Liebling + Lobster = Liebster Award!

Okay, I’m relatively new to blogging, and hadn’t even heard of this until Kristin Wagner nominated me for it—for ‘excellent resources and support for fellow writers’! Thanks, Kristin!

After I ran through the list of things I would love to win (a trip to Peru; a visit from one of those home-improvement shows to fix what we lovingly refer to as our “yard” but which is really a recovering construction site; a live-in housekeeper and cook who will also teach my children fluent Spanish), I forced myself to sit back down and do a little research.

So, the Liebster Award is pretty cool, not the least because it is half German (lieb = love) and half surfer. Bloggers nominate other bloggers, who are free to decline the nomination, and who then do nothing except miss out on free advertising, so really what happens, is most bloggers accept. They then win (and I was a little breathless just thinking about it): the chance to answer some questions and nominate five other bloggers!

Yeah, so I loved it, of course! Cuz who needs a trip to Peru? I mean, seriously, it’s coming on to winter down there! Plus my kids really love playing in the mud pits in our yard, and didn’t you hear? As far as houses go, dirty is the new clean.

Here are the rules:

  1. If you are nominated, include a link back to your nominator’s site.
  2. Answer the questions your nominator asks of you.
  3. Nominate five or more other bloggers who have 1000 or less followers.
  4. Ask them eleven* questions of your own.

So, I am going to follow the rules, because I am a rule follower (except when I’m not).

In Which I Link back to My Nominator

Kristin Wagner–I love her blog because she, like me, is a former English teacher who is raising kids and writing! Please check her out!

In Which I Answer the Questions

1. Why do you blog?

Because I am writing a novel, and I heard that having a website is what serious authors do these days.

2. Who is your favorite author, or alternately, what is your favorite book?

Too many to count, but here are a few I return to again and again: The Brothers K by David Duncan; everything by Melina Marchetta and John Green and Billy Collins and David Sedaris and almost everything by Margaret Atwood; The Earthsea Trilogy (except it’s not even a trilogy anymore) by Ursula K. Leguin.

3. What is your favorite childhood memory?

When my sister fell down giving me an underdog on the swing, and she couldn’t get up (because I was swinging right over her, of course!) and I laughed so hard that I peed all over her.

4. Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?

WARNING! MAJOR CORNINESS ALERT!!! Jesus. He is the only truly loving person I’ve ever met and he inspires and empowers me to love others beyond my normal capacity. I tried to think of someone else so that I wouldn’t be too cheesy but honestly, no one else even comes close. He’s even taught me to say, “You’re right” to my husband while I’m still mad! I mean, no one else has even suggested that kind of insanity to me.

5. What would an ideal vacation/get away look like?

Beautiful view + fire place or hot tub or warm weather + good book + family + outdoors + supernatural ability to ‘pause’ my children so I can take a nap.

6. What is one thing you do exceptionally well, but you can’t often talk about it because it would seem like bragging?

I grow very beautiful children. I stopped at two because I didn’t want to make other parents feel bad.

7. What is your favorite food?

Cheese, which I am unfortunately allergic to. Thank you for bringing this up.

8. Have you ever practiced an acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror, and if so what award was it that you “accepted”?

I am very grateful to be able to say “No” to this question.

9. What makes you laugh?

Almost everything. My sense of humor casts a wide net.

10. What is something you would like to see happen in your lifetime?

Like, a magic thing? Or a real thing?

If it’s a magic thing, I would love for the national animal of Scotland, which is of course the unicorn, to actually be discovered, a whole thriving herd of them, on some isolated Highland isle.

If it’s a real thing, I would like Americans to start serving a mandatory stint in an overseas or domestic non-profit that works directly with the poor. I think lots of things would shift globally if US citizens understood that 99% of Americans are the global 1%.

In Which I Nominate Five Bloggers, All of Whom Focus on Writing

  • The Mom Who Runs–for essays, flash fiction, and book reviews.
  • Liz Shriftstellar–for flash fiction, journal reviews, and hard-core advice (like, how not to break copywrite law in your writing).
  • Michelle Taylor–for a visually distinct blog, and for youthful energy.
  • Writing at the Table–for lovely essays about writing and motherhood.
  • Proud Foot Words–for writing advice and book reviews, and for being Australian.

In Which I Ask Eleven Questions

  1. How did you choose the topic of your blog?
  2. Who are your favorite authors?
  3. What is one piece of advice for new authors?
  4. What kinds of things do you like to write?
  5. What does your writing schedule look like?
  6. Where has your writing been published?
  7. Why do you write?
  8. How do you deal with writer’s block?
  9. What’s your writing process?
  10. Do you draft on paper or on a computer? Why?
  11. Tell the truth…had you heard of the Liebster Award before?

 

Thanks so much! I can’t wait to see what happens next!

*the online rules were vague–10 questions? 11 questions?–so for fun I decided to go with 11, as it is my favorite number!

