Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Friday, December 30, 2005

This Just Creeps Me Out

Has anyone else had this experience? Because it happened to me today and it creeped me out. Boredom being a prime motivator, I was diddling with the Internet after work and thought I'd look up an old boyfriend and see if anyone (like other old girlfriends) had any blogs where they made snarky comments about him. I love snarky comments about anyone, and snarky comments about him would be primo stuff.

Because this guy was a total psychic drain, I mean, it was like dating someone who was continually pouring Draino into your ear to eat away your brain ("I love you--I can't imagine what life would be like without you..." nice words but since he said the same thing to every girl he met in a bar, it was more-or-less just a few ounces of Draino). He only said this crap so you would do what he wanted, e.g. let him play fast-and-loose with your emotions and suck the life out of you without any nasty complications such as marriage or any kind of a committment that might have at least given you a decent reason for hanging around wasting all your fertile years on a total bozo. I mean, I knew if he wasn't with me, he was with someone else, but because of that darn Draino eating away at my brain, I let him get away with it. And to make matters worse, he had this arrogant, "all the girls I've ever dated have been better for the experience" attitude, which, in retrospect, sort of proves it had to be some kind of Draino he was pouring into my ear, because why else would I have ever dated someone who says crap like that for any length of time? I can't even think about that now without laughing until blood pours out of my eyes.

Enough about that. Back to what creeped me out.
So, because I was missing my husband (who has been away for a week and I really, really miss him) and it's the holiday season and both my parents are dead and I was feeling a little down-in-the-mouth, I said, well, heck, I'll search the Internet for references to this guy, hoping to find some blog with some snarky comments about him. Which would have been just so cool and really make me feel better.

Well, I didn't find any references to him, except his own. How totally typical. He's a geezer now (and from his pictures on the Internet, he looks like a geezer which did make me feel better, although he is also dating this young woman born in 1970, which made me feel worse--for her--because this guy is now pouring Draino into her ear...) and like so many geezers, he's gotten into geneology. So, he's published a bunch of family geneology stuff for his family, along with scads of family pictures.

How nice for them.

Now here's the creepy part.
He mentioned me in his geneology. I was never married to him, and he's got me in his freakin' geneology. As his friend. I about vomited. We were never married. We never procreated. In fact, thanks to him, I completely missed the procreation window of opportunity (okay, not entirely his fault--I have to take some responsibility for not telling him to piss off when I realized what a jerk he was, but you get my drift...).

As far as I know, the rules about geneology are that you only include people you are married to, or procreate with, because it's supposed to be a chart about whose genes got stirred together with whom's (not grammatically correct but you understand) to make other branches (or show biological dead ends--like him) on the family tree.

What makes this situation so revolting is that this is the only reference to me under my maiden name on the entire Internet. I searched and searched for other references to me, but it was all in vain. The fact that people only know me, now, under my married name, didn't bother me until today.

So my only presence as my "natural born self" as far as the electronic world is concerned, is as this guy's G-D friend. Not only is my only claim to fame as my true, unbonded self, a connection which I wish I had never had to this Draino-weilding guy, he also entered my freakin' birth date wrong! He's off by 26 days, so he didn't even get the facts right that he entered into the family history.

I wanted to write this daft sod and tell him to take me out of there, but the problem is, he's creeped me out now and I don't want any contact with him. Grrh.

Why would he do this? Why? I swear I never did anything to deserve being thrown into his family history as "the friend". Oh, I'm not the only one, though. He also threw in this one other babe (the new, young thing born in 1970). I wonder if she knows she is now memoralized for the rest of time as his friend in his family tree? How insulting is that? Is it possible she thinks this is sweet? Perhaps...but only if that Draino ate more of her brain than it ate of mine.

Creepy, creepy, creepy.
I just wish my husband would come home soon.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Argh! I've been tagged!
I don't know what it means, but I've been tagged to write ten reading secrets by a good friend, Edie . It's kind of fun, though, because it gets me to think about something that is so much a part of me, that it's like someone asking you to think about breathing. I'm always shocked when I walk into other people's houses and slowly notice something horribly missing--no reading material! What do these people do? How can they NOT have reading material, even a magazine or two strewn around? It defies imagination. My house is always stuffed full of reading material--in fact that 's one of our biggest problems. We could start a small library. Actually, we have more books than our town's lending library already...

Just to be on the safe side and so I don't forget, I'll be passing on this curse of writing ten reading secrets to Suzanne, Michelle and Mai at:

What are my reading secrets? They're not secrets, really, so much as great memories...

1) My dad taught me to read before I went to school, using a chalk board, flash cards and this wonderful board with small pictures, like a picture of a cat, to help you pick up basic units of sounds. We did the traditional "sounding it out" strategies, and I thought it was a terrific game. Little did I know that my father was using this as preparation for his later experimentation with his children as beta testers for the work he was doing with the Air Force. All these years I thought he just liked to play word and math games with us, when in reality, he was developing psychological tests for his job. It wasn't until I went to college that he admitted he had done this horrible thing to us on the grounds that, "If a kid in elementary school can understand a set of exam questions, then someone who will be flying a fighter plane sure as heck ought to be able to pass the damn thing."

