This *is* the Manuscript You Were Looking For

After looking over client lists of agents to get a taste of what literary agencies are endorsing, I’m thinking it’s time I learned the Jedi mind trick. Have you read some authors’ bios lately?

Initial. Initial. Smarmy was terminally ill from the age of two, which explains much of the philosophical trauma he endured as a child. In his teens, he established his own business, ‘Nightshade Window Treatments,’ from which a friendly cult began, dedicated to educating others about the advantages of poisonous vegetation. A part-time volunteer for the Association for the Beautification of Carnivorous Reptiles, he paints abstract portraits on crocodile teeth to help raise funds and awareness. He has a pet platypus that travels with him to book signings because ‘Curby’ won’t sleep unless he’s wrapped in Smarmy’s silk scarf. Smarmy always wears this scarf; it marks his triumph over his 14-year addiction to Ace of Base.

Okay, I would love to read this in a real bio. My own will include my short stint as a bad fortune-teller and my award for being the worst slob at camp. But I can’t compete. Padawan training, you are my only hope.

Oh, That’s How You Spell ‘Kreativ’!

I’ve been nominated for the Kreativ Blogger award from Limebird Writers. Thank you to Beth and her fine feathered friends.

The rules:
1. Share 10 things about yourself that readers might find interesting.
2. Pass the award onto 6 other bloggers (be sure to leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know).

Because I’m so ‘kreativ,’ I’m starting with rule 2.

6 Picks – And Why I Chose Them

1. twistingthreads – For me, this blog exemplifies the candid, analytical writer. I like tracing the path of her thoughts in her journal posts. It may seem random, but the ‘thread’ is always there.

2. booktopiareviews – This blogger researches awards given to books, what those awards entail, and, often, who backs them. She’s a teacher and an obvious bibliophile. Can’t beat that.

3. Discovering Ireland – I have no idea how I found this little treasure. It’s a school project that relates simple questions and answers about Ireland. Being a Gaelic folklore and fairy tales enthusiast, I find this blog entertaining and easy to peruse.

4. Ayesha Schroeder – In her own words, what makes this writer unique? “Her experience growing up in a mixed family gives her the unique viewpoint of both the Pakistani immigrant and the American struggling to find and define their culture.” From my perspective, she has a knack of sharing her views instead of expressing them, making her thoughts relatable to any reader. I’m not from Pakistan, nor do I pick up works purely for their cultural aspects. I’m going with my intuition about this author’s potential to win hearts from all walks of life.

5. Novel Girl – It’s a blog, but it’s more like a condensed writing class. Rebecca takes the writer’s craft seriously and packs her posts full of helpful advice, tips galore, and lovely analogies. I feel like every entry is a personalized gift because she seems to put so much into it.

6. Kristin McFarland – Aspiring fantasy writer with lots of passion and determination. Need I say more?

 10 Things You Were Just Dying to Know About Me

1. I’m left-handed. Inigo would have so pwned me.

2. Okay, I don’t even know how to handle a sword; Inigo would have pwned me anyway. But… “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” – Lady Catherine de Bourgh

3. Don’t give me knives or scissors, either. One time I cut myself, instead of an orange, while babysitting. I decided to make it a learning moment to remind the kids of the importance of using a cutting board. This lesson occurred while a copious amount of blood was being dealt with. The children were enthralled, but for some reason I was never invited to baby-sit those kids again.

4. I’m a chain tea-drinker and partial to tea-drinking writers I meet online.

5. I have a tendency to cross the bridge, plan for ulterior ways to get around the bridge, and prepare to scale the bridge, if necessary, before I get to it.

6. Pet peeve: I despise when the bookstore locks all the doors fifteen minutes before closing. Yeah, I’d do the same thing if I were working there, but still. My first instinct is to bang on the door, scream, “Help me! I’m trapped!” and drool like a maniac on the glass. Haven’t done that yet.

7. I lost part of my right earlobe to frostbite when I was 9. It grew back in the shape of a three-leaf clover.

8. My favorite colors are lime, kelly, and sage green. I’m now the proud owner of a kelly green velour blazer. My wardrobe is complete.

