Writing a serial novel is a crazy rollercoaster ride.

Dinoland_Logo_1Chapter 7 of DinoLand is live! It went up yesterday, but I had some obligations and couldn’t post about it here. So I’m posting today

Whew. To tell the truth, I really didn’t think I was going to get the chapter live this month.

Working on a serial novel is insane. It isn’t like writing a novel that will be presented as a whole: I’m not concerned with buffing and polishing the language to a high shine, and I only have a basic idea of what I need to do each month.

I have some very rough drafts and an outline of where I want the story to go, but that’s it. I never know exactly what the next chapter is going to be until two weeks before it goes live. I’m working right up against the edge of my deadline and incorporating what feedback I get (I’m open to feedback guys – email me. Message me. What do you want to see happen?)  It’s an exhilarating way to write, but it’s also exhausting.

Today, I am sitting down and revisiting my outline. I’ve learned that because I’m working serially, my pacing has to be different than it would be if I were working on a traditional novel. For example, I would probably spend two or three chapters on one character if I were writing a regular novel, but because I’m only putting out one chapter a month, I need to focus on one major plot point a month so that the readers don’t forget that certain things are happening.

I also need to repeat myself more: I might have mentioned that a character got her start selling hot dogs in Chapter One, but I need to say it again in Chapter 7 because new readers won’t have read Chapter 1, and readers who’ve been with me might not remember that detail.

I’m also changing some of the future scenes to reflect the work that artist Max Farinato has been doing. He drew this awesome lab last month, with gigantic red tanks. I hadn’t imagined those before, but I loved his idea, so I’m going to work them into the story.

It’s an exciting way of working, but it’s completely new for me.

Head on over to Geek Eccentric and check out Chapter 7.

Actual, real tips for writing with a baby

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, in which I live-blogged a day of trying to write with a baby. I realized, as I read through the post, that although I complained about not being able to find helpful hints about writing with a young child in the articles I’ve read, I didn’t actually include any of my own.

I mean, I read my “takeaways” again, and “Get a babysitter” is probably the worst advice I’ve ever given.

Anyhow, I’ve had a few restful hours to reflect on yesterday’s experiment and I do have some tips because some of the things I did yesterday worked. So here are a (very) few tips for writing while watching a four-month-old by yourself. What works for me may not work for you, but give these a try:

This thing is worth its weight in gold.

This thing is worth its weight in gold.

The play-yard is your friend. I tried the swing, the crib, the exersaucer and the bassinet. It was the play-yard that helped me the most. (You know, it’s that mat thing with toys hanging off it.) I got most of my writing done while my son was next to me, swatting the dangling toys and listening to music. Sit on the floor or on a big bed and put your baby next to you on the playmat. Then grab your laptop or journal and get to work. Your child will be occupied by the mat and happy to be near you.

Make sure your lunch is easy to assemble. This was just luck on my part. I’d planned to make a sandwich, but found that my husband had made a vat of split pea soup. A bowl of that made for a quick lunch. When you’re watching a kid and trying to write, no one has time for a sandwich.

Have an idea of what you’re going to tackle ahead of time. Knowing what I was working on ahead of time helped me to get something done, even when I was being interrupted often.

In fact, just plan to be interrupted. Probably best not to go into this thinking your kid will nap and you will write a certain number of words. That way lies madness.

Lastly, remember that this is just a writing day. In yesterday’s post, I wondered if the work I did was any good because I was so distracted. But none of that really matters. It’s like any other writing day: you put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and you write. Sometimes you write well. Sometimes you don’t. The important thing is that you’re writing, baby or no baby.

Writing with a four-month-old: a live-blogging experiment

I'm sure this will go well.

I’m sure this will go well.

Today I’m trying something new. I am live-blogging my attempt to write while home alone with a baby. I’ve read a few things about tactics for writing with a young child, and those articles were not terribly helpful.  So today is an experiment. I’ve got a baby carrier, a bouncy chair, a play-yard and my laptop. All I need now is luck. Wish me that. I will be updating all day.

