So excited: I will be on WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show Monday.

Guys. GUYS. I’m going to be on WNPR on Monday. On the Colin McEnroe show On the radio.

I will be on the air with three other CT authors: Chandra Prasad, Brian Slattery and Lucy Ferriss.

We will be talking about the future of the novel with McEnroe, who is himself an author, at 1 p.m. on Monday, and folks, it’s a call-in show. This is the number: (860) 275-7266.  Call in. Ask lots of questions. The show airs on WPNR-FM 90.5 in Connecticut, but if you don’t live here, that’s okay, you can listen live (or listen to the file later) by going here.

UPDATE: If you miss the 1 p.m. show, a rerun will air at 8 p.m. Thanks to Betsy from WNPR for letting me know.

I’m going to be honest; I’m a little nervous to be on a panel with these authors. They’re all extremely accomplished. But I’m also excited; I can’t wait to talk with them about writing in general and the novel in particular.

For those of you who are not from Connecticut, Colin McEnroe is kind of a big deal. He was on AM radio when I was growing up and he must have been on at a time when I was home from in school, because his was one of the voices I heard daily.

I could go on and on, but I will make a long story short: in 2009, McEnroe moved to WNPR, which is one of CT’s NPR affiliates. He’s got a show that runs from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays, and that’s the one I will be on Monday. He’s great to listen to; he’s a wit and he’s smart as hell and opinionated as a radio host ought to be. I once read a piece that described him as “The Hunter Thompson of Connecticut Journalism.” I don’t know if that’s really the case, but I aim to find out.

So guys, listen, call in. Tweet about it. It’s going to be fantastic.

January appearance in Colchester, Conn. and other bookish news.

Hello folks. Just a brief post to make a couple of announcements:

First off, I will be appearing in January at Books and Boos, a brand spanking new bookstore in Colchester, Conn. I will be talking more about the appearance as it approaches, but here are the basics – I will be reading on Saturday, Jan. 19 from 12 to 2 p.m. They will also be carrying Beware the Hawk, in case you happen to be in the area when I’m not there.

I will be the second VBP author to be reading there; on Saturday, Dec. 8, Kristi Petersen Schoonover will be there to read from her book, Bad Apple.

In other news, I’ve finished the very first draft of the sequel to Beware the Hawk! This is only the first step in a chain of drafts. I still have a lot of work to do before I can even hand it to my editor, and I can’t guarantee that she will accept it, but if she does, you can bet that the story will go through a lot of changes before it makes it out into the world.

So the big news here is that the draft exists, which is huge for me, because one of my writing fears is that I will fail to imagine a full plot. Now that the plot is in place, I’m free to go back into the story and refine what I have.

That’s it. I hope you’ve all been enjoying the long holiday weekend.

I’m on the The Fairfield Writer’s Blog today!

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Alex McNab, a novelist and journalist who writes for the Fairfield Writer’s Blog, to talk about revision and drink caffeinated beverages. McNab began reading The Garret a year and a half ago when I began revising my novel, and – since he’s revising his own novel – he was interested in knowing more about my process.

His post about our chat went up this morning. I am so excited about it, and I hope you check it out.

We talked about re-typing work, when to look at notes from writing workshop during the revision process, strengthening prose, and returning to written work after a long time.

I should disclaim here: This is just my process of revision, and it’s an ever-evolving mishmash of ideas and tips I’ve picked up from members of writing groups, books I’ve read and professors I’ve had.

Behold: The finalists of the Name My Character contest! Now I need you to vote.

The names are in!

It’s been kind of a neat two weeks. I received a dozen name submissions which ran the gamut from Sarah (as in Sarah Connor) to Devon Sharktopus (thanks, Phil.)

But alas, as in Highlander, there can be only one. And because I like to make up arbitrary rules, there can be only three finalists.

