I yam what I yam

Starting this new novel has really got me thinking about the kind of writer I want to be.  And I don't know that it jives with the kind of writer I actually am.

In the last few years, there have only been a handful of books that have gotten under my skin. The Kite Runner is one.  The Art of Racing in the Rain is another.  In fact, I loved Racing so much that I quote from it, and Steve does too!  John Marks' Fangland, which I read on vacation last month, creeped me out so much I would go to bed thinking about it and have nightmares.  Some books just do that.  Movies, too.  When I saw The Changeling (with Angelina Jolie), I couldn't stop thinking about it for days, twisting the scenes around in my mind to make sense of it.

Thrillers, for the most part, don't get under my skin.  They're great reads, usually fast, but they fade pretty quickly afterward, leaving no aftertaste and nothing to digest. I always thought I'd be a thriller writer, and I guess I am, but now I'm not entirely sure I want to be.

I used to think it would be cool to write a book a year, which is what most thriller writers do, and just write and write until forty years have passed and I have forty books to my name.  (Assuming I ever get published.  If I don't, I'm pretty sure I'll stop writing books long before that and do something I'm actually good at.)  I used to wonder how a writer could work on the same novel for five years, or ten.  How do you not lose interest?  And why the hell should it take so long?

But then I read a book like The Art of Racing in the Rain, and I get it.  I get why a writer would spend so much time on a book like that, and even leave his nay-saying agent to find another agent who believes passionately in the book (and who subsequently goes on to sell it for $1.2 million).  I would love to write a book like that.  And it's not about the money.  It's about creating something timeless, that you still find yourself digesting two months after you've read it.  Something you'll probably read another twenty times before you die.  Something you'll recommend and talk about to anybody who asks (or doesn't ask) for a book recommendation.  Something that's selected for book clubs and is a "Heather's Pick" at Chapters.

Something that's remembered.

Maybe I'm feeling this way because I'm three chapters into my new novel and I already know this a thriller (and I don't always know that when I start).  I already know I'll have to research FBI agents and profilers and victimology.  And I hate doing research.  I did a lot of research on antisocial personality disorder for Creep, and it was the least fun part of writing that book.

It might be nice to write a simple romance for a change.  Like The Notebook, which is really just about two people who fall in love, get separated, and find their way back to each other, otherwise known as the Romantic Plot That's Been Done A Hundred Thousand Times Before (and that's not a knock – I love The Notebook, and there's a reason plots like that work).  How much research could Nicholas Sparks have done for that?  Probably none.  And romance novels currently comprise 50% of fiction sales.  Fifty percent, people!

I could be a romance writer.  Hmmm... maybe I could take that classic plot and make Noah into a Special Forces marine and make Allie into the local village girl he meets in some southeast Asian jungle...

Oh crap.   That's already been done.  It's called Rambo II.

Or maybe I should just stop fighting it and just let myself be what I am.  Whatever that is.

Friday ramblings

As you might have guessed, I've been workin'.

It's been a busy, busy week.  Any week that Steve travels a lot is busy for me, because I like to take advantage of the absolute peace and quiet brought on by his absence.  No sounds of sports on the TV, no BlackBerry pinging every five minutes (his, not mine), no cupboards opening and closing in the kitchen constantly.  We have two cats and two kittens and everybody's always so excited when he's home.  When he's not, everybody's quiet. Including me.

I took a long, hard look at Creep this week, and finally, blessed with some time and distance from it (I haven't done anything to the manuscript since October when I began querying), I decided to make some changes to the opening.  There were areas I was able to identify (looking at it now with somewhat fresh eyes) where the tension lagged slightly.  So I reworked it a little, deleting chapter two entirely and shifting a few others around.  I ended up cutting about 3,000 words.  Sigh.  We'll see if it makes any difference going forward.  I still have a lot of agents to query and my next round will be in early spring.

