Wednesday, December 21, 2011

You're not Creepy Enough to Write That...

I've met a whole new family while working in France - other English assistants who I love! The other day (er, um okay like 2 weeks ago) we were having our weekly Bachnalian Society Wine Night (complete with mayhem and foolishness) and one of the girls started asking me about my Creepy Troublemakers shirt (The Troublemakers are a group of people in my MFA program) and so I was explaining the origin of Creepy Bill and why he wasn't creepy enough to write horror. And she said I had nothing to say on the matter because I was clearly not creepy enough to be writing the things that I write. :-) 
It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. She was referring specifically to a flash fiction I wrote for a school assignment several years ago that was published in the local University's press. ( Yes, the story is creepy, scary and all of those other icky emotions we don't want to look to closely at. And while I don't feel the need to justify it, because art doesn't need justification, I will kind of explain the process behind the story, because she asked, and I felt the need to share it all with you. 
The parameters of the assignment were to write a story in the second person, which isn't a POV used very often in literature, and to use this POV to make the reader feel ashamed. And in my opinion, the story does just that. I picked the subject matter because it's always been one that horrified and intrigued me. It's like the same morbid fascination some people have with death. We live in a rape culture because the idea of it is so abhorrent to us. So creepy enough or not, I wrote it. (Personally, I find myself to be very creepy - but that's because I live inside my own head, a place that would scare the hell out of anyone else who got a glimpse into it). 
At any rate, I feel as if I did my job. When you write something that gives someone else chills, or makes them feel weird, or happy or scared or evokes any other kind of emotion, you've done a good job. 

To everyone out in the Bloggerverse - what emotional reactions have you gotten from your readers?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Oh, Nanowrimo, the places you'll go with Jo

I began Nanowrimo a few short days ago, and here is what's happening so far. (For those who don't know, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is held every November when a bunch of absolutely crazy people [writers] sign up to write a semi-coherent glob of 50,000 words in 30 days).

I started the Nano book about two months ago, and had written exactly 2/3 of a page... WOOHOO ME! ;-0
So I decided this year I was going to tackle Nano, in the midst of working, going to school, traveling Europe, and working some more to pay for traveling in Europe, and that I would use this book that I have been thinking about for months and haven't done anything with (and yes, I can actually end a sentence with a preposition - see I just did it). And so far, I've got 8,000 words!
I've written in an airport, on a bus, on a train, in a hotel room, and in my apartment. This book has now seen two different countries, seven hotel rooms, three trains, a plane, and an airport. Oh the places we will go!
Off to do today's 2,000 words!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flash Fiction

This is a short flash fiction I wrote about a year ago and just found in a notebook.

Rick carried his plate of meatloaf and pasta toward his table. The silverware clenched in his right hand beneath the plate made clinking sounds as he walked. Rick put his glass of chocolate milk down on the table first and then his plate and silverware. 
"Hey," Rick said as he sat down.
"What's up?" Jason said. 
"Nothing man, just glad this week's almost over. It's been a bear. You comin out with us tonight?"
"Yeah, I guess. I mean it - SHIT!" Jason's eyebrows lifted higher than Rick thought they ever could. 
"What the hell, man?" he said. 
"I think I just saw a bear outside the window." Rick's voice was serious. 
"You saw a what, where?" Rick flipped around in his seat. This was going to be one of those stupid, "made you look" sort of things, he could tell. But Jason had sounded so shocked that maybe just maybe - Rick felt his own eyes widen. The hinge of his jaw opened just enough for the bottom of his face to hang. It really was a live, freaking bear!
Rick leapt out of his seat and cringed at the sudden shrieking in the room. Other people had seen it, too. At least that meant he wasn't crazy. But it also meant he could become bear chow any second. Suddenly, Rick was being jabbed with elbows and assaulted by the screaming. 
Somebody shoved him into the table until his solar plexus met with wood and he slammed his face into the plate of meatloaf. Someone grabbed his shoulder and used the leverage to climb on top of his back. Rick screamed as three of his ribs cracked. He could hear neither his own scream nor that snapping pop ribs made upon breaking.  
Rick coughed, trying to pull some air into his lungs. He looked down. He didn't remember putting ketchup on his meatloaf. The thought was torn away as someone drove a spiked heel in between the tiny bones in his wrist. Rick could no longer feel his legs. The table began moving, pitching sideways. Rick tried to blink and focus on the dark cherry wood. He could no longer hear any screaming or see anything other than a small knot in the top of the table. His eyes blinked closed and refused to be reopened. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Result of Bribing my Muse

So, as I said this afternoon, it was time to bribe the Muse again by writing some Creative Non-Fiction. - Here it is.

Lobbing Lobsters at Red Lobster

You would think that a woman allergic to seafood would avoid going to a place which specializes in shell fish. Well, my mother is not one of those women. Allow her body or physical limitations to stop her from doing something? Never. Well this particular day she was tempting fate, it decided to give her a solid Bitch Slap (and I do mean that with a CAPITAL B).
So we’re sitting there in the booth, just beside the live lobster tank and she murmurs, as if in true sympathy, “Aww, they tape their hands closed.”
“Claws, ma, they’re called claws… and it’s to stop them from fighting.” I tell her.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever,” Dad replies.
“Well, if I were to go over and snatch one out of the tank and lob it at you, you’d be damn glad they had their claws taped up,” I say.
We all laugh, and then my imagination takes over… hmmm lobbing lobsters at Mom… it holds possibilities.... 

