Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pacing Yourself

I talked last week about my timeline for my work-in-progress novel, from finishing the first draft to editing to distributing the pages to my First Readers... and all the other steps on the way to publication. The most important step to me (right now at least) is finishing the first draft. Without a completed first draft, I can't make any more forward motion on the project. I know you can go back and edit things which are already written, but to me it seems pointless to do steps out of order, especially if you never get a finished product to send to a publisher or agent. After all, we're trying to get a book published and out to the general populace, right? The public won't read your pages if they don't have them in their entirety, so... why should you go back to revise and polish something that's not complete?

I'm shooting to be done with the first draft by the beginning of May. For the last month I've been pacing myself to make sure I'm going to hit the 100,000 word mark by that date. I was at 55,000 words at the beginning of this month. I counted the weeks between then and May and realized if I can crank out a solid 5,000 words per week I'll be golden by the time my deadline gets here. I've created a calendar for myself in Publisher and every Monday I report in on my progress. I've watched the word count steadily rise over the last four weeks and it's truly exhilarating.

Last week I mentioned this pace to someone, and was greeted with a scoff. "5,000 words a week?" she asked, laughing and shaking her head. "When I did NaNo, I was doing close to that a day."

All right. So, I'm slow. Slower than those who work at the breakneck pace of NaNoWriMo, at least. But that's all right with me. I'm working at my own pace, budgeting my time between the 40+ hour-a-week Clark Kent job, creating my writer's platform, and birthing this book. Not to mention all the other things that take up our time as functioning members of society.

I've set a pace that will get me to my goal, and I'm sticking to it. If I get more than 5,000 words a week, GREAT. But all I'm wanting is the bare minimum goal from myself right now. So far I've made the goal every week, sometimes with a surplus of 2,000 + words, sometimes with only 80 or so. And all the while, my novel is marching towards its completion, delighting me, thrilling me, amazing me. I'm sucking in the experience and loving every single second of it. I'm savoring the time my book and I have together, because we've worked hard to get here. And I'm not questioning my goals, even though they may seem small to other people. After all, the race is yet to be won.

What are the pacing goals you set for yourself? Do you have to work by a schedule to get your first draft finished, or do you just work on it until it's complete?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comments are Important!

My ventures into the blog-o-sphere have taught me some important lessons about maintaining an online presence. One of the more important lessons has been about commenting on other peoples' blogs.

I read anywhere between 20 and 30 blogs a day, sometimes more than that. It's hard to balance it between writing the novel and working the Clark Kent job full time. I try to look at blogging as part of my job as a writer. I write almost every day, therefore I blog almost every day. I use the "office" part of my brainspace for this, and think of it as a task I must complete, to bolster my writing platform. I give myself weekends off from reading and writing blogs (trying not to burn myself out). On every blog I read, I do my best to leave a comment on the latest entry. Even if it's just a "I liked this post because" comment.

And here's my reasoning behind this practice: first, I know how delighted I feel when people take the time to comment on my blog. Whether it's one comment or twelve, they never fail to make my day. Somebody out there's reading me, I say to myself. And they keep coming back for more! It's a great feeling. I want to pass that on to other writers who are working hard on their blogs.

Even more importantly, if you don't comment, a blogger won't know you've visited! Unless of course they have some fancy tracking stalkery type technology (and come on, people, we're taking blogspot here), blog owners can't know you've been reading their words unless you SAY something about it. It's a form of appreciation, in my opinion. Thanks, I'm saying to the blog writer, I recognize your dedication and your vision. Thank you for continuing to put it out there. Keep it up! We're a community of writers, for the most part, and we all know how fragile our universes are. Commenting is my way of encouraging the writers around me to keep writing.

I find comments are often reciprocal - I'll go to someone's blog and comment, and they come find me and comment on my entry. I love this kind of exchange. Not only does it show me who's reading my comments (and entries), but it helps me make new friends and connections in the blog-o-sphere. And don't worry if there are thirty, or fifty, or even a hundred comments. I bet the blog owner reads every single one. Each comment from their visitors is important, whether it's the first or the thousandth. And don't forget - people who leave comments often read the comments before theirs. You might find a new friend or a follower by commenting! One you didn't even expect.

My new blogging friend Elana Johnson posted on this topic last week and had some really insightful things to say in this post. It's an interesting read and has a few more things to say on the importance of commenting on fellow writers' blogs. Check it out, if you like.

How often do you comment on other peoples' blogs? Do you make a point to leave your mark on an entry?

And BTW, I'd like to say THANKS to everyone who reads and comments on my blog. I want you to know, every time you say something, it makes me feel good. You're spreading the love and I love you for it. :D

Monday, March 29, 2010

Music Therapy

By now you've probably noticed a theme for Mondays on my blog. Over the month of March I've used the first day of the week as a day to showcase something about music and how it relates to me and my writing. At the beginning of the month I talked about Shooter Jennings and Hierophant's collaboration with Stephen King. The next week I told you guys about my trip to Indiana to see Murder By Death. And last week we had a great discussion about writing playlists. This has been a lot of fun and I plan to keep doing this or something similar in the weeks to come. I think music is an integral part of the writing process for many authors, including myself, and I'm fascinated by the countless ways the two forms of art entwine together.

On that note, let's get on to this week's musical entry...

Did you know there's such a thing as music therapy? The American Music Therapy Association says on their website, "The idea of music as a healing influence which could affect health and behavior is as least as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. The 20th century discipline began after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types, both amateur and professional, went to Veterans hospitals around the country to play for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars. The patients' notable physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to request the hiring of musicians by the hospitals."

I love this idea, and would like to write a story about it sometime. The concept fires up the furnaces of my imagination - a musician, using his or her art to heal the sick. Now I know there are thousands of qualified music therapists out there who've worked hard to get where they are using their dedication and talent. But my brain naturally turns to a tale of the weird when I think about this subject. What if it was a supernatural sort of ability, something which doctors couldn't detect - except when viewing the rapid healing of their gravely injured patients? What if this person, this "music therapist", had been different all through growing up and finally found what they were meant to do in a VA hospital during the second world war? A period piece with supernatural undertones. So much fun to think about!

This is one of the many ways I get ideas for stories... learning about something new and interesting, then imagining a character thrown into a situation which showcases that skill (or place, or time, or whatever). I'm pleased to have a new goal of learning more about music and how it could inspire or influence me to write pieces I might not usually consider. I hope you'll be as interested to read these "Music Monday" entries as I am to write them.

What are some ways music has inspired you as a writer? We've talked about playlists, live music, and so on... Do you find music and writing as cooperatively influential as I do?

Friday, March 26, 2010


Happy Friday, blog-o-sphere friends!

