30 April 2006

Whew, what a conference!

It’s Sunday morning and I'm typing this into my computer to post to the blog later, since I don't have internet access on this machine. I’m sipping a fruit smoothie. I could use some kind of bread thing to go with this but I’m too cheap. Also, I’m hoping that there’ll be some kind of food at this mornings’ master classes. If there’s not I might die.

(Note, written on Sunday night: I never got any bread stuff but as you can see I survived.)

Wasn’t able to elicit much interest in my Symphonians novel, but Regina Brooks was really interested in my soilbuilding and earthworm books. I said, “I checked your website but I didn’t see that you’ve sold much gardening stuff, so I wasn’t sure about approaching you with this.” She said, “The website shows what we’ve done, not what we’re looking for.” She said that people want gardening stuff but there aren’t a whole lot of people out there writing it. After that meeting, I went strutting down the hall singing "Honeymoon Feeling" by Roy Clark. (A more appropriate song would have been "Shining Star" by Earth Wind and Fire, but what the hell, I was being happy.)

The other two agents seemed interested in seeing my gardening stuff, though Regina was most interested. So, I need to write up my book proposals. Actually, the soilbuilding proposal is in pretty good shape, while the earthworm proposal … well it needs to be written, period.

Before I get started on the conference, I gotta tell you about two things that happened last week, just before I left.

Last Tuesday I got a call from Therese at Organic Gardening about some revisions that need to be done for my alfalfa article. She talked about how they needed some writing for the soil section of OG. I mentioned my soilbuilding book and said that I was interested in writing up articles based on my research for that book. She said that they had a publishing arm (Rodale Books, of course) and if I had my book published through them, they’d also be able to reprint portions of my book in that section. I picked myself up off the floor and said, “Cool.”

(I don’t know if I was that nonchalant. But once I was off the phone I went screaming up and down the hall.)

More related news – on Friday, when I was getting ready to go to the conference, I got an e-mail from Janine at FSG. She said no on the Symphonians. Alas! But she had attached the reader’s report she’d mentioned to me earlier. Here’s the full text. BUT when you read it, DON’T GET INDIGNANT ON MY BEHALF. I will explain why after you have read it.

***Text starts here:***

The Symphonians starts out strong. Kathy is a sympathetic and believable character. She reminds me of the geeky girl characters I loved as a pre-teen (like Jessica in Rachel Vail’s Wonder). Her awkwardness is clear in her narration, and it comes off as realistic and appealing for the most part; however, it becomes annoying in the footnotes Kathy uses to expand on some of her comments. This might be fixed by making them parenthetical statements, though some seem simply unnecessary. A good example of how Kathy’s voice is honest and interesting is how she describes her feelings for Noel by the sensations of them first, only labeling them much later. The plot is also engaging: I was drawn easily into Kathy’s problems with Noel and the school band.

Unfortunately, by the end of the book I was mostly disenchanted. The biggest problem is that, in the last third or so, the lessons and inspirations Cordell wants to impart on the theme of abusive relationships take precedence over the story itself. Instead of interesting action or even moments in which characters are further revealed, we get a series of bland dialogues between blander versions of the characters we have come to know on abuse, relationships, and responsibility. Yvonne warns Kathy on page 263, “I’m going to get all Dr. Phil on you here for a minute,” but it is Cordell who has adopted this tone for most of her characters by this point, even in Kathy’s novel-within-a-novel. There is little or no humor or subtext to liven up these exchanges, and the effect is dull and tedious. The other prominent tone at the end of the story is melodrama. Instead of sympathizing with Kathy when she runs from Carter to flush his sleeping pills, or when she is trailing him in her car on slippery roads to make sure he gets back safely, or has intense conversations with Carter or with Noel about Carter, I was getting annoyed with the unrelenting and repetitive tragic tone of these episodes. It may be that those episodes are legitimate and necessary to the story, but that the end is packed too tightly with them to work. The melodramatic tone of the end is also part of another problem: After all our time following her story, Kathy has not grown up in a satisfying way. She presents herself as triumphant at the end—a new, strong, beautiful woman who has overcome her demons—but the previous pages reveal her to be melodramatic and self-involved to a fault. For example, in the last five pages, she tells off Carter for destroying her novel, for intimidating and manipulating her, and for being deluded about their relationship, but she never reflects on her own cruelty towards Carter, some of which is on display in this same last scene. This ending comes off as an excessive revenge fantasy rather than a true triumph.