I look around the restaurant and wonder… what would everyone do if I plunge my hands into that frigid water and come up with one lobster in each grip? Only one way to find out… I leap up from my seat and dash to the tank. I push my hands into the icy wetness and snag a lobster in each grasp. I spin around, facing the filled entryway of shocked faces and gasps. I laugh maniacally at them all. Wide-eyes and open mouths greet me.
“Jo, what the hell are you doing?”
I twirl to face my mom, brandishing my wrapped-clawed beauties. I toss one in her general direction. She snatches it out of the air.
“En garde!” I holler. She is learning French, after all.
I hop onto a chair, my lobster swinging in my hand in front of me, ready for her to come at me. She charges, letting out a battle cry that Genghis Khan would envy, and it’s on like Donkey Kong. We slap lobsters together, the wet, hard clank reverberating through the hushed cavernous restaurant. Her lobster’s claws pull against the thin paper keeping my baby’s claws contained. They spring open, snapping and mashing at his opponent. I’m going in closer for the kill, almost there and…

“Jo… hello! Jo – your order?”
I blink my eyes rapidly, bringing the booth back into focus and stare blankly at the waitress.
“Oh, I’ll have the lobster.”

Plotting Problems!

So I've finally sat down to plot out my next book, the sequel to Jaded Hope, which is currently titled Jaded Past. And I'm getting stumped. I need more external-driven plot-points, more action, and a bit more romance. I've got my GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) charts, a possible BBM  (Big Black Moment) a resolution and a few climactic scenes. I just need to fill in the middles. I know Points a-z, I just need to work on how to get from A to B to C, etc.
I think I may resort to bribing my muse... no sleep, lots of caffeine, food, some good reading and some free writing.
How do you bribe your Muse??

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Blog

Hello my cyber readers, 
I just wanted to share with everyone, in case you didn't know (because despite what some may wish, you're not all actually inside my head - which is probably a very good thing for you and maybe not such a good thing for me - it's lonely in there after all) I've started a new blog. And yes, I think I've fallen victim to New Blog Syndrome (kind of like New Baby Syndrome) where the newest, shiniest, funnest toy on the block overshadows and outwhines everything else (mixed metaphors, anyone?) So like all kids with a new toy, I've been playing shamelessly with the new blog, promising daily updates on the Countdown to Europe, redesigning the way it looks over and over again. But I assure you, the luster and allure of New Blog Syndrome will taper off soon and I will love them both equally (Yeah, right). But you'll always be my first blog, I'll always have had you longest, and honestly, more people like and follow you around than that silly new snot-factory called Jo's in France. I mean, really, who could compare you? Apples and oranges, I tell you.... there go the metaphors again.... 
At any rate, as my Writing Life takes a bit of a backseat to my crazy Travel Girl Life, I will be dedicating more time to freaking out over moving to a different country with no place to live than to plotting my next book, though truthfully I aim to do both quite thoroughly in the next 8 days. So if the Bloggerverse is in need of my constant neuroses, please visit the Shiny New Blog at
Until we meet again, your (never Daily) Dose of Jo shall miss you. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review - The Stinky Cheese Man

The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith is the funniest book I have ever read, hands down. As soon as you open the book to the title page, you know right from the start that this is going to be a funny! Book. Even the front jacket gets into the mix, saying “56 action-packed pages. 75% more than those old 32-page “Brand-X” books.” I can’t believe this story wasn’t listed for the weeks we are covering humor in children’s books. Talk about author or narrator intrusion – this is the book to do it in.
I can’t wait to take it to the kids on Friday and read it, but I’m afraid most of them won’t get the humor, which brings me to the point of intended audience. At first glance, this is a picture book. It is for kids. Except, I doubt that most kids under the age of 15 would get this book. There are references to many different stories they hear when growing up, but the younger ones I think might just be confused about this book of nonsensical nonsense. However, this won a Caldecott Honor, and as an adult reading it, I found such an incredible joy that most books just don’t instill in me anymore. From cover to cover, this was enthralling. 
It spoofs some of the best-known fairytales and stories we have in this culture: Chicken Little, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Princess and the Pea, and several others. And it turns them all what I like to call upsidedoodle! 
I think some of the humor in this book will be lost on younger readers (under 10 or so) who are unfamiliar with all of these stories or unable to yet understand sarcasm. But regardless of whether you have kids or you teach or are 80 years old, you must go and find this book right now and read it! I think I'm going to go buy a copy to take to France and read to the kids there - that's how amazing I thought this book was! 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review - Alice in Wonderland

