Sunday, May 24, 2009

Humble Pie

Some time ago, I found that a goal of 2500 words per week was attainable for me. I share that with a certain level of embarrassment because "real writers" (the ones I look up to) will often say they write that in a day.

For a long time, 2500 words a week has been my goal. Last Sunday I had a great day and managed 1000 words in a single sitting, high for me. I thought maybe I should increase my weekly goal to 3500 words. The additional output would shave a lot of time off my projected finish date for this first draft.

It seemed that as soon as I tweaked the goal, the words stopped coming. Last night I barely reached the previously acceptable 2500 words for the week. Words from Lawrence Block, Telling Lies For Fun & Profit, came to mind. His daily goal is five pages, and here's what he says:

"I can usually manage it--in part because I've had the foresight to set easily attainable goals for myself. I rarely find five pages a day to be a strain; if I did, I'd adjust the quota accordingly. I avoid the trap of raising the goal as I go along, like an assembly line speed up. The object's not to test myself. It's to get my work done."

I tried the assembly line speed up after a single, laughably short success and it failed miserably, so I'm going back to what was working before. Perhaps like other things, in writing it's okay not to fix what isn't broken.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Advances, Royalties, and Rights

Moonrat summarizes how author advances, royalties, and rights work. Worth a look, if only to remind ourselves why to keep our day jobs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scent of a Woman

In this case, a young one. Who really liked her jacket.

Throughout college and grad school I was fond of a leather bomber jacket that I wore pretty much exclusively every fall and winter. When I moved to Texas in 1998, I seldom had a need for it. Still, I kept that old jacket in my closet.

It's heavy. Left on a plastic hangar, the hangar inevitably drooped and warped with time. Every once in a while I'd find my jacket crumpled on the floor and I'd have to find a new hangar for it to eat.

The zipper is broken. I don't know when that happened, but it's the reason I stopped wearing it. Having a zipper replaced on that jacket would cost more than the jacket's worth.

The little chain at the back of the neck, used for draping over hooks, is also broken. On cold days, that freezing metal chain would slip down the back of my neck and make me shiver.

In several places, there are small tears. I think those are from my dog's paws, when she'd jump up to greet me after class.

The jacket is way too big for me. Back then, the fashion was for baggier clothes. Today everything I wear is fitted. When I put the jacket on today, I swim in it.

The leather is worn to a softer texture and golden hue on the left shoulder. It doesn't match the rest of the jacket. The left shoulder is where I always flung my backpack strap. I still remember how heavy my backpack was in college and can't believe my posture didn't suffer permanently.

But my favorite detail is the way that jacket smells. Sweet leather. Not just any leather. That leather. I have tried to donate that jacket a dozen times. It was in the stack I set out tonight for tomorrow's Purple Heart pick-up. I lifted the jacket, slipped it on for the final time, and smelled it. It reminded me of the young woman I was in college. Of a time when I had the world at my feet and innumerable paths ahead from which to choose. When I smell it, I remember the library at Wright State, its computer lab, and the way the lounge looked at Allyn Hall. I remember snowy walks through campus, going to movies a few miles away, euchre and Meijer. I remember how much I loved to wear boots.

I pulled that damn jacket out of my stack again. The memories its scent conjures can't be evoked with photographs, old songs, or even reliving glory days with friends who knew me back then.

Which is why I say to the writers out there--never underestimate the power of scent in narratives.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nice Tri. A lesson about the power of suggestion.

What to do when your story makes you look like a fool? Write it anyway.

Aside from writing, I like to do triathlons. I had a great race today, but it could have been better, and here's how I messed it up. Key information you'll need:

1. I'm 34 years old.
2. My birthday's in March.
3. My swim cap was red.

All important.

Last Saturday at packet pick-up, the guy gave me a red swim cap. Different age groups wear various colored caps. Unlike a tri with a pool swim (where swimmers enter the water single-file, seeded by speed) open-water triathlons like this one start swimmers in big packs, according to gender and age groups. Each gender/age group is assigned a unique swim cap color, and we leave in waves.

When I got home, I read the race information in my packet and saw that Women aged 30-34 would swim at 7:18 a.m. They would wear white swim caps. The Women aged 35-39, however, would swim at 7:21 and would wear red. "Oh," I thought, unquestioning. "I'm in this other group now because of the 'age at the end of the calendar year' thing." USA Triathlon (USAT), the governing body for the sport, groups people according to their age at the end of the calendar year. I was a little bummed to have jumped an age bracket, but that's part of life so let's go have some fun! Yeah!

When we show up on race day, we go through "body marking". Unlike the bike portion of the event, in which the race number is on our helmets and bikes, or the run portion of the event, in which the race number is on our bibs, for the swim there really isn't anything you can wear with a race number, so they write on us with giant black markers. Our race number goes on the upper left arm and front of the left thigh. Age gets marked on the back of the left calf. "How old will you be at the end of the calendar year?" the guys asked. "Thirty-five," I said, still believing. He wrote it on my leg.

At chip pick-up, my chip scans and I verify the information: Rachel Brady, Female, 34. All correct. (How do I rationalize the dual reality? Not sure. Maybe because it's 5:30 in the morning.)

I set my stuff up in the transition area and went to wait at the swim start. A big production was made about making sure we got in the right swim wave:
"If you get in the wrong swim wave, you'll be disqualified!"
"We have swim caps up here if you have the wrong color!"