There are a few other small problems in the story, such as the almost complete lack of space devoted to Kathy’s college room-mate, and the lack of explanation of Noel’s decision to delay attending college for at least two years.


The Symphonians has some potential, but the second half of the MS needs a lot of revision to realize it. Cordell is clearly capable of creating engaging and realistic teenage characters (although some might argue Kathy and her circle are a little squeaky clean—her favorite swear is “St.Cecilia!”—I didn’t feel this was fake or forced) and plots. I was involved enough in the story to be disappointed when it deteriorated into an issues-first lesson, and when the appealing Kathy grew into a self-indulgent drama queen instead of a thoughtful young woman. If you have the time and inclination, and if Ms. Cordell is willing to revise extensively, The Symphonians could turn into a worthwhile project.

***End text.***

When I’d picked myself off the floor, I said, “Oh my God, SHE’S RIGHT! SHE’S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!”

Last year, from March to December, I revised the hell out of Symphonians. I overhauled the whole thing, got everything pretty much to where I wanted it, then went back to do the fine tuning.

I worked on the story one chapter at a time. I’d do intensive work on each chapter, working to make character realistic, to make the dialogue flow, to see that the chapter had echoes within it that echoed back and forth. It was tough work.

But that chapter-by-chapter work petered out ... right at the beginning of the second part. I said, “Oh, hell, I’m so tired of this damn novel, and I need to work on the Angel anthology, send it to FSG.” So I slacked on the second part, totally slacked on it.

And you see it has come back to kick me in the ass.

That is why I say she’s absolutely right. I can see why editors don’t usually send out reader’s reports, because they are harsh, and I can see where a lot of writers would get indignant. But this is one of the best whole-book critiques I have gotten in a long time.

I’m going to ask Janine to thank that reader for me.

More on the conference later, I guess! I’m still trying to absorb everything.

On the I-Pod: “Illegal Smile” by John Prine.

Then “Mushrooms” by Noa (she’s out of Israel and sings in Hebrew, generally, and I love her stuff.)

27 April 2006

More yammering.

I can't wait! I can't wait! The conference starts tomorrow! I'm so tired and I need to get some more stuff done but I'm on the computer playing with this damn blog! But I don't care! Somebody give me some more exclaimation marks, I'm running low! But have I totally run out of exclaimation marks? Must I now use question marks? Geez I'm so hyper, let's give it a rest already.

This post is nothing but me running my mouth again. I'm going to make some piles of stuff that I'll need tomorrow and then I'm off to bed. Good NIGHT.

On the i-Pod: "Boeing Boeing 707" by Roger Miller. Just right for my mood.

Hell breaking loose!

Okay, I have 20 book-bouquets sitting on every surface in the kitchen. My husband, who was in Kansas City anyway, went on down to his folk's house and picked up the bouquets and brought them clear back up here (that was a 90-minute drive coming back, bless his heart) so on Friday I'll be able to load up the car and drive down to the Northlands without having to go a zillion miles out of my way.

My daughter got pinkeye so I had to cancel my subbing today. She can't go to preschool because the teacher's worried she'll spread it to the other kids. Rats. I hated to cancel my subbing because I don't like messing with my employers like that. But I am glad the job is flexible enough to allow that. In the city job, we were penalized for taking time off for our kids. I don't miss those guys.

The good part, though is that I can get caught up on the stuff I need to do for the conference. Need to print out a pile of synops and queries so I'll have 'em ready just in case. Need to see if I have all the signs done. Need to find out what time I need to show up, and make lists of what I can do to help out. I want to be sure that I can help out and take the initiative -- the conference bosses heads are whirling with all the stuff they already have to do.