So as an avid reader, I've decided I'd like to start writing some book reviews amidst the creative non-fiction and other general life posts. Here's my first one on Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland is one of those well-loved classics in the cannon, and I've never read it. I don't like to read the Classics simply because they're the classics. But I've always loved the movie versions of it and I've seen a ton of them. The older Disney version, a TV version where Whoopi Goldberg plays the Cheshire Cat, the new Disney version, and the Sci Fi version called Alice, but I never picked up the book. Until now. And suddenly I can see why the story has spawned so many different versions and inspired countless readers. 
I've found it simply enchanting as well as literary. It's so simply nonsensical that it makes perfect sense. Alice is trying to find herself by getting completely turned upside down and inside out. She changes sizes and meets new people and runs away from her problems and runs headlong into problems without thinking first. The language used is very silly and appropriate for the world that Lewis Caroll created. The characters are endearing and Alice is a great heroine for young readers and adults alike. Overall, I think this was a very easy and enjoyable read, and even after having seen so many versions of it, I could see the inherent value in the book. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My cat has pica

Oh, how I wish I were kidding. I should have noticed before now, really I know I should have. But I'm a very busy cat Mommy and I do have the cat from Hell. She likes to climb curtains, get on the counter, the stove, the dining room table, into the ceiling, and pretty much anywhere else she's not supposed to be!
A few months after I got her last May, we realized she was eating insulation! But I figured it was low to the ground, something to play with and she was bored. So we covered it up and we've gotten so many interractive toys around it's NUTS. We're constantly tripping over them.
She ate through the cord to the Wii sensor, and we should have known something was wrong then. We've even taken a few half-eaten hair ties from her. Tonight, she got sick and there were elastic bands of some sort in there. We found an expandable file folder with the elastic band chewed completely off, and another one with a half-eaten band!
I am now thoroughly convinced that my cat has pica! Now we have to determine if it's behavioral or physical. It's most likely behavioral... did I mention she was the cat from hell? And I'm leaving her here when I move to France for most of the year. GOODNESS!
Which means, it's only going to get worse.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Peep Jousting!

Another piece of creative non-fiction. Along with a video. The first part of the video is just a still picture. Then the Jousting begins. 
I’m trying to remember the first time I was introduced to peep jousting. Well, I think I was at Megan’s party, a Hawaiian-themed affair. There were grass skirts and leis, coconut bras and limbo sticks. It must have been around Easter-time as there were peeps afoot. Peeps are those disgustingly sugary-covered cavity-making marshmallow things that the Easter Bunny has brought me every year (fricken’ Bunny, I hate those damn things and until this late night in mid-April, I had absolutely no use for the little buggers).
And so we were bored high-schoolers, kinda nerdy, a bit too straight-laced and with parents in the house – so we had neither the opportunity nor the inclination for sex, drugs or rock’n’roll just to pass the time. And so, we turned to peeps. I’m sure that this was something Meg or Ellen found on youtube somewhere. They were always finding the most interesting things on the internet, those two – like the time they showed me the Charlie the Unicorn video.  But anyways, back to the peeps. So they told us we were going to hold a peep joust and that we would take bets on who would win – pink or yellow, purple or green. We began with a two-peep joust. It was pink vs. yellow. (Now, when you joust peeps, it’s important to remember that you must use two chick-shaped peeps, for this will not work with those silly bunny creations.) So the two peeps were placed on a plate, approximately one inch apart from each other. Then, both were skewered with a toothpick and carefully aimed at one another. (I wish I could draw you a diagram, for it is an interesting site, watching the peeps being prepared for battle for the first time.) And so we all stood around watching these peeps as Megan and Ellen made their preparations.
Okay, now what? I thought. As if in response to my question, Megan popped open the door to the microwave. See marshmallows do some funny stuff when they’re placed into the electromagnetic waves emitted by the microwave. (If you’re not sure what I mean by that, hold on, you’ll catch on soon.) We watched as Megan placed the plate into the microwave. Mesmerized by her audacity, we all stood by, slightly horrified as she pushed the Start button. The microwave turned on, and round and round the peeps spun. Now, as you’re aware by now, I’m no fan of peeps, but this was kind of horrifying to watch. They exploded! Not that kind of brain matter splattered all over the place exploded, but that slow motion lava eruption, like a blooming flower, only darker, more sinister. These poor little yellow and pink chicks had morphed, in seconds, into giant monstrosities, almost entirely unrecognizable. What’s the point? I thought, and then Ellen chimed in, “The first one to stab the other with a toothpick wins!”
Oh, right, I remembered, we’re watching peep jousting. Those terribly deformed creatures in there used to be peeps and they’re supposed to be stabbing each other. God I feel like Michael Vick. But I – I can’t look away so I watch, transfixed until yellow stabs pink mercilessly and Megan calls an end to their joust with the push of a button.
“You have to stop them before they really explode,” she announced.
So now every year I take revenge upon the Easter Bunny and those disgusting marshmallowy treats and subject them to the horrors of peep jousting for my own sick amusement. Go ahead, try it.

