Wednesday, April 29, 2009

(It's Time to) Come Out of the Closet!

We writers are an odd breed. We're possessed. We've got mild or wild weird writing habits some might refer to as neurotic (can you say, OCD?). Some of us worship at the alter of preferred pens, best-loved blankets, and particular pillows. Others prefer doors open (me) or closed (Stephen King), a brilliant view of nature vs. no outside light at all, or even facing a certain direction. I once heard of some sad sap in England who felt the need to run around the block three times, kneel down and kiss the ground, and then sing "Ave Maria" at the top of his lungs before he could finally settle in and put pen to paper. We crazy writers not only act as if, but firmly believe, the world will stop spinning if we stray from our "normal" writing routines.

One of my weird but wonderful writerly habits is the Daily 1,000. This sounds like something Jon Stewart made up, but, alas, it was 'lil 'ole me. What is the Daily 1,000 you ask? That's simple. It's writing at least 1,000 words per day on my WIP. I highly recommend it. Sometimes, I replace my Daily 1,000 with time served editing a "finished work" (talk about an oxymoron!), although I try to get in my Daily 1,000 anyway.

I keep a running total and goal word count for my current WIP on a "special" page in my "special" notebook. (That's not neurotic, is it?) Right now I'm about halfway through a cozy mystery (goal word count: 85K), and loving every word of it. If I stay on track,, i.e. keep up with my Daily 1,000, I should be done by mid-June. And, then I get to edit, edit again, edit a hundred more times, and then query. Of course, the Brooklyn DNA coursing through my veins doesn't allow for silly things like "patience," so I'll more than likely jump the gun on querying sooner than recommended by the FDA or CIA or other "professional" organizations claiming to know about such things.

Unless, that is, I've already got me an agent... (Several fab agents are currently reviewing my work - please keep fingers, toes and all other viable parts crossed.)

So, folks, it's time to make like Doogie Howser and come out of the closet! What are some of your Peculiar Practices? Resolute Routines? Devilish Drills? What are your mild or wild weird writing habits?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Don't Hate Me Because I've.... Got a Pool?

Remember that old commercial that said, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful?" Well, I'll preface this post with a similar sentiment - it even rhymes! "Don't hate me because I've got a pool."

True confessions: My whole life I wanted a swimming pool. It was my "big dream." Three years ago, that dream came true.

Flash forward to the week of 4.24.09:
Who knew the temps would soar into the 90's outside of Philly in April? The well-paid weather reporters on ABC, NBC and CBS, that's who. When they announced an upcoming four-day hot-spell like "July in April," my wonderful, perfect husband had an idea. To prove his wonderful perfectness, he said, "let's open the pool early!" And I replied, "woo-hoo!" Sometimes my literary eloquence rivals the likes of Dickens, Hemingway and Willie S. combined.

So, Chuckie worked his (cute, tight) ass off for several days. He took the cover off the pool (the same cover we bought when we put the pool in three years ago, and now had three baseball-sized holes in it allowing a little froggy family to find a watery home), vacuumed, balanced the chemicals, and did all the work a proper 'pool boy' does to get the pool swim-ready.

Not only did my pool boy get the pool ready, he serenaded me as well. I swear, this is true, although it sounds suspiciously like a recurring dream I've had since I was a young girl...

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the proof:
(Pool boy serenading me in the shade; me finishing "Good in Bed" by Jennifer Weiner (yes, Amy, finally!); my son, Ethan soaking in some rays; ; and our backyard looking towards our upstairs deck. Enjoy this early burst of summer!

(If you'd like to book your early reservations at Chez Schubert B&B, send me an e-mail!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Still Excited, But Sexy, Too!

Sorry, folks - there's still no word regarding my previous post. I'm not teasing, really, I just don't have any news to report yet. In the meantime...

Speaking of teasing, my crazy friend Vegas Linda Lou has nominated me for the prestigious SEXY BLOGGER AWARD! In her defense, I only met her once and it was in a dimly lit restaurant. So really, how could she know?

This is her reasoning for giving me this award:
I met Debbie Schubert last month up in Philly and man, she has the body I would have if I actually did Buns of Steel every friggin’ day like I promised a couple of weeks ago.