One of the three names below will be the real name of the protagonist in my novella, Beware the Hawk. And to keep it a secret until the big reveal next installment of my story, I shant be revealing the winner until the next piece is published. (Although if you can do math and see the poll results you’ll probably be able to figure it out.) The winner gets to name the character, obviously, and will get a signed copy of the next story featuring her.*

Below are the finalists.

Vanessa Pye, submitted by Daisy Abreu

Hendrikke Penelope Brackensfeld, submitted by Beth Callahan

Harleigh McManus, submitted by Karen Morrissey Covey

You can vote here or on my Facebook page. Hell, vote once here and once on my Facebook page, twice a day, from different computers. Vote for your favorite name. Vote for your favorite person on the list. Just vote a lot, because I really want a clear winner.

And anyways, it’s not like this is a race governed by the elections commission.

The poll is below. You guys have until next month (August 19) to vote. So vote often.

*There’s no money or anything else attached to this prize, as you know. Just glory and a free story. Hey, that rhymes.

Announcement time: Stamford appearance and reading in Mystic.

It’s on the Internets, so I feel like it’s probably time to announce this here:

  • I will be the featured reader at the Stamford Town Center’s Barnes & Noble Poetry Night on Monday, August 13. The event starts at 8 p.m. There will be other readers before me and after me, but I will be reading and I will have books with me. Need more info? Here’s the announcement.

It feels weird to be announcing an appearance in Stamford, when I live so close, because I make “appearances” in Stamford fairly often. Some of my recent “appearances” include a) picking up a new battery at the Apple Store b) that time when I sleepily and mistakenly got off the train from NYC at the wrong stop and c) once when we met some cousins for dinner.

But it’s also really cool to be appearing in Stamford because that’s my old coverage area. (For the uninitiated, “coverage area” is  reporter-speak for “the town in which I used to cover board of education committee meetings.”) I used to spend a lot of time in Stamford. I even covered the work of local authors there, so it’s pretty cool to be headed there for a reading myself.

I totally have to thank my MFA colleague Nick Miele for setting this up for me. He’s a poet and he will also be reading.

  • Speaking of the MFA…. I will be reading on Thursday, July 19 in Mystic, at my MFA program’s  Alumni Day. I will post something separate about this, but the readings will run from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Chapel at Enders. I will be reading with David Fitzpatrick, Deb Henry and Annabelle Moseley. It’s auspicious company, to say the absolute least. I will blog more about this later in the week, because oh my god. All three of these colleagues have reached insane career heights in the last year and you need to know more about them.

Lastly, you all have three days to get name suggestions for my main character to me. Then the voting begins.

“Dig, Don’t Fix”: Notes on revision from Robert McGuire

Last week, I sat down with one of my  writers’ groups to discuss the novel I’ve been working on.

Stack of edited copies of my novel.

Marked-up first drafts of the novel. I have a lot of work to do.

I’ve posted ad nauseum about my troubles revising this project, which served as my creative thesis when I graduated from the Fairfield MFA program. I tried retyping the novel. I read chapters in craft books. I made timelines. I set goals. I wrote new scenes. Nothing seemed to work. I didn’t feel like I was making the structure of the plot any cleaner or stronger. I felt like I was cluttering it.

So last Wednesday, when I sat down with the members of a writing group who had read the whole first draft of my book, I was a little apprehensive. I’d read it myself and noticed lots of holes where I thought there were none. I noticed lots of mistakes. I was certain that my three colleagues – Daisy Abreu, Robert McGuire, and Ioanna Opidee (who starts her own revisions today) –  would pull the thing apart.

Except  they didn’t.They gave me lots of good advice and three marked-up copies, and this will sound cheesy, but they also gave me hope for a story I’ve been falling out of love with.

And here’s another thing a member of that writing group gave me: notes on revisions for this blog post.

A few weeks back, I asked my readers for revision advice. Robert McGuire, who interviewed me earlier this year for his blog, Working on a Novel, wrote these notes on revision after I chided him for not commenting on that post. I’ve edited out some of the specific references to my novel, but I want to share his advice with all the writers who happen upon this blog.

