Thursday, April 14, 2011

Overcoming Reluctant Words

There are some days when, for several different reasons, I don’t feel like writing. At all.

I’m not talking about uncooperative, hair-pulling scenes that are difficult to write. I’m talking about times when I sit in front of the computer, have the plot and the scene that comes next clear in my head, but I just feel tired, empty and meh. The words have to be heaved up from a deep dark well within me instead of them gushing or at least trickling out of the spring like they do during high times.

Plus, my character’s unique voice disappears to sip Mai-Tais on a beach somewhere, not even bothering with a nya-nya-nya-see-ya in my direction. Descriptions sound choppy and not cheerful, actions are a boring train of happenings. When my muse drags, so does my character’s voice and actions.

It’s times like those when I’m glad I’m not a published author (yet), having to pound out several thousand words per day to meet a deadline. I have only myself to satisfy and in those moments I’m very satisfied with not writing.

But, of course, I should - and want - to train myself to overcome such wordless moods. There are ways to get that spring flowing again. Others have written longer lists on the same subject, but here are some ways that - mostly - work for me.

1. Skip this scene. Write the next, or one you’ve been itching to do.

2. Add some action. Sometimes, or maybe even usually, if a scene is boring to write, it’s boring to read. So you want/have to shake it up anyway. This doesn’t necessarily have to be action as in and-then-the-ground-gave-way-beneath-Indiana’s-boots-and-he-fell-into-a-Nazi-bunker; just throw your characters an unexpected curveball, like a screaming baby, an angry  friend, a friendly foe, a dead body, an earthquake, aliens from Mars, a giant dwarf, a missing house… you get the idea.

3. Take a twenty minute break, away from the computer (blogging, twittering, facebooking does not count!). Go outside, clear your head. Wash the dishes. Cook and eat a scrumptious risotto. Tend your flowers. Feed the fishes. Rearrange your bookshelf. Do some exercises or yoga. Sing into your hairbrush. Dance with your broom. Anything to relax the mind and delight the soul.

4. Write down what’s occupying your thoughts. If you can’t write because something else is bothering you and taking up your think-space inside your head, write that down first - maybe even keep a diary. The important thing is to spit out that glob of word-congesting mucus, save it in a handkerchief/on a piece of paper so that you can poke through/analyze it later. This really helps me let go of distracting thoughts, because they know they’re not forgotten, just delayed a little.

5. Work on your characters or world building rather than the scene. Jot down trivia about your characters: What is Jane’s biggest fear? Her greatest achievement? What’s John’s opinion on rock music? His favorite color? His special traits? Basically anything that more closely defines your characters and makes it clear why they react to things in certain ways. These specifics might never actually need to be mentioned in the story, but it gives you a better feeling for your characters and I believe the reader feels this. The same goes for the world you’re creating. Even if this doesn’t directly raise the word count of the story, it later helps with voice, tone and development.

How do you coax your deep well to turn into a bubbling spring again?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Double Spaz - Flash Fiction Challenge

Here’s my entry to another flash fiction challenge, this time from Haley Whitehall’s blog. She gave us 500 words to write a flash fiction piece beginning with the sentence “She had been warned, but now it was too late.” I made it at 497 words.

Double Spaz
by Pia Newman

She had been warned, but now it was too late. As per the forecast it was pouring with rain and she’d forgotten her umbrella at home.

Any other day, it wouldn’t have mattered. Bree was no drama queen who shrieked in consternation at a drop of rain or even a downpour like this. But her best friend could be. And if Bree showed up at Bella’s wedding with a flattened hairdo and soaked bridesmaid’s dress, she’d throw a hissy fit, Lindsey Lohan-style. She was probably up in arms about the fact that God deigned to let it rain on her wedding day anyway.

To top it all off, Bree was late and had only found a space in the back of the parking lot, far away from the church. By the time she reached the entrance, her underwear would be squishing between her butt cheeks and everyone would see she wasn’t wearing a bra.

Everyone, including Micah.

