Thursday, July 23, 2009

Good thing I like pie...

... and I'm already taking the laptop on vacation.

Got a full request yesterday off a query I sent about seven weeks ago for Evangeline, the manuscript I posted an excerpt from on Tuesday. Great timing, of course, since my husband and I are going on vacation tomorrow and I've purposely not touched it for weeks in the hopes that we both-- the manuscript and I, not my husband-- might benefit from some time apart. Also, I just finished 31K of Carnival of Illusions (that title is still not doing it for me, whatsoever *sigh*), so I'm in a completely different work mode what with the present tense, and the two almost opposite MCs.

I know Evangeline needs more work than I can do on my vacation. I also knew when I decided to wait and do another revision that there were a few more agents I hadn't heard from. Since I'd sent them an excerpt with a typo in it-- *D'oh!*-- I hadn't actually been expecting another request, especially not a full. This is a new agent at a very respected agency, so I am taking this request very seriously. But that's not what this post is about.

Even though I have no idea how to approach this prickly-pear, this request has actually been more encouraging than stress-making, or so I keep trying to convince myself. It has taught me that I don't need to fear the query any longer, since my query is obviously working.

Querying is something I would stress over, send out multiple versions, analyze, pick to death and lose sleep over. The winds of change are blowing and as of this moment I vow that, yes, I will still work hard to craft my queries. But I will no longer let the madness rule my life for those crazy, frantic weeks, months, years that I may still have to query before I find an agent who loves my work enough to help me get it published. Until that point, I will be the Zen Master of querying. Or die trying. ;)

And, in case you are wondering, I will have fun on my vacation and try not to freak out over this request. Publishing is a slow business, right? While two weeks might not make any difference to this agent as to when they get my full, in two weeks I think I can make Evangeline better. Time will tell if I've succeeded. It's not the time-frame I wanted, but when life gives you lemons, make a humble lemon ice-box pie, right? (See, I told you it was a good thing I like pie, and y'all were just thinking I'd gone nuts, shame on you!)

Have fun while I'm on vacation, y'all, and keep your fingers crossed for me!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

WiP Wednesday: First Impressions

It's Wednesday, so I think I'm due for another excerpt from my as yet untitled WiP. I'm thinking of "Carnival of Illusions" for the working title, but I'm just not loving it.

I thought of posting the second chapter, but it's much longer than the first, so instead of subjecting you to 2800 words, this bit is short and sweet, and a scene I had a lot of fun writing.

In this scene, Mara, the MC, has traveled to Paris (c. 1901) in the guise of a boy to find her friend Alex. She spent the previous night in a smelly, crowded church and is looking for the cabaret Alex is supposed to be working for. She knows she needs to stay on her toes around these Parisians, but she can't help flirting with one of them...


Next morning I am out of that church as soon as they open the doors. The sky is a murky dishwater color, threatening rain. The woman who slept next to me last night said that to find Montmartre I need to cross the river, so I take the first bridge and repeat her directions in my head. By midday my stomach is growling.

Thanks to Piero I have more than enough coin for a few loaves of bread and some cheese. At least the baker's girl who sells it to me knows of Hystérie.

"It's one block up and two blocks away from the river." She looks me over with a sly smile. "The one with the nude women holding up the lintel. You can't miss it."

She is right. The facade takes up a third of the block. I'm sure I'm at the right cabaret, with its concrete nudes for columns, and I know I'll find out about Alex soon. But it is still early and places like this don't open until late. If I just sit and wait I'll be run off by the neighbors in no time, who are already giving me suspicious glances. Out of my bundle I pull my violin and bow and I play the first song Alex ever taught me.

I play outside, all day until the afternoon-- songs I know and songs I've heard streaming out of taverns and cafes since I entered the city. I get brief looks from the neighbors but no one tells me to move along. In fact, most of them seem oddly interested in my music, staring at me only long enough as if to assure themselves I'm not someone else. Eventually I start to make songs up, mixing songs I know with the Parisian ones I've learned. When a skinny older man with dark stringy hair walks up the street and unlocks the front doors, I stop for a moment and look at him. He glances at me and I see him stiffen. But he bends his head back to the door, unlocks it and heads into the darkness within.