Robert’s advice is really on point. He teaches writing at the college level and is very disciplined when it comes to his own craft, and his advice is worth reading. Also, his blog, Working on a Novel, is an electronic journal inspired by John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, the diary/letters/journal that Steinbeck kept while writing East of Eden. I’m reading that now (Robert has kindly loaned me his copy) and I’ve begun journaling in the morning before work, as Steinbeck did. I don’t know if this journaling will last, but right now, it’s helpful. I realized that one of the things I lack now is someone to talk to about my work. When I was in my MFA program, I was constantly talking about my novel. I talked to my mentors and teachers about the work I was doing. I talked to other students. I was immersed in the story and in the lives of the characters. Now there’s not nearly as much chatter about the work I’m doing and if I want to stay immersed, I have to talk to myself. I find that so far, it’s been helpful.

But enough from me. Here’s Robert:

Wheww. Congratulations on writing a complete draft of a complete novel. One foot in front of the other. It’s a big achievement.

First, let me give my response to your blog post about how to revise.

Craft books, of course! No, actually, when I have been at this stage with my books, I discovered that it’s really hard to find good practical advice about the revision process. Drafting, yes. Editing and proofreading, yes. But not RE-vising. The big messy muddle in the middle doesn’t seem to get as much attention.

Nevertheless, a couple sources spring to mind. I really like the Jane Smiley book, Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Novel, and in it she has two chapters especially about writing, the second of them being about how to look at your draft and look at it critically. I also benefited from some focus/prompt questions I found in one chapter of an otherwise unremarkable book by Jesse Lee Kercheval called Building Fiction.

One technique I remember picking up somewhere was to think of the plot in terms of questions that were posed by the book and that the reader was asked to care about. The idea being that you want to provoke questions in the reader’s mind – plot-wise, character-development-wise and thematically – and ultimately satisfy those questions. I had a little diagram, totally unique to my book, that had surface-level plot questions and more implicit thematic questions, some that pulled the narrative along for only a section (i.e. the “acts” in your book) and some that were overarching for the whole book. Then I would go through and ask how each scene interacted with those questions. Was the scene relevant to the focus questions? Keep the reader caring about the questions? Complicating things without digressing? That was a big help in figuring out what each scene needed to make it work as part of the whole.

Another way of thinking about the revision process is to think in terms of SAYS vs. DOES. (I take this from first-year composition texts.) This scene/book/graf/whatever SAYS ____. This scene DOES _____. I suppose it’s another way of thinking about the difference between what’s explicit and what’s implicit. And I suppose it helps connect a given scene to the whole. Because a scene can say something very well within its own boundaries but to do anything effectively, it has to be in communication with the rest of the book. At an early stage of revision, I would worry less about what a scene says than what it does. Ask yourself what the scene is doing to move the story forward, escalate tension, establish character, etc. When the answer isn’t clear, then you know you’ve got work to do. I suppose the follow up question is to ask yourself what the scene should do.

You and I have probably have opposite styles on the issue of “overwriting.” For the sake of getting another POV on the table, I’ll argue for not worrying too much about your father’s warning against overworking the book if for no other reason than it’s easier for writers to erase than for painters. Kidding myself about how good my work is a clear and present danger, and overworking it is only a theoretical possibility.

One of the main principles that make sense to me is the idea that revision is re-envisioning the book. Seeing it again. Seeing what it is and what it needs and what it could be. Seeing it differently. It’s really easy to get lost in line edits and feel like progress is being made when what’s really needed is a bigger picture re-evaluation. Of course, there aren’t bright lines between these stages, and it probably happens sometimes that struggling with a line edit reveals the larger structure of the book.

