Friday, May 28, 2010

Hello, Random Friday

Happy Friday, friends!

Welcome to all my new followers! I'm overwhelmed at the response I've gotten to the Pay it Forward Giveaway. Not only have I received 31 new followers, but so many people have been spreading the word via their blogs, facebook pages, and twitter. I'm amazed!

I said I was going to point you in the direction of a few of my favorite entries... In February, I talked about sleepwriting and introduced my phrase, "the Clark Kent job" (which, if you stick around, you'll probably hear me say every now and again). In March we discussed pacing yourself in big projects and never giving up regardless of how many rejections I get. And last month, during Arlee Bird's A to Z blog challenge, I shared what I thought about the concept of found stories and how I use auditory detail in my fiction. There are some fun places to start in there; I hope you enjoy them.

I had the honor of reading over the first draft of the screenplay for Plateye with Curtis and Shane from Mooks in the Movies, and I had a lot of fun. Has anybody else out there thought about writing a screenplay? I do love fiction, but reading a script has put me in the mood to try something new...

I'll be working at the Clark Kent job all weekend, at a fun little event here in Upstate SC called Freedom Weekend Aloft. It should be fun, but I will be in charge of our booth for all shifts on all days, which means I'll be working 50+ hours over the weekend. This comes at a CRAPTASTIC time for me, as you know, because I'm desperately trying to finish my WIP novel. I know it won't be the end of the world if I finish in June, but I'm so close, and I really want to hit that goal of being finished in May if I can. Also, I've reached the point where the story is fairly flying along, but I just don't have the time I need to devote to hours of getting it out. I'm serious. I'll be writing and writing and writing, and when I look up at the clock, four hours have passed. Sleep... what is that, again?

I'm wearing my grandfather's dog tags today. They're helping me remember a few things: patience, courage, determination. In everything I do - working, writing, living, I want to try to keep those ideals in mind. It's also fitting that I'm wearing them this close to Memorial Day - they help me remember the sacrifices he, and every American soldier, have made in order to ensure our continued liberty.

I hope y'all have a great weekend. I'll be back Monday (if I live through Freedom Weekend) with a full report on how things are going. Until then, friends.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quick Questions, For the Masses

Howdy, friends! Thanks to everybody who welcomed me back yesterday. I'm still riding the happy from my weekend, and all your kind comments and shared thoughts really added to my buzz. I can't stop smiling! You guys are awesome. It means a lot when you take the time to comment on my entries, so thanks very much.

I have a question. Do y'all comment on your visitors' comments, or do you leave it alone? Cruising the blog-o-sphere, I notice a healthy amount of both. What's your preference? Normally I don't comment on my own blog. I do, however, read every single comment made and if someone asks me a direct question I try to answer it, either in the comments or in a future blog entry.

And I have another question... But first, do the happy dance with me, BECAUSE I PASSED 125 followers yesterday! Welcome, everyone! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog! I hope you find some good reads here (I'll direct you to some of my favorite posts on Friday). Since I passed the 125 mark, I'm adding the MYSTERY PRIZE to the giveaway booty list! (Booty list... heh.) So, the question is... would you like to know what the mystery prize is on Friday when I give you a Pay it Forward update, or wait until the contest is over to find out?

Many thanks for your thoughts, friends.

Have a fantastic Hump Day!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reset Button

Hello, friends!

I've been absent from the internet for the past few days because I've been out of town. I went to the coast to celebrate a friend's upcoming marriage and we had a fantastic time. It was something I didn't know how much I needed until I was back home and thinking about how much better I felt after unplugging from everything for four days.

I've been living in my own little thundercloud for the past six weeks or so, and I didn't even realize how much the storm had consumed me until I was suddenly away from it with no way to get to a phone or the internet. Instead of the panic I was expecting, all I felt was a blessed form of relief. On the way home (a four hour drive by myself), I did a lot of thinking about my current situation - with the book, the Clark Kent job, everything. Being away from the whole scene helped me see how much I've been stressing out about everything, from word count to work duties, and how much of a toll it's taken on me. At least half of stress is perception based - you may not be able to change your stressors, but you can choose how you react to them - and I'm so grateful that I was given a chance to see that I need to change my perceptions about my daily life.

Instead of beating myself over the head with the goal of finishing the book by the end of May, I'm being a lot more kind to myself and rejoicing in how much work's been done. I know I'll finish, and probably within the time frame I've given myself - but I no longer feel as if I've failed or am in danger of failing an important task I've given to myself. The Clark Kent job does not feel like a prison sentence; it seems like a gift again. I'm refreshed and ready to finish this novel and get on to the next step in my life.

And when I got home, I saw so many lovely people have passed on my Pay it Forward giveaway on their blogs, twitter and Facebook! How incredible! You guys are an inspiration! It was amazing to see how things had progressed in the four days I was gone. Not only did more than ten people blog about the giveaway, but I also now have 121 followers! Only four more 'til the MYSTERY PRIZE is included in the booty list! (Booty list... now that was just fun to type, heh).