11:30 am  – My husband has the dog with him today, so I don’t need to worry about walking her. I’ve done a metric ton of laundry. I’ve nursed the bairn into submission and put him into the crib, so I should be able to start… crap. Diaper change. DSC_0018Oh god, no, I was wrong. It’s a diaper blowout. I’ll be back.

11:48 am – Okay. Baby cleaned and put in the play yard. New laundry started. Surfaces Cloroxed. NOW: It’s been a while since I worked on my novel, and I am a little blocked in places, so thanks to some advice I saw from a friend who was in my MFA program, I’m going to journal about the problem. Maybe that will help me write around the block.

12:16 pm – I’ve got to ditch the internet. It’s distracting me. So I’m logging out of Facebook except on nursing breaks. Despite a diaper change and distractions online, I have been journaling about my novel and I’ve made a little progress with character development issues, but now the baby is fussing. He’s probably hungry. And I just realized something. So am I.

1:20 pm – The baby and I are both fed. I’ve realized that although I’ve made some headway with character development, I cannot find the first copy of my manuscript, which is what I was working from. I am giving myself five minutes to find it and if I can’t, I’m winging it.

1:23 pm – Found it. Baby is in the crib. Let’s do this.

Tire yourself out, my child.

Tire yourself out, my child.

2:01 pm – I’ve done 254 words worth of writing. I’ve also changed a diaper, eaten a plum and wandered around for a few minutes Iike a lost soul. Finally I accepted that if I don’t get the baby into the exersaucer soon, he will never go down for his nap and I have hopes for naptime. They aren’t big hopes, but they are hopes. So that’s where he is right now, bouncing in the saucer. The good thing is, although I’m working in drips and drabs and this pace is frustrating, I am working. I don’t know if I’m producing anything of value, though.

2:45 pm – 300 more words written. That’s more than the 500 a day I used to hold myself to, so I guess, technically I could stop now. But I haven’t written at home in a while, and this is an experiment, so I’m going to continue until my husband returns. FOR SCIENCE. It’s time to feed the baby now, though.

3:39 pm – The baby is fed and changed and it could be that most golden, elusive, glorious time of the day: naptime. My son doesn’t like to nap, but sometimes he does actually go to sleep, despite himself. In the meantime, he might at least be quiet for a little while and I may be able to write some more until backup arrives. I hope.

3:55 pm – Naptime turned into an Olympic gymnastic floor routine, and I spent my writing time alternately trying to prevent head injuries and researching crib bumpers, so that didn’t really work out. Now I’m keeping him next to me in the play-yard on the bed, and he’s practicing his vocal exercises instead. These are as distracting as the gymnastics, but not as alarming. Now, to make one final push at writing.

4:42 pm – Feeding the boy again. Between the feeding and a changing, I’m getting less done than I did this morning. This kid is active. How does one tire out a four-month-old? Is it even possible? I’ve written a few words though.

4:54 pm – The experiment has ended: 781 words, three outfit changes (baby’s, not mine) and one load of laundry later, my husband has returned and I’m shutting it down.And what do you know? The baby is sleeping. Because of course he is.

So, after a day of writing alone with baby, what’s the verdict?
The take-away of this experiment is probably that sensible people get babysitters. Well, no. I think the take-away is actually that I produced more today than I did before I had a baby because I was always pushing to get words on the page before he started to fuss. But quantity is not quality — while I got more written than usual, I do wonder if it’s any good compared to my normal output. I can’t tell, because I’m too tired right now to know good writing from bad.

Also, and this is probably open to interpretation, it’s hard to know if my parenting also suffered because I was trying to do two things at once. I mean, I did all the things I’d normally do on a day home with my son, and he was even by my side more than he usually is, but I was focusing on writing rather than housework or walking him at the park. So was I a worse mom because I was working and watching him? I don’t know. Only he knows for sure, and he doesn’t speak English yet.

Well, it’s been real. I’m going to put this baby down, save my work and find the Pinot Grigio.

Want tips for writing with a baby? Check out my next post.

 

Rejection is awesome. Here’s why.

Today I got such a nice rejection letter from a literary journal that it made my day.

