Monday, June 22, 2015

The Do's and Don't's of telling people you're an aspiring novelist

Check out my latest motivational mug:

It's perfect for writing.  "Making it happen" at the notebook/keyboard is what it's all about, right?  For us writers, that's where the battles are fought and won. 


But there are also battles to fight when the writer is not writing.  One such struggle, which I find particularly rough, is telling people I'm actually going for it and trying to make it as a writer.  As a recent college graduate, I get asked "So what are you DOING?" constantly.  CONSTANTLY.  THINK OF A NEW QUESTION, PEOPLE. 

They haven't yet, so I'm getting better at dealing with this.  Here are my top tips: 

DO be honest.  Lying is bad for you. 

REALLY DON'T lie.  I know, it's easy.  It shuts people up.  But I have done it, and it's harmful to your self. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are some examples of lies I have told: 

"I am considering going to grad school."

"I don't know what I want want to do with my life."

"I might teach, yeah.  Sure." 

"I don't know what I want to do yet." 

"Yeah, teaching.  *mumbles*  That would be cool." 

"Music is the most important thing to me." 

"Career plans?  Oh, I'm still thinking." 

"Of course I am considering going into politics." 

"Oh, I don't know.  But law school is an option, obviously."

"I am an aimless student who takes random classes at a liberal arts college because she is aimless and fluffy and doesn't know what the heck she wants to do with herself and really has no sense of purpose whatsoever and doesn't really mind because she is terrifically apathetic." 

The problem with lies is that, no matter how untrue they are, you may start to believe them.


Now that we're sure you're telling people you want to be a writer, some further tips:  

DO steel yourself for rudeness, indifference, curiously selective deafness, and nauseating requests for plot summaries. 

DO use repetition for emphasis.  Saying, "I'm going to write, write, write, write, write!" is actually a better way to communicate this than "I'm going to write."  That sounds silly, but I'm serious.  I have tried this.  I think it helps people imagine the thing as what it is:  a constant, energetic process, rather than some vague aspiration. I suppose "revise, revise, revise!" and "query, query, query, query, query!" are likewise effective, if you ever need to get more specific. 

DO be ready to repeat yourself in general. You may have to tell certain people multiple times that you are serious when you say you are going to try your darndest to make it as a novelist, and are in fact currently entrenched in the process of doing so.  This could be because they are inattentive or think it's a bad idea, but don't take it personally.  If you're anything like me, it is just as likely that they didn't believe you or didn't understand because you didn't do a good job of telling them. 

DON'T (EVER) respond in a way that expresses uncertainty, angst, or apology.  Unless it's someone you know very well and share all your troubles with, that will only translate to, "This writing thing is a failure already."  Now, why does this matter?  It doesn't matter what they think of you (usually/probably).  It does matter, even just on a practical level, what you think of yourself.  Projecting under-confidence will make your confidence issues worse. 

DO--wait, who mentioned confidence issues?  I did.  If you're an aspiring novelist and you don't have confidence issues...good for you, but.... *blinks in confusion for a few minutes*  Maybe you should think a little more about what it is you're trying to do. 

DO be confident.  Confidence is called for, by all means.  So is a little healthy fear, though.  Confidence and fear can live together in one soul.  Think of it as practice for microtension.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about and you're a writer, get yourself some Donald Maass stat.) 

DO mention whatever else you may be doing to make money, etc.  This is part of being honest, after all, and it will take the pressure off a bit.  Just be prepared that they might then assume that your writing is a mere hobby or pipe dream. 

DON'T feel obligated to tell people every detail.  Honesty is important.  So is privacy.  

DON'T care what other people think or seem to think about you.  That is really the main thing, if you can manage it. 

DO identify "polite conversation" and change the topic.  Someone who asked you about this to be polite doesn't really care about you, and you're not hoping for them to achieve some sort of deep understanding of who you are.  Save yourself the stress and redirect their attention.  They will chase whatever conversational ball you decide to throw, especially if it relates to them.  People like to talk about themselves.  Except...well...  Hm. *cough*

Just a note, this ^^^ was the biggest breakthrough for me.  Being someone who hates small-talk and likes all conversations to be meaningful, for a while I thought I had to thoroughly explain myself to everyone who happened to ask.  Then I realized:  most of them don't care.  Most of them are just TALKING.   And that's fine.  That's kind of nice, actually. 

