Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I don't usually reflect upon years past. I am a very impatient person, always have been, and I much prefer to think of what lies ahead. I much prefer to think about what I need to do rather than what I've done.

But this year is a little different. This year, I accomplished something I've been meaning to do my entire life: write a novel. I'm really proud of it- even as it soaks in its own filth right now and I attempt to clean and polish what I can. I learned a lot about myself as a writer. Now I know that when I sit down to write something, no matter how many distractions there are in life, I can do it. And now that I've done it once, I can do it again. And I will.

But I'm not going to sit in the past for much longer. There is an edit to complete. A new novel to start. The search begins for an agent, for an editor, for a publisher. And if I send my novel out into the ether and it never finds a home (a distinct possibility that scares me every day) I will find a way to self-publish it, or podcast an audio book, or whatever I can do to use the technology I'm learning more about every day to make things happen for myself.

Thanks to all my family and friends for supporting me on this writing journey. And to all the people I don't quite know who read this blog. I hope you don't lurk too much so we can support and encourage one another to accomplish all of our goals (writing goals or otherwise).

Always looking forward...

M.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Darling I Don't Know Why I Go To Extremes

Last night, I had a dream that I wrote a blog post and it was titled after the Billy Joel song lyric Darling I don't know why I go to extremes...

It reminded me of a dream I had a few weeks ago. I dreamt that the title of my novel was: Wrap Around.

Yeah folks. 76,000 words and an entire year of blood, sweat, and tears and that's all a little rapid eye movement could come up with.

I consider this the worst decision my subconscious has ever made. It's absolutely terrible. Wrap Around? What does it even mean? All I can think of is when you select the 'wrap text' option on an excel spreadsheet. And excel spreadsheets remind me of 9-5 jobs in dirty, grey cubicles with fluorescent lighting. And memos. And casual Fridays.

But the subconscious has a way of being tricky so I thought I would humour it this time around and start with a blog title, then create a little content to go along with it. Which is the opposite (the extreme if you will) of writing an entire novel and trying to sum it up in one title.

So, how do you deal with titles?
1. Do you start with an idea and a title in mind, then write the book?

2. Or write the book and then create a title that fits it?

Which extreme?

I'm currently dealing with #2 and, I gotta, tell you, #1 is lookin' pretty good in retrospect.

I mean...Wrap Around. Seriously?!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yay!


HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

May your days be filled with lots of delicious food (I will be feasting on the 7 fishes as the fat Italians do on Christmas Eve), love, warmth, happiness, and...for all you writers out there...new stories to tell.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Day I Met The Pioneer Woman

I realize I'm a bit late on updating about my meeting with Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman). And I certainly apologize. Because I know you were losing sleep over it. You can rub your tired eyes.

I met the Pioneer Woman.

She was nice.

She was pretty.

She was funny.

She signed my cookbook.

It was nice.

That was my 3rd grade rendition of it. My adult rendition of it goes a little something like this:

Borders required a bracelet to attend the signing- which I didn't know about until late in the game. As soon as I found out, I started panicking, then sent wild, frantic e-mails to my friend Jess (whose entire future happiness depended on my meeting the Pioneer Woman...which I'll expand upon later). I'm not really sure how it happened, but I managed to leave work in about 5 seconds flat, get from Chelsea to Columbus Circle, get a bracelet, and return to work in about 30 minutes time, which, frankly, is unheard of in this city. I consider myself a superhero for this feat.

I got to Borders about an hour and 15 minutes before the signing because, let's face it, my entire future happiness depended on meeting the Pioneer Woman as well.

The Border's people were very strict. They required me to sit in a certain place and then they proceeded to ask me the correct spelling of my name and write it on a post-it with a sharpie. I was told that I must put the post-it on the title page and when I put it on the page with a picture, an impatient hand from above shot down into my book and immediately placed it on the opposite page to the tune of a loud, scolding sigh. At that point I became scared and sat quietly in my seat.

An hour and a half later, after lamenting that I didn't have any friends (there were so many groups of girlfriends there laughing and having fun!) and re-playing the traumatic post-it ordeal , Ree Drummond came out and answered lots of questions. She was incredibly sweet, well-spoken, and very funny. It was a lovely experience. I wish I could tell you what people asked, but I was in awe and only remembered something about her wanting sushi, her hoping she didn't mess her kids up by homeschooling, and her husband being very supportive of her blog.

At that point, the Border's people began running around with their headsets and they made us sit quietly then get up row by row to meet Ree. I think one woman was hit with a night stick when her un-braceleted friend tried to get in line to take her picture (I'm telling you, these Borders people were scary!). I was surprisingly nervous because I wanted Ree to like me. Which is silly. But that's how I felt. And my mother tells me to embrace my feelings.

Soon, it was my turn. I'm not really sure what happened at that point. She signed my book and I think I said I was excited to meet her and that I enjoyed her blog. More likely it came out something like this: I. Melissa. You. Pioneer Woman. Hi. Which is really quite stupid because the post-it had my name.

Then I proceeded to babble incessantly. Because my friend Jess and I had prepared a portfolio of sorts. A portfolio to set up Jess with Cowboy Josh who works on the Pioneer Woman's ranch and is apparently willing to be set up through the Pioneer Woman's blog. I truly believe that Jess would get along swimmingly well with this man that I have never met, based solely on the fact that Jess likes tall, skinny men, who are rugged and have intense gazes. It was a 'Top Ten List of Reasons My Friend Jess Should Meet Cowboy Josh.' I presented the portfolio to Ree Drummond and she said she would pass it along to Cowboy Josh. I think I told her to read it 'in her travels'. If someone could tell me what that means, I would appreciate it. I also said something about waking up at 4am and that was crazy. Which I realize is insulting to a woman who wakes up at 4am every day to work on a ranch. I had a serious case of verbal diarrhea.

Then, I forgot to get a picture, despite the fact that Tyler was standing there with a camera the entire time waiting for that very moment. When my face fell, a very nice woman noticed. She was holding a camera. She was a very soft-spoken, smart-looking young woman. I soon found out she was Ree's editor (after another embarrassing chapter of 'The Babbling Chronicles' starring Melissa).

I managed to get a picture because her editor was nice enough to interrupt things. I vaguely recall the Pioneer Woman saying she was 'glad I came back' which I appreciated very much since I felt bad to interrupt the flow of the signing.

Overall, it was great! I presented the portfolio for Jess. I got my cookbook signed. And I met my favorite blogger! I also learned that she is publishing, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels (a series from her blog) which is exciting! Maybe our novels will get published at the same time and we can go on a book trip together (excuse me while I go laugh at myself for even uttering that.)


This is the Pioneer Woman looking so lovely (please excuse how dark this photo is.)


This is the Pioneer Woman thinking I am crazy after I handed her the portfolio. She looks amused...but frightened.

The Pioneer Woman: So what is this? A resume?

Melissa: More like a top ten...[incessant babbling]...Read it in your travels...[incessant babbling]...

The Pioneer Woman: Where does your friend live?

Melissa: Boston...[incessant babbling]...she wanted to meet you tomorrow in person but she was driving here...and...and...she would have to wake up at 4am which is crazy...[incessant babbling]...

The Pioneer Woman (beautiful, sweet, polite, well-spoken Pioneer Woman): Well, I will certainly pass this along to Cowboy Josh.


This is the Pioneer Woman wondering why I came back for a picture and probably looking for security.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Biking Memory



Now that the frost is nipping at people's noses and it's dark and dreary at 4pm, it has become impossible to do one of my favorite things. Bike. Every year I come to this point, constantly checking weather.com hoping that there's a weekend day above 40 degrees (that's my biking temperature cut-off). It doesn't happen often and when it does, I still battle cold winds and numb cheeks, and I find it difficult (and sometimes painful!) to do the long bike rides Tyler and I so desperately enjoy. This year, due to busy and/or rainy weekends this fall, my biking season ended much earlier than it should have. Now I find myself even more restless than usual as the cold weather drops in and overstays it's welcome.

Every once and a while I like to nestle in a memory. Today of course my mind wanders to days of biking...

