Thursday, December 27, 2012

Toodles, 2012

It has certainly been a year. Between the never-ending election folderol, the pseudo-panic of a non-pocalypse, and hurricanes hitting New Jersey, it has been quite a ridiculous year.

I sent my first horrible query letters (and thank goodness they've improved a little since those original attempts), written 2.5 novels, and for the first time ever, I read more unpublished novels than published novels! Thank you to everyone who let me read their works in progress, and then didn't unfriend, unfollow, or send mail bombs after reading my comments. You people are the best! And I can't wait to see all your books published in the next year or so! I have occasional fits of fluttery heartbeat and bonus feelings just thinking about it.


Thank you also to everyone who has read and offered advice and opinions on Running Down the Dragon. I haven't given up on it yet, and I'm grateful to all of you for your support. Let's hope for more great things for all of us in 2013.

And now, on to the last week or so, including Christmas. First of all, I hope y'all have had a great week (either a week of vacation, or at least a few extra days off work. For a lot of us, that in itself is the Miracle of Christmas), or a great holiday, or a great whatever you celebrate.

It was a very Doctor Who Christmas around here. I think a full half of all presents exchanged in our house were somehow related to Doctor Who. I made Helper Monkey a giant TARDIS mug (in addition to the TARDIS travel mug I bought him, and the t-shirt, get the point). But I am especially proud of the one I painted myself:

I even painted the "time vortex" inside. It didn't come out as well as I hoped. You never know what the paint is going to do when they fire it:

Still, it's kind of cool, considering I usually kind of suck at arty things.

 There was also some of this:


It was also a White Christmas for the first time in a while:

And Lulu got a hat that makes her look like a squirrel. Oddly, she loves this hat. It does look cozy.


The worst thing about the last few days, other than my personal anxiety over letting Helper Monkey drive to work at night on winding country roads plagued with black ice and high winds, is arguably this:


Yes, that is, or was, the neighborhood mailbox. We guess it was hit by a snow plow, but it could have been an inebriated sleigh operator. You know how jolly and out of hand things can get this time of year. I'm just glad MY mailbox is in one of the boxes that's still standing. *fingers crossed! We're expecting more snow tomorrow night!*

I hope your year was filled with Amazing Things, and that 2013 greets you with warm hugs and cookies, and then takes off like a rocket to the moon. I eagerly await all your reports of overwhelming success in the new year.


Love, hugs, and mesmerizing eagles of wonder,


Friday, December 21, 2012

Mehpocalypse, and other fun

So we all survived the Mayan Apocalypse. Well, I assume if you're reading this you survived, too. The worst thing that happened all day, at least near my house, was a bit of light snow. Meh.

I finished wrapping Christmas presents, so at least the world won't come to an end for a lack of appropriate gift giving next week. At least not on my part. I hope y'all upheld your gift-giving duties.

I also realized that for the first time, I might be tempted to tweet about Christmas morning. There might even be pictures. Then I realized how crappy the rest of my living room looked, and figured I should tidy up a bit. It was a good thing I did. I found some interesting (read: appallingly embarrassing) things while going through the junk that's built up on the coffee table. Here's a partial list:

  • A bag of Dr. Pepper Jelly Bellies that Lulu bought in Savannah. In July. Jelly Bellies don't go bad, do they?
  • A gift certificate to Baskin Robbins she got for making the honor roll at school. Time to go get ice cream!
  • An Irish penny
  • The original notes that sparked the idea for my Untweetworthy posts (which in turn inspired this list).
  • A Jack Skellington foam ball thing for the top of the car antenna. I bought it at Disney in 2010. Maybe I should actually put it on the car, huh?
  • The last two car insurance cards I got for my truck. That's a year's worth of proof-of-insurance. Maybe I should put those in the truck. That would probably be a good idea.
  • The unopened copy of Rachel Ray Everyday magazine from October 2011. That's not a typo. 2011.
So that was most of my day. Now that we're past the Solstice and the days are getting longer again, I feel excited about finishing my WIP. I'm finally past the painful sticky-spot that I'd been unable to get through for so long. We're tumbling ever closer to 2013, and I'm tumbling ever closer to a full first draft. Things are looking up.

