Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Friday

Let's face it, we're either talking about watching Will & Kate's wedding or we're talking about how terribly stupid it is that people are talking about it. Now that we have established both camps, please choose a side. You MUST choose.

If you chose the first camp, continue reading. If you chose the second, you may continue reading, but I can't promise I will accept slander of the royal family UNLESS it's clever. Then, by all means.

So, I never thought I would have occasion to set my DVR to record 7 hours of the Today show starting at 3 a.m., but each day, a new adventure. Thankfully, I am deft with the remote so I'll probably only watch about 4% of what I record, but it will be worth it to have all that intel at my hands. I am not so much of a gawker to stay up/get up at the dead of night to watch pre-coverage speculation of what she might be wearing (my guess is sleek vs. ultra full skirt) and ... well, what else is there to discuss? William will probably wear a military formal uniform with a million gold buttons (boo-yah). The queen will be there, and I know what she looks like because I saw the movie. I've seen their church last spring:
A much prettier facility than the building across the street:
I found it hilarious how utterly bland this is, surrounded by the Abbey and Parliament and pretty much all of London.

I was too young to remember Princess Di's wedding, but I did grow up in the era of Diana's face on women's magazines and tabloids. My family falls into the camp of Pro-Royal, as in, we care about and have fascination with them for some reason. When Diana died, my aunt called in the middle of the night to talk it out. I at least remember it being very late, because I was up watching TV but my mom was asleep and woke up for the phone. As much as she cared about the Royals, she was not so geeked to have sleep interrupted for this news.

Events like this are interesting to me because it brings people together in a historical moment. Even the haters get to join in, and in years ahead they will continue their hate of how much they hated the event and how stupid everyone is who cares about such nonsense. Since those folks are mainly British, the rest of us on the other side of the pond will gawk and gossip and enjoy the frivolity. At least, I know I will.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What Makes a Good Book Title?

I'm having a little trouble coming up with a good title for the story I'm working on. I frequently wonder how it is that all the good titles haven't been used up already. Especially one word titles.
I love the title Practical Demonkeeping (Christopher Moore). It perfectly attunes the reader to a paranormal storyline, and not an entirely serious one (understatement). It's concise, kind of cute. This is what I'm reaching for, I'm just not sure how to get there!

What type of titles grab your attention?

And for the writers, how do you choose a title for your work? How do you pull out the right concept to sum up your entire story?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Links Roundup

Some of the blogs I read post a grouping of notable links for the week. I thought I would start doing this occassionally, even if just for my own reference! It's hard to keep track of it all.

From NYT Books: Penguin's Book Country site to help aspiring authors

From Guide to Literary Agents: Musings on handwritten journals and notebooks

Here's an exercise in writing a great opening line from the blog Writer's Ally

Tips from writing conferences summed up by a founder of Write-On Con (an online conference I'm considering for August!)

This last one was posted in February but it is new to me, timely as we just concluded the season of lent and Easter. Someone posted a query letter about the Bible that's pretty stinkin' funny: Courtesy of Query Shark

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hi, Mom!

This post is dedicated to my mom, who is probably now reading my blog.

Here is an entirely unauthorized (and awesome) account of a story she told me the other day. She picked up a few used books, one of which had a local Michigan angle, something like Murder on Mackinaw. From page one on, there were typos, misspellings and general grammar issues. It bugged her so much that she wrote the publisher, citing specific examples of errors.

My best guess is that this was a self published book. There are a lot of ways to get a book printed with a shiny cover, and the publisher's name could be from a source online or something the author just made up. Who knows. There is nothing wrong with any of this if it's done well. When it's not done well, it pretty much destroys any credibility for the author and "publisher."

My consensus: no wonder it was in the bargain bin.

However, Go mom! That's cool that you aren't willing to let any author, self-published or not, get lazy about writing. And of course, I will always fondly remember when you corrected grocery store signs with a pen from your purse. I used to roll my eyes but at least I know how to spell raisin. And garlic.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Diary Days: meeting my husband

The older I get, the more often I forget the little benchmarks I used to celebrate, specifically with relationships. "It's the anniversary of our first date!" Those dating achievements used to mean something, like making it to the epic SIX MONTH mark. Once married, your celebratory anniversary is your wedding anniversary. The other things fall to the wayside and get brought up occasionally in conversation or when looking back at photo albums.