2) Not satisfied with just that, my dad also tortured me by sitting up with me and reading me stories at bedtime, until I entered the first grade. That fall, he started on "The Swiss Family Robinson" and got about half-way through when he stopped.
"What do you mean, you aren't going to read any more to me? The pirates are attacking the family - what happens next? You can't stop now!"
Dad smiled and handed me our regular nighttime snack of a bowl of hominy, and said, "If you want to know what happens, you'll have to read it yourself. Sweet dreams, kiddo, and put the bowl in the kitchen sink when you're done."
"ARGH!" I picked up the book. D^mn your eyes, I will read it!"
And I finished it. And followed it with, "The Ghost of Dibble Hollow" and "The Ghost Rock Mystery". Classics every one.

3) At about that time, my dad and mom may have had other reasons for not reading us bedtime stories anymore and making us more self-reliant in the reading department - they were both working and both going to school at night to earn their doctorates. In child development, no less. Both of them. No wonder I'm so messed up, what with dad doing demented Air Force psychological testing beta exams on me, and my mom practicing Skinner behavior modification techniques, it's a wonder I'm not completely wacko. Or maybe I am, and I'm just clever enough to hide it so I can pass as a normal person in most social situations. Or maybe I just think I'm passing as normal.

In any event, these educational opportunities pursued by my parents brought about a situation where we went to the University library at least once a week, if not more often. We'd all truck in, go through all the aisles and come out with armloads of books. Several times, we were told we could not take so many out at one time. That always really steamed me, although it did serve to delay the inevitable. It wasn't until I reached Junior High School that I foundered in dire straights. I'd read all the books they had in the mystery/fiction section, and a good many of the history, as well. ARGH!

Thankfully, at about that time, I found a used bookstore where I could find gothics (Oh, JOY!), mysteries, and science fiction for 25 cents. I also discovered Harlequin Romances, which I could get for 10 cents. I hadn't even realized there were romances. I liked the happy endings, but I have to confess, I still liked the gothics and mysteries better - with a straight romance, I was always wondering when the story (finding a dead body) was going to start and all the omigod, omigod emoting would end. Hmmm. Maybe all that problem-solving affected me more than I realized.

4) Tom Swift books. When I was in the 8th grade, my dad brought home a carton of the first twelve Tom Swift books published. What a great gift--I still have them. I loved all that weird, improbable science, and all those fascinating gizmos. Clearly, this was the first indication of another irreversible mental aberration, my love of technology. Gadgets. Computers. Smart phones. Wired magazine. If I was rich, my house would be stuffed with gadgets. As it is, we only have 5 computers, four printers, two switches, two routers, a handheld, an Alphasmart, two cell phones and a Blackberry, and there are only two of us living here. But, next year, I'm hoping to get a media center computer and a new television! (Our television is about 15 years old, but we actually don't watch it too much other than the weather and history channels because my husband and I are both readers...)

5) Before my dad died, I found out that he had once wanted to be a writer, too. He gave me several books he had on writing from the early part of the last century. My sister also wanted to be a writer, and has played around with it some, and I'm working hard at getting published, myself. Genetic? Who can say. My dad loved mysteries like Jonathan Gash's wonderful Lovejoy novels, and I love mysteries--particularly Lovejoy. Hmmmm. My mom loved romances (contemporary) and I like romances. Interesting. Children are definitely influenced by their parents, that's for sure.

6) But we aren't entirely just an amalgam of our donated genetic material. I have entire bookcases full of science fiction, and that's one thing neither of them could really "get into" although my dad did find a few fantasies he liked, such as Piers Anthony's wonderful Xanth series, and particularly "Ogre, Ogre". It took me weeks to convince him to try it, but once he did, I was then supplied with free reading material for quite some time, as dad would go out and buy all the books in the series and then hand them over to me when he was done.

7) Weird but true. My sister is a member of the Jane Austen society. I'm writing mysteries set in the Regency period in England, right around the period when Jane Austen was alive and writing! My sister is the one who got me interested in this period, mostly by supplying me with my first Georgette Heyer book, "The Masqueraders". I loved that book! That one, and "Faro's Daughter" are by far my favorites. Oddly enough, the Heyer books I like, however, are not the "straight, Regency romances" so much as the ones with a bit of intrigue and adventure in them, or broad humor such as "Faro's Daughter". I might never had heard of Jane Austen and the Regency period if not for my sister! Or know: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, for the wives of King Henry the Eighth. Another gem of historical information I remember from my sister's interest in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods of British history.

8) Lately, I've gotten sidetracked by a sort of non-fiction book that has been on the bestsellars list. My husband bought it while he was on a trip, and he gave it to me when he was done. It's called "Stiff" by Mary Roach. It's about...well, it's about stiffs. What happens to cadavers after the human in them has departed for parts unknown. It's hilarious in a sick sort of way, and absolutely fascinating. I'm having a hard time putting it down (okay, so part of that is because when I have to put the book down it's because I have to do something disagreeable such as clean the kitty litter box). When I was younger, I never thought about reading non-fiction outside of school. Maybe it's what happens when you get older and your mind (and posterior) broaden, or something like that, but lately, I've really enjoyed non-fiction...

