Thursday, August 31, 2006

Writing: National Novel Writer's Month in Nov

This year, I'm doing it.

For several years now, I've read about the National Novel Writers' Month and the NaNoWriMo novel writing contest. For those of you who don't know, the rules are pretty simple: write a 50,000-word novel by midnight November 30th. You can do all the research, outlining, and "pre-writing" you want, but not a word of the novel can be written until 12:01 a.m. November 1. If you manage to hammer out 50,000 words, of whatever quality, you can turn it in for fabulous prizes: i.e., a certificate and a little icon for your website. Even if you don't meet that goal, you're still a winner: your prize is the X-many words of your novel.

I was a little disappointed to have heard about the "no words until Nov 1" rule, because I'd originally thought to use the opportunity to add 50,000 words to my Dragon Eye PI novel that's been on the back burner or work on Book 3 of the Miscria trilogy with some real dedication, but yesterday, I got some encouraging news from a friend that's turned my mind toward a Rescue Sisters novel. Last night, Rob and I started brainstorming a plot: alien encounters and interplanetary rescues, a sister in a crisis of faith, the temptation of an old flame, the interdiction of the saints... All the stuff of classic SF and Catholicity. I can already guess, though, that there will be several scenes that say "TECH HERE!" But again, you don't need a finished product--just 50,000 words.

Over the next couple of months--and probably in Nov, when I bring me head out of space--I'll be posting about the nuts and bolts of pressurized production, from preparation to keeping the house sane. If you have any suggestions or questions, please let me know!

Monday, August 28, 2006

ATTN: Mystery Writers!

If you like to write mysteries and would like to write one with a Catholic background, here's a place to submit it!

The Catholic mystery anthology with the working title "Luminous Mysteries" is seeking Catholic Church-centered short stories that show the Church in a positive/heroic vein. Length of the stories should peak at no more than 15K words, though if story is good we are flexible on that. If faith plays a positive (but non-preachy) role, it's a plus. Cross genre work acceptable. Pay scale will be determined once the publisher gives a thumbs up. Please send submissions to annlewis (at) joesystems (dot) com, subject line "Luminous Mysteries".
Double-spaced Word files are preferred. Deadline: November 1, though it may extended.

I already have a Vern mystery, "Greater Treasures" in, and there are two Sherlock Homes mysteries, but naturally, Ann is looking for more.

BTW--"Christmas Spirits" got rejected yesterday. WAAH! I kind of expected it: The had closed submissions early and there was just too much about the Faerie/Mundane universe to explain in 3500 words as well as the issue of eminent domain, the spirit of Christmas, Dickens' Christmas Carol and the mystery. I'll beef it up and send it elsewhere. Any ideas?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Queen of the Editorial Cut!

I can get blood from a turnip!

One of the things you read about from authors who've "made it" is the art of learning to cut your stuff. Spider Robinson wrote about how editor John Campbell would send his stuff back again and again with the instructions to "cut it by a third" or "almost there--take out 500 words." it was a painful process, but remarkably, each draft came out better than the first. Stephen King said in his book On Writing that after he's finished a draft, he goes back with the express goal of cutting 10 percent.

I'm a wordy person, as most folks can tell from my e-mails and blogs, so cutting is a way of life for me. My first real experience was when a friend and I wrote a Star Trek spoof that was 14 pages long. We had cut it to 8 for a contest. It took hours, and finally cheated by using 1.5 line spacing instead of double. I haven't had such a challenge as that since.

Until this week.

I was writing a Vern mystery for a Christmas anthology to benefit Toys for Tots. In it, Vern and Sister Grace must protect the nasty entrepreneur, Daniel Flint, who's being haunted by the Christmas Carol ghosts. Flint is trying to pressure the city to condemn Vern's neighborhood and sell him the land so he can build a mall. (It happens. Check out "Eminent Domain Being Abused?") Plus, it's Grace's first Christmas, and she's having culture shock. So, I have a lot of issues: eminent domain, materialism, the meaning of Christmas, Dickens' Christmas Carol, plus a homesick young woman, a heartsick old woman, a haunted theater, and let's not forget the mystery... I was feeling pretty good to write a first draft of 4100 words. Except that the max word count is 3500.

I cut it to 3750, then sent it around to friends. Those who aren't familiar with the Faerie/Mundane universe were confused, however. (Guess what I'd cut first?) So back in went an abbreviated explanation. 3950. I thought it was tight.

It needed to be tighter.

So back again, going backward, then forward. Can I exchange this three-word phrase with a single word? Is this emotional detail necessary or is it understood? This 50-word segue is great but doesn't advance the plot--cut it. This clue gets totally dropped later--drop it now. The manuscript bled black ink by the time I was done--but it was 3500 words. Even more, it's a sharper, cleaner story than the first, second, or fifth revision. And it was fun!

I accept my crown as queen of the editorial cut.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Communication: The Importance of Approach

Earlier this week, I was outside tossing the junk mail directly into the trash when one of those door-to-door magazine salesmen approached. Now, it's been a hot, sweaty, no-shower, clean-the-house, icky day, so perhaps it was the expression on my face; but from 10 yards away, he raises his hands and says, "Don't shoot me!"
Coming nearer, he sort-of croons, "Is your father or mother at home?"
I know I looked all of my 39 years and then some. "Funny," I said and went back to my mail.
"There must be a fountain of youth in this neighborhood, because everyone seems so young. I was talking to your neighbor Jason--"
So Jason's looking good to him? I decided to spare us both further embarrassment and didn't let him get past the "Sales training program to get kids like me off the streets"(he looked early 20s) and told him I wasn't interested.

What I really wanted to do was take him inside, offer him a cup of coffee and dissect his approach.
"Don't shoot me?" He was a young Black guy--I'm an old white woman. Was this racial humor of the poorest taste? OR did he decide I was giving him dirty looks? Sorry, my face froze that way as a child.
"Is your mother or father at home?" Twenty years ago, that would have been a good assumption. Ten years ago, looking my best, a half-hearted compliment. Now, especially in my grungy clothes and my dirty hair sticking out of its bun like a bruha's, it was stupidly false. Plastic used-car-salesman/closing-time pick-up line false.
I made it clear the line didn't fly, but instead of abandoning it and getting to business while he had a chance, he pushed it. (Incidentally, all the neighbors home at that time are about a decade younger (and 15 pounds lighter) than I. Of course they look younger.)

I assume that he was taught that such "compliments" will make a person feel good about herself and him; all it did for me was want to go in, get a shower and count my gray hairs. I have a hard time believing he got any sales except out of pity. Jason told me he bought a subscription because he felt sorry for him tramping around in the heat. Was it the heat or the training that made his approach so slimy?

I know I'm not a great communicator verbally--I think a lot of writers turn to the written word because spoken ones fail them. I'll never be a salesman. Still, I'm smart enough to know what doesn't work. Salesmen, especially the door-to-door kind, need to develop an immediate rapport and a sense of trust. Insincere, canned, pick-up lines like these destroy trust--at least for people who aren't gullible.

If this is the kind of training the "up-and-coming sales force of tomorrow" gets, I think they'd be better off getting training at McDonald's.