IMG_0215

My wall of rejections. (It’s been my blog’s background for years.)

I know. If anyone had told me when I was starting out that a rejection letter would make my day someday, my eyes would have rolled so hard that they would have come loose.

But this rejection letter, from a journal I love and respect, was a thing of beauty. It included the words “very impressed by your writing” and suggested that I send something else in the future.

If it had been an actual letter rather than an email, I might have clutched it to my bosom.

I’m reasonably sure it was a form letter, but that doesn’t bother me. Not even a little.

The “Good” Rejection

I’ve heard from editors that journals have at least two form letters on file to send to rejected writers. One is the “encouragement” letter (dear X, we love your work but it’s not right for our journal) and then there is the other one (Thank you for sending your work to us. We cannot accept it at this time). I am always thrilled to get the first one.

Yet the second kind of letter isn’t so bad either. A teacher in my MFA program used to say that she was immune to rejection because she was always submitting. She’s right: if you submit enough, you do get used to rejection. You also get used to the idea that the rejection is not personal. Your work isn’t terrible; it really isn’t right for the journal, or there isn’t enough space in the journal for your piece this quarter. It’s not about you. It’s about the journal’s needs. If your piece doesn’t fill those needs, well, try again somewhere else. No harm. No foul.

Real Writers Get Rejected

I used to hate rejections. An old writing group of mine held rejection letter burning parties on Valentine’s Day. That sort of catharsis can be really helpful, but I found, after a while, that I no longer wanted to burn my letters (especially if I actually got a paper letter on real letterhead or even one of those little rejection slips). I started taping the letters to the wall in my office, not as a reminder that I had been rejected, but as a reminder that I’d actually sent short stories out.

Whenever I feel like I’m not actually living the writing life, when I envy someone else’s success, or when I doubt that I’m a “real writer,” all I have to do is look at those letters. They remind me  that not only am I producing work, I’ve also had the guts to send that work to journals. ,

And this is important, because although I don’t mind being rejected by journals, I still hate submitting to them. I hate it with a passion.

But that’s another blog post for another time.

I’m off to print out an email and hang it on the wall. Then I’ve got a short story to resubmit.

 

 

Freelance & fiction & the third Resistance book, which is definitely being written.

Just a quick post today: I’m working on freelance projects and prepping the fourth chapter of DinoLand for its publication on Sunday (there will be be big doings in Chapter Four, for those who have been following along. I promise you blood, my friends.)

That’s right, freelance projects! I love teaching as an adjunct, but I’ve been wanting to get back into the freelance world for a while, and I’ve finally had the opportunity to do that. It’s part of my long-term goal: freelance as a writer and editor until my books start earning me money and I can live the life of a full-time author. Then I can just sit in my office, eating bonbons and killing characters all day like George R.R. Martin. george-r-r-martin-meme-generator-have-a-favorite-character-not-anymore-cce918

Speaking of George R.R. Martin, it’s taking me a long time, but I am actually working on the final book in the Resistance series. No really, I am. The last book has a title and a new protagonist and everything. I know that my books are under 100 pages (as opposed to Martin’s 3,000 pages) and you’d think I’d be done by now, but as it turns out I have a lot of loose ends to tie up and I’d like to do that well, so it’s taking longer than I’d like.

What I can tell you is that the new protagonist is male, which is new for me in this series, and that we will finally find out what happened to the mysterious package in Beware the Hawk.

Also, the readers’ survey – I have not forgotten my “What Are You Reading” survey, which still needs a bigger sample size. (A lot of people read literary fiction, and almost no one reads philosophy. Descartes would be disappointed in you guys.)

And that’s it for me. I will post more later. I’ve been working on two posts for several weeks, but work and the baby have gotten in the way. Eventually both posts will see the light of day. At least, I hope so.

The “what are you reading” survey so far: no one wants to admit to reading erotica.

It’s been two weeks since I asked readers to tell me all sorts of things about who they are, what they’re reading, and — most distressing for many of them — what their favorite books are.

I am nowhere near where I’d like to be with this survey; so far I have only 32 respondents. I’m renewing my plea for people to take the survey (you can click the link to the left or start the survey by scrolling to the bottom of this post) and share it.

