
2. I was bitten by a shark while snorkeling. It was a tiny one, and I lived of course, but I have a scar on my right ankle.
3. I skipped high school entirely and started college at the age of 14. I got lots of local media attention...until a 10 year old started his pre-law degree. Oh, the woe of a child prodigy--we grow up and younger prodigies steal our thunder.
4. I was standing by my dad's boat when, not three metres away, a killer whale rose onto the edge of the dock and swallowed a sunbathing sea lion whole! (btw this sea lion was bigger than me)
5. I won $10K on "Deal or No Deal" and used it to buy my bright green Mazda2 (I love that car).
6. When travelling through Greece, I thought I'd be able to pick up the language no problem; afterall, I'd studied ancient Greek in college. Turns out they're totally different languages. Thank goodness everyone spoke English.
7. My mother was drawn to rich men, marrying one after another, so I was always shipped off to my grandmother's so as not to cramp her style. At least she paid for college.
Can you guess which one was true?
Now, to pass it on to six other creative writers:
Tabitha at Through My Eyes
Tune in next time to learn whether Lorel's grant will be submitted in time, and if there is any truth to her lies...(It creeps me out referring to myself in 3rd person, so, don't worry, I won't do it again)

10 February 2010

Writing Prompts and Over the Top!

Michele at Southern City Mysteries has begun this diabolical new series called Writing Prompt Wednesdays. The prompt was "How tides come crashing...". These things get into my head and I have to write something. It doesn't matter that I don't have time, that I should be doing a million other things, but I can't help myself. So here's the two bits I came up with.
First thing that popped into my head:

Green water crashed against the stone that had once crowned a mountain. Waves wore it down, tides moving in and out, commanded by the moon, thousands of days; thousands of years…until the strange symbol carved into the basalt vanished.
When the last mark was scrubbed clean by sand, the stone cracked, cutting into the Earth, slicing her to bedrock. Darkness wedged its way out, night without stars--and the tides stopped.

That was kinda bleh. I lost interest and went with this instead:

I love the feel of ocean tugging at my legs and crumbling the sand beneath my feet. It wants me to give up the land and come out into the deep to play, like a child begging me to see her toys. I can never say no.

I dive beneath the next wave and swim past muscled guys tossing a ball. It rolls my way, and I pause long enough to toss it back. They smile enticingly, but the ocean is more insistent, sending water up my nose for ignoring her.

I keep going, arms slicing a path through swells, until I’m as deep as the surfers who straddle their boards waiting for the right moment to catch a ride. I’m right where I want to be, where no one can see me. I always choose a beach without lifeguards. As soon as someone notices my head go under at the edge of dark blue water, they freak out, and would-be-heroes push their kayaks into the waves to search for me. They freak out even more when I don’t come up again.

I wish I was a mermaid. People would see a flash of rainbow scales, a flip of my tail then shake their heads, certain they had mistaken a dolphin for a girl. But dolphins don’t have scales. So, in their secret places they would thrill, believing for an instant that fairy tales are real, that Ariel can get her prince. They forget that in the real story her only choice was the agony of daggers in her legs or the agony of a dagger in the heart of her lover. My choice is worse than that.

I can’t become sea foam and live on in the songs of my sisters. The ocean is my sister, and we have a cruel father. No, my choice is not who should die, but who--among all those billions of beautiful, amazing, innocent people--will live.

Ok. Done now. Thank you for the exercise, Michele, but I'm going to have to put hands over my eyes when I'm reading Wednesday blogs from now on, so I don't get sucked in. Just kidding. It's a terrific idea, and I'll be back!

My other item of business is a beautiful and very very appreciated award from Crystal at Crystal Clear Proofing. I've always wanted this one! Thank you! You must read her blog if you want to know more about grammar, punctuation and all that important stuff. And, if you're a writer, you had better want to know.

For this award, I have to answer the following questions with one word. Here goes:

Your Hair? - brunette

Your Favorite Food? - tacos

Your Hobby? - reading

Your Fear? - spiders

Your pets? - none (I am ruled by two cats, though)

Something You Aren't? - male

Where Did You Grow Up? - everywhere

Your Life? - lucky

Your Mood? - energized

Your Favorite Color? - blue

Now, the reason it took me a couple of days to pass this on is that I really wanted to put some thought into my picks and try not to give it to people who already have it (but I fear I may have failed there). The very deserving winners are...

Dezmond - Hollywood Spy

Jemi - Just Jemi

Congrats you guys! And thanks again, Crystal!