Are you stressing about something right now? Is it weighing down on you, or racing through your mind, keeping you from being calm? I know you might not be able to physically get away like I did this weekend, but try to mentally take a step back from that stress and see if you can take a different approach to the problem. Breathe - in through the nose for a four-count, hold it for a seven-count, let it out slowly through your mouth for an eight-count. Feel better? Need to vent? The comments section is always open.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Breathing Room

I'm nearing completion of the WIP MS, and as I do, I find myself longing for some breathing room. I feel like I've been holed up in my room forever, turning down social engagements and trying to crank out pages. My head is so filled with this book, it's all I can do to write a damn grocery list, let alone even consider any other project. All I can see is this story and the characters in it, what they're doing to each other and what the heck is gonna happen when everything collides together at the end.

Part of my timeline for getting this novel produced is letting the manuscript rest for a few weeks between completion of the first draft and the first editing run-through. I plan to use those weeks to work on some short stories, sort of as a mental palate-cleanser. I've been in my fictional town of Bulton for nine months now, almost ten, and it's time to see new things and new places in my mind's eye.

Getting the first draft of this huge project off my desk is going to be a relief, and I don't want to start something that long again for at least a few months. I know, too, that I'm only nearing the end of the first step; there's going to be a thorough revision process, and I need to get my head wrapped around that concept before I start another lengthy piece of work, and figure out how everthing fits into a new timeline.

Now that I've worked writing into my everyday(ish) schedule, I don't want to stop. I used to take long breaks between spells of writing - sometimes months would pass before I would pick up something and tinker with it - but I can't even begin to imagine living that way now. I'm delighted at the idea of using the time my MS needs to take a few shorts for a spin. Imagine, a tiny little piece of writing, with hardly any commitment at all! A perfect study of the abbreviated scene, the focus on action, the striking images needed to ensnare a reader in 6,000 words. And something I can add to my portfolio to boot! Man, that sounds like fun!

When you finish a long project, what do you do to give yourself some breathing room? Do you jump right into the next long project, or switch it up a little for variety?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pay it Forward Update

Hello all! I announced my very first blog contest, the Pay it Forward Giveaway, on Friday of last week, and I have a couple of updates about it for you!

First, THANKS for all the wonderful comments, reposting, and goodwill-spreading! I've gotten a great response for this so far! I can only hope the two weeks will continue to be as amazing as the first few days of the contest were. In just three days, I received over 200 entries from interested bloggers! WOW!

I also gained 11 followers already - YEAH!! Welcome, new folks! Take a look around! Here are a few entries for you to peruse while you're here. They're some of my most popular posts, and you can learn a bit about me and my blog if you decide to take a gander:

Lycanthropy Awareness
(from Arlee Bird's A to Z blog challenge)
A Fine Romance, With No Pages
Clark Kent vs. Superman

11 new people! That means we only have 14 more to go before a MYSTERY PRIZE gets added to the contest! Whoooo!! I think I'm as excited about that mystery prize as I am about the contest itself!

Also, Curt and Shane from Mooks in the Movies have thrown something out there to be added to the Pay it Forward Giveaway grand prize! As you know, the winner gets to choose EITHER a $25 gift card to the bookseller of their choice OR what I like to call an "Author Sponsorship Package" which includes me purchasing your published work (up to a $25 value), reviewing it on the blog and your bookselling website of choice, giving you and your work plugs on my Twitter and Facebook and hosting an author spotlight on my blog for you. Well, Curt and Shane are adding this little gem to that package:
To sweeten the pot, I am offering this. In addition to the sweetness of her prizes, we Mooks will name a character in one of our screenplays after the winner! You heard it right folks! Now, with respect to people's privacy, we will handle that this way:

We can name the character using your first name, screen name, or just a name you really like. We will also post a link to the winner's preferred media here on our blog as well. So, if you are the winner, you get your name used in one of our screenplays, and we will announce you as the winner, with a link to your blog, website, whatever!
How cool is THAT?? Awesome, huh? If you haven't had a chance yet, get on over there and follow their blog! You'll get +7 entries in the contest for it!

Also, Kierah Jane Reilly did her own spin on the Pay it Forward contest here. She started a really neat trend on her blog that's spread out to at least four other blogs so far... can't wait to see how far it goes! And I love your choices for the "In real life hangout", Keirah!

One more thing... the Pay it Forward Giveaway is inspiring another group of writers to compose some Pay it Forward drabbles! If you don't know what drabbles are: they're pieces of flash fiction, written in exactly 100 words. No more, no less. I can't wait to see more about this and share it with you as it develops!

Thank you so much to everybody who's gotten involved with this! I love this community!