I found the entry from when I first met my husband. That was ten years ago last month. Clearly, I met him when I was 15 (lie). We didn't start dating for another year, and our first meeting would have been unremarkable if not for a little mishap; one of those romantic-after-the-fact type of events.
I went to Chicago

Spring break, my roommate Amanda and I took what we figured would be a day trip. It was her legit college spring break, but I graduated two months earlier, so for me it was just a long weekend off from my random post-grad jobs. We drove an hour to Michigan City, IN, the nearest commuter train station into the city. A cheap way to travel. I planned to meet with some of my fantastic internet friends (ten years later it doesn't sound so weird does it? you might be reading this and have never met me!). I'm still a little surprised Amanda agreed to go along with the plan involving people I knew peripherally from a message forum that branched off from a music festival, but she's the type who will go along with a lot of things at least once (the foundation of a great friend).

We met up with a friend at the Sears Tower, did the whole shopping thing, making sure to go to Belmont Street north of downtown, where it was a little less commercial than Michigan Ave. Later, we showed up to the party to meet Internet Friends, inadvertently creating a live-action chatroom. Amanda mostly sat in the corner, terrified I'm sure. But everyone acted nice, although a little weird, because if you've ever done a meet-up with friends who are lively, sarcastic and witty online, chances are they are shy, withdrawn and downright awkward in person. Except for me, of course.

Our gracious hosts (who at a later time welcomed me to stay on their couch for 3 weeks when I moved to Chicago, and accommodated scads of other couch guests over the years), invited us to stay overnight as everyone crashed on blankets across the apartment. "No, no," I insisted. "We'll take the train out as we planned." My friend returned us by car to the commuter station where we waited inside away from the cold.
We decided to leave on the last train out and well. Yeah. We missed it. I don't know how. This guy who totally looked like Vince Neil was shouting at it as it drove away. Like 3 other people missed it. They made an announcement it was coming, but no one got up and then it left.

To see the red taillights of the last train out of the city that night, moving away from us, felt heartbreaking and panic inducing. Amanda started whimpering and I knew I needed to keep it together. Worst case, I had a credit card and we could book a room on Michigan Ave. By chance I had the phone number for the apartment of the party since my friend stayed there the night before and left it as reference number (remember when not everyone had a cell phone?). Most of the other party guests left when we did to see a midnight improv comedy show, which I have since seen and is awesome (Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind). It was likely no one would answer.
So we called and these guys said they'd come and get us. Jason and Jeff. They said wait and tell us where on Lakeshore you are. It was freezing and I tried to keep it together.We saw homeless guys and a hooker - it was nuts. I know Amanda was freaking out. They found us and said they'd been praying. We stopped for donuts - Jeff was very much on a mission to get Dunkin' D. I kept apologizing. I felt so dumb for leaving when they said we could stay. So we watched SNL reruns and Sifl and Olly. And I slept in my clothes on the floor. The morning was rough, I barely slept. They were so nice though. I def. had an adventure. Amanda and I almost killed e/o on the way home.Now we're closer I guess :)

Knowing what I do about Jason now, it is no surprise to me that he stayed behind with his friend while everyone else left to go out. They played Tetris on an old Nintendo and worked on their plan to take over the world. That summer, when I ran into Jason at the music festival that connected all of us at the Chicago party, I said something like, "Hey, remember me? I'm the one you rescued from the mean streets of Chicago at 2 am," and we had a laugh. We saw each other randomly a couple of times after that within a similar revolving group of music fest/internet friends, and finally the following Valentine's Day, we had our first date.

It's easy to forget the smaller anniversaries when life fills up with so many more memorable events. The value of the written diary is that it gives a piece of time back to us. It's more than a photo of everyone at the party, it is my words and how I saw that experience at that time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Everybody Likes Free Stuff!

All Things Urban Fantasy is giving away over 60 books. I've only been consistently blogging about writing for 3 months and I've already won 4 books from various blog sites and promotions. And honestly, I don't spend a lot of time looking for that stuff, it just crops up.

I'm at a point where I'm open to reading a lot of different genres, and I appreciate that authors give away promotional copies of their books. It seems like a very effective marketing strategy. Who doesn't like free?! Although, getting a free something that you have no interest in is probably just being greedy. I'm picturing the swarms of people around free sample booths at the grocery store. As a kid, I used to take any sample, regardless of the offering. Now, not so much. Although, if you hit Costco at just the right time, you can practically eat a whole lunch of free samples.

How did I get on the topic of food from free books...

Monday, April 18, 2011

What Type of Writing Group?

I mentioned writing communities recently. Here is a nice write-up from Guide to Literary Agents about how to determine what type of group is good for you (it looks like the author of the article has a book about a writing group - interesting!)

