Friday, October 30, 2009

On Your Mark. Get Set. Type!

Halloween is coming up, but something else also is fast approaching, something much scarier.


For those NotInTheKno, NaNoWriMo is the name of a month-long writing event (National November Writing Month), where writers "pledge" to write--and write a lot!

From the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

According to my math (50,000 divided by 30, carry the twelve, minus the inverse of Avogadro's number squared, plus four score...), well, that's a fair number of words every day. (Okay, my slide rule tells me it's 2000 words a day, if you take Sundays off to watch pro football. If you are a Skins fan, do yourself a favor and find something else equally enjoyable to occupy your Sundays, like getting a root canal. Make that a double root canal.)

For many, it's a challenge to keep up that pace for a whole month. But don't worry:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

That's the kind of writing I can embrace!

Of course, with such quality control, you know who's most frightened by NaNoWriMo?


Because many of them will have the, uh, privilege of reading NaNoWriMo efforts.

Another quick calculation: NaNoWriMo novels are finished on November 30th. Throw in three days to edit/revise. Add fifteen minutes to bang out a query. So agents can expect the query barrage to begin on December 3rd.

Of course, I'm just kidding (everyone knows it takes at least a week to revise a first draft). I think any type of program, event, marathon, party, initiative, or outright threat that gets people writing is great.

For the record, I won't be participating in NaNoWriMo. Not this year--too much other stuff going on to commit to 2000 words, six days a week. Maybe next year I'll be in a place where I can give it a whirl.

To all those participating:  Good Luck!  

To agents, I have one word: DecMoLoVac (December Month Long Vacation).


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dear Blogging Monkey

Welcome to another installment of Dear Blogging Monkey. better Monkey-typing

Dear Blogging Monkey:

Is it hard to come up with topics to blog about, three times a week? I mean, is there ever a day when you just draw a giant blank?

Big Fan Of The Blog


Thanks for being a die-hard follower of the blog. I appreciate every single follower I can coerce, er get. And that's a mighty fine question, too. Sometimes it is difficult to come up with a pithy topic or humorous post. Yes, there are some days when I draw a giant--make that King-Kong-sized--blank.

So what do I do on those occasions? Well, I try to dig deep and step up to the plate, so I can deliver the goods (often, clich├ęs seem to help). Being a Big Fan Of The Blog, I'm sure you know that not all my hits are homers.

On those days when I seem to suffer from "blogger's block," I still try to post something.

Even if it is totally lame.

Thanks for your fun question! And remember to stop by on Friday for another enthralling blog post.

One Blogging Monkey



How about you, bloggers? What are some of your fall-back posting strategies for those days when your imagination has taken a trip to the zoo?


Monday, October 26, 2009

Road to Publication City

There are many routes to Publication City. Here's one:*

signposts for blog At the beginning of your journey, the road appears daunting, almost impassable. So many other travelers, so many obstacles, so many turns and switchbacks and dark tunnels to negotiate.

You embark and work hard, honing your craft, pouring your story out. Word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, it takes shape. S-l-o-w-l-y. You might take a writing class or workshop; you might join a critique group to help you from getting lost. Whatever works for you.

Be sure to ignore all the stalled and abandoned vehicles on the side of the road. Keep your eyes on the destination ahead.

You press on, undeterred.

Finally, you approach Milepost One - a finished first draft. Traffic is still heavy here, but a good number of the fast starters never made it to this point, for whatever reason. You celebrate this achievement, because frankly, you weren't sure you were going to make it this far, either.

Now you enter the revision leg of the trip, and the road becomes winding and treacherous. Signage is confusing and often contradictory. Which direction should you go? What turns should you make to stay on the right track? Expect to run into dead ends along the way and encounter scores of other writers, all going in various directions, some fast, some slow, many in endless circles. You check in frequently with your critique group to keep from wandering too far afield.

After many weeks (or months or years) traveling Revision Boulevard, you've completed a finished, polished manuscript. Congratulations on reaching Milepost Two! (Go ahead, celebrate again. In fact, take every chance you can to celebrate.) 