I wanted to share two awards I've been recently given by fellow blogarians. (Yeah, I know, "blogarians" is a word I made up, but it's got a nice ring to it, doesn't it?) The first is the Quest Award, given to me by the Creative Chronicler at CC Chronicles. CC decided to recognize my quest to create a stable blog for my fans, along with my love for writing and dedication to getting published. Thank you so much, CC!

I'd like to pass this award on to the following bloggers:

Gail Gray at The Shaman Papers. Gail is a good friend of mine, and we're on the personal journey of writing novels together. I'd like to recognize her quest to get the word out about magical realism and speculative fiction, while continuing her writing career as a novelist, blogger, and all-around writing guru. You do a great job, Gail! Kudos!

Lola Sharp at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword. Lola's blog never fails to make me smile and/or think. She and I have very similar tastes and writing styles, and I always enjoy reading what she has to say. I'd like to recognize her quest to be a productive writer and family gal while working on her projects and braving technology she might not otherwise be using. Thanks for posting your life for us, Lola!

Alex J. Cavanaugh at Alex J. Cavanaugh. Alex is a great blogger, especially with movie reviews. I love reading his insights and opinions on new and old movies, especially when he focuses on science fiction. It seems Alex and I share a love for scifi, old and new, so I never miss a chance to read his great blog! I'd like to recognize Alex for his quest to educate people on movies (and sometimes books) they might not usually give a chance, and also getting the word out there about media which may not be readily available to all of us. Thanks for your hard work, Alex!

I was also given the Prolific Blogger award by Lola at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword this week!

Lola says: "A Prolific Blogger is one who is intellectually productive...keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content." Wow! Thanks for the recognition, Lola... like you, not sure about that whole "intellectually productive" thing, but I appreciate the strokes and will pass it on!

I've found a lot of prolific bloggers over the past few weeks in my journeys through the blog-o-sphere, and I'd like to recognize these three steadfast writers with this award:

SarahJayne Smith at Writing in the Wilderness

Talli Roland at Talli Roland

Karen G at Coming Down the Mountain

These ladies post almost every day, and every post they write is insightful and entertaining! Thanks for your dedication to getting your words out there for us to read, my friends!

That's all for this week. Adventures abound this weekend; I'm sure you'll hear about them in my next few entries. Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I think one of the most important things that's kept me motivated in writing my first novel is setting a timeline for the things I want to accomplish in this endeavor.

When I made the concrete decision to sit down and give this whole book-writing thing a serious try, I was dubious. I've mentioned before how I have trouble completing long-term projects (a hallmark of attention deficit disorder, I still need to contact someone about the royalties for all those posters I should be on). When I knew I was serious about giving this a try, I sat down and planned out a loose timeline for what I wanted to accomplish.

I decided to give myself nine months to complete the first draft. My writing hero, Stephen King, says in his book On Writing that he finishes a draft of 100,000 words in three months - that's cranking out about 2000 words a day, every day, with no breaks. Of course, Mr. King only has one job - making things up and writing 'em down. He doesn't have to deal with another full-time job like I do. Also, he has this whole book-writing thing down to a science. Since this is my first book, I decided to give myself more time than he recommended, mainly so I wouldn't kill myself with my own project.

After setting a date for first draft completion (the first of May), I looked at what else I wanted to do with the book. I want to give it four to six weeks to rest in the proverbial bottom drawer after it's complete, so I can go back to it and edit all its pages with a fresh eye. So that puts me in early to mid June before I can even look at it to begin the second draft (but it's all right, I have a few short stories rolling around in my head to keep me out of that bottom drawer for a few weeks). I'll give myself about a month to go back through and clean it up, add in the things I want to add (there are several bits of foreshadowing which need to be put in, to sort of spice up the story), change what needs to be changed.

So around July 15th, I'll get a few spiral-bound copies of my manuscript printed, and I'll be handing them out to a few dedicated First Readers. I've picked out a handful already, each of them with a different skill set for looking at the book. One of them, of course, is my writing compatriot and fellow Reedy River Rat Gail Gray, who has offered invaluable advice and direction during the process of creating the first draft. The other readers I have lined up are from varying backgrounds, education levels and mindsets. Each of them has been chosen to read for one reason or another - one person I want to focus on theme, one on setting, one on that terrible issue of romance I talked about yesterday... and they're all excited as hell to read my book.

I want to give them a month to read, then start gently prodding for returns (hopefully with lots of notes in the margins). So, mid-August will be the beginning of the third draft and subsequent revisions. I'll give myself another two to four weeks to get those done, and then start drafting query letters for agents and publishers. By September 15th or so (a couple of weeks before my birthday), I want to have a finished package ready to send out where it needs to go.

And then a month later, the South Carolina Writers' Conference will meet in Myrtle Beach, SC. There will be agents and publishing houses represented there, so I'm going down there to shake hands, network, and hopefully meet someone who can help me get my foot in the door to get my baby - now grown into a big, strapping, stand-on-its-own novel - looked at by a publisher. Gail and I are already planning our trip, and I'm excited about it!

When I saw all this laid out on a timeline back in August, the structure of the plan made me feel as if I had a real chance of finishing this project. It's something I return to on an almost daily basis to help remind myself of what I'm working towards. I need to get this done in a timely manner, so I can ultimately take it where it needs to go in October.

And so far, it's working.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Fine Romance, With No Pages...

It's important for every writer to know their strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths, try to improve your game on the things you're not so good at. Or, steer clear of those things, unless they absolutely have to be used. It's important to own up to the things you're not so good at, so you can work on getting better at them.

In that light, I'd like to admit to you, friend, THAT I SUCK AT WRITING ROMANCE.

It's not that I'm not a romantic person. I am! A hopeless romantic, sometimes. (Or, as Joan Wilder, the romance novelist, says in Romancing the Stone, "hopeFUL romantic". Hey, don't make fun of my referential movie choices, it was the eighties, and we all loved it, ok? I was only nine, after all.) I'm just more of a thriller/action/horror-type writer. Give me a lunatic with a dozen sharp objects or a murderous mud monster to throw at my characters any day, and I'll mop the floor with it. I'm great at description, grammar, language... but. But. BUT I just can't write the gooshy stuff of people falling in love. I feel cheesy and stilted and like I'm forcing the whole damn thing. I wish they'd just get it over with and get it on, because...

Sex! Sex is easy. Sex is action, with a little emotion thrown in. But to describe a person falling in love and make it seem real? Sigh. I've realized this about myself as I've come to the slight bit of romance in my book. My protagonist, Jack, has realized that he's fallen for his dead sister's best friend, Ashley. It's very important to the story that this happens, because I need to showcase how he feels to compare and contrast another character's actions and feelings... plus, it's important to me for the reader to like Jack, and be worried for him when he goes into a dangerous situation... and one of the best ways to form an emotional connection with someone is to read about how they're human, just like you, falling for someone, just like you probably have, and aren't sure how to deal with it... bingo, just like all of us do at one point or another in our lives.