 

 

 

 

Revising and Editing Novels: How to Keep Our Heads Straight

So, as you may or may not know, I am deep into research and revisions for my novel, Things That Were Lost. (Pardon me while I engage in a short but wild display of joy over this. (It may humor you to know that, for reasons of honesty, I felt compelled to get up and do a little jig, in order to preserve the integrity of our relationship. So perhaps I will need to control the kinds of things I type from now on.))

The reason for the dance, of course, is that a novel is—it turns out—really really long, which if I had known that when I started maybe I would have gone into a career as, I don’t know, a haiku artist or greeting card author or something.  In today’s post, I’ll share my revision process for a book-length work once I have a basic draft in front of me.

First, I have four documents open at all times:

  1. The actual novel—in this case, Things That Were Lost
  2. A “Slush Pile”—a place where I can paste any sections or ideas that I am cutting but might want to use later, in this or another story
  3. An “Ancillary Text”—basically, a list of facts I need to keep straight: characters, their idiosyncrasies, and their backstories; main character’s class schedule (she spends a fair amount of time at school); timeline of events; etc.
  4. A “Research” document—unnecessary for many books, but integral to this one, since information about crows (from both mythic and scientific sources) features in this book

As I read, I constantly copy text back and forth among all these documents, checking periodically to keep my story consistent. For example, just last week, I discovered that my main character had Geometry 2nd period…until later, when it had magically become a Chemistry class!

But what about getting derailed? As Anne Lamott has famously said in her book Bird by Bird, “Get it down first. Get it right second.” I’m adding, “Or third. Or fourth, or, really, any number of your choice as long as it’s not first.” As I read my own writing, the temptation is to start obsessing over every little error I discover or confusion I experience, until I have lost the major reason we revise: to see and strengthen the big picture. Some of this little stuff is best left to editing, a step where the minute details come into sharp focus.

Of course, it’s not like I can turn off the editor part of my brain, saying, “Self! Today we’re revising, so none of your nit-picking! Fall in line!”

Instead, I rely heavily on COMMENTS, which you’ll be able to create if you click on REVIEW on the toolbar. (Unless you’re a Mac user, in which case, you are probably way more evolved than I am anyway and have already either a) translated this post into binary, or b) created a digital abstract painting of it.)

Actual comments I currently have in my novel:

  • Revise almost all linking verbs to contractions. These are teens!
  • This implies that Geometry is the last class of the day. Is this legit all throughout?
  • Make sure this is right. Maybe it’s CP? Research and make sure I have it right.
  • Look up how spelled online
  • I like this line but I’m not sure it belongs here
  • It looks like all the stuff I typed in google docs has straight quotes. I think I will need to fix every one by hand…blah
  • Get some feedback about the super short chapters. I think I should combine them, but I’m not sure.
  • Decide how I’m going to spell her name—it’s like 3 different ways here!

 

“Okay, I’m a believer, sweet Revision Goddess!” you might say (or, as likely, not). Regardless of whether or not you decide to use comments as a revision tool, it’s important to ask: as I read and revise, how do I decide what to fix in that moment, as opposed to capture in a comment for later? My only real rule is, if it will take me out of the story, I write a comment. If I can revise it now, while still keeping focused on the big picture, then I do so.

After all my years of teaching writing, I have moved well away from the stance that “all writers revise by…” because it’s just not true. This is my process; it feels natural and effective for me. My readers and I would love to hear if you have a different method.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep revising, unless I need to make a change that annoys me; that I’ll put in a comment and save for a future me.

 

From Game Designer to Editor to Writer: Interview with Author Aeryn Rudel

To my surprise, an author whose blog I follow lives in Seattle. His name is Aeryn Rudel, and his blog Rejectomancy covers rejection letters and other writing topics, like submission protocol, genre fiction markets, and tools for authors. He also interviews writers and editors—and he kindly met with me for the following interview. (But what else could you expect from someone who spells his name similarly to my daughter Aeddan? Those Gaelic types are so cool.)

Me: You actually work fulltime as a writer. What was your career trajectory? (By the way, I really didn’t sound this together….It was more like, “Oh my gosh! This is so great! I am so thankful that you are willing to do this! I think I will put an exclamation point after every sentence! Even the questions, if that’s okay with you?! So, I have some questions for you! I even wrote them down! Ummmm…how about this one?! You write full-time, right?! Without any other job?! That’s what I want to do! How did you pull that off?! If you don’t mind my asking?!” But neither you nor I have the patience for that, so let’s just pretend that I work for NPR and followed a professional script. Deal?)

AR: Let me see if I can sum up my, uh, trajectory in a (long) sentence for aspiring authors. Write poetry in your teens and twenties, stop writing altogether for a couple of years, start writing tabletop gaming stuff on internet forums in your late twenties, take freelance writing and editing gigs in the gaming industry for a couple of years, work for a small gaming company as a writer and editor, then work for a big gaming company as a writer and editor, quit cushy job as writer and editor at said big gaming company to become a full-time novelist, and, finally, get extremely lucky that your former employer thinks enough of your writing skills to sign you to write novels for them. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. There’s probably an easier way to do this whole writer thing.

