Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Horror Short

Here's a short I wrote today for a prompt over at Magical Words.

          A cool breeze ruffled Clarabell’s blonde hair. She settled her girth into her lounger, the metal and plastic creaking under her weight. She sipped her Bloody Mary. Certainly there was no better way to spend Thanksgiving: in her South Carolina house on the Atlantic, far from Connecticut’s November chill, a fresh turkey waiting for death in the pen.
          “Ma’am?” at the southern drawl of Earl, her low class butler, she curled her lip.
          “What?” She snapped, her sharp New England accent harsh against his easy droll.
          “There’s a problem with the turkey, ma’am.”
           She snorted and slammed her drink onto the table, sloshing the red liquid onto the white of the lounger. “You failed to slaughter a simple bird?” She hauled herself up and faced him.
          Blood trickled from a gash on the butler’s forhead, trailing down his cheek and gathering in the collar of his shirt. His normally whisky-pink cheeks were ashen and his bright blue eyes dim.
         “Was there some kind of accident?”
          “In the back yard, ma’am. We—Tommy and me—were getting ready to kill the turkey.” He jerked his hand full of blood spattered feathers. The black of his suit glinted, wet, and blood rolled onto his hands from under the cuff.
          “Did you cut yourself?” She stepped back, putting the lounger between the two of them.
          “No, ma’am.” He swayed back and forth and tumbled forward, the feathers fluttering into the air before floating down.
          Clarabell screamed. The gashes on Earl’s chest, revealed in his collapse, oozed more blood. She did not lean to down to check on him, but scrambled into the house, grabbing the nearest phone and punching in 911.
         Behind her, something rustled.
         She spun around, the 911 call at its third ring. A turkey—their thanksgiving dinner—stared at her, its beady black eyes glinting in the light of the room.
         “911. What is your emergency?”
         “There’s a turkey…” she trailed off. A patch of pale skin was visible on the bird where feathers had been torn away.
         The creature clucked once, twice. A flutter of its wings revealed a cleaver. How it held it, she had no idea, but blood dripped from the blade.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Moving forward and back...

This summer has had its ups and downs, most of which have been unrelated to writing. Got some rejections, on short stories and on the novel, but got some encouragement too.  A lot of other stuff happened that was hard (cat died, grandmother died, wallet and cell phone stolen from my office, windshield cracked). Stuff that mattered and stuff that just took my time.

Going through this, my boyfriend and I found a place and are moving in together.  That means going through four years of stuff (from my time in this place) and all the other stuff that I brought from Ohio or got from my fam in Cali when I moved to NC.  This meant I found bunches of old photos of my parents and family, or me, or my friends (elementary, high school, college, grad school), and that brings up a lot of stuff. The thing that hit me hardest was a card I found--an anniversary card from my mom to my dad. The note in it said that she was sorry the card was late (with a perky "better late than never") and then she noted that she was slipping, fading, and she thanked my dad for hanging in there with her. It was probably one of the last things she ever gave him. I'm not sure how it ended up with it--it probably went into a stack, that went into a box, than ended up with me.

My mom has been on my mind a lot lately. It will be 14 years in November since she died. Mostly it is the good things, and the fact that I wish I could share who I am now with her--I'm sure she'd be thrilled with a lot of what I'm doing, but she'd have her own well vocalized opinions, too, I'm sure. Maybe it is that I'm 35, or maybe it is that I'm getting more serious about my career and personal life. Maybe it is something else altogether. But I miss her.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Words came halting forth...

Ahh, Sir Philip Sidney, author of the Astrophil and Stella sonnet sequence--how I appreciate you today. In the first sonnet of his sequence about the lover Astrophil and his quest for a kiss from his beloved Stella, Sidney tackles both the inspiration for writing and the dreaded writer's block. The great lover begins "Loving in truth and fain in verse my love to show..." and what better reason have we to write than love? (Money? Fame? Pleasure? Because the voice just won't stop if I don't? Because if I don't, I've given up, and I don't give up, or at least I don't give this up? But I digress...) Perhaps, he muses, the lady will see his suffering in the lines, take pleasure in his poetry (hopefully not his pain, though sadism on the part of the beloved may be a part of love poetry), know of his love, and requite it!  Hooray.