You might have noticed that the query count box to the right of this post has disappeared.  Much as I loved sharing my progress with all of you (and I did – you know I have no problem showing you every wart in this process, which is better known as the Ninth Circle of Hell), it is a public blog on the internet.  Fortunately or unfortunately.  Which means that anyone, including an interested or curious agent, could Google me and find me on Facebook, Twitter (not that I do anything on Twitter), or yes, even track me down here on the blog. I doubt they'd bother... but you never know.  Do I want agents to know how many other agents have rejected my query?  Do I want agents to know how many other agents have rejected my manuscript?  I'm trying to sell my book, after all... and while everybody in publishing knows how many rejections the average writer gets before success finds them, I've decided it's not really an effective marketing tool at this stage of the game.

So, no more status box.  But of course I have my stats and counts all neatly organized in an Excel spreadsheet (hello, it is anal little me!), so if you're ever curious about how it's all going, ask.  I'll tell.  (And pssst... it's going okay. The query's working.)

In other news, I've started a new novel.  No idea if the concept will pan out as I only have a couple thousand words down, but I have a clear vision for the book (although I haven't figured out how it should all end).

I seem unable to move forward with Magnolia.  I keep tinkering with individual chapters that have already been written, changing and tweaking certain things, but not really adding anything new.  I have a feeling that Magnolia is going to be the manuscript I come back to when I don't have any other ideas.  At the rate I'm going, it'll take ten years to write.  But that's all right.  I want to see where this new book goes.  I feel all tingly about it, the way I did when I started writing Creep.

Working title for the new project is Beautiful Disaster.

Did anyone see the new iPad?  It's fancy schmancy.  But it's got about 10,000 more features than I need in an e-reader (because it's not a dedicated e-reader... e-reading is just one of the components), and at $499, way out of my league.  And too big to fit in my purse.

Steve's drooling over it, though.

Happy Friday!

I need a little nookie...

Or, should I say, a NOOK.


What were you thinking?  Get your mind outta the gutter.

I didn't think I'd ever be interested in an e-reader.  I'm new wave about a lot of things, but I'm old-school about a lot of things, too.  Books, for one.  I love books.  I love the way they look, the way they smell, the way they feel.  I'm not ashamed to admit I dog-ear all of mine, and it actually causes me great pleasure when I'm re-reading a book to see where I took breaks the first time around (and it's interesting to note that I often break in exactly the same spots every time thereafter).

I like being surrounded by books.  I like the way they look on my shelves – the different sizes, the colors, the different fonts of the titles that adorn the spines.   Books are wonderful.  They fill me with happiness, because I know within each one lies an interesting world where interesting things happen.  (I'm pretty sure Steve feels the same way about his DVD collection.)

So I never thought I'd be interested in an e-reader.  It's just not the same.  As much as I appreciate technology (I can't live without my laptop, BlackBerry, or iPod), books have always been in a separate category.

But then again, let's think about the iPod for a minute.  There was a time, a few years back, when they first came out and nothing about them was appealing to me.  After all, I could burn my own mix CDs and they played just fine in my car and in my portable CD player.  And blank CDs were cheap, like a buck a piece.  What kind of person would drop $150 (or more) on some tiny little music-playing gizmo?

But then Steve got an iPod for the gym, and suddenly I found myself crazed with jealousy, because in a couple of hours he had a thousand songs all in this one little device... which also played just fine in the car.  If anything, the sound quality's better.

Within two weeks, you bet your ass I had my own iPod, and we've been inseparable ever since.  The iPod has travelled everywhere with me, and since I can't stand radio commercials, it's all I listen to in the car.  Frankly, I can hardly remember what life was like before the iPod, and I'm pretty sure that most people who have one feel exactly the same.  And now I buy almost all my music from iTunes – mostly single songs, but occasionally whole albums if I really like the artist.  I don't really miss CDs.

But is it the same as owning an e-reader?  After all, I'm a writer.  I dream of seeing my work in print someday, in a book I can actually hold and touch and feel and smell.   I don't want Barnes & Noble or Chapters to go out of business.  I don't want to ever walk into a bookstore and not see books lining the shelves.  Some things are sacred, dude.  But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the convenience of having a thousand books all in one little reading gizmo.

