Vacation Reading

So I'm about to embark on a 10-day vacation and will be ambitiously bringing five books to read.  I say ambitious because I consider myself to be a pretty slow reader.  Plus, you know how it is when you're hanging by the pool with friends... it's easy to get distracted.  Plus plus, I like having choices in case one or two books don't work out.

Here's what I'll be reading:

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard

No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacqueline Mitchard

Fangland by John Marks

Notice no thrillers?  I honestly can't think of a time when I've ever wanted to read thrillers less than I do right now.

Time to pack!  Have a great couple of weeks, everyone.  I hope to come back tanned, chubby from too many pina coladas, and ready to work my ass off on my next book.

What I love about first drafts

1. They can be awful.

2. They can be awful.

3. They can be awful.

There's nothing quite like making stuff up without any worries about striving for perfection.  And the first draft is really the only place I have complete and total reign to do this.  Plot holes can be fixed in future drafts.  Extraneous dialogue can be pruned in future drafts.  Clichéd phrases can be axed altogether in... you got it... future drafts.

The only thing I worry about in a first draft?  Getting the story out.  It doesn't matter whether the writing's good (though it certainly helps).  It doesn't matter if I end up cutting 50% of it or more later on (though it would be great not to have to).  All that matters in the first draft is that I tell the story.  Because nobody's going to read it.  Nobody's going to critique it.  It's just the story, fresh out of my head, in its most raw state. It simply needs to get out of my head and into my Word document, so that in my second draft...

... I can fix it.

I know of writers who agonize over every sentence before they can move forward.  I know of writers who research for months, then spend a year creating outlines so detailed that all they have to do afterward is add in some dialogue and the book is finished.  Ken Follett, author of Pillars of the Earth, does this.  So does Jeffrey Deaver.

It's not my process.  Because I'm the kind of person who, if I let myself stress over perfection before the story's finished, will intimidate myself right out of writing the story.

Ah, the freedom of first drafts and giving myself permission to write crap!  It's nice to be here once again.


Note:
The blog is now dark until mid-December. Time for a break! Happy Thanksgiving!

Obsession

Confession:  The problem with querying is that I never stop thinking about rejection.

I think I may be masochistic.  And maybe a little bit twisted.  Because here's another confession:

The rejections make me feel kind of good.

Not really, really good (hell, no, they sting like a mo-fo). But a teensy bit good, because I can't help but feel that every rejection I get is a small symbol of my efforts to succeed at the thing I want the most... even if that attempt failed.  It means I'm trying.  And you can't get rejected unless you put yourself out there.

And oh boy, am I putting myself out there.

Writing about my rejections (somewhat gleefully, I might add) is my way of reminding myself that I wrote a novel and that I don't think it's terrible.  Good enough to get published?  No idea.  But I definitely don't believe it's terrible, and that's something. Just by having written it, I get to cross something off my bucket list.

But there's a flip side, too.

As I watch the rejections for CREEP trickle in, I can feel myself getting a bit more cynical.  A bit more jaded.  A bit more anxious.  And definitely more aware of the very likely possibility that This.  May.  Never.  Happen.

In fact, it's all I think about.

What I should be doing instead is writing the hell out of my next novel.  There's no reason not to. CREEP is finished, and MAGNOLIA is waiting for me.  It's outlined to the end, I'm 29k in, and I know the characters so well, I don't think I'll have to stress too much over the first draft.  The story's all there, it's just a matter of writing it.

And I am writing it.  Well, sorta. Little spurts here and there, but with nowhere near the aggression and inspired fury with which I wrote CREEP.

And why is this?  Why am I not cranking out 1,000 edited words a day (which is my usual first draft quota)?

Paralysis.

I.  Can't.  Move.

I feel like I'm holding my breath all the time.  Since this query process started (October 22), all I can think about is querying.  Who to query, when to query, how to format the query.  I'm constantly talking about the query.  I'm checking my email ten times more than I normally would, and I jump every time I see a new message in my inbox.  I wake up wondering who's rejected me today, and I go to sleep wondering who'll reject me tomorrow.

And it's awful, awful, awful.

There is nothing healthy about this at all.  I know better than to obsess about queries.  I know obsessing about them won't increase my chances of getting published.  It most definitely won't make me a better writer.

But yet I do obsess.  I do I do I do.  Querying has made me an obsessive FREAK, and any intention I had to be as cool as a cucumber during this process has been blown to smithereens.

I am the opposite of cool. I am so decidedly uncool that I'm embarrassed for anybody who knows me right now.  You know the girl at your work who only talks about herself and her problems, so much so that when you see her coming, you hide?

I AM THAT GIRL!  Run, people!  Run!

