Whoo Hoo! Go, Failure!

You won’t ever succeed until you have continually failed.

This was the advice I was given about sending out my queries for Dragonfly Prince. Isn’t it encouraging? It’s no wonder I’ve been hitting disillusionment hard. I think it’s also because I’ve been reading fine print. Stuff like,

“In publishing your book, it is necessary, to the extent that any rights apply, that you waive any and all foreseeable inconveniences to Filmore Paukits Publishing, Inc., including but not limited to digital rights, moral rights, your right to any specific point of view, your right to any values you might hold dear, your right to think, your right to breathe, etc., where at all advantageous to the marketing philosophies of our company.”

I realize that the point of a Grant of Rights has to do with advertising. Specifically, it allows marketing to present my book in a way that’s considered the most appealing. Still, it has me thinking about the rights I might be asked to give up. I want to have a say in what the cover illustrates. I want to know my work retains the spirit I wrote it in. I want to have the ability to keep someone from editing out an aspect that, to me, is crucial to the story, replacing analytical content with sensational nihility that I’ll regret until my dying day. I’m not talking about editing; I am concerned about bias and censoring. It’s wrong to take an artist’s work and conform it to current views – which change – and stymie the author’s true views – which should remain the author’s prerogative to change.

I think publishers nowadays are squeamish. And they should be. It’s a tough market. No book company wants to make decisions right now that might negatively impact its reputation. That’s why a good literary agent is important. If I’m going to make the effort of catching a publishing company’s attention, I want to do it well and efficiently, while being aware of what I’m getting into.

I’ve sent out four queries. Yes, four. When I find an agent that piques my interest, I read everything I can find about her. (Yes, four ‘hers.’) I make a list of her literary interests, quirks and good qualities. I read over her book deals. I weigh in the things I don’t care for. I ask myself, “Do I think I could work with this agent? Is she too (I go through many adjectives here)?” I’m basically investing in a relationship before I’ve composed the letter! I have to stop kidding myself. This is called finding any excuse to drag my feet. I can’t become callous to rejection if I don’t make the effort to be rejected!

I think the beauty of this whole endeavor is: I’m living in a time when there isn’t any avenue of book publishing that I can’t explore on my own. I need to give this agent search my best effort and be patient. At this point the only thing that’s holding me back is me.


Bug Plug

This morning, I read two blog posts about bugs and toilets. Here is the first from Tilly Bud’s The Laughing Housewife. Here is the second from Joe Kurtenbach’s blog. Is it bug and toilet week on WordPress? Here’s my bug contribution (sorry, no toilets mentioned):

Bug Plug

While to slumber I was switching;
To my great surprise, an itching;
Started tingling there upon my outstretched hand.

Well, I quickly went to scratch it;
Felt a bug and tried to catch it;
Oh, that
is the type of waking I can’t stand.

Now I feel the little critters;
Up and down, gives me the jitters;
Ack! How dare that bug presume on me to land!

Here I am in my own cubby;
Snuggled down warm with my hubby;
‘Get you home, unwelcome creature!’ I demand.

But a bug’s a bug, I know it;
Lands on prince and pope and poet;
Doesn’t matter if I’m little known or grand.

Yet, if I could give him one thought:
‘Do not land on those you ought not.’
Then would bugs rate ‘most intelligent’ in the land.

Have an in’critter’ble week!

I Write of You, Solanum tuberosum

You know how I said I wasn’t going to write when I was really hungry? Scratch that. I was thinking about potatoes today. Potatoes are really one of the easiest foods to make. You basically put them in the oven on a low setting. Sometimes I even remember them a few hours later. I’m not the most reliable cook because of the “out of sight, out of mind” thing. If I remember to set a timer, everything’s fine. Otherwise, it better be potatoes in the oven. Can they be overcooked? It’s been my luck they are always done when I recall where they are.

They have a starchy satisfaction to them. Everybody understands what it means to say, “A real meat and potatoes kinda guy.” You can take him at face value; no need to ask about salad dressings or anything. Potatoes are the same way, hearty and dependable.