I think if there was the option to buy a regular book and get the e-book for free along with it (or add the e-book to my purchase for an extra couple of bucks), I wouldn't hesitate to buy a Nook.  Because the thought of only owning a book in digital format is weird to me... traitorous, somehow.

What got me really thinking about the e-reader is Stephen King's latest bestseller, Under The Dome, which has been out in hardcover for a couple of months now.  Before we went to Cabo in December, I was in B&N shopping for vacation reading.  I was thrilled to see that King's new book was out... until I picked it up and realized the damn thing weighed, like, five pounds.  It's over a thousand pages long.  Did I want to pack that in my suitcase? Did I want to tote that around in my beach bag?  And even if I didn't bring it on vacation, did I want a doorstop sitting on my lap during my nightly reading sessions?

Not to mention, because the book's in hardcover, it's $20, and that's with my B&N membership discount.  That's expensive for a girl who likes to buy about four books a month!  Better to wait till the paperback's at Coscto, right?

But man, I hate waiting. If I had a Nook, I could buy the e-book right now – and when I say right now, I mean instantly – for ten bucks... and the Nook only weighs 11.2 ounces, so King can be as wordy as he likes.

Clearly you can see this is an agonizing decision.  So, weigh in.

What do you think?

Why I love Wednesdays...

... it's hump day, and the word hump makes me giggle.

... it's the most interestingly spelled day of the week.

... there are two more requests in my inbox.

In a mad frenzy, possibly induced by sleep deprivation and watching too many back-to-back episodes of Big Love (my New Favorite Show at the moment), I totally revamped my query letter last night. I wasn't planning on it because the current version was working, but I couldn't get rid of the niggling feeling that something was still missing.  That the query letter still wasn't doing the book justice.

And so, in a blank, white, and totally daunting new Word document, I wrote.  And deleted and wrote and deleted and wrote and rewrote and revised until I finally had it.

And this new version, I love love love.

It's forty percent shorter than my last version, clocking in at 196 words (and that includes the author bio and contact info).  But it still says everything I want it to say.

To give you an idea of how short 196 words is, this post is exactly 196 words.

Hurray for flash fiction!  It's making me a better writer.

Why I love Fridays

In my inbox this morning:

1 full request for Creep (meaning the agent wants to see the entire manuscript).

1 short story acceptance from the 6S Review.

All in all, a freakingly awesome good day.

Brief and impactful

It's rare to get any kind of positive feedback in the writing world.  Everything we write is designed to incite criticism, and even if someone likes what you've written, you don't always hear praise.  Nature of the beast, I guess.  It's the criticism that makes you a better writer.

But every once in a blue moon, when someone does have something nice to say, I think it's perfectly acceptable to do a happy dance and savor the words.  Criticism feeds the writer, but compliments feed the soul, and you can't have one without the other.

I got this email today after I sent my back my signed contract, with thanks, for the acceptance I received from the Foundling Review:

You are welcome, Jennifer.  We loved the piece!  Brief and impactful.

Keep that talented quill flowing!

FR Editors

Yay!  This is enough inspiration juice to get me through another round of queries for Creep.

Happy dance happy dance happy dance.

The method to my madness

There's a method to reading emails from agents, editors and publishers, and I've come to master it quite well.

Here's what I do when the special email address I set up specifically for submissions has
(1) New Email:

My heart immediately does a thing.  Sort of like a lurch, but not quite as painful.

I swallow.

I click on it.

I deliberately blur my gaze.  My eyes pass over the body of the email as fast as possible. All I want to accomplish during this first read-through is to immediately find those words (or short phrases) that scream REJECTION!  The rest is all fluff.

A few examples of REJECTION words are:

I'm sorry...


Unfortunately...


However...


... must pass...


... not right...


... best of luck...

If any of these words are in the body of the email ANYWHERE, it's a rejection.  Every stinking time.

I feel another pang.  It last about three seconds, and then I start breathing again.

I focus my gaze.