Okay, let's get to work! I'll have my laptop with me, though it doesn't have internet access -- I'll write posts this weekend, Lord willing, and load 'em up on Monday or Tuesday or whenever I get my brain back!

On the CD player: "Eastbound and Down" by Jerry Reed (a good song for gettin' things done).

23 April 2006

Here comes the conference!

I don't know what it is about spring, especially April and May, but even if you're not in the horticulture business, you end up running like crazy. Suddenly my schedule is packed full of all the fun stuff you can imagine. Well, some of it's fun, anyway, and some's more like a drag, but what the hey. I will be seeing the allergist tomorrow at last, which is nice. And I did get some novel revised when I was subbing last week, so that was nice, too.

Anyway, the big Missouri Writer's Guild conference is coming up, and we're putting the hammer down as we hit the last week and all its preparations. I'm fixing up floral centerpieces (with the help of my mother-in-law, who used to work as a floral designer -- she's not doing it any more but she still remembers her stuff!) and signs for the conference, while pulling my own stuff together, however feebly. Gotta write up a sheet for what I'm going to say at my five-minute pitch to an agent. Gotta think of what I could say at my critique with a different agent and be ready for whatever questions she throws at me. Also making a list so I don't go clear out there and discover that I forgot my pajamas, or my hairbrush, or my deodorant.

Just realized I need to write my gardening column, too. Whoops! Better get 'er done.

17 April 2006

At the poetry reading.

Melissa: I probably broke all the rules of poetry in this poem.
Dave: That's the attitude!

Conscious deliberation?

I rediscovered an article from the Horn Book magazine. (It wasn’t totally lost, since I still have all my old copies of the magazine, but I haven’t had time to go digging through them again to find it.) It’s by Jennifer Armstrong, who wrote Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World and a bunch of other books, including the Mairhe/Mary Mehan novels.

Now, think about the assertion she made: that the creation of novels is the work of the conscious mind. That it’s carefully planned out. That you decide what you’re writing about, what’s at the heart of your novel, and you consciously build images and ideas that play off that central idea, and then you create the novel.

That every work of art is built through conscious deliberation by the novelist and the choices she makes.

There’s a little in her ideas that I resist – I don’t think all the choices are conscious. However, when you start consciously building that ladder of ideas and play with it long enough, the unconscious mind is going to kick in and start helping out.

But I really like this idea of being able to plan the thematic arc of the novel, and this idea of how to do it. I want my writing to be more than just stories; I want them to be beautiful, to harmonize with all that comes before and after. I just could never get a good idea of how to set up that whole thematic arc from other writing books, which frustrated me. This article helps me do that. I just wish she’d said more about it.

After this article came out, though, there were a bunch of letters complaining, “Oh, her way is too cerebral, how can there be any room for inspiration to work here?” And I was going, it’s just one way to plan, for heaven’s sake, she’s not saying you have to do it, but it is a good idea.

But then read Nancy Werlin's response in a different issue of the magazine.

What do you think?

On the CD player right now: "Bad Love" by Eric Clapton.

16 April 2006

A bunny for you.

Happy Easter, everybody!

Here's a pet bunny you can play with.

adopt your own virtual pet!

The latest psychological block.

I was just a moment ago looking at my dishes. I have a cake pan in the sink that needs to be washed so I can return it to my mother-in-law this afternoon. Also dishes piled up in stacks and towers. I looked, then fled!

But then I was thinking, you know, I was freaking out because I have a yucky cake pan in the sink. It wasn’t so much the stacks, it was the stuff sitting in the sink that I had to get out of my way. And it’s not that much stuff, really. I just have to move that stuff out of the way so I can get started with dishes. Just a small thing. But it’s like this huge psychological barrier – finding an excuse to shirk dishes, I grab it and make it a big thing.

Of course I do the same thing with the novel. Such agony to face a single piece of paper and start marking it up. But once I start, I get going, and once I get going, it's much better.

Yet each time I hate it and it drives me crazy, even though the results are invaribly good. Strange.

