Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Novel's Journey: Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator: Unexpected Heroes

Sometimes, characters just have to take center stage whether you planned it or not. The past couple of weeks, I had two characters do just that.

For those that have come to the blog late, I'm writing about a zombie exterminator, Neeta Lyffe, who is training other exterminators as part of a reality TV show. Two of Neeta's apprentices from the show, LaCenta and Spud, were on 9-1-1 patrol with other exterminators as part of the show. At the time I was writing this, they were going to hang out in the vans and not have much happen. The chapter was about Neeta and two other apprentices getting called away from a concert in order to chase a zombie in the park.

However, once I finished, the chapter felt very incomplete. I decided I needed to at least touch on what the other teams had done that night. At first, I was going to have LaCenta get invited to the rest of the concert, as one of the singers wanted to dedicate a song to the zombie exterminators of the world. However, she had other plans. She and her team ended up re-killing a zombie who was on the rampage after his murderer. I also discovered that LaCenta speaks GhettoWoW, which is interesting as I'd never heard of GhettoWow until she brought it up. I had to consult with my husband on that one.

So that took care of LaCenta, and to a lesser extent, Nasir, another apprentice. That left poor Spud. Spud has been kind of an underdog in the show--skilled, but quiet and methodical. Director Dave calls him "the potatoes" of the show and has been hard pressed to pair him up with something as the meat. Well, Spud ended up being quite the hero when his team takes him to zombie central to actually catch some live zombies for research. The plan goes wrong and he saves the girl. Director Dave is having paroxysms of joy.

I'm working on a segue scene, then Neeta gets approached by a diet drink company that wants her to advertise for them. Then we get to the finale! I figure 20,000 more words to go. It's slowed for now because I have a contract for school planners due late May, but I'm hoping to finish before we move in June.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Random Thoughts at 30,000 feet

I wrote this on the airplane a couple of weeks ago, but finally got it out of my smartphone. (Smart phone, dumb human). Anyway, with the Root Canal Epic, Part II, I'm not in the mood to blog, so I'm posting this instead.

We're on our househunting trip to Utah. My netbook ran out of juice, so I'm blogging using my smart phone because I'm feeling stuck on the story I'm working on here.

I resisted cell phones for a long time, but - must admit, I adore my Android. Ironically, the one thing I wish was that it was just a bit bigger. Not quite the size of the iPad, but close.

Does anyone else look at the iPad and think of Yoeman Rand?

We're hitting turbulence. I like turbulence. I feel like we're actually moving. I'm more connected to the plane, the flight, the sky...

Go ahead, give me a weird look.

A lot of folks think I'm weird for enjoying moving. I think part of it is perspective: they see precious things packed away; I see a chance to unpack and rediscover those precious things. They see a house loved and emptied; I see a new palate waiting for me to make my own. They see friends left behind; but since my best friends are online, anyway, I see a chance to meet interesting people.

The only hard part is schools. Amber and Steven are in high school. I'd like them to stay in one until they graduate--this is Steven's third. Alex and Liam did not like their school in CA, so this move should be good. They also have good friends moving to Utah. In fact, if we can, we're going to househunt for them, too. We'll live in different towns, alas. They need a county that allows 3 dogs.

So, how do you end a random blog? Why don't you hum the Seinfeld theme while you finish this sentence? Thanks.

Thoughts on Writer's Voice

Recently, a friend on one of my writer's groups asked about how to find one's voice in writing. I thought I'd share my opinions with you as well.

What is voice? Intuitively speaking, it's what makes your writing recognizable as yours. It's a combination of word choice, tone (friendly or educational), sentence length and structure, approach... It's not easily defined or pinned down, which can make it intimidating to the new writer.

Best advice is: don't worry about it. You don't "make" your voice. You and your voice find each other.

The most effective way of finding your voice is simply writing. I think Jane Lebak said it can take upwards of 100,000 words, though I may have heard that from another author elsewhere.

As for mimicking another author's voice, I know some writers who did that early in their career as an exercise or as play or to move past a weakness in their worn writing. (For instance, if you are bad at description, you copy out a few pages of an author who does wonderful description, get a feel for how they do it, then apply elements to your own work.) However, that doesn't mean you copy someone else's voice for work you submit. It's practice.

Voice can differ by what you write, IMHO. My voice for DragonEye, PI is very different from my voice for my latest book on Catholic living, Why God Matters. One is fiction told by a snarky dragon; the other stories of God's hand in the life of a middle-aged mom. Yet, if you look closely, I'm sure you'll see some similarities in voice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Writing and Digging Out of Holes

(Note: This is not me.)
There comes a point in every novel (at least for me) when the momentum slows, and the characters seem to have retreated to their trailers to watch the TV shows I hate, and the internal editor wants to go back and rip apart the past 38,000 of 40,000 words. About that time, my mouth and stomach fight about whether I'm really hungry, and my hands try to convince my brain that they are better employed holding a mop or re-arranging furniture. Of course, my Muse if tempting me with the next story, while "Mom brain" is running a list of things I should do instead.

Ever get like that? Like I said. it might just be me.

I'm sure it's because I'm a pantster. By the time I get to the middle of a manuscript, I'm deep into the plot and characters, and have the subplots. I've been deep in a hole. digging away happily until I suddenly realize that that's a *deep* hole I'm standing in, and if I gave any thought about getting out, it was probably to have an arrow pointing to a rope. That rope--my vague idea of how it all ends--looks pretty wimpy and un-secure right then.

