Monday, October 31, 2011

Snow Terminology with Tyler-Rose

Tyler-Rose, my wonderful blogging partner, has moved from a warm climate to a chilly one in coming to college.  Yesterday, I discovered this meant she had no idea what I was talking about when I used certain bits of snow terminology.

The conversation went something like this: 

SUSAN:  So, do you know what it means to flurry?


SUSAN:  How about when snow 'sticks'? 


SUSAN:  Wet snow versus powdery, dry snow?

TYLER-ROSE:  ...How can snow be dry?

I shared all the snow-related knowlege I could think of, of course.  But it was funny to realize that she had never heard these phrases before.  I knew she didn't have much experience with snow, but I never fully thought through the implications.  (When I said "powdery" snow, she said she imagined the "fake potato-flake that they use in movies and when they're walking down the hill it sprays up in big floofs."  Not...exactly.)

Similarly, if I wrote a piece of fiction in which someone gets up on a cold November morning, looks out the window, grins and says, "It's sticking!  The snow's sticking!" (My family is always excited the first time snow sticks.) I would probably leave a sizeable group of readers scratching their heads.  It made me realize how important it is to be aware of colloquial, regional, and demographical differences when I write.  I don't think it's a problem in my writing, but it's something to keep in mind. 

On a similar note, Tyler-Rose had to explain to me today what re-fried beans are, and that where she comes from, "they don't live in the exotic foods aisle."  See what great differences there are between different regions?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

τό αἴνιγμα

I would like to muse for a moment on: τό αἴνιγμα. The Enigma. The Riddle.

According to the Myers-Briggs personality chart, every personality has another personality that is different from it in such a way that the two can't understand each other. This personality is your opposite in such a fundamental way that it seems impossible to understanding them. I am usually fairly perceptive. Generally I can understand peoples' motivations and sometimes even predict their actions and reactions. This is not an unusual attribute. It's called average social skills. It's also, I think, a very useful capability for writers. 

But once in a very long while, someone comes along who makes no sense to me at all. In fact, only once has this happened in my not so long life time. Someone with whom I have conversations and feel that somehow I never quite understand what he meant. We speak and on some very basic level our thoughts don't line up and no communication occurs. Our little Venn-Diagram of communication bubbles, instead of overlapping, sort of bump each other and bounce off again. And then we stand there feeling confused—excuse me, I stand there feeling confused--I haven't the foggiest what he is feeling—and then I kind of shake my head and we go in opposite directions.

Then I stand around wondering what I did wrong, or said wrong, or didn't understand, and finally I decide that it can't possibly be me since I function perfectly well when talking to anyone else. And I can't escape the sort of haunting feeling that he is doing it on purpose. That he is watching himself play a part and watching me react to the part he is playing. And I hate not understanding. It's like an itch I can't scratch. A puzzle, or a riddle I want to know the answer to but someone took away before I could solve or memorize it.

It always occurs to me, shortly after any interaction with this person, that there is no way I could write him because I simply don't understand him. While there is nothing I can do about that (Except maybe tell him how confusing I find him and ask him to explain himself, though I don't think that would get me anywhere. He would probably say something opaque and leave me more confused than before.), I could certainly write about the severe befuddlement I am feeling. While I can't write my Enigma, I could definitely write one for my heroine. I understand her and so could make a person she doesn't understand. I think a good dose of confusion and irritation would benefit her immensely.

There is always a place for a riddle in a good story, whether it's a puzzle that guards a secret treasure or a person who makes no sense to the protagonist. Now that I mention it, a little befuddlement is probably good for me too. It might teach me charity, and zen-ness and communication skills. I think there is probably always a place for something one doesn't understand. Even if it is irritating.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Follow Friday

So, this is primarily a writing blog, but we'll be doing book reviews and reader interviews as well, so I figured I could join in on the book-blogging fun. :D

QUESTION:  If you could have dinner with your favorite book character, who would you eat with and what would you serve? 

ANSWER:  I would eat with Hermione Granger, specifically the Hermione from The Prizoner of Azkaban.  I would serve anything but English food--that is, any food with flavor.  Hermione's food would be infused with sleeping that once she collapsed into her pesto salmon salad I could steal the time-turner from her neck!

And then, all my time-related problems would be solved!  Mwhahaha!

(I think Hermione and I would get along quite well--that is, until she passed out--but she's not quite my favorite character of all time.  As you can tell, however, time-turners are one of my favorite things of all time!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday Topic: What was the best book you read this month?