Not that he’d be surprised. Her showing up to the wedding soaking wet would just add to his experience that Bree couldn’t do anything without looking or acting at least slightly ridiculous. It was almost like fate was playing with her, frequently dangling this hunky chunk of man before her nose, while at the same time pulling the rug from under her feet so that she spilled her drink on him, or met him with a left-over curler in her hair or wearing her T-shirt inside out.

Taken singly, these occurrences weren’t as bad as all that, but they added up if they happened every time they met. And she’d really hoped she’d wow him today, not just make him laugh.

She turned around and rummaged through the mess on the back seat, looking for something, anything, that might hold off the rain. She unearthed an old newspaper with coffee stains on the front page.


She opened the car door, holding the newspaper above her head. The rain splattered down on it like hail and she knew it wouldn’t hold out until she reached the church.

Suddenly, the light around her turned slightly green and the drops stopped pelting down on her.

“Interesting hat,” a voice said behind her. She spun around. Micah stood there, holding a large green umbrella over them both.

Where was quicksand when you needed it? She stuck out her chin. “It’s part of my evil plan to make the world a sillier place.”

“A noble goal. And who better to achieve it than you? I’ll be your partner in crime if you agree to dance with me later on.” There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he took her hand and laid it in the crook of his umbrella-arm.

“How will dancing with you further my evil intentions?” she asked, twinkling right back.

“I’m the biggest spaz you’ll ever see on the dance floor. The world will be saved.”

His smile warmed her to the toes. Her world was definitely saved.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Partials Status Update And Appeal To Agents

I’m still waiting for an approval or rejection from Agent #1 on my partial. The one I sent shortly before Christmas via snail mail. Since I hadn’t heard a peep in over four months now (patiently biting my nails in silence), I sent her an email last week, simply asking if she ever received my material.

I’m curious to see if she will even answer. She’s definitely a reputable agent - as per my internet-research - but last week I also found a forum in which many other queryers had stated/complained that they received a request for a partial very soon after sending the query, but then, after sending the material, never heard back. Only few of them ever received a written rejection.

Judging by (only) this forum, it sounds to me as if this agent asks for partials as soon as she is slightly interested by the query. Which, in itself, is fine by me - hey, my material got a chance to be read by her at least - if it weren’t for the no-answer issue.

I understand when agents say they don’t answer every query that lands in their inbox. I think it’s amazing that most actually do, considering they get so many queries per month. But if an agent requests more material, be it a partial or the full manuscript, I think it’s polite to at least respond to the writer who’s wringing her hands in anticipation, checking her inbox every five minutes, doubting, hoping, trying not to think about it, resisting the urge to make a peep via phone or email. The anticipation is bad enough when you’ve sent out a query, but an “unanswered” partial is a bit like awaiting your torture in front of the torture chamber, listening to the screams coming through the thick iron door. But we’ve read, learned and understand that we need to be patient, so we wait. And, with this agent, the waiting seems eternal. I’d be very happy about a form rejection at this point, because hanging in limbo like this is worse than a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

I know most agents do answer sooner or later (thank you!), that there are exceptions to every rule, and that aspiring authors have to learn to live with waiting and rejection. And I do realize that it’s still in the acceptable time frame for Agent #1 to answer. I’m not counting my chickens, though. That I haven’t heard back from her most likely means she’s not interested. But I can’t be sure… and hope dies last. Often in a volley of bitterness.

So this is an appeal to all agents out there: Any response is better than none. Please let us tantalized writers know where we stand.

Thank you!

Edited to add: Scott Eagan wrote a post on this very subject a little later today. I wonder what category of request-reasons "my" Agent #1 falls under...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge

Chuck Wendig posted a flash fiction challenge on his blog, Terribleminds. The challenge was to write a 500-word-max story named after a cocktail.

Here’s my attempt at exactly 500 words.