Going back to my playing comes easier the later it gets and I have an audience. More people pass by on their way, some coming home from work, others streaming in and out of the blue door to the left of the grand main entrance with the nude columns. These gadjo are the ones who give me the longest looks, the most intense, searching stares. No one on the street has tried to give me any money, and no one from Hystérie has told me that I am not wanted. I know I'm doing Alex's old job, and I'm hoping someone inside will notice.

Just after I finish the rest of my cheese and bread and start to play again, I think I've finally found my mark. I slow my tempo down as I look him over. Attractive, young, well-dressed and he doesn't look like he's in a hurry. He's not too tall, not too dark, not too handsome, but there is something about the set of his chin and his bearing when he addresses the others who head into Hystérie. They treat him like a boss, or the money. My song changes to a melody I heard a woman sing while she hung her laundry yesterday, but I give it a Romani flair and really put my body into the bowing.

All of a sudden I wish I'm not covered in grime and wearing boy's clothes, that my hair is clean and flowing down my shoulders. But it's working. He comes closer with a puzzled look on his polished face and claps when I bring the impromptu ballad to a close.

"Lovely. Does it have any words?" His voice is deeper than I expect.

"Not yet." I'm not trying to hide my own voice from him. I want to intrigue him, make him tell me what he knows about Alex. "Maybe you could help me write some."

He steps closer, eyes and mouth wide. "You're a girl."

"Yes. Last time anyone checked." I start up another song before my words catch up to him.

"I know that song." He is really listening to it, drumming his fingers in time. "Our last Gypsy violinist used to play it."

"It's an old one," I lie. It's really one that Alex and I made up together a year ago. "Your last Gypsy violinist? You don't have one now?"

"Not for nearly two months now. He vanished in the night, taking some valuables with him." This young man is watching me closely now, so I can't reveal my surprise. Alex leaving his job wouldn't explain why Lucia hasn't heard from him. And I doubt he took anything. He is always so far above whatever anyone thought of him. Especially me.

"So the position is open?"

The gadjo stares at the way the trousers hug my hips. At my voice, his eyes flash back to mine and he smiles. "I think it's just been filled."


Teaser Tuesday: Keeping the Dream Alive

Thought I'd change things up a little and post another excerpt from Evangeline. Yes, I know I said I was giving up on her, but I worked too hard not to give it one more go once I've finished my WiP. So I thought, what better way to get myself excited about revising again than to remind myself of the scenes I'm pretty sure work already? Of course if they don't, please feel free to tell me otherwise. ;)

The MC is about to go back home to her own time from 1880, but the scene starts after she and the hero have gotten in a fight. Having left him behind in a huff the previous night, she tries to use her new powers of witchcraft to fly out of the woods. Instead, she gets stuck and hits her head, and winds up unconscious in the tree for hours while the hero, still pretty mad, is looking for her.


“Dammit, Evie, wake up. My mother will kill me if anything happens to you.”

I came to ten feet off the ground, straddling a bough. “Jude?”

He stood beneath me, his voice hoarse. “Are you hurt?”

“Sore. But nothing’s broken.” The sky was pale as milk. “It’s morning!”

And I’d spent the better part of the night in a tree. Struggling to get out in one piece, I fell from my branch and landed on Jude. His blistering skin reminded me that I’d be going home today. To my rightful place in time.

“I’ve been looking for you all night.” He yanked me off the ground by my sleeve and pulled me after him. “God, you’re filthy!”

Filthy? How romantic. “I just spent the last few hours unconscious in a cypress tree. You’d be filthy, too.”

Gone was any trace of the starry-eyed supper we’d shared. That was probably for the best. I’d be home before bedtime, and he’d be a nothing more than a memory.


“There are three important elements involved in a working of this magitude--”

“You mean magnitude.”

Penny scowled over her tea at Jude for interrupting her. He reached to turn her open grimoire toward him but she snapped it up and pressed it to her thin chest.

I could barely concentrate on anything anyone said, completely covered with mosquito bites from spending the evening outside. Scratching felt good. Until I stopped. Then dozens of itches flared up, making me want to scream. It was a good thing my powers weren’t needed to send me home, because I’d have been no help.