Before our annual block party, all the kids that lived on the same tiny street of my childhood home participated in a strange ritual. It took place in the morning, as our parents dragged out patio tables and chairs to the street, set up the bbq and placed toys on the lawn. We all hopped on our banana seat bicycles and proceeded to line up and ride in a tight circle. Around and around, over and over again, in a swirling, dizzying, wonderful circle. I remember how important it was that we participate in this ritual year after year on that special day. A day we looked forward to all summer. It's a blurry memory and I really only envision the dizzy, grey concrete underneath my bicycle tire. But I love that memory. And I always wonder when we broke away from the circle, one by one, and parted ways.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Revision Day 1

Ok, so I forgot that yesterday was our office holiday party and, therefore, I did not begin my edit as planned. I begin today, after spin class.

Despite my minor freak-out session on Monday, I do have a revision plan and one I think might actually work for me.

I am going to read the darn thing from start to finish, making notes as I go. I am going to break down my draft into scenes and, because I enjoy speaking back and forth to my 3rd person self, I am going to ask questions:

1. Why does this scene belong in the book?
2. What is it trying to accomplish?
3. Does it accomplish it?

Every time I introduce a character, I am going to make sure this character lives up to the Owen Meany First Sentence.

Once I finish all of this, I hope to have a better idea of the arc of the story and how to make it work better.

Then I shall prepare a list of To Do's. There will be many, that I can assure you.

I'm rather excited about this whole 'revision' thing. How different it is from sitting down to a very white, very blank first page.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why did you eat the Flan?

Tomorrow I begin what I fondly call: 'the dreaded edit'.

I took one month off from the novel and spent my time being French for a week, then eating a lot of cheese, going to spin class and watching people die on Grey's Anatomy. It's been fun!

But now it's time to get back into the weeds and follow all of Tim Gunn's marvelous advice to 'make it work' so I don't get 'auf'ed by a tall, blond, literary agent wearing lederhosen. (Wait. What?)

Problem is, I don't exactly know what I'm doing and it's making me slightly nauseous. I just opened the document for the first time in 30 days and I literally wanted to puke. (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the 5 pounds of chorizo I just consumed at our office holiday lunch.)

A lot of things started running through my head:

Melissa! You don't even have real chapters! (I write scene by scene and I don't know how to slap numbers on them.)

Melissa! You don't even have a title! (Seriously, I can't even think of one. Can you pitch a book called 'Untitled'?)

Melissa! One of your characters has supposedly been dead for 20 years and he's in the first 3 alleged 'chapters' of your book. (I'm sorry! I didn't even know he was dead until 250 pages in.)

I could go on. But I won't. Because I've already started speaking back and forth to myself in 3rd person and it's only going to get worse from there.

Melissa! Why did you eat that flan today at lunch?! (I don't know. I just don't know.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Pioneer Woman Cooks! And she writes too!



Guess what?! Tonight I am going to see The Pioneer Woman! I have been reading her blog for about 2 years now and she is one of my favorite writers.

I know she's better known for her blog and cookbook than as a writer, but it takes a lot of skill to write a blog and I hope that is never lost on people. She writes with incredible wit, honesty, and humour. And, perhaps more importantly, she has such a distinct voice. I consider a unique voice one of the most essential qualities a writer must have and when you find that voice on a blog, you want to go back to it day after day. I'm incredibly impressed with her following but, not surprised, given how strong that narrative voice truly is.

So, tonight, maybe I'll get to hear her real voice! Sometimes I forget that I live in a city of 8 million people. Because in a city of 8 million people, there's always the possibility I may not even be able to step foot in that Border's tonight. In a city of 8 million people, even a wristband for an event might not allow me to step foot in that Border's tonight. This issue actually deserves another post all together (Can you tell the city crowds are getting me down?)

But I digress...

Here's hoping I get to see the Pioneer Woman tonight!

Oh, and if someone has any tips for how I can shower at the gym with the wristband, let me know. I didn't think of that when the nice man at Borders slapped it on my wrist...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do Not Resuscitate

Since I finished the first draft of the novel on November 15th, I told myself that there would be a nice period of rest for exactly one month. The novel had to sit and soak for a bit. It had to breathe. Honestly, it had to be nearly forgotten so I could come back to it with fresh eyes.

Decompressing from the launch of a big project at work, I told myself this would be a period of pure relaxation. I would not let the constant, gnawing thought: 'I should be writing' creep into my brain. At first, I found it a bit difficult. For the past year my evenings centered around finding time to write. The first couple of days I came home from work or the gym and I did what I would always do: quickly calculate how long it would take to eat before I could sit at my desk and go at it. I really wasn't sure what I would do with all of this new-found time. Don't worry though. Slowly but surely, I found something to do. And that, my friends, was this:

Watch Grey's Anatomy.

Watch twenty-one back to back episodes of Grey's Anatomy. With Season 6 pending in the queue.

About 2 years ago, I completely gave up on this show, despite it being one of my favorites. Something had happened. Something had snapped. I found every character incredibly annoying. I wanted nothing to do with the tumultuous Shepard/Grey relationship. And I hated the formula: patients coding at the end of every frickin' episode, Bailey or the Chief's motivational speeches, Izzy's sunny, happy, knit-a-scarf, personality.

Now, I simply can't get enough. Every time that heart rate flat-lines, I squeal with delight. I root during a motivational speech by singing Queen's 'We Will Rock You'. Seattle Grace is now host to a grueling marathon and I want to run more miles. I'm holding picket signs outside of Shonda Rhimes' doorstep screaming: GIVE ME MORE! GIVE ME MORE!

Instead of wondering how much writing time I can fit in, I wonder how many episodes I can watch before bedtime. I have dreams about transferring to pediatric surgery and who the new chief of cardio is going to be. I wonder if Christina Yang wants to be my friend. Or if I have to settle for Lexi Grey. [gasp]

On Dec. 15th, it will all end. I realize this is just a fleeting fantasy. Just a fling in the on-call room. But for now, I am completely caught up in a new and exciting story-line. And as my little novel sits and breathes, I consider calling it: McSteamy. [sigh]

P.S. I am two years behind the rest of the world. If you even so much as breathe a word of what happens on this show to me: I will kill you. And forge the Do Not Resuscitate form. Don't mess with me people. I am a woman on a rampage.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In which I learn my numbers but let other logic slide...

I would like to tell you a few things today. I've numbered them. So at least you know I can count.

1. I wore suede black boots in the rain this morning.

2. Yes. They were suede. Yes. It was raining.

3. I am wearing fluorescent, striped rain boots in the office.

4. I also wore them for an hour long presentation to the VP of Design.

5. Let me re-iterate. Not only are they shockingly fluorescent. Just to add insult to injury: they are also striped.

6. I used a broken $5 umbrella from Filene's Basement on my 10 min. walk to the subway this morning.

7. Tyler's sturdy, massive, golf umbrella sits dryly in a corner.

8. There is a good explanation for all of this but I'm still deeming the whole situation ridiculous.

9. You can too. I won't judge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Before I begin gushing over this book, I'd like to propose something: As a writer I'm always looking for book recommendations that will help me with my writing. I've been in many writer's workshops and critique groups where someone recommends a book to me that they think is relevant to my work.

Instead of saying: 'This [type of scene] isn't working for me and here's ways you can fix it' (which is certainly helpful but not always effective). They can say: 'This [type of scene] isn't working for me and you know who does [type of scene] really well?' and proceed with a book recommendation.

An active reader/writer can do so much more with that!


So I'm trying to figure out how to make 'Tuesday Books for Writers' into a larger resource for writers. If anyone wants to participate in a 'Tuesday Books for Writers' blog post on their own blogs, let me know! I know there's some way to link them together that I plan to figure out soon. The only qualifications are that you have to have read a book you think might be relevant to somebody writing and tell them why. And, well, to be honest, most books have something redeemable, however small, that can be useful to a writer. So basically...the only qualification is that you have to have read something, sometime in your entire life. Thanks bunches.



The Adoration of Jenna Fox
by Mary E. Pearson
Read this book if you're writing:
A YA Novel
About Ethics in Medicine
A slow, deliberate revelation
A book that plays lightly with structure (particularly poetry infused in a long work)



I have to start off by saying that I was fascinated and compelled by this story. And I have to thank Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? for recommending it. Wowsa. I could NOT put this book down.

Which brings me to why it was soooo helpful as a writer to read this book. This book has a nice, compelling, slow, deliberate reveal. This is hard for me to say. But I am just going to say it. I'm pretty sure the pacing in this novel is simply perfect.