That said, I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far from the survey:

  • 41 percent of respondents are between 20 and 30, and therefore could be extras on Girls.
  • The top three genres respondents read Literary Fiction (12 percent), Historical Fiction (8 percent), and Mystery (8 percent).
  • One brave soul admits to reading Erotica. (Come on! It’s an anonymous survey. I know there are more of you out there.)
  • While 47 percent of respondents prefer physical books, 47 percent read both physical books and ebooks interchangably.
  • Lots of people get their books at the library.

My favorite answers for Who Is Your Favorite Author so far:

  • “John Irving, Wally Lamb, Truman Capote” (I think this might be cheating)
  • “Impossible to pick one.”
  • “A. J. O’Connell, then Salman Rushdie.” (Thanks, Mom!)

My favorite answers to What Is Your Favorite Book of All Time so far:

  • “Also a very difficult question to answer, but if I could only read one book over and over again for the rest of my life, I would pick A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.”
  • “You have to be kidding!”

Thank you to the 32 people who took the survey so far, and once again, I beg you all to take the survey and share, share, share. I want to get as much data as possible so I can keep sharing it with you all.

Writing after the MFA: The Book

Now What MFA Guide

Yeah. Now what?

After I graduated from my MFA program in 2011, I wrote about how it can be a struggle to keep writing after getting a Masters of Fine Arts degree in fiction: you leave a ready-made community of writers and a system of built-in deadlines and head back out into the world, where life is waiting in the shadows, twirling its proverbial mustache and rubbing its hands together with wicked glee, just waiting to get in the way of your good writing habits.

So what do you do? I’ve tried to answer that question for myself on this blog a few times, but now I can share a project I’ve been working on with several other writers, which answers the question in much greater depth.

Allow me to introduce Now What? The Creative Writer’s Guide to Success after the MFA. It’s a non-fiction book containing essays by 46 contributors who all attempt to answer that very question: Now what?

The book’s electronic edition is being launched this very evening at the AWP conference, so if you’re out in Seattle right now, you should definitely head to the swanky launch party at the Seattle Art Museum tonight at 6:30 p.m. I won’t be there — I’m too close to my due date for travel —  but all sorts of fun people who are still allowed to drink will in attendance.

I worked as a chapter editor on this book for a little more than a year, so I can say with authority (because I’ve read my two chapters over and over and discussed other chapters with other editors) that although the book is aimed at MFA grads, you don’t need to be one to benefit from the book.

There are essays about finding agents, about the publishing industry, about working with writing groups and there’s one chapter, which I think will be very popular because it addresses the question of how to make ends meet while working on your masterpiece.

Definitely check it out if you’re at AWP this week. (I mean, there’s a party and you’re right there – why wouldn’t you go?) If you’re not there, check it out on Amazon, and if you’re more interested in a physical book, no worries; the paperback edition will be released in July. (Did I mention that the book also includes an article about e-books vs. physical books? Guess who contributed that one.)

 

Things I’m learning from my first foray into serial fiction.

I posted a little while ago about DinoLand, my sci-fi novel which will be serialized, starting this Sunday, over at Geek Eccentric.

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

Well, it’s almost dinosaur time and I’m as nervous as an attorney staring down a T-Rex in the rain. Since this is a brand new  process for me, I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’ve been learning so far.  Here are some of my first take-aways:

 Starting out with a lot of material doesn’t necessarily mean you have less work to do.

I started this project with more than 200 pages of DinoLand, written over a period of two or three National Novel Writing Months, including a ridiculous amount of backstory. When I started importing all that into Scrivener, I realized that unless I write a prequel, I’m not going to use all of this material. Also, the work that I am using needed several rounds of edits. So while I have six months of DinoLand written and outlined, months 3 through 6 still need edits and work. (Chapter 2, for April, is already edited and turned in to the artist.) Speaking of which…

Working with an artist is an incredible experience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by that.