Or, they will be. I have more exciting critiquing work to do before I go back to writing. So here's the last of my #ApocalypseConfessions. There's nothing more exciting then doing an emergency critique. Think about that. An emergency-level read-through. It always precedes exciting things, you know? So off I go. I hope y'all have something just as exciting to tackle this weekend. You know. Now that we're sure there will be a weekend at all.

Stupid Mehpocalypse.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Untweetworthy, Part the Third

Once again, it's time for another installment of my semi-regular feature, Untweetworthy. Here I get to share some random thoughts that are either too long or too weird for Twitter (where I spend an inordinate amount of time as it is).

But first, I had a post up here on Friday night with my feelings about the atrocity of the Sandy Hook School shooting. All I'm going to say on that is something needs to be done. Mentally ill people are mostly non-violent, and I have enough trouble without having the label "Possible Mass Murderer" attached to me because I have a DSM code pinned to my shirt. Crazy didn't kill those children, a violent man with an assault rifle did.

Now that's out of the way, on to a little more pleasant stuffnfluff. Images courtesy of rage comics.

*Lulu was reading Tumblr over my shoulder the other day and suddenly spouted, "Hey, is that a rage comic? I love rage comics!" I replied, "You do?" "Oh yeah, they're funny." I see. (How can I make this event into a rage comic?)

*I took my laptop to a Girl Scout holiday event and hunkered down as far from the merriment as possible. Wrote 1500 words in an hour and a half. Sitting quietly alone at home, wrote 200 words in four hours


*I have now spent more time tracking holiday gift shipments than I spent purchasing those gifts in the first place.

*Morgan the cat seems to have figured out which present I labeled "To Lulu, From Morgan" and has taken it upon himself to sit only upon that gift under the tree. He might be trying to hatch it like an egg. He also removed the bow for more convenient cat butt placement. Also, he now knows that some of the ornaments on the tree are indeed breakable, and that breaking one causes terror when I come screaming and stomping into the room.

*I have been to the grocery store three times in the last five days. Once for the BIG SHOP. Once more for items forgotten on the big shop. And again for items forgotten during the first two shops. I still have a list with four items that I forgot to buy on ALL THESE TRIPS COMBINED. I should have made a list the first time around...or at least the second time. Definitely by the third.

*So MANY friends got new agents this week! All the joy, cheers, and happiness to Tamara Mataya and Marisa Cleveland, as well as Kelsey Macke and Jessica Sinsheimer on all the agenty collaboration! You know what this means, right? MOAR GOOD BOOKS IN OUR FUTURE, LOVELIES!!!


 This brings us to the end of another edition of Untweetworthy. I hope you found it edifying, somehow.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pitch Wars and Critique Partners

On this, the eve of Pitch Wars mentor announcements, I've been thinking a lot about what the real purpose of this contest has been. Sure, it's fun and immeasurably helpful to get help from an agented author. It's also helpful to get your query and novel polished to perfection (or as close to perfection as any novel can get). But what is the real benefit here? Learning about critiquing.

When I first started writing, this was my biggest stumbling block. I read sites that advised you share your work with your "writer friends." Hah! What writer friends? I didn't have any, and I was darn sure I wouldn't have any until I was a Successfully Published Writer. Where the heck could I meet all these potential writer friends, when I was a complete nobody who never wrote anything?


Turns out, lots of places.

I met writers online, through other contests, through their blogs (and eventually through this one right here), through Twitter, and even through Facebook. There are always writers who are in the same place in the process that you are. You just have to know where to look for them. Pitch Wars has been a great way to connect with many new writers who are in the query trenches, too. Make nice, and they might read for you if you read for them.