9. Number seven is purely fiction. You knew that, didn’t you? See, I’m honest.

10. I don’t normally do chain letters, chain emails, chain fb statuses, etc. This feels somewhat like that. At least it doesn’t come with a guilt trip if you don’t do it.

What Not To Write

While editing Dragonfly Prince, I’ve taken a few breaks to read free online novels. I found a couple of good reads, but there were things that caused me to stop reading. Here are a few:

  • Confused verb tenses

She walks through the door and saw him.

  • Boring dialogue

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hello, my daughter of twelve years. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Mom. I am going to do my homework now.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, sweetie. I am glad you are such a good student.”

  • Narrative and dialogue redundancy

I went to the kitchen to make breakfast.

“I’m going to make breakfast now,” I said.

  • Forced and/or connotatively incompatible descriptions

The night sky was a sea of fire. A heavy purple ribbon ran, like a puckered bruise, along the horizon.

A purple streak across a red sky is beautiful; a bruise is not.

  • Backstory, backstory, backstory

It all began with Hugo’s great-grandfather, who wore white leather gloves, lived in a house with five rooms – the living room, the music room, the kitchen/dining room combo, the daffodil-themed bedroom, and a 16-square-foot bathroom – and had an old dog with rheumatoid arthritis named Fear…

I don’t even know Hugo. Why would I want to read all of that about his great-grandfather? By this time, I’ve left the story before knowing what it was even about.

  • Introspective Babble

“Carson, there’s no one here,” Trish told him, sizing up the abandoned building.

Carson wasn’t listening. He had a habit of that with Trish. It stemmed from the many fights they’d had as kids. Trish was two years younger, but she had a way of making him feel like he was the younger one.

He stepped out of the car, but she grabbed the arm of his jacket. “You can’t be serious! You’re not going into that old place!”

He resented the tone in her voice. She always used that tone when she thought he wasn’t doing what she thought he should do…

Introspective babble is kind of like angst, only with more whininess.

As a reader, do you sometimes run into droughts, searching for a good story without success? For me, that’s when the urge to write becomes the strongest.

How Christmas Traffic Inspired Me

Just like Christmas traffic, this post may seem convoluted; but bear with me. I’m going somewhere with this. Really.

One of my favorite movies is Empire of the Sun. Another favorite of mine is Rescue Dawn. The two movies have a great deal in common; and I’m not talking about Christian Bale, who stars as the main character in both of them. They are both about war and the strength of the human spirit. When these two concepts become the backdrop for a story, that story often captivates me. (‘Captivate.’ How apropos, eh?) Strangely, it doesn’t have the same effect on me to watch movies drawing upon the human spirit when winning sports matches or surviving expedition challenges – you know, where the underdog team finally gets the victory or the wilderness wanderer makes it back to civilization. I guess, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “You signed up for it. What did you expect?”

Yeah, and people sign up to go to war. Dieter Dengler, the true-life hero on which the Rescue Dawn protagonist is based, even wanted to give his life for a nation that wasn’t his native country. That’s partially what made the movie so incredible. In war, people can become like animals. The lines of black and white are so blurred that ethics are thrown out the window. The situation is so extreme there is only reaction. In all candor, I often wonder what I would do in extreme circumstances – if I would make the right decisions. I have a nagging doubt that, in a desperate moment, I wouldn’t. It’s the little clues that bring me to that conclusion.

I started thinking about this when I ran a red light a couple of days ago. It’s that rotten Christmas traffic. I justified it because of the long lines of cars, the long wait, and because my light time was shortened by the cars that previously ran the light for a good twenty seconds. As I passed under that blaring crimson reminder, I saw the line of cars ahead, waiting to enter my lane. Seconds later, I slowed down and signaled for a car to take the place in front of me. Why? Why did I just hammer through the traffic light to decide to wait behind yet another car? Simple: Inside that car was a person. I could see him. I think he was in his seventies. His white-haired wife was beside him. The red light was an emotionless mechanism to direct me, and a horde of other cars, into systematic obedience. While I happen to take issue with systematic control, I do believe in submitting to a greater, collaborative cause to protect and help those around me. That’s why it bothers me when I’m not keeping my part of the bargain, even in seemingly insignificant things like running a light.