That’s incredible. What kinds of things do you write?

AR: Well, I write primarily fantasy and horror. Most of the fantasy these days is for Privateer Press and set in their steampunk-esque setting of the Iron Kingdoms. The horror I write is mostly short form, including flash fiction, and I’ve had a fair number of stories published by zines like The Devilfish Review and The Molotov Cocktail. I also write about the business of writing and rejection on my blog Rejectomancy, where I post the rejection letters I receive from publishers on a pretty regular basis.  It’s a great place to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude at my expense.

That’s a lot of projects going at once. What’s your schedule like? (Do you notice that transition I added? Good, since I didn’t use any in my actual interview.)

AR: I’m big into daily word count goals, and I have a target of 2,500 words per day on big projects, like novels. At that rate, I can get a 90,000-word rough draft done in about nine weeks. Once I hit my word count goal on the big project, I move on to smaller jobs, like short stories, articles, and blog posts. I try to stick to an eight-hours-per-day, five-days-a-week schedule, but I always end up working more than that.

How does your work as an editor help you now that you are writing and submitting your own work?

AR: Working as an editor helped me quite a bit with the nuts and bolts of writing. You can’t spend eight hours a day correcting grammar, punctuation, and story structure without picking up a thing or two for your own work. Furthermore, constantly reading other writers’ work exposed me to many different styles, letting me see how a lot of pro authors go about their business. I worked with some great writers, and, again, you can’t help but learn something from being exposed to that kind of talent on a regular basis. As far as submitting my own work, all that editorial experience allows me to present a very clean manuscript to editors. This is not to say a clean manuscript gets you published—it’s always about the story—but anything you can do to make the editor’s job easier can only improve your chances.

I’ve read that, after three rejections from the same market, writers should delete it from their potential market list, and that any piece that gets rejected three times needs major revisions or even retirement. What’s your viewpoint?

AR: Yeah, I’ve heard that too. In my experience, three rejections on one story isn’t really that many. I mean, I had a story that was rejected 13 times before someone picked it up, and I’m not the only writer with that kind of experience (a friend of mine had a story rejected 37 times before it was published). I think getting published has a lot to do with right story + right editor + right time. Even good stories get rejected, and those rejections can have more to do with stuff like the editor’s personal taste, the publisher’s current market, or whether they’ve got something similar in the pipe. You can’t know any of that when you send out a submission. That said, if you get three rejections where the editors give you detailed and consistent feedback on what’s wrong with the story, then it might be time to revise rather than resubmit.

Any last advice for writers?

AR: I like to think the following equation rules the author’s world:

hard work + talent + luck = success.

You can only really control the first one, so work your ass off. That means write a lot, work on your craft a lot, and do all the other stuff required of the modern author, like get really, really good at self-promotion (through social media and elsewhere).

Finally, stay sane. Writing can be a tough business, and you’re gonna be told NO a whole bunch. In fact you’re gonna be told NO way, way more than you’re told YES. The best way to deal with that, in my opinion, is to commiserate with your fellow rejected authors. Support one another. Give lots of “There, there’s” during the bad times and even more “Hell yeah’s!” during the good times. No one is going to better understand what you’re going through than those who have chosen the same path.

You’re welcome!

For what?

For being your fellow rejected author for the day!

Okay…you’re weird.

Thank you kindly, dear sir, and may I offer my apologies for all the bumbling that my corporeal self made during our interview?

Think nothing of it. I pretended not to notice.

 

Just kidding about those last few lines! But, despite my verbal gracelessness, I enjoyed this interview very much. Next to the encouragement to keep on submitting, my biggest take-away came when Aeryn said, “Remember that moment when you read something, and thought, ‘I could write like that, better even’? Stephen King talks about having that moment in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And now, you just have to go out and do it.”

So that’s what I am going to do right now.

 

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His short fiction has appeared in The Devilfish Review, Evil Girlfriend Media, and The Molotov Cocktail, and his first novel is due out from Privateer Press this summer. Learn more about Aeryn and his work on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com.

 

Encouragement Where I Least Expect it: a Mention in The Review Review

Some days, we just really need some encouragement–a hug from a girlfriend, a free latte’, a kind word. Well, it’s like God was looking at me and thought, “Yep, I’ma give my girl a little boost to her confidence.”

After a busy two weeks, I finally took some time for Facebook today and discovered that one of my essays got a shout-out in a review of literary journal Mothers Always Write!  Click here to read Caitlin Stobie’s piece, which mentions my essay “Making Peace with Sponge Bob“, in The Review Review. This marks a first for me as a writer: my name on a site that I haven’t submitted to. It is surreal and humbling.

Whatever your great endeavor is, the thing you feel called to and passionate about, don’t give up! Instead, stack moments like this into a cairn, a tower of hope that rises one stone at a time.