The trek continues. Up ahead, you see a gigantic bottleneck--people trying to merge onto the Snare-an-Agent exit. (You can take a detour here to avoid the masses, but be warned: the alternate routes are bumpy and the bridges are often washed out.) You write a query. Then rewrite it. After thirty or so rewrites, you figure it's ready. As you query agents (widely), you inhale exhaust fumes from thousands of others stuck in the same gridlock. Unfortunately, it could take a long time to get your wheels moving again. Some never do.

But your persistence pays off and you sign with an agent at Milepost Three (Yahoo!). She buckles into your passenger seat and directs you into the HOV-Agent lane of Submittal Highway. There aren't as many vehicles, but for some reason, no one is moving very fast.

With a lot of patience and persistence, you are fortunate to reach the all-important Milestone Four: SALE! party hats1

You breathe a big sigh of relief and celebrate.

Next, you abandon your car for a seat on your publisher's train. (Hey, this is my convoluted extended analogy, and if I want to mix cars and trains, I will. Now pipe down, unless you want me to turn this thing around and head back home!) Your editor-conductor tells you to sit back and enjoy the ride--he knows the way and he'll get you to your destination safely. No longer do you have to fret about which way to go. (Save your energy, there are plenty of other things to worry about!)

So you sit back and watch the milestones go by: an editorial letter, a shiny cover, the listing on Amazon. Inclusion in your publisher's catalog. Your bookmarks. Galleys, ARCs, reviews, interviews--the mileposts blur. But it's all good. And since you're no longer driving, you can concentrate on mapping a route to your next destination: Promotionville. Of course, in your spare time, you might want to pull out the laptop and get to work on your next manuscript.

After all, you want to take this crazy trip again, don't you?**


*For your enjoyment (and as a change of pace), this post is written in second-person.
**All this talk of mileposts reminds me that today is my birthday.


(This post “simul-posted” on InkSpot.)


Friday, October 23, 2009

Power Up

For me, writing goes in fits and spurts. Some days, the words seem to flow out of my fingertips, well fast. Other days, not so, uh, fast.

I know when the writing starts to really drag and sag, it's time for me to recharge my batteries. energizer-bunny-page

Here are some ways I re-energize: 

  • Read a book about writing.
  • Read a non-fiction book about something completely unrelated to writing.
  • Engage in on-line discussions about writing and publishing in general.
  • Goof around on Facebook.
  • Talk with another writer about his/her projects.
  • Read some different blogs.
  • Write a blog post or two.
  • Watch a movie about writers.
  • Exercise.
  • For a longer-term energy boost, I find writers' conferences to be especially beneficial.

What about you? What recharges your batteries?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is This Thing On?

Me and O At some point during the promotion of my book, I'll be stepping up in front of a crowd (well, at least a few people who aren't relatives) to do a little public speaking. Whether it's at a book signing, a library event, a conference panel, or on the platform waiting for a Metro train, I'll be talking about DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD.

I'm sure you've all heard about the polls where the fear of public speaking "beats out" every other fear, including fear of death.

I'm no exception. I usually don't look forward to getting up in front of an audience, where all eyes--and ears--are on me.

Most of the time, I do fine. No major stammering, no fainting, no projectile vomiting. I'll prepare a few comments beforehand and wing the rest. Taking a lot of questions from the crowd seems to work well. My goal usually is to "not suck." Although I don't fall flat on my face, I feel I can--and should--do better.

I think it will help that I'm very (very!) enthusiastic about my book and about writing. It's much easier talking about something you love. As a reader/fan, I'm always enthralled by whatever a writer has to say about the writing process and the publishing business, even if that person isn't the most dynamic of speakers. So I've got that going for me, too.

I'll try to be engaging and funny and charming and interesting and compelling. I want to totally rock.

I'm planning to prepare several different presentations, tailored to different audiences. I may put together a PowerPoint slide show (the engineer/businessman in me), and I'll work up some good handouts (with help from Photoshop, of course). I'll probably even practice my spiel once or twice.

What other things should I consider to help me get ready? Toastmasters? Offer the neighborhood kids free donuts to listen and critique my delivery? Should I videotape myself? Should I wear costumes? Go in drag? Learn how to speak with a British accent?

Or should I just employ the services of a stand-in, so I can stay home and write?