That system to protect and aid each other is what is lacking in war. Even countries that don’t consider themselves at “war” know that when there is no peace – no agreement to coexist together – the situation is dire and intense. The environment is hostile, and the mind has to work within tightly constructed boundaries that are never clearly delineated. It’s an ever-shrinking prison that comes down to little option for escape without harming self or someone else for survival.

Empire of the Sun has a scene where Jamie is making his way across the British/American prison camp trading and winning certain items to obtain other items that, in having this delivery service, grant him privileges. His ingenuity and perseverance makes me shake my head in wonder, while his dusty, angular face and empty expression depict the telling signs of his harsh life. His actions become more and more like a mouse being chased by a cat, scrabbling to survive, than a boy around his own kind. The end of the movie makes me bawl every time. Jamie’s eyes go from stony, dark lifelessness to a glimmer – a small window – of recognition. It’s hope. It’s a chance to feel again, to know where he belongs. He closes his eyes slowly as his mother embraces him. He can’t go back to the child he was, but he’s no longer alone. There is someone there to take his part, someone to see he has what he needs. And he closes his eyes, finding peace at last after his long journey.

The same day I ran the red light and let a car go ahead of me, I finally made it to the store for toilet paper, soup, and cough medicine. I didn’t try to make conversation; I was trying my best not to cough on the cashier. I looked behind me, and the next shopper was a woman whose hair looked like it had been fixed three days ago. Her makeup was dried to her face, and she had raccoon eyes. Her one purchase was a case of beer. It wasn’t her appearance that was startling; she didn’t seem to notice anything. Even the cashier was making note of the woman’s manner. Her eyes darted places, but never looked at anyone directly. It was like she existed in an inner panic with some kind of mental monologue going on.

I wanted so badly to catch her eye. I wanted to ask if she was okay. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t find the courage to insert myself into her world.

I think the worst wars are the ones going on inside. There the battles of the mind rage, where the captive stares out upon a hostile world created by events of the past that cannot be put to rest until someone comes who knows who that person really is, where he/she belongs. Why does the human spirit rise above? I think it’s because of hope, the tenacious belief that somewhere there is help and peace.

In the spirit of the season, I’d like to give you the gift of a quote from three men who wrote that their words were given to them directly from the Spirit of God. Their names were Paul, Peter, and John, and they often began their letters with this greeting:

Grace and peace to you.

Grace means divine help. May you find divine help and peace. And may you have the tenacity and courage to rise above the wars you face.

The Charm of All Vortices

“You should publish your story.”

That’s a nice compliment. It is also a minefield, when you consider what it means to publish nowadays. The term ‘publish’ has taken on totally different facets of definition and expectation. The options for publishing a book, especially when considering self-publishing, are breeding faster than rabbits. I’ve discussed the whole “self-publish or go for the gold” with fellow writers. That’s really how writers look at it, isn’t it? Self-publishing isn’t the crowning moment for a writer. I’m being honest here.In reality, the writers who’ve self-published are far superior in thought and action. It takes moxie to put yourself and your work out there. It also takes money.

The ‘helpful advice for writers’ blogs I’ve been reading continue to discuss self-publishing, and I’ve found some of the suggestions suspect. While advertisements for self-publish-assisting services flash and glisten along the sides of the article, it benevolently advises writers to opt for these services to make one’s book look professional. Does anyone want to present his/her story with an unprofessional aspect? Obviously not. Nor do many writers enter this vortex with funds in hand. Isn’t it a writer’s object to take as much financial risk out of the equation as possible, so that he/she won’t end up a Starving Writer Wraith in the Land of Author Discontent?

I’m new at this, you know. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think that’s why self-publishing sounds more like a casino game to me at the moment. Whoever doles out the cash gets a spin around the e-book world. Here and there, someone claims, “Look at my book! It hit the jackpot!”