Jude had barely looked at me all morning. Colette’s eyes were as red-rimmed from crying as his were from lack of sleep. I felt bad that I wanted to go home more than I wanted to stay. They’d soon be dead to me, despite living full lives years before I was born.

Still clutching
the black calf-bound book tight to her chest, Penny continued. “The first is power. That’s why we need to build a fire.”

Jude frowned. “So it’ll have to happen outside. That’s not ideal.”

“Not outside. In the maisonette.”

“The old slave quarters?” Sure, I’d wanted to check the place out before, but now that I was about to go home, my curiosity had faded. All I wanted was to sleep in my own bed tonight and to never think of Jude again.

“There’s a fire pit inside and a special chimney just for workings like this.” Penny rubbed her temple. Her eyes were red, too. Had she been up all night planning her spell? “But it’ll happen quickly. Less than a minute after we activate the circle. That’s the second thing. We’ll have a limited time to get Evie through the portal once it’s been opened.”

“And the third element?” I asked.

“The circle, obviously. I’ve already drawn it, but it’ll take some of your blood to open the portal. Just a little bit. It also took a lot of salt. And that last chicken.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Gross. Sure you had to kill it?”

“I think so. But what do I know? I’ve only been studying witchcraft since I was twelve.”

“Okay, okay. You’re the expert here. Just tell us what to do.”

It was early enough that the rest of the girls were still sleeping, but Teddy somehow knew that Colette was there and had already affixed herself to her skirt, following close as we crossed the yard. I’d changed into my new dress-- “More of a shift than a dress,” Colette sniffed-- and had my old sandals on, ready to go. I’d checked my bag about a hundred times that morning to be sure I had everything, my book of the blood and my book of plant samples.

The smell in the little house was a mix of blood and dusty herbs. Tiny shivers of old wards prickled when I entered the square of a room. The fire raging in a central, cauldron-like pit made the room sweltering despite its overhanging steel chimney. Surrounding it was Penny’s bloody salt circle, waiting for my blood. Doors and a staircase must have led to bedrooms or perhaps a small kitchen. I found it hard to believe anything had ever been cooked over this fire.

Penny hefted her book. “Ready?”

Colette looked ready-- ready to cry if she wasn’t so nervous about the spell. And Jude looked at anything but me. Yes, I was ready. I nodded.

Drawing a small, sleek dagger from between the pages of her mother’s book, Penny motioned for me to extend my hand. With the point of the knife she pricked my finger, collecting the garnet drops on the flat of the blade. She worked her way around the circle, stopping to smear some blood at each corner. Then she held the knife in the fire for a moment, sizzling the blood into a blackened shell. Gesturing me forward, she handed me the knife.

“Blood to earth, blood to fire, blood to air, blood to water.” As she chanted, the words started to run together. Taking the knife back out of my hand, she returned it to the fire only to pull it back out when it glowed white. Tracing shapes in the space surrounding the metal chimney, she chanted her way all around the circle again, but counter to the direction she’d walked before.

The chimney started to waver in the dim light of the tiny room. Soon its dull surface was replaced by a vortex of light originating from the center of the fire, blazing up as if to swallow the whole building. A crack like thunder sounded and the vortex reformed, widening into a cylinder of light. I saw the streetcar interior as if I were inside already. There came a loud humming, a droning that reverberated through the ground and lowered my body temperature.

Penny's thin face looked almost skeletal in the flashing light. “Quick now. It won’t stay open much longer.”

I hitched up my bag, but I had to make time for one last hug from Colette. “I’ll never forget you.” I breathed the scent of her powdered shoulder, choking back tears, and patted Teddy on her pale head.

Colette sighed. I could tell she didn't want to let me go. “Have a good life, mon ange. Remember that I’ll always love you.”

After a last look in her dark eyes, I turned to Penny for a quick squeeze. “Thanks, Penny. You’ve been a good friend. I wish I didn’t have to go.”

She swallowed hard. “Just hurry up, huh?”

I gave a nod. “Bye, Jude. It was nice knowing you.”

He didn’t even say goodbye back. He might as well have slapped me in the face. His cold stare raked my body in its immodest dress and I turned, unable to stand it any more. I stepped toward the portal.