How she knew I work out to Buns of Steel at least five times a day, I'll never know.

In order to accept this illustrious award, I've got big-time responsibilities. I mean, they don't just dish these things out to anyone. I must list Five Sexy Things About Me! Talk about pressure! Then, I need to pass this baby along to several other sexy bloggers.

So, (in reverse order) drum roll please....

5) I sing. Some people find this very sexy. I've even had women hit on me when I sing. I don't know what it is about being a rock princess that makes people so crazy, but there it is.

4) I write songs. (See above.)

3) I write books. Actually, I don't know that this is all that sexy, but it's all I could think of.

2) I've got a great smile. Of course, my orthodontist should get the (idiot?) award for this one for agreeing to my insane choice of getting braces late in life.

1) I've got killer gams. I have my mom to thank for this particular trait. I have to be careful when I'm out in public in heels. My girlfriends and their significant others have been known to compliment me in, um, inappropriate ways. That's all I'll say on the subject.

And, now I hereby nominate the following sexy bloggers (in no particular order) for this most prestigious of awards:

1) Beth of Nutwood Junction. Her politics are right on, she loves birds, and she loves the band, "X". How sexy is that?

2) Pen Pen of Sugarspun Dreams fame. She's got a kitty named Jasmine, a gorgeous friend named Brit-Brit, and wishes she could stalk Katy Perry. Pretty damn sexy, if you ask me.

3) Vivi Alden, Cursing in Heels from Butt-Ass Cold Michigan. Vivi's the bomb. She's an awesome writer, keeps us updated on "evil calories" and thinks Rachel Ray is the anti-Christ. How sexy is that?

4) Chas of Broke But Still Drinking My token male. He's grungy, he loves to say "fuck" and he drinks tons of beer. Sexy? You be the judge.

I have many more sexy babes in my life, but these are the ones getting the award this time around. Please visit them, tell them Sexy Debbie sent you, and stalk, I mean follow them.

And don't forget to leave me a comment and tell me what makes YOU sexy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm So Excited!

Have you ever been so happy for someone else that you can hardly stand it? Like, you want to run around the neighborhood banging on doors screaming "Guess what, guess what!" Yeah? Well, that's how I feel right now. My best writerly friend is on the verge of having some very good news and I can't wait to confirm it and share it with the world...

Stay tuned for "my" good news!

Are there any experiences like this that you've had in your life? If so, share please!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

(My) Butterflies are Free!

Well, I survived my first skinning on Miss Snark's First Victim blog. Still not sure who the agent is, but he/she was pretty brutal with some of his/her critiques. I was lucky. I came out only slightly bruised; which, given the depth of negative criticism towards some of the submissions, was a blessing. The experience was worth it, though, and I'll tell you why.

Some of the suggestions I got from folks (not from the SA, btw) were eye-opening and allowed me to tweak the first 250 words of my ms even more. I greatly appreciate that. It also made me look at the first page of my ms in a new light: as a whole world unto itself, which is an interesting and worthwhile exercise. Of course, there is no way to tell your story in the first page, and really, why on earth would you? This is your first 250 words, remember, not a query. However, it does help to see what an agent sees when they first glimpse your partial or full ms (or sometimes even your query, since many agents request the first five pages or so with your query). We, as writers, know what's ahead in the story. Agents don't.

The trick is to grab them "right away" while still maintaining the integrity of your work, and therein lies the challenge.

My suggestion to all of you wonderful writerly types out there is to grab your first 250 words or so (basically, your first page) and dig in. Here are a few of the things I adjusted due to this experience that made sense to me: (And, of course, you should only make changes if they ring true for you!)

1) Added a small bit of detail (from "window" to "big, bay window");
2) Noted the year of my mc's parent's car, letting readers know what year it is (from: "their car" to "their new, 1980 Dodge Colt");
3) Combined a couple of lines of dialogue eliminating unneccesary details;
4) Included my mc's age so it would be clear I'm not "flashing back" in my first scene.

For me, these small improvements were well worth the butterflies and angst of having my work "on display." But believe me, there were butterflies and plenty of them!