The Pay it Forward Giveaway ends at midnight on Monday, May 31st! If you'd like to know more, visit this link for details!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fifteen Fantasy Island Favorites

When Arlee Bird asked me to participate in the Fifteen Fantasy Island Favorite blogfest, I agreed immediately, mostly because of how much fun the A to Z blog challenge was. (It didn't hurt that this is a wonderful Music Monday topic, as well.) I had no idea how hard making these decisions would be! I kind of agonized over these entries... I didn't know how much music I had that I was unwilling to part with! I was strict on myself and insisted that I only pick one album per artist, and I didn't pick any compilation or greatest hits albums...ok, maybe I'm a little OCD. I hope you guys enjoy my list. Please pardon my formatting... I'm really bad at this whole html editing thing, and I hope the album artwork comes across all right without giving you a massive headache. I linked to at least one of my favorite tracks on each album, so give some of these a listen if you get a chance!

Oh yeah, don't forget to check out the Pay it Forward Giveaway while you're here! There's a link in the sidebar as well. My first ever blog contest is going great so far! I can't wait to see what you guys come up with to spread the goodwill around.

All right, without further ado, here are my Fifteen Fantasy Island Favorites, in no particular order!

Funeral by the Arcade Fire
I mentioned the song "Wake Up" in an entry a couple of weeks ago. That song is on this album, along with Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), and Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels). It's a musical masterpiece with moving, epic tracks I would want to be able to listen to no matter where I was.

Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? by Murder by Death
This concept album tells the story of the Devil coming to a small town in New Mexico. One of MBD's most famous tracks, "Until Morale Improves, the Beatings Will Continue" is on this album. It's classic Murder By Death all the way, and if I have to pick just one of their albums to take with me, this is it.

Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend
This is a fun, summer-type album. With great tracks like "A-Punk", I would party on the beach of my desert island 'til the sun came up.

Surfer Rosa by the Pixies
This is my favorite Pixies album, with the cool "Gigantic", crazy-genius "Vamos", and generational anthem "Where is my Mind?" (By the way, I loved that song BEFORE Fight Club. Sigh.)

Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) by Cloud Cult
The song "Journey of the Featherless" is one of my favorite tracks on this album; it sums up the optimism and love of the whole track listing. You should really give it a listen. If you get a chance, "No One Said it Would Be Easy" is amazing, too...

Give Up by the Postal Service
I became a Postal Service fan after hearing the song "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" off this album. The band is sort of emo-punk-techno... hard to explain, but I love it.

The Long Run by the Eagles
A huge influence on my current WIP MS, I can't leave this album out. It has some really great classic Eagles songs, like "Heartache Tonight", "Those Shoes" and "In The City". This was a really hard choice because I love the Southern Rock style of the Eagles so much (even though they're from California, ha!), but I had to go with this album out of all the rest, if for no other reason than "Heartache Tonight"... it's practically the theme song for my novel.

Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen
Remember 1984? Members Only jackets? Parachute pants? Slap bracelets? Bruce Springsteen singing about being Born in the U.S.A.? About Dancing in the Dark? Remember Ronald Reagan trying to make this the theme song for his campaign? Yeah, I was only nine, but even *I* remember him getting shut down by The Boss.

Seven and the Ragged Tiger by Duran Duran
Again, I had to go with a childhood favorite. My dad was Bruce Springsteen, but my mom was Duran Duran. She was in love with Simon LeBon, the lead singer. She and my sister followed them around the Southeast one summer! This album always makes me think of being a kid... so it makes me smile. My favorites on this one are "New Moon on Monday" and "Union of the Snake".

Ten by Pearl Jam
...but I had to grow up sometime. This album was my constant companion in my junior year of high school. GRUNGE ROCK HO!! Songs like "Jeremy", "Evenflow", and "Alive" made this album one of the most popular records of the 90's, but my favorite track off this album was "Oceans".

The Downward Spiral
by Nine Inch Nails
The song "Closer" is what made this industrial rock album a legend, but there are a lot of other amazing tracks like "March of the Pigs", "Eraser" and "Hurt". I've seen Nine Inch Nails five times in concert, and the tracks from this album are always the ones that satisfy the most.

Violent Femmes by the Violent Femmes
An indie rock classic, with songs like "Blister in the Sun", "Gone Daddy Gone", and "Add it Up". Grab your skateboard and your angsty attitude... we've made a half-pipe out of pineapple trees.

Swamp Ophelia by the Indigo Girls
There are a lot of Indigo Girls albums out there, but I think this one is one of their most well-rounded works. This is a folk-country triumph, with songs like "Least Complicated" and "Fugitive" setting the tone for the rest of the album - a unique flavor of bittersweet triumph.

Elephant by the White Stripes
Jack White... how many ways can you rock us? How many, huh? This album has such great songs on it, like "The Hardest Button to Button" and "Seven Nation Army". I think it's one of their strongest pieces of work.