“Evangeline, wait.”

At Jude's voice, I turned. “What?”

“Let me wish you a proper goodbye.” He crossed the room before I could say anything more and pulled me to his chest-- his hands even hotter than usual on my icy skin. When he pressed his lips to mine, I could have melted into him. How could something that felt so right cause me so much pain?

I didn’t care how much it hurt. I’d let him kiss me as long as he could stand it. But his tongue caressed my lips only once before he released me, pushing me through the portal.

There, the intense cold kissed my smoldering lips in a cruel mockery of his, soothing my skin but not my heart.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Research? Please, no, anything but that!


People seem to fear it, but for me, research helps to get the creative juices flowing.

People say write what you know, so I devour information about places I've never been, people I've never met, and situations that I've never experienced. Human emotions I know and understand-- and can sympathize with-- even if I can never truly share in the experiences I want to write about.

Writing based on research has its pitfalls. Aside from an overwhelming soporific effect and a high probability of waking up face-down in a book and covered with ink, it also forces the writer to accept the responsibility to write carefully, to abandon their particular point of view in order to properly experience another's. No one likes to be misrepresented in, or worse, offended by a book they're probably reading to escape the slings and arrows they suffer in real life.

Now on to the nitty gritty.

This is not going to be a post on how to research so much as how to enjoy researching for your novel. Research doesn't have to be a chore, a thankless task. The internet can be useful for more than just its wealth of baby names and automatic plot generators. While Wikipedia is, as I'm sure you've heard countless times, NOT an academic resource, I'm here to say that it can be a great starting place as long as you check the sources at the end of each article.

But more than that, Wikipedia serves up its information in broken down chunks, addressing history, or science, or culture under different headings. This can help you get your bearings, and at the very least familiarize you with the basics. ALWAYS double check dates with another source, preferably one that does not cite Wikipedia. ;)

I bet if you are studying, say, the Victorian Era in England for the setting of your new book, you might feel overwhelmed with researching the society of the upper crust, the fashions, the social morés, the dances and carriages and what they used to light their houses at night. Specifically, Wikipedia's article on "Victorian Era"gives a short general overview of the time, followed by highlights: "Culture", "Events", "Entertainment", "Technology and Engineering", "Health and Medicine", "Poverty", "Child Labor", and "Prostitution" that might give you just the type of general details you need to familiarize yourself with the time.

Here's the fun part. Does anything stand out to you? Interest you, excite you? The increased popularity of the Bandstand? The Indian Sepoy Mutiny? The development of tenements? Youths forced into prostitution, "The Great Social Evil", by poverty and other societal pressures?

Ah, history. You've never failed to provide me with examples of the depths of human depravity. But I digress. Even if you are not researching history, keep your eyes open for that spark, that one topic that makes your blood boil, or your heart sing, and you've just got to write a story about it.

Okay, maybe I'll add a little more about the act of research, which you might do if you want to learn more about the development of Victorian tenements.

This is where we leave Wikipedia. Its works cited, and the "Further Reading" section that this article on the Victorian Era luckily has, can help you discern who the academics are in this field. Search Google Scholar with these names and the subject "Victorian tenements" in the hopes that one of these academics has written an article on the subject. There might even be websites devoted to the subject, but as you know, always double-check those internet facts.

While Google Scholar might lead you to articles that you don't have access to online, like articles provided through JSTOR, the same articles might be available at your closest university or large city library. No access to such depositories of scholarly articles? You can always search for books on your subject, which usually provide more general information on a topic, rather than the narrow, specific focus an article might address.

Sites like the eBook Directory have free scholarly e-books available on many topics, and with a little judicious use of Google, a wealth of pdf files can be found for many scholarly articles without having to pay for them. Of course, the more obscure your topic, the lower the chances of finding what you're looking for without going to a university library, which is the source for research that comes the most highly recommended by yours truly, researcher extraordinaire.