October was pretty crazy for me. Most of the books I read this month were text books about either history or sociology. I still managed to read some amazing fiction this month and couldn't possibly pick just one.
I read:

The Odyssey by Homer

This wasn't voluntary but I always enjoy The Odyssey anyway. This was my third time reading it.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

I love, love, love this book! It's an old favorite that I go back to whenever I need some comfort. Daughter of the Forest is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales and the imagery is beautiful.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

This is the last book in the Thursday Next series. It follows the exploits of Thursday Next, a member of the fiction policing agency, Jurisfiction which makes sure that all books continue to unfold as they should and that the fictional characters don't escape into the real world. All the books in the series are uproariously funny and I always find myself laughing out loud and then being incapable of explaining to anyone what I found so funny simply because the plots are so bizarre. Thursday Next must be read to be appreciated. And Jasper Fforde (besides being brilliant) has an awesome last name.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I want to query I want to query I want to query NOWWWWWW

In a previous post, I talked about how I felt like I could go on tinkering with my current WIP forever, but there are some days (today) when I just want to be done.

I can see the end. After one more round of revisions, I’ll have to read it through at least once again for editing purposes, but then I should really be done. And then, I will be able to send queries off to the agents I’ve been researching, develop a nail-biting habit while I wait for rejections, and open a beautiful new blank page for Book 2 or Project New or whatever the heck I want.  

My goal is to start querying before Christmas, but on days like this, I can’t wait! I want to query NOW. I want it to be Christmas NOW. I want hot cocoa and snowmen and Christmas carols NOW. I digress… Querying. I wish I were already querying.

On days like these, I need to remind myself of a few things:

1. It’s not ready yet. This is a problem for two reasons. First, I don’t want to mess up my chances of getting an agent if there are problems in my manuscript that I already know I should fix. That would just be silly. Second, deep down I know I want something even more than the immediate gratification of sending queries and getting this WIP off my back: I want to do justice to the story. I want to do my best, and that can’t happen overnight.

2. Beta Readers+CP’s=GOLD. I’ve only had a few people give me feedback so far, and it has been extremely rewarding. I would be cheating myself and (again) not doing justice to the story if I stopped progressing without taking advantage of the valuable feedback of others.

3. Querying is irreversible. Perhaps this states it a little too harshly, but by sending a query to an agent you’re telling them you have a finished manuscript ready to hand over. You can’t say, “I just decided I need to change something, so can you wait a few months?” That is an excellent way to ruin your chances with an agent. In most cases, they don’t want you to query for the same project twice.

4. Perspective. Compared to the span of my entire life, a couple months is very, very short. (I hope. Oh goodness, I hope.) I should be able to endure a few more months of perfecting my manuscript for the sake of increasing my chances of long-term success.

5. And once again: It's not ready yet.

So, impatient as I am, I’m going to stick with it until I make this novel shine.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Of Curiosity and Throwing Knives

I was sitting in my dorm room sort of writing and sort of doing research for my story when my roommate came in and leaned over my shoulder.  She looked from the screen to me and back again, then raised her eyebrows and said, “Throwing knives?!”

Yes, throwing knives.

If she had been able to look past the three inches of well-balanced lethality dominating my computer screen to read my other tabs, she would have found that I also had pages open on the Medieval village, broad swords, the long bow, Renaissance style leather boots, felt hats and a cloak company that will make you awesome wool cloaks (with hoods) on commission.

If she had cared to look the day before, she would have found tabs for Venetian masks, the etiquette of calling cards, instructions on becoming a ventriloquist, and historic floor plans for very big, very old houses. The day before that I was looking up herbal poisons and torture devices.  (Did you know you can purchase poison rings, poison-free, of course, online?)

A) I'm an assassin who's going to the Renaissance Fair or...
B) I'm a writer.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Horatio tells the prince, “'Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so” (Ham.V.i.188). As someone who has always had a vast curiosity over things that are not useful in the least, this line has always haunted me. But I think part of what makes me--or anyone--a writer is this burning curiosity. Nothing is to obscure that it would be to “consider to curiously” to find it out. Writers are people with  good cause to want to know everything. If we were content with the limited knowledge acquired only through our experiences, we would never write to begin with.

It occurs to me that I must befuddle the internet spy programs that are supposed to show things to interest you specifically. They've been trying to sell me men's Renaissance-style boots for days now.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tinkering into Oblivion?

For the past few months, I’ve been working on (what is hopefully) the final revision of my WIP… But lately, I’ve started to worry that I might have a problem.