Then my lips press together in annoyance/dismay/frustration/impatience, and I sit back, try to relax, and read the blasted email in full.

But if I don’t see those words – and if, in fact, I see words like:

... would like...

or

Please send...

then it's not a rejection.  It's a request.  But it doesn't happen nearly as much (and that's understating at its finest).

My last batch of queries was sent out in November, so I haven't had to do the blurry gaze thing much in the last few weeks.  But now that I'm gearing up for the next round, it's time to get cross-eyed once again.

I took a good hard look at my query letter for Creep last night and made a few minor changes.  Essentially, though, I'm still pleased with it. I think it's good enough to go another round, and frankly, I wouldn't know what to change.  And I plan to target my agents better this time around.

I'm also curious to know whether having a tiny little publication credit—which I didn't have a few months ago—along with a membership to ITW (International Thriller Writers Association) will make any difference. I'm guessing my revised bio won't knock anyone's socks off, but hey, it's a small improvement.  At least it shows I'm trying to be taken seriously.

My number one goal this year?  And yeah, forget whatever crap I spewed in my new year's resolution blog post last week.  My number one goal this year is not to obsess.  About anything.  Because obsession doesn't help.  It just drains my energy.  This past weekend I spent a few minutes playing around with a weird little story I've been submitting on and off for the past year.  I sent it to a couple of different places without really thinking too hard about it, and what d'ya know, I got an acceptance!  On the other hand, I almost drove myself insane last year over Creep queries.  And do I have an agent?  No.  Not even close.  So what's the point of all that control? It's time to unclench my fists, relax my jaw, and focus on the writing.  Que sera, sera.

To misquote Joseph Campbell:  If I follow my bliss, publication will come.

First acceptance!

Finally, I will have a publication credit.  It's a small dent, but it's a dent nonetheless!

I am sooooo excited.

It's a very, VERY short story (technically the term is flash fiction) but I'd been working on it, on and off, for the past year.  You wouldn't believe how challenging it is to tell a story in so few words.  Hairspray clocks in at 104 words total and will be published in the Foundling Review online literary journal.  Not sure when – the contract didn't say – but I'll be sure to post the link when it's up.

Whee!

Since I write so much about rejection, I should write about the good news as well, yes?  The blog could use some positive energy!

Dear Jennifer,

Nice!

We'll take Hairspray for publication in the online literary magazine, Foundling Review.

Send me in the body of the email some notes on the piece.  Please look over the Author's Corner section from our recent issues to get an idea of what we are looking for.

Also, date and type in your name in the attached Statement and Rights document and email it back to me.

Thank you.

Assoc. Editor
Foundling Review

Love 'n hate

Some people write really really really fast.

Others write reaaaaaaallllllllly slooooooooow.

I'm somewhere in between.

On this writer's forum I belong to, there's someone whose New Year's Resolution is to write four novels this year.  FOUR.  Full-length.  NOVELS.  It would be laughable... if she hadn't written FIVE last year.  Including edits.  Each one averaging about 90,000 words in length.

Then there's the guy who's been writing the same novel for six years.

I'd be lucky to write one book a year. It took me fourteen months to write Creep and I felt like I wrote it really really really fast.

Magnolia, on the other hand, is going verrrrrrrry sloooooooowly.  I'm not sure why.  I'm not sure why this novel isn't vomiting itself out the way the first two did.

But the quality of my writing, dare I say it, is stronger in this work.  It's got voice.  It's got texture.  I'm only a third of the way through and I can see layers forming.  Maybe that's why it's so hard to write this one fast.  Maybe it's simply not the kind of the story that can withstand major fixes later on.  Maybe it's got to harmonize from the get-go.

I've decided to amend my usual quota of 1,000 edited words per day and dial down to 500 well-crafted words a day.  For Magnolia, coming up with 1,000 words every day is torture (for Creep, it was like breathing). I end up forcing myself to pad the pages and what comes out ain't pretty.  I can imagine most of it will be cut later if I keep going like this.  I think it's smarter to focus on writing two tight pages, rather than four sloppy ones.  Not to mention it would be a lot less pressure every morning if I wake up knowing my goal is a very achievable 500 words as opposed to a more daunting 1,000. It's worth a try, anyway.