07 February 2010

Sugar Doll Award

The lovely Southern belle, Michele, over at Southern City Mysteries gave me the Sugar Doll award. Thank you! It requires me to say ten things about myself:

1. I love Southern accents and slip into one whenever I think about the good 'ol US of A. I have family in Georgia and Arkansas, and I copy my stepdad's accent whenever I'm on the phone to him. I can't help it, and I'm not trying to be rude. He never says anything, so maybe he doesn't notice. That leads me to...

2. I'm bad at accents. If anyone's ever seen "Don't Tell Her It's Me", I'm as awful as Steve Guttenberg was at the start of that movie.

3. I was raised by my great grandmother, so I say "hold your horses" and "are you some kinda wise guy?" like those phrases are still in style.

4. When I was three, I used an old baby carriage to build a house for my cats. When I ran to my grandma saying "Come see my cat house!", she was not amused. I never understood until years later when I learned a cathouse was a brothel .

5. Also because of my grandma, I love the Andrew Sisters and Patsy Cline.

6. I never liked the Lawrence Welk show.

7. I was forbidden to watch The Addams Family. Apparently, the way Gomez spoke French and kissed Mortisha's arm was "filthy".

8. I watched it anyway when Grandma was busy in the other room.

9. My Grandma, Ruth, was the greatest parent and role model anyone could ever have had. She wouldn't even kill a spider, and she nursed people as well as wild animals. I have a photo somewhere of her bottle-feeding a white-spotted fawn.

10. I still miss her.

All right, wiping my eyes now. Back to business. I'm passing the Sugar Doll award on to Elizabeth Spann Craig, Tabitha, Anne Riley, Chase, and Heather. Congrats!

I'd rather be here reading blogs and posting, but I must now drag my sorry, summer cold suffering self back to work (I know alliterations are bad, but I couldn't resist. All the S's go with my sniffles).

01 February 2010


I just got the notes on my second manuscript back from Maz, my favorite test reader (she's my fave cause she says nice things without asking for a bribe). I'm 40,000 words into my third book, so I'd forgotten all about that last one. It was amazing, flicking through 300 pages that I barely remembered writing (it's not because I was Hemingway-intoxicated the whole time, I simply tend to focus on the present and forget the past until it makes an appearance).

Maz said, we (can't forget to mention my co-writer husband) had "gained much more confidence as writers.... The writing felt freer and flowed a bit more naturally. I also got the sense you were having more fun with the whole process." A reader can see all that in a book? Yikes! It feels like my soul really is laid bare, and I'm beginning to understand J.D. Salinger's desire to hide his manuscripts in a cupboard somewhere.

That last manuscript was tons of fun to write, with a sassy heroine uncovering a mystery in a fantasy setting of my own devising. It makes me worry a bit about my current WIP, though. I've tried to push myself further, and sometimes I'm nervous about being able to meet my own expectations. I hope that won't translate into writing that makes it seem I'm trying too hard? I don't want the prose to feel forced, but I want to do the best I can to achieve that gleaming vision of the perfect book I see in my head.

When someone gets published (I don't like to say 'if'), they've often written five or six books before that. Or so I've read. Of course, there are some lucky people that make it their first time out. I'm beginning to think it's all about confidence and finding your voice as a writer. Some do that quicker than others.

How about you? How many manuscripts do you have stashed away? How many did it take you to get published? If you're unpublished, like me, have you found your voice yet? Do you feel confident and does that come out in your prose?

28 January 2010

As Promised

Crystal at Crystal Clear Proofing made a new award, which I am happy to accept! It's for cat lovers, and it's easy to pass on, so I can fulfill my promise to do so right away without battling Blogger's hyperlink tool.
If you adore your furry friend (even when they spit up hairballs on the carpet rather than the tile no matter how many times you try to teach them) then take the award and display it proudly!

27 January 2010

Strange Customs

I've long known that scientists are more superstitious than sailors, but I had to share this tidbit, which had me laughing even in the midst of grant writing purgatory.

Cloning is a molecular biology term, which basically means taking a bit of DNA, a gene we're interested in studying, and pasting it into a handy dandy tool called a plasmid. A plasmid is another piece of DNA, but one that we know all about and can control. We then use the plasmid to put our gene of interest into a new situation and observe what happens. This is how we discover if a gene is cancer causing: We put it in normal cells donated from a piece of skin or wherever and see if too much of the gene causes the normal cells to start behaving like a cancer. That's the just of it anyway.