Last bit of experience: When I was drafting my first book, I noticed that I kept myself motivated by a kind of unconscious mantra. Just add sentences. No matter what, keep moving forward. Don’t worry about how good it is. Then when I was bogged down during the revision stage I figured out I needed another regular, simple reminder of what the work was. I finally settled on one. Dig. Don’t fix. Whenever I was tempted to fix something, it turned out I was avoiding something more essential. I needed to get down in the mud and make some more mud pies first.

There’s some of this POV that I think applies to your draft, and I’ll share that when our writing group gets together to discuss it. Good luck!

Pics from last week’s reading at the Watertown Library

The official photographer* has sent me photos from my e-book talk and reading of Beware the Hawk at the Watertown Library last week. I’m only going to share a few shots with you here because there are something like 20 very high-res photos and, also, I know all of the people in the photos, so reading the captions for all of them would read like a trip down memory lane.  But here are a few shots. Let me know if you can find the hawk circling outside the window. I’m told it was there, but I can’t find one in the photo.

Deborah Weinberger, president of the Watertown Library Association, speaks about the library's new collection of e-books and provides the introduction. Note the "e-book" balloons to the right and left.

I speak about e-books, clutching my index cards as if I could absorb all the information written on them through the skin of my fingers.

Me with one of my parents' neighbors during the book signing. I used to get in all sorts of trouble in her yard. I fell out of one of her trees, I accidentally injured her daughter's bunny, I contributed to the decay of shrubs on her property by building a fort in the hedge... In fact, now that I think about it, it's a wonder she came out to the reading.

This is Mr. Fava, formerly of Watertown High School. I was assigned to his study hall as a freshman. I did no homework in this study hall. Instead I wrote novels. I am proud to say that you will never, ever see any of those novels.

And that's my grandmother.

UPDATE & CONFESSION:  I misused an apostrophe in the original title of this post; the one that went out to Twitter and Facebook as a status update. I wrote “weeks'” instead of “week’s.” I know. Not a big deal. Still, I’ve posted about apostrophe abuse so often that I feel I must own up to all apostrophe crimes. Feel free to report me to Strunk & White.

* My dad.

Last night’s author event at the Watertown Library.

Photo taken by my husband during a smoke break.

Wow. I’m still a little overwhelmed by last night’s reading at the Watertown Library. Going into the event, I was having nightmares that I’d walk in to see hundreds of folding chairs and that only a few would be filled by my family and by the folks who work at the library.

In reality I walked into a room decorated with balloons bearing the world “e-book.” There were just barely enough seats for the people who came out to hear the lecture and reading. And those people included my friends’ parents and siblings, my neighbors when I was growing up, the people who employed me when I was a teenager, a high school teacher and his wife, and of course my family.*

I was kind of nervous, even with all the familiar faces. I’ve done readings before – but always as part of a group. This was just me, and part of the event was a lecture about e-books. I’ve been doing a lot of research about e-books lately and I had note cards and everything, but there was this one dreadful moment when everything I knew just disappeared and I accidentally entered that blank-slate state of mind that I’ve been trying – and failing – to cultivate during meditation. Holy horrible timing, Batman. But then the moment passed, and everything from that point on went smoothly.

One of the most thrilling things about last night: there were people I don’t know in the audience, including a 13-year-old writer who wants to have his own book published someday. I used to be the 13-year-old going to readings with my parents. I don’t think he could possibly know how much it meant to me to sign his copy of Beware the Hawk (even though I told him to wait a few years before reading it.) It’s the circle of life, people.

Speaking of circling, I read with my back to a huge window, and I’m told that a hawk was flying around on the other side of the glass during the reading. As I posted on my Facebook author page last night, I want to try to duplicate this experience by naming future titles after animals that might appear outside of a library window. I’ll name the next one Beware the Squirrel. Or something. There is an interesting discussion about possible common-animal book titles going on over there right now.

Thank you so much, Watertown Library, Friends of the Watertown Library, and people of Oakville and Watertown. You’ve made me so happy.

*My father took scads of photos last night. I will post them when I get them.