It builds so remarkably well, that I was absolutely blown away. It slowly leaks information and yet it drives plot forward at lightening speed. And when you get to the reveal, it does not disappoint. It's a whopper. Then we experience the reveal with more and more depth as it gets bigger and bigger. And it doesn't end there, people. Oh no. Just when you think it's all out there on the table, just when you think there's no where else to go, you're still compelled to go on. Because lawsie me, you've got to figure out how to cope with the reveal. And that's what the novel is really about.

The reason I find this whole thing so mind-blowing in its simplicity is because every book has a reveal, no matter how minor. Characters are keeping secrets left and right. And they are discovering things about the world like it's going out of style. If you can build to each and every reveal with the kind of power and force that this novel does, I think you'll be in amazing shape. I hope to be in amazing shape now that I've seen how well it can be done and how I can use the same pace and build in my own novel. It's such an easy thing to say: build to a nice climax or reveal. It's another thing to see it done so amazingly well.

Oh. And please go read this book immediately. It's an order. I'd even give you a copy. If mine didn't belong to the New York Public Library.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Lisle Inn



Last February, I posted my Ode to Small Towns and mentioned the town of Lisle:

It also reminded me how amazed I had always been driving up to Ithaca, NY revelling in the small town of Lisle on Rt. 79 which is completely run down with it's dilapidated, abandoned buildings on its tiny main street. And despite the vacant, grey vibe that town always gave me, I found it simply beautiful. It was fascinating that it could be so intimate and yet spacious and empty all at the same time.

Thanks to Lost City I learned a little bit more about why Lisle was in this condition: A series of floods back in the 30's and the movement of people down South as NY became too costly to do business in. I also learned that I am not the only one who had a soft spot in their heart for this place. But, most tragically, I learned that the Lisle Inn, which I always considered a landmark on my journey to and from Ithaca year after year, burnt down this past week.

The reason I bring it up is because one of the settings in my novel is actually based on the town of Lisle, so I feel I must pay homage to it. It amazes me that a town in such ruin was able to inspire me. So much so, that I was able to create an entire world for my characters to nestle inside of.

The Inn itself always stirred the imagination. Who lived there? Who kept it up? Who would have wanted to stay there? It always seemed the Inn represented a place that was holding on to a false hope. For someone to visit. Or return.

I think there are many stories about this place that are still left to be told...

Monday, November 30, 2009

I should eat more cheese...



I just returned (begrudgingly) from an 8 day trip to Southern France. I had been to the area once before, but it was a short trip to Nice where my friend Lynn and I quickly realized that the entire town was closed due to Easter Monday. The following day we spent at a tennis tournament in Monte Carlo and the third day we walked an empty, cold beach front in Cannes before skipping off to Barcelona (ah the life of a study abroad student with a 3 week spring break!)


This time around, I was fortunate enough to have some locals show me around. Tyler's Aunt and Uncle moved to a small village outside of Nice called Montauroux 10 years ago and they were kind enough to put us up and show us the area. We also spent 3 days in a university town called Aix-En-Provence, which was extremely charming. We took day trips to Cannes, Fayence, Nice, Cap Ferrat, Avignon, and Marseille. We drove around exquisite mountain ranges, toured vineyards with amazing backdrops of said mountain ranges, sat for long hours at cafes, and walked through charming, narrow, cobblestone streets. The food was terrific, each view was more beautiful and breathtaking than the next, and life was generally smooth and easy (besides abnormally small parking garages, manic drivers, and a bit of a language barrier.)


Things were different there, as you expect it to be in a foreign country, and I left with a simple thought: It's a different life. Sounds simple enough, pretty much a no-brainer, a 'duh' moment. But, I really wanted to think about what made it different. Sure, New York City doesn't have sunny weather year-round, nice beaches, picturesque mountain ranges with Alpes in the distance. It doesn't have farms and sheep and vineyards and olive trees. But these are obvious differences when you compare a concrete jungle to the Mediterranean. The most noticeable difference was really and truly the pace of life.






In France, life seemed to be enjoyed over a longer period of time. People sat in cafes sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes without thinking about who they were going to meet with next. People ate dinners without tapping their fingers wondering how fast the food would come or when they would get the bill. People worked knowing they would have 2 hours in the middle of the day to be with their friends and family. People opened bottles of wine, buttered croissants, and sliced cheese without thinking about calories.

Perhaps it was only because I happened to be enjoying a period of leisure that I thought everyone around me was too, but I constantly sensed that time was spent in a much more relaxed way. I, admittedly, found myself growing impatient with the pace of life. I found it difficult to embrace the crawling pace at which time moved. I didn't want to reject it but I often found it hard not to.


Taking this trip made me realize that there is always a choice with how we spend our time. It may seem like it is always out of our hands. That there are obligations that require us to spend our time the way we do: "I have to be at work at 9" "I have to pay my rent" "I have to support my family" "I have to meet this deadline" But we only have to because we've required ourselves to think that getting to work at 9 and meeting the deadline are the only ways to fulfill our obligations. There are other ways to spend our days and accomplish our goals and do the things we've required of ourselves by the choices we've made. Sometimes it takes a new perspective to see that.


As the year draws to a close and we start a new one, I don't want to reject that relaxed sense of time. I want to find a way to use it so that I am not always thinking about the next step, the next meal, the next person, the next big thing. I don't want to force my time forward so quickly and frenetically. I want to be able to sit for long periods of time and enjoy the things I'm meant to enjoy.


Like cheese.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Shouldn't Be Writing

Well, 76,000 words later and I have a first draft! I know how much work there is yet to be done in the editing phase, but I can't express how happy I am that I have a story from start to finish. And it even makes some logical sense!

The experience has been very difficult and it's far from over. But while the first draft sits and marinates for a few weeks, I'm very happy to be at this point.

I have to tell you, I didn't know the experience of ending a novel was so sad. It was very hard to leave this character. To be honest, I don't know what will happen to her at this point because this is as far as her story goes. That is very strange. But now I say good luck to her. And good luck to me! Because this edit is going to be quite a trip...

And don't worry. I'll be documenting it (i.e. whining about it) right here. :-) Smiles everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Morning After

I am happy to announce that the sex scene went well!
I was kind of worried about it, because I'd never written one before and my reading experience of the deed is limited to some very dramatic Russian novels and lighthearted chick lit. I also realized that I read a lot of novels about women who are either repulsed or frightened by the act (must have something to do with my affinity for reading books about arranged marriages.) And no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn't remember any standout sex scenes in books. I vaguely recalled a lot of misogynistic accounts from the male point of view. And a series of endless, promiscuous sex scenes in John Updike's Couples.

I thought there was a high risk that this scene could become kitschy or melodramatic very quickly.

I am here to announce that I did not use the words rip, bodice, or breast. But I did use the words succumb, fumbled, and caress.

I am not sure where all of this leaves me: kitsch, tawdry, or not. But I do now have a sex scene in my book. It moved plot forward dramatically and it's left a lot of juicy conflict and tension for the coming scenes. I guess, as in life, the sexual act has a lot of consequences.

Now that that's out of the way, I can move on. But I'll always remember my first.

My God, the double entendres in this account are absolutely ridiculous.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Firsts

I just want you all to know that I have a very big night ahead of me.

Tonight...I become a woman. I am going to write my very first sex scene. Which may or may not include ripping a bodice. And the phrase 'she giggled like a school girl'. Or the word breast. :-O

I plan to report back in the morning with aaall the juicy details...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hope Endings

Before I launch into my nonsensical rambling of the day, the title of this blog post just reminded me of something. Literally, just this moment.
Sitting in my piano teacher's house, leafing through her Reader's Digest Songbooks, and picking out an inspirational song called Whispering Hope ( And because I'm a dork, find a beautiful rendition of it here). My teacher, Mrs. Jeanne Lance, had a habit of humming songs she loved while her students played. Whenever I played this one, she couldn't hold herself back. She actually sang the lyrics out loud in a sweet, shaking soprano voice that I'll always remember her for. I am not a religious person and I had only picked the song because there was a picture of a dove on the sheet music, but this song has always lifted my spirits. Whenever I play it, I can't help but sing it out loud and proud as well. I'll always remember Mrs. Lance fondly. I don't quite know what happened to her in life. But I imagine she is happy and hopeful in her cozy home where she welcomed so many students and families and gave them the gift of music on her sturdy upright piano.