I need to stop this obsession now.  Because while I wait, holding my breath for something to happen, my life is passing me by.  Precious time that could be spent improving my craft is being wasted on obsessive email-checking and researching agents I've already spent hours researching.  I'm half-listening when Steve is talking to me.  I'm checking my BlackBerry during dinner.  I'm thinking about queries when I should be watching Grey's Anatomy and fantasizing about McDreamy.

I need to snap out of it.

Somebody slap me, please.

Ahh... the sweet thrill of the query rollercoaster...

Flying above the clouds because an agent actually said my writing was flawless...

... only to come crashing back down to earth because my characters are unlikeable and he couldn't care less what happens to them.

Sigh.

Book of Lies

Brad Meltzer is my hero.

After getting lambasted by several influential critics before his novel, Book of Lies, even came out, he didn't take offense.  Nope.  And he didn't cry foul.  Not even close.

He made a video about it!



Good for you, Brad.  Not for writing a bad novel (and is it really that bad?  Now I want to read it to find out!), but for having enough of a sense of humor to laugh about it.

Slow and steady

It's been raining steadily in Seattle for the past few days, and the forecast is calling for steady rain for the rest of the week.  I think for Seattleites, this must not be a big deal.  I can imagine that if you grew up here, you'd be used to it.  It would be your normal.  But for me, it's harder than I thought it would be.  Waking up every morning to gray, gloomy skies and the staccato of rain pelting the windows is depressing.

Screen shot from my Google home page (click to enlarge):
(And yes, I like to know the forecast for Toronto, too.)

I remember we had relatives who moved to Toronto from the Philippines a few years back, and they were in agony during their first winter.  It wasn't even that cold, but they were really freaked out by all the snow and ice and the below-freezing temperatures.  Even with winter coats and scarves and boots, Toronto was painfully cold for them and they wondered if they'd ever adjust.

They didn't.  They moved back to the Philippines the following spring.

My point being (because no, this really isn't a post about the weather), the lack of sun is draining my energy.  Freezing temperatures, I can handle.  Snow, I can handle.  But no sun?  I'm a night owl and a broody bitch by nature, but hell, even I need some sunshine in my life.  I'm on Vitamin D supplements and I have this little sun lamp that shines on my face for thirty minutes every day while I'm working, but it's not quite enough.  Tanning beds used to help, but my best friend and I swore off tanning last year because we're at that age where premature aging is a real concern (damn you, wrinkles!).

And so that, my friends, is my excuse for falling behind in NaNoWriMo.  If NaNoWriMo was a marathon, I'd have tripped back at the 5k mark and fallen flat on my ass.  And not been able to get up.

But I also have to admit that I feel no real sense of urgency with this new book.  And here's the good news. While it's bad for NaNoWriMo (that 50k goal gets further and further away), it's not really a bad thing overall.  I wrote my first two novels with an underlying sense of panic the entire time.  I was constantly worried I wouldn't be able to finish, and that's a lot of stress.

But with this new book, I'm not worried. It'll get written.  It will.  I've done it before and I'll do it again.  Whether I make the 50k goal for the month or not, I'll finish this novel.  I'll workshop it. I'll revise it.  I'll polish it till it shines.  And it'll be ready sometime in 2010, for sure.

There are a lot of things I doubt about myself when it comes to writing, but the one thing I no longer doubt is my ability to finish what I've started.  Seeing CREEP through to the end is by far my proudest accomplishment for 2009.  So, congrats to me for getting this far.

And congrats to me for wanting to keep going.

2009 reading list (so far)

I got an email the other day from a friend asking me what books I've read this year, and can I recommend anything good? Well, yeah, I can! I've also read some doozies.

Gee, now that I've listed them all, 2009 has been a really light reading year (in fiction, anyway).  Usually I read a novel a week.  Tsk, tsk.  I'll have to prioritize my time better next year.

Sweetheart (thriller) – Chelsea Cain 

Cross Country (thriller) – James Patterson 

The Lost Symbol (thriller) – Dan Brown

The Doomsday Key (thriller) – James Rollins 

Roadside Crosses (thriller) – Jeffrey Deaver 

Choke (mainstream) - Chuck Palahniuk

The Broken Window
(thriller) – Jeffrey Deaver 

Two for the Dough (mystery) – Janet Evanovich 

One for the Money (mystery) – Janet Evanovich 

The 19th Wife (mainstream) – David Ebershoff 

Heartsick (thriller) – Chelsea Cain 

Bones (thriller) – Jonathan Kellerman 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (mainstream) – Jamie Ford 

American Wife (mainstream) – Curtis Sittenfeld

Third Degree (thriller) – Greg Iles

Duma Key (horror/supernatural) – Stephen King 

Fight Club (mainstream) – Chuck Palahniuk 

Rules for Saying Goodbye (women's fiction) – Katherine Taylor 

Darkly Dreaming Dexter (crime) – Jeff Lindsay 

Billy Dead (mainstream)– Lisa Reardon 

The Shack (Christian/spiritual) – Wm. Paul Young

Water for Elephants (mainstream) – Sara Gruen 

Obedience (thriller/mainstream) – Will Lavender 

The Princess Bride (mainstream/historical)– William Goldman 

The Associate (thriller) – John Grisham

Heart-Shaped Box
(horror/supernatural) – Joe Hill 

The Time Traveler's Wife (mainstream) – Audrey Niffenegger

Lottery
(mainstream) – Patricia Wood 

I'll keep this list posted on the right side of the page.