On the CD player: "Dang Me" by Roger Miller.

15 April 2006

Some rain!

We're getting a big ol' thunderstorm hitting my town right now. It was a tornado supercell but after it moved across the river out of Kansas it downgraded to a severe thunderstorm. Now it's raining so hard it's like being inside the dishwasher, except the water is cool and not soapy. Downspouts are gushing and Miss Thang is peeking out the window on her tiptoes watching water spill down from the roof, where our over-full gutters can't take all the excess.

When the storms were hitting northeast Kansas, I had the maps out and was tracking the progress of the storms from what the guys on the radio were saying. When I look at radar on the internet, it's just like, "Big red blob eating Andrew County." But when I'm tracking the storm with my maps and the radio, it seems more exciting and immediate. And Bill Spencer, local weather guru for the northeast Kansas radio stations, is giving all the color commentary, explaining how supercells form. Once when I was listening to Bill Spencer commenting on more Kansas weather, I got to see a huge weather formation that was over Kansas collapsing upon itself and create some new weather beast. I don't know what it was called, but I think the weather formation, as it collapsed, created these huge winds that knocked down stuff in Kansas. I was in St. Joseph at the time, where it was clear, but he was describing what was happening as I watched the thunderhead collapse like some 10,000-foot-tall souffle, and it was pretty cool.

This has absolutely nothing to do with writing, but what the hey. I get all excited about severe weather. Am I the only person to sit around with maps and radios, tracking storms? If I start DXing stations out of Columbia, Mo. and Omaha to follow their tornado warnings (which I have done), does this mean I'm obsessed?

Hey, it beats taking drugs and shooting up stuff.

On the i-Pod: Jascha Heifetz playing the hell out of Tchikovsky's Violin Concerto (Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony on a wild ride with him).

12 April 2006

All the professionals do it like that.

There was an "evil hint in the air," as a professional writer might put it.

-- from a slush pile submission.

Ear infection and rejection.

Alas, the Angel in the Silence short-story collection came back with a rejection letter, as I found out when I returned from KC last night. Was tempted to say, "I drove through a thunderstorm with an ear infection and all I got was this lousy rejection!" But when you say it out loud, it doesn't scan; moreover, it makes no sense. Such is my life.

But she did put a little balloon sticker on the rejection letter, which I liked. That's the first time I'd gotten a sticker on a rejection. Is this the start of a trend?

I'll hit her up with a query for Symphonians next. Or have I already sent Symphonians to her? And if I did, was it the revised version?

Shoot, gotta get a new list of markets to send the collection to. I might try some adult houses and see how that goes. I need to be sending this to agents, too. That way I can avoid all this back-and-forth. I'll just have the agent send me all my rejection letters and I can see if anyone else is putting stickers on theirs.

I should probably get this ear infection looked at. I'll be getting a cortizone shot tomorrow; maybe that'll help clear up these everlasting ear infections by clearing up this everlasting post-nasal drip. I have allergies out the wazoo and sometimes my nose gets so clogged that when I talk I sound like I'm holding my nose, which I am not. And I don't want to go to the MWG conference in that state!

On the CD player -- Sam Bush, "Same Ol' River" from Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride

09 April 2006

Another Action Agenda.

I need to get organized. Ha ha!

I need to be working on Leavetaking. I did a little work on it yesterday, at least, but I feel that I have got to rewrite every scene from the ground up, when I probably don’t have to. But when I say “I probably don’t have to,” I wonder if I’m just being a lazy bum who doesn’t want to improve her damn novel. Don’t mind me, I’m just being neurotic.

I also need to be filling out an application and writing essays for an English teaching position here at the local schools.

I should type up my essays this afternoon. Why should a writer be so scared of essays? Because I’m chicken, that’s why. I’m shooting for a job that I could do (I know all the English stuff you’d ever need to have stuffed into your head, and I can handle a room of rowdy high schoolers who don’t want to be there) but that I don’t have certification for, so I could be the front runner only to have somebody with fewer skills walk in with a teacher’s certification and walk out with my job. Just the way it happened last time.