A potato complements almost anything. Simple butter, some salt and pepper, and it’s done. Restaurants add all kinds of toppings, like broccoli and red onion. Have you ever watched a person’s eyes when the server begins listing the toppings on the “loaded,” “super loaded,” and “add more pig” potato? Me, either. I wasn’t ordering potatoes.

Recently, my sister found out she wasn’t eating enough starchy carbs in her diet, which resulted in her body working to convert the proteins. She was lethargic and losing weight. She and I happen to ascribe to the same diet, consisting of lots of cruciferous veggies and meats. For me white carbs, like rice, potatoes and noodles, are flavor squelchers. They don’t originate with the flavor, and they can even be known to mute it. I prefer a piping hot tray of mushroom tops with freshly minced garlic simmered in butter, or sautéed green beans.

So, I’ve decided to give ol’ Idaho a chance again. I’m thinking of composing a verse as an ode to this incredible tuber of the nightshade family. I plan to compliment its eyes, of course.

In case you think I’ve forgotten the point of this post, here it is:

A writer’s story is not like a potato.

Brilliant, eh?

1. The potato baking in the oven will forgive you when you forget about it, but your story may not forgive your neglect. Inspiration can be fleeting. If you don’t cultivate the plot and invest the time in seeing the story through, it may dry up to become but a few flecks of dull, unreadable scenes.

2. The potato’s starchy makeup will leave you feeling full. While I think an ending should leave one satisfied, a good story should leave one hungering for more from that author. It also doesn’t hurt anything to keep the reader wondering whether there might be a sequel.

3. Potatoes can be better with toppings, a.k.a., fillers. Stories? Bleck.

4. The flavor of a potato doesn’t change. Good old potatoes. They are the same all the way through. If a book were like that, it would have no readership.

Now I will return to my mountain top to meditate, and you may go on with your journey through the wilds of WordPress.

Learning from First Impressions

I’ve been reading tons lately and writing very little. There are ten chapters written on the sequel to Dragonfly Prince. I don’t want to call it writer’s block. You see, I’ve had trouble with sequels before, and that’s why this is making me nervous. When I completed my first novel-sized story (a modern crossover fanfic drawing from Austen’s Persuasion/Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera) – I had this exciting idea about merging Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice with Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel for the sequel. I named it Florid Impressions. (Austen’s P&P was originally entitled, “First Impressions.”) It would follow talented ballet dancer, Marguerite (or ‘Meg’), as she joined a newly formed troupe begun by a young, accomplished choreographer, P. Darcy-Blakeney. He would be like Orczy’s Blakeney in style and attitude and Austen’s Darcy in true personality and noblesse oblige. He and Meg would not see eye-to-eye; but she would learn to respect his impeccable taste for interpretation, and he would find himself taken with her vivacity, wit and, ultimately, her determination and loyalty. I had these great ideas for following international conflict and constructed two daring rescues and a wonderful escape finale. I totally fell in love with it, eavesdropping in on my characters’ conversations in my head.

To prepare I immersed myself in researching the art of ballet. I hunted for advisers and sought their advice. I read and watched all the documentaries I could study. I have notebooks stashed away scribbled back to pulp with terms and practices and personal reflections of dancers. Through my research I came to the conclusion that my first impression of a ballerina was completely wrong. It is truly an art of illusion. Its disciples are always in pain, always pushing their physical limits.

While gathering the information, it struck me as strange that I didn’t know the names of any current danseurs or ballerinas. The programs do not garner the same breathless anticipation of the Super Bowl, or even Wimbledon. Yes, I’m comparing ballet to a sport. It requires intense athleticism, but that is coupled with emotional expression. It’s quite an incredible craft.

Where once it had claimed a regal, astral sort of beauty for me, the earthy reality ruined it. I became disillusioned by the line of work I’d chosen for my main character. I’m rather sad for her. Still, it taught me to stick with what I know (and to give my characters jobs where they had more to wear than a kerchief and tights). And that’s where this sequel scares me the most. It’s all about what I know, and I’m intimidated. I’m more conscious of its flaws and less attuned to how it communicates its meaning to someone who hasn’t been in my shoes. Can I let my guard down and *gulp* give it the vulnerability it needs? Ten chapters are just a knock at the door.