Synchronicity by the Police
Another remainder from my childhood. I love the Police - their strange mixture of musical movements has enchanted me for three decades. My favorite tracks off this one are "King of Pain" and "Synchronicity II".

Now it's time to scratch some records! We're having a coconut party by the fire tonight... wanna join?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pay it Forward Giveaway

Hello, friends!!

First, THANKS for all the kind comments on the entry regarding color in prose yesterday! I'm excited so many people liked the idea. And YES, I hit 100 followers! *internet high fives all around* Thank you, everybody!

Second, a story -

I pulled the cash out of the bank envelope. A hundred dollars cash back, just like I'd...

Wait a sec.

Four twenties and a hundred? I checked my deposit receipt and blinked in surprise. It showed the amount I'd asked to be deposited.

Eighty extra dollars...

I've told you a little about my life, enough for you to know I'm pretty damn poor, right? Eighty dollars. SO much money. And in cash... untraceable, I said to myself. I kept seeing the little yellow Community Chest card from Monopoly.

I drove around the block. Take it back or keep it? My brain was yelling for that cash. But my gut and my heart were reminding me of KARMA... and I just couldn't in good conscience keep the extra money. It wasn't mine to keep! Before I could talk myself out of it, I went back to the bank and went in.

When the teller counted her drawer and realized I wasn't joking about an extra eighty dollars in my envelope, she looked at me, pale in the overhead fluorescents. Her eyes were wide. "Thank you," she said in a trembling voice. "You literally just saved my job." She went on to explain that anything more than a $50 discrepancy in a drawer was grounds for instant termination.

She also told me that she had never experienced a customer coming back in to give back money after a mistake had been made. She looked at me as if I'd grown an extra head. Grateful, but wary.

She thanked me again, and I told her if she really wanted to thank me, she should just pass the good deed along. She gave me a little smile and nodded. Who knows? It just might work.

End of the story. Well, that particular chapter, anyway. Or, perhaps it was a prologue? Because I'd like to announce my first-ever blog contest! Flourish of trumpets, please!

The B. Miller Fiction
Pay It Forward Giveaway

So... seems as if doing the right thing has gone outta style. I'd like to try to change that. And I'd like you to help me. First, let me tell you what the prize is ('cause I hate waiting, and I know you do too).

The grand prize for this giveaway is the winner's choice. EITHER a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble (or Borders, Amazon, etc - whichever you prefer) sent directly to your preferred mail receptacle, OR...

If you are a writer with published work available for purchase, I will buy your novel/story collection/chapbook, etc., up to a value of $25. I will also read your work and give a review on your chosen website, as well as a review and a plug on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook fan page. I will go to my local library and booksellers and ask that your work be stocked on my local shelves in Greenville, South Carolina. And, if you're willing, I will do a guest feature on my blog for you, complete with interview and links to your media.

Yes! You're smiling! I can tell! Awesome!

OK, ready to hear the rules?

This will be, like many contests out there in blogland, a multiple-entry contest. Here are the basic ways to get entries:

Comment on this post: +1
New follower: +1
Old follower: +2
Tweet or post on Facebook about this contest: +2
Follow me on Twitter (@bmillerfiction): +2
Become my fan on Facebook (see sidebar): +2
Blog about this contest: +3
Include this post in your sidebar: +3

This contest is called "Pay it Forward" for a reason. I want to support my writing community however I can, which is why my grand prize is one of your books. I'd also like to help some fellow bloggers expand their audience. So, if you go follow any of these blogs, you'll get +7 entries in the contest.

Kierah Jane Reilly
Curtis and Shane at Mooks in the Movies
Dawn at Through the Looking Glass

Write a story or a poem about paying it forward. Post it on your blog, with a link back to this entry. You'll get +10 entries.

Still with me? OK, last thing... do something selfless. Doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's something outside of your usual routine. Something you have to go out of your way to do. If the recipient of your good deed asks you how they can repay you, tell them to pass the goodwill along to someone else. Post about this encounter in your blog. Link back to this post. Make sure to let me know with a comment (or send me an email at millerb75 at gmail dot com). For this, you will get an additional +25 entries.

This contest will run until the end of the month. I will be announcing the winner on Tuesday, June 1st. I'm also working to get the WIP MS done by the end of the month so we will have cause for a double celebration! YEAH!

I will also be giving away a MYSTERY PRIZE for each additional 25 followers on my blog. Oooooo... You can't resist a mystery, can you?! :D

Don't forget to let me know what you've done to up your contest entries. Post them on this entry or email them to me at millerb75 at gmail dot com. Remember, if you don't let me know what you've done, you won't get the extra entries. If you have questions, comments, etc, feel free to drop me an email.

Good luck, friends! Oh... and have a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Color Your Prose

Ever think about how color can affect the theme and mood of your story?