And I need to get my pitches ready for the big MWG conference that’s coming up. I have a 90-second pitch that I need to do. I have three excerpts from two different novels and I need to choose one – and I need to hurry so I can practice it. Choose, but choose wisely! And then I need to get my five-minute pitch ready for my face-to-face meeting with my agent (okay, she ain’t my agent yet), and fix up my homework for the Sunday master class. Amongst other things. I want to choose the bestest outfits to wear so I just stun the bejesus out of the participants. I also need to fix up 18-20 centerpieces for 18-20 tables. But my mother-in-law and I are going to do that together, thank goodness!

And I need to write a gardening column by tonight. As usual, I’m not sure what it’s going to be about. Something about spring planting. Maybe lawn care. Speaking of that, we need to get the lawnmower fixed. But not today.

And I read little scraps of the Iliad when I find time. Got to a good part, when Zeus goes up on Ida, gets out the little scale and weighs the fate of the Acheans and the Trojans, and then whips a major thunderbolt across the sky and scares the hell out of the Acheans. I'm not doing justice to the scene. Arrgh.

Gotta take the kid outside today, because it’s so nice out. Maybe I could work on some of the pitches at the playground.

Also gotta make lunch.

One thing at a time, woman! Let’s get lunch going.

On the I-Pod right now:

“Illegal Smile” by John Prine. Well done. Hot dog bun. My sister’s a nun.

Then the Judas Priest version of “Johnny Be Good.”

08 April 2006

Fingers crossed.

I sent my "Truman and Israel -- 1948" story to Pitspopany Press, which was looking for books related to the upcoming 50th anniversary of Israeli independence. Got an e-mail back from the managing editor saying, "Sounds interesting. We'll get back with you" (0r something like that) so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It would be nice to get a book credit. Editors seem to like that. Shoot, I would like that myself!

So we'll see how that goes. I just wish I'd sent the dang thing sooner.

Cool article about the Dalai Lama.

Here's the link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/04/01/wdalai01.xml

Some good stuff.

07 April 2006

So I guess money doesn't get you everything.

Me: The poor get poorer and the rich CEO's get richer.
BRC: No they don't.
Me (outraged): What!
BRC: Sometimes they ... die.

Just so you know where to find me.

I got one rejection too many today, so I'm going to take the pseudonym "Stephen King" and move to Maine.

It will be fun, she said wistfully, until the authorities kick the door in.


Anne Dillon wrote this in "The Writing Life:"

"The line of word is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years' attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck."

I was able to knock out some bearing walls after reading that, though it feels pretty awful right now. I'm trying to get the story rebuilt and that's what needs to be done. I know it does work, eventually, and I will get a better story for it. Just hard to believe that at this juncture.

I do hate being so close to the story that I don't know what to do with it or how to proceed, and then I start questioning every decision I make with the MS, and then I start wondering if I'm just doing everything wrong and I should just go back to school and be a mechanic.

Haven't gotten to the point where I have scrapped everything yet. But I have been taking an awful long break from the MS during the last two weeks. Not liking that too much.

03 April 2006

I love my blog!

My blog is too much fun! I love it! I love the nice layout of the pages. I love my little pinkish hedgehog that hops into the air and rolls into a ball. (I tried to add a llama but messed up the code -- I'll try again later.) I love how it takes my insane thoughts and makes them all sleeked up and important-looking. I love forest green. I love my little writing guy icon, though I still have thoughts of replacing him with a praying mantis, just for fun. I love getting all the goofy comments from my husband and posting them so everyone can see what a funny guy he is. I love slapping photos onto my articles. I love blabbing and looking so knowledgeable and smart, and the reader never suspects that I am still suffering, alas, from food poisoning! Did I say I love blabbing? Well I do twice over.

Maybe it's about time I lay down.

So I'm a few days off.

BRC: They're having a Monty Python marathon on BBCAmerica tomorrow.
Me: I thought that wasn't supposed to happen until April 1.
BRC: Tomorrow is April 1.
Me: Really?
BRC: No, actually it's March 32nd.