 

 

How to revise a novel, according to my commenters.

So, I hear (via the  #AWP12 hashtag on Twitter) that last night, Margaret Atwood brought the house down at AWP with her keynote speech.

I cried a little on the inside when I read those tweets, because I love Margaret Atwood and I’m sad that this was her year to be at AWP and my year to not go. But as I said a few days ago, just because some of us writers aren’t in Chicago doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some knowledge dropped on us.

Earlier this week, I blogged about my fear of revising a novel and issued a plea for help. And, as always, my fellow writers came through in the clutch with all manner of advice.

Here, in no particular order, is the revision advice that I received this week. It’s enough to make a girl want to get revising right away:

“I go over my text a few times, says SickBoyMcCoy, writer of the online serial Bad Blood Bandits. “The first is just to enjoy it. If I can’t do that due to grammatical or spelling or just structure then it warrants change. The second time I go over it and look for ways to push what I have just a little further. The third time I try to detach myself from what I have written and try and think of the most radically different ways I could have told the story and if none of them outshine what I’ve done it stays. It’s enough to drive someone to drink.”

HannahKarena (whose blog is sadly no longer available for me to link to) recommended a technique she read about in No Plot? No Problem! a craft book written by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWrioMo, (For the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month):
“I’m about to start revising my own novel this weekend–I’ve been putting it off for weeks because I’ve never done it before–but I’m going to try the index card organization of scenes method that everyone is raving about .”

E.S. Cameron recently wrote that she’s addicted to revision. Here’s her advice:

“I haven’t yet finished a first novel draft, so I haven’t yet revised one – but it seems to me that how you revise depends on where you are in the process. Start from the top and work down, from macro to micro. This is how I would approach it:

MACRO: The first thing I would look at is the story/plot, and fix any gaping holes/problems. Then I would look at form/structure: is this the best way to tell my story? If the answer is no, I would start moving things around until it worked.

IN BETWEEN: From here, I would look at elements like place/detail, character development, dialogue, etc. to make sure that I’m hitting all my targets in these areas. This step would probably involve adding a fair amount of text.

MICRO: Then I would go though chapter by chapter and start cutting mercilessly – any sentence/scene not carrying its weight would have to go. Finally, I would start doing line by line revisions, looking at my specific word choices and sentence structure, making sure that every sentence does what I need it to. (I feel strongly that people underestimate the importance of sentence structure.) This last step I would repeat as necessary.”

Matthew Dicks, author of Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo tweeted this advice: “Read aloud. Remind yourself that this is just the first of many revisions. Try not to hate yourself when it sounds like dirt.”

UPDATE: Whoops! Matt Dicks has also penned another book, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. It was released this week in other countries, but as with all delicacies (seasons of Sherlock, fashions from Europe, etc.) we will have to wait months (it releases in August) before we can get our hands on it in the U.S. European and down-under folks, go find this book! Read it, review it and don’t include spoilers!

Alena Dillon of The Time is Write has revised four full-length manuscripts. Here’s her process:

“When I’m done with my first draft, I print the whole thing out. I too am an underwriter (you mentioned that you are in a blog a few days ago), but most times I have a feeling where I’ve gipped my manuscript. For instance, if I think a theme or a character may be lacking, I’ll flip through the manuscript and highlight whenever it/he/she appears so that I can visually see its/his/her arc. Each theme or character would get its own color: green for mother, pink for loss, etc. I like to see physical presence as vividly as possible, and when I get a sense of that, then I read through and mark where I could write more (or, rarely, less), and what I could write–but I don’t actually do the writing until later. Revision takes a lot of courage and momentum, so I don’t interrupt that if I can avoid it.

If I don’t have a sense of what is needed, I’ll read a craft book, keeping my particular manuscript in mind as I read. For the novel, I read Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyons and took notes of what came to mind that my novel might need done. Then I placed those notes beside me as I read through the manuscript AND MARKED THE HELL OUT OF IT. The more cross outs, stars, arrows to the back page with a list of what is needed, the better.”