Cloning is one of the most fundamental techniques, but not the simplest. It was the first thing I learned when working in a lab during my last year of college, and it took me an entire year to get it to work. A year. Despite the fact that 20 years have passed since then and all manner of new methods have been developed, cloning is still a pain. It is as fickle and capricious as the ocean and no amount of scientific exactness and planning can guarantee all goes smoothly. Thus, the elusive and unnamed "Cloning Gods" are often invoked.

In Seattle, towards the end of my PhD, my supervisor gave us all seashell necklaces from Hawaii to aid our cloning efforts. There was always the smile and wink about "magic" and "luck", couching it with "it can't hurt"--we were all logical, educated persons after all--but beneath the joking mask was a touch of real belief. You laugh off the Cloning Gods openly but privately whisper, "I didn't mean it." One of my colleagues even wore an aluminium foil hat during sensitive procedures to cancel out "negative thought waves". All in fun. Yeah. Right.

Today, I witnessed a slightly disturbing never-before-seen ritual among members of the secretive Molecular Biology tribe. Not even National Geographic has previously described these customs, so feel privileged. In the throes of cloning woe, a student and two post-docs oversaw the ritual beheading of Barbie as a sacrifice. There was lots of laughter, but many of us said, "Isn't that going a bit far?" --"My cloning wasn't working," the student replied, as though that explained everything. Yes, my anthropologically-inclined readers, ritual sacrifice did not vanish when the blood-drenched steps of the Aztec pyramids were swallowed by jungle centuries ago; it is alive and well in the sterile halls of academia.

There must be some way of using this in my writing? Perhaps an ancient, Dan Brown-esque, cult operating in a pharmaceutical company? Possible. Possible. I'll make a note and stick it in a file somewhere for later. Oh well, back to work. Thank goodness I have no cloning to do.

26 January 2010

I Love Awards, Really

I've received two blog awards in the last couple of weeks from amazingly talented writers (Thank you Michele and Anne!!! ), who also happen to be beautiful people, and I'm not just saying that because they gave me an award. Check out their blogs if you don't believe me, or even if you do--they're worth your time.

But I haven't done my homework. I haven't been visiting new blogs that I can link to and fulfill my award duties. I haven't even been writing for my own blog! Therefore, I will likely be passing these awards on to people who've already won them. I know there are plenty of other wonderful blogs out there that haven't received an award, but I haven't discovered you yet. I'm sorry.

For the Bliss (Happy 101) Award I must list ten things that make me happy:

  1. my husband
  2. dark chocolate
  3. writing
  4. the utter relaxation of snorkelling and exploring an underwater world
  5. take off in a plane, especially if I'm going someplace new
  6. getting lost in a good book, game or DVD boxed set marathon
  7. kittens
  8. chocolate
  9. learning something new
  10. did I mention chocolate yet?
Now to pass it along to some cupcake-sweet people:

1. I know you just got this one Tabitha, but you deserve it for your beautiful posts
2. Anne, because I sense you are both a tough cookie and a sweetheart, and I like both!

3. I surmise from the manly blue colour scheme of Alan's blog that he won't be displaying this pink cupcake, but he's getting it anyway

4. Crystal gets this for making punctuation painless

5. I've recently discovered Lynnette's blog, but I'm enjoying her posts and this definitely will go with her colour scheme

6. Stephanie just finished her book. Congrats to her! She's probably feeling blissful right now

7. This one's for M.J. Here's hoping she'll come back soon and post some more

8. Emma for her infectious optimism and energy

9. I wanted Dezmond to get an award so he knows I really do read his posts every day, even though I don't comment (bad me)

10. Elizabeth really is the sweetest

Finally, the second, Silver Lining Award, which I have long coveted and am so grateful to get, goes to...

  1. Chasing Empty Pavements
  2. From the Desk of a Writer

  3. Help! I Need a Publisher!
  4. Elana Johnson
See? That was fun. I love passing on awards and plugging other people's blogs...I just don't like making hyperlinks (I know I must of messed up some because cntrl-v was on the fritz, so let me know and I'll fix it). Next time I promise to post about an award as soon as I get. I'll be good, I swear. Please don't leave me off of your award lists!

As I was writing this, I discovered Emma Michaels gave me an award (Thank you!!), and as promised I'm passing it along right this second.

1. Southern City Mysteries
2. Let's Try This Again
3. The Lipstick Chronicles
4. Terry's Place
5. Organized Chaos

My editing window freaked out on me a couple of times, and I lost my link to Blogger, but the lists are done and all has ended well. I have three new awards that I'm giddy over, and I hope I made some more blogger's just as pleased as me. Thanks again Michele, Anne and Emma, and congrats everyone!

Now, I really, really need to get back to work (bad me for blogging on a Thursday when I should be doing science)...