Now that I am sitting happily in this memory, I am not sure how much I need to elaborate on the concept of hope. But, in a recent writing workshop, we discussed happy endings. It was unanimously agreed that happy endings are not necessary. In fact, a majority of the class agreed that they enjoyed a real devastating ending now and again. Craved the depressing reality of things. Killing protagonists were generally frowned upon (imagine if Voldemort defeated Harry?!) but nobody seemed to mind the fictional sudden death of the old, beloved neighbor who just won the lotto (Anyone know that one?) the tragic loss of a parent, or the suicide or cancer diagnosis of beloved friend. We can handle these things.

What we determined readers can't handle is an ending without hope. Even if your protagonist has been literally and figuratively bruised and battered...beaten down by life. Even if the last thing that happens is so down-right awful it's not clear how anyone will go on. They need to GO ON. You always need to leave the reader with hope.

I agree with this conclusion. A moment of hope is how every story should end.

So what do you think? Too bold of a statement? You know plenty of hopeless stories the world loves? (If you do, please let me know, I'm trying to think of one.) Let 'em cry and close the book dejected? A little tough love is just what the world needs? What has Hollywood done to tragedy? Inquiring minds want to know whatcha think about the necessity of ending with a lil' hope.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Plot, plot. Plot's the problem.

I only have nine more scenes to write in my novel before I begin the dreaded edit.

I quietly and neatly outlined these scenes by hand, sitting at my little desk. I know where they all take place. I know which characters are in them. And I know what I need to accomplish. There are emotional beats that need to happen. There are revelations that need to be had. Issues that need to be resolved. And relationships that need to work themselves out. I outlined all of this in red pen in a nice, happy little notebook.

Thing is...I don't actually know what happens.

Beyond the climax of my story, one strange scene I've been very excited to write, and the last scene of the book, I've got 6 other scenes to write in which there is, quite simply, no plot.

It turns out my neat little outlines are vague notions of how my characters are developing internally, rather than what is actually, physically happening to them.

So, I've got a lot of brainstorming to do. Mainly, how to translate emotional beats into physical action. What has to happen to show jealousy? What has to happen to show personal growth? To show betrayal?

I can't believe that 6 things actually have to happen! How'd that work out? ;-)

And I'd love to know how a person gets to this point without having even the faintest notion. Oh lawsie me... Plot's the problem.

Friday, October 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo

Before I head off to Boston for the weekend (to end the most wonderful month of October) I wanted to send my best wishes to all of you participating in NaNoWriMo!

I had a goal of finishing my first draft by Oct. 1st and setting it aside in order to have some fun writing out an idea that's been marinating for a while during NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately, I still haven't finished that dreaded draft and I booked a trip to Provence for 8 days instead! :-)

I must say stuffing my face with wine, baguettes, and cheese sounds like a better way to spend the month but, er, uh, I mean...it's awesome to write a novel in 30 days! Woohoo!

I hope that any of you who actually read this blog (Who are you anyway? Does anybody read this?) will let me know all about your experience writing this month. I love the idea of a writing frenzy and WOW WOW WOW to writing frenzies that last entire month.

God speed!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest

Anyone writing a Young Adult novel should check out the YA Novel Discovery Contest:

Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Sourcebooks and Gotham Writers' Workshop, is hosting its first Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition for a chance to win a one-on-one consultation with one of New York's leading YA literary agents! If you've written a novel for young adults—or have an idea for one that you would like to write—we invite you to enter our contest. Simply submit only an enticing title along with the first 250 words from the opening of your original YA novel. There's no entry fee or purchase requirement.

Despite the fact that I'm not even finished with the first draft of my novel, I am seriously thinking about writing another one! Which is rather silly. But I'm doing it anyway. And because it's a YA novel, I'm toying with the idea of entering this contest. It would be very amusing for me (not to mention highly unlikely) to win it because it rewards you with a full manuscript critique. Being that I have no manuscript, it would be a rather difficult prize to redeem. lol. And yet, I am tempted anyway.

Good luck to those who enter! May you have a better idea of what you're doing than I do! ;-)

Monday, October 26, 2009

30/70

I decided not to write at all last week. I spent the week travelling for work, celebrating my birthday, entertaining out of town guests, and hanging out with my parents. Some free moments were spent at the gym, catching up on episodes of Top Chef and Brothers and Sisters, and riding the Gears and Grubs ride on a beautiful fall day.

In the back of my head, there was a constant, nagging, anxious feeling. Because time spent doing all of that meant time spent not writing

(I apologize in advance for the whining that is about to ensue...)

This is something I have experienced for the past 8 years. After I graduated college, I decided to take the time to focus on my writing and worked on my MFA at Boston University. This was a time dedicated completely to writing what I wanted, when I wanted. But it always meant that, if I wasn't writing, I really should have been. And this is a feeling that has prevailed since then.

When I completed my MFA, I tucked a lot of work into a drawer. I needed to find a job and I did not know how to find a job writing. I worked in television production and soon found myself working full time at a design and animation house where I worked with a lot of creative people and spent 0% of the time doing anything creative myself. I just 'made sure' of things. Made sure we had shooting locations, a cast, a crew. Made sure we were stocked with tissues, ink cartridges, and pens.

As soon as I started to feel unhappy there, I went back to writing at night and on the weekends (I am not a morning person :-). I wrote short stories and tried to get them published. In that time, I got one writing gig. I wrote a piece for a travel website and got paid $75. It was the first time I had ever been paid to write anything. I was given another 'assignment' and I had no motivation to do it. I made a conscious decision not to write that article and, to this day, I'm not sure why.

Soon after that, I got my current job working at a toy company. The job description had the words 'writer', 'write', and 'writing' in it, and that was my only criteria. Now, I spend 30% of my job writing, and 70% of it 'making sure' of things. At the time, it was a step up.

Exactly one year ago, I decided to write a novel. Turns out, when you have a limited amount of time to write, those hours count more than anything. These are also the hours I need to eat, sleep, exercise, and enjoy myself. But it means that every hour I spend doing those things, is an hour spent not writing. And I think about that every time I partake in another activity. It's a dull ache and it squirms around asking: why aren't you writing?

I don't like that feeling. How can you go through life feeling that way?

But it means I'm at another crossroads. The 30/70 ratio is just not enough. How do you make it so that the day job is 100% about 'making sure' your writing and nothing else? I wish I knew.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oh boy!

Guess what? I am the proud owner of a snuggie!
I think I made my feelings about snuggies quite clear here.

Cheers! I am classy and I wear a snuggie.



Come my people. Come to the land of the snuggie.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Triple Bypass

 So here's a question, what happens when what your writing needs major surgery? I'm not talkin' an appendectomy. I'm talkin' triple bypass. Total lobotomy.

I woke up this morning completely distressed. As I near the end of my first draft, I realize that that the math I so proudly spoke of isn't exactly adding up. I want to write more words, but I'm completely lost. Things that happened earlier should be happening now. Things I have yet to write should have happened ages ago. Character arcs have nasty right angles in them, some of them fall off like an undecided rainbow. Relationships are not making sense. Ways I thought this novel should end suddenly make zero sense with all that's come before.

I'm not happy about this. I like to write with a linear path in mind. But I woke up this morning with the realization that this simply may not be possible. And it nearly sent me running for the hills.

I wanted to do something unthinkable: not finish. [gasp]

I can think of a thousand reasons why that would be a good idea. I'm not going to throw in the towel but, seriously, it would be a lot easier that way.

So, I'm asking you: What do you do when your novel needs to go in for surgery?
I need action verbs, people. I need strategery.

Why do I feel like I should do something with flashcards? Is there a flashcard method to this? Should I be going to the library and pulling an all-nighter? Echinacea? I've never done anything like this before. What happens when you enter crisis mode?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! My Life In France

My Life In France
by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Especially read this if you're writing:
A memoir
A biography
About travelling
About food
A cookbook

I found this to be a difficult book to do a Tuesday Books for Writer's post. It's a genre I don't normally read. And as I read it, I wonder how to describe the narration. When trying to describe the writing, I automatically look to the writer. But, while this story is told from Julia Child's point of view, it was technically completed after her death by Alex Prud'homme. Of course, it's based on extensive research, conversations, interviews, and letters with Child herself. But for some reason, I can't get past the fact that someone other than Julia would write something trying to sound like Julia.