Swimming Pool
by Pia Newman

As soon as we stepped onto the patio and saw the swimming pool spread before us, I knew this was the perfect location. The house was like all the others; a sprawling edifice of concrete and glass on the top of a hill, displaying the obligatory view over the city. But the house wasn’t the criteria for which I’d been rejecting one property after the other these past few weeks. It was the swimming pool and its location that interested me.

The trees and bushes surrounding this garden, terrace and pool provided a pocket of intimacy in the middle of the city. Nobody could peek in, neither from the sides nor from a house on the slope above. Perfect.

“This one,” I said to both my husband and the estate agent. The latter’s eyes immediately brightened, whereas Bjorn’s sparked with annoyance.

“How’s this house different from the previous ten thousand we’ve looked at?” he demanded to know.

“It has the most… possibilities,” I murmured.

“What? Speak up, for God’s sake.”

I knew better than to actually do that, especially because Bjorn had already turned to the estate agent and was talking to him. The estate agent answered his questions, completely ignoring me. He’d quickly learned that Bjorn didn’t take him seriously if he tried including me in the discussions about prices, garage space, sauna sizes and tennis courts.

I tried to listen to them, but my gaze and thoughts kept flitting back to the pool. I felt a long forgotten tension inside me and hoped Bjorn wouldn’t find a reason not to take this property. The prospect of having to openly defy my husband was making me wring the handle of my handbag between my hands.  

“Well, that rules this one out,” I heard Bjorn say. “I want a Jacuzzi with a view, not some dank hole in the cellar. Sorry, Grace.” I could tell by his voice he wasn’t sorry at all. He’d come up with this threadbare excuse just to spite me.

My heart stomped through my chest like a giant with steel-capped boots as I squashed the urge to accept his decision in demure silence. I took a deep breath.

“We’ll take it,” I told the estate agent.

“Shut up, Grace” Bjorn said, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know a lot more than you think,” I said calmly. “About Rita, for example.”

For the first time in over fifteen years of marriage, I saw Bjorn speechless. Here was my chance to speak and I grabbed it.

“I don’t care, you know. I don’t even care anymore that you won’t get a divorce because of your precious image. I want this house. You do this one thing for me, and I’ll try my best to help you make sure nobody ever forgets you.”

I’d make sure alright. A former world champion swimmer mysteriously drowning in his own swimming pool? He would go down in history. And, for once, we’d both have exactly what we wanted.

Please tell me: Was this too predictable? I'm never sure I don't give too much away in the beginning...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Borders End Of Days

I have no words. Empty shelves. What a sad sad wasteland.

Even though I order a lot of my books via Amazon, I hate to see bookstores - real stores with real shelves where you can run you fingers along gleaming book spines and browse through first page after first page - disappear. And we're not even talking small, independent bookstores; if a giant like Borders doesn't make it... I won't finish that thought. It's too depressing. But I'm adding a resolution to my New Year's List: Buy More Books At Bookstores.

We have a beautiful bookstore in a picturesque old timbered building by the park in Esslingen. They carry English books, too, if only a small selection. But I'm sure they can order additional ones, as well. I'll have to ask. *makes mental note*

I hope my someday-kids will never ask "Mommy, what's a bookstore? Or a library? My teacher said they used to be all over and that they sold or lent you books. So, like, e-readers with books on them? Doesn't make sense..."

I think I'd cry. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Genre: Urban Fantasy Versus Supernatural

Today I want to blog about something I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. On Friday, literary agent Rachelle Gardner reopened herself to queries after a several month long hiatus, and wrote a post about what she’s looking for.

In the category “Adult Fiction”, Ms. Gardner wrote that she is interested in “… Supernatural, … No fantasy or sci-fi.”

As a writer who classifies “her” genre as urban fantasy, and after a quickie research about the term “supernatural genre”, this prompted my following question in the comments section: “… I always pegged "Supernatural" in the fantasy-genre. Or at least the urban fantasy sub-genre. So basically, you're interested in fiction books about spirits, demons, ghosts, etc. - things based on myth and folklore - but don't want to see orcs, elves, vamps and werewolves? I'm just curious as to where you draw the "supernatural" line?”