Initially, the thought of sharing my writing with others, and asking for their honest opinion and critique, was a little intimidating. Even more intimidating was asking to read their writing and offer my own opinions. What the heck did I know about critiquing? The idea of making with the judgy on someone else's writing gave me the cold sweats. Who was I to tell them they didn't need that comma there (BONUS COMMAS, as I call them now), or that they shouldn't use the same word three times in two sentences, or that their phrasing at a critical moment in their beloved story came across as clunky and jarring instead of inspiring and enlightening? I was terrified of saying the wrong thing, of coming across like an ass, and of not doing a good job.

To be honest, the first time I ever critiqued something, I got lucky. I wasn't the first person to edit the manuscript, and there wasn't all that much to do to make it shiny. It was a gentle introduction to the fine art of being a merciless nitpicker. Also, as I've since been informed, as long as it's done with love, merciless nitpicking is actually a valued trait in a CP.

Not only have I benefited from the opinions and ideas of a wonderful group of people who read my writing and offered advice, but my writing has improved through helping others, too. It's all good for you.

And on that note, I want to sincerely thank all the mentors in Pitch Wars, and all the writers who've jumped at the chance to earn such an experienced CP. Just remember, your fellow Pitch Warriors would also make fine CP's. Even if we don't end up with a shiny new mentor, we still have each other. Extend a hand to a fellow writer, and be patient and understand as you learn the ropes of this valuable skill together. We all have it in us to be great mentors to each other.


And now, back to the fantastic manuscript I'm helping to add a spit-shine to. Because this one deserves all the polish it can get.

**NOTE: There's a great new website,, set up by @Fizzygrrl's talented husband. It's a great place to connect to other writers seeking a CP (as the title should make quite clear!). Go check it out!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Editing, With Cookies

I've been doing a lot of baking this week. I made about 300 Christmas cookies, most of which I will be giving as gifts to friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else, because otherwise I would eat all 300 of them. But that's another story entirely.

This morning while I stood in the kitchen, rolling out yet another pan of cookies, I realized how much it reminded me of editing. I'll get into that in a second. First, for non-writer friends, or anyone who clicked through just to see pictures of baked goods, a little anecdote.

On Sunday, Lulu helped me bake the first batch of cookies, and I thought for sure it would take twice as much time to make today's batch by myself. Not so. Turns out, I'm pretty efficient on my own. It was, however, a lot less fun to bake alone. I guess that's why my mind wandered so far from baking.

So here goes, my doughy mashup of holiday baking and editing.

Sunday's cookies were green. We cut out trees and holly leaves, and dipped them in white chocolate. Snow, y'all! Today's cookies were SUPPOSED to be red, but even after using most of a bottle of red food coloring, they still look a little pink. I figured they'd darken up a bit in the oven. Yeah, not so much.

Sort of red.
So this is the raw material I had to work with. My original draft. I could have just wadded it up and shoved it in the oven as-is. It would probably taste okay, but there would be no beauty. Not to mention, it wouldn't bake evenly. There'd be doughy bits in the center, and the bottom would certainly burn. It needed zazz. It needed editing. BRING ON THE COOKIE CUTTERS!

I started the job with dough that was ALMOST the right color, but there wasn't really much I could do with it. I tried adding more food coloring, but it seemed to get a brighter and brighter pink, rather than deepening to a rich red. I stopped before I turned the stuff day-glo fuschia, at least. Knowing when to stop walking down a path that isn't turning out right is half the battle in editing, too.

So finally it was time to cut. I intended to make a batch of stars and then dip them in dark chocolate. I have a half a dozen different star shaped cookie cutters, so I got them all out. Some have five points, some six, and one even has eight points! Variety! I picked one out and set to work. Between the strange dark pink color and my indelicacy with a spatula, most of the first batch reminded me of Patrick Star.

Just add green shorts and a confused facial expression.
I saw my mistake. The points of this star were too long and thin. They tended to bend a little when I transferred them to the cookie sheet. I tried to straighten them out, but then I ended up with bloated blobby points. Not to mention in that first pan, I don't think I rolled the dough thin enough. They were still puffed up too much.