The movie Schindler's List, directed by Steven Spielberg, was almost completely shot in black and white... except for the little girl in the red coat. We see her through Schindler's eyes, standing out in the crowd of Jews waiting to be processed... then later, heaped onto a wagon of corpses, still wearing her little red coat. A lot of people have speculated about what the color red means - perhaps the red symbolizes a lost innocence, or the blood of the Jewish people spilled by the Nazis. But Spielberg himself had this to say:
"America and Russia and England all knew about the Holocaust when it was happening, and yet we did nothing about it. We didn’t assign any of our forces to stopping the march toward death, the inexorable march toward death. It was a large bloodstain, primary red color on everyone’s radar, but no one did anything about it. And that’s why I wanted to bring the color red in."
Or take into account the movie The Sixth Sense, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. He also used the color red repeatedly throughout his film, to symbolize when the spirit world and the real world were brushing up against each other. When Cole sees the ghost in his room, he's hiding in a red tent. At the boy's birthday party where the bullies lock Cole in the attic, he's following a red birthday balloon to the top of the stairs, and he's wearing a red sweater. There are many other examples of this symbolism used throughout the movie.

Is this something we can incorporate into our prose? The repetitive use of color is a subtle trick we can use to help set the theme and mood of our writing. Perhaps a character who's in an abusive relationship always has an example of the color purple around them, to symbolize the color of bruises. Or a theme you're touching on - poverty in Middle America, maybe - can be used to highlight people and places who are affected by this theme. Like, everyone who's using government benefits wears or carries something yellow. Or the government offices could be in a yellow building.

I think this is something that could be applied as you craft your WIP or added in as you make the second pass through your manuscript for editing. After all, theme is something we don't necessarily incorporate into every line of prose as we compose our MS, but we can go back after it's complete and inject a little here and there to really beef up the story.

What do you think? Would you consider using color to enhance the theme and mood of your prose? Have you used tricks like this in the past, or have other ways of expressing symbolism you're particularly fond of?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tags, an Award, and my THANKS

I'd like to say THANKS to each and every one of you that left a comment on my blog entry about agents yesterday. The general consensus seems to be working with an agent is definitely preferable to working alone. I got some really insightful viewpoints from a lot of authors and I really, really appreciate all the feedback you guys left. As much as I love Stephen King, I think I'm going to go against his advice here. I feel that I need an agent to help me go to bat with the big guys. But I do appreciate his concern and will do my best to keep my eyes open for potential rip-off artists.

Last week my friend the Watery Tart tagged me in a little questionnaire and I wanted to go ahead and get the answers out there. Sorry for the delay, Hart!!

Question 1 - Where were you five years ago?
1) Living and working in Indianapolis, IN
2) Writing a few short stories here and there
3) Learning the importance of family
4) Missing my home in South Carolina
5) Finding out everything there is to know about commercial lighting

Question 2 - Where would you like to be five years from now?
1) On a book tour!
2) Not working the Clark Kent job any longer
3) Writing my third (or fourth) novel
4) Living in the South
5) Preparing for my 40th birthday party (it'll take months to plan, ha!)

Question 3 - What is (was) on your to do list today?
1) Working at the Clark Kent job
2) Writing a blog entry
3) Soldiering on towards the end of the WIP MS
4) Laundry... so much laundry!
5) Bowling with a couple of friends this evening

Question 4 - What 5 snacks do you enjoy?
1) Does delicious beer count??
2) Devil's food cookies
3) Mint Oreo fudge cremes... these are ridiculously good
4) Pistachios
5) Sopressata salami and fresh mozzerella

Question 5 - What would you do if you were a billionaire?
1) Pay off my family's houses, cars, and any other debt
2) Start a grant program for Southern writers
3) Create a new publishing house that's open to all genres
4) Buy a movie studio and make my own films
5) Travel all over the world

The other half of this little game is tagging five people to keep the questions going! Here are my tagged blogfriends:

Mel Chelsea of Caledonia Lass
Curtis and Shane of Mooks in the Movies
Lola Sharp of Sharp Pen/Dull Sword
Falen of Falen Formulates Fiction
Theresa Milstein of Substitute Teacher's Saga

Also, I was given a blog award last week by Laura Marcella of Wavy Lines!

Thanks for the Superior Scribbler award, Laura!! I'm passing this on to the following blogs:

Alex J. Cavanaugh
Simon C. Larter
Beth Revis

These guys are awesome and if you don't know 'em yet, try to take a minute today to check 'em out!

One more thing... 99 followers!! As soon as I hit that hundred mark I'm announcing a blog contest! YEAH!! Check back soon for more details!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Agent or No?

I read this excellent article the other day on Great Writing. It's called "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully: in Ten Minutes" and it was written by Stephen King.