But, he cannot write. (Alas!) He tried looking at others folks "leaves" but their "feet were but strangers in his way." Reading the current genre just isn't helping.  Trying to learn the craft doesn't work. Indeed, inspiration "flees Step-dame Study's blows." The more he studies, the less he can write.

Finally, he announces that, like a pregnant woman struggling to give birth, he is "helpless in his throes!" But wait, his Muse addresses him directly!  "Fool," says his Muse to him, "Look in thy heart and write!"

And so we have one of the most concise and lovely renditions of one of the most problematic myths about writing. Look in your heart and write. It will just come pouring out. Perfect and immaculate in its design. If your "words come halting forth," then you're just not looking in your heart. Or, if you are, maybe you're just not a writer.

Funny. That I know of, Sidney doesn't have a poem in the sequence about REVISION.

So, in my own writing lately, my words are "halting forth." And the ones that do come out, seem less than what I want. But, no fear, like Sidney (or perhaps like his narrator, Astrophil), I have a Muse. And my muse speaks to me.  His words are not quite as iambic as Astrophil's, nor are they as kind. And after hearing them, I do indeed pour more words on the page. I finish scenes, finish chapters, delight in the fact that I can open a new document and start a new section.

Unfortunately, my muse is not particularly original. Indeed he has spoken, I think, to the muses of many great and successful writers that I know, and cribbed merciless from them. (Perhaps the other muses ought to corner him to discuss the finer distinctions between references and plagiarizing.)

What does my muse say?

"Fool," says my muse to me, "get thy butt-in-chair and write!"

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Teaching Hamlet

Today I finished up teaching Hamlet in my Shakespeare class.  I love Hamlet (and Hamlet--alas for my crush on the pre-goth, pre-emo, emo/goth grad student!). The play never fails to move me to tears, no matter how many times I've read it or teach it.  There is something that breaks my heart when Hamlet dies--his struggle through the whole play is to survive and bring Claudius to justice. He fails in the former.  The struggle to do the right thing in the right way in a corrupt world among weak, corrupt, or evil people simply moves me.  "Now cracks a noble heart," indeed.  

And, the older I get, the more I feel for Ophelia. When her brother leaps into the grave, I can't help but roll my eyes, just a little bit, but when he tells the priest that she will be a "ministering angel" while he "liest howling," I believe that he is right. The limited rites she gets in death because she *might* be a suicide smack of hypocrisy and ruthlessness.  

I studied Hamlet extensively my senior year in college, writing my senior thesis on some of the films. Early in the fall semester, my mother died. By spring, my father was dating someone else. It was nothing as untoward or ugly as Claudius, and indeed she proved to be wonderful for my dad, and is now my step-mom without any of the wicked Disney connotations.  Still, there were times I had to step away from the play, for obvious reasons. But it stayed with me, all this time, and the struggles of the characters seem so real to me.  I hope I did it justice for my students!  

Con Carolinas

Con Carolinas--a yearly sci-fi and fantasy con in Charlotte NC--was awesome this year.  I went for the first time four years ago. My how time does fly. The first time I went, I met several of the folks who are a part of Magical Words. This year lots of them were there again. (Specifically AJ Hartley, David B. Coe, Edmund Schubert, Stuart Jaffe, Kalayna Price, and Faith Hunter. Misty Massey was sorely missed!)  I was on panels as part of my other work as an editor, and that was fun. 

But far and away the best part of CC, and cons in general, is hanging out with other writers.  The business side is good--networking, chatting about how-tos, listening to people talk about how they do things.  BUT, my favorite is just being social. I love being around people who "get" the whole writing thing because they do it too.  