The romance is minimalist right now, because I'm downplaying my weakness. I don't want to break the reader's illusion by forcing the love-and-romance angle and making it seem false. It's very tentative right now, very small. But it's there. And every time I get to it in the book part of me squirms. Get to the gore, my brain moans. Do we really have to concentrate on all this gooey love crap? it asks. And the answer is, YES, we do, brain, come on, let's get it down so we can get ON to the delicious murder of an unsuspecting redneck (who just happens to be one of the regular bowlers down at the Clark Kent job). It's important to the characters, the plot, the story, THE WHOLE DAMN THING. So quit your whining, will ya?

And I do. I pick it up and go and plug through the ooey-gooey bits as best I can. I'm getting better at it, I think... practice, practice, practice, right? I'm drawing on my own life and experiences for this, infusing my memories of adolescent awkwardness and emotional turmoil over falling for someone that I really shouldn't (because, come on, who hasn't felt that way at least once in their life) with Jack's sensibility and near-Eagle Scout mentality.

Poor guy. I hope he gets that girl. He's crazy about her.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prose Detox

I think I mentioned last week that I was under the weather, either due to a severe allergy or an awful cold. I think it was a cold, because I got a lot of people sick, evidently, including my writing compatriot Gail Gray. I decided this week, after kicking most of that crap out of my system, I'd try to give my body a few days to cleanse itself. I'm doing a "poor-man's" detox, and I'm cutting out all caffeine, processed sugar, meat, etc. Drinking lots of water, eating fruits and vegetables, trying my hand at some vegetarian cuisine - I even have some tofu marinating in the fridge for dinner tonight.

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I said to myself, "Self," (I call myself Self) "You should put this in your blog. I'm sure you can relate it to writing somehow."

"I don't think so," I argued (I'm a contrary cuss, aren't I?). "It's just food, man, it doesn't have anything to do with writing."

I then told myself that everything relates to writing, in one form or another, at least for me. I decided to sleep on it and see if I could think of a way I could relate it, and if so, I'd blog about it today.

In the shower (where so many good ideas come, remember?) I realized that my writing can do with a little cleansing itself. Once I've finished the book and let it rest for a few weeks, I want to put it through the literary equivalent of a detox. Right now I'm just focusing on getting the impurities out of my system, mostly by drinking lots of water and fruit juice, while eating minimally. The things I do eat are super healthy - veggies, fruits, smoothies, etc. I want to do this with my manuscript. I will scrub it vigorously with grammar and syntax. I will clean away all the adverbs and cliches I can find. I'll make it as pure as I can - as sparkling as the MS can be.

It'll be hard, just like this week (or possibly two weeks, I haven't decided) is going to be. But it will be rewarding. Once I've finished my little detox project on myself, I'm sure I'll feel better. Things will have more elaborate tastes. Sleep will come easier. The sickness from last week will be entirely out of my system.

And the same will be true for my manuscript in early July; that's my goal, anyway. It's already good. Of course, so am I - but I can use improvement. Can't everything? So after the editing, after the "prose detox", it'll be cleaner, smoother, punchier. It will say exactly what I want it to say. And, most important of all, it'll be ready to run the gauntlet of querying and submitting to agents and publishers.

A difficult - but fun and rewarding - journey. On both counts. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Writing Playlists

I draw a huge amount of inspiration from the music I listen to in every stage of my writing process. I have thousands of songs loaded on my iPod, and I love to put the thing on shuffle and just let Jeff take to the wind. My mind will often drop into the zone of brainstorming without me even planning it, setting a scene to a particular song. The creative juices start flowing, and for the four-to-six minutes the song's playing, I'm locked deep in my imagination, the music playing as a soundtrack to the movie in my mind.

I also listen to music as I'm actually working on the novel. I don't do this all the time; sometimes listening to music as I write screws with my ADD, distracting me, and I end up looking for the "right song" to listen to as I compose a particular scene, wasting several valuable minutes in the process. But other times it's exactly what I need to transport me to my fictional town of Bulton, SC. I've composed a playlist over the last seven months as I've been writing the novel. The playlist has evolved, growing and changing as the novel does, but the core music remains the same.

I've populated my playlist with some good old rock n' roll, of course - the Eagles are a large part of the lineup. I've mentioned before how the song "Heartache Tonight" was a huge influence in a pivotal scene in the novel... and I swear, if this damn thing ever gets made into a movie, I'm pitching the song to the director... it's that concrete in my head. Other grit-yer-teeth rockers include Creedence Clearwater Revival and the newcomers Deer Tick. (I'd love to call all these bands Southern rock, and I know a good many people think of them as such. I just can't in good conscience do that, though, because CCR and the Eagles are from out West and Deer Tick is from RI.)

I've also got a good bit of Murder By Death on the playlist. Their epic rock-meets-country-meets-orchestra sound, coupled with beautiful dark lyrics and an underlying current of desperation, fit my little Southern ghost story very well. I chose some tracks from the Fleet Foxes, because their mellow, folk-y sound makes me think of the South in general and Appalachia in particular, most likely because of their song, "Blue Ridge Mountains".

Then there are a few single tracks from different artists and movie soundtracks, which feed my brain beautiful images and keep it running at high speed. I've had a lot of fun building this playlist, and I love to see the influence it's had over the tale I'm spinning. I'm continually finding songs and adding them to the mix, so by the end of this I'll have hours and hours of music that I can choose a really solid soundtrack out of, to burn to a CD for myself... sort of a behind-the-scenes extra, if you'll allow me that indulgence. You'd better, 'cause it'll just be for me anyway.

I love hearing what other writers were listening to as they composed their particular masterpieces, especially if they showcase lyrics from a song as a foreword, or mention it in their notes. One of my favorite horror authors, Joe Hill, recently published (on his blog) highlights from the playlist he listened to as he wrote his new novel Horns. You can check out that blog entry here - it's a really interesting read.

How about the rest of you guys? What have you been listening to lately, as you compose your masterpieces? Do you need a playlist to work, or would you rather have silence as company? I'm interested in how our creative processes differ.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring has Sprung... Happy Friday!

Here in the South, spring is creeping over the hills and edging into your peripheral vision. Everywhere you look something new is blooming. The Bradford Pear trees are a few days away from becoming their annual spring puffballs. A light, playful breeze has taken up residence during the days, while the nights have become warm and filled with cricket and frog duets. Flowers are peeking up through the soil, fruit stands are making themselves ready for the next few months of craziness, and everything in my town smells new and green and faintly fabulous.