DO ALWAYS actively take charge of the conversation.  If you are going into this process well-informed (You'd better be!  See our links page for a start if you feel clueless.), do yourself a favor and talk like you're well-informed.  There may be no entry-level job for novelists, but there are certain steps everyone has to take to break into this profession.  Talk about those steps.  Talk about the fact that there is no entry-level job.  Talk about the fact that the first thing a novelist has to do is write a really, really good book.  (To accomplish which thing you must "write, write, write, write, write!")  You will sound like you know what you're talking about because you DO.  You will sound like you're headed for success because you ARE. 

Any questions? 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cover Reveal: SWAY

I must admit to being a total sucker for a good Austen spin-off. Perhaps I should be content with the novels themselves, and they are glorious, but like many people I want more of the characters I love. I love it if an old story can be rewoven into something remarkable and new. My family has a whole shelf *cough* *three* *coughcough* dedicated to our Austen retellings and I would say that it is as often read and nearly as beloved as the originals.

Without further ado, I am pleased to introduce a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion which I am rather looking forward to. I give you . . .

Ava Elliot never thought she’d become a couch surfer. But with a freshly minted—and worthless—degree from Julliard, and her dad squandering the family fortune, what choice does she have?

 Living with her old high school friends, though, has its own drawbacks. Especially when her ex-fiancĂ© Eric Wentworth drops back into her life. Eight years ago, she was too young, too scared of being poor, and too scared of her dad’s disapproval. Dumping him was a big mistake.

In the most ironic of role reversals, Eric is rolling in musical success, and Ava’s starting at the bottom to build her career. Worse, every song Eric sings is an arrow aimed straight for her regrets.

One encounter, one song too many, and Ava can’t go on like this. It’s time to tell Eric the truth, and make a choice. Finally let go of the past, or risk her heart for a second chance with her first love. If he can forgive her…and she can forgive herself.

Melanie Stanford reads too much, plays music too loud, is sometimes dancing, and always daydreaming. She would also like her very own TARDIS, but only to travel to the past. She lives outside Calgary, Alberta, Canada with her husband, four kids, and ridiculous amounts of snow. You can follow Melanie over at her blog or on Facebook.

Sway will be released this winter, but if you're as excited about it as I am, you can check it out on Goodreads.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Of Feathers and Other Such Matters

Due to a number of factors* the chicken population declined alarmingly in my absence. When I returned from school, our original ten ladies had declined to a stalwart four elderly hens who lay eggs unreliably but still eat a lot.** To solve the problem we have acquired some new house guests.

Say hello to the newest members of the Counts' Family Hobby Farm!


I didn't know this until recently, but you can order day old chicks from the internet. You order them in bunches by breed and hatching date and a hatchery somewhere incubates the eggs, vaccinates your teeny tiny damp chickens, and sticks them in first class mail.

About a day after the hatchery tells you your chickens are hatched, you get a call from the post office.

Post office lady:  . . . . We have . . . uh . . . Your baby chickens. Could you come . . . uh . . . pick them up maybe?

Later in the day our postal carrier stopped in our driveway to ask if my chicks were doing alright since she'd heard them cheeping in the post office that morning. Small towns <3

cold chicks huddling for warmth
Looking all cold and pathetic upon arrival. Poor babies.

chicks driniking water
Getting settled

chick being held
Such a cuddly little lady

brahama chick feather feet
You can't see it in this picture, but this chicken has feathery chicken socks.

polish chick sleeping on feeder
They sleep everywhere. That's the feeder.

No doubt I'll post more pictures as they continue to develop adorable little wing feathers. Also, since chick mortality seems to be so high, I would like to add that I've had them for a week and nobody is dead.*** Yippee!


* Mostly creature incursions, old age, and general poultry stupidity.

** They also enjoy escaping from their pasture and eating the cat food. Our cats are scared of them. They run away when they see the chickens bearing down on them with fire in their eyes. We have to time the feedings so that I let the chickens out of their coop well after the cats have finished their breakfast. Otherwise the cats will go hungry and all our eggs will taste alarmingly of stale fish.

*** Not for lack of them trying, however. I've had to fill up their water dish with aquarium stones so they don't fling themselves in and drown tragically like Ophelia. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Spark of Joy Test

I come to you today from what I know is my bedroom floor, but I can't see much of it.  It's covered in bags and boxes full of college things. 

The Suite being pretty.  I miss it.

Mostly clothes, tea, and books, now that i think about it. 

Very important things. 