Most importantly, be open-minded in your research. Truth is stranger than fiction, but that's just because real life is random and cruel and novels are supposed to make sense, because novels offer themes we can all understand, from the Satyricon to The Hunger Games. If your research is making you uncomfortable-- and I mean too uncomfortable to write about, not the kind of discomfort that comes from tackling a controversial or unsettling topic that you simply have to tell everyone in the world who will listen-- then you might need to stand back and figure out just what attracted you to this subject if it is now bothering you. Maybe you just need to look at the topic in a different way, from your main character's point of view, perhaps.

Maybe you'll discover something that can't be learned from all the books and scholarly articles in the world.

Something about your main character, yes, but maybe you'll discover something about yourself.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Some thanks are in order...

Recently I was the recipient of the coveted "One Lovely Blog Award", given to me by my friend and critique partner, Abby Annis.

I'm still pretty new to the blogosphere, so I am thrilled to be getting an award, but it may take me some time to pass it along. There are a lot of blogs that I read every day, but I don't comment enough to be feel comfortable awarding someone out of the blue. Maybe this will help me to be more vocal.

More importantly, the day Abby gave me this award, I was hot, tired, cranky, and had just been in a software seminar for the past two days. She made me feel like I was someone instead of a faceless page of posts in an endless sea of blogs. It let me know that there was someone out there who cared about what I had to say. So, thanks, Abby! May the followers of your blog be fruitful and multiply.

Rebecca Knight, another of my fantasy crit-ers, just gave me the "Superior Scribbler Award". Its ancient lineage can be traced back to the one true Scribbler, Scholastic Scribe.

It may take me some time to dole this baby out to deserving scribblers, but in the meantime, I wanted to thank Becca K. for giving me the award at a much needed moment in my life (I swear, she and Abby must be psychic, or else I am just melodramatic and constantly needing e-hugs).

I'd just received an official rejection from a great agent on a revised full, and was lamenting that I couldn't even write a sentence, much less a novel, and needed this timely ego boost. So thanks again, Becca! May the characters in your novels live long, happy lives. Except for the ones you decide to kill off. ;)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WIP Wednesday : Chasing the Dragon

Now that I'm cruising along on my wip, gunning for 20K by Thursday, I'm remembering what I love about writing. It's like a kind of high, and I won't deny I have an addictive personality. I float above the rest of the world, plotting and speaking in the voices of imaginary people, and typing late at night until my eyes are red. I'm like a junkie for the laptop, and every click on the Word Count fuels my high.

After the torment of this last round of purgatory in Query Hell and the endless revising and reworking, after the acceptance that a novel I spent the better part of a year on may not be THE ONE, my WIP progress is what reminds me why I can't keep from writing. Maybe I'm not good enough to be published, now or ever. But if I quit writing now, I'll never know. And I'll stop getting that rush, feeling that power, that, dare I say it, god-like omnipotence that comes from unleashing a character or a story you love into the world, or, failing that, at least bring them to life in the minds of a handful of people.

Athena's got nothing on my current heroine; she sprang into creation fully formed and cut her way out of my head and onto the page. She's convinced me to learn about new ways of life and cultures that are totally unlike my own. Though I know nothing about playing the violin, she is an expert at it. She faces adversity with her head held high, and isn't afraid to take on new challenges. She's also hot-headed, naive, and self-centered. She thinks the world revolves around her, and you know what, she's right.

My world does revolve around her right now. Together we're experiencing danger, fear, prejudice, sexual tension, first love, and the exhilaration of stardom as if we are the same person. In fact, I keep having to tell her I'm the boss and she's not. No, you can't kiss that boy right now, you have to wait until it moves the plot forward. Argh, no, you can't see ghosts. Wait, that might be really cool, actually. Okay, you can see ghosts.

More importantly, she distracts me from lamenting over the last story that made me feel this way. The one that has been edited within an inch of its life and still needs an major overhaul before I send it on one last ride on the query-go-round. Don't get me wrong, there's a thrill in seeing partial requests in my inbox, too, but so far, the pay-off has just not made the build-up worth it, if you know what I mean. And I think you do. I have to believe that practice makes perfect. Maybe it's just the writing endorphins talking, but I have confidence in my work, and I think maybe, just maybe, this story is THE ONE.