And Sarah and I threw a party.  It reminded me of parties I had in grad school, though mostly my place was way too small (and that's saying something, since this party was in a hotel room.)  It felt like college, and the hotel was like a dorm: people sitting around on beds, on tables, on window sills. People drinking beer, whisky, chocolate red wine (as an aside, I thought that was awesome--it tastes like yoo-hoo with alcohol or Bailey's) and eating snacks. 

People talked about writing, about Buffy and Firefly, about Shakespeare, about stupid things we did in high school and college, and that was just around me.  

But being social was great, and, like so many other folks, I left the con energized and ready to work. I even participated in Allen Wold's workshop and have come up with a plan for a new novel. (Ooh! New Shiney!!)  That will be on the backburner as Sarah Adams and I work on the second novel in the Knightspelle series and I finish revisions on Hell Mary. Looks like I'll be starting it in late August or September.

So, my advice to writers is to find a good con nearby you, with a good writer's track, and go. Go and chat with folks, tell them you like their books, get them to sign them, ask them questions, find people to have lunch or dinner with, and then just enjoy being around people who get it.  

Writing is a solitary activity a lot of the time--even my co-author and I write separately and then bring our work together--and so having the chance to meet others, to make friends, and to have a good time *as writers* is so important and such a good thing. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

More from the Query trenches

So, Knightspelle has had 4 agents request to read stuff.  One said "good, but not for me..." and the other three have yet to comment.  We still have around 40 queries out.  Today we had another agent request a longer synopsis. She liked our writing, but wanted more detail. This synopsis needs to be five pages. And I was SO proud of the one we got down to one page.  So I'm off to write (no, rewrite) the synopsis to make it five pages. We've got a four page one, and a two page one. I think expanding it is going to be difficult. Cutting was easier.

But all this is, as I keep reminding myself, GOOD stress, EXCITING stress.  And hopefully it will all go the way that we want--we'll end up with an agent and Knightspelle will find a publishing home!

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's not all wine and roses...

... but it is a start...

So, they query process has been painful in some ways, including rejections that manage to not even fall into the realm of polite. Most rejections have been form letters that say "thanks, but I'm/we're not interested."

We've sent out around 55 queries for Knightspelle. We've gotten about 8-10 rejections. We've got a better query pitch. (We rewrote our pitch after about 4 rejections.)  And since we sent it out, we have gotten two requests for manuscripts. One agent wanted a full, and the other agent wanted the first chapter. I'm sure the one who wanted the first chapter will respond pretty fast. The other one said to give her 3 months.

I'm excited. But mostly I'm stunned. On one hand I believe in our project. I believe in our characters and our novel. I think it would entertain lots of people.  On the other hand, I can't believe that "gatekeepers" in the publishing industry are interested in our writing.

But even if we end up with "nos" from these, we still have the upside that people in the industry found our book interesting. Now, it isn't if someone likes it well enough, but who we will find that does. In the grand scheme of taking the successes as they come, I'll certain call the past few days a "win."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A little perspective

So, the other day I wrote about our first "no" on Knightspelle. As I said, I'd been thinking about how to define "success" and all that.

Then yesterday happened and I got a little perspective.  At a bit after four p.m., the tornado sirens around my place (I think near Methodist University) went off.  I'd been watching the news, watching a tornado heading straight for Raleigh, and thinking "gee, I hope we don't get any here."  The news station was in Raleigh, so while they were mentioning the cell near Fayetteville, it was not their priority.

So, I grabbed my two cats that were downstairs and hid in the closet under the stairs with my cellphone. The tv was loud enough that I could hear it, and I could hear them discussing what was happening and saying that, indeed, tornados had hit Fayetteville, too.

My phone rang--my house phone--and it occurred to me that maybe I should have brought it in the closet with me. I didn't go fetch it. Eventually I got a text from my bf's mom. Her power was out, so I told her that I was fine, but hiding in a closet.  I got a call from my bf. He was at work, and I told him I was fine, but still in the closet.