Despite this weirdo struggle of mine, the book is absolutely fascinating. I do feel that Julia is telling me her story and I am eating it right up-- no pun intended.
But in sitting down to write this post, I really had to ask myself: why is this book good for fiction writers? Is it even any good for someone not writing a memoir? The prose isn't anything special. The timeline is linear, but I often feel that transitions are rough. I often question why one particular anecdote is told in light of the actual plot and I fail to see a lot of connections between the two. And yet, the anecdotes are what make it interesting. The 'characters' are wonderful, but are often not elaborated upon enough. So, what can a fiction writer take from this besides a factual account of Julia Child's life? Beyond Julia being an inspirational person in general, what should you take from this book?
I thought really hard about this one. And it turns out, I was thinking much too much. It's right there in the title. My Life In France! The spirit of a place! The spirit of a particular person in that place! It is captured magnificently in this book. After reading this, if you don't immediately want to book a trip to Paris, drink every glass of wine that Julia sipped, eat at every restaurant Julia sat in, meet every delightful person Julia met in France, well, I'd wonder a little bit about you. As with everything about Julia Child, her enthusiasm and passion for life, particularly the one she led in France, simply leaps off of the page.
And so I realized, wherever my protagonist may be, I better let them experience it to the fullest. Even if they hate where they are. The things they see and do always have to reflect that. My readers should want to spit out every sip of wine my main character takes if she hates the restaurant (I'm really digging the wine analogy)
So, if you're a fiction writer- still read this book! Julia Child is a fascinating and inspiring person, and she really knows how to let a place become a character.
Thank you Julia! Thank you Alex Prud'homme! Especially because you have an apostrophe in your name. That's pretty kewl.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ahead of myself

If I only have 63,000 words for a 75,000 word goal....Of a FIRST draft....that needs ridiculous amounts of work once it's completed.... Can someone tell me why I am planning a 2nd novel? Somebody slap me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Word Dump


This morning on the New York City subway Tyler mentioned that he read my October post. He asked: Did you refer to our hike as glorious?

Why, indeed I did. I also used the adjectives: lovely, fabulous (2X), and wonderful. Not my finest word choices but, well, there they went. From the brain to the page in a glorious, fabulous, wonderful word dump.

In one of my writing workshops, one of the writers in my class was really concentrating on voice at the moment we were workshopping. She was worried about the narrative voice and admitted to letting other things slide. I remember the instructor encouraging her: That's fine. I mean, you can't do everything all at once. That really hit me. No, you can't. You can't do everything.

For my first draft, I have concentrated on moving plot forward and developing character and place. This means, I've let a lot of other things slide. I've had some back-story fall to the waste-side, I've practically ignored the concept of time all together, I've severely limited scenes that require in- depth research, and I've let my prose become a virtual word dump. I can't stand the idea of belabouring over one measly word. I just don't have the stamina right now. I also don't have time for dialogue stamps (is there an official name for this?). I'm not interested in bemoaning quietly or anything like that. He said. She said. Works for now.

This means that my sentences are currently adjective-less or they resort to something ridiculous like glorious. I think I've also used the word ridiculous A LOT. In fact, that may be my crutch word. Lots of strange things happen in my novel and there's only so many times you can refer to it as ridiculous without it becoming ridiculous.

It should be noted, I don't like to work this way. I have never word-dumped like this in my life. I used to not be able to move to the next sentence without the previous one being absolutely perfect. And, you know what? When I got to the end, I still had to edit. It was painful. Taking on this novel, I worked like that for the first few chapters, but as things progressed, I realized the entire beginning is going to have to change anyway so I'm not going to sit there and waste time over the perfect word. Not now. Not just yet.

I just have to keep reminding myself, and it does take reminding, (especially after I frown over using the word ridiculous for the millionth time) that you can't do everything.

Monday, October 5, 2009

October!

In case you didn't know it... October is here! I know I'm 5 days late with my announcement, but hopefully you didn't suffer alone in the dark thinking it was September 35th.

October excites me for several reasons:

1. The leaves change color.
2. The sky is bluer.
3. The sun is brighter.
4. You get to dress up in costume and eat candy.
5. It is my birthday month (yes, I get a whole month)

It makes me want to pick apples off of trees, frolic through fields of pumpkins, take hay rides, drink cider, go hiking, go biking, and just get it all in before it gets damp and cold and evil come December.

Yesterday I went for a glorious hike in Cold Spring, NY where I saw a lot of earthworms and a tiny snake. This coming weekend I celebrate Jessie and Stephen's engagement in the lovely Washington DC. And the rest of the month I have all kinds of activities involving Tyler's family visiting, my fabulous Boston friends hitting up the BK, and general raucousness throughout this fabulous time of year.

October is particularly exciting because of some other birthdays:

My wonderful friend Lynn, who will always be 7 days older than me no matter what.

And my Dad, who will always remain 32 years older than me but born 7 days later.

I like the to be sandwiched in the middle, just like a Libra should be, balanced and fair.

Happy October everyone!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Math of Words

I vowed on this blog that I would have a 1st draft of my novel by Oct. 1st.

Well, unless there's some divine intervention in the next 24 hours, I didn't get there. I don't have the words, the pages. They did not come. First, I'm disappointed in my lack of discipline. Then I'm disappointed I'm too hard on myself. That feeling escalates until I'm disappointed for not be harder on myself. And the cycle begins again. It's a harrowing, neurotic, ridiculous process. It goes without saying there are ups and downs.

When I write, I try and get 1,000 words per sitting thank's to Inkygirl's 1,000 Words A Day Challenge I've found this to be the easiest way to just get words out. Just move forward, 1,000 words at a time. The math is simple. It puts things into perspective. If you want a 75,000 word novel. Write for 75 days and you'll have it. It makes the process a little less daunting. For me, anyway.

There are nights when it is absolutely painful. A scene drags. It's completely mis-guided, mis-directed, and I am wandering senselessly through awkward prose and pacing. These are nights when I desperately hit the Microsoft Word counter, begging to the word Gods that I've hit 1,000. Devastated when I see something like 337. (Anything below 400 feels like a nightmare when the words just aren't flowing.) But I manage to push through by telling myself, if the words dont' get written, the novel doesn't get finished. It's as simple as that.

There are times when I'm flying through a scene and I don't even look at the clock, when I hit the word count thinking I'm at evil 337 and see that I'm at 1300. It's a welcome surprise. I often stop mid-sentence, excited to pick up next time, paranoid and fearful that if I didn't stop there, the words might not come the following day.

It's easy to get caught up in the math of the words. For a first draft, I prefer it that way. Like, I said, it's the only thing that allows me to move forward right now.

And I've realized, that there are a lot of things holding me back. Most of the time, I'd prefer to watch netflix, or sit on the couch and zone out in front of the boob tube after a long day at work. And I have other interests. Other people in my life I'd prefer to see. Other activities I'd prefer to engage in. When I arrive home at 9pm from a yoga class, cook dinner, and eat at 10pm, the last thing I felt like doing is writing. When it's really beautiful out on a weekend (and oh, have you been to NYC in the fall?) I want to go hiking or biking. I don't want to sit indoors and watch my protaganist have all the fun. And on Friday and Saturday nights, I want to drink wine, watch movies, go out for nice dinners, see my friends, and celebrate having managed to get through a boring work week, cooped up in grey office cube...

But, I am ever-surprised by my characters, the people they meet, and the places they go. I am constantly shocked by plot twists I never thought would happen and excited by all the new prospects that arise in this constantly evolving work. There are exciting things happening alone at a desk with a cursor blinking on a blank computer screen. For real. There are. If there weren't, you wouldn't find me there...

So, I use basic math to keep me going.

75,000 1st draft word goal
-
59,000 written =
___________
16,000 to go

16,000 to go
/
1,000 a day =
____________
16 days

And when you put it that way. It doesn't seem so bad.

So, help me get through the next 16 days please (I'm telling you now, they won't be consecutive). Text me, tweet me, e-mail me, ask me what number I'm at. For those of you that have the pleasure of seeing me face to face, smack me upside the head if I tell you I didn't write that day.

And uh, don't remind me of the impending edit just yet. I'm stickin' to numbers for the time being. :-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stuck

So, I know this blog is supposed to be about writing and books and being literary and all that junk. But today, I digress. I digress into a topic I have absolutely no authority on: style.