You know you want to.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I really hate getting lost

So, through my undergrad program and other writing life things, I've developed a liking to Creative Non Fiction, and I've decided I'll start posting them here. I've only got a few written, so if you have a prompt/quote/idea for me to write about, I'd LOVE to give it a try. Here's a piece from a class where the prompt was to write about being lost, in 20 minutes, with no parameters. This is what came out (with almost no revisions). It is one of the most fun pieces I've ever written and got me over the slump I had in the middle of my first novel! (my thanks to Dr. Franke, who literally laughed aloud in class while we read every one else's submissions on the computers) 

I really hate getting lost. It kind of sucks, a lot. It makes me frustrated and annoyed and I just can’t stand it. I used to call my mother while driving (without my earpiece) and then we’d growl back and forth at each other. Where are you? I don’t know, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be calling you. Well I can’t help you get where you need to be until I know where you are. Okay, the corner of Townsend and Salina. Ok going which way? Uh, I dunno. JOOOOO. MOOOOOOM.  Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. (And yes, that was a blatant King & I reference).

And so then Lola was born. Lola was the second best present my parents ever got me (the first being Josephine, my 2003 white Hyundai Elantra with blue decals on the sides). Lola, my Garmin Nuvi 750 GPS is my closest companion (even when she’s PMSing and tells me to turn where there is not a road or takes me to some trailer park in the middle of Pennsylvania and tells me it’s the Watermark Salo[o]n or even says “Turn right,” when really her map says turn left! [but I suppose that’s a female for you, saying one thing, showing another]). At any rate, Lola and I are great pals.

Whenever I’m going somewhere knew I tell people, all I need is the address, and then they blather on about how if I pass the second Wawa on the right I’ve gone too far, and I have to patiently (or not so patiently) ignore them while twiddling my thumbs or painting my nails so that when they’re finally finished and they say “got that?” I can reply in the affirmative that Lola will not fail us.

And then there’s that adage that you never know where you’re going til you get there. And I kind of like that notion – the sense of adventure you get on a road trip when you’re not really sure what to expect. So over Spring Break, I went on such a road trip. I knew I was going to go southish and through Pennsylvania into Virginia, but that’s about all I knew. So every few hours when I’d be on the phone with my mom and she’d ask me that wonderfully irritating question, I’d reply “I don’t know, somewhere in (enter state here).”or if I wasn’t even sure what state I was in at the time the reply was more along the lines of “I have no idea, but Lola does, so it’s all good.” And so I wasn’t really sure what we were going to see along the way, or the exact route we were going to take. I didn’t care; I had my Lola, my Cracker Barrel map, my co-pilot and an ever-increasing pile of CD’s.

Somewhere between Gerri’s and Ambers (Virginia and North Carolina) Lola brought us into contact with some very large and obnoxious billboards promising everything from cheap cigars to perfume. I ignored them in favor of the giant peach on the horizon, until I saw the words Porcelain Dolls. Then I was hooked. Exit 50, the sign assured me. I told Chris we were detouring; Lola would find out soon enough.

Under protest, Chris was yanked off of the highway, our beaten path as it were, and into an enormous warehouse-style redneck-filled megastore filled with mostly useless crap where he got to watch me debate and hem and haw and call my mother to measure the doll cabinet and give me advice on which doll was unique and cool enough to fit into my collection, for a whole thirty minutes until I decided on a 24-inch goliath named Rosalie. Lola kept whining at me “recalculating”.

When we left one state or another to go to some other part of the state or another, we were faced with lanes upon lanes of backed-up bottle-necked traffic, and so, once again, Lola in hand, we detoured. “Recalculating” she admonished (sometimes she really does sound irritated with me). And away we went, bypassing the traffic jam, running parallel to the highway until we were finally re-routed back on track.

There was a time in my life – pre-Lola – (let’s call that PL, shall we?) when getting lost was a really big deal, when it meant that I was going to be late, or maybe shot in the middle of Woodstock, New York, or run out of gas on some back road in the middle of East Jesus nowhere only to be raped and murdered, chopped into little bits and shoved into the swampy depths of anonymity and missing persons (not necessarily in that order). During this PL time of my life, I was often distracted by being on time, by having to leave 20 minutes early to go anywhere because I knew that inevitably, I would be incapable of following paper directions and too smart to look at a map while driving, and too dumb (or smart depending on the state I was in) to pull off at a lonely gas station simply to ask where the fuck I was going (yes, the f word really was necessary here). I don’t know if I can explain to you how difficult it was for me, this idea of getting lost – not to mention the reality of it when it inevitably happened time and time again – often and without warning. It was a cause of great stress in my life for four years. Every time I embarked on a new adventure, my inner Indiana Jones was squelched with images of my poor broken Josephine lying discarded on the side of some road, gasless, passengerless, lonely, like some old hole-filled sock, or of being lost in the middle of West Bumfuck New York, nothing but trees and deer in sight, on some winding mountainous road with no cell phone reception, driving endlessly for hours and hours.

So now, wherever I go, Lola leads the way, and I follow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Post-Conference Bliss!

I just had the immense pleasure of focusing on nothing but writing for two solid weeks.... and now I'm back in the real world, and it sucks just a little bit! 