And maybe someday I'll have time to give the last one a major overhaul, or the one I wrote before that one, or the one I wrote before that one. And I'll have time to write new stories, bring new characters to life, their worlds crossing over into ours. But I know this right now; it doesn't matter how many stories I have to write, chasing the high that this one might be THE ONE. I'll keep doing it as long as it takes. Maybe it's because I'm an addict. I can't help myself. I want to feel the rush that writing-- even writing a mediocre book-- gives me, the kind of rush that even tops reading a favorite book for the first time.

So that's why I keep writing, more than anything. Everything else, rejection, publication, is just a side-effect.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Five Reasons to Read this Book: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Finally, a futuristic story I can sink my teeth into. Don't know how many of you are familiar with this series, but I'm loving it. Reading the third one now.
Without further ado, Five Reasons to Read Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld.

1.) Hoverboards. Yeah. Want.

2.) The title says it all. Tally is an "ugly", a youth who spends the first chapter breaking into "New Pretty Town", where the "new pretties" live. I wasn't surprised when I learned the "truth about being pretty", but it definitely caused the main character a lot of turmoil, trying to reconcile what she "knows" to be true with what she learns on her own.

3.) Offers a lot to think about. Not while you're reading, because the pacing is so good, but after you set it down, you can't help but think about the implications of living in Tally's world. And not only one aspect of it, but different facets like brainwashing v. societal norms, standards of beauty and the lengths people will go to achieve such standards, or the long term effects a high-tech society has on the surrounding wildlife. I noticed a distinct lack of pets, which is, imo, the reason the society got so screwed up in the first place. ;)

4.) Related to the above post, there was so much going on with this character and the society, I didn't feel like I was being hit over the head with a message like a lot of classic sci-fi novels do.

5.) Finally, the book is pretty skillfully written so that you are so deeply immersed in Tally's ways of thinking, you are almost rooting for her to achieve her goals so she can become pretty. She really changes over the course of this first book, but the way she thinks (and the way her attitude shifts over time) helps give the most insight into this strangely possible world.

A great read, especially for those who like sequels. Pretties, which I just finished, made for a satisfying sequel in which a lot happened, and I'm about half-way through Specials.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

WiP Wednesday; The Evolution of a First Chapter

It's time again for WiP Wednesday. I know you're all thinking, ooh, lovely, something else from your deliciously scary new ghost story. Nope. Sorry. Maybe next week.

Today's post is more about change than progress. I'm about 6500 words into the new story right now, but not all are consecutive scenes, since I keep cheating and writing later ones while they're still clear in my head. Maybe they'll change later, but for now, I just have to get it out of my brain or it'll consume me! Anyway, while most of the story reads as a VERY rough draft (think sandpaper-rough, no, think dry, splintery board-rough), I have made some progress on the plot, as I mentioned last WiP Wednesday, and have therefore had to adapt the first chapter to reflect these changes.

Here's how my first chapter is evolving. It's quite a bit different than the first one I posted, so I'm wondering if that's a good thing, lol.

Mostly I'm posting this for posterity's sake. My first chapters usually wind up in the circular file once I've completed the ms and done a full second draft. Maybe this one is here to stay... Nah, probably not. ;)

Chapter 1

Blinding smoke chokes our tiny caravan. Its wooden walls haven’t caught yet, but they will, sending my home to the hereafter with Papa. I can live with losing my sweet Papa and our home in the same week, but not her, too. Not my violin.

Orange light flickers off her smooth surface, right where I left her on my little bunk, the bow nearby. You should have loosened the bow when you were done playing, Mara, comes Alex's voice in my head. A fine time for such a warning, when I'm risking my skin.

The blanket is still unburned. I snatch it from the soft mattress, holding my violin tight to my chest and wrapping the blanket close. I stumble sightless toward the door I'd left open while the flames eat away our beloved vardo. They'll eat me next if I don't get out of here.

My mother shouts outside, "Sweet Mother Mary, save my baby girl!” and
I imagine her and my sisters grieving for me. There'll be nothing left of my possessions to burn. Nothing left of me to be remembered. Nothing but my restless mulo to haunt them.

I'd laugh at myself if it wouldn't mean sucking in smoke. Me, just another mulo like old Kira and the Tinker. Wouldn't they love to see me so? I grit my teeth. I'm determined to live, if only to keep from spending the afterlife with those two chattering in my dead ear.