As usual, all suggestions welcome.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Say What?

Every year, at least one of my kids takes a test in school to determine what type of learner he is: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, musical, televisional (that's when a person can only do homework in front of the TV) or whatever. They discuss the results for a while, and then the class goes out for recess to hurl playground balls at each other as hard as they can.

I don't have to take any test to know what kind of learner I am (besides slow). I am a visual learner, without question. If something is written down--on a chalkboard, in a book, in a manual, on a bumper sticker--I can grasp the information and file it away in the proper memory bank. If not, well, let's just say some stuff "falls through the cracks."

Luckily, my wife knows this about me. In a social situation, she'll stay by my side, absorbing whatever it is that people are telling me, just in case I need that information later. Names? Not a clue. Occupations? Beats me. Details about their sick in-laws? What in-laws? If she's not with me, I try to cope by smiling and nodding my head a lot. What I'm really doing is wondering what's all the yak-yak noise interrupting my daydreaming.

In a business situation, I'm eternally grateful to the person who invented business cards. I may forget everything someone says, but at least I can refer to him or her by name with a quick downward glance at the card cupped discreetly in my hand. I'd be lost without nametags at conferences, too. (Women, I'm not being inappropriate; I'm simply staring at your nametags.)

I'm like the dog in that Gary Larson cartoon, who hears his master's commands as "Blah blah blah, Ginger, blah blah blah, Ginger, blah blah blah." (Except for the "Ginger" part.)

I've always been this way. In college, I'd sit in the back and do crossword puzzles while the professors lectured, stopping every so often to copy down a formula from the board. Good thing I never had to pass oral exams.

Sometimes I'll get off the phone and not remember any of the details of the conversation. I guess I need to start "recording calls for quality control purposes."

My inability to "process auditory signals" is why I don't stop and ask directions. "Blah blah blah. Right. Blah blah. Gas station. Blah blah. U-turn." It's too embarrassing to ask people to write them down for me. (Note: The directions don't have to be words--I'm quite good with maps and patterns. Just as long as people aren't describing them verbally.) (Another note: My reticence to ask for directions has absolutely nothing to do with the fact I'm male, and it's a crushing blow to my ego to admit I'm lost. Nothing whatsoever.)

I wonder if this, uh, little quirk is partly responsible for me becoming a writer instead of an actor or singer or politician (aside from an overwhelming lack of talent in those arenas, of course).

How about you? How do you learn most effectively?


Friday, October 16, 2009

Hello. My Name is…

This week is the annual Bouchercon mystery convention. I went last year, in Baltimore, and had an absolute blast. Unfortunately, I’m not attending this year (see you all in S.F. next year!). Here is a “rerun” of a guest post I did for Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Mystery Writing Is Murder blog about networking at conferences and conventions:

I love writers' conferences. So much to learn, so much positive energy, so many good books to discover. But the best thing about writer's conferences? Hands down, it's the collection of writers (and readers, and editors, and agents, and…).

DSCF0288 Here are some tips for networking at conferences:

Before the conference
Do your prep work. Effective networking at conferences begins weeks (or months) before the conference. See if there is a list of attendees (authors, editors, agents, fans) posted on the conference website. Go through this list and take note of those people you'd like to meet (make a list if you have to). For those you absolutely, positively must meet, consider emailing them ahead of time to arrange a place to rendezvous. But remember: Nobody likes a stalker!

Get business cards made, if you don't already have some. There are plenty of inexpensive on-line printers that will do a fine job (I've used VistaPrint). Having all your contact info in one convenient "giveaway" beats writing your name, website, blog address, and email address on the hand of the uber-agent you’ve just met. Paraphrasing my grandmother, "Professional is as professional does."

Stay in the conference hotel. If you can swing it, stay where all the action will take place. Besides being convenient, you're bound to make friends waiting for the elevator or in the stairwell during the inevitable 3 a.m. fire alarm evacuation. DSCF0289

At the conference
Stick your hand out - often. If you see someone standing alone during a break or at a cocktail hour, introduce yourself. Arrive early to the panels and find an empty seat next to someone. Hang out in the hospitality lounge. Strike up a conversation with anybody who seems interesting. Everyone there is like you--looking to make contacts.