By now, I know better than to panic. My characters know how the story ends. They always have a way out: a nice set of instructions for turning the rope into a ladder or, on occasion, a secret underground road. However, I have to keep digging and forming the hole in order to find it. It's just that by now, we're both tired of me digging.

So what do I do? Depends. I may ask for a map (a.k.a. an outline) or a hint (brainstorming). I may look for help by asking my husband or friend or reading. No matter what I do, however, I keep digging.

I'm at 40,000 words. LaCenta, one of Neeta's apprentices, has not only re-killed her first zombie, but captured its murderer. Totally unexpected!

Friday, April 16, 2010

When Life Experiences Technical Difficulties

Sorry I've skipped some blogs. My life has had some technical difficulties.

Technologically, I've been blogging on my cell phone, but I don't know how to transfer them. I have some fun blogs once I figure it out. My laptop is back at Best Buy--they've apparently been calling the wrong number for days. I'm going to pick it up tomorrow.

Biologically, I've had the root canal of doom. Four hours of sitting lock-jawed as four different dentists drilled away. I had six shots of Novocaine or its equivalent. Five x-rays as they checked and checked to be sure they got deep enough. I have thin, twisty roots, apparently, which are hard to find, plus old calcified teeth. I was treated to the seven words no one wants to hear during a root canal: Fifty dollars to whoever finds that root!

It wasn't all that painful--thank you, Nococaine--though my jaw was incredibly sore afterwards. I was laughing an joking with the dentists right up until the last 5 minutes when they looked at the x-rays and realized they'd broken a drill bit in my tooth and it was stuck in the hole. Then came apologies from Dentist 2, talk of getting a specialist involved, etc. In the end, Dentist 1 is going to finish the procedure next week, skipping an office party to do so. He's also going to cap the tooth, its neighbor and maybe the one below, which he thinks is cracked. Hopefully, that will be it.

Of course, as a writer, I had to use this experience. I toyed with a story ala Stephen King, but ended up with and SF flash about a woman who communicated with aliens through the drill bit stuck in her mouth.

Locationally, we are in the process of buying a house in Utah, our next stop in Rob's career. The inspection report came back with 40 items--20+ of which we think need to be handled before we close. Now we're waiting for the reply.

Medicationally, I'm on codeine which doesn't hit me as hard as it does most people, but has left me feeling unmotivated. I'd like to sit around and watch TV tonight, but we have three boys over for a sleepover. Rob's taking them to the comic shop tonight, so maybe I can watch "Seven Pounds" with Will Smith if it's on Netflix. Think I'll go check now.

I'll be back on track Monday, promise.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Pitch Session Successes or How to Make a Good Impression wiht and Editor

Last week, I talked about our shining example of what NOT to do when pitching to an editor. I'd just like to note that this is the first time in three years--probably 150 pitches--that we had any problems of that magnitude. Overall, the people who attend the conferences are inexperienced, but professional and eager to learn. It thrills us coordinators not only to see the successes but the growth they show in just a few days.

Attending the practice sessions was the single-most important factor.
We had people who, before a session, weren't even sure how to log into the site; by pitch time, they could navigate both rooms, copy and paste their words, and were comfortable with the technology so that they could concentrate on the questions.

We asked that everyone prepare a 100-word pitch. This is like the first paragraph of the query letter and should give a good idea of the book. Some of the pitches in practice worried me! They rambled, didn't give a good sense of the book, or were too long. We spent about 10 minutes in group critique, giving suggestions for tightening, from general advice "You need to tell us how it ends. Tease the reader, not the editor" to actually rewording sections.

Every pitch I privately cringed over got taken, scrubbed, and polished to diamond quality. I got chills sometimes at the improvement!

Another thing we suggested was preparing for some common questions and doing some research into the publisher. In our instructions, we gave folks the general topics covered in a proposal and told them to have answers ready--in their heads if not in a file. Some, however, prepared a pitch file, and it not only cut down their time trying to come up with answers to questions, but it made them come off as definite pros!

We had a lot of problems with word count this year, but after the sessions, people realized their error. Some, however, turned that weakness to a strength: "I know it's short for YA, but I do have subplots to build it up and would like to work with you." "Just a note: It was originally 138,000 words; I've cut it to 117,000 to make it more accessible, and would appreciate working with an agent on advice concerning where to tighten it more." NOTE: This won't work in a query letter. Fiction must be complete unless you are an established author querying to someone who knows you or your work. However, when in pitch, especially when you are pitching to a smaller press or have a publishing record to back up your ability to produce, you can turn this weakness in word count into a strength in willingness to partner with your editor.

I always gave a play-by-play of what's happening in the pitch room to those waiting in line. Sometimes the publishers have a specific focus. People who paid attention to my commentary were able to modify pitches and have some responses prepared. In one case, an author changed his pitch to better focus on the publisher's interest. Another time, all those waiting wrote out quick bios and had website links ready--the first two questions the publisher asked everyone. This gave them more time to talk about the book. Once, I warned everyone that the publisher made up her mind early, then asked if the author had any questions. "This is your chance for inside info!" One author took advantage of that and not only elicited some good information, but made a professional impression.

There's a lot to be said about grace under pressure. The chat room has quirks--it isn't very compatible with Ma; it can be slow to load; it sometimes posted pasted material twice. We all understood that, but those who didn't let that faze them, who forged ahead, perhaps with a small joke or apology, made excellent use of their time. Several people took the time to read and answer the publisher's questions (rather than just posting more information off their query letter or book proposal). Again, those that did got more focused feedback.