Chameleon Submissions

The number one thing an emerging writer needs to do is finish the book before they could even think about putting it out for sale. And when I mean finish, I mean the book needs to be the best it can be. Definitely NOT first draft, but all the plot holes worked out, characters real, breathing and transformed at the end, conflict apparent and resolved, and a satisfying conclusion. After that, the book needs to be edited and proofread (edited means all those items I just mentioned worked out, whereas proofread means no grammatical, spelling, or formatting errors). Then and only than can you think about submitting it to an agent or an editor for publication. Sounds logical, right? But there are some authors out there that take that concept and think in the inverse. And that, my dears, is never going to get you what you want.

There are some new writers that troll such sites as Manuscript Wish List or MSWL to see what agents or editors are looking for. Or toss an idea out there to Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad without even having started the manuscript. Often when writers do this they’re testing the waters, looking to see what agents and/or editors are looking for, then writing a book to those specifications. Bad idea! Because then you’re not writing in a genre or sub-genre you’re adept at and interested in –you’re writing to the market. And when you’re good at writing gritty adult detective fiction and write  dystopian middle-grade instead well…you just may come out with the literary equivalent of finger painting–a hopelessly amateur attempt.

Now, I’m not saying a writer can’t change genres. Some authors write in several. But writing a different genre to branch out and expand your skills and scope is quite different than simply writing to what you hope will sell.  You’re not looking at writing as a craft to be honed and polished. You’re looking at the book you produce as product.  Reminds me of an author talk I was at once where they referred to their novels as units. Writing like that is only going to make you one thing — mediocre.

Look, we all want to sell, be a New York Times bestseller reaping accolades and royalties we need a Brinks truck to drive home from the bank. But writing to market is not the way to do it. You do it by writing the best book you can. If you do, the accolades–and the royalty checks–will have to run to catch up with you.

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One head at a time is enough thank you

I recently read a New York Time bestseller that was all the rage for a time.  It was reviewed by all the best reviewers, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist (starred review), all the major newspapers. Even Oprah got a word in. They made a major motion picture about it, and for awhile, it was a darling of all the book discussion groups–which is where I read it. I must admit it had a great premise, and the first part 50 pages of the book had me riveted. Then the author did something I found well, unforgivable— and I’m a pretty forgiving person. The author started out with one character internally reacting to the other character’s actions. Then in the next paragraph, the other character also reacted internally. Ohhhh… I felt that internally myself, because what this author’s characters’ did was what’s unaffectionately referred to as head-hopping, otherwise known as switching points-of-view in a middle of a scene. And to me that is simply unforgivable.

To some people this is no big deal. They like being in everyone’s head at once. But to me head-hopping is almost as bad as inserting the phrase, Little did Carl know but he was just about to… Yeah, that kind of omniscient stuff. Call me a prose snob. I DON’T CARE. It’s just lazy-writing. It’s much easier to let your readers know at every minute what your characters are thinking, feeling, wanting, desiring, lusting than to actually postpone that understanding by having them deduce subtle reaction cues. Actually I could probably cut a 300 page book down to 150 pages if I do enough hopping. But there’s a certain magic in letting your readers come to their deductions, to allow one character’s time in the spotlight, to hold back some information to let it drop like a bomb later.

Part of the joy of reading–and writing–is the build up of suspense, to have that pay-off after we get to know our characters, get acquainted with their milieu, become invested. If you know everything all the time, every tic, quirk, and innermost feeling, we lesson the thrill of discovery, and in turn, write–and read–a less satisfying story. So it’s okay in writing to hold back, dispense info on a need-to-know