I have no style. I mean, I have a style. But I don't have what people call style. I don't think I need to be on What Not To Wear but you're not going to find me on Page Six or on a red carpet any time soon. I am obsessed with fashion eras I was never born in and therefore have no capacity to replicate.

This became all too apparent today when I walked into a small shop in Brooklyn absolutely determined to Madmen Myself. It was very simple. I wanted to look like Joan Holloway.

I mean, WHO IS THIS WOMAN? She is absolutely fabulous. I want to pull a Serena Williams and shout expletives at unsuspecting line judges about how !%$#& FABULOUS this woman is. I can't handle it.
But it turns out, I can't look like Joan Holloway. Apparently, you have to have breasts. And hips. And things like curves. I tried on 8 (count em!) EIGHT Joan Holloway dresses and I looked like doo.
I sulked all the way home. And on my way, I began to think. What is wrong with me? I was not sulking because I couldn't look like the latest runway model, I was sulking because I was not alive in 1960. So, I began to think about what consider stylish.

Here's my list of things that are fabulous.

Audrey Hepburn. If someone would bring back cigarette holders, I'd be forever grateful.

Joni Mitchell. This photo doesn't quite depict it, but apparently she wore short skirts a lot. I think that's cute. I am trying to grow my hair this long, blonde, and straight. And it's completely ridiculous that I am attempting this considering my hair is brown, frizzy, and wavy. I would start my bangs in the middle of my head if I could, but that's also completely ridiculous so I won't.

Anything from The Sound of Music. I would wear hand-me-downs from a convent. I would wear the blue dress that brings out my eyes for the Captain. And I would wear things that are very drab and pilly while avoiding Nazis. Perhaps most disturbingly, this also means that I would have no problem wearing clothes made out of old curtains.

And of course, my style icon, Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She is the be all and end all of what I consider fabulous. Like Mary taking on Minneapolis as an Associate Producer, I, too, took on the Big Apple with the same title. Like Mary, I knitted a striped hat with a pom pom and thought I might try and replicate her famous hat-throwing gesture. Like Mary, I don't quite have the chest to fill out a Joan Holloway dress, but it's ok! Because I can (in theory) wear this:

So, it's staggering. My style icons are an array of half fictional women and austrians all running around looking good well before my birth year. I'm not even going to get into empire waist dresses in Regency England. It's just too depressing. When it comes to style, I'm simply stuck.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami
Especially Read This If You're:
A writer
A runner
A biker (Murakami's tales of biking woe will make you laugh)
A Triathlete
Training for a race
Writing things with words
There are a lot of books about writing that we've all been told to read. The most likely suspects: Strunk and White's Elements of Style and On Writing by Stephen King. But maybe you haven't been told to read this one, yet. (And if you have, why haven't you?!)
Haruki Murakami is one of my all-time favorite writers. I'm about one martini away from hopping on a flight to Tokyo and asking him to to marry me. Thank goodness I never drink martinis. He is genius for so many reasons. For me, he is a simple case of: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
That is why, when he wrote a book about running I ran to get it.
So, here's where things get tricky.
The book is mainly about running. It is about the many marathons and ultra marathons and triathlons that Murakami trains for. It's about running in many different places across the globe (the most notable for me: Athens and Hawaii). It's about failed triathlons and being numb at the end of a race and getting injured and feeling euphoric.
But this book is mainly about writing. Follow me yet? Because while you're reading for the umpteenth time about how many miles Murakami ran that particular day (Murakami, for me, is a master of the mundane) and what his time was and what he wished his time was and what he wished he wished his time was, he offers these little gems about writing. And that's what it's really about.
A writer's life. A runner's life. A running writer's life. A writing runner's life And the discipline and the training and sheer determination it takes to live it.
So read it. And tell me what you think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie

Especially read this if you're writing:
A YA Novel
A Book with Pictures
About cultural identity
In First Person

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian immediately struck me because of the strong 1st person narrative voice. This is an example of remarkable story-telling from a specific POV- a teen boy who is acutely observant, self-aware, confident, and hilarious. It's conversational, easy-going and, because of that, resonates as strikingly realistic and unique. No other person could tell you this story and no other story could tell you about this person. Let's face it. That's hard to do. That is REALLY hard to do. A strong narrative voice can make or break any novel, 1st person or not.
Voice is so important and this novel does it well. Simple as that. But, I know it's not as simple as that. And part of my goal is to become a more active reader and discover why it's not as simple as that.
I concluded that the voice is so remarkable because it feels like dialogue, but it's not dialogue. It has it's 'well's and 'okay's and 'Jeez'es and that makes it feel like the narrator is speaking to the reader. It's intimate. It's friendly. There's no talking up or down. It's story-telling. It's straight. It's humble. It's one to one. The reader becomes a peer. An equal. It makes readers feel that whether they are sitting in their chair reading or standing inside of the novel, they are right there with the action. It's one and the same.
This style doesn't work for everyone, but I know that it can be helpful. If the narrator of my novel was sitting next to me with a cup of tea, she would tell me her story in a very different way than she might be right now. I'd like for her to sit down and tell me, one-to-one, the real deal. Well, okay. Jeez, Melissa. So...this is how it happened... ;-)
Thank you Sherman Alexie for creating (among so many other things) a remarkable voice. Which is so key to a successful story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! A Prayer For Owen Meany




For the past week I've been reading John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany. I haven't finished it, but I am enjoying it very much. I have attempted only one other John Irving book in my life (The World According to Garp) and, to be honest, I didn't have the patience to finish it.

I am by no means scared of lengthy books with over-attention to detail, but there came a point in my reading of Garp where I couldn't bear to go on and I simply shut the book, placed it on a bookshelf, and declared it unfinished indefinitely. This is very rare for me. It's only happened one other time, during my reading of Stephen King's Insomnia, and I hope that Owen Meany does not suffer the same fate.

There are a lot of things I admire about Owen Meany so far. Right off the bat, I was intrigued by the use of capitol letters, which are used whenever Owen (whose voice is apparently rather irritating) speaks. I have never seen this done before and I considered it absolute genius. It certainly made me wonder how I can use physical letters and punctuation to achieve something similar. How can I highlight a certain physical or emotional characteristic beyond simple description? Is there another way? Beyond capitalizing all of the dialogue of a character with an annoying voice--well--I couldn't come up with one. Let me know if you do.

The other thing that struck me is the first sentence:

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice--not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

I happen to be writing a novel that is about a person who is changed by someone else. I think this is pretty common in a character driven novel. And even if it's not the whole story, if a protagonist is on any kind of spiritual or emotional journey, every experience and every person they interact with at every point in that novel is going to change them. Or at least move the story forward. I probably wouldn't call it out in the same tone and manner that John Irving does (I'll leave that to the masters) but I want to be sure that every character my protag meets achieves something.

So, this got me to thinking, once it's time to edit, every person in this doggone novel is going to have to be held up to what I'm going to call the Owen Meany First Sentence. If you break it down: "I remember this person, NOT because of a unique physical characteristic and something they did but because of how they changed my life or at least moved the novel forward." I mean, when you think about it, it pretty much covers everything. A physical description of this secondary character, an action they took, and a spiritual and emotional change that pushed the protagonist forward or backward. Or at least contributed in some way to the main character's arc and growth in the story. That's pretty cool. And I really think it's going to help! Thank you John Irving!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers!

When I was in college, a lot of my writing classes had a similar format. Eccentric writing Professor passes out a photo-copied handout of an excerpt of a published novel or short story. Students pass copies around the room. 15-20 minutes of silence ensues for your reading pleasure. Afterwards, it's discussed. A writing exercise is posed to the class pertaining to the piece. The class proceeds, in silence, to write for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, the experience is discussed.

We read to become better writers. In the hopes that the more you read...well...you get the picture. So as logic might have it, the more we write, the better we must read. (Here's hoping!) We pick up on things. We read, not only because we love stories, but because we're interested in craft. How did they do what they did? Why is it effective? We become active readers.

It is my goal to become a more active reader. I read many books and I'm in awe of them. But I often can't articulate why. So, what better way to do it then to post it on this darn here blog?