I kept checking updates on my phone. After the warning had passed, I came out of the closet (you had to know the joke was coming)--much to the delight of my kitties. My place is fine. My bf's place is fine. My school is fine.

Lots of folks are not fine. Apparently it passed between me and my school and my bf's place and did some serious, serious damage.

So, to conclude: rejection sucks. But at least I didn't get blown away by a tornado. Thank God for that.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It took less than 24 hours...

To get the first rejection of Knightspelle. Magical Words has been doing a series on how to measure success, and that just sending out stuff is a success.  So, WHEE! Or not. It's hard not to be discouraged a little bit, but there isn't any cure for it but to keep moving forward. The rejection was cheerful and pleasant with a "I swear we read it and read it carefully, but it wasn't for us..." and "remember it only takes one yes." All in all, very friendly.  It was by email (query and rejection, obviously, as I don't think there is a place in the US where the post moves that fast anymore), and so very much a form letter.  I wasn't certain we were the right fit for this agency and agent, as our work is in the genre she works with, but not quite in the same category as the stuff that she lists that she really likes.

But, ONWARD, without ado! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The first one is out of the gate...

So I sent off the first query letter for Knightspelle. I will be sending more out shortly.  I'm excited and nervous and all those things. It's always a risk sending stuff out, and I'm trying to view the fact that I'm sending stuff out as a success in itself. (See David B. Coe's 4/11 post on success at Magical Words for a lot of thoughtful ideas about it.) There was a lot of talk about the "scrawled on rejection."  That is, the rejection that is still a "no," but on which an editor or agent wrote something encouraging.  It means that it moved beyond the standard form letter.  The general idea is that agents, editors, etc. are busy, busy people. So, if they take the time to say something positive, especially if it is something like "this was close but not quite right for us. Query again!" it really does mean that a writer *is* close.

And I believe that's true.  Mostly because I mean it when I write "you've improved! keep up the good work!" on student papers. I try very hard not to write something like that when it isn't true. There's a fine line between encouraging someone and, well, lying.  I do this mostly because I believe in positive reinforcement as much as I believe in critique. Without critique, obviously a writer (or anyone, really, doing anything) won't get much better.  But without positive comments, I think it is tough to improve, too.

A writer I edit told me mid-edit the other day that he appreciates that I point out the things that are working. It helps him keep his spirits up when I tell him things aren't working. It also is a feel good moment to know his writing worked. Finally, it's also useful to know what he does well.  The moment struck me because years ago I said almost the exact same thing to my dissertation director. I told him I wanted him to be my director because he'd said positive things about my work. It wasn't that he'd said nothing negative--certainly not--but that he had taken the time to say things like "good argument here" or whatever.

So, as I'm thinking about querying folks, a I'm just reminded of how important it is to be positive, both about my stuff and other writers' stuff as well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Preparing for the Query Process

So I've written two novels. Knightspelle and Hell Mary: Full of Fire. The first is with my co-author, Sarah Adams. The second is my own. I've given 'em to beta readers. I've edited 'em. Now it's time to see if they really work. I'm getting ready to start querying agents. I've got my initial agent list. I've got my list of their requirements. It reminds me a lot of applying for professorial jobs when I was at the end of grad school. Everybody wants basically the same thing.  That is, they want a query letter, they want some sample pages, and they want a synopsis.  The specifics vary, and require charts. Some people want a 1 page synopsis. Some people want a 5 page one. Some people want the first three chapters, some the first ten pages, some the first chapter.  Some want by email, with everything in the body (that's common), some want attachments (rare), some want by snail mail (definitely rare).  This is all fine, of course. It's part of the job, part of what you do to get an agent, etc.  But it is nit-picky detail work.  I want to (and will) follow the guidelines, but I do sort of wish they all wanted one thing, so I could put a massive amount of work into ONE packet.  I'm personalizing all the agent letters they are personal. They are the agents I've heard of, whose authors I read and enjoy, who I think would be fabulous agents, and who I think would like the stuff I've written.