9) "The Discoverers" by Daniel J. Boorstin. Get it. Read it. It's the history of almost everything of interest to humans. I couldn't put it down, even though it was non-fiction. Each page creates a unique "I didn't know that" moment. I didn't like "The Creators" as well as "The Discoverers", but both are exceptional. When I was in college, I became fascinated with art history, not because of the art so much, but because of what it revealed about the ideas influencing the artists. How they viewed society, what new inventions were changing their lives, and how they were adapting to those changes. This is the kind of information in "The Discoverers". I believe this is also a motivating factor in both writing and reading, at least for me. I'm trying to work out how we fit into the world around us, how our environment adapts to us and we adapt to it. How do I fit in? (Assuming I do fit in, which generally, I'm afraid I don't.) Sometimes, I think I'm reading to find the answer on how others find a place in society so I can extrapolate it to my own peculiar circumstances...

10) Oh, thank goodness. The final point. What else can I say about reading? It is so much a part of my life that I can't imagine not reading. Although, as I've gotten older and busier, I no longer feel so compelled to read a book to it's conclusion if I don't like it. Until a year ago, I always finished a book I started, and there wasn't a book in the house that I hadn't read. When I got new books, they would always get devoured within a month or two. Now, I have stacks of books I've gotten as gifts (or whatever) that I haven't even touched yet. I did the unthinkable a week ago, I gave away two books I've never even read. Five years ago, I wouldn't have done that. No way.

I still feel a little guilty about it, but I'm starting to have sympathy for all the strange or gross things my mom used to do. Like reuse a glass you used earlier. Or drinking a glass of milk and then filling the glass with water and drinking that, milky and gross though it may be. Eating leftovers. Not completing a book you've started. Giving away a book you haven't even read yet. But, you know what? When you're busy and maybe a wee bit stressed, you realize that you're the one washing the glasses and they're your own germs, anyway, and maybe you don't have time to worry about mixing a little milk-dregs with your water. And maybe you also don't have time to finish a book if it just doesn't "catch at you" and it's okay to give them away, too. Sanity or insanity, gross or not, it's all a matter of perspective, and my perspective is well over the hill now.

Whew. I've fulfilled my moral obligation. ;-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Good News...
The last few days have been very good. My family now has a small vacation cottage on a bay, and we spent last weekend painting it appropriately pale, seaside colors like sand in the living room and pale blue-green in the kitchen. We never had a place built for us before, and even though this is a smallish place--just being a vacation cottage--it was still interesting. Very interesting. Not something you really want to do again, though. Ever.

Who knew we'd have to learn all about septic systems, wells, and water filtering systems (because we're not fond of the taste of sulfur--maybe subconsciously we fear it may be predictive of our circumstances in the 'hereafter'). Our driveway--well--it doesn't exist yet, and in fact, unless you drive a Hummer, you can't drive up to the cottage. So we've got to get a few loads of sand with a top-coat of gravel so that we can actually get to the cottage except on foot and wearing hip-boots.

Those things can all be resolved with time and it's still pretty exciting. I didn't mind painting, either, which was a surprise. I love the colors and it's fun to go from blinding white everywhere to a more mellow, relaxing environment. Last Christmas, I got one of those little Roomba robot vacumn cleaners, and we're taking it up there so I won't spend my life cleaning two places. The poor little thing is overwhelmed with our regular house because it's just too big with too many animals, but our cottage is smaller with linoleum floors (Yeah! No carpet!) so little Roomba-red ought to be quite happy there. I really like Roomba robot vacumn cleaners. They have a small "container" for dust/dirt, but I can live with that since it's usually big enough to let it clean one room. Then you can dump the dirt and go on to the next room. At our cottage, I have high hopes that I can just let the thing run and it will clean the entire place without me doing more than waiting for it to beep when it's digested too much dirt and needs to be emptied.

Our first morning at the cottage, we woke up and glanced out the window and saw a flock of Ruddy Ducks, so who could ask for more? A pelican also scared the heck out of my husband when he was out walking at night and it waddled up to him in the dark, which I thought was pretty good, cheap entertainment. Who doesn't love the sound of a man shrieking wildly in the dark of night, followed by the mad flapping of huge wings and harsh croaking noises?

On the Writing Front...
Just spoke to another agent today, and I'm hoping to contract with her. As usually happens to me on the phone, my mind went completely blank so I could not speak coherently. I hate talking on the phone anyway, and keep all sorts of essential details, such as my phone number and my name tacked up next to the phone for when people ask me those critical things. It may be pathetic, but you gotta learn to deal with your weaknesses. ;-)

With any luck, I'll soon have a new agent (who has an absolutely beautiful speaking voice) and she will be able to sell my favorite manuscript. Then, I can go back to the business of just writing instead of emoting sloppily to everyone who will listen about lack of validation, my inability to find a publisher, or other equally boring things. I also fully intend to stay utterly oblivious to all reviews if and when I do get published. Reviews are rather like an Iron Maiden clamping around your vulnerable body--you're better off not climbing inside in the first place because sooner or later, one of those iron spikes is going to get jammed right into your eye socket. Oblivion is much better. Quieter. More soothing...

So, we're off to the races again. We'll see if we can bring home the prize this go-round. Stay tuned to the continuing angst-filled drama of 'Validation through Publication: Grumpy Old Woman Goes for It'.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ah, Friday at last...
This week has been difficult from a writing standpoint, but I still keept writing. Will I ever be published? I don't know.

Maybe I'm stupid and masochistic - I actually like getting rejections. They look like I'm trying. And, who knows? Lightning does occassinally strike. Maybe I'll try some more contests.

