Sunday, May 10, 2015

New story in the Wings

The two novels I’m sporadically pitching were not originally novels.

Calling Home was a rather long short story I wrote for me. It was written in 2009, at the height of the hero worship the media was bestowing on any and everyone in the military. I never supported the Iraq War, not even for a second, and I don’t think joining the military automatically makes one a hero. Sometimes, the real hero is the one who stands up to the prevailing opinion with a voice of reason. So I created a veteran with PTSD who found God’s cell phone and used it to stop the next war.

Except there was this other character in there, a pop star hiding from his life, and he had a story too. And all the  desperate people who called the phone, what about them? Add to that the crashing economy and my getting laid off at the same time lots of other restaurants were cutting their pastry chef positions, and well, Calling Home became a novel.

Family Pictures was a different story. I wrote a short story that ran to 7000 words by the time it was done, and that was a spare telling. My friend Beth, who is a successful and well respected thriller author, read it and said, “It’s not finished.”

“But it’s already 7000 words,” I said.

“Just tell the story. Don’t worry about the length.”

So I presented her with a 13,000 word novella. Her reaction? “It’s great, but it’s not finished.

Thus the novel.

I think this is why I have so much trouble writing queries and pitches. I didn’t conceive of the whole stories up front. I let them happen. The people who have read them love them. People say I’m a strong writer. Still, I have a hard time pitching them.

So I’m trying again, this time, with knowledge about the world of queries, log lines and pitches. I’m dropping clues early, doing bits of foreshadowing,  leading the reader because I know where I’m going. It’s harder than just writing. A lot harder.

But it feels good to be writing something new.

If all goes well, by this time next year, The Healing Power of Brownies will be a new story where there isn’t one now.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Living Metaphors

I’m not a rooster.
My rooster attacked me a week ago. He’d bumped my legs before. Then one morning, he pecked at my legs as I was leaving the penned chicken yard
. The next morning, he was waiting for me.
I closed the gate of the chicken yard behind me and opened the coop to let out the chickens, same as every morning. Instead of leading the band of hens out to their fenced yard, he flew out and attacked my legs. And planted himself in front of the gate, my exit. I yelled and kicked at him and finally managed to work my way around him and out of the gate, putting a fence between us. I came away with a bruise, several peck marks and fear of an animal we hatched last year.
I looked up other people’s stories.
Roosters attacking women turned out to be more common than I expected. I found lots of tips, like running at him or unfurling an umbrella at him, all of which would convince him that I’m the dominant rooster.
And yes, that would hold him at bay for a while. But If I’m the dominant rooster, he’s going to want a rematch. To me, the trick is to win on my terms. 
I’m not a rooster.
Now as it happens, I work with somebody who is openly hostile to me. She only acts this way with me. I think she has mental problems, and I try not to engage in wars with her. But I get tired of being the adult.
I’m also a writer. And as a writer, I know a metaphor when I see one. One aspect of life stands in for many. And this rooster attack was fresh in my mind.
So last time she did something to provoke me, I stepped back and remembered that I wasn’t a rooster. I didn’t engage, didn’t attack back. I whispered that I felt sorry for her. We work in an open kitchen, and I don’t think anyone knew I said anything at all.
I earned three days of peace. It won’t last. Mental issues don’t clear themselves with a gentle reminder that one is acting pathetic. But I stayed true to myself. 
Because I am not a rooster.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Busyness and fast writing

Been nearly a year since I've posted here. Probably have no readers anymore. I got busy. Life happened. It's a balance. If nothing's happening, I have time to write and nothing to write about. When life gets busy, the blog is not even on the radar.

It's been snowy, icy, rainy, sleety and foggy. Two more, and we'd have seven weather dwarfs. Five more and we could have ten weather plagues. Oh wait! We have a flood watch. How could I forget?

The stupid weather has given me some reading time. I like old books. Not the famous ones, although those are good too, but I like finding out-of-print everyday sort of novels from other eras. It's like reading historical fiction while it was contemporary. I just finished a book that takes place in the French alps in 1942, a wartime intrigue and love story. I felt like I was in the alps with these people, living the pace of mountain guides and peasants, and smuggling concentration camp escapees across the glaciers.

I don't think books that move at an everyday sort of pace get published anymore. Look at Grapes of Wrath. It takes a while for anything much to happen. But then, they weren't speeding down highways or checking twitter feeds when Steinbeck wrote it. Life was slower.

I get busy. Fast paced books appeal to me. I don't want to read 200 pages of not much of anything. I certainly don't have the desire to write that way. But I think sometimes we need to slow down. We need to remember the crickets and geese and mildew smells and sweat running off icy drinks in stifling houses with aqua blue tongue and groove walls and curtains sewn from old bedsheets. Okay. got a little carried away there.

While it might not fit into a contemporary novel, I think I might write some of that stuff for me. And maybe for later, when retro novels hit their stride. Or mostly, when the world slows back down.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Craft and the Platform Myth

I’ve always thought of a platform as a raised wood surface. I picture the uncovered plywood floor next to the River Stage at the Festival for the Eno, built for cloggers to dance on. Now that’s a platform.

Then there’s platform at the center of the myth, the one about author pages and twitter feeds. The online writing community is full of blogs about how agents look for writers to have a huge web presence, and how we need to have a website even before we have any books to put on it. This has always seemed backward to me. I did start a facebook author page, but even that seems premature. I haven’t published any books. What would I put on a website, and why? (Explain in two paragraphs or less, citing at least one example).