There are some really wonderful tips in here, many of which are featured in the book On Writing. If you get a chance today, you should bounce over there and take a look at the list. It's a great read.

The point which I've been thinking about a lot over the past few days is #11: An agent? Forget it. For now. King has this to say about agents:
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other necessity of life. Flog your stories around yourself. If you've done a novel, send around query letters to publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the manuscript complete. And remember Stephen King's First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don't need one until you're making enough for someone to steal ... and if you're making that much, you'll be able to take your pick of good agents.
I'm very close to finishing the first draft of my WIP novel, and while I haven't started shopping for an agent yet, I've been kicking the idea around in the back of my mind for a couple of months. After all, part of my timeline is going to the South Carolina Writers' Workshop to meet an agent, or possibly a host of them. I guess I thought of agents as advisers who go to bat for writers with publishing companies. But now that I've read this, I see his point. No agent is going to represent someone they can't make money off of.

So how do I handle the next phase of the MS without an agent? Do I shop my book to big publishers and just hope for the best? At this point, I still want to go to the conference and talk to some agents. I know Stephen King had a bad experience with an agent and this happens to a lot of people, but at the same time I am very intimidated by the idea of soliciting my manuscript without representation.

Writers, I need your input here. Do you work with an agent or are you flying solo? Which do you prefer? Which makes more sense? And how did you meet your agent (if you have one)? If you sent an unsolicited MS... did you send it to someone you know, or just send it out blindly?

Any and all comments are appreciated!

Monday, May 10, 2010

PRESSURE... and Gratitude!

Happy Monday, everybody!

Oh, I hear you... Ugghhh... What's so happy about Monday, B.??? Believe me, I'm having a hard time convincing myself there's occasion to be enthusiastic. But there is. First off, it's Yvonne's and Ellie's birthdays today, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ladies! Head over there and wish them a happy birthday today if you can.

Secondly, I will be announcing my FIRST EVER blog contest very soon! I am very close to hitting 100 followers and I want to do something to celebrate. (I'm also within rock-throwing distance of finishing the first draft of my WIP novel, so that'll be part of the party too!) Make sure to check back here this week for an important contest announcement. I'm very pleased about my idea for a prize and I think y'all will be too.

Also, I don't know about your neck of the woods, but South Carolina is having one of its gorgeous pre-summer weeks... perfect temperature, bright blue skies, green everywhere, a soothing breeze... you can't ask for much better weather than this. It'll be hotter than the law should allow in a few weeks, so I'm doing my best to appreciate what I have right now.

I guess that's my motto at the moment... appreciate what I have now, because you don't know how long it will last. I took a couple of days off from blogging last week to get my head straight after losing a close friend, and after spending some time doing a lot of serious thinking, what I keep coming back to is a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the people I know, the friends I have, my ability to lose myself in my writing. Yesterday, Mother's Day, was an exercise in gratitude for my family. There are so many things to be grateful for and I am trying to recognize each of these things and rejoice in them. One of those things is YOU, my friend. I love my blogging community and am so glad I'm a part of it. You guys keep me going! Thanks for all that you do.

My music-related feature for Music Monday this week is this video from Billy Joel. It's an old song but a great one. (I can't believe this song is almost thirty years old!) I was thinking about it last night because of all the ridiculous CRAP I gotta get done this week. "Real-life" stuff at the Clark Kent job, mostly, but there are other things that have to get done too. But I'm refusing to buckle under the PRESSURE... I'm trying to use it to my advantage.


That's it for Monday. Hope you have a fantastic week, friend!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Primal Scream Blogfest

Hello, readers! I've missed my blog friends. Things have been a little discombobulated in the Miller brainpan for the last week or so (as I'm sure you understand). I'm getting back into the swing of things and am going to get back to blogging regularly as quickly as I can. I'd really like to thank every one of you that left such kind words and thoughts on my post yesterday. Every bit of support I've gotten from so many corners of the internet has really helped me pull through this. The hardest thing to do is face something like that alone, and there wasn't a minute this week that I felt lonely. So thanks.

I missed my chance to post on the actual day for Raquel Byrnes's Primal Scream blogfest (so very sorry, Raquel!), but I'm making up for it today. I'm posting an excerpt from my short story, "Yellow Bus Tuesday". I hope it disturbs you. Bwah-hahahaha! There were 24 entries in this blogfest as of this morning, and I'm adding mine after this is posted. There are some amazing reads over there so you should definitely go check out the list. And if you're not familiar with Raquel, you should be! She's killer. Pun intended. ;)

So, without further ado, here's my entry in the Primal Scream Blogfest.

Yellow Bus Tuesday

Suddenly I am standing on the edge of the pool again, blood dripping down my arm. It’s not wet nylon against my skin; it’s ruffled taffeta. The material is tacky with drying blood. I’m not twelve; I’m eighteen. It’s not summer; it’s late spring. The smell of chlorine and cut grass fills my nose.

