Monday, June 29, 2009

Pearls of wisdom in the strangest places...

There's an oyster house that love to I pass by on the way to work, filled with spraying hoses, the click-clacking of shucking oysters, and the smell of brine that makes my mouth water. The smell is what gets to me the most-- reminding me of nights out with friends, parties and weddings and good times covered in lemon and horseradish. I think of full stomachs and the smell of the sea.

But what reaction does that smell elicit from the people who work in that oyster house? Does it remind them of being wet and filthy all morning? Or of the pain in their hands, the cuts and the cracking skin? Where I associate the smell with fun and games, to others the smell is closely tied to their livelihood. There's probably an oyster-shucker or two out there who never want to eat an oyster ever again, unable to smell them without thinking of early hours and taking three showers to get the smell off.

Before this morning I never really thought much about the oyster-shuckers, whether they liked to taste the fruits of their labor, or whether familiarity has turned into disgust. I'm sure their reactions run the gamut, and no two oyster-shuckers share the exact feelings on the subject, but at least thinking about it in the first place allows me to be mindful of their distinct point of view regarding oysters.

Well. Lest you think I've gone off the deep-end, let me assure you it's too late for that. ;) But this post was meant to be taken metaphorically. I'll get down off my pile of oyster shells now.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dying for a good read?

I know I'm not the first to plug Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, but I'm sure I won't be the last. Like everyone else who's read it, I can't help but share what I loved about it.
In an effort to keep myself well-read, I'm going to try to do this every Thursday. Suggest a book and give five reasons to read it. Nothing spoilerific, obviously, but just to nudge anyone who might be on the fence. So here it is, the first ever:

Five Reasons to Read this Book; The Hunger Games

1. For a heroine that guys can relate to just as easily as girls. This is rare in YA, IMO.

2. For the little details that just stay with me: Katniss, the girl who was on fire, the bread from District 11, the costumes, the muttations... I still see them as if I'd been watching the Hunger Games myself on a television screen.

3. For the great balance of internal and external motivation and conflict the MC experiences from the beginning of the book, all the way to the last sentence. I felt sympathetic to Katniss immediately. And I had tears in my eyes at least once a chapter.

4. For being quite possibly the most intriguing dystopian novel I've read in years. The societal separations were way too believable. Scary. This book immerses the reader in a world both foreign and familiar. Which makes the things that happen there that much more believable...

5. For its masterful use of first person present. So good I only noticed the immediacy of the story, not the tense itself.

I hope I've managed to lead some potential readers to District 12, lol.
Other Hunger Games lovers? Feel free to add your own spoiler-free reasons to read this book.

Next week, Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can't blog...

...reading The Hunger Games. ;)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From a little spark may burst a flame-- WIP Wednesday

For WIP Wednesday, here's the first draft opening of an as yet untitled ghost story I'm working on. I have a ton of research to do, and may change some names, but here's the first chapter as it stands now, set in the first decade of the 1900s in England. Enjoy!

Chapter I

Blinding smoke choked our tiny caravan. Its walls hadn’t caught yet, but they would, sending our home to the hereafter with Papa. I could live with losing my Papa and my home in the same week, but not her, too. Not my violin.

Orange flickered off her smooth surface, right where I’d left her on my little bunk. The blanket was still unburned. I grabbed both off the soft mattress, holding my violin tight to my chest and wrapping the blanket close around me. I stumbled sightless toward the door, but the flames had grown up the wooden walls of our beloved vardo since I ran inside.

Mother shouted my name from outside. “Mara, sweet Mother Mary, save my baby Mara!”

The door was a wall of fire, a gate to Hell. I tucked the blanket even tighter, wrapped a fold around my palm, and groped for the handle. The metal scalded my hand through the blanket and I fell forward.

I sucked fresh air in as I tripped down the three stairs, collapsing in the snow. Mother ran to my side and clutched at the sooty blanket. She babbled at me through a mess of tears. I pushed her away. Not that I wasn’t glad to see her, but I saw another face in the crowd that had gathered. The cold, manipulative face of old Lucia Saray. Only she could have convinced Mother to send our vardo up in flames after Papa died inside. All because of Alex.

I thrust my violin and bow at Mother and dropped the blanket to the ground. The wind whipped it into the wheel of the closest vardo where it flapped like a dying bird.

“Mara, what were you thinking?” my mother cried, cradling my tiny violin. “Holy Mother, you’re alive.”

“No thanks to that old hag,” I spat, stepping closer to Lucia.

The woman’s needle-like eyes narrowed even further.

My sister Jeanette stepped in between us. “Behave yourself, Mara,” she chided. “Have some respect for your elders if you’ve none for the dead.”