The problem: I can’t seem to stop.

Revising, that is. I felt like I was nearing the end, with line-editing, detail-checking, critique partners, beta readers, and all that, when I started having new ideas.

BIG new ideas.

I think three of my characters got major shifts in motivation. I might entirely change the way the villain interacts with the rest of the cast. And…I’m dropping one of my characters in a different setting entirely.

At this point, it seemed right to sit back and wonder whether all this was a good idea. I have heard of authors who actually need to stop themselves after a certain point in revising. If you keep on finding new things to change, you’ll never be done.

I can tell I have the potential to become this kind of writer—one who needs to force herself to end a project, to shut down all those little ideas that keep jumping inside the suggestion box. In fact, I sincerely believe I could keep tinkering with this story—not this book, maybe, but this story—for the rest of my life. I could keep on changing the plot and deepening the themes and re-defining the characters for a very long time.

But I suppose I would eventually end up in a cycle of change rather than on a path of improvement. It seems the distinction between meaningful revision and tinkering into oblivion hinges on whether your revisions are actually improving your work.

I don’t think I’m there yet. The changes I plan to make will improve my work, not just change it. I know, however, that there will come a day when I will have to call my novel finished. Someday, I’ll have to acknowledge that it’s time to move on, even if I can think of a million more variations on the story I’d like to try.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


While Susan has crossed into hallowed Multiple Draft Land, I am on the opposite end of the spectrum entirely. She can worry about the fine tuning of her piece. I still have to get words onto paper or computer screen. I have been to Multiple Draft Land a few times, but those drafts belong in the I’m-Not-Writing-You-Right-Now Drawer.

So, instead of tinkering my way into oblivion on any of my three drafts, I am several chapters into a project so new it doesn't even have a title yet. This produces a whole different set of joys and struggles from the ones that appear after the first draft is finished. The struggle I am currently enduring I will call:  The Endless Dinner. 

I have become bogged down at a particularly unexciting dinner scene.

I have never experienced quite this much ooey gooey bog before.

I feel a little as though my novel has somehow entered a strange sort of time vortex, in which it is impossible to escape from this hideous meal. My two characters are just sitting, talking to each other over dinner. They have a little bit of important information to convey to one another and then they can both move on to bigger and better things. And yet I feel as though they have been sitting there saying slightly caustic things to each other for weeks! Weeks of my time, at least. 

This could just be because I haven't written much this week.


I’ve just been opening the document, typing a sentence or two, seeing them still eating, saying “Ugh!” and closing it again.

Today is going to be different. Today I will defeat the bog! Sticky and unfun though it is, I will slog through. My characters are going to get up from the table, put their forks and knives down and leave the room.

And it's going to be awesome.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm a little slow on the uptake for this one, obviously, but I might as well answer becuase my response is short and simple: 

I write becuase it gives me a sense of purpose.  This was especially important to me in high school, when I felt like not a single other thing I did had a point.  And that was pretty near the truth. 

I also find writing extremely fun and rewarding.  Thinking of the right plot twist or nailing a scene can make my day, any time.  But above all, it's just good to feel meaningful.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


So here goes the Pilot blog post.

This is supposed to be a writing blog so I think I will have to bring it around to writing. I don't think that will even be hard. Most things in my life seem to spiral down to writing eventually. Even though I don't think we are really qualified at this point to give advice on the subject, we can definitely chronicle our daily attempts to


Starting a blog is like starting a novel.
(Now that I have experienced both, I think I can say that with some authority.)

The first word is the hardest.

It feels a little weird for a while.
(Why am I doing this? Am I crazy? Who's going to care? What should I say????)

It is best started on a Tuesday.
(Just to disorder the world a little. Normal people start things on Mondays. Exceptional people color outside the lines.)

There is a deep-seated fear that whatever you're typing won't make sense to another soul on the planet.
(What do you mean you don't get what I mean??)

It generally only has the barest hint of an outline.
(Girl meets boy. They team up and meet a dragon. There is a magical item involved. It's brilliant! Girls meet blog. They decide it should be about writing. They think really really hard for interesting things to write about.)

It looks like the whole prospect might eat your life and not be very profitable into the bargain.
(The odds of publication: .0005% . The odds of anyone reading this blog: .0005%. The odds of me living in a garret colder than my dorm room, wearing cut off Bob Cratchit gloves, eating gruel and starving nobly with my artistic brethren after I graduate college: 99.9995%)

And it's really, really fun.