Wow.  I've really been on a thriller kick for the past few months.  Probably since I bought so many books at ThrillerFest last July.

Here's my vow for 2010:  One book a week.  And I need to read more widely.

Have you read anything good this year?

Humble pie

Any day that I wake up with no rejections in my inbox is a good day.

I'm starting to forget what it's like to not be scared of my email.

I don't think I realized how much the rejections would bother me.  It's true, they really only sting for a moment.  But the thing is, they build.  It's like eating a spicy chicken wing that you think you can handle at first, but by the tenth one, you're frigging dying.

And if rejections were chicken wings, I've only eaten six.  The rate I'm going, I don't think I'll be able to finish what's on my plate.  My mouth is on fire and my stomach is starting to hurt.

The rejections are chipping away at what little self-esteem I have.   Maybe after three or five or eight more books I'll be desensitized to them, but right now, I'm feeling every one. I seem to lack the ability to file them away in a metaphoric box and move forward with my day. I have no doubt that a more seasoned writer could do this. I, unfortunately, cannot.

I have lost my ability to compartmentalize.

Every rejection is like a little piece of my Dream Pie being eaten. I only have so many slices to go until there won't be any Dream Pie left. S o okay, I'm already baking the next one, and hopefully there'll be several more after that, but let's be honest.  The number of pies I'm capable of baking is finite.  The day will come when I won't want to bake anymore.  Or I'll run out of ingredients.  Or I'll forget the recipe.

(All right, all right.  Enough with the food analogies.  I must be hungry.)

I guess the reality of this whole endeavor is finally hitting me.  I can no longer hide behind the joy of writing just for writing.  Now I'm trying to get published, and somehow, everything about writing now seems different.

I'm used to being judged as a person.  But to the Agent sitting at his desk reading his emails or opening his mail, I'm a query letter.  I'm five or ten or twenty sample pages.  I'm a Yes or a No.  And it doesn't matter how charming I am or how cute my smile is or how funny I might be in person... if my words don't slay him, he's rejecting me and getting on with his day without a second thought.

It's very, very humbling.

And for the last three weeks, all I've been able to think is:  I can't believe this is my life.

Even Andy Warhol got rejected

Click on image to enlarge.

And yes, this does make me feel better.

Blooper

What happens when you query when you're tired?

You end up putting "Query: CREEEP" in the subject line of one of them.

Yes, that's three E's.

Shit.

(Update:  Yup, totally got a form rejection on this one.  Not surprised.)

And now, back to the CRAFT of writing...


I spent the entire day (and I do mean the whole day—about 11 hours or so) writing and sending queries.  My back is killing me.  Half were sent via email and half were sent via the United States Postal Service.

And THAT'S IT till January.

I thought I could send just a few queries a week, but I can't.  It wasn't working for me.  It was consuming – and distracting – to constantly be thinking about which agents to query next. I'm behind in NaNoWriMo even though I have a working outline for the novel and all I have to do is write the damned book.  I think any writer would agree that the business end of writing sucks.  The art and craft of writing is a lot of more fun.

And so, with those queries out of the way, I can get back to doing what I love.  I'll deal with the rejections as they come in, but I'm not sending out another "rejection request" (thanks for the term, Larry!) until after the holidays.  Hopefully by then, I can figure out what the responses mean and retool the query letter if I need to.

But for the next seven weeks, I just want to write.  And read.

And now it's time for chocolate.  I definitely earned it today.  And apparently, so did she:

.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily...

2,675 new words today for the WIP (work in progress). BAM! That's pretty damned productive, if I do say so myself.

I'm trying to make up a little ground since I didn't work on MAGNOLIA at all yesterday.  It's day three of NaNoWriMo and already I'm a few hundred words behind schedule.  I was up late last night working on my CREEP synopsis, of all things (and it's finally done and polished, thank GOD... and can I just say, there's nothing more horrible than writing a synopsis), so there was no time to figure out what Matt, Jason, Sam, Rita, Finch, and Shank were up to in the uppity, history-rich Seattle neighborhood otherwise known as Magnolia.