Holding my chin up, as if that could make me any taller, I spun on my heel away from the judgment in their eyes.

Fire licked at the painted sides of the bowtop wagon. Flame manes crowned Papa’s painted mares, one each for me and my two sisters. The little birds Mother kept bright with oil and wax had curled and warped under the heat. For sixteen years I’d called the vardo home and in less time than it would take to play an Irish jig, it was gone. And soon Jeannette or Hannah would take Mother away from me, too.

They all thought I was bad luck, anyway. I couldn’t cook or sew. I had no husband. The only thing I had was my child-size violin, the instrument I was meant to outgrow. But I never did.

“Mara,” Mother said when I walked back over to her. “Mara, Jeanette and her husband will take me in.”

I wrenched the violin from her hands, barely listening to her. I already knew what she was about to say.

“Mara, my lovely, I…”

I set bow to strings and played for my papa, for my home and for everything else I’d lost, a song that had been welling up inside me for the past seven days. Though my Mother and sisters had heard me play at unexpected times, they’d surely never witnessed anything as richly miserable as this lament. The crowd slowly, solemnly thinned, until it was only Mother, Jeanette, Hannah.

And Lucia, the woman who’d convinced Mother to burn our home.

The woman who accused me of driving her son Alex away eight months ago.

Somewhere in the middle of my dirge I realized that though I had begun playing for myself as much as for Papa, I’d wound up playing for Alex.

Lucia was right. I had driven him away.

But I’d be damned if I’d admit that to her.


Please, throw no stones, but I'm fascinated by the death rituals of the Romani people. I also thought opening with the MCs home burning down and her life about to change would make her a bit more sympathetic, since she's not the nicest character.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teaser Tuesday, or, If everyone else is jumping off a cliff, why can't I?

Here's a quick teaser from EVANGELINE, the novel I'm currently querying.

It's a YA Paranormal, with an emphasis on time-travel romance. Evie was just rescued by the hero and his mother, but hasn't told them the entire truth. Because she triggers a gift the hero wishes he didn't have, he doesn't trust her...

redacted 12/31/09

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Querying Hell, or, We can't stop here, this is Rejection country

Querying demons.

The worst of the horde.

Nothing sucks the confidence right out of you like a flight of these little devils on your back, circling and swooping on your self-esteem as soon as you hit send. A manuscript I thought was perfect (again) now seems trite and my characters shallow. That amazingly fresh premise I thought I had feels old and stale from contemptuous familiarity. I want to work on a new story, but the demons keep me too distracted; when I'm not constantly refreshing my inbox, my palms are too sweaty to hold a pen (I brainstorm longhand).

Rejections aren't so bad one at a time, just like these guys with the bat-wings flying overhead. But once they swarm, my cool attitude has reached its limit. Seemingly innocuous words like subjective, unfortunately, and connection rasp away my faith in my writing. It's a dark place, being in querying hell, one among a mass of writhing, faceless writers. (Which may be why we have developed such a large blogging culture, to give ourselves faces and individualism, but more on that at another time.)

Despite the fact that we writers may seem on the surface to be our own competition, it is this sense of community, of mutual experience and sympathy that helps me ignore the querying doubts. My development as a writer and as a professional would never have been possible without writing communities online, helpful writing blogs and and critique groups. Being a little stubborn helps, too.

What best soothes the wounds the querying demons inflict? Hearing about the experiences of other writers, sympathizing with their own self-inflicted purgatory, and being able to wish other writers well on their writing journey, and mean it. I want to give out to the world what I want in return. But at the same time, I'm a bit of a pessimist, expecting every query reply to be a big R. So I'm delightfully surprised if I get a partial request, or sometimes even a kindly worded rejection. It reminds me that there are people on the other end of this business, too, people who are as passionate about books as we writers.

Querying hell suddenly seems a lot more like a very crowded bus than an endless inferno. My stop will come eventually. Maybe I'll ride it all the way to publication. Maybe I'll get off early and start writing something else, and wait to get back on the bus when the next work is finished. But if I get off the bus in Rejection Country, I may never want to get back on. That's why this post is dedicated to everyone who shares their querying woes with the rest of us across cyberspace.
We'll stay on the bus together as long as it takes.

Anyone know any good driving songs? Anything but 100 bottles of beer on the wall...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

R.I.P., Porthos Pomander. May flights of angels... well, you know the rest.

Just so no one starts scratching their heads saying they've never heard of such a fellow, let me assure you that you never will.

He was dead weight, just another confusing name at a dinner-party, a pompous, snuff-addicted ass who really served no purpose in EVANGELINE (my YA paranormal currently in revision). He only had one scene. His family will never miss him, nor will the book reading public. So why do I feel a pang of regret for striking his name, his dialogue, his very existence from my novel? He is the first named character I have ever deleted like this, which may have something to do with the way I am feeling.