I’m beginning to wonder if anyone really has a grip on the current publishing frenzy. But that’s the charm of all vortices, eh?

Dealing with the Bean Burrito

I did it. I sent my first query.

Manuscript Rejected.

Here are some excerpts from the rejection letter and my responses (which I didn’t email back or anything – I wasn’t feeling that indignant):

Agency: Your manuscript isn’t right for us at this time.

Me: But you only saw the first 50 pages! Are sure? Are you really sure?

Agency: There are numerous agents that might be the right fit for your manuscript.

Me: Well? Who are they? Do you have a list?

Agency: “Don’t give up!”

Me: That’s nice. I can’t dislike you as easily now.

So, what am I doing? Am I jumping in with both feet, composing query letters like a madwoman? Nope. I’m reediting the editedly overedited, edited-again version of Dragonfly Prince. It must need sprucing up, including the 350 pages the agency never set eyes on. And I know this is wrong. I know I need to let it go and concentrate on researching literary agents’ backgrounds to find that perfect fit. But… it… has… to… be… perfect!

Obsessed. I’m completely obsessed at this stage. I want to present the story, but I can’t present the story because it might be rejected if I present it with its current flaws. So I don’t present the story to anyone, and it haunts me like a bean burrito. This stinks.

Let Them Do All the Talking

Suppose someone uncovered a never-before-seen manuscript of Charles Dickens and posted it as a serial novel in an online magazine, or sold it on Amazon. Would it become one of the top-selling best reads of the year? I doubt it. It’s my belief that only a small percentage of readers today would hang around long enough for a story to unfold the way Dickens painted it. The decision to read a story by Charles Dickens is like drawing up a business contract to begin a relationship. It starts out as a chore and slowly evolves into a pleasant, satisfying friendship. Well, at least that’s how I feel about his first works; The Mystery of Edwin Drood was a bit of a gyp.

When I began reading the first chapters of The Pickwick Papers, I admit, it was a trial of perseverance. But by the end I was laughing, crying and inspired to expound on some of his sketches. Dickens, the master of characterization, merged detail and personality in a way that seemed effortless. A reader doesn’t consciously notice the character is being described at all. That’s finesse. I think it helped that he had a larger palette of words to use in painting his masterpieces. The writers of that time, such as Anthony Trollope and Elizabeth Gaskell, were ‘free-penning’ concepts, aware that the culture was under fire. The Industrial Revolution was changing their world.

In comparison, our culture’s paperless venues are affecting the printed word to the point of confining literature to an often déjà vu-heavy shadow of what it once was. But while the vocabulary remains somewhat static, sometimes merely requiring one to invest in a growing repertoire of clichés, the expectation of the reader is greater. He/she is becoming acclimated to game, movie and graphic novel-driven forms of media. Books are in a mean competition with this accelerated thinking that allows the description to be mapped out in a few blinks. Is it any wonder some readers don’t want to waste time on descriptive prose, unless it’s a love scene in slow motion? Within this limited scope a writer is expected to create unique, relatable personalities, entrancing environments and novel plots.

With movie scenes replacing setting descriptions and animated images replacing character descriptions, what’s left to work with? Dialogue. Dialogue becomes the given for carrying a storyline. One must wield well-mastered dialogue to effectively capture readers. Instead of thoughtfully inhaling the perfume of a multi-worded garden of script, a reader looks for the description to make an appearance incognito between the humorous, oftentimes cynical, remarks of the characters. That’s why best-selling authors of young adult fiction avoid descriptive scenes that explain things organically and employ more flashbacks.

This is our Information Revolution to which we have responded with our own Age of Enlightenment and Romanticism. The yearning to stop and smell the roses – even the ones created with words – may be forgotten for a time in the bustle of the day-to-day; but it will emerge again. The times change, avenues change. People don’t. Neither should the integrity of a good story. Keeping that integrity is the challenge, I think.

I have to go now. The How It’s Made marathon is about to begin.