I look into the pool and see someone floating face down in the water. There are ribbons of blood snaking out from beneath him. His black suit jacket balloons up and down like a spent bladder. I hold out my hand to the body and see my palm is painted with blood.

“Nathan?” I ask the floating body.

But Nathan doesn’t respond, doesn’t turn over. I look down at myself; my dress is soaked in Nathan's blood.

I bite my lip, trying to remember. We had gone to a party… come back here… and Nathan… Nathan had wanted to kiss me… I think…


Nathan is standing in front of my father’s entertainment center, admiring the blank dead eye of the 38” television screen. “That’s some setup,” he says.

I am standing behind him and slightly to the left, my palms restless in the taffeta of my dress. It rustles softly in the quiet room, whispering like a ghost. “Yeah,” I say. It is all I can think to say – I’m nervous. My parents are gone and Nathan and I are here alone. The house has become a quiet, dozing beast. We are admiring a television set in one of the chambers of its heart. I close my eyes for an instant, willing the image away. When I open them again, Nathan has turned around and is looking at me with that crooked smile of his.

“You okay?” he asks.

I nod.

“Good,” he says, and holds out his arms.

I walk into them and put my arms around his waist, closing my eyes and pressing my cheek against the smooth lapel of his rented tuxedo. He smells like cherries and musk. His boutonnière is a rose nestled into a spray of baby’s breath but it seems to have no scent at all.

He brings his left hand up slowly, skimming along the skin of my back. It’s an open-back dress. My mother argued against it but I held out and got my way. I shiver a little at his touch, liking the feel of his hands on me. His fingers tickle through the hairs on the nape of my neck.

“I like your hair better down,” he says.

I step back with a smile and pull my hair out of the bun it’s been twisted into. It falls in a long, clean wave over my shoulders. He smiles and steps closer, his eyes closing as he leans in to kiss me.

Then things get a little... weird.

I see Nathan, leaning forward in his black tux, his hair a little mussed, his eyes closed, that beautiful, terrible, little crooked grin on his lips. Then I blink and his face changes – the skin of his face is turning color, from a healthy peach to a deep, slaty gray; his body is rippling, moving underneath his clothes. His eyes blink open wide and then I realize they haven’t opened at all; his eyelids have simply disappeared and left nothing underneath but dull, flat, black discs that yawn at me like open, empty graves. His nose grows and flattens out and widens up until it becomes as angular and pointed as the prow of a ship. His jaw elongates and his mouth opens just a bit; that crooked grin is now filled with row upon row of vicious, hooked teeth. His fingers have melded together and his hands have turned into flat gray triangles of rough flesh.

He moves towards me and a gurgling hiss issues from his thick throat, rising and falling, undulating like a crooning song. I realize it’s a sound of desire. The triangles at the ends of his coat arms twitch in anticipation of running along the planes of my flesh. Those black round saucers in his face hold me still; I can feel their coldness working into my skin, into my blood, into my bones.

He has become the shark in my dreams, the giant fish that swims through my sleep three nights out of five and eats up all my good days in cold hungry bites. I can feel that hunger as he edges towards me, a thick line of spittle running out of his pointed mouth and over his white chin. His teeth click and grind together and he makes a low mewling sound in the back of his throat. The sound is clogged with spit and lust. My heart is beating hard and fast and I can feel my pulse in my throat, in my temples. I can hear it rushing in my ears. It sounds like the ocean.

I reach behind me, my hand trip-fall-running along the shelf of the entertainment center. I feel familiar shapes; picture frames, bric-a-brac. Then the cool, reassuring angles of one of my mother’s crystal Wessex candlesticks are under my fingertips.

I don’t think. I pick it up and swing. The heavy leaden crystal smashes into the flat triangle of Nathan's new nose.

The flat black plates of his eyes close as he falls, and I realize he has eyelids again.

This realization is driven home when his eyes open and he looks up at me from the living room floor. His eyes are filled with pain and bewilderment, but underneath those emotions is an expression I recognize.

The anger of denial. I’ve seen it before.

I know it is there.

I know it.

I can feel it.

I clutch the candlestick tighter in my hands and ready myself for what is to come.

“Baby?” he says, from the floor. He reaches a hand up towards me. I bare my teeth and wade in closer to him, churning my feet across the floor like a fisherwoman who has found herself landing a catch far too big for her frame. The candlestick has become my gaff, my club. It has become my net. It is my cross and my stake and my hammer. I raise it over my head and smile. Spit drips down over my lips and falls in three white drops onto Nathan’s shiny, sweaty forehead. A lock of his dark hair has fallen across his brow and it is matted and thick, clotted with his blood. His eyes are blank as he looks up at me.

Will you?

“I will,” I say. My voice hisses like the wind on waves. I bring down the candlestick, hard like the woman knee deep in the water, knowing the fish will take her with it if it lives. I club the shark. I make it stop. I bring it home.