For those who have never entered writing contests, here are some tips:
1) Decide what you want out of it up front.
Is it to possibly get your work in front of an agent or editor? Or is it to get some helpful comments from readers to find out if you've gone totally insane or if you're on the right track? Your answer will vary depending upon how far along you are in the writing game.
Contests are a great way to find out how others will react to your work. With my writing, people either totally hate it or really like it. I have a hard time with contests because I'll get very low scores from one judge and then perfect scores from others, which means that they average out to something just below the number required to final. Although I have finaled in 4 contests, after I learned the second point, below.

2) If you want to get your work in front of an agent or editor, realize a few hard truths:
a) This won't happen unless you follow every single rule of the game. Pay attention and follow all the contest rules, including all the formatting rules. Make sure your entry is clean and grammatically correct. Don't sit there and quibble about fonts and margins. Use 1" margins on all sides, and either Times New Roman or Courier (Dark Courier is best). The contest will tell you which to use. You've got to make it to the final round to get your work in front of an agent/editor, so your entry has to be flawless. Some judges will nit-pick you to death and mark every single comma or lack of commas.
b) If this is a romance contest, chop up your first few chapters to make sure your hero and heroine meet, because a goodly number of points depend upon these two characters meeting.
Remember: You're entry doesn't have to be exactly what your first three chapters are "in reality", it has to be the the first three chapters edited to get the maximum number of points. Get the score sheets and see what will earn you points. If the hero gets 10 points, make sure he's somewhere in the material submitted. If the hero and heroine's reactions to each other during the first meeting earns 10 points, make sure they meet before the end of your contest submission.
You don't want to earn 0 points on any category - to be honest - only entries with near perfect or perfect scores from at least three judges will make it to the editor. Pay attention to the score sheet and rethink your entry. Edit your entry to make it fit the contest, while still having it make sense, be sparkling, interesting, and a great read. When the editor/agent finally asks for your manuscript, you can THEN send the "real" version where the hero and heroine don't meet until chapter four, or whatever. You may actually find the edited version is tighter and better, anyway.

That's what I mean about deciding what is important to you. If you don't care if you get to the final round, and just want fresh reader comments, then you don't have to edit so hard to make it earn points.

I find the judges comments, hurtful though they are, to be invaluable for a number of reasons. I can't tell you how many times I've written something that I thought could only be read in one way, only to find out when other people read it, that they get an entirely different (if not completely bizarre) interpretation. Apparently, my brain doesn't think along entirely normal lines. So, finding out what others think is actually helpful so I can correct things that are going to be hopelessly misread by the majority of people.

When you get those harsh comments--and you will--don't read them all at once. Take a quick peek at the scores and then go get drunk. Put the contest packet away and don't think about it for at least two weeks. Then pull it out when you're in the frame of mind that says: I'm going to edit my manuscript now and make it better, so I'll just read these comments to see if they spark any ideas about where I may need to do more editing. In other words, read them in a more constructive, positive mood when you're actually planning to take the advice, think about it, and decide if it's something you want to address or if the judge was high on crack-cocaine and you like your manuscript just the way it is.

I rarely take the advice, verbatim, but I do let it trickle through my consciousness where it will get diverted into completely different channels. Suddenly, I see things I missed or things I want to change, that may or may not have anything to do with the judge's comments. However, without the comments, I may not have gotten my new ideas. So, they can be incredibly helpful. A prime example is an old manuscript I had been editing after an agent told me to tweak it and resubmit it. She never said more than just: the story could use a bit more work.

There wasn't enough there to let me know WHAT needed more work! So I went back through all the judges comments for this manuscript. Really didn't find too much there, but the process got me thinking about changes and what changes might be good, and I was able to do a better job editing it. Ultimately, I shelved the manuscript, but I learned through that process that those painful comments can challenge you to perform editing marvels.

That's about all the advice I have on contests. Now, I have to take my own advice, gird my loins, edit the heck out of two or three new manuscripts, and see what the world thinks about them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Back to Writing...
So. You’ve written a manuscript. What do you do next? Frankly, let it sit for a while, because chances are good, it’s not entirely the best you can do.

Don’t scream at me. Everything and anything can be improved.

Step 1: Put your manuscript in a drawer, just for now
Step 2: Write something for your next manuscript

After two months, you’re allowed to go back to the first manuscript for purposes of editing, unless you’re now so involved in the new manuscript that you want to continue writing that. In fact, I usually don’t break in the middle of a manuscript. I finish it, then I go back to the first manuscript.

Two or more months later: I’ll bet you’ve made notes to yourself about things you realized needed to be added or changed in your first, completed manuscript. Some things you wished you had done. Aren't you happy you didn't already send it out?

Here are some ideas which may assist you in your quest to create the perfect manuscript ('perfect' meaning it is publishable and some impressionable young editor half your age will see the beauty in it and pay you outrageous sums of money for the privilege of turning it into a real book).

1. Print it out (I print on both the front and back of the paper--manually flipping the paper so I use less)
2. Read it through - but don’t mark anything yet
3. Make a Scroll - this may sound weird but often there are continuity problems. This is going to help you identify the problems. So...get a large sheet of paper, or maybe a roll of FAX paper. FAX paper is cheap and one roll will last through many manuscripts.