To which she answered: “You're correct in your assessment. Other agents have blogged about the differences between the genres so I'm not going into detail here.“

So now I’m on a mission to find such blog posts or any other kind of information that will help me draw a line between “supernatural” and “urban fantasy”. Though I think that line is rather a widely overlapping grey zone littered with big-toothed landmines (especially if I were to add “paranormal romance” to the mix; but I will abstain - here’s  a good explanation for the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance).

Also, I noticed in 2011’s Guide to Literary Agents, many other agents also listed “supernatural” as what they’re looking for, while not being interested in fantasy or science fiction. I’m never sure whether I can send a query for my urban fantasy novel to these agents. Of course, since I research an agent and what s/he represents before shooting her/him my query, I find out if “my” novel falls under his/her “supernatural” classification. Still, I’m now taking this occasion as a sign to further investigate the subject.

Thanks to Ms. Gardner, I have a good starting point. After researching her clients, I found she represents books like The Resurrection by Mike Duran, which features spectral manifestations, visions, curses, resurrections, altars of adoration, and an autistic child prophet. These are all elements of the “spiritual supernatural”, as I’m going to call it, based on faith and spirituality. By comparison, the typical urban fantasy critters like werewolves and vamps are probably better described as “fantastical supernatural”.

Obviously, this definition creates some overlaps. I know several urban fantasies that feature spiritual supernaturals, like ghosts, spirits and demons. Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson-series for example features ghosts and demons as well as vamps and werewolves. Necromancy and faith are also key themes in Anita Blake’s world by Laurell K. Hamilton, in which vampires and shapeshifters thrive next to ghosts and fairies.

Despite these overlaps, I feel like I understand that fine line - I mean grey zone - better than before. I can’t say that all agents define the differences this way; I’d have to do more research to be sure. Every agent is different, so thoroughly researching an agent’s likes and dislikes before querying is always a wise approach anyway, and will give me the specifics on his/her perception of genre classifications.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Flowchart, Reviews And TBRs

Here's a fun (and oh-so-true) chart by Kate Hart on how to get published. 

Also, this is a happy day - I have a second follower on the blog! Welcome, Sonia! I enjoyed your “The People In My Head” posts - my Muse has never manifested herself in person, animal or otherwise, but she sure is a blabbermouth extraordinaire. Ms. Inner Critic (mine's a gal, too) frequently capitulates before her dictations and goes to sip caipirinhas on a beach in the Caribbean somewhere while Ms. Muse is on a rampage. Then they switch - they prefer to haunt me one at a time, so that they don't have to fight it out and are nice and rested when they return to me.

Bea, my first ever blog-follower, recently posted a review on Bea's Book Nook, based on which I'm now ordering The Thieves Of Darkness by Richard Doetsch for myself. That was an intriguing review, Bea, thanks for pushing me towards new books I would otherwise never read. 

Other books I'm excited about receiving with my next Amazon book batch are Warrior Wisewoman 3, an annual anthology series of science fiction featuring powerful and remarkable women, as well as Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. I watched the trailer for the latter the other day and now can't wait to see both the movie and read the book (in that order, then the movie can't be a letdown). The fact that Robert Pattinson's character is called Jacob had me chortling... 

Friday, April 1, 2011

It Had Me At Hello

Mary Glickman tells her inspiring example about never giving up on your passion and the fruits it can eventually bring against all odds and time.

Writer’s write. It’s what we do, whether we’re published or not. It’s what we are: our essence, our life-pulse, our zen. It’s what completes us. What “had me at hello" - at the first word I ever scratched onto a piece of paper (my name, of course).

I get itchy fingers when I don’t write for a while. My fingertips hunger for computer keys to tapdance over, or a pen and a piece of paper to scribble on. Ideas pile up in my mind until I get cranky and antsy and have to jot them down. It’s either that or go insane.

Getting published would be the cherry on top. A sweet, juicy, orgasm-inducing cherry - but not the love affair itself. Affair in this sense being that lifelong passion - writing.

Writer’s write. End of story.