Week 1: Let the festivities begin...
I spent June 20-26 in PA at Seton Hill University with my Troublemakers and the rest of my SHU family. We had classes and critiques from Wednesday to Sunday. I met some interesting new people - the ones. And I learned a few things. Took a class on marketing and trends in the romance genre and wrote my pitch for the RWA Conference, also took classes on reading my own work, writing excellent fight scenes and upping the sense of wonder and sublime in the books. I went through critique and everyone seemed to really like my next piece - the sequel to Jaded Hope, though it definitely needs some work, and I only have the first ten pages done. But that project will have to wait. During some bonding with other students and an impromptu reading at the hotel, I was asked to submit some erotic romance to an e-publisher, which I will be doing at some point this summer! Overall, there was lots of caffeine, friends, family, food, and VERY little sleep! 

Week 2: A continuation of insanity...
Sunday, after graduation and dinner with my Troublemakers (most of them) Pris and Monica and I packed my car (no it didn't fit better sideways, creeper) and I drove about four hours from West to East in PA - My god it's a WIDE state! When I was too tired to drive any more, we stopped at a surprisingly clean hotel at 1 am in the middle of Lebanon, PA (which I didn't even know existed until then.) After getting some much-needed sleep, we continued on to NYC. After finding the hotel (no simple task) we got settled and spent Monday relaxing, visiting and seeing a show (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which was amazing). Tuesday-Friday are kind of a blur. I met a TON of new people, got autographs from some of my favorite authors, went to several workshops that will help me in revisions, met with an agent and an editor and got two full requests for my Romantic Suspense, which I am in the process of polishing to get ready to go out the door. I got lots of books by debut authors or authors I haven't read yet, and went to the RITA awards. Overall I had an amazing time and I learned a lot. Saturday my mom joined me in NY and we went to see Mamma Mia, and I introduced her to one of her favorite authors and she was just amazed! 

It was an exhausting but exhilarating two weeks and I have so much work to do - polishing a MS, submitting pages to my mentor and crit partners in a week, starting a new piece, starting my reading class list, preparing to leave for France, going back to work, and attempting to still have a semblance of a social life! Should make for a very interesting 2 months! I'll keep you all posted! 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rejection Blues

So I got my first official agent rejection. I'm figuring that was a pretty important initiation step into the world of authors, and I'm ready. I have another query out to which I have heard no response and I plan to get some more out the door ASAP. I'm also doing Micro-revisions of Jaded Hope and revisions of Los Diablos this week. 

I'm thinking maybe I've desensitized myself to that possible? Is it maybe just because I've heard for so long that everyone gets rejections, all the time, for all kinds of work that they love and hold dear? Or maybe I just don't love my work enough? I don't think that's the case - I love my characters. I love their story and their relationship and all of the crazy shit that happens to them. 

I think maybe it's just because I know that I have to keep going and if I get discouraged by every bump in the road I'd turn into a sniveling wanna-be writer instead of one who is always looking forward to what comes next! So how do you all stave off the rejection blues? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oh the waiting game!

People who know me will tell you that waiting has never been one of my strongest attributes. In fact, I hate it. There's something to be said for excitement and anticipation, but mostly even that just irritates me. But here are the things I'm currently waiting for... 

  • This week of teaching to be over because the children know it's their last week and have suddenly become possessed by evil spirits whose only purpose in life is to make me crazy
  • My response from the Departement de Poitiers telling me I can come and teach their children
  • My next paycheck so that I can payoff my credit cards
  • The weekend to be over so that I don't have to have any more bonding time with family members than necessary 
  • My birthday to come and go so that we can treat it like any other day and move on with the rest of the week 
  • A response from an agent (any agent really, I'm not that picky - okay that's a complete and utter lie, I'm extremely picky) 
  • A day where I can have more than ten consecutive minutes to WRITE 
  • My new job to begin 
And other general life stuff.

So, I ask you all, what are you waiting for??????? 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Taking it Bird By Bird (and Goal Updates- finally)

So, unfortunately, I did not reach all of my goals within my 12 day time frame. But here's what I did accomplish that was on my list: 

  • I cleaned & organized, made a bed-full of stuff to donate - Christmas decorations, clothes, books, and a bunch of other stuff
  • Finished the first draft of a current WIP - Los Diablos 
  • Finished a project that the kids and I started 
  • Had Easter with the family 
  • Some of the Jaded Hope revisions
  • A shopping day with Mom 
I did not send out any more queries, finish the Jaded Hope revisions or write three weeks of lesson plans. I also did not write my Romance Paper during my week off, but have since done so. 
I also planned an extensive trip to Ireland and France that I will take with my mom in September. I've turned in paperwork to get the next step of going to France done... waiting on the French government now... I'm betting that I hear back from 5 agents before I hear back from them! For those of you writers out there, you'll understand how huge of a deal that is! 
So I'm wrapping up one job (with my second graders). Our last day together is Friday. And I'm kind of sad about that. The fam is headed off to Mass this weekend to take my Aunt's ashes out. I'm starting another job on Tuesday (working with 2-5 year olds), working on polishing Jaded Hope in the "hope" than an agent will request the full soon, need to start writing some more queries and get those out, need to write ten pages of something new, hoping to plot the sequel to Jaded Hope soon, and generally running around like a.... yup you guessed it, Chicken with her head cut off!!!!!!!! 
So in the words of Annie Lammott, I am taking everything Bird by Bird (one step at a time for those of you who haven't read her book... and you should). 
That's it for now, I'll post more soon. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Loafty goals

So I have the next consecutive 11 days off from work. And my TO DO list in enormous!!!
I've set some incredibly high goals to accomplish, starting with cleaning, organizing, and bringing in a bunch of stuff to donate, writing three weeks worth of lesson plans and getting all of the stuff together to actually make the lessons and finishing up a project the kids started, and spending time with family members, doing Easter dinner and all of that, and finishing my draft of Los Diablos and my revisions on Jaded Hope, researching more agents and sending out another batch of queries! Also, there's a shopping day in there somewhere with my mom, a romance paper to write, and menial things like eating and sleeping.