Make it easy to be "met." Always wear a nametag and display it in a place that's easy to see. The nametag is the first place my eyes go when I'm meeting someone new--or when I'm searching out people on my "have-to-meet" list. If you write your name on the tag yourself, make sure it's large and legible.

Don't hide in your hotel room. You might be an introvert (many writers are), but one of the big reasons you're at the conference is to meet people. So get out and meet them!

DSCF0291 Visit the book room. Booksellers are authors' best friends. Meet them, talk with them, be extra nice to them. Buy some books while you're at it.

Hit the bar. The hotel bar is the place to mingle. Even if you don't drink, think of the bar as the conference meeting place (albeit with plenty of booze). This is where you can meet the authors you've read for all those years and hear tons of great stories. [Hint: keep your wits about you, or your drunken escapades might become the punchlines to their stories the following year.] More business gets done in the bar than anywhere else.

After the conference
Follow-up. Remember all the business cards you passed out? Well, hopefully you collected plenty, too. Follow up with the people you met. Drop them an email saying how nice it was chatting (lie if you need to--you can handle a little fiction, right?). Give them book recommendations, or ideas about getting published, or tips on other great conferences to attend. Stay in touch!

Writers make up a great community. Become part of it!

(Of course, on-line networking is important, too. Friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. I'm always looking to network with other readers and writers.)


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On-line De-sign

Regular visitors to this blog may notice that, every once in a while, some new widget or geegaw or doohickey appears on the blog's sidebar (what can I say, I like shiny things). Each one--on its own--is fine; I'm not too sure about the aesthetic of the entire mass (or should it be mess?).

Usually, I care more about what's inside the package than the wrapping. But in a world that's getting more "virtual" every day, I want my on-line presence to be pleasant, not jarring or disconnected. So that's why I tinker. It’s also why I'm never sure whether I'm making things better or worse.

Same holds true for my website, although I don't fiddle around there nearly as often as with my blog. In the next few months, I’ve "resigned myself to redesign." Now that I know how to use Photoshop (at least a little), I'm sure it will be a piece of cake. Ahem. (If it’s a problem, I’ll just get Galen’s help.)

I already have a partial list of things I want to include/improve. Some will be relatively easy, others will probably have to wait until one of my kids gets his college degree in Computer Science. Of course, maybe by then, the Internet will have been superseded by direct data pipelines straight into people's brains. (Google NeuroNet?)

Anyway, I'm looking for ideas about how to improve the look (and the content, too) of both my blog and my website.

All suggestions welcome! Just remember: complete demolition is NOT an option.


Monday, October 12, 2009

What Moustache?

I sported a moustache for many, many years. (I had it continuously, except for a period of about two weeks, which, weirdly enough, was about the time I met my wife.) moustache

About eight months ago, I shaved it off. Sure, the kids were a little freaked out (Ahh! Who's the stranger in the kitchen?), but I didn't look back. Not then, not now.

I don't miss my hairy upper lip at all.

I'm like that about a lot of things (people are a different matter). Once they're gone, I don't seem to miss them. Maybe I'm simple and don't remember things once they leave my sphere of attention. Maybe I'm a soulless, cold-hearted human being. Whatever. I never really get emotionally attached to things.

The same holds true for my writing. During the revision process, if I get rid of a character, I don't give it a second thought. Ditto for a subplot or a surprise twist or a particularly clever scene. If the story is better off without those elements, out comes the hatchet. And I never look back. I'm a serial killer of my darlings, with no regrets.

How about you? Do you miss those characters, scenes, and plotlines that don't make the cut? Or are you a soulless SOB like me?


Photo credit: Rajesh Rajan, Photographer, UMS, Muscat, Oman


Friday, October 9, 2009

What’s Wrong With a 45-Hour Day?

I'm starting to realize I'm not very efficient at keeping track of my story's timeline as I write.