I highly suggest you try this yourself, maybe with a few trusted writer friends, and see what you come up with. You may be pleasantly surprised. It's a great exercise in wringing out the last few drops of the "good stuff" for your ever-important ms intro.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Miss Snark's First Victim!

If anyone's interested, our beloved Authoress has a wonderful thing happening over at her place. So, hop on over to Miss Snark's First Victim to join in the fun.

There are 50 anonymous entries with the first 250-or-so words to their ms included. Only folks with a finished ms were invited to enter. Genres for these submissions included: YA, Middle Grade, and Women's Fiction. You can comment publicly or anonymously on any or all. Give helpful critiques so we writers may improve our craft. It's fascinating to see what other writers are up to.

Mine is entry #27, which just happens to be my favorite number! (Our band was called, 27 Dreams, and we made sure we got married on the 27th!).

What are you waiting for? Go!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bo vs. Emmy Lou Cupcake

I'm sure, by now, you've all seen pics of the First Dog, Bo. He's cute, I'll give him that. However, my half-dozen are WAY cuter!

You be the judge. Here are my babies: Caramel, Dusty, Scampy, Emmy Lou Cupcake (my favorite!), Tiger Lilly and Zoro. Let me know what you think and tell me about your sweet babies!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rewriting: Ain't it a Blast?

Ah, rewriting. Ain't it a blast? I'm not talking revisions here, I'm talking rewriting as in writing something from nothing. Kind of like a first draft only different. Since I've already written the whole brilliant masterpiece, it's not like I don't know the outcome. HOWEVER, I'm writing AS IF I don't know what's coming.

(If you're confused, you might compare this to when you and your honey dress up in a nurse and doctor's outfit. You've got a fairly good idea where you're headed, so to speak, but you may not be exactly sure how you'll get there. And that's more than half the fun. Do you get it now? Yeah, I thought you might.)

Anyhoo, I've had four requests for partials and was advised there's "too much back story." (Can you believe that? Sheesh. Some people's kids.) Since I've already chopped a good deal of my first three chapters out, I figured I'd try a new and, dare I say, revolutionary approach. I wiped the first three chapters off the map and started anew. Blank page, new Microsoft Word document, fresh as daisies clean. I wasn't entirely sure where the first three chaps would take me, but I was willing to throw my writing boots back on and walk down that illusive road to find out.

Remember my last post on Michelangelo and how he carved David? This is a quiz class, please pay attention. You'll be graded accordingly. Time's up! Hand in your papers. Hmmm. Wow, I'm impressed! You all get "A's." Except for you, Jason. You clearly weren't paying attention. I'm so disappointed. You're going to have to stay after class today. I've got a certain doctor's outfit I was hoping you'd try on... Where was I? Oh, yes. To recap: Mikey said carving David was easy because he simply got rid of everything that wasn't David. That Michelangelo - what a kidder! Following in Mikey's illustrious footsteps, I set out to dismiss everything that isn't Sparks Fly Sometimes, and I'm praying to Buddha, Allah, and Jesus, et al that I got it right this time.

This insane-yet-earth-shattering rewriting idea was spurred on by words of wisdom from a formidable and very hip agent, as well as a kickass-soon-to-be-agented writer hailing from the great state of Ohio. (As in, "four dead in...") Of course, I didn't rewrite entirely from scratch, since I knew how the story ends, middles, and sort of begins. However, I was writing from a different vantage point, eliminating pesky minor characters, and developing the divas and rock stars with the style, flair and elan they deserve.

The good news is, I did it! I'm done! And...I love it! Eureka! The view from the top of Mt. Everest is pretty damn gorgeous, although it's as cold as Sarah Palin in an ice storm in the middle of the Russian tundra (which , by the way, she can see from her house.)

I'll be sending these new and improved sample pages out to yet another (crazy? desperate? BRILLIANT!) agent who has requested my partial submission. We'll soon see if all my hard work pays off.

Wish me luck! ;-)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stephen King - On Writing, Part II

First of all, I loved this book. It's informative, funny and (duh!) well-written. If it looked anything like David here, I'd marry it.

Pearls of Wisdom:
1) We each have a Toolbox that contains writing fundamentals: vocabulary, grammar and style. The further down we dig in the box, the more compelling the story will be. Interesting since I touched on this concept in my 4.2.09 post entitled "Creating Something from Nothing."