All of the work, though, is not much compared to the anxiety. If no one wants it, of course I'll pick myself up again and start over. There's no point in NOT doing that. But it is still scary. I know my books are good. I like them, and I've read them a lot. But that doesn't make showing them to others, to people that matter, any less nerve wracking.

So, wish me luck, y'all.  :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yay I win!

Which is something that doesn't happen very often.  I won a contest over at Magical Words ( for a signed copy of How to Write Magical Words.  I'm excited!

I'm also finishing my novel--Hell Mary--tonight for the Suduvu contest.  If I say it out loud (that is, write it on a blog) it will happen.  I'll get the thing submitted tonight and let it go. Next week I'll start on the synopsis and query letters for it, too, and start sending those out.  It scares me to put it out there, but what makes me more worried is my lack of enthusiasm for the book right now.  I read it and I think "yeah, this is pretty good, but maybe it is crap."  People have told me that they like it. People have told me it is good.  People who are not morons, whose opinions I value, etc.  So I think I'm just done with it for a while. It is time to send it out because any more revisions are small, and feel like they aren't doing anything. I think this just means that I need to send it out, see if it can fly in the world and move on to something else.

Ooh!  What's that over there? A new shiny!! Hooray!!!

So, I think I'm going to start work on another novel that started out as a story that I thought up randomly for a romance/erotica e-press.  Now I'm going to see how far it goes and see if it is a novel, or if it is a story, or if it is nothing at all.  I like my main character and the opening dilemma.  Now let's just see if I like her for long enough to write a whole book about her.

And then there is the stack of grading that is staring at me accusingly.  And the editing that I need to get done, and will get done, tomorrow--and I might start on it later tonight.  We'll see.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jet Lag is Painful

Having arrived back home from England, I promptly got a migraine which kept me sleeping it off for far too many hours. This explains why I am up at 5:00am.  This does not adequately explain why I have infomercials on. Nor does it explain the infomercials themselves. The first was for a baby-food maker. I don't object to one making one's own baby food. But the women were weirdly excited about what amounted to, really, a blender with a happy face on it. And the woman with the fake baby that she was bouncing in her arms was creepy.  Now they've moved on (presumably for the post baby crowd) to body shapers. In these infomercials, fat women explain how they hate their jiggly fat, and thin women put on body shapers. It's odd. And vaguely offensive. Watching a thin woman pretend to struggle fastening her jeans is sad. And so, I must conclude that mothers who have insecurities about what they are feeding their small children and how they themselves look are up late watching A&E, because these wouldn't be on if they didn't sell.

I think I'll stop before I have a mild feminist freak out about hiding post-baby bodies because they are ugly.

Like I said, jet lag is painful.  Someone ought to start a telethon.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A small touch of Fish before I head for the Island

Class having ended early--as it was barely all my students could do to contain themselves for the 35 minutes we sat there, in their last class of the day, on the last day before Spring Break--I returned to my office to figure out what I should do with myself until it was time to depart.  The students with whom I am carpooling are to arrive at 4:00. At that time we shall decide whether or not to buy tickets for a play before we go.

A small problem in my Internet program required me to restart my computer, so tooling through meaningless (or meaningful) web pages was out.  So what to do?

Ah! But I got a package in my mailbox today! An exciting even as I didn't remembered buying anything lately.  It was a desk copy of a book I ordered, to see if I wanted to use it in my Freshmen Composition classes, or perhaps in my Advanced Grammar class.  How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Mr. Stanley Fish. 

Mr. Fish is prolific in the literary criticism world, and I am familiar with his work. He is often witty, often sharp, and (though not for either of those) not my favorite of authors.  And yet, the idea behind the book is a brilliant one.  For lovers of words, we don't usually love them for their meaning or sounds alone, but rather the contexts in which we've seen them dance and sing.  For lovers of books, we are well aware that without the bits, there'd be no whole.