That is, of course, if you can smell... My allergies have brought on some sort of ailment, so I've spent the last couple days of this beautiful transition in bed. I'm not sure if it's allergies or a cold or a sinus infection or what, but the result's the same... clogged sinuses, aches, sneezing, coughing, and a wish for death when bright light hits my eyes... Phew. I'm sure it'll pass soon, but this really blows.

However, I've been using the time to my advantage. I haven't stopped posting on the blog (as you can see, heh) and I've been writing and writing and writing and writing and... yeah. Last night I hit 70,000 words and 240 pages. I wrote for hours in kind of a drug-induced, dreamlike state. I'm not even sure what exactly happened in the pages I wrote, now that I think about it... I mean, I could give you the general gist of it, but the actual passages escape me. That's the best kind of writing for me... when I'm so deep in the Zone, going back over pages produced becomes kind of a fun surprise. The book is steadily marching along to its climax, and all I can do is hang on for the ride, ailment or no ailment.

I'm also kind of excited about the fact that I now have three short stories rolling around in my head, waiting to be born. I'm not thinking about them too much while I'm finishing the novel - I feel like I only have enough headspace for one project at a time at this late stage in the game. But it's exciting and encouraging to know I have other things I can work on when this is done. I plan on working on the shorts when I set the completed MS of the novel aside for a few weeks (I've heard this is a good practice; once the book's completed you must let it rest for a bit). That should help me keep out of the MS and really let it rest as it needs to.

Now the weekend's here, so I'm going to concentrate on resting and let myself kick whatever this is out of my system. Writers' meeting is tomorrow morning, and I'm excited about it. I can't wait to hear what my group thinks of the new pages. And I'm so excited to read new stuff from them as well. Gail has been working on a wonderful new novel, Fireworks: Interference Equation and I'm hooked. I can't wait for the next installment.

Hope everyone out there in the blog-o-sphere has a great weekend and enjoys the new spring weather! Take care, all.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Proverbial Horse

I received a rejection letter from The Pedestal Magazine for my story "Knights of the Road" today.

All right. Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: I know rejections are only a numbers game. I know the more rejections I get the closer I come to having another short published. I know my personal writing hero, Stephen King, had a nail above his desk that he put hundreds of rejection slips on, so many that it made the spike fall off the wall at one point from the weight. I know it's something we all have to deal with. I even wrote a blog entry a few weeks ago, about riding the rejection train.

But knowing all these things doesn't make that rejection letter any easier to read. "We don't want your stuff", regardless of how you phrase it, is never fun to hear. When I saw the email in my inbox this afternoon from The Pedestal Magazine, I had that little rush of excitement flutter through my midsection. I summoned positive thoughts. I visualized success. And then I clicked on the email, and read what it had to say.

Clunk. Another "no thanks" to add to my pile.

So now, as I did back at the beginning of February, I'm using the rejection to bolster my confidence as best I can. I went back over the story, polished it and changed it again. I tightened the action, took out vagueness, and made it a lot punchier (at least, in my opinion). When I was done with it, I was a lot happier with the end result. I then, before I lost my courage, sent it to Weird Tales, one of the last holy grails of dark fiction and fantasy publication.

I'm starting to wonder if short stories are just not my forte. Now that I've been writing my novel for several months, I've realized that I'm a long-distance writer... I'm much better in extended formats, that allow me to develop characters and plot and tension in my own time. Short stories can be limiting, because you have to show only small portions of those things... and I've never been one for small portions. Looking over my rejection list (which keeps growing longer and longer), I can't help but feel a little discouraged. I know my shorts are good... so why can't I move them in a market?

But I won't give up. I have to get back on the horse, no matter how many times it throws me. Sooner or later I will have that bitch tamed. You can count on it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Social Media

A few months ago I read that publishers and agents are much more likely to work with an author if they have an established web presence, including social media profiles. This makes a lot of sense to me, because I know the publishing industry is changing on a daily basis, and many publishers or agents just don't have the resources which used to be available to them for marketing and publicity. If a publisher sees a writer already has an established presence online (I learned later that this is called a "platform"), it makes working with that author more attractive, because it gives the publisher one less thing to worry about.

Reading that article is what made me get started with this blog. I already had a Facebook fan page, but I hadn't done a lot with it. When I learned that publishers are seeking authors who are willing to take over their own publicity, I added a Twitter feed and started keeping a regular web journal. I want to be able to show a publisher that I've established myself and keep up with posting, and also I want them to see that I already have an established fan base. This is most easily calculated through my Facebook fans. While 122 fans might not be as many as some people out there, I feel it's a good start.

Blogging has now become part of my job as a writer - it's a way to get my words out there, tell people how my work on different projects is going, and record my progress. I also love being able to talk about the different parts of the writing process that really interest me, as well as other topics like music and art. I've learned so much since I started blogging a couple of months ago, and made some great new friends.

I also love my Facebook fan page. I don't update it more than once a week or so, because I don't want to inundate people with my posts and turn them off. I try to post every couple of weeks about the blog, and once a week or so I change my status message. I'm trying to keep a balance of online-and-active but not annoying.

My Twitter feed is fun to play with, but I don't use it as much as I should. I have found a couple of new friends and followers through Twitter by using their search engine and striking up a conversation on related interests. My newest follower, Ryan from Iowa, is a Murder By Death fan, and that's how I found him - by searching for @murderbydeath in the Twitter search field, then tweeting to him about the concert this weekend and my blog post about it, complete with a photo of Sarah, the cellist. There are a lot of wonderful ways to utilize Twitter that I haven't played with yet, but I'm working on it.

The website will be up soon, and I hope I can integrate these blogs with the website. I've been told it shouldn't be that hard to do because it's a WordPress website, but I wonder if my blog followers will still be able to see my updates if I'm posting on the website instead of directly to blogspot? Has anyone else had any experience with this?

I'm having a lot of fun establishing my "writer's platform", and the more I work on it, the more I feel like a (flourish of trumpets, please) REAL WRITER. It helps me get my headspace into where it needs to be - that is, making things up and writing 'em down is my career, and punching in and out at my daily grind-job (a la Clark Kent) is only how I pay the bills. It's gratifying.

What are some other social media sites you would recommend (or NOT recommend)? Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Title... Easier Said than Done

I've been working on this novel since August, and I still don't know what the name of it is. Right now it's saved under "Dirt WIP" because red clay features prominently in the story, and the first short I ever wrote about my fictional town of Bulton, SC was a little story called "Fresh Dirt". I didn't want to stress about the name while I was just beginning the project, so I left it alone and didn't think about it.

Now it's seven months later... and I'm thinking about it. And thinking and thinking and thinking. I want a good title, something that will immediately grab a potential reader's attention. But I don't want something that doesn't make sense with my story. I played around with the idea of using Heartache Tonight for the title, because that song (from the Eagles) was a huge influence on a big scene in the book. But my friend and fellow Reedy River Rat/Guerilla Writer Gail Gray suggested I not use that title, because when it's published I'll want something specific and easy to find via an online search. Makes sense to me.