Here's what I do:

I start writing, using my outline as a guide. Eventually, I'll come to a scene where I have to "identify" what day of the week it is. After putting my "stake in the ground," I keep writing, only vaguely keeping track of when the action is taking place, mostly relying on my memory to keep things straight. Sometimes, to help me out, I'll type the day of the week in a different-colored font at the beginning of a scene. Unfortunately, most times I do not. As you might imagine, when I reach the end of the first draft, my story's timeline is a complete mess.

Invariably, I'll find out that I've crammed 45 hours worth of events into a single day. Or that I have characters going to church on a Tuesday or being in school on a Saturday or watching a pro football game on a Wednesday morning.

To fix things, I have to find a calendar and jot down the scenes, day by day. Then I have to rearrange scenes, change transitions, and fudge things to make them fit better.


Here's what I should do:

Find the calendar before I start writing, and KEEP TRACK OF MY TIMELINE AS I WRITE. Or better yet, INCORPORATE THE TIMELINE INTO MY OUTLINE.


Writers, how do you handle the timeline for your book during the writing process?


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Odds and Pieces (Bits and Ends?)

I finished the first draft of my WIP last week, but I’m going to let it percolate for a while before starting to revise it. I hope the saying, “It’s never as good as you think it is or as bad as you fear it is” holds true--at least the latter part.

I got my bookmarks yesterday and was very pleased how the job came out. Kudos to The quality was great, the price was good, the turnaround time was fast, and they were easy to work with. What’s not to like?

We’re having a garage sale in a week and a half. Don’t worry, I won’t be getting rid of my Mr. Peanut items. If you happen to know someone who needs some size 4 soccer cleats (new) or a 20-year-old unopened Pente board game, send him/her my way!

I wish there would be a Talk Like A Pirate Day every month. Arrghh!

DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD can be pre-ordered on-line at many venues. Even here. Wherever that is. (I think the answer to the question, “Is deze titel in de winkel?” is “not yet, in April.”)


Monday, October 5, 2009

Fit is It

Last Friday, I attended an event put on by The Writers Center and Northern Virginia Writers as part of their First Friday series. Author Valerie O. Patterson and her agent Sarah Davies (The Greenhouse Literary Agency) discussed the road to publication for her book, THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE.  Other_side_of_blue

Besides giving a very interesting presentation, they talked about how important "fit" was, both in terms of a writer picking an agent and finding an editor/publisher.

I totally agree.

Think back to a time when you had to work with someone--a person or a company--who didn't see things the same way you did. Were you comfortable with how things transpired? Or were you always butting heads, making it difficult to get anything done? Did you come away from the project feeling good, or were you full of regrets, perhaps wishing you'd never gotten involved in the first place?

Of course, when it comes to getting an agent or publisher, you might not have more than one option. Just remember, having a bad agent/publisher can be worse than having no agent/publisher at all.

Make your decision carefully.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Schoolin’ About Writin’

I never took a creative writing class in high school. In fact, I didn't care much for English class, always opting to do some kind of alternative communication project when available (think videotaped speech, pantomime, or interpretive dance), rather than write a paper. Maybe if they'd called it Language Arts, like they do now, I'd have been more interested.

In college, the only English class I took was a required technical writing course. Why did engineers need to learn how to write anyway?

In graduate business school, we had plenty of writing to do, but itBuzzword Bingo wasn't very creative, unless you thought playing buzzword bingo counted ("searching for synergistic solutions and proactively pursuing paradigms is all well and good, but moving forward at the end of the day..."). Creativity was mostly limited to accounting. (CEO to CFO: "Do you know how much 2 plus 2 is?" CFO: "Sure. Whatever you want it to be, boss.")

It wasn't until many years later that I decided to write fiction. I'd always been a voracious reader, so how hard could writing be?

My first efforts weren't pretty.

But I took a few writing workshops, got into some good critique groups, and, um, read a lot of books about writing.

A few favorites:

On Writing by Stephen King

Write the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

How to Write A Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey (not that James Frey!)

Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

There are tons of other books on the "How To Write" shelves. Some offer step-by-step plans, some put you through "boot camps," and some promise to help you churn out a book in a month or six weeks or ninety days. Whatever works for you.

Me? I usually feel like I'm just winging it.

What's helped you with your writing? Any special books? MFAs? Writer retreats? A six-pack on the back porch every night? 


(This entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot.)