Rejection ain't forever.

These days I get surprised at how mad writers get about rejections. Have you seen rejectioncollection.com? These writers vent, sometimes in the purplest prose, about how much editors hate them. They read way too much into form rejections. Others kind of go off the deep end, and I'd tiptoe around these if I were you.

Don't get me wrong, I too get upset about rejections, though not as upset as I used to get. (Once I made a mix tape of "Tunes to Kick Ass By.") But now that I look back at the story I'd been sending out, it's probably just as well it had been rejected. That puppy would have embarrassed me in the long run.

The truth is, a lot of stories that writers are sending out are simply not ready for publication. The more I write and the more I learn, the more I see that this is so. Of course, if you've been working on a story for the last five years, and pouring your heart out into it, you're going to see your kid as some really good stuff. You're deeply engaged by the story you're telling. And right now you're at the top of your form. How could this story not be ready to be published?

It takes at least ten years of study and writing to create a story worth publishing. There are so many intricacies that you must learn in order to write a novel that is worth the reading. Character, voice, plot, and theme are only the tip of the iceberg. You must also learn pacing, how to use cumulative effects, how to bring the character into the realm of the extraordinary, how to be absolutely fluent in your language at all times. And there's much more to be learned beyond all this. Five years ain't going to hack it.

Listen, guys, we are all going to get rejected. Even Jane Yolen, one of the goddesses of children's publishing, still gets rejected. Those writers who get accepted right off the bat are rare. Yet so many people think it's the norm to break out of the gate and immediately become a superstar.

Ty Cobb's batting average, .366, was the highest of the game. That meant he hit the ball 3.6 times out of every 10. Not even four times out of ten! Not even half!

So if you're really good, then you're going to get something about three and a half times for every ten tries. If you're a beginner, your average is going to go down somewhat.

Let's use another example, this time from direct marketing sales.

"Overall, a good return on mass mailings to new prospects runs .1 percent to 5 percent. A 2 to 3 percent response is excellent. Anything near 5 percent is spectacular. When it comes to mailings to loyal customers, however — say, your top 10 percent of big spenders — you should expect returns closer to 30 percent and up. Successful mailings depend on clearly defined targets and goals." From Joanna Krotz's article here.

And that's just straight odds. But you see when you target your list and you've been around a while and you have a good product, er, story to deliver, your chances go up.

Rejection's just part of the game. Don't take it too personally. Just keep stepping up to the plate.

01 April 2006

More goofy stuff.

Heard this on KKFI:

Band member: A heckler already! I left the bars to get away from the hecklers.
Band member #2: I left the bars so I could understand the hecklers.

--from the Cowtown City Limits CD. (Haven't been able to find a copy of it, though.)

They say it's your birthday! Well, it's my birthday too yeah!

Actually (and no fooling) my birthday's tomorrow. I will be 35 in about three hours. So it goes.

Every year "Get a novel accepted and published" is on the top of my New Years Revelations list. But I'm thinking that I am going to succeed this year. My novel, The Symphonians, is really good after my having revised it into the ground.

Also, I've been writing seriously and studying the craft for over ten years now. I talk a lot about what I call the "Ten-Year Plan," which was taken from a study in creativity that said that it takes about ten years of study and work for the artist to write something that really makes the sparks fly. A look at writers' careers overall seems to bear this out.

To have a first novel published at 35, well, it beats having it published when I'm 95. At least I'll be attending the big Missouri Writer's Guild conference in KC at the end of this month. I hope I can get an agent, or get a referral from an author for an agent or editor. Networking also goes a long way toward publication. I'll take what I can get.

But I've got to hurry up and use my time wisely. I'm going to apply for an English teacher position here at the high school. Have to write lesson plans -- arrgh. But that'll eat up a lot of my writing time, double arrgh.

But hanging around my audience and getting to know them well over time is a definite plus. And if I can help them learn how to write and read well, then I'll have done a good thing.

So hurry up and accept my book! I don't have much time to get it revised!