Every Tuesday I hope to tell you what I'm reading and what I'm learning from it. Some Tuesdays I might forget. Some Tuesdays I might be pulling my hair out at work and will not feel like telling you a darn thing. ;-) But most Tuesdays, I'll try my hardest to articulate what's good about what I'm reading and try and figure out why on earth it's good. No matter what it is. Whether it's Chick Lit or Tolstoy I'm going to try.

Maybe you'll find it to be a good resource. Maybe you'll say: Melissa, seriously, enough with trying to figure out why Twilight is a resource for writers, let me get back to my 3rd reading of Grapes of Wrath.

So here's to the new series: Tuesday Books for Writers! I figure an exclamation mark really kicks things up a notch! (Ask me offline about my day job some time!)

Because it took me long enough to explain myself, I have nothing more to say today. So I'll link to a previous blog about Trusting a Narrator which is something I learned from Elijah of Buxton.
I hope you'll engage in a dialogue about the things you're learning from your reading too :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

That'll Do


Ever since I began workshopping my writing last October, I've gotten into a situation where everything I read is up for critique. I also have a job where most of my day is spent with people reviewing my work and me reviewing others'. This means that, not only do I critique my peers' works in progress, but that every time I read a published novel, I am looking for things that are wrong with it. I am looking for reasons to sulk and ask, Why are they published and I'm not?

Well, excuse me for a moment while I have an inner dialogue with myself:
Melissa, you're not published because you don't have a finished novel yet. You can't publish an unfinished novel unless you're famous, dead and have some kind of 'estate'. Which would you prefer? Unfinished, unpublished, and alive? Or unfinished, published, and dead? Don't answer that.

Sorry about that.

It got me to thinking about why I'm the first person to jump up in a workshop and say (more or less): "I liked your novel because of all of the positive things everyone else just said, but here's my list of grievances" and proceed to run around the room screaming 'no taxation without representation!' and a list of 30 or so other problems. This is a bit of an exaggeration but, the point is, I don't always like telling folks what they done good.

But the thing is, I don't like folks telling me what I done good. I want other writers to be better and I want to be a better writer. I don't need someone petting and massaging my ego when I'm trying to do something as difficult as writing a novel.

I asked myself, what is the value of telling people that they did well? And, uh, when I put it that way, I had to slap myself.

I am fortunate to have grown up around a supportive community of people, who rewarded me and encouraged me when I did something well. I surround myself around people who appreciate and love me to this day. And I know not everyone is as fortunate I am.

So, now that I am in a community of writers, whether they be struggling newbies like me or veterans like the writers of the novels I read, I really should give back a little of the love.

Of course it's important to know what you did well. If no one ever told you, you wouldn't be doing it in the first place!

So I hope that the next time I'm in a workshop, or I finish a novel, or I enter a meeting or a review at work, I'll remember to look for and understand what's good about what we're discussing. Because there's plenty of time to dissect the bad.

It reminds me of Farmer Hoggett in that lovely movie Babe, who always remembered to praise his little friend with the simple words: "That'll do, Pig."

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Monday What are you reading?

Thanks to J. Kaye's Book Blog I've been continuing with my summer reading project, but haven't been so good about posting. So here it is!

Recently Read
That Went Well by Terrell Harris Dougan
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Dreams of Sleep by Josephine Humphries

Currently Reading
Hopefully something from the list below!

My Short List Out of A Long List of Things To Read (this is copied straight out of a small notebook I carry around so that if I end up in a bookstore, I can focus)
A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
My Life in France by Julia Child
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safram Foer
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Tea and other Ayama Na Tales by Eleanor Bluestein
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Olive Kitterdige by Elizabeth Strout

Any yays or nays you see in there?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Be your best self

"We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves."
-Sarah Orne Jewett, in a letter to Willa Cather, ca. 1909

Thanks Dear Literary Ladies for the inspiration.

And thanks Willa Cather and Sarah Orne Jewett for writing books about strong women and nature. My favorite themes as a reader and writer :-)

What are some of your favorite themes to read or write about?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Julie, Julia, Melissa, Sally Tutu...the list goes on

Worst Blogger Ever!

Yes. I get the award. At least for (in)frequency of posts.

Well, today, lookee here, I'm blogging. So maybe the award is being ripped from my fingers by another infrequent blogger. Take it! Take it I say!

Today, I saw the movie Julie and Julia which I, of course, loved. Because it's about food. And cooking. And butter. And bread. And cheeeese. Among other things. And because it was about Julia Child who I love dearly.

It got me thinking about a lot of things. About a love of life and of food. And about finding out what you love to do and what makes you happy.

I was very unhappy at a previous job and I did not deal well with it. I became unbearable to be around, I cried AT work on more than 1 occassion, and I complained incessantly to my friends. I had convinced myself that what I did defined me. And I remember my dear friend Lynneth telling me, it's just a job, it's not who you are.

I am still unable to comprehend this. If I'm not doing something, I feel useless. If I'm not bettering myself in some way with how I spend my time, then I feel I'm not spending my time wisely. I once sat and watched a 4 hour marathon of Bridezilla on the WE channel and I hated myself for the next 4 hours.

Why is what I'm doing so tied to who I think I am and how I feel? I can not answer this. All I know is that Julia Child found a way to do what she loved and bring so much of herself into it. And Julie Powell had been inspired so much by this idea that she wrapped herself up in an insane project in order to figure out who she was and what she should be doing with her life.

So, I ask myself, is this what my novel is? An insane attempt at discovering who I am and what I should be doing with my time? I think perhaps it is. If so, well...then, bon appetit...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trusting A Narrator

I recently read Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. And I had an unusual experience while reading the book.

The story is told from 11 year old Elijah's point of view and, as an adult, I found Elijah's youthful naivete extremely amusing. While I wholeheartedly trusted Elijah's sincerity as a story-teller, I also knew that there were many things Elijah didn't quite understand about the world. So I couldn't trust him 100%.

Well. When Elijah, one of the only literate, educated people in the settlement of Buxton, Canada, did some math, I found myself in an unusual position as a reader. Little Elijah had to ring a bell 20 times for each freed slave that entered the settlement. That particular day, a family of 5 had arrived. So Elijah rang that bell 100 times. And I knew that Elijah's math was correct.

But many of the people in Elijah's town did not know that he was correct. They didn't know 5 X 20 was 100. And several of them questioned Elijah, who second guessed himself a few times, and then concluded with confidence that he was correct.

And while all this was going on, I did the math in my head a total of three times. Because I trusted Elijah, but also knew that his 11 year old point of view was very often wrong. Three times I had to assure myself, that 5 X 20 did indeed equal 100.

Well, people. I was stunned. I was stunned that a writer could do such a thing. Create a character you couldn't fully trust due to his youth. And create it so well that a grown woman with a college education second guessed math she knew full well was correct.

It was an extraordinary experience.

Creating a narrator you can't fully trust is a very difficult thing to do. But, writers, if you want to do it, this character must be a good guide. Elijah of Buxton blew me away for many reasons. But mostly for the reason that the character was so well developed I couldn't even trust hard cold fact! Kudos!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

That's Crazy Talk

Today's question is:

Which Crazy Writer Are You?

I found this quiz extremely entertaining. And my results were pretty ironic, given that I'm not a big J.D. Salinger fan.


J.D. Salinger

You are quite possibly one of the greatest creative minds of your generation... not that you want anyone to know, of course. Not only have you been in hiding for several decades, you refuse to publish any of your recent work. You would very likely be a perennial Pulitzer Prize candidate, but your writing sits in a de-humidified bank vault in your humble New Hampshire ranch, awaiting the day that your next-of-kin decides to make a few hundred million dollars. Why the secrecy? Afraid people will read too much into your repeated affairs with barely-of-age girls? Afraid people will begin to see you in every single one of your maladjusted, unstable characters?

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Thanks to J. Kaye's Book Blog I've been trying to jump start my summer reading by posting all the things I've read, am currently reading, and want to read on Mondays. I finally have a few updates!

Recently Finished
The Floating World by Cynthia Kadohata
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Currently Reading
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Going to Read As Soon As I Get My Act Together and Get To The New York Public Library
That Went Well by Terrell Harris Dougan

So, what have you been reading?!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vacation!

This past week, I spent some time in the Outer Banks of North Carolina enjoying sun, relaxation, and the company of good people.



Very much looking forward to how this will affect my writing. I hope that a clear mind and relaxed body will mean good things! I mean...how could it not??