Clutching my violin tight, I tuck my face under the blanket and make myself walk toward the painted door I know so well quick as a match is struck.
I trip down the three steps and suck fresh air in, nearly collapsing.

Mother runs to my side and clutches at the sooty blanket. She babbles at me through a mess of tears. I push her away. Not that I'm not glad to see her, but I see another face in the gathering crowd. The cold, manipulative face of Lucia Saray.
Old Kira smiles unseen next to her, rubbing her bloodless hands and speaking threats that I alone can hear. Only Lucia could have convinced Mother to send our vardo up in flames after Papa died inside. But Mother didn't have to worry about Papa's mulo. He was gone. I should have told her so before she burned our home. Before she let Lucia take it from me. My punishment for chasing Alex away.

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

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

“No thanks to that old hag,” I spit, stepping closer to Lucia. The woman’s needle-like eyes narrow even further.

My sister Jeanette steps in between us. “Behave yourself, Mara,” she chides. “Have some respect for your elders if you’ve none for the dead.” Her grim-faced husband watches the fire from behind her for any signs it might spread to the other wagons.

Holding my chin up, as if that could make me any taller, I spin on my heel away from the judgment in their eyes. Away from the cunning frozen smiles of the Tinker and Kira.

Fire licks at the painted sides of the bowtop wagon. Flame manes crown Papa’s painted mares, one each for me and my two sisters. The little birds Mother kept bright with oil and wax have 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 would take Mother away from me, too.

They all knew I was unlucky. Cursed. I couldn’t cook or sew. I had no husband. The only thing I was good at, aside from seeing people who weren't there, was playing the child-size violin I never outgrew.

“Mara,” Mother says when I walk back over to her, “Jeanette and her husband will take me in.”
I wrench the violin from her hands, barely listening to her. I already know what she is about to say. I've lost her. “Mara, my lovely, I…”

I set bow to strings and play for my papa, for my home and for everything else I’ve lost, a song that has been welling up inside me for the past seven days. Though my mother and sisters have heard me burst into bouts of unexpected bowing, they’ve surely never witnessed anything as richly miserable as this lament.
Somewhere in the middle of my dirge I realize that though I began playing for myself as much as for my papa, I'm now playing for Alex.

The crowd slowly, solemnly thins, until it is only the mulo, who have nothing better to do than watch my life continue down the road as embers.
When I stop playing, I sense three pairs of eyes on me.

I turn to face Lucia Saray, the woman who’d convinced Mother to burn our home.
The woman who accuses me of driving her son Alex away eight months ago.

Lucia was right. I did drive him away.

But I’ll be damned if I'll admit that to her.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Giving up the ghost; When to trunk your manuscript

Lately I've been spending a lot of time with my work in progress, while querying a finished novel that is as polished as I can make it. But today I received a rejection on the full (a full request from the start, so far I have had no partial requests turn into fulls for this project) that really made me think.

The agent mentioned they liked the concept and the setting, but I had problems with narrative, that the agent wanted "more" from the mc's experience. I believe the agent's comments to be genuine, and not something I'm reading into too much. The concern about narrative I had received pretty uniformly from most agents, and something I kept in mind during the latest stage of revisions. So it looks like I didn't do as well on the revisions as I had thought.

Which begs the question: barring the spontaneous propagation of a literary professional who is willing to do a line by line of my work to tell me where the problem narrative is, how do I know what needs to be changed? How do I know if I can even change the book enough to make it saleable? Will more betas help at this point, or should I put all my writing energies into my wip, where I can apply what I learned trying to write the last one?

I have a good-sized list of agents I can still query, and I could change little things, but I'd need an objective reader, or hell, a committee at this point, to help me decide where to start with yet another stage of revisions. I've read it so many times, the words just start to run together at this point.

Keep writing! the agent in question says. Does that mean I should keep writing the same story, or move on to another? It's enough to make me pull out my hair. I'm getting so deep into the main character of the wip, a place I never really got to with the mc of the novel being queried, that it would be difficult for me to switch gears right now. It's hard for me to go backward. Maybe I am a better writer now than I was, but am I a better storyteller? Can I craft a whole story that makes sense from start to finish that immerses the reader in a living breathing character's life and problems? If I can't do this, what right do I have to call myself a writer?