2) His two theses for this book include: Good writing = mastering the fundamentals and Read a lot, write a lot. Re: writing - How much is a lot? For him, that's 2,000 words per day. His books tend to be in the 180K range and he takes an average of three months to write a first draft. The way I look at it, find your target word count goal and divide by 90 (days in three months). For example, if your target word count is 90K, then write 1,000 words a day on average.

3) Novels contain three things: Narration, description and dialogue. Narration moves the story from Point A to Point B, Description creates a particular "reality," and Dialogue brings your characters to life. Where's the Plot you ask? Nowhere! The story should drive the novel, not the plot. Plotting and spontaneity of real creation are not compatible! Stevie says, "Plot is, I think, the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored." Also, "Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest." Hey, folks, I'm just the messenger. Keep your hate mail to a minimum. Remember, I'm a highly sensitive artist-type. Thanks.

4) SK believes stories are relics, part of an undiscovered, preexisting world. Our job as writers is to use the tools in our toolbox to yank those suckers out of the ground as intact as possible. I agree, and it's the same with songwriting. I wrote a song about this topic MANY years ago (when I was no more than a wee lass). I've included the lyrics below.

5) SK's opinion on writing classes/seminars? Maybe, not-so-much. You are your own best teacher.

6) Ideal Reader: Every writer needs one. (SK's is his wife, Tabitha, also an accomplished writer.) This is the person who knows you best and will be brutally honest with you. When searching for your IR, you might first want to consider the person who shares your bed (or life) with you. This is also the person who (besides yourself) you write your books for. (Pictured: Stephen, Tabitha and their son, Owen.) My IR is my husband, Chuck. He's a great writer and his editing and review skills are uncanny. Each time he gets his hands on one of my chapters it improves exponentially. Thanks, hon!

7) Eliminate ALL unnecessary words. Seriously, all of them. This is different than "Kill your darlings" (which SK did NOT pen, btw). This refers more to the excess words we writers place in sentences because we're so darn smart, lazy and enamored with description.

8) Kill Your Darlings He didn't say it first, but he loves the phrase - so do I. Eliminate all scenes, no matter how brilliant, that are not part of your story. These may include back story and anything that is not the story you're trying to tell. This reminds me of the "conversation" Michelangelo had when asked how he carved David. "Easy. I simply carved away everything that wasn't David." Um, yeah, "easy."

9) 10% Rule - The second draft should be 10% "lighter" than the first. This is after you've eliminated unnecessary words and murdered your darlings. If your first draft is 80,000 words, your second should be 72K. Sorry folks. Again, I'm just the messenger.

When asked, "How do you write?" Stephen answers, "One word at a time." And when asked what writing is he says, "Telepathy, of course."

Which brings me to the lyrics I wrote all those years ago. I pictured songs "floating" around in the universe, not buried in the ground. However, same concept...

Songs from within the wind, rap upon their doors
Currents whisper to lookers who will hear
Camouflaged dancers all waiting for a show
Waiting for their show
To talk and laugh and sing

Magical murmurs are asking to be caged
So they may open up and speak their minds on stage
Absent are heartbeats, still they're living for a word
Asking to be heard
To talk and laugh and sing

To talk and laugh and sing
A message each does bring
To have the chance to say

I hope you've enjoyed this trip into the mysterious world of writing. My thanks to Stevie for clarifying a bit of the mystery. And to my IR and life partner, Chuck for sticking with me regardless of how the story turns out.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stephen King - Not So Scary

After being nudged by the universe several times lately, I finally listened and picked up a copy of Stephen (aka Stevie) King's "On Writing" last night. Holy shit, Sherlock! Is this a book, or what? Only halfway through, I've discovered I'm doing (practically) everything wrong. Well, not really, but kinda sorta. Here's what I've gleamed so far:

1) Adverbs = bad, very bad. Eerily, terribly, creepily, forcefully, horrifically bad!

2) He guffawed. She gasped. He agreed. She snipped. All bad, very bad. He said/she said should do the trick, providing you've worked your writing magic thereby insinuating the "guffawed, gasped, agreed, and snipped." And even worse? She gasped wearily. He agreed righteously...