I've thought about going through some poetry after it's done, specifically Poe, because this is such a gothic-esque horror story. I might also look through the Bible for a good title, because my antagonist quotes the good book quite a bit. Or some song lyrics... I looked through the lyrics for "Heartache Tonight" and most of the rest of the songs on that album, but there's nothing that quite fits. I thought of calling it Bad Season because it's something my protag says about 2/3 of the way through the book. But it's in response to someone talking about baseball... and I just don't know if it fits or not.

I know I should just relax and be patient, because it'll come eventually. I want to know now, though! My instant gratification nerve is kicking in.

How did you guys choose the titles for your novels? Can you offer any suggestions on how I can figure out what mine is?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Live Music

I went to see Murder By Death this weekend in Bloomington, IN. It was a fantastic show. The band is from Indiana, so there were a lot of die-hard fans in the crowd - but we got the prize for driving the farthest to see them. We hung with the band for just a bit, shared a bottle of Gentleman Jack with them during their set (they signed the bottle for me and it's on a shelf in my room now), and had a great time. The drummer, Dagan, hurt his hand last week, so they had a stripped-down acoustic session with their old organ/piano player Vincent (he's no longer with the band) added in to beef up the sound. They played a lot of old songs and some things I'd never heard before in concert. There were also three songs from the new album in the set list. Incredible!

I love live shows. There's something elemental and raw about being in the crowd, hearing music so loud it rattles your joints and presses against your eardrums. I get taken over by the music, and have to move and dance and express the passion I feel coursing through me as I listen to a band churn out their sound. This was fostered at a young age - my first live concert was Chicago, when I was five. I had the best seat in the house, because we saw them at a Carowinds show and I sat on my dad's shoulders for the whole set list.

My parents were live music enthusiasts, and during the decade of decadence that was the 80's they took my sister and I to over fifty live shows. I saw bands like Huey Lewis, Starship, The Eagles, and Genesis. We also went to solo acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, and Bob Seger. My mom was a pop music fanatic, and she took my sister and I to see Duran Duran and The Power Station and Madonna. Dad was more of a blues and rock lover, so he took us to see Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, and Styx. It was a great upbringing... I learned a lot about live music and fell in love with the energy and passion in concerts. Of course, in the early 90's concert tickets skyrocketed to ridiculous prices and we had to stop going for the most part, but it was fun while it lasted. I've been to a few big concerts in the last decade - Nine Inch Nails, the Indigo Girls, the Eels - but nothing like the summers in the 80's when my parents went nuts and bought tickets to everything coming to Atlanta.

Now I prefer small clubs or bars to large venues, not just because of the cost but also because I feel a much stronger connection to the band and the crowd when the show is smaller. Saturday night at the Bishop in Bloomington, it felt as if we were all part of the same organism, living and breathing and screaming along with the music. There was a current of power running through the crowd, fueled by the songs we loved and the band that thundered through their set on the stage above us. The bass from the speakers along the sides of the stage thrummed in my joints while the melodies of Sarah's cello strings reverberated in my chest. I felt charged, energized, more than just myself - I was part of the animal Crowd, and the animal was satisfied with Saturday night's offering. There's nothing else like that feeling in the world - you just don't get that kind of up-close and personal experience in a large venue like an arena.

Now, two days later, I feel recharged. I went to the river of energy fueled by live music and was fulfilled. I'm ready to jump into my story and pump out pages (as soon as I get home from the Clark Kent job tonight, of course). Murder By Death is coming to Atlanta in April, and I already have plans to go see them then too. I just can't resist that kind of rush.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Traveling Adventure

I'm heading out of town today. In a little while I'll be packed and in Jeff, heading down 85 to Atlanta. I'll pick up a couple friends and from there drive on to Bloomington, IN for a weekend road trip. We're going to see one of our favorite bands, Murder By Death. (You know they're a favorite if we're driving 800 miles one-way to see 'em).

I love road trips, I always have. Seeing new places excites me. Plus, I feel like a sponge right now, soaking up everything in sight to put back into my book. I love driving down the highway to the music blasting out of Jeff's speakers, pushing the gas pedal just a little too much. I love letting someone else drive, too, so I can sit in the passenger seat and stare out the window for a while at the passing scenery. Any passing scenery will do - everything interests me. I like to think about the people who might be living in the houses I'm passing. What the farm I see from a mile away on the highway might be harvesting this summer. I love watching woods and creeks and fenced-off land roll along just beyond my window, all the time using my imagination to put myself along the trails I see, kicking through the blanket of fallen leaves and listening to the hum of the highway just over my left shoulder.

Road trip adventures are a nice little reset on real life, as well. There's nothing like getting out of town for a couple of days to help you get perspective on your life. The Clark Kent job fades and becomes a whisper in the back of my mind (unless, of course, we pass a bowling alley). I focus on what's before me, the road, the adventure, and forget about the stress and frustration of everyday life. It's refreshing.

I lived in Indiana for four years, and though it's a helluva drive to deal with in just one weekend, visiting is also always fun. It's a different environment from the South entirely - Hoosiers are so strange to my South Carolina born-and-bred brain. I mean... I mean, these are people who work when it snows. Can you really trust someone who drives to work when it snows? It's a foreign concept to me (which had to be put on hold for those four years, but that's a different blog entry). Bloomington is a college town - it's where IU is - and it's a fun little burg, about an hour from Indianapolis.

I'm taking the laptop with me and hope to continue banging out words on the novel, at least for a little while, during the weekend. I'm thinking I'll use it to get me to sleep tonight and tomorrow instead of a book. That's the plan, anyway. I don't want to be away from it for three days; the story's too hot in my head. I need to get it down, and fast. I may even find out if I can spread out in Jeff's back seat while a friend drives, that's how urgent the need to write has become. Besides, I need to learn to write on the road, right? Sooner or later I might have to do a book tour. ;)

This particular trip to Indiana seems like a pilgrimage. I don't know if nearing the end of a long creative work elevates everything to a surreal significance in everyone else's mind, but it seems to be doing that in mine. Everything has a strange confluence at the moment that lurks just below the surface of reality. It's like the whole world has been covered with a thin skin of solidity and I can see through to the odd (but beautiful) workings beneath. I can almost hear the clockwork of reality ticking right now. It makes everything important to me. I'm counting dates, adding up numbers, attaching special significance to every synchronicity I run across. It makes me feel like a lunatic sometimes, but I don't worry about that. Artists are crazy; we've known that since time immemorial.