The notes you make on it can be as brief or as lengthy as you wish. This exercise always pinpoints issues like: putting too many events in one day in the story; changes in character basics such as eye color or clothing; and other continuity problems.

So now that you're ready, flip to Chapter 1 and on this long roll of paper, write down:
a. Chapter 1
b. Character names and descriptions
c. What characters were wearing
d. Locations - i.e. are they in a townhouse in London? The library of a townhouse in London?
e. Movement to/from locations
f. Time of day, Day of the Week, Month and Year
g. Sequence of events
h. Important things, these can be clues if this is a mystery, or anything of significance that will crop up or be referred to later, e.g. the name of the ship they are on, or anything along those lines.
i. Continue the timeline with small notes for each large scene (when did it occur, where did it occur). Write down if they just ate supper, because you may have them eating lunch in the next scene, which would be out of sequence.

Then, do this for each chapter, with a big line demarking the end of one chapter and start of the next. Soon, you will have a long scroll showing how your story unfolds. It will help you see not only continuity problems, but also events that happened in one chapter which would work better in another chapter.

Some people use index cards for this, but I find index cards are prone to getting lost and you end up, at some point, affixing them to something anyway, so rather than wasting my time fiddling with a bunch of loose cards that I'm going to lose and can't sequence properly from one day to the next, I just write the stuff out on a scroll.

Once you’ve done this and know what changes you want, if any, you can tackle the major overhauling and minor, ticklish word edits.

Then, send it out. Don’t sit on it anymore, don’t wonder if it’s good enough. If you’ve gone through this, it’s most likely the best you can do at this point, and you should go ahead and test the waters. Send it to a few writing contests, if you wish to see a some reader reactions from people who don't know you. Then, send out partials to agents and/or editors. Whichever route you decide to take. Just be sure you do something with it.

That’s it for today!

PS: For those who want a faster track, I actually cheat a lot of the time and start my scroll as I'm writing. I use it as my "active" continuity sheet, so when a character mentions an Uncle Bob, I write down 'Uncle Bob' on the scroll so later, if I have to mention that rich uncle again, I actually know what I called him. It also helps to keep track of time, place, and all those other little annoying details.

Because I have a paying job during the day, and I don't have the mental capacity to remember all the stuff on *that* job, as well, as what was going on in my manuscript last night.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Just Another Hotdish Recipe
This is my blog, so I can do what I want. I forgot that I was going to tack a recipe on to the end of my last blog, and it's not a leftover turkey recipe, either. This is one of my favorite hotdishes, or casseroles for you uppity people, and although it may sound odd, go with me on this one.

It's old. Maybe close to 100 years old, and I'm going to update it slightly. I know it's that old because it's been floating around our family kitchens for that long.

We call it the Nelson Hotdish because my grandmother, at one point, had neighbors of that name, who gave her the recipe.

1 package of egg noodles (you can use the No Yolk noodles, just fine)
NOTE: You may want a little less than a package - they've
changed the sizes of things and soup cans contain less
so if you use an entire package, it may be a little dry.
1 can of kernel corn
2 cans of tomato soup
1/2 to 1 full lb of bacon (it's up to you how much you like in there, I like the whole package)
NOTE: The original recipe called for frying the bacon, onions and
green peppers all together in one pan and then, complete
with the bacon drippings, adding that all to the hotdish.
You can do this, if you want. It's probably very good.
We've never had the guts to try it that way, however.
1 onion, chopped
1 Green pepper, chopped
1Tbsp butter or margerine (or olive oil - it's to fry the onion and green pepper)

Chili powder - to taste - I usually use about 1 Tbsp
Salt & Pepper to taste
A spoonful of sugar - optional, but it does make it tasty

Cook the noodles according to the package. Microwave the bacon and crumble or cut it up.
Chop up the onions and green pepper, fry in the butter until the onion is clear. (NOTE: You can get extra flavor if you fry the bacon and then in the drippings, you cooked the onions and green peppers, and then drain the drippings. This is a modified version of the original directions, and very, very good, but most people don't like to cook in bacon drippings anymore.)

Mix the corn, seasonings, tomato soup, and then add the veggies and bacon. Mix all this with the noodles and place in a greased casserole dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 40-50 minutes - you only need to heat it through and make the flavors meld a little bit.

VERY GOOD EXTRA TOUCH: crush some corn flakes in a ziplock bag. About ten minutes before the hotdish is done, sprinkle the crushed corn flakes on top of the hotdish. Sprinkle THAT with a little melted butter. Stick back into the oven and let it bake another 10 minutes or so, until the cornflakes brown a little bit. (You don't really have to sprinkle the corn flakes with the melted butter, but it really is very, very yummy if you do that. You can just go with the crushed corn flakes, or even those canned, fried onion bits people use on green bean casserole.)

That's about it. I *love* this hotdish. Leftovers are fantastic and easily microwaved. In fact, the leftovers are often better the second day.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving, or just, Happy Holidays!

I have to admit, I love the holidays, although not for any normal reasons. I love the holidays because starting in October, my very favorite sorts of movies start coming on television, and they aren't the kind of movies most people, except a nutjob like me, would consider good, solid holiday movies.

