Friday, March 30, 2012

The Million Writers Award

Hey writers! if you had a story published (via editorial selection) in an online journal, magazine or ezine in 2011 you have until April 9th to nominate it for The Million Writers Award hosted by storySouth. 

According to Jason Sanford's site:
The purpose of the 2012 storySouth Million Writers Award is to honor and promote the best fiction published in online literary journals and magazines during 2011. The reason for the Million Writers Award is that most of the major literary prizes for short fiction (such as the Best American Short Stories series and the O. Henry Awards) have traditionally ignored web-published fiction. This award aims to show that world-class fiction is being published online and to promote this fiction to the larger reading and literary community.

If you enjoyed my story Fairview 619, please consider nominating it. As a story first published in Aurora Wolf, an online magazine in 2011, it's eligible. its URL is:

To make a nomination, go here

If you have an eligible story put the link in comments and I'll read it, if I like it I'll send in a nomination too!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

IT'S REVISED! The Frankenstein's monster model of revision.

Writers tend to feel passionately about every aspect of the creative process, and revision is no exception. In a previous post, I talked about revising in terms of Heinlein's rule. I believe Heinlein is a bit of an outlier with his opinion that writers should eschew revision entirely. Of course it worked for him and I'm really not interested in arguing pro or con on topics of process. Every person who works to create anything has to find their own best way. So, this post isn't so much about the revision process as it is about what the revision process means to me.

When the first spark of a new story appears in my brain, it's a brilliant, living thing. It isn't complete, but the elements that are there, the emotion or the setting or a character are vivid and real. I can see that the complete story is going to be fantastic. This nascent story promises all kinds of epiphanies and satisfactions. That's the nature of any idea good enough to inspire me to sit down and try to get it onto the page. The thing about an idea is that it's also fragile, ephemeral, and most importantly, not real yet.

Here's the problem: Transferring that idea out of my head and onto the page kills it.  Dead, and not etherized like a butterfly to be pinned to a display and admired for its inert beauty. Putting that idea down on paper butchers my idea, mutilates it. Whenever I read over my first draft I always feel like I've been left alone in a room with a corpse. The corpse of my beautiful idea.

This, for me, is one of the hardest part of writing. I wandered in the wilderness for a long time not realizing that this is how it actually works. That I didn't somehow screw up. Over time, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster have become my driving metaphor for the revision process. As I revise, rewrite and adjust story elements I'm assembling and stitching together the corpse as I progress I find the spark that vivifies the story. Frankenstein's monster will never look like a natural human being, and the story I end up with bears only the dimmest reflection of the idea that lived in my mind. Yet, the story here among us in the real world.

To extended the metaphor, like Dr. Frankenstein after I've brought this story to to life, I will abandon it to the world (where it may even be misunderstood).

stitches & neck bolts

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Break

It's Spring Break week here, which means no school, no university classes, and here in Austin SXSW craziness. It's all good. Except my husband and I, being grownups and all, still have to work. We're splitting our days between jobs and childcare.

I'm still working on a certain story for a certain someone and keeping my word count up wherever I can fit it in, usually in 5 min/50 word increments. It's not ideal but progress is being made. All this adds up to zero for today's blog entry. Something's gotta give. So, I'll see y'all next week with a shiny new blog about the revision process, more specifically my revision process.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Story as Gift

My patron
Today's title is not a metaphor. My daughter has commissioned a story for her 7th birthday. She would like a story about dragons -from space. Nice.
Every successful creative person creates with an audience of one in mind. That's the secret of artistic unity.     ~ Kurt Vonnegut, The Independent, 1977
I'm finding that it's one thing to imagine, as an actor might, your ideal reader and something completely different to write a story for someone in particular. And the stakes are high. Sylvia is a discerning reader. She has to read eight books (or chapters) a week for school, so we get a pile of books from the library every week. After reading this one she tossed it aside with the critique that:
"Nothing happened, he just goes to the Aquarium."
I said, "Did he at least see a shark?"
"Yes," she said, "but there should be a problem for it to be a story."

She's already nailed the most basic element of storytelling. So, dragons from space with a problem, check. I'm on a tight deadline, her birthday is March 17, so I'm using this story to practice writing my first drafts more quickly. I'm finding that drafting by hand might be my best method. I type faster but have a harder time turning off my inner-editor when I'm composing on screen. So, this story is getting put down on a yellow legal pad first.

I decided to use the Hero's Journey as a framework for my outline (I am SO an outliner, but let's talk about that in another post). I haven't explicitly done a Hero's Journey type story, and this one seemed like a good opportunity. That said, there's a lot of truth in FILM CRIT HULK'S great response to the Hero's Journey model. It's worth reading for some balance and because HULK WRITE MANY GOOD ESSAYS! Who knew?

I've been wrestling with theme and character, dragons and princesses for a week now and there's still much to do. Writing is hard work. It's serious fun.  I'm beginning to believe that no story worth its salt gets to the page without a fight, but it's worth it. I'm learning a lot, not the least of which is that every story is a gift.

I found this awesome picture here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Grammar

If you want writing to be your career, then mastering grammar is your job.

Did you know there's a National Grammar Day? Well, there is and it's right around the corner. Sunday, March 4th is the official day to "speak well, write well, and help others do the same!" I have to admit grammar has never come easily to me. Years I wandered in the wilderness, too timid and frustrated to write, because I knew I would make grammatical mistakes. I felt I would never comprehend the many rules of grammar.

Of course I was taught grammar in school, but the level of instruction was merely adequate. It was fine for those with a natural affinity for the subject, but for those of us for whom grammar does not come naturally, there was zero follow-up. Only years of bleeding red papers and no further instruction. When I finally started taking my writing seriously, I knew that meant taking on grammar. I was just going to have to slay this dragon, even if I had to build my own armor and smelt my own sword.

Alas, the personal metaphor that set me on the path to improving my written English has nothing to do with dragons. When my daughters were babes I got into knitting, like WAY into knitting. I borrowed scads of books from the library and learned numerous techniques. I knit like a banshee until we were hip-deep in knitted items of every description. Today, although I don't knit as much as I used to, I do know my way around a pair of knitting needles, a skein of yarn, and a knitting pattern. 

After getting notified (with kindness) from my writers' group that my grammar needed work (and after a nice long scotch to dull those old feelings of frustration). I told myself that, if I can master a lace pattern and turn the heel on a sock, then I can master the rules of grammar. In fact the metaphor continues to serve as grammar and knitting have a lot in common. They both have a core of unbreakable rules (just watch your scarf unravel when you miss a stitch), and they both use pattern and repetition to create infinite variety of garments.

Since that day, I've devoted ten minutes a day to grammar. While I'm far from perfect, I am no longer the grammar idiot that I once was. I am a journeyman traveling on the road to mastery. And you know what, it's getting fun. The more I know the ins and outs and the whys and wherefores of the rules the more it feels like play when I'm crafting sentences.

There are so many resources out there. As with any real course of study you have to find the method and the materials that work for you. Everybody knows about Strunk & White, but honestly, they are not my favorite. Currently, I use The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need for general checking,

and Garner's Modern American Usage for more detail.

Grammar Girl Podcast

The Purdue Online Writing Lab's Grammar site is useful as well.

I have several apps on my iPod including The Grammar App, making it easy to get a quick ten minutes in on the go and the Grammar Girl podcasts count too.

Not only is good grammar central tool for writers, it is a fascinating topic in its own right. Language is a living thing, a moving target. Because of its variable and elusive nature, I know I will be studying the rules and history of grammar for the rest of my life. 

P.S. I'm sure there are grammatical errors in this post. You'll have to take me where I am.