"Whatever," I think to myself. "Only losers who are really late to the race get in the wrong swim wave."

I watch Women aged 30-34 leave in their nice white caps.
Three minutes later, I leave with Women aged 35-39. Red.

The race is fun like they always are. We were expecting thunderstorms but got lucky with an overcast sky instead. I paid careful attention to who passed me on the bike, always looking at the left calves of any female riders to see how many in my age group passed me. Plenty of 30-34 year-old women passed me, but I didn't worry about them. Afterall, they aren't my competition anymore.

On the run, a 39-year-old first-time triathlete stopped to walk in front of me. I magnanimously encouraged her to run with me, despite the fact she was now in my competition block. We chat. I lament being bumped into a new age group. She takes no pity on me. More 30-34 year-olds pass me... I let it go. When the 35-39 year-olds pass me, I feel a little exasperated but know I'm doing my best, so it's all good.

Hooray for me, I finish.

My husband has surprised me and brought the kids, who are keen to know what the "35" is all about. I explain about the "age at the end of the calendar year" thing. Husband looks at me strangely: "You'll still be 34 in December, Rachel." Brief moment of confusion as I try to figure out how old I am. "No, I just turned 35. No wait. It's 2009, that was 34..." I think about this and talk through it out loud, stupidly. More thinking. HARD thinking.

"Crap," I finally conclude. "It's all that guy's fault who gave me the red swim cap."

The race results have me listed in the correct age group, 30-34, which is a bummer because it makes my swim split, and consequently entire race time, three minutes longer than it really was. I didn't pursue getting this fixed because of the big bruhaha made over getting DQd if we swam in the wrong wave.

My story pretty much ends here. The take home message is that my mind was a powerful thing! Until it turned 34.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Social Networking and Publishing

Jessica Faust is a literary agent whose blog I have followed for well over a year. Reading about her job (and the jobs of others... see my favorite publishing links over there on the left) was one of the ways I clued myself in to all the things going on in the business. Today she posted this great article on Facebook. It has to do with how social networking ties into publishing. The article is insightful, and what underscores it is that I found it via Jessica's Facebook post--which, to me, illustrates that YES social networking does work.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the outs with my outline

This afternoon, an interesting turn of events. The power and A/C at my office went out. That was good because it meant I could spend the afternoon playing with my son instead of programming new ways to plot biomechanics data.

But when I got to daycare to pick him up, he was sound asleep for his nap (and so, so cute). I selfishly realized that his being asleep was also good. I could come home and finish the outline for Book 2.

I came home and finished it, which is mostly good but also gives me an antsy, uncomfortable feeling. I did a lot of hand waving in the second half (which probably indicates that I didn't actually do the outline). I really wasn't sure what would happen at the end of the story, so I sort of spoke in generalities and glossed over some stuff. Then I sent it to a friend.

I'm starting to be afraid of my friends.

Even if my friend is nice and lets me get away with my sort-of outline, it still has to pass muster with my agent and (shuddering now) my editor. I'm starting to be afraid of them, too.

But enough. I'm chalking this up to small victories and going back to the manuscript. Right after I get the little guy from daycare. If I hurry, I can get there in time for Tumble Bus.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why I go to writers' conferences

The twenty-first Malice Domestic mystery conference has just concluded and I'm completely charged with enthusiasm.

I met some wonderful new friends this weekend. People who share my love of reading and/or writing and who get excited talking about plots, dialogue, and creative ways to kill people. I went alone, didn't know a soul, but could confidently walk into a room of 400 people and be chatting within 30 seconds: "So. Who do you like to read?"

There. Conversation rolling.

I met charming writers whose names were new to me, but who I'll definitely read now. My shelves and to-be-read list are already full of books waiting for me, but (this always happens) now that I've met and gotten to know these folks, their books will skip to the front of the line. Writers I'm excited to try after this weekend: Maggie Barbieri, Sara Rosett, JoAnna Campbell Slan, Mary Burton, and Vincent O'Neil. From my own publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, it was nice to finally meet Ann Littlewood and Ann Parker in person. We spent a lot of time talking about writing and publishing. . . the kind of good conversation that I think falls short in e-mails alone.

I also like to go to writers' conferences (or in this case, my first fan conference) to see how other writers are promoting their books. There are a few promotional ideas I'd told myself I'd never use because they aren't effective when used on me. My assumption is that other people respond to marketing techniques the same way I do. But then at the Agatha Award banquet, I sat with Carole Ann and Susan from Maryland, two dedicated mystery fans who have read more books than I even knew existed. They like and respond to the same marketing techniques that don't work on me, and that made me reconsider. Conferences are a great place to learn stuff.

I had tea with Josephine from Florida who gave me a list of about ten authors I need to read ASAP. In a way this is stressful. (When will I find the time?) But in a different way, it's exciting. I love book recommendations and when I see Josephine next year we will have tons to talk about.

Kate from New Jersey is a new writer like me. She just finished her first manuscript, a story with a protagonist that has the same job my mother-in-law had before she retired. I love to hear what people are writing and how they fit writing into real life. I also really like nice people. That's Kate.

I met lots of other people too, and that's my point. Conferences are a wonderful networking opportunity and an information goldmine. Most importantly--for me--they make me want to run to the keyboard and write. If you're a new writer, consider attending a writing conference in your genre to learn more about writing and the publishing world in general. Prepare to have a heavy suitcase, full of books, on your way home.

I'm already registered for next year.