But really, the tradition for these sort of things started way back in the mid-nineteenth century, if not earlier. I'm speaking of the grand tradition of ghost stories during the holiday season. Or, more recently, horror movies. Naturally, there are always a new crop of horror movies around Halloween, then they sort of die back a bit, but if I'm very lucky, another bout of horror movies comes back around Thanksgiving. And if I'm very, very lucky, there is a full day of horror on Thanksgiving, so I can properly give thanks and totally gross out any and all guests who may have been unwise enough to join me on this extremely festive day.

Unfortunately, after that, instead of continuing the grand tradition of ghost such as The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, we are then left with those disgustingly heart-warming tales of yuletide joy, instead. I relentlessly avoid any book or movie described as heart-warming. They make my skin crawl. Although, Jean Sheppard has done a lot to help with his wonderful writing and what has to be one of the best Christmas pictures of all time that doesn't involve spilling a lot of blood: A Christmas Story.

Personally, I think despite his oft-times sickeningly sweet characters, Dickens had a soft spot for horror, and in fact made quite a good deal of pocket-change writing traditional ghost stories each year for publication at Christmas time. There is something about that season from Halloween through Christmas that just inspires...horror.

Now for a few recommendations for those who are similarly inspired to watch dismemberment around the Christmas tree during the holidays, instead of having to put up with all that nasty good cheer.

I don't normally like werewolf movies, with the possible exception of An American Werewolf in London, but I saw a movie done in 2002 which I loved. I'd never even heard of it until it popped up one day on our satellite dish, and I'm now considering giving in to my degeneracy and buying the DVD. And sure, addicts are already guffawing up their sleeves, trying not to blow pumpkin pie out their noses, it is:

Dog Soldiers
Released in 2002, with a cast including Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham and Thomas Lockyer. The plot is rather silly: a British squad is sent into the Highlands of Scotland and they come across the remains of a Special Ops Squad. There, they are hunted by...well, who knows what? It certainly howls a lot and there is a lot of disembowling going on.

Still, I love this movie. It had tension and a great bunch of guys, and there was this absolutely fabulous moment where one of the squad goes to try to get their vehicle to try to escape the terrible pickle they are in. He drives it up to the door of the house where they are hiding, and...he hears something behind him. With the sangfroid the British do so well, he remarks, "You're behind me, aren't you?"

Rip, gush of blood.

How could you NOT love that?
It doesn't hurt that Sean Pertwee is in this movie. I adore him, and he also played in The Event Horizon, another terrifying horror movie that you can't help but watch, mesmerized as it all goes so agonizingly wrong out there in deep, cold space... No to mention that the lovely Sam Neill also starred in The Event Horizon. Sigh. On an even more thrilling note, I'm looking forward to the upcoming Bermuda Triangle stuff on the Sci Fi channel, although it's a little annoying that I wrote a Bermuda Triangle manuscript about three years ago and could never sell the dang thing. (Let's be honest, it probably needs a wee bit of work, but still, it's just irritating to have missed being at the crest of the wave on this one...)

Right now, Sci Fi is running Bruce Campbell's The Army of Darkness, another gem I have on DVD because...well, what's not to love? A pit geysering with blood, a guy with a chain-saw instead of a left hand, honestly, you've got to see it. It's priceless. You also get to see Bruce Campbell with his shirt unbuttoned/ripped open at various opportune moments.

I'm a sucker for a cheerful attitude combined with a nice, manly chest. Stiff upper lip. Do or watch-others-die-in-an-absolute-orgy-of-spectacular-mayhem. That's really what holiday movies are all about, isn't it?

Have a great holiday season and don't worry. It'll all be over soon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Wounds are licked, and I'm climbing back on that writing horse again...
I'm still aiming to finish NaNoWriMo by completing 50,000 words in one month. I love NaNoWriMo. One day, I even hope to publish, although I'm not sure it will be something produced from these marathon, novel-in-a-month sessions. I highly recommend NaNoWriMo if you've:
a) Always wanted to write a novel [quit talking about it and do it!]
b) Do write, but it takes you forever to get one book done [NaNoWriMo will break you of dawdling]
c) Are stuck in the "always editing the same thing" rut [you can't edit and win at NaNoWriMo]

So, writers everywhere, jump on the NaNoWriMo wagon next November and write for the fun of it. Write for the glory of it. Write for the practice of it. And write just to say you've done it!

However, back to my own personal quest for publication...

No, wait, time for a commercial break.
Why am I doing this blog? Am I insane?

These questions may never be answered.
Wrong. There is an answer, at least for why I'm blogging this. Because I think there may be other writers out there struggling with similar issues (okay, it's highly unlikely that any other nutcase has been trying to write for nearly 30 years now without getting published, but hey...). There is an important lesson, and I think it is worth talking about. And I'm not doing this for purely altruistic motives. I've found if I *don't* write this out and communicate it with others, it festers. The old, "write it in an email, send it to yourself, and then delete it," just doesn't work for me. I need to communicate. With others. Not to myself. I talk to myself plenty, already.

This need to communicate is why I'm trying to be a published writer.

The Lesson to be Learned
No matter how hopeless your quest becomes, do not remain tethered to people who are not helping you just because you hope they will. Fish or cut bait. Remember that.

Once upon a time, I got an agent. In fact, a great agent. She worked in New York City, she hobnobbed with all the right people, she's got tons of people published, including some I personally know. But then she got a new job. And I just waited for her to contact me. I was afraid to find out the answer.