Since I couldn't participate in this month's BIAW challenge for my local CNYRW, I will be using my facebook as a daily goal updater to help keep me motivated! Check it out and PLEASE encourage my processes, so I can stay motivated! This is going to be a seriously long week! :-) But I'm super-excited

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

France Beckons!

As some of you may be able to tell by the Eiffel Tower design of my blog and the Bonjour & Bienvenue on my website, that I am quite a francophile. I have just accepted a position to go and teach English in the French department of Poitiers. I am not sure yet what level I will be teaching or at how many schools. It can be up to three schools within the district, but no more than 12 hours per week in the classroom. 
There are many more steps in this process: 

  • Buying copious amounts of plane tickets between NY, Dublin, Paris, Pittsburg, Paris, & NY. 
  • Signing job contracts 
  • Finding housing
  • Getting a work VISA 
  • Opening a new bank account 
 And probably quite a few other things that I either am forgetting or don't know about yet! :-) 
But the important thing is that I will be in FRANCE. Writing my query letters, e-mailing with my agent (hopefully), drafting new books, revising current WIPs, keeping up with my Graduate Studies, and generally loving the French life!  
Anyone want to come visit? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Plotting BLISS

Thank you so much to all of the input I got on my plotting blog from fellow writers and authors. A super special thanks to Kari for introducing me to the plotting board. 

I plotted my current WIP in seven hours over the course of two days and then I started writing. I had had three chapters done before I plotted, and wasn't sure where I was going and then suddenly BAM - middle, full ending, and tons of new scenes. And then I started writing. Hit 25,000 words within two weeks. 

I veered off my index cards a bit, added two scenes in the beginning that weren't on the plot board, but they fit and when I thought - oh crap, what happens next? I could LOOK. Because I already knew! It was like magic. Since it took me almost two years of sporadic writing to get even 100 pages of a draft done, to be able to do so in total in just under three months is absolutely astounding. 

I took techniques from a few different places. I had Sokoloff's plotting board method via Kari Townsend, and then the color-coding with highlighters from Gayle Callen (AKA Julia Latham). I used one for my hero, one for my heroine, one for the romance, one for the antagonist, one for action subplot, one for mystery clues/main plot points, and one for minor characters. And I can look at the whole board all at once and see what I need more of where. 

So far so good! 
I've been bribing my muse with late quiet nights all to ourselves, caffeine, snacks, a new book, new craft techniques, and the constant need to update my Facebook status with my word count!       

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Plot or not to Plot?

Ok, so when I wrote my first novel (I say as if I am a seasoned multi-published author whose written thirty-five since then, which I have not) I did not plot it. I was definitively an anti-plotter. I blame my mother for pushing me to outline every paper I ever wrote (yes, Freud was right, it is always the mother’s fault – ok no not really). And then I went to my residency at SHU and someone said to me, “All writers plot, some just call it a first draft” and that got me to thinking. Did it take me two and a half years to write one full manuscript just so I could rewrite the entire thing? So I went in search for some answers. I asked multi-published seasoned authors, and those other unpublished authors like myself, and even some in between and this is what people had to say: (I cannot include all of their answers because it was seven pages worth of information, but I’ll give you the highlights).

Here’s what the plotters had to say:  
1)       Do you plot? and why/why not?
You bet. A blank screen frightens me... I like having a blueprint to follow--not that I'm wedded to every detail. ~Gayle Callen aka Julia Latham
Yes -- Because if I don't I end up going off in the wrong direction. I also  plot because it’s how I get a feel for my characters and storyline. It makes the actual draft writing process easier for me. ~ Jenni Holbrook
Every writer plots, even the pansters. You can't go to contract without a synopsis. So clearly, all writers plot. It's just the methods that differ. I used to always plot by writing a first draft. ~Maggie Shayne
Yes, I plot. In fact, I'm getting obsessed with structure and plotting. My background is short story writing, and I never plan those. I like to surprise myself… I pantsed my last book. It ended up taking me something like a year and a half and I probably wasted 100 - 120k words. I have several chapters -- not to mention requisite research, etc... -- that ended up on the cutting floor because I'd already written them before I realized they didn't fit. ~ John Dixon