Since I write Monday through Friday (hey, even unpublished writers need weekends off!), I should be finished the first draft of Magnolia by the end of July.  Yikes, that seems so far away.  But it might very well be a better first draft than what I'm used to.  Subsequent drafts might be less painful, and maybe I won't need six rewrites to get it query-ready.

Plus I'm still trying to reconcile my love-hate feelings towards this book.  I loved writing my first two novels, even if the first turned out to be shit. This one, though, has been painful every step of the way.  I wake up every morning dreading my writing session and doing everything I can to procrastinate.  Honestly, I'm kind of hating writing this book.

But yet, when I read back what I've got so far, it's pure love.  It sparks.

Such a moody bitch, this writing thing.

2010, baby

New Year's Resolutions are soooo cliché.

But I make them anyway.  There's nothing wrong with goal-setting, and really, that's what resolutions are.  Setting goals.  Striving to achieve whatever it is that seems important at the beginning of a new year.  Reflecting on the past and making decisions about what needs changing and what can stay the same.  It's about defining – or redefining – your hopes and dreams.

It's disturbs me when I ask people what it is they really want – like if they had all the money in the world and didn't need to work, what would they like to spend the rest of their lives doing? – and the answer is some form of "I don't know."

You don't know?  You don't know?  You haven't thought it?  You don't have dreams?

I'm not a big fan of wandering aimlessly through life, and letting whatever's going to happen, happen. That suggests – in a way that's much too uncomfortable for me to consider – that fate plays a big role in where we end up.  But I'm also not a fan of controlling every little detail, with the belief that if we start at A and tunnel our way methodically through the alphabet, we'll end up at Z, on time and as planned.

The answer's got to be somewhere in the middle.  A harmonious blend of working towards that something (whatever that is for each of us) while accepting the twists and turns that come our way.

Much like writing a novel.  While there's nothing wrong with outlining and working towards that ending I've envisioned, I like staying open to the unexpected.

That's why I like making resolutions.  They give me a track to try and stick to, but they in no way prevent me from meandering off that path if the opportunity presents itself.

Before I get to my resolutions for 2010, here's a brief summary of the highlights of my 2009:

I finished Creep (6 drafts) and started querying for the very first time.

Stats to date:  40 queries sent, 19 rejections, 3 requests, and 2 of those submissions still outstanding.

I'm a third of the way through the first draft of my next novel.

I attended my first writer's conference in New York City and met a bunch of my favorite authors.

I read 32 new books and reread 2 old favorites.

I joined two writer's groups and took one writing workshop.

I made a whole bunch of writing friends.

I started a blog.  And posted 106 entries in 2009 (not bad, considering I started blogging in April).

All in all, a really productive year in my writing life.  I'm pretty damned happy with everything I accomplished.  I worked hard, and I feel good about that.

And for 2010, this is what I plan to accomplish, cliché or not:

I will finish querying Creep.  By the end of the year, I'll know whether the book is publication worthy.  And if it's not, it won't be because I didn't query the hell out of it.

I will finish writing Magnolia, including all drafts and edits, and have it ready for querying in 2011 (hopefully sooner).

I will keep regular writing hours and try to minimize those marathon sessions that burn me out for days afterward.

I will carve out time every day for reading.  By the end of this year, I hope to have read 52 books (including rereads of old favorites.)

As for this blog... no resolutions for that.  Sadly, it's at the bottom of the priority list, though I do expect to post a few times a week, on average.

And most important resolution for 2010... drumroll, please...

I will remember that no matter how many rejections I get, I love to write.  All the publishing success in the world would mean shit if I hated to write.  Writing makes me happy, and while it's good to aim for publication, I need to remember to enjoy the process and make the most of each day. I did a better job of this in 2009 than I did in 2008, but I'm promising myself here  – in writing! – that 2010 will be an amazing year.  For me and for everyone around me.

Happy New Year!