And yet, I have consistently forgotten about the sentence. That middling level building block between clauses and phrases and paragraphs. That essence of meaning and, as Fish points out, pleasure.  There is delight in a truly good sentence, and the ones in his Introduction do not disappoint. A smattering of the ones he mentions:

Eli Wallach as the head bandit in The Magnificent Seven: "If God didn't want them sheared, he wouldn't have made them sheep" (5).

An anonymous fourth grader on the appearance of a mysterious box at school: "I was already on the second floor when I heard about the box" (5).

John Updike on Ted Williams hitting a home run in his last at bat in Fenway Park: "It was in the books while it was still in the sky" (9).

And my favorite, Joan Crawford on why she dressed like she was on her way to a premier every time she left her house: "If you want to see the girl next door, go next door" (4).

Fish spends some time explaining why these are great without destroying them (a talent in any kind of literary criticism), and I won't go into it here.  He brings the chapter to its last point by suggesting the following:
"[...] the practice of analyzing and imitating sentences is also the practice of learning how to read them with an informed appreciation. Here's the formula: Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation" (11).  For anyone who writes anything and wants it to be beyond simply the competent conveyance of information, this should be a mantra.  He ends the chapter with a gesture to chapter two, in which he seeks answers to the "what is a sentence" question.

And so I will go back to reading it, until life begins its frantic movement again and I don't have time to sit and luxuriate in the artistry that is the sentence.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Short morning post of triumph...

This will be a short post because I've got to get to my day job and do day-job things like hold office hours and grade the (slightly smaller) mountain of papers I have.

I finished my edits on Hell Mary, my novel, last night.  I did detailed line edits and took notes and made plans.  (Small confession: not the last chapter, which I realized I need to totally rewrite. Again. So I guess I did make a plan. It said: "completely rewrite with...")  It was a good feeling, but a scary one, too.  I enjoy it when I read it, which is good because if I don't like it, who else will?  But, on the other hand, I'm feeling very much ready to be done with it.  Ready to send it out in the world and see if it will fly. All those metaphors.  I'd like to get to actually making the changes tomorrow, but with other stuff (that day job again) I just don't know if I can.  And then Friday starts the Big Trip (a Study Abroad trip to London). So no work on the novel for a week, until I get back.

But, all the grumbling aside. I finished it, and I feel like it looks good. Like the plot arc works, and the parts work.  Most of the editing will be deck-chair arranging, so if massive edits and overhauls are needed, I don't see them at this moment. Maybe I will someday.

So, on more edit, and it's off to the Suvudu contest it goes.  And then out go the query letters. Which is a whole other challenge.  (I went through about fifteen different words until I got to the relatively neutral "challenge.")

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Writing Life...

The first post on this blog is about balance because that is what is on my mind today.  Specifically, how to write when writing isn't my job.  Sure it is the job I want, and sure I love it (most of the time), but it is not what pays the bills.  This means, especially lately, things that "pay the bills" have had to take precedence over writing.

Sad to say, in the past week I've only gotten in about 6 hours of writing.  That's less that an hour a day. (And who says English majors aren't good at math?)

There are times in my life (particularly around the end of the semester or term, which is where I am now) where my day job as an English Professor takes over the rest of my life.  That doesn't mean my deadlines for writing or editing go away, and it doesn't mean I should or want to put aside either of them. But sometimes it happens.  Papers have to be graded, tests have to be written, administered, and graded. Grades must be calculated and turned in.

I have to find ways to make sure that I write. I have to prioritize that, and sometimes that means letting other things go.  More often, it means less sleep.

I'm hovering in a space of "almost done," and I've been there for six months, and it is making me crazy. So I'm going to get writing done today. Even if it is just a chapter edit. One edit today is one step closer to writing "THE END" at, well, the end of the novel, and mean it.