However, no matter how long I delayed the inevitable, the answer ultimately came (after I got the courage to bug her about my status) and I lost my first agent. These things happen, but I would have been better off finding out four months ago, rather than waiting because I was afraid of the answer. I didn't want to hear the truth.

Don't do that. Do let time go. You can't get time back. Don't be afraid of getting the truth--even if it hurts, you're better off knowing. And you may find that after you recover, you can do better, you just don't know it, yet. And for heaven's sake, if opportunity (in the form of another agent) calls you, don't say 'no' until you've really thought about it for a couple of days.

So, here we are, back to the continuation of my saga...

Three months lost. Time is still a-wasting while I fumble around trying to figure out what to do, now. But, I finished one more manuscript and I'll keep working on it.

Maybe this, then, will be a path into the promised land of publication. Or maybe not, but it's a damn sight better than sitting on my arse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

After a sleepless night, I've come to the realization that I'm...well...there is not really polite way to say it, so you can use your imagination. After trying to contact my agent via emails and phone calls, I've received an email terminating our arrangement. After nearly a year and four meager submissions. I hesitate to use the word "unsellable" however she did, so I guess it's appropriate. Somehow it seems so unfair that I would be considered unsellable after only four submissions, but there it is. I used to do better racking up rejections from publishers before I tried the agent route. I had entire fistfuls then, not just four teeny weany ones. That's not even a decent stack.

Maybe the real reason she dropped me is that I annoyed her by leaving a message, asking her to call me, about once every two weeks or so over the last two months, until the last two weeks, when I actually called her, uh, I think it was maybe 3 times, and left messages. Due to my detail-oriented personality (certainly better than calling it anal) I counted these calls and it was 5 in a two month period. Anyway, enough self-justification. I only left 5 messages because I was hoping to have my manuscript submitted to a few more places. But I was honestly trying not to bug her so that she wouldn't think I was some kind of crazed stalker constantly phoning or emailing her. I had nightmares of the police confiscating my PC and slapping me with some kind of restraining order if I bugged her too much.

Is one phone message every few weeks (remember, that totaled 5 messages since last August) too much? How much is too much? How much is too little? Am I just stupid to think four submissions don't make you unsellable? Note: I do think that no talent, lack of ability or even the rudiments of grammar, poor plot development, and anti-social tendencies may make you unsellable, but hey, what do I know? And I'm desperately hoping I didn't just describe myself.

However, back to my original reason for a sleepless night. After much gnashing of teeth and pillow-thumping, I realized this entire situation has...well...not to be rude, but to put it another way, has gagged me, duct-taped my hands and feet, chained five cinderblocks to my ankles, and thrown me into the East River.

Other agents don't like it if you previously had an agent and terminated your agreement while you are still an unpublished wannabe. So I'm tainted. Although in my case, I was pathetic enough to take the lack of responsiveness and no evidence of any activity on the part of my agent, and just wait for her to terminate me. And rule number one is that if you are looking for an agent and previously had an agent (or still have an agent) you have to admit it up front, or the next agents you query eye you with even more suspicion and dread. Because they will find out.

And just to clarify this, in case you think I happened to get a rotten agent. No. Sorry. I don't even have that excuse. I had a fantastic agent who has gotten other newbies published quicker than you can write a query letter. This agent has done wondrous things...for other writers. Just not moi--er, me. writing or plots or characters or some combination thereof must really stink on ice.

So let's say I get past that mind-crushing defeat. Just when I'm searching for that silver-lining, an even uglier black lining enfolds me in it's musty, damp grip. My manuscript, probably the best one I've written so far, is now "shopped". Yes, that's right. Even though it only went to four publishers, it is shopped and other agents are going to be leary about trying to sell it. Particularly since the four places it was submitted to were the ones that pay the best advances. Any future agent could only send it to places that give smaller advances, and hence the agent's incentives are correspondingly minimized.

Therefore, where is any other agent's incentive to pick me up, particularly for this shopped manuscript? I'll tell you where. That incentive is duct-taped to the back of my neck, drowning in the foully polluted East River along with me.

Did I tell you that I'm scr*w^d? F%ck*d, perhaps? Thank you so very much. I so appreciate wasting all of 2005 waiting for submissions that were never done and communications I never got. Oops, my honesty compells me to modify that. Four pathetic submissions were done in March of 2005. Just enough to shop my manuscript and thereby ensure no other agent would ever be interested in it, or me, within the forseeable future. I stand humbled and corrected.

Of course, just to sink those cinderblocks dragging at my ankles just a little bit deeper into the muck, I've written this blog, which, if any literary agent reads it, will tell them that if they ever, ever get a query or manuscript from this grumpy old woman, they will run frantically in the opposite direction, flinging instructions over their shoulders to their assistants to burn the dratted things, immediately, and don't forget to fumigate.

Having now, quite publically, committed seppuku (ritual suicide for those who have never tried it) I guess this blog is complete. It can now be published, where it will serve the mighty purpose of making sure no agent or publisher ever, ever considers for a nano-second dealing with me, ever. Really, ever, ever. Never.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On Writing...
Yesterday, I attended a wonderful class called Presenting Story Magic by Laura Baker and Robin Perini, hosted by the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. I highly recommend this workshop if it comes to a writers group near you. It focuses on how to write a story based upon who the characters are, which resonated with me. Their approach (which I won't describe totally here) is to create a grid for each character, including most of your secondary characters, and the grid basically forces you to answer a lot of why questions that are central to who your character is, and why, therefore, the story progresses as it does, based upon who those characters' essential forces.