I agree with her that groups are best when ground rules are established and followed. One of the reasons I like the group I've been attending is that the leader moves the group along if they get too sidetracked (and he will specifically note that everyone is invited to brunch afterward). The first part of the group is a topic to discuss, which the leader has researched and provided materials to review, sometimes the session before. It was my own fault I didn't read the handout before class last time, but at least I knew I had the opportunity :)

Submission guidelines for my group are outlined, which I felt helped me to be able to take that scary first step and submit some work. The first week I was there, a submission handed back to a regular participant because it exceeded the maximum length by quite a bit. The particpant said he was too busy to bother with the guidelines (I just realized I haven't seen him since). The leader returned the submission with tact and suggested that everyone in the group is busy, and that's why there is a word count limit. Longer submissions should be split up into separate documents, submitted for separate class reviews. It might sound picky, but I definitely appreciate this after having just reviewed about 7 submissions from the group for this coming Saturday's meeting. It takes a lot of time to give an adequate critique.

So, this weekend will be my first experience on the receiving end of a writing critique (that is not school or work related). I'm nervous, but based on what I've witnessed in my time with the group, I know they will be constructive and not bashing. Well, maybe one guy might bash, he's a little blunt. I'm looking forward to the comments since the group has such a variety of writers.

I'm sure I'll post more on this as time moves on. Meanwhile, I woke up with a story idea and wrote about 2 or 3 chapters worth of material in my head as I got ready for work and drove my 30 minute commute. I would really like to get this out of my head and see if it's worth pursuing!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Journaling: can it help us?

You would think having a blog about a diary, I would still write in one. I mean the old-school, handwritten, watercolor cat on the cover types. Sure, I'm occasionally looking back on my past journals, but I have no current handwritten, personal journal.


This blog post caught my eye:
WOW! Women On Writing Blog: Book Review: Who Are You? How to Use Journaling Therapy to Know and Grow Your Life by Mari L. McCarthy

Now, I'm wondering why I haven't picked up my own journaling again since I started writing more intentionally. I think subconciously, it's probably that I figured blogging replaced a personal journal. That's what happened when I started my LiveJournal account back in the early 2000s. Although, my current blog is not even close to a personal journal.

There is definitely a difference in having a personal journal that is intended for no audience but yourself, and writing for a larger audience. Even if you're writing about yourself, it's the intended audience part that changes it. I could care less about proofreading a personal journal (OK, that's not true. I don't like typos EVER.) I like that idea that personal journaling can help develop a writer. At the very least, it can help you as a person, which then carries over to more specific goals and projects. I guess it can be viewed as another way of accountability; I can hold myself accountable for my own goals.

Do you write in a personal journal? Would it be more encouraging to write in one if you had a specific theme, such as recording personal goals, or using it as a way to simply record events for family history?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writing Communities

The past few months have been an eye-opening experience, discovering how many resources are available for someone like me, who is as green as can be when it comes to writing and publishing. I suppose it all goes back to National Novel Writing Month and their incredibly helpful community, but onward I've plunged into finding what else is out there.

Yesterday evening I joined in an online chat over at She Writes, which is a pretty cool site for networking with other women writers. The topic was Young Adult fiction, and the atmosphere was inviting, collaborative and friendly. I bookmarked half a dozen new websites for future reference. It felt nice to have that comradarie among other women.

One thing that has newly piqued my interest is short story contests. I've stayed away from them since I was primarily working on my novel, but I have a few short stories I wrote the last couple of years that I thought I could revisit. One of the stories takes place in the same universe as my novel, and since I wrote it before the novel, it's kind of funny to see how I imagined things would work. I found a contest through Women on Writing, which seems fairly approachable and not too intimidating. It is for  flash fiction, which they define as between 250 - 750 words. I'm telling you, that is short. I had to hack up my short story pretty good to get down to 690 words or so, and it's now kind of a mess. I have until the end of May to submit it.

Which brings me to my next new discovery, a local writing critique group. My friend Catherine invited me, and we both made our initial visit in January. The group meets twice per month, and we just went back again at the end of March, this time picking up submissions to review for the next meeting. The group skews older in age, I think we may be the youngest ones there. They are professional, give constructive criticism, and the leader is excellent. He's a teacher, and you can tell. The group has a topic for discussion to start off the meeting, and I've learned quite a bit just from the two meetings I've attended.

I am timidly getting my flash fiction piece in decent enough shape to submit to the critique group. I figure it's a good start with something so short. The leader of the group submitted a few flash fiction stories for review back in January, which was my first exposure to that type of writing. If it's done well, it's pretty cool. If I don't feel confident enough I'm not going to submit, but I'm going to use the next few days to research flash fiction a bit more to see if I'm getting the right elements put together. Depending on how the critique goes, I will decide if I am going to submit to the contest.

To those of you reading who are writers/writers-to-be, are you part of a local critique group? Or, have you found a place online that works for you?