Working with Max Farinato has been my favorite part of the DinoLand project so far. It’s amazing to watch his sketches develop, and even more amazing is the way I’ve seen the world I invented taking shape in his art. Every time Max sends me a sketch, I gush uncontrollably about how much I love his work, which is true, but maybe not helpful to him.
There should be some sort of guideline for working with an illustrator, because I suspect that I haven’t been easy to work with. For example, I probably should have sent him rough ideas of what my principal characters look like so that the art and my prose will match. I forget that I haven’t described everyone on page one of chapter one. I should probably also ask more often what he needs from me to make his job easier.

Oh my god. The comment section. Oh my god, the comment section.

Despite the fact that I’ve been blogging for a long time, it has somehow just occurred to me that people will be able to comment directly after reading my chapter. It’s not like I haven’t gotten comments on fiction before — short pieces of mine have been published in journals with comment sections — but I think of novels as something that are put out to the public as a whole. If a novel receives criticism, it’s in the form of a review on another site, not in a comment section. So despite the fact that I consider myself a Big Damn Progressive Child of the Internet, I’ve still been thinking about fiction and novels in a very old-fashioned way.

And lastly, Does serial fiction work differently from a novel? I’m not sure.

While comment sections are relatively new, serial fiction is not. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two years reading novels that were originally published as serial fiction: Anna Karenina, The Count of Montecristo, Bleak House, Great Expectations. I don’t know if anything was changed before they were compiled into novels, but it seems to me that there has to be some repetition if a novel is released serially. If you’re releasing a chapter every week or month, you need to remind your readers of certain things that they can’t just flip back and check if they’re holding the book in their hands. Of course, now we have links – I can just link chapter two to chapter one – it’s the one thing I can do that Dickens could not, Still, every chapter should be able to stand alone, right? That way, if someone stumbles on chapter three before reading one and two, the reader won’t be totally lost. How do comic writers do this? How do television writers do this? Am I overthinking this? I might be overthinking this.

Those are my thoughts so far, at least until Sunday, when the fictional dinosaurs stampede out of the gate at Geek Eccentric. I’m sure I’ll have more to say then.

Writing while pregnant

pregnancy, writing

That’s no moon.

At eight months pregnant, I’m a little nervous about my writing career. Mostly because writing while pregnant has not been easy for me. In fact, it’s been really difficult.

I’ve held off on writing this post because of the inevitable comments of those who will say things like “You think <insert activity> is hard now. What until you have <an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, etc.>” but then I realized that those one-uppers will always rear their heads, no matter how old my child is or what stage of life I’m in.

So screw it. I’m writing this now, because I wish I’d known it earlier and maybe someone else needs to read it: writing while pregnant has been a struggle for me. I truly hope that other writers don’t have as rough a time with it as I have, but just in case another pregnant writer is out there, reading this and beating herself up for her lack of productivity, let me say this to you: You’re not alone, lady.

I’ve always assumed I could write no matter what. In fact, I figured that if I ever did get pregnant, I’d go into literary nesting mode, write daily and finish churning out my novel and probably other projects as well. I thought I’d be super-creative.

That didn’t exactly happen. Every pregnancy is different, but a host of physical symptoms kept me from my desk: fatigue, nausea, pain, and now, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, an inability to get myself or my laptop comfortably positioned long enough to write a meaningful sentence. Seriously. I need a floaty Minority Report keyboard and maybe some anti-gravity for an hour or so a day.

The strangest side-effect for me as a writer was probably this: my brain hasn’t worked in quite the same way for the past 30-something weeks.

Let me try to explain what I mean by this: I can do my paid job without a problem. I can edit and revise, and I can outline and organize my projects, and I can even write articles. The problem is creativity:  sitting down to make art became all of a sudden, extremely difficult. (They don’t list that under symptoms in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.)

This is new to me, because I’ve never had trouble being creative. I was the kid who spent second grade staring outside the window daydreaming, and I’ve been the writer who can’t always knuckle down because she’s always distracted by new ideas. My new lack of creativity was a big, unpleasant surprise. Creativity became work, and I started to beat myself up about it: What’s wrong with me that I can’t produce 500 words a day? Why is everything I write awful?