Speaking of time... as Alice's white-furred friend says, I'm late! I must go pack for my mini-adventure. I'll report back on Monday how the trip went for all of your records (I know you're keeping them). Have a great weekend, friends!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Using Real Life

Since this is my first novel, I'm discovering the process of how my book is being created as I go. Every day it feels like I find a new corner of this creative process and I'm always amazed at how much of my everyday life goes into the production of this book.

I guess it never occurred to me before how much fiction is based on actual real life events, but presented in such a way so that it reads as make-believe. A story has to come from somewhere, and while my imagination may supply the plot, the characters, the conflicts, and the resolution, my brain uses all sorts of things I observe and dumps them back into the story. I notice the setting-related items most often. At the moment I'm in the middle of a scene where Jack heads to the local bowling alley to see if he can find his missing brother-in-law. I'm having a blast creating this little out-of-the-way bowling center, and I'm using everything I can from the Clark Kent job to make the scene more realistic.

I've seen so many things from my own life spun into the web of this novel - things I didn't even plan, my brain just plucked them out of my subconscious and used them automatically for window dressing. Riverbanks. Flags on the fruit stand. The hot South Carolina summer and all its accoutrements, from the continuously singing insects to the flat heat laying on top of your skin like a blanket you can never pull off.

Now that I know and understand this part of the writing process, I find myself hoarding ideas and images in my mind for later use. Terrible yellow light spilling out onto the land just before sunset, bathing everything in a surreal coating of sinister gold? Check. Old man at a liquor store, smacking teeth against dentures, plucking at the front pocket of his overalls? Check. Cool and calm screened-in back porch on a summer evening, enjoyed with a fresh bowl of cut peaches? Check.

It makes me wonder, now as I go back and read books by favorite authors, how many images and scenes were taken directly from that writer's life. Now when I read Stephen King - especially the last two books in the Dark Tower series - I get a real sense of who he is, and how Maine influences him and his writing.

The windows of the buildings in my mind came from somewhere outside myself - it's amazing to watch those buildings grow and change as my environment shapes the tale I'm spinning.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

43 Years

Today is my mom and dad's wedding anniversary. They were married in the spring of 1967, 43 years ago. After four decades of child rearing, moves, jobs, retirements, illnesses, vacations, joys, sorrows, and everything else the Universe can throw at you in such a span of time, they're still together, still leaning on each other and loving each other and showing me the value of perseverance in every action.

My parents were instrumental in my writing career. My father is an avid reader, and I taught myself to read at age 3 because I wanted to read books like my dad. My mother was an elementary school teacher with a masters' degree in reading education, so I'm sure that had something to do with it as well. I wrote my first "book" when I was four years old, and my mother still has it in her cedar chest. It was a little five-or-six page tome with a green construction paper cover, and it was all about leprechauns. I seem to remember one leprechaun lecturing the other about getting too excited about the upcoming St. Patrick's day ("Wait until it gets in the teens," the wise leprechaun said to his younger counterpart, "then we can start getting ready to party!"). I'm not sure when I wrote it, but it stands to reason that it was near the holiday, so... wow. Just realized, it was 30 years ago. Wow.

As I grew my mother fostered my love for reading by never taking away my books, ever, even for punishment. She just couldn't bring herself to do it. My parents bought me hundreds of books when I was a child, and I read them all over and over again. I took a book everywhere I went - school, road trips, out to eat - and neither of them told me to "put that book down". When I started writing short stories and poetry in middle school, Mom read every word with such enthusiasm, I had no choice but to write more.

They sent me to Governor's School in 1991 and again in 1993; they helped me get to college and prepare for the original monologue which got me a scholarship to Coker. They weren't pleased when I dropped out of college a year and a half later, but as always, they continued to love me and give me as much emotional support as they could. They put up with my mood swings and mental instabilities; they continued to love and accept me as I became an adult and made choices they didn't necessarily agree with.

When I moved to Indiana, they were doubtful of the course of action, but over the four years of my stay there (ha, typing it like that makes it sound like a prison sentence), they gradually warmed to the place, especially after seeing how well I was doing. When I moved back to SC, they were ecstatic.

A year after living in my little house off Augusta Street in Greenville, my dad came to me and said he wanted to help me in my quest to be a writer. "I'm not the artistic one," he told me. "But I can help sponsor some of what you need." He bought me the laptop I'm writing this blog post on after that conversation. Later on, a laser printer was added to the laptop, and he's going to help me go to some conventions later this year and next spring.

Mom has joined my Facebook fan page, reads my journal and Twitter, and passes my stories on to her friends, just as excited to read my words now as she was when I was a child. Her calm faith in God and unending well of love for me never ceases to amaze and move me. She's such an inspiration.

They were, and are, my biggest (not to mention first) fans. I love you, Mom and Dad. Happy Anniversary.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Update on the Novel

For those of you that aren't aware, I'm writing my first novel, which I expect to be completed the first of May. I've never attempted writing a book before, and I've found this to be the most exhilarating writing experience I've ever had.

It's also the longest experience I've ever had - this is definitely the most prolific thing I've written. I've composed many shorts over the years, and had a few published, but this project left those stories in the dust, length- and content-wise, months ago. It's intimidating to go back over those pages. Sometimes I look at all of them and say, "did I really write all this stuff?? When did that happen?!" It took me a long time to commit to writing a novel because I wasn't sure I had one in me. Now I feel like book-length manuscripts are all I want to write!

Composing a novel-length manuscript is its own emotional roller coaster ride. I've never experienced such amazing highs (and lows) concerning one particular project. I started writing in August of last year, and gave myself nine months to complete the project. It might seem weird, but chose the nine month mark because I feel as if I'm giving birth to something. I kind of think of this book as my first child, and I want to give it enough time to grow and mature and change into whatever it's going to be.

Recently (after hitting 50,000 words last month) I've realized the book has finally become its own entity. Knock out all the supports and props from underneath it and it still stands - shaky, grappling for purchase sometimes, holding on to whatever it can to steady its steps - because it has become its own creature, which lives and breathes through me. Soon it'll be ready to unleash upon an unsuspecting world.

I currently have 217 pages and 63,000 words. My goal is 100,000, and I feel sure I will either meet that goal or come close enough to rock-throwing distance of it by the first of May. I've reached the beginning of the real action in the story, leading up to the climax, and it's so exciting! I can't stop writing. The story has taken me over.

I've also learned so much about my own novel writing process with this project. I'm sure the next baby will be born after less than nine months... and it'll be an easier delivery, too.

It's a strange piece of horror I'm composing, one that includes ghosts, telepathy, peach orchards, red clay, witchy women, death, insanity... all tied together by the dark undulating ribbon of Southern culture. I can't wait for it to be done.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Today I'm listening to the album Black Ribbons, by Shooter Jennings and Hierophant. I found this album through a news article on MSN about musicians and writers collaborating on projects.

Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon Jennings, plays a mix of rock and country that can't exactly be called rockabilly but still seriously rocks socks. Black Ribbons is an ambitious concept album and plays with a lot of different types of music and sounds. The thing that drew me to this album was the fact that Stephen King collaborated with the band on the project.

The album is set during an apocalyptic time for the human race in general and America specifically. The government is taking over airwaves and has eviscerated the concept of free speech. The country's last talk radio personality, Will O' The Wisp, is inviting his listeners to participate in one last night of free thinking and great music. Will is voiced by Stephen King himself, and he has several tracks on the album which he speaks on.

Shooter's concept for the radio DJ was less of a "Wolfman Jack" kind of personality and more of a thinking man's talk radio guy - "It was more the brain attached to the voice that was so important," he says in his interview with MSN. Stephen King fit the bill perfectly, especially since he was already a fan of Shooter's band. When Shooter contacted King about it, the writer was enthusiastic about the idea, but wasn't quite sure where Shooter wanted to go with it. Shooter sent him a couple of pages of notes, but wanted King to put his own flair on the album as well. Shooter says he was "open to him [King] writing the whole (narration) and I definitely didn't want to push my words on this guy, but I think he was looking for a little direction so I wrote a mock-up of what I believed it should be. He took that and doctored it and made it a hundred times better".

I love Stephen King and while I'm not familiar with Shooter Jennings's work (or I wasn't until today, anyway), I'm always open to giving new music a try. I've been listening to it at the Clark Kent job today and while I haven't been able to give it my whole attention for the entire time it's been playing, I like what I've heard so far. I plan to give it another listen when I can devote my full brain to what Shooter and Stephen King are saying.

Projects like this excite me. I'd love to do one with a band. I've been kicking around an idea inspired by the Murder By Death album Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? for a while, but I want to finish the projects on my plate before I delve into anything else. It's an intriguing idea, though. I also love how much effort Shooter's put into making the album a full-sensory experience for his fans; he's put a lot of thought into how his website can be used with the apocalyptic concept. It's fun, if you get a chance it's worth a gander.

If you'd like to read the MSN article that turned me on to this album, go here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Cappella Zoo and "The Letter"

I found out something pretty exciting day before yesterday: my story "The Letter" is now available online at the A Cappella Zoo eZine!

A Cappella Zoo
is a perfect-bound, beautiful print magazine that also posts their past issues online with authors' permissions. I found this market through Duotrope, which is an amazing online resource for fiction and poetry writers.

A word about Duotrope... Duotrope is an online writers' market which is in a constant state of being updated by their dedicated staff. There's a search engine on the website that's easy to use and searches over 1000 markets for the print publications that fit a writer's particular publishing needs. It's a very customizable engine and you can sort by all kinds of things... how the market is issued (print or electronic), what the market pays, genre, response time to submissions, percentage of acceptances, how the market accepts work (through post or email), and lots of other options as well. I've found it to be one of the most valuable tools I've used over the last few years. It's always up-to-date, and new markets are added every day. There's also a nifty submissions tracker where you update your personal information on which markets you've sent work to. It keeps track of all their information so you don't have to! Fellow writers, if you haven't seen it yet, you really should check it out.

OK, back to A Cappella Zoo. I was published in the spring volume of this market last year, in Volume One, Issue Two. This was the first piece I was ever paid for - very exciting! They offered to pay via PayPal or check, and I asked for a check so I could have something physical to put in a frame. Call me sentimental, but getting paid for my work for the first time was so monumental, I had to celebrate it somehow.

I couldn't have been more pleased with how the book looked and felt in my hands, and my story began on page 75 of the volume - a number that has significance for me, as it's the year of my birth and the number I use in my email address. Here's a picture of the beautiful cover, artwork by Jim Fuess:

I was tickled by how professional it looked and how excited the editor, Colin, was about his market and my story. He was a joy to work with, and still is. He sends out regular updates to his contributors and asks us to make sure we send updated author bios every now and again so the information on the A Cappella Zoo website is correct. He's also offered to review my novel when it's completed! What a great market to work with.

The story is set in Charleston, and it's about a lonely, sad man who meets a peculiar old woman one day at the busy downtown Charleston old Slave Market - a sort of high-class flea market that's walking distance from many significant locations in downtown Charleston. The old woman gives him a gift: one wish for his birthday. I wrote this story several years ago, back in '99 or '00. When I pulled it out of my archives and dusted it off in 2008, I saw it needed only minimal tweaks and a little polishing, so I cleaned it up and sent it out. It only had one stop before A Cappella Zoo, where it found a happy home. This publication was a great experience.

The online version of "The Letter" can be found here. If you decide to take a gander at it, I'd love to know what you think, dear readers.

I'm so excited to have a piece published in an online eZine that I can send my new friends to! I love being able to point people in the direction of my work so they can get a taste of what I do. Thanks, A Cappella Zoo and Colin!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blog Awards!

One thing I've learned in the month and a half or so since I've been blogging is the writers' circle of bloggers is a close-knit, friendly, encouraging bunch. I've gotten love from so many corners of the blog-o-sphere, and I'm overwhelmed. Two of my followers have given my blog awards over the past few weeks, and I wanted to pass that info along! It's so exciting to be recognized by such great writers!

First - the Circle of Friends award, given to me by Helen Ginger.

I'm honored and so pleased that such a prolific blogger extended this award to me! As Helen says, "There are no rules about telling things about yourself or writing a piece of flash fiction using certain words or starting a chain recipe letter. You simply choose five blogs that you visit and enjoy and pass the award on to them."

Here are the five blogs I've chosen for my Circle of Friends award: Gail Gray, Jen Knox, Arlee Bird, Tamika, and Alex J. Cavanaugh. There's a lot of variety here - from magical realism to movie reviews - so go show these guys some love! Blogger friends, if you've been given this award before, I apologize if it's a repeat - just know that I appreciate you and your comments so much, and am so glad to have you as "blogfriends"!

The second award I was given came to me from Arlee Bird at Tossing it Out. It's the Prolific Blogger Award!

Thanks so much, Lee, for giving me this award. I've only been doing this for a few weeks, so for someone to label me as "prolific" really makes me feel good. I have no access to the internet at my home, so it's difficult to be prolific when you're at the mercy of wifi hotspots or the intermittent connection at work. I've been trying to post every other day (every day if I can), though, and it's great that my hard work has been noticed.

In the spirit of recognizing writers who're dedicated to posting regularly for all us bloggerfans to read, I'd like to pass this award on to a few folks I've found in the past weeks:

Gail Gray at The Shaman Papers - I know I just gave Gail the Circle of Friends award, but she also deserves this one. A dedicated writer, mom, friend, grandmother, editor, artist, and all-around inspiration, Gail is a writer who's just had her first novel, Shaman Circus, published recently. Her blogs are a mix of technical information as well as observations on her artist's journey, and always a good read.