So for now I'm going to play it cool, wait on another full and a partial request, and decide later. Maybe there's an agent out there who will like the story enough to give me the critical feedback I need to whip the story into shape. Or maybe I'll go nuts with my wip and finish it in six weeks (ha!) and have another story to foist other concerns on. And the viscious cycle will start all over again.

How to decide without losing my sanity? Should I tackle two stories, revisions and draft writing, at the same time? Or put all my eggs in a brand new basket?

I wish I knew.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm 30. There I said it.

And here I thought that I'd have accomplished more by my 30th birthday. I thought I'd at least have a literary agent, maybe own a house, and possibly have my credit card debt paid off.

Yeah, I have done none of these things.

I do have two or three unpublishable novels under my belt, I job I like but don't love, and a rental house that my landlord hates to keep up with the repairs on.

I do have a loving husband and family and great friends in a city I love despite its flaws. I have an online social network that takes me the way I am, quirks and all. I have a growing blog that I am happy with and that gives me the outlet I never knew I needed.
(Thanks for reading my self-indulgent wanking. You only turn 30 once. Thank God.)

Lastly, I have faith and confidence that someday I'm going to get those things I wanted.

It's just not going to be today.

Five Reasons to Read this Book: Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

Dust of 100 Dogs, A.S. King

1.) Pirates ('nuff said)

2.) Two great POVs for the price of one. King uses both first and third person narration, and the characters of Emer and Saffron are distinct and unique, not just the same girl in a different time, in a different body.

3.) Great historical accuracy and detail. Emer's various cloaks just took my breath away.

4.) A curse. Not just a good curse, but a great curse.

5.) A good ending. Very satisfying but not too HAE (Happily Ever After).

I really loved this book for taking me places I didn't expect, and for the history and the the originality of it's premise. The scenes from Saffron's dog lives are poignant and a little disturbing, just like the rest of the story. I guess that's why I liked it so much.

Caveat, one reason not to read this book:
There is a rape scene, which I always find disturbing. It wasn't overly graphic, but if you don't like reading books with rape scenes, I'd steer clear. Hard to port. ;)

Next week, Scott Westerfeld's Uglies.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

WIP Wednesday : I've created a monster

If you read last week's Work in Progress Wednesday post, you'll know I'm working on an as yet untitled ghost story. The main character is a spoiled 16 year old girl. She's riddled with flaws, which I love. Her one saving grace is her violin playing, which helps her family and others forget what a holy terror she can be. I can barely handle her myself. That's kind of the fun part, and why I like her so much, why I'm looking forward to writing Mara's story.

Except that she keeps telling me that she's more "special" than I want to make her. I've never had a character give me so much attitude, or speak with such a clear, persistent voice, so how can I deny her what she wants? Especially when the idea is so tantalizing if correctly executed.

Mara tells me she wants the power to see the mulo her people fear, the spirits of the dead. I could give it to her, and though it could potentially make for a dynamite story, and even make some of my plot points make more sense, it COULD come across as cliche. So there's a challenge right from the start: make this story believable and different. It'll change everything, including the dramatic and fiery opening scene I'd planned. But for the better?

I think with Mara it could be for the better. Maybe the power and the way she uses it could aid in her character development much more than the original adventure I'd planned for her ever could. Now I can see her trying hard at first to ignore the ghosts of Paris, restless spirits she eventually helps find peace. Not all of them, of course, but one in particular.

It could work.

But I damn her for giving me this challenge at the same time I'm thanking her for challenging me. I'm just glad I'm a plotter and figured this out before I'd gotten 10k words into the story. Uh-oh, I jinxed myself, I know it. I'll be cruising along on this story, some 20k words in and Mara will throw me for another loop. I can sense it. She's a brat that way. I'm going to have to show her who's boss...

I've had evolving characters before, but it's like Mara's trying to be part of the creative process whether I want her input or not. She wants to tell me her story, and I'm just the chump with the keyboard.

Anyone else have any experiences with the characters telling YOU who THEY are, not vice-versa?