My face is warm and wet. I taste salt in my mouth, on my lips. I have forgotten if it is the taste of the ocean or the taste of blood in my mouth and on my tongue.

I am smiling.

Standing on the edge of the pool I am clutching the folds and ripples of my dress to my body, trying to remember how I got here. The body in the water floats serenely; turning in a lazy half-circle with the current of the pool jets. It almost looks like one of those floats people keep in their pools all summer long; an inflatable chaise lounge, upholstered in black.

The Wessex candlestick, my mother’s joy, is sparkling at the bottom of the pool. Its cut angles and crystal channels catch the pool light and turn it into a shimmering jewel in the deep water. It glimmers like a lost diamond; like a magical gem. The body floats above it, turning and turning in the current thrown off by the high-power pool jets.

I see his blood fanning out into the cool, clear pool water like rippling snakes.

His hands trail in the water, a pair of white, defenseless doves.

I breathe. I breathe. I hold onto my dress and breathe.

“Nathan!” I scream.

There is no answer but the gurgle and hush of the pool jets, hidden under the rippling crystal surface of the water.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Family Resemblance

For my friend, the late Jason Scott, who left us Friday evening without warning. He was 29.

Dear Scott,

I went to your funeral today.

Yeah, yeah man, I know, I don't believe it myself. All I have to do is look into my memory and I see you grinning at me and shaking your head, and I'm off again, wondering if all this is some stupid dream. But it's the truth. I sat there on the end of a row of six of your closest friends. Two ministers. A beautiful song. Friends pouring out their hearts. Brian gave your eulogy. Look at ya - not a bit surprised, huh? Yeah, he made me cry - made all of us cry, I think.

I marveled over your displayed art. I shook your father's hand. I hugged your wife. I stood outside in a circle of people who knew you far longer and better than I did, and I listened to their memories of you - always laughter and smiles. I saw how connected they all were by their love for you. How much they loved each other, how much they supported each other. I saw your love for them reflected over and over again in their words, their memories, their bittersweet happiness.

It moves me to tears to tell you that this amazing love was extended to me. I was part of the circle, a member of the family that missed you so much. Again and again I found myself being pulled in to the group, offered hugs, offered comfort. People I'd never met before today embraced me as if I were family. I was told many times how you'd spoken of me to your friends. I really want to thank you for that, because it made me feel so good when I heard it.

There's a lot I wish I'd been able to tell you before you up and left. We used to have some great talks that lasted forever, but I guess you just never get to say everything, you know? I guess the most important thing I'd want to tell you, the thing I hope you know, is how grateful I am for you. How thankful I am that you are my friend. And how much I love you for being exactly who you are.

It's not really real in my head yet; I mean, I just can't think of you as not here anymore. And maybe that's all right, maybe that's just the way it ought to be. Because I was reminded today that you're not really gone, and you never will be. You're a part of all of us. We're related by love. And when we laugh... you can see the family resemblance.

Scott, thank you for helping me be the person I am.

All my love,

Monday, May 3, 2010

Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

When Arlee Bird asked me to participate in the A to Z blog challenge for the month of April, I was dubious at first. I was just about to complete my first full month of blogging every weekday and was overwhelmed by the idea of adding an extra day a week to blogging. But I said yes and I'm glad I did.

Over the month, I talked about a lot of different things. My blog posts are almost always off the cuff, and it was fun (if not sometimes harrowing) to figure out what I would write about each day. I talked about writing techniques and concepts, like auditory detail and found stories. I shared how I tempt my muse into my writing room. I also talked a lot about encouragement and not giving up, namely here, here, and here.

I wrote some fun and silly entries... like what I'd rather be doing than working my regular day job, built-in writing x-ray specs, and Darth Disco. I shared personal stories about my family, my town, and myself. I gave you guys an album review.

I talked a lot about the WIP, my first novel, which is nearing completion... how I'm plotting the murder of one of my characters, and how the book is going in general. And I shared a victory with my blog friends when I learned my story "Out of the Blue" is getting published by moonShine Review.

My favorite post for the month, though, was my entry on Lycanthropy Awareness. It was a lot of fun to write and everyone really seemed to enjoy reading a little snippet of horror, especially with the philosophical aspect offered at the end. I'm pretty proud of that one.

I did miss three entries during the month - R, Y and Z - the first because of a road trip, the other two for personal reasons which kept me from the internet. I wish I could've done every letter, but I'm very proud of my accomplishment. I had a great time with this project and would definitely participate in another blog challenge... although one which asks me to post six days a week I might re-think. By the end of the month I was pretty darn burned out.

I also had a great time reading everyone else's entries. Thanks, Lee, for hosting this challenge and asking me and everyone else to participate. It brought us all a little closer together and helped us learn more about each other, and that's an invaluable experience.