Monday, July 6, 2009

1,000 Words A Day Challenge

Click below to challenge yourself to write 1,000 words a day. Thanks InkyGirl.

1000words_300w

Are outlines for outcasts?

When I first began writing my novel, I had a very loose plot in mind. There was a woman. A journey. And some kind of ending. And that was literally the extent of it. It got me through…well…roughly 3 pages. And then I realized I had to figure out what on earth the thing was about. So I kept writing. And while I wrote, I found out who the woman was, where she was going, who she would meet, and where she would end up. So, after a few false labor pains, the novel was born.

Now that I’m roughly halfway through the darn thing, I’m at the point where I’ve realized something. Something I have mixed emotions about. Something that will undoubtedly send some writers over the edge of cliffs in shock, horror, and dismay. And others back to Starbucks where they nod, shrug, take a sip of coffee and continue typing.

I think I need an outline.

And after discussing this in many writing circles and workshops, the above is usually the reaction. Some people are vehemently opposed to them, finding them stifling and suffocating. And others are so attached to the idea that they find themselves curled up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs without one.

So why am I both literally and figuratively in the middle? If I started my novel with an outline, I don’t believe I would have gotten where I am now. But lately, I feel that if I don’t have an outline, I’m not going to be able to move any further.

So what’s your take? Take as many detours as possible to find out where you need to be? Or stick to the directions to get to the destination you had planned? And that gets me to the real question. The zinger. Depending on how you do it, are you better or worse off once you get there?

I'm not sure there's an easy answer and I think more people reside in the middle than in my exaggerated extremes. But I secretly can't wait to see who is going to jump off of the cliff. And who is delicately stroking and cooing at their precious little cutsie wootsie outline.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Where do you write?

I would do a Monday What Are You Reading post but, goodness me, would you look at that? Nothing on my reading list has changed since last week. But some fateful Monday, when it does change, you'll be the first to know. It's summer, after all, and summer reading is high on my list priorities, as well as finishing a first draft of my novel by October. Yes, you heard it here first, folks. October. I'm determined to stick to it and make sure that no matter how many blood, sweat, and tears are shed, I'm face to face with a blinking cursor at the end of a 1st draft just before my 29th Birthday.

And I may lock myself in a cabin in the woods to make sure it happens. Because it seems that on the list of 'Things to think about when you write a novel' that include things like what you write, how you write, who you are, who you wish to be, all of your hopes, dreams, and personal truths (ya know...the minor things in life) there's also the question of...Where to write?

So...where do you write?

I write here:






Yes. My mouse pad is currently a Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil

So where do you write? Link up a pic or comment. I'm very curious to see :-)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Humph Worthy

Every once in a while, I humour myself by trying to submit a short story to an online or written publication of some kind. I inevitably receive a rejection letter some 3 months later which I put in an envelope so that when I am a rich and famous writer, I can laugh haughtily as I count gold coins and take a bath in champagne before joyously throwing all the rejections letters up in the air (and no doubt Al Roker will comment on the isolated blizzard over my home).

But today, I received a non-rejection rejection letter. I submitted a story to a publication of He Who Must Not Be Named and I received a form e-mail, telling me that I would not be receiving a rejection letter due to the volume of submissions. It went on in this polite fashion and then was signed 'sincerely' by the editorial staff. In short, I was told that I should assume rejection unless otherwise notified.

I'm sorry. But this is completely outrageous! At the very least, I deserve my very own rejection letter. Not this passive aggressive form e-mail sent by intern@__.com. What has the world come to? If I take the time to write a terrible 15 page story, I have the right to know how terrible it is! Not to assume failure unless otherwise contacted!

The nerve...

This is the perfect occassion for a loud 'HUMPH'!

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's summer, so I'm trying to read as much as I can. While I work full time, write a novel, have a social life, and possibly train for the NY Century. Oh! And finish all seasons of Mad Men.
Ok, unrealistic, but what's life without ambition?

Thanks J. Kaye's Book Blog and Jenn's Bookshelf for the idea .

I'm not a book reviewer, but I read books to be a better writer. So I'll certainly share with all of you when I discover that a book is inspiring to me as a writer for whatever reason that may be. I can't guarantee anything earth-shattering but well, ya know...

So here goes...

Recently Completed:
Michael Chabon's The Wonder Boys

Currently Reading:
The Floating World by Cynthia Kadohata

Up Next:
You tell me. Maybe I'll read it.

Now we'll see how quickly (i.e. slowly) I keep up.

So what are you reading?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The time we wanted to bike over the GW bridge...

SCENE
'A' Train Platform. 23rd Street, NY, NY

MELISSAIt's funny that we're taking our bikes on a train
just so we can bike again. Isn't it?

TYLER
It is. But how else would we get there?

A Train pulls up, doors open. Melissa and Tyler
enter crowded train car.


TYLER
Oh man. This is going to be a sh%*show.

Truer words had not been spoken.

5 minutes on the uptown train and a little baby refuses to pry her bare feet from in between the spokes of a bike tire. A man starts singing in his own rendition of Duke Ellington's Take the 'A' Train at the top of his lungs. Once the train clears out a little, a homeless man with a thick southern accent enters the train and proceeds to shout that no one better roll their eyes at or bother him because he's 'had a day'! He curls himself on two empty seats, mumbling that he's 'had a day!' and grows increasingly ornery as a group of roughly...oh...200 French students pile themselves into the train car.


HOMELESS MAN
What the hell stop are you getting off at?!

FRENCH INSTRUCTOR
Canal Street.

HOMELESS MAN
Well you're going the wrong way!!!

FRENCH INSTRUCTOR
(to Melissa)
Is this true?

MELISSA(nods)

FRENCH INSTRUCTOR
I like to bike too.

There's some yelling. Some shouting across the train. And roughly 200 French students exit the train.

HOMELESS MAN
Well! That was a blessing in disguise,
wasn't it!

Truer words had not been spoken.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Got plot?

I just finished an ARC of Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire, the sequel to the very successful, very wonderful The Hunger Games. It's not due out until September so my lips are sealed, but it got me thinking a lot about plot.

Because these books are riddled with it.

Now, don't get me wrong, I've read books with plot before :-) But these books have a PLOT. Sure, they've got story. Sure they've got themes. And they've got characters. Most books do...imagine that. But when I say that there's a plot...well...there's a PLOT. Practically every other sentence there is actually something happening. It's happening fast. It's happening furious. It's happening.

Coming from a writer who could have a character stare out the window for five pages, this absolutely amazes me. If we look at plot as a way of getting a character from A to Z, well I'm not sure there are enough letters in the alphabet for this series. It's an impressive feat.

For me, I divide novels into two categories, plot driven or character driven. Of course, these lines are quite often blurred. In The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, for example, both things are driving the reader forward, but plot is clearly the stronger engine.

So how do you find a delicate balance? If you're the type of writer who would rather have your main character sip a cup of coffee for years on end reflecting on the state of the universe, how do you cut it down and still accomplish your goal in the scene? My philosophy these days is get in and get out as efficiently as possible. Get to the next place. Get to the next person. Move your character as quickly as possible through their story, sitting in the scenes that matter and getting out of scenes that don't. But the question is...what matters? What doesn't?

While I figure that out, I'm happy to have read Catching Fire this week. If there's ever an example of getting in and getting out of a scene like rapid fire, Suzanne Collins is the big winner. Not Mikey. Suzanne.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Are we born with a blank slate or a blank screen?

When I was about 7 years old my father bought an Apple computer. It had a little screen about the size of a book and a massive hard drive with a floppy disk. I was abolustely beside myself.

There was nothing on it except Pac Man and a word processing program. And, well...I was very bad at Pac Man.

So, I'm probably one of the first generation of kids whose love of writing began on a computer.

It's not very romantic. I wasn't trying to find writing time while shivering underneath the covers after a long day on the farm, dipping my pen in ink, all the while stealing peices of paper from my father's office while he was smoking a pipe and working on the accounting books for the general store.

Nope. Pac Man wasn't doing it for me and I wanted to 'play' with this wacko contraption my father brought home one night after work. So I wrote stories.

It occurred to me this morning after learning about a new internet venture with Think It Publishing where kids can type their story and send it out to be published. It occurred to me that with newspapers folding, the publishing industry struggling, and EBooks infultrating the market. That in 1987, I became a writer because of...well...a computer. Food for thought...