Watery Tart at Confessions of a Watery Tart - WT updates her blog just about every day, and it's always a fun read. Whether she's talking about working on her current novel, the significance of llamas in the world, or rampant nudity, she has a great voice and hangs it all out there for everyone to read (pun most certainly intended). Wonderful read!

Megan Bostic at The Angsty Writer - Megan posts a lot about her family and her home life, along with notes about her journey as a writer. Her posts are always fun to read and she posts just about every day. She's been posting lately about life with two middle school girls, and the last few entries I've read have had me rolling.

Check these blogs out, guys! They're well worth your time.

Thanks again to Helen and Lee for passing these on to me! I love how much support everyone gives each other out here. It's so encouraging!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Inspiration Strikes

Story ideas come to me in some of the most inopportune places, as I've mentioned before in a blog entry or two. I'm learning my way around those obstacles, and now when inspiration hits me like a lightning bolt from a cool blue sky, I'm more prepared to take note and listen to what the universe has to say. I've developed a connection with my car that tiptoes along the border between quirky and obsessive... to me, it has its own personality, even its own name: Jeff. Yeah, Jeff. Jeff has his windows tinted, so I joke about how he wears his sunglasses at night. On long, rambling expeditions around the city of Greenville which stimulate the right side of my brain into giving up invaluable nuggets of inspiration, he's a good friend, and his own strange species of noble metal-and-fiberglass steed.

I often use the time I have in the car to allow my mind to wander wherever it wants to. On my way home from work or a friend's house, I'll take alternate, longer routes without even thinking about which way I'm going, just grooving along with the music pouring out of my speakers and digging the vibration of my rolling wheels. Sometimes my subconscious makes interesting connections about the characters and story I'm writing. More often, I'm able to get into the mindset of a character and get a feeling for how they think or speak or what their feelings or opinions are on situations in the story they live in. It's a time where I'm unplugged but still switched on, almost hypnotized by the dotted white line in the middle of the road and its predictable Morse code disappearing under my wheels.

Driving like this (almost exclusively at night) gives me a chance to mentally gnaw on whatever I'm working on, which these past few months has been the novel. I'm constantly thinking of Bulton, or my main characters (Dan, Jack, and Miss Mary are the most common thought-thieves), or how the different ribbons of storyline are slowly braiding together to make one long, strange, beautiful tale. There are no distractions, no books, cats, roommates, movies, games, websites to steal my focus and clutter up my artist's mind. Just me, my music, and the whispering pavement under my tires.

And then every so often, when I least expect it, the Universe sends me a big old special delivery package via the channels of my awake-yet-dreaming brain, and I'm so overcome with excitement I can barely contain myself. This is when the new toy of the voice recorder in my phone comes in handy. I used it just last night, to record an idea which made me so happy, I was dancing in the driver's seat (as much as it would allow, anyway). I was just driving along, not really thinking about anything in particular on the surface of my brain, just letting the boys in the basement of my subconscious fart around and mutter about whatever they wanted, and then there it was. An idea of such loveliness and artistic proportions I had to record it right away, before I forgot any of its nuances. I yanked my phone out of my pocket and babbled away for three minutes into its voice recorder. Once I got it all out onto the recording, I had that happy-yet-drained feeling I get after a brainstorming session... as if my mind is a muscle I've been exercising heavily and is now spent but rewarded with the feeling of a job well done.

What was the idea, you ask? Heh... that has to wait for another entry. ;)

Monday, March 1, 2010

South Carolina Book Festival

I went to the South Carolina Book Festival with Brian K. Ladd and Gail Gray yesterday. It was a fun trip, and as Brian said earlier this morning, "definitely an eye-opening experience".

I wish I'd had a chance to go to all three days of the Festival. There were a lot of interesting people, especially authors, in attendance. We sat in on two panels on Sunday: Debut Novelists and Science Fiction and Fantasy: What's the Difference?

The first panel featured four authors who have published their first novels within the last year: Brian Ray, Heidi Durrow, Batt Humphreys, and Dale Neal. They all had insightful things to say about publishing your first novel, but as a first-time novelist who's gearing up to send queries out to agents this summer, I unfortunately heard nothing helpful regarding the traditional submission of query letters and networking in the publishing world. Three of the four authors had won a contest to get their book published, and the fourth, a journalist with 30 years experience at CBS, was approached to write his book.

This lack of query-and-networking commentary (and, evidently, experience) was frustrating. It was kind of like attending a seminar on how to get rich and the speakers at that seminar encouraging you to buy lottery tickets. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure each of the three authors who'd won publishing contests wrote beautiful books - each of which I'd like to take a closer look at. You don't win contests by writing crap. I give each of those writers my utmost respect. But is 3/4 of the panel being contest winners really an accurate representation of the hundreds (if not thousands) of authors who get published each year? I would've liked to've seen a more realistic approach to getting published from these "Debut Novelists".

I definitely got more information out of the second panel, and enjoyed myself a lot more as well. James O'Neal talked about his new series of futuristic crime novels, while Janice Hardy discussed her "Healing Wars" fantasy novels, a trilogy which begins with the novel The Shifter. Both of these novelists had a lot to say about the differences and similarities between science fiction and fantasy, and they had a great chemistry for a two-person panel. Janice defined the difference between science fiction and fantasy as "Fantasy writing is the exploration of the impossible. Science fiction is the exploration of what could be probable." Interesting, huh? I also got some great insights on how cops handle certain situation from James, and hope to incorporate it into the novel - considering one of my main characters is a police officer, this was a great find!

After the panels, we walked the exhibit floor and talked to several different authors. My favorite by far was Nick Valentino, a steampunk and fantasy writer who's just published his first novel, Thomas Riley. Nick had some great marketing going on. He recruited a USC student to dress up in steampunk gear and hand out flyers for his booth at the door. Nick also dressed up in his own steampunk outfit, and handed out beautiful press cards and nifty swag like this cool iron-on patch:

I got one of these for myself and another for a friend who's crazy about steampunk. Nick was ingratiating and fun, and made us feel welcome in his booth. We pooled our money and bought his book, and he signed it for us after making us promise we'd become part of his "Sky Pirate Army". It was so much fun!

Aside from Nick, there was very little fantasy or science fiction showcased, and absolutely NO horror at all. This was another disheartening discovery for me. I hope the SC Book Festival will broaden their horizons in the years to come (especially when I have a book I'd like to showcase there, heh).

Even though it was a mixed bag of tricks, I'd definitely go to the SC Book Festival again next year. I feel it's important to meet other authors and show my support for the writers in South Carolina, and this festival is just one of the many ways I can achieve that goal.