This review is the best kind of peer review.

If the analytics on this blog are correct, no one visits the blogosphere on the weekend, because they’re out in the world, experiencing real life.

That’s as it should be, but I’m posting on a Saturday night anyhow, because I just got a wonderful reader review for Beware the Hawk, and I have to share.

In the interest of full disclosure, the reviewer (one Ms. Tamela Ritter) is a good friend, a former roommate, and the member of the writing group that helped me refine the first draft of Beware the Hawk, way back in 2003 and 2004.

I can hear the critics groaning now:”Why are you even excited about this? Sure she gave you a good review. She gave you feedback on the first draft. She practically helped you write the damn thing, didn’t she? And then she lived with you, so of course she has nothing bad to say about you.”

First of all, let’s address the roommate thing: Do a survey of my past roommates and you’ll find that to live with me is not to love me. I can think of at least three people who heaved sighs of relief once my stuff (and cat) were moved out of their apartments/dorm rooms.

Second of all, I’m excited about this because I have so much respect for Ritter’s own fiction. Her style is effortless, yet epic. There’s this beautiful nostalgic feeling about America – both the land and the people – in her work. The open road, traveling,  and a search for self are huge themes in her work. Her prose is poignant, but accessable. Soon it will be accessible to everyone; her novel, (I believe it’s titled From the Ashes, although that might have changed) will be released  later this year.

That’s why I’m excited that she reviewed Beware the Hawk so favorably; Ritter is one of my favorite authors.

Wikipedia defines Peer Review as “a process of evaluation involving qualified individuals within the relevant field.” Ritter is certainly that.

This is the best kind of peer review.

Writing recess

A couple weeks ago, I sat across from one of my professors at a coffee shop. We were discussing my novel. I had just finished the first draft of it and I was obsessing over several minor plot points because I’d shown it to a couple of writers’ groups and gotten conflicting reactions.

My professor sat patiently as I allowed my OCD* to ride roughshod over my common sense and my ability to remain calm. After about 20 minutes of listening to my nonsense, she cut me off.

“Don’t workshop it anymore. Now is the wrong time to workshop it.”

I blinked. I belong to three writers’ groups, two of which meet monthly. I’m headed off to my final residency for the Fairfield University MFA program. All of these groups require substantial writing samples from me on a regular basis.

I need to feed those beasts. And I have just the fodder for them: a 273-page, mostly unread and largely un-workshopped novel. I mean, come on. What else do I have to hand to my writers’ groups? A sheaf of angsty college poetry written in Spanglish, complete with coffee stains and cigarette burns? Darkwing Duck fan fiction from 1992? Because that’s what’s left in the bottom of my filing cabinet.

"I am the terror that flaps in the night. I am the fanfic that lurks in your past."

I communicated this to my professor, leaving out the bit about Darkwing Duck.

“Don’t bring anything. Or you know, bring something else you’re working on. But don’t workshop your novel now.”

My professor told me to fuggedaboutit , literally. She said that I needed to protect and incubate the work. She told me not to look at it, or think about it, for at least two weeks.

“I know that might be hard for you to do, but you have to try,” she said, and looked almost apologetic.

She needn’t have. It wasn’t hard. Not even a little bit. My inner procrastinator seized onto that piece of advice, and by the time I skipped out of that coffee shop, I had already pushed all thoughts, worries, or concerns about my book to the very back of my brain. I walked out of there carefree. I had permission to forget about my novel. Great! My professor had let me out for recess!

There is a problem with this. The problem is that my professor’s advice had two parts. The first was to forget, and the second went like this:

“In two weeks, sit down and read the whole thing. Try to do it in one day. Read it with a legal pad in hand, as if you were reading something written by somebody else. Then you will begin to see what changes need to be made.”

Oh dear. It’s been two weeks. And I am having a hard time resurrecting my interest, enthusiasm or desire to look at my first draft. I can’t even write other things. I just got back from a writers’ retreat, at which I wrote at least 1,500 words of another two projects. All of it was crap. All the sentences were Subject-Verb-Noun, the level of the most basic Dick and Jane reader. (Jane writes novels. Jane drinks wine. Booze doesn’t help.) I lost my mojo, and I don’t know where to look for it.

Actually, that’s a lie. I do know where to look for it.

Because as soon as my prof told me to forget about the novel, I (as I stated earlier) pushed all of my worries and fears about that novel to the very back of my brain. I opened a mental closet door, chucked in all my concerns about the novel, then shut the door quickly before anything else could come tumbling out of that closet and walked away quickly. Now I’m loathe to return.

Not only have I enjoyed a stress-free couple of weeks, but I don’t want to go rooting around back there to find my enthusiasm for my novel.

Here’s an example of some of the other items I’ve housed in that part of my brain:

• Things I learned in high school pre-algebra

• Memories of the ignoble things that I’ve done to other people

• Everything I know about the phrase “mill rate”

Good lord. I’ve put my novel behind the Gee-I-hope-I-never-have-to-think-about-this-again door. Why? I have some theories.

It could be plain old fear of failure. (Ahh! What if I work very hard and fail?)

It might be fear of success. (Ahh! What if I publish it? Then people will hold me responsible for what I wrote!)

It could be something I like to think of as Queen Midas Syndrome. (If I touched it, it’s already gold. No need to touch it further.)

It could be my short attention span. (I should work on my novel… Ooh! Something shiny!)

It could be laziness. (I’d rather play Scrabble on Facebook.)

It could be that it’s summer. (School’s out!)

It could be any of those things. Or it could be something else. But while I was typing the above list, I realized something. None of the bullet points are valid excuses for not printing out my novel (an exercise that takes my printer an hour to complete) and reading it some time this week. I mean really. I’m too arrogant to fear failure, I love smugness too much to fear success, I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD (*or OCD, for that matter), and although I’m lazy and it is summer, neither of those things has ever kept me from doing things that I hate. That leaves Queen Midas syndrome, but who cares? It doesn’t matter why I’m making excuses for myself. It matters whether or not I pay attention to the excuses.

Well then. Recess is over. I’m printing it, and I’m reading it, just as my professor suggested. But I will ignore her advice about submitting something else to my writers’ groups. They’re getting chunks of novel this month. After all, I am lazy.


Novels – they grow up so fast.

I’m still struggling to bring my novel to a close.

Tonight, for some inspiration, I dragged out the short story that eventually became my novel. I wrote the story last spring, and a year ago, turned it in as a workshop sample for my MFA program.

It’s a strange little piece. I’m not exactly sure when or how the idea for it hit me, but I was watching a lot of Rupaul’s Drag Race at the time, and as an arts reporter, had been writing a series of stories on summer Shakespeare productions. I must have also picked up a bag of JaVaNa coffee beans at the grocery store. Somehow all of this churned together in my brain and came out as a short story about a drag queen named Javana who desperately wants to play the Lady Macbeth in an amateur Shakespeare on the Green production.

The story is 16 pages long. That’s it. Sixteen pages. My manuscript is, at this point, 260 pages long. Good lord – that’s a lot of pages. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that long. They funny thing is that the 16-pager is almost a miniature of the novel; both pieces cover (more or less) the same material and the same amount of time. Both attempt the same character arc. It’s amazing to me that I ever thought I could do that with a short story.

Novels. They grow up so fast. This one has been my baby. I’ve loved it and nurtured it and given it the best I could. That said, I can’t wait until this one is fully grown.  After graduation, I’m kicking its lazy butt out of my house so it can go out into the world, get a job and hopefully support me in my old age.