Now that I’ve been living with this change for a while, I do wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself about it — I imagine that any person who undergoes any major physical shift, like injury or illness or chronic pain or a huge lifestyle shift — must go through similar issues. Our brain chemistry is delicate; any change can cause a shift in how we experience life.

It took me months to figure out how to work around the issue effectively, but eventually, (and later in my pregnancy than I like) I started to repeat something I’d heard from Nalini Jones, an MFA teacher I once had a workshop with: “If you can’t create, you can work.”

So now I’m editing a backlog of old work, both for my novel and for my new serial fiction project. I’m also forcing myself to write a little bit of a flash-fiction every week, because I’ve discovered that I can still be creative — it’s just hard now, the way that math was hard for me in grade school. I need to build that muscle just in case things don’t immediately improve when the baby is born.

And I take naps when my schedule allows. I still feel guilty about it, but I do it anyhow.

The case against “snark.”

snark

You don’t have to hunt it. You just have to kill it. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jim_and_kerry/3066976334/

Time for some tough love, guys. I need to talk to you about that word. The one people have been in love with for a decade. The vaguely British synonym for sarcasm. You know the one: Snark.

Look, I loved it at first too. It’s like a wittier form of sarcasm, yes? At any rate it sounds better than sarcasm, which (perhaps rightly) sounds like a terrible skin condition. Snark sounds like dry humor: quirky, funny enough to make you snort, and yet scathing. If something is snarky, it has a little snap to it; a little bite.

Except, no.

Snark has been bandied about so much that it’s lost that charm, and for me, it no longer means what it meant when I first heard it.

What seemed refreshing about snark in 2003 was its perceived wryness. At the time, society needed a healthy dose of skepticism and  — in hindsight — for me and Americans of certain political leanings, borrowing a word for that from another country was just the thing.

But in the last 10 years, thanks to overuse, snark has dulled. It’s used to mask bitterness (the same fuel  that powers and poisons sarcasm) has become overly caustic at times, and, as a synonym for sarcasm, may entering cliché territory. Like any trendy word, snark  has lost its sparkle. It’s become just another part of our slang, another lazy word.

Don’t believe me? Go look at your social media accounts. A perusal of Twitter will show you people applying snark to everything from bad puns to their own wit. Some go as far as identifying snark as a lifestyle. This, to me, is a sign: It’s time for snark to go.

In 2003, snark seemed to be riding the Harry Potter-inspired wave of Britishisms that infected my geeky little enclave. Snape (when he wasn’t being downright abusive) was snarky. When Doctor Who started up again in 2005 it seems that a whole new batch of Americans became infected with snark. And then along came Sherlock in 2010.

Despite the fact that I can’t remember once seeing or hearing the word snark in any of these books or shows, snark seems to have ridden to the New World aboard these franchises like a plague rides a rat, because all of a sudden everyone in the U.S. seemed to be infected. (Weirdly, I actually haven’t heard my British friends use snark that much, if at all. But maybe that’s because I don’t live in the U.K)

But guess what? Snark is much, much older than Harry Potter, or Doctor Who or the sexy new version of Sherlock Holmes.

It is, however, contemporary with the original Sherlock Holmes, and the original definition fits the original character.

According to Webster, the word snarky first appeared in the UK between 1910 and 1915, and it didn’t mean sarcastic. What it meant was “testy or irritable.” It could also mean “to nag, or find fault with,” which means I just snarked at my poor husband about our grocery list. (Sorry, honey.)

While I don’t know when exactly snark stopped being about nagging and started being a synonym for sarcasm (It’s not listed at all in a 1970s edition of The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English)  it’s interesting to note that Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark was published in 1876 and possibly helped to bring the term into the language.

Who knows? If snark continues to travel one of its current paths, acting as a mask for discontent, it may end up once again meaning “testy and irritable” in which case, this whole post has been an exercise in snark.

Let’s put it out of its misery before it ends up being an indicator of ours. Let’s resign it once again to the yellowing pages of Webster’s Unabridged Encyclopedic Dictionary, so that our great-grandchildren can find it and repurpose it as we have done.

Sometimes you just have to let something you love go.