Seriously, if any of you can locate my Rose Puchong tea, you will instantly be my Favorite Person #5.  (Pause for inside joke:  I am still confused by that, Tyler-Rose.  Just so you know.) 

Needless to say, the next few days will consist mostly of me trying to put the material side of my life back together.  For which process Tyler-Rose and Katie the Roommate have suggested this excellent trick: 

The Spark of Joy Test.

Envision:  It is 9 pm and Susan, while unpacking, has already gone through both the 7th Harry Potter movies and is now halfway through the 2005 Pride and Prejudice.  She reaches into her backpack and pulls out, not yet another grey translucent black-ink Bic ballpoint pen, but Pair of Fuzzy Socks #10.  She holds the socks in her hands for a moment and asks, "Does this give me a spark of joy?"  The answer is "no," and she tosses them in the garbage bag destined for Goodwill. 

Fast-forward:  It is now 10 pm and Susan, still unpacking, has just managed to stop the 2005 Pride and Prejudice before the awful, out-of-character end scene in front of Chatsworth comes on.  She looks down and finds Pair of Fuzzy Socks #11 in her hands.  She asks, "Does this give me a spark of joy?"  The answer:  Yes.  She keeps them. 

It's that simple.  Tyler-Rose tells me it worked quite well for her. 

Specifically, though, she said it was more efficient than asking the usual question:  "Will I ever use this?  Will I ever wear this?  Is there any conceivable future situation in which I might need this?" 

This is starting to remind me of something..............  Writing.  (Surprise!!)  But isn't that how we usually judge whether a scene belongs?  "Does this advance the plot?  Does this show character development?  Does this set up X essential detail for later?  Does this NEED to be here?  Do I NEED this?" 

I dare you (and...myself.  Yes.  I dare myself.) to try this:  Open your manuscript and try the Spark of Joy Test on every scene.  If it passes, great.  If it doesn't, delete it. 

How much of your manuscript is left standing?? 

What's more:  It shouldn't just be every scene, people.  It should be every page.  The bar is high, and it's time to reach for it.  We here at the Feather and the Rose are reaching, anyway. 

Nota bene:  This reminds me a lot of Susan Dennard's "Magical Cookies" strategy, which is brilliant and game-changing, so if you're a writer, go check that out as well! 

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Time of Mourning

It seems to me that a proper period of mourning has been allowed to elapse.

Perhaps you find this confusing. You may not have observed anything unusual except our absence, but spiritually and truly the blog has been hung in dark draperies. We have decorated it with flowers--with roses that bloom black as despair. We have wept for what is lost. I thought for a short time that perhaps my heart would break.

It has not broken. I live on with my continuing grief. It is a heavy burden that I think will not grow easier to bear over time. Despite this, we have been silent long enough.

But what are we mourning, you might ask.

Have Susan or Tyler-Rose lost a pet? A beloved? Received a simply scathing rejection letter? Given up writing and become accountants??!


Happily, the answer to all these questions is: no.

We're both alive and well and so are those we love best. Really, the grief that caused us to drop off the face of the earth is simply this:


Yes, after four years of late nights, tears, hard work, and the best kinds of fun we walked across a stage in flowing black gowns and funny hats and received our diplomas. Susan took a BA in Latin and I in English.

Why is this a cause for mourning? Shouldn't we be celebrating our accomplishments and our new-found freedom?

Of course. We did. We are. However, graduation day heralded the end of more than our college career. I quote from our "About Us" page:

We share a college, a suite, and as you have discovered, a blog!   
Having met on a fateful trip to England and discovered we were both writers,we were friends as soon as Tyler-Rose stopped being terrified of Susan and Susan was satisfied as to Tyler-Rose's bathing habits.

 My dear friends, while Susan and I will always share a college, *places hand over heart and hums her and Susan's shared Alma Mater* we no longer share a suite, a building, a block, a town, a county, a state, or a time zone. In fact, it would be hard for us to get farther apart and avoid falling into opposing oceans.

We are separated by an entire country and likely to stay that way for a while. SCARF-A-SCONE SATURDAY IS NO MORE* 


There are some plans of reunion in the works, but they are long rather than short term affairs. Meanwhile, we do indeed intend to continue writing on the blog. Those who have asked us about that can now relax. We're not going anywhere. 

Besides graduating, a lot of other wonderful things have happened to us in the last few months which you should probably hear about, but I'll save those for another post.

Have a charming Monday!


* Now transformed into Skype-a-Susan Saturday :)