I'm feeling a strange sympathy for fictional author Karen Eiffel from the movie Stranger than Fiction when she discovers her character Harold Crick, who she's just figured out how to kill, is a real man. Now, killing off characters is not hard for me. I've killed off characters, main characters, mind you, whose deaths affected other characters profoundly. Whose deaths were necessary to the story.

I understand that eliminating the chaff (and old man Pomander was certainly chaff) is also necessary to the story. What I don't understand is why he's been haunting me. I didn't even like the old codger, and he was a bit of a misogynist. I should be happy that I've slimmed down my manuscript, while, simultaneously, adding to the characterization of the other members of the dinner-party who DO return to the story.

Instead I keep thinking, did he actually have a family? Or maybe old Pomander played for the other team? Maybe his snuff-addiction began in his stint in the military. No, he was way too much of a coward to fight in the infantry. There are a hundred lives, histories, that might have been for Porthos. I'll never know him properly, and there probably won't be a reason to use him again. Because he's just a name floating out there in the collective consciousness, a man without a purpose, without a motive and without motivation, he isn't a character any longer. But I called him into being. I feel responsible for him, and for taking care of him now that he's outlived his usefulness.

Here's hoping that this post will send poor Porthos to wherever he belongs. Is there a heaven (or hell?) for characters stricken with the horrid and always fatal backspace-fluenza?

Anyone else plagued by fictional ghosts of their on making? Characters you killed or eliminated?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Science Fiction; The Devil is in the Details

For years, literally since I was 15, I've been knocking around ideas for a sci-fi novel. But I wear myself down trying to nail the science before I can even get to the story. It's not a "work in progress" so much as a "premise in progress". My "you're not smart enough" demon and my "easy way out" demon keep telling me to stick to YA fantasy and paranormal.

The scientific details, details like those I meticulously research in my real-world fantasies, are outside my comfort zone. Yet I read and re-read Heinlen as a teen, Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCaffrey's Pegasus in Flight, and of course, Madeleine L'Engle's very meta sci-fi.

Today's science fiction seems to be less interested in the limits of the human intellect, and more in the depths of the depravity humanity can sink to. Of course, there is the indomitable nature of the human spirit side to these stories, but what happened to the science? What happened to the techno-centric societies authors of the 50s through the 80s used to write about? Did we wake up and discover we're in one? Where the hell is my hover-car, dammit?!

That little diatribe aside, I'll definitely read The Hunger Games, but it feels like the latest in a string of dystopian novels (and the occasional "zombie" book, fantasy-horror disguised as sci-fi) that are keeping the genre clinging to the cliff's edge. Hell, heist movies seem to have more hard science elements than some sci-fi does these days. The last time I asked someone online to recommend a good sci-fi, they simply said, Heinlen. Perhaps I should have specified something written in the last five decades. ;)

Sci-fi I'm curious about:
Spacer and Rat
Uglies series and any other Scott Westerfeld

Anyone just dying to share a good sci-fi they've read? I prefer YA because I like to read widely in the genre I write, but I'll eagerly devour a good adult sci-fi.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dealing with Demons

Yes, that is the final horn of the Apocalypse you're hearing.
I finally gave in to the little demons telling me to start up a blog. Well, here it is, freshly summoned from the abyss of my right-brain.

This first post is dedicated to the little demons we, as writers, battle every day:

The "my work isn't good enough to be published" demon
The "writer's block" demon
The countless niggling devils that make us second-guess the chapter we just spent all night revising
The "where the hell is my notebook?" demon (though in retrospect, this one may be a gremlin)
The "why can't I write like (insert favorite author here)?" demon

Sometimes the demons can be helpful, when humilty is at stake. The "keeps my ego in check" demon gets the occasional cookie. But when they start to dance on your manuscript, tearing it to shreds with their little cloven hooves, it's time for a good old fashioned exorcism.

I like to take a bath and write in my notebook when the demons get me down. I only write about things that I can stay positive about: notes on a wip I may never get around to fleshing out, notes on my current novel or the query letter that I'm currently in love with.
Remind myself why I'm a writer in the first place.

Though my demons are even more numerous and varied, Lord knows the whole world doesn't need to meet them all. ;)
But I'd love to meet some of yours!

Hey, look, tomorrow is Work in Progress Wednesday! I'll have a better post for tomorrow based on my own recent WIP ranting about the real reason no one is writing any hardcore science fiction lately: It's too damned difficult!
Tomorrow: Science Fiction; The Devil is in the Details