Secrets, Wordchefs and Insta-pies

Here’s a thought I loved from the children’s book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg:

Claudia doesn’t want adventure. She likes baths and feeling comfortable too much for that kind of thing. Secrets are the kind of adventure she needs. Secrets are safe, and they do much to make you different. On the inside where it counts.

When I think of keeping secrets, I often think of negative secrets dealing with hurt. But there are good secrets, too. There are secrets that are fun that people keep for the pure effervescence they bring.

The thrill of keeping a secret is why I never write down the ending when I’m planning a story. When I have a story idea, I jot it down to exorcise it out of my system while I’m working on my current project. If I return to the story premise and can’t remember the ending, it wasn’t that good. To tell the ending is to spoil the secret. I’d rather it well up in me so that I have a goofy grin on my face when I think about it.

A writer is one who creates a story like a set of courses for a dinner. It’s very exciting because there’s all the expectation of experimenting, recording, and perfecting the textures and flavors of every verbarian dish. As a reader, one enjoys being the guest rather than the chef. I think most readers become writers when they realize that writing the story can be just as pleasing to the literary palate as sitting down at another wordchef’s table. Perhaps more so because the one telling the story has the joy of inventing each scene to his/her own taste.

Imagine the meal: It begins with the summary appetizer: bold in flavor and promising better courses to come. The salad is the intro: pert, crisp. The plot opens like thick slices of a warm, crusty, herbed baguette. Perhaps the style has a nutty, quirky quality, like the cheese accompanying the bread, or perhaps it has a smooth, sophisticated approach, like roasted garlic truffle oil. The personalities of the characters are revealed in tantalizing spoonfuls, like the soup. Then the conflict, the entrée, is set before the reader. The drizzle of ambrosial sauce (like a simmering rivalry), the mouthwatering bursts of infused spices (perhaps the thrilling knowledge of an impending event in the story) make it evident the reader is now basking in the delicious splendor of the tale. The subplots bring variety and freshness, like a summer vegetable medley, and extend the anticipation. Now the turning point is expected, the dessert! The reader knows it will be accompanied by a tying up of all the loose ends, taking the form of a soothing beverage, like coffee (in my case you know I prefer tea).

What would you expect for dessert? Perhaps mousse or a crème brûlée? A delectable slice of Italian cream cake? What if a tube-like box labeled ‘apple pie’ was flopped down before the reader? What if the ending is like a microwaved, fast-food substitute?

A McDonald's apple pie.
Image via Wikipedia

There are stories like that.

It’s also how I feel about writing out my own story’s ending in the planning stage. Writing the skeleton outline of the conclusion looks like twice-warmed-over, faux-apple smoosh to me.

An ending is the result of the process. At its culmination it has to bloom naturally or it has the chance of becoming synthetic and lifeless. So, the end stays my secret. When I finally write it, I want it to contain the initial emotion of the final piece being fitted. Not that it won’t go through a gamut of rewrites, but the ending should be… saved for the end.

(Note to self: Never write while really hungry again.)

I Knew Watching “The Price is Right” Would Come In Handy

There’s this “Versatile Blogger” award. Have you heard of it? Last month, Sally from The Digital Bookshelf and Carrie from The Write Transition informed me of their kind nominations of my blog for this award. I want to give a hearty thanks for their time and efforts in considering me, but I’m perplexed. I write about writing. That has to be one of the most unversatile subjects known to blogging. Is there a Nonversatility Award? Just wondering. – No! I’m not wondering, not wondering at all. Forget I said that.