2)      How do you plot?
Hmmm...There are so many ways. For me, I brainstorm with my writing buddies to come up with a workable concept, then conflicts for the characters. I write it all down as I go on index cards. Then I use Deb Dixon's Goal Motivation Conflict charts (awesome book, BTW) to come up with great contrasting goals and black moments for my characters. Usually at this point I write short character backgrounds and a 5-10 page synopsis for my editor's approval. Next I write even more index cards for scenes to explain each box of the GMC chart and the external plots for my readers. I even tip a corner with a corresponding marker (blue for his emotional journey, orange for hers, pink for romance, green for main plot, purple for subplot, etc.) so that when I lay all those cards out, I can see where I don't have enough romance, enough emotional growth revelation, etc. I usually end up with a 3-4 inch stack of cards. Then I write a long synopsis that's just for me. It's amazing when I tell the story to myself, how I can find problems, holes in the plot, etc. Then I begin the book. Sometimes the plotting takes just as long as writing the actual book. ~Gayle
This is different every time, but I look at basic narrative structure. I write down my idea and then think in terms of inciting incident, escalating conflict, dark moment, climactic scene and resolution. The one thing that never changes with each book is that I write a very rough draft of the climactic scene because everything that starts in the Inciting Incident is pushing toward that scene. ~ Jenni
Right now I'm doing more plotting on big dry erase boards and using the Sokoloff method,  (Screenwriting Tricks for Authors) and loving it. Saves me frustration if not time. It =feels= faster, but I'm not sure if it is. I used to plot a teeny bit in the synopsis, and the rest in the first draft, which was very similar to what other authors write in their long synopses. ~ Maggie
For this book, I started by looking at the thriller formula, screenplay plot points, and my notes from Tim Esaias's class. I ran through plots that interested me, narrowed it down, brainstormed on the page, worked out a plot and stuff, ran it by my best friend, got his thoughts, and wrote it out, with
thoughts, informally. Once I had a good idea of where I was going, I wrote out some character sketches, brainstormed some more, and started the book... 
I tore off a big sheet of butcher paper, put down fifty-some boxes, and plotted out every scene in the book, concentrating on big things, like conflict and how my characters' live were changed by each scene. This was the BEST. That outline
has been a tremendous help. It's saved wheel-spinning, frustration, lost time, etc...

3)      If you're a plotter, how do you plot if you don't know the ending?
But I do know the ending. Once I come up with the GMC charts, I can figure out the black moment, and then the happily-ever-after. ~ Gayle
I know what "I think" the ending is going to be. Sometimes it changes a bit. Even once the bad guy turned out to be someone else, but I have a real good idea where I writing too. If I didn't, I think I'd go crazy. ~ Jenni
If you're writing genre fiction, you always know the ending. Happily ever after, guy gets girl, bad guys lose, mystery gets solved. It's how you get there that counts. ~ Maggie
That's part of plotting. I work that out. And the good news, of course, is that if a better one occurs to me later, so be it. It can always usurp my original. ~ John

Here’s what the Pantsers had to say:
1)       Do you plot?
I don't plot in any formal way because I have an irrational fear of outlines, character charts and the like, as if they're tests I'm going to fail when I don't know the answers. I usually have an idea of an opening scene when I sit down to write and maybe a few scattered scenes throughout but I often don't know my climax or for sure how it will end, other than a HEA. Once in a while I don't even know my main character's name. ~ Cari Quinn
I'm more of a pantser. If I plot/outline too much, I get extremely bored of my story while writing it, and it takes all the fun out of it. Half the fun for me is seeing what happens when I'm actually at the keyboard typing. ~Chris Von Halle
I despise outlining… it kills the story. If I'm writing a paper, that's fine, I need that rigidity, but when I'm writing a story, I can't start with an outline. Basically, if it's in a traditional outline, it's already written, so why bother writing it again? ~ Sami Holbrook

2)      Do you find you do more revisions than other people?
I suspect yes. Much as I'm not fond of them, I tend to do a lot of revisions,
both my own and from my editors. Usually not huge ones that involve changing
aspects of the plot but more than I'd prefer. ~ Cari
I don't think so. I reread/revise my stuff all the time as I'm going through the process of writing the initial draft of the story, so I'm pretty much aware of everything that happened and that's going on in the story. Makes it more difficult to breed plot inconsistencies (though obviously they still happen sometimes). Plus, that process somewhat polishes up the draft as I go along. ~ Chris
I don't think so. I really don't revise as such much at all. Line edits,
grammar-cleanups, stuff like that, sure. But usually when I'm revising, it's not
rewriting and replanning so much as it's adding stuff-- missing scenes, expanded
scenes, occasionally a whole chapter. See, when I'm writing, I try to get it down the first time as close to how I want it to be later as possible, because I hate rewriting. See the first question-- why write it again? So I aim for damn near perfect, and then I just go through and make sure I got everything. We'll see if this works as I get really hard-core into these first three chapters. ~ Sami