What’s lacking in the discussion of publicity, followers and tracking numbers is craft. Agents are looking for people who really write, and who tell a story they can sell. I’m not knocking self-pub. There are some good indie books out there. But I’ve read novels by people who have become experts at building platforms. They cross-post on multiple sites. They give workshops, speak on panels. They market.

And shortchange the importance of craft. They head-hop. They write mysteries where none of the characters have a stake in solving it. Emotion-laden scenes get interrupted with backstory. In short, they write books that are really easy to put down.

I have a daughter who was born to write. Really. She has been querying her first novel, which was her MFA thesis. At the time she got her first offer of representation, she had five full and partial manuscripts sitting with other agents. She has settled on an agent, and is very excited. She’s busy thinking about how to pull off the changes that will make her novel marketable.

Not platforms. Writing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Ka-ching in the night

I used to have two kilns. Actually, I had three, if you count the little hot-plate kiln my dad got me for Hanukah when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I didn't really use that one then, but I used it as an adult to make a series of swirled butterfly necklaces. It died on the move to TN.

The other two were the same size as each other. One was a lightweight, fiber-walled kiln with the elements embedded in the walls. It heated quickly (about 15 minutes) and was good for small lightweight pieces. Heavy pieces drew too much heat out of the kiln, leaving me with really long firing times and warpage issues on items like switch plates and clocks, so I mostly used the heavier, more serious kiln. But I kept the other around. It was good when I wanted to work on a few small items. I didn't mind firing it up to add dates and dedications to the backs of Christmas ornaments, and it was great to have if someone ordered a pair of cabinet knobs.

At least until it died of old age last year. I've been enameling a long time.

So know I have only the SERIOUS KILN. It takes nearly an hour (and no telling how much power) to reach temperature. So when I get small orders, I try to hold off working on them until I get more. Except this is a slow time of year.

I had this order for two cabinet knobs. The person added another to the order, but still, I was going to spend more time heating the kiln than enameling. I waited. Then I started to feel guilty. This person had already paid. So yesterday evening, I fired up the kiln and did three knobs.

And slept guilt-free, at least until I was awakened by the Ka-ching on my phone. The esty app. The one that goes off when you get a sale.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Learning from others' critiques

I had pulled back on querying Calling Home because I was having trouble writing a clear pitch. It is seven stories, not one, even though there is a common thread.

I volunteered at Killer Nashville mystery writers convention this weekend. I moderated three roundtable sessions, where people have the first two pages of their manuscripts read aloud (mostly by me) and critiqued by agents and editors. Which means I heard sixty critiques of other people's work in two days.

I learned a few things. One is that I should have more confidence in my writing. While I'm sure they would have found plenty that needs fixing in my writing, I'm probably closer to where I need to be than most of these people who were pitching.

The other is that I have an alternate issue to deal with. A common problem was that stories needed to start closer to where the action is. People took too long to set it up.

While I didn't get critiqued, I think I started too far in. I need a short first chapter that isn't there, and probably a short final one. The one main character whose story it really is doesn't have a voice. Giving him one will bring it into being one story, not seven, something I can write a concise pitch for.

At least, I hope so.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Requiem for the landline

We finally dropped the landline.

It’s not like we use it. We roll our eyes when it rings. It’s always pollsters or people asking for money. The phone isn’t conveniently located in the house. I’m always dodging junk trying to answer it. And people can use it to case our house, like back in the bad old days before caller ID.

Maybe I should be more touched than I am. The first time I had a phone in my room, I was 13. We moved to a house that had a jack in every bedroom. Somebody had left a phone in mine. This was in the days when phones came with your phone service. You didn’t own them, and you got charged for them. I guess Ma Bell lost track of this one.

The summer we moved to Raleigh, we didn’t bother getting a phone. The only people I knew there lived on my block, and I could use the phones at work. I occasionally called my parents from the neighbor’s house, and made sure I paid them when the bill came in. After sharing houses in college, it was second nature for all of us to examine a bill when it came in and track down all the long distance callers.

When we moved to a house in the woods, we used to get cased by phone late in the fall. It was like a Christmas season tradition. We did actually get broken into once. When the hang-up calls began again the next year, we bought an answering machine. Our message was that we were screening calls and would pick up only when the callers identified themselves. 

Two different years, we thwarted the thieves. They were not the same people. Our house was on a busy road, sheltered by woods. It made it a desirable target. When caller ID became available, we sprung for it, taking care of the problem once and for all.

By the time we moved to Nashville, we had cell phones with NC numbers. Kurt wanted to get a landline so he could have a Nashville number for music. He wanted to make sure he appeared local. We negotiated a package with AT&T.

The price started inching up. Then it began walking up. By the time it was going up every two months, I dropped all the extras, even though that invalidated our package and made the internet go up.

Slowly, the price started inching up again. When it reached critical mass, we called and complained, saying that all our younger friends locked into deals never offered to us because we weren’t new service. I considered it to be ageist. They gave us a loyalty retention rate which was not supposed to go up.

Except it did recently. Once it started, it rose every month.


We still have a caller ID box sitting around somewhere. And two cordless phones. It's time to move on.