Same goes for editing. The first pass through a manuscript will be rough. Even the basic shape of it might be a little off. Big things are easy to spot and fix. The obvious. The glaring. Like, "Hey, that looks like a beautiful daisy!" "Uh, yeah, but it's supposed to be a STAR!" You see smaller things you need to fix, but you have to be able to see all the problems before you can fix them all. It was time to try again. Second round!

On the second try, I used a different shape. It had shorter arms, and they were less likely to end up looking like Patrick, but they were also more likely to end up looking blobby. Live and learn.

Sometimes in editing you make a change, and take it too far. You wouldn't want to remove ALL the adverbs, for example. The rules of writing exist, but that doesn't mean they are etched in stone and you'll be thrown out of the Temple of Publishing forever if you bend them a little. In fact, if you don't bend them a little, you may as well be writing technical manuals, not fiction. You don't want to give up the essential look of a star just so you won't have to worry about bending the arms a bit. Blobby stars were a no go. Time for round three!

This time, I tried yet ANOTHER shape. This one wasn't half bad. It was much larger than the first two, so I could fit fewer on the tray at a time. I started to worry I'd be in the kitchen forever unless I did something drastic. I crammed as many of the large stars as I could on the tray, and lo and behold, problems arose.

Same goes for editing. Work too fast, or try to cram too much in during one revision, and it starts to blur together in your mind. You have to keep characters, subplots, and scenes separate, or they start looking like one big character, one big muddle of scenes. Editing is not a time to rush. Your characters should be evolving and becoming more distinct, and your scenes should be clearer and more concise with each round. If you're racing through edits at a blur, that's how the story will look to your readers. On to round four!

Finding a satisfactory plan B.

By this point, I was sick of stars. They were hard to cut out and force them to hold their shape. What had become of all my brilliantly laid plans? Screw it! Time to make stockings instead.

Sometimes it's easier to just make a change when the reality of all the faults of your original plan seem to hit you at once. Sometimes a character needs to go. Sometimes, after several rounds of editing, you'll realize that one of your subplots goes nowhere. Sometimes you need to add in a new character, one who will help tie the story together. Whatever's wrong, sometimes it takes a big change of shape to set you back on the right course.

My stocking cookies will taste just as good as the stars, and they'll still get a chocolate coating, but won't they be a nice change from a mountain of stars? Okay, now that I'm really getting the hang of this, I'm ready for round five.

Sometimes things go awry. When baking, it's easy to dispose of the evidence. Om nom nom. When editing, sometimes it's best to do the same. Eat those plot holes! CHOMP!

Eventually the ball of dough you have to work with gets smaller

and smaller

and smaller...
Until you don't have enough to cut any more cookies. With each pass of edits, there should be fewer and fewer problems. Less to work with, not in the sense that there are few words in total, but in the sense that there are fewer WRONG words to fix. It's quite satisfying when a pass through only leads to minor tweaking.

In baking, I take that scrap of dough and mush it into a flat blob, and bake it with the rest of the cookies. It's the BONUS COOKIE! My reward for finishing the job.

Now all the hard work is done. It's time to add the decorations. In the case of my cookies, that means chocolate and sprinkles. In the case of my manuscript, it means showing it to my critique partners. They will spit shine it for me, and point out all the problems I'm unable to see for myself. You wouldn't go to all the trouble to bake up those tasty cookies and then leave off the final decoration, that last step. Don't think your manuscript is complete without running it by a few trusted writer friends, either.

I haven't had time to dip all the cookies from today's round of baking, but the ones we finished on Sunday look adorable (and taste quite nice, too). I need to take a break from the kitchen for a bit, but when I go back, I'll be fully engaged with putting the finishing touches on those cookies. Just like putting the finishing touches on my manuscript. Sometimes you need to walk away for a bit, let things cool down, and take everything in with fresh eyes. The cookies will have had a few hours to firm up, or they would crumble when I try to coat them in heavy chocolate. By the time I return, they'll be able to stand on their own. :D

Hope y'all didn't get a stomachache from too many cookie metaphors. Now I'm off to dispose of the evidence that I'm clumsy at handling fresh-baked cookies. And then I need to do some editing.