It’s my opinion that Versatile blog posts would go something this:

“I was contemplating Plato’s Meno while clipping my toenails this morning…”

“Today, the raindrops merging on the windowpane created an exact replica of Conan O’Brien’s hair logo. I think it’s a sign…”

“I create my own eucalyptus-guava scented candles and want to tell you how I make them in bulk…”

“I just found out I have gingivitis. Have you ever considered the analogies that can be drawn from this discovery? For one, unhealthy gums are a haven for germs and disease, kind of like unhealthy relationships…”

For more illustrations, peruse the WordPress blogs under the topic, ‘musings.’ They’re fun. Some posts even resemble therapy by proxy. Of course, I promptly leave my advice. I’m glad to share my words of wisdom. I have lots of words to share. The wisdom? Meh.

On the heels of the Versatile blogger nominations, I received another nomination for the 7×7 Link award from the generous jmmcdowell. Three lovely compliments in such a short amount of time! I feel embarrassed, considering this is my 14th post on WordPress.

At the same time I’m reminded of that kitchen hand towel chain-letter that is supposed to heap upon you terry piles of steaming coffee cup, chili pepper, and Italian bistro cheeriness. I fear an epidemic, widespread panic. I’d be biting my nails if I weren’t typing this. I’m going to go deep into the recesses of my memory to recall the words of Bob Barker. (Okay, so Drew Carey says it, too.) Friends, I think nominations may need to be spayed or neutered to control the award population. I’ll be sacrificial about the whole thing and deny myself the delight of decorating my blog’s side columns with additional, pretty award logos in hopes that it will appease those lofty award-inventors.

And I do appreciate the accolades! Truly… much more than my collection of fat, mustachioed Italian chefs, whose smiling faces I wipe my wet hands on.

Which Way Is Ever After?

by A. Ashkanani, flickr.com

It’s the mushy month. Love and all that… And I was thinking, ‘I should find a good love story to celebrate Valentine’s Day properly.’ Nyah, nothing with a sappy name this time. They bother me. I know there’s something wrong with a Gaskell’s North and South/Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fanatic who doesn’t devour those confectionary titles like a big goblet of dark chocolate mousse, but I have difficulty reading a book that’s embarrassing to name aloud. (“Oh, I’m reading, ‘Love’s Endless Flowing Tragic Quest of Angst,’ you?”) It reminds me of Gilbert’s down-to-earth remark to Anne Shirley about her flowery romances. He tells her, “Nobody talks like that in real life.”*

Still, I believe there’s nothing like a good love story, and romances aren’t necessarily good love stories. Take Tolkien’s Return of the King as an example. It wasn’t a romance, but the love stories are mint. The relationship dynamics are what intrigue me most, I guess. Whatever my current writing obsession, I find myself watching my protagonist develop, placing certain situations before him or her to see what the reaction will be. As a reader, I like book characters that give me the impression I’ve met them before. I’m the Bildungsroman sci-fantasy sort, add a side of love story.

Because of this, a tale about a woman who is thawed into falling in love with some non-confrontational, gorgeously handsome man, who waits all through the book for her to notice him, has no appeal. I think I prefer reading about a confrontational, ugly guy who goes through his own metamorphosis. (Have I been conditioned to correlate male attractiveness with spineless drooling? Hm…)

How about the male love interest who makes the heroine eat her words? Well, he ought to be gentlemanly about it when she does, of course. But I’m not completely a Taming of the Shrew fan because it lends itself to the opposite extreme, toward berating or abusing womankind.

Why do so many love stories belittle the intelligence of either gender to make the relationship work? I think the romance genre often finds its writers in difficulty over how to keep that balance. And what about original endings? Wedding bells ring, a thrilling account of what happened on the honeymoon, or hints of a baby’s arrival often conclude the tale. Jane Austen fared just fine leaving her characters to pledge their troth and… Here’s an epilogue. Cue the orchestra, roll the credits. What are some other ways to end a love story without being cliché? The only other endings I can think of are the ones where one, or both of them, dies. The Hunger Games (Spoiler! Spoiler!) used a tactic which I found both realistic and depressing. Kat just deals. She ends up with the one she loves best, but they are too scarred to really be happy. Call me an idealist, but I don’t find death and despondency very inspiring in a society where love comes and goes like a hobby and no one seems to know which direction to ride off and find ‘ever after,’ much less ‘happily.’

So, any book suggestions, or have I thrown out the lot?

*from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series