3) Write the first draft for yourself with the door closed. Rewrite for others with the door open. Who knew Stevie was so feng shui? (And, who knew the teachers in my life, both male and female, would be named Stevie?)

4) Use the vocabulary you know. Don't try to be flashy or intellectual. Example:
"They hugged." vs "They were locked in a deep embrace." (Unless you write romance!)

5) Use active verbs not passive! Here's a few examples:
Passive: "The party will begin at six o'clock."
Active: "The party's at six."
Passive: "The sofa was moved into the family room."
Active: "We moved the sofa into the family room."
Passive: "I had inquired into the location of the parade."
Active: "Where's the parade?" I said.

Interesting tidbits about Stevie's past:
One day when Stevie was six and his brother, Dave was eight, they were a half-mile from home playing in an old junkyard. Stevie needed to "use the facilities" but, of course, this was an old junkyard, not the Marriott. "Use leaves to wipe yourself, just like real cowboys and Indians!" said Dave. Stevie looked around, gathered a pile of shiny leaves, and did it like a man. What were those shiny leaves? Poison Ivy. Ouch.

He started submitting his writing at the age of 14. By 16, he'd collected an impressive pile of rejection slips that he nailed to his bedroom wall.

When he was a sophomore in high school he was 6'2" tall! Now he's 8'5". (Kidding!!)

During his final semester of college, he sold his third story for $200 - more than twice the combined revenue of his first two ($65).

In the early '70s, he got an advance of $2500 for "Carrie." Although that was a lot of money to him and his wife, Tabitha, it was a low advance even then. (He had no agent to negotiate for him, btw.) On Mother's Day, 1973 he found out the paperback rights had been sold for $400,000, half of which would go directly to him. The rest, as they say, is history.

I'll write another post in the next couple of days outlining what else I've learned from this ridiculously inspiring book. My advice, if you're not too flashy or intellectual, is to run out and get yourself a copy!

(HINT: At my Borders the book was located in "Horror" with all of Stephen King's books, not in the "Writing" section where I spent five-ten precious minutes searching to no avail.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Creating Something from Nothing

THIS JUST IN: I've received an astute Blog Award from my dear blogging colleague, Litgirl01 (aka Traci Lawrence.) Please let her know how much you appreciate her giving me this award, since pretty much the only thing I've won in life is a spot on the sophomore cheerleading squad. (Not that that wasn't a HUGE accomplishment!) Thanks, Traci! You made my day.;-)

Now back to regular programming....
In conjunction with the article I just posted on, (shameless plug) I thought I'd take a look at the creative process: creating something from nothing.

We writers are a funny breed. We sit down, usually at our computers, and start typing. Most of us are not quite sure (or have any earthly clue at all) what words will appear, yet we have perfect faith they will. In some instances, this might be called "crazy." (I admit to being called that and worse on numerous occasions. That's fine. I like attention. Plus, any publicity is good publicity!)

Yup, that's how it's done, folks. We trust in the process and the mystery of the universe, and lo and behold, before we know it, 1,000 plus or minus words have been added to the pile known as our current WIP. How the hell did that happen?

Seriously, how does this happen? Where do those funny, enlightening, interesting words come from? Ah... that is the wonder, joy, mystery, and genius of the creative process - the ACT of creating something from nothing. It is poetry in motion - a physical , spiritual and emotional enterprise. We writers sit down and open our toolboxes filled with emotions, moods, experiences, our past, present, our hopes and dreams for the future, mix them all together, and faithfully watch the magic unfold.

Then, after the magical work is done, we tread softly or forcefully (or more likely somewhere in between) into the world of agents, bringing with us peace offerings of queries, synopses, and sample pages that we've revised until we've driven ourselves (and our loved ones), "crazy." There's that word again! Then we eagerly await "acceptance" that may or may never come. It's no wonder we artist-types are a messed up bunch! Thankfully, we have each other to lean on, appreciate, lift up, and commiserate with.

So, to you, all my blogging (and lurking) friends, I commend you, I adore you, I appreciate you, and I honor you.

Now, let's get back to work creating our magical somethings from nothing!

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