I love first drafts.  I really do.  There are no parameters, no guidelines (except for the point you're trying to make in the scene you're writing... or, should I say, plot point, har dee har har).  In a first draft, you have permission to write like the wind.  Run-on sentences, comma-itis, cheesy dialogue tags, overstating, clichés... bring it on!  The story's coming out, and that's all that matters.  It can all be fixed later.

I sat down tonight intending to write a break-up scene between my two protagonists.  It was a slow start, but I pushed past it.  The next thing I knew, two hours had passed and I had two thousand words.  And guess what, they didn't break up.  Somewhere along the way, the argument veered into something else entirely, and now they're moving in together.

God, I love it when that happens.  Isn't it the most amazing thing when your characters smack you upside the head and do something you totally didn't predict?

For me, it's one of the best things about writing fiction.  I get to constantly surprise myself.

Life is but a dream.  Rejections and all.

Some small blog updates

Since not everyone spends time reading a lot of blogs (just mine, right?) I thought I'd draw your attention to the right side of this page for a quick moment.

I've got a lot going on that I update regularly, so to keep up with what's new:

Scroll down to see what my National Novel Writing Month stats are.

Check out how many queries I've sent for CREEP, including the results.

If you're looking for book recommendations, check out the boxes "What I am currently reading?" and "What did I just finish reading?" for mini reviews.

Check out what I'm writing, though this box probably won't update all that frequently.

And, of course, there are the labels and the archives, if you're ever searching for a specific post.

Once again, thanks for reading!

I wish I knew how to quit you

I spent four hours yesterday trying to write a basic three-act outline for the sequel to CREEP (tentatively titled THE CHASE), but it wasn't working and I gave up.  The seed of an idea is there, but it doesn't seem to want to evolve into anything more.

Simply put, I can't envision the story.

I've written two novels in my lifetime, and both started off strong.  Both had endings in my head, even though those endings changed multiple times as the story grew.  But with THE CHASE, I don't know how to force an idea to develop.

I guess I never had to worry about it before.

So, for NaNoWriMo, I'm going back to MAGNOLIA.  It's the very first novel I wrote, and it never got past the first draft stage.  I decided two years ago that it was too structurally flawed to just revise, but last winter I began to think I could rewrite it entirely (dropping all of the characters – and a few new ones – into a similar but much-improved plot, and changing it from a horror to a thriller).

The rewrite eventually stalled last summer at about 24,000 words, but reading back the eleven new chapters I have so far, I still feel a spark with that damned novel.  I can't seem to let it go.  As Jack said to Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, "I wish I knew how to quit you!"  I know exactly how he feels (minus the secret gay cowboy love story, of course).  Sometimes you can't let something go, even if it is causing you all kinds of heartache and stress.

If I can make my NaNo goal and add 50,000 words to MAGNOLIA (and yep, I have every intention of stealing what ideas I can from the original draft), I'll have a novel that's pretty close to being done by the end of this month.  Not sayin' it will be any good, but all writing is rewriting.  And more rewriting.  I just want to finish it already, so I can work with it.

In other news, I've retooled my query for CREEP.  I thought my first one was good, and so did my beta readers, but I realized this weekend it was lacking something – a strong voice.  Yeah, I've stated who the protagonist and villain are, and what the stakes are, blah blah blah, but I don't know that there's anything in my current query letter to suggest I can actually write fiction well.  In a query, a strong plot and interesting characters are essential, just like they are in the novel.  But also like in the novel, a writer's voice sells it.

I believe I have voice in my novel, but not every agent asks for sample pages right off the bat.  Sometimes that one-page query letter is all you have to make to an impression.

And I don't know that I've been making an impression.

I guess my first rejection really stuck with me.  If I can't grab an agent's attention with my prose, then I'm good as screwed, because we all know the serial killer thing has been done to death (pun intended).  And considering just about every plot has been dreamed up already, your voice is sometimes all you have.

For the record, I'm not changing the manuscript.  That baby's done.  But I'm learning I'll have to continue to rework the query as often as I need to, depending on the results I'm getting.

As for my strategy, I'll continue to query five agents a week.  Frankly, it sucks up too much energy to query more than that.  Every letter has to be personalized to some degree, and every agent's submission guidelines have to be triple-checked.  Some have blogs I need to read.  Almost all have websites.  Some want sample pages, some want a synopsis, and some want both.  And the list goes on and on.  Keeping my queries to five per week gives me a chance to make sure each one shines, that I haven't missed any small details, and also gives me a chance to rework things if I'm not getting the results I'm hoping for.

Keeping it to five also gives me a life outside Query Hell.

As for that life, I managed 651 stinky new words today for MAGNOLIA.

Hey, it's a start.