3)      Do you get lost in the first draft when things are coming together?
Sometimes. It's very much a "feel your way" sort of process for me. I know the way I do things isn't the most efficient but I read the other day (I think on either Jenni or Bob's blog actually) that how you run your life will be how you plot. So true for me. I write nothing down and sort of pride myself on not needing to (even though that's wholly inaccurate, because I forget stuff all the time!) ~ Cari
The non-plotter pretty much starts writing rather than making an outline. However, even though I'm personally not a plotter, my first draft winds up being pretty polished since I take so much time to reread/rewrite what I've written as I'm going along, making sure everything holds together well. ~ Chris
Not so much. If it gets confusing, I'll start making charts and lists and extensive notes, but by the time it's coming together, everything is pretty much inevitable. It
writes itself. More often, I'll get bored because it's already all set up and done, and there's not as much to figure out. ~ Sami
So I’ve gotten responses pretty much across the board, and then at this month’s Romance Writers meeting, we had a whole discussion on plot. Kari Lee brought in her plotting board that she’d adapted from Andrea Sokoloff’s method of screen play writing techniques for novelists and I was blown away! I was just getting started on a new book. It had been mulling for a few weeks, I’d written the first three chapters, but I wasn’t really sure where things were going. So after going over plotting at the meeting, I bought a plotting board and I sat down for a few hours late that night/wee hours of the next morning and plotted with the board and the note cards and the check-off boxes. And four hours later I had plotted more than half the book. The following night, I sat down for another three hours or so and… I FINISHED plotting the book. The whole “I can’t write a book I plotted because I’ll be bored” mentality went right out the window. I’ve plotted it and while I haven’t started writing the rest of it yet, I’m excited to sit and write the book instead of bored and as if I’ve already written it. So for me, I’m now officially a plotter and I’m hoping that will help me in my future career. But for some people, they’ve been multi-published and never plotted a book! So for me, it’s plotting, but overall I guess I can say, don’t fix what ain’t broken! J

Monday, February 21, 2011

Do your Damn Research

People say to write what you and it’s never more apt than in Genre Fiction, I think. Because genre fiction is so widely read, you can never know what expertise your readers have. A physicist may pick up your book and see that your science is so completely wrong that he will never pick up another thing you write, or never even finish that one. Your readers may be specialists in anything from yeast to sound barriers or from child psychology to every possible genus of fir trees.
So if your research is wrong, your readers are going to let you know it. It’s not easy for many of us writers to do research. It’s time-consuming and sometimes arduous. It takes time away from writing. You have to find the right sources, talk to the right experts, ask the right questions. But the details lend themselves nicely to authenticity in a piece. It’s the miniscule details that pull a reader in.
I was doing a narrated driving lesson to a friend at Residency in the midst of the slushy snow “storm”-like thing *that was about two inches of snow on the ground and slowly kind of sprinkling snow upon us) Mostly I was bitching at people who don’t know how to drive in the snow. There was a pick-up truck coming out of a parking lot on the left. His tires began to spin as they tried to get traction and the bed of the truck began pulling off to the right. I turned to Sami and said,
“He doesn’t have enough weight in the bed of his truck. He needs sand bags.”
And then Sami said, “ See, and that’s why we do research. Who the hell would know that if they didn’t grow up with the snow. I would never have thought of that.”
To someone who lives in the snake effect snow belt capital of the US, this is common knowledge. So if you’ve never spun out or driven on two inches of slush, or been through a hurricane, earthquake or tornado, and you’re not willing to risk life and limb for your craft, you have to find someone who has, perhaps several someones, so that you have enough input to make your characters’ experiences believable. Your readers want to live vicariously through your characters, and many of your readers will have experienced it themselves so you better as hell have done your research and gotten it right.
We talked a lot at residency about going to experience things first-hand, or talking to experts. Another good piece of advice that Maberry gave us was at the end of any interview with an expert, you should ask “what question did I not know enough to ask & can you answer it” and “what is the coolest thing in your profession?” We talked about using CDs of sounds, websites, scents, and actually acting out scenes with friends or family members and talking to as many people about things we didn’t know about.
So I guess I better get out there and do my research. Who wants to join me???

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The SHU Life

So I went down to Seton Hill University again earlier this month and it was fantastic! The Troublemakers had modules on POV, the business of writing, setting/reasearch, and revision. And we also had our Critique groups. I submitted part of a new piece that I'm working on called Los Diablos. It's a romantic suspense about an undercover cop who is infiltrating a biker gang called Los Diablos and a reporter who is investigating her brother's murder, but more on Los Diablos at a later date. 

At SHU, I spent lots of time with my Troublemakers and with a bunch of other students. People I met in June have graduated and left us. But many of them will be back in June for the pseudo-residency. :-) 
Our guest speaker this time was Jonathan Maberry. He was fan-tabulous!!! There was so much real world advice during his talk. Not only did he talk about dedicating yourself to the craft, he gave excellent up-to-date advice on the business end of things. He was really down to earth and approachable. He answered all of our questions and seemed genuinely happy to be there with us. 

So those key things he talked about that really stayed with me were: 
  • To use social media sites to help promote not only yourself but other writers (both within and outside your genre) 
  • To interview authors or experts and post them on your blog (which I'm hoping to do soon)
  • To do your reasearch with experts (and not just one) 
  • Your name is your brand - you're not just selling your books, you're selling yourself 
  • Don't say anything negative about any books online where people could use it against you one day (very valid advice) 
 So after reaffirming my writing life at this SHU Residency, I came back home and gave my two weeks notice at my morning job. I'll still be teaching in the afternoons, but it's important for me to have the mornings to do things like write blogs and synopses, and design websites and revise pages and all that good stuff. So to my SHU family, thanks for giving me the nice little kick in the ass to get going on my writing life!