Deb Dixon's book on Goals, Motivation and Conflict, is also useful, but I felt it focused too much on externals, such as conflicts, without addressing the why. Even the internal conflicts don't necesarily get to the why of someone does something, and that's what you really need to understand.

The why is probably the most important thing to understand when you write and edit fiction. Why does your character act the way s/he does? What is that person's driving force? Once you know the person's driving force, then you can set up your other characters so there is a dynamic between the driving forces that basically sets the stage for the story.

Here's an example. Okay, it's a stupid example, but it's still an example:

You have a protagonist who has a deep-seated need for stability. Once you identify this core personality force, you can then extrapolate to identify how this trait will be both positive and negative. Sort of like the old Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk was split into two: Kirk 1 was a really nice guy but lacked decisiveness and aggressiveness. Kirk 2 was aggressive and decisive, but he wasn't very concerned about other people. Both were halves or views of a character who needs to be a leader. Leaders are concerned about people, but they also must be aggressive enough to make the hard decisions.

So, back to the protagonist. If this person, let's say it's a man, needs stability, this can express itself positively through traits such as being systematic and careful, good at weighing alternatives and selecting the one with the least risk. Good at risk management. Could be very good in a job involving security.

On the negative side, this person could also be perceived as too rigid, or a stick-in-the-mud, unwilling to take risks. May even be domineering in order to suppress activities going on around him that may cause change. Can be very uncomfortable with any kind of change.

Already, you can see how this guy is a prime target for a story involving the necessity to accept change.

Now, for an antognist, you have a couple of interesting paths you can take. You can do the opposites attract thing, like Dharma and Greg (I never watched that show, so forgive my spelling), or even more interesting, you can use a character which also resists change, but force the two into a deadlocked situation where one or both of them is going to have to take risks and accept change.

What I found interesting about this, is that once you start going down this path, plotting becomes ridiculously easy, because you have a built-in theme (some risk and change is necessary: Life is change) and you can build secondary characters who will actually have a purpose in highlighting this change or even forcing the protagonist's final realization that Life is Change.

Cool, huh? Sure, it's still not easy, and I've left out a bunch of stuff from the class, but this was the major bullit-idea. Robin and Laura called this the character flaw, but I don't like that term, although it does harken back to the basics of writing as expressed by the Greeks. I don't like this term, however, because it has negative connotations and it doesn't really encompass all the functions it is serving.

This isn't so much a flaw as the essential force within a character. It is:
  • The Character's essential quality, the source of what is both good and bad, strength and weakness in the character. It answers the question of why this character is who s/he is, and why this character acts the way they do, and will act in a certain way in a given situation. I think of this as a character force because it is so intrinsic to the character's personality, that they have very little control over it, if any. It is a driving, essential force to the character, and the book.
  • The Theme's basis, the source of the overall theme of the book will derive from the dynamics of the essential forces in the protagonist and other characters playing against each other.
  • The motivator: it's why the character does what s/he does and why the subcharacters even exist, in order to expose this essential quality and prod the main character to achieve some enlightenment or realization (or the reader may be the one enlightened, if the main character fails to achieve realization in the end).
  • The goal in each scene: Each scene in the book will then "fall into place" as a necessary scene in order to force the character to come to terms with this essential quality and either change the case of literary fiction...just get deeper into the hole because the charater never realizes what is wrong, or right, with them. There are always multiple aspects to an essential force, good and bad, strong and weak, so it is the job of the writer to generate sympathy for the character by exposing the good aspects of the quality while still forcing the character to change or control some of the bad aspects of the essential forces driving them.

Remember, this is an essential force within the character, so they can't completely change it, however through the story you weave, they can come to realize this quality and move toward the more positive end of the spectrum. In the case of the example I gave, you could never really have a character who completely "overcomes" his need for stability and become an Evil Knieval risk taker, but you can have him realize that some change is inevitable and instead of resisting it, s/he can view it with an open mind and accept or even strive actively for change, while still maintaining a core of stability within.

So that's it for today. I'm going back through my manuscripts, making sure that I have clearly defined essential forces in all my characters and that they give meaning to the stories woven around them, instead of plots just "happening" to them.

In the beginning...

Everyone's doing it--blogging, that is. So, I thought maybe I ought to try it. Mostly because I have a lot of random and sometimes very odd thoughts in my head that need to escape once in a while to relieve the pressure. Like steam in a pressure cooker, it's got to get out one way or the other.

I also have some vague notion that someone may find something of use in some of the things I intend to write about. Here are some topics I might cover (or not) depending upon my mood:

  • Computers (I couldn't help placing that first, they pay the bills around here)
  • Writing (At least ATTEMPTING to write. I have over ten manuscripts completed in rough draft, if not polished, form. I've also got an agent. What I don't have is a publishing contract or the self-esteem this would undoubtedly net me.)
  • Gardening (I grow roses, ad nauseum)
  • Birding (I try to go bird watching, although lately it's gotten short shrift)

Other oddities as I think of them. I have opinions, you see. Often strong, often mistaken, but they're my opinions, the poor little bastards.