After reading all this good advice, I remembered that I myself am not completely without revision resources. One of my mentors once told me to put work away for a month, then to read the whole thing in one day as if I were reading someone else’s work. Also, Rick Moody visited my MFA program to give a lecture on revision. His lecture, I remember, was so exciting that I couldn’t wait to get out of there and revise something.  I didn’t have anything to revise at the time, but I still have the notes from the lecture. I plan to re-read the notes from his lecture, re-read this blog post and get crackin’.

Maybe E.S. Cameron is right; maybe a writer can get addicted to revision.

March: Goals for 2012

It’s the first of March. I am happy to report that one of my 2012 goals has been checked off. Granted it was the goal that I had the least control over, but it’s always nice to see anything crossed off a list. Here we go.

As an aside, if you’d like to read something more interesting than an update on my new years’ resolutions, you can stop reading now. Here’s an interesting site. Or you could just watch this:

Finish the second draft of my novel by April. Oh… I don’t think I’m going to make this deadline. I have copies of my first draft out to one of my writing groups. I just need the courage to start work. Also, I need to pick a day and read the manuscript in one swoop. And on that day? I should not check my email, plan a class or be anywhere near my phone. I should probably not even be in the house. That might take some doing.

Get it sent to agents before summer. I’m not even thinking about this. I’m not.

Send out at least three short stories. I have sent out two essays and lots of guest posts for other people’s blogs. I’ve sent out three news articles. But I’ve sent out exactly no short stories, which means I fail this one.

Beware The Hawk novella

Thanks to this book, one goal is off the list.

Read one novel a month in 2012. I’ve read five since January 1: The Lord of the Rings trilogy,  Jack the Theorist, and Carry-On, a novel by MFA colleague Chris Belden. At the moment, I’m bookless, but that will change soon. I’m trying to find a fun read and then I’m moving on to Blood Meridian, since that’s the book that my writing group is tackling next.

Make at least $20 off a piece of fiction. Done! I just got the sale numbers for January  from my publisher, Vagabondage Press, for my book Beware the Hawk. I don’t have exact numbers, but based on my usual fuzzy way of doing math,  seemed to have crossed the $20 line.

Other goals: I also set to work on two of my big conflicts: My feelings about my faith and my issues with anxiety. I haven’t done a thing about the anxiety, which is probably pretty evident to anyone who’s been reading my posts lately.

I have, however been thinking a lot about the faith issue. That’s been unexpectedly freeing; it’s really the first time since childhood that I’ve given myself permission to explore my own beliefs without a person, a church or a dogma peeking over my shoulder.

As interesting as this exercise has been for me personally, I now wonder if I should write an essay about it at all. I’m beginning to understand the religious zeal of the people who have confronted and accepted their beliefs, and who show up on my doorstep bearing pamphlets. I now notice that they are very interested in their own beliefs, but they can be big damn bores. It’s not exactly the stuff that thrilling literature is made of.

In fact, I’ve seen just one religious pamphlet that could be considered thrilling. It featured an illustration of a figure I can only describe as Super Satan. He had no clothes, no face, and the number of the beast tattooed across his bare, muscled chest. Nothing I produce can ever compete with that.

I digress. My point is that personal epiphanies are just that – personal.  What’s more personal than belief? Who would want to read about my own spiritual journey?

Also there’s this: people get criz-azy about religion. No matter what you think about religion, there’s always some nut ready to vehemently jump down your throat for not agreeing with him or her. Or for having a sense of humor about something they take very, very seriously. I’m not sure if I want to deal with that.

If you’ve made it down to the bottom of this post, thank you. I promise that my next post will have something of added value – all the comments about revisions from yesterday’s cry for help blog post. Many of those tips are in the comments and you can read them there, but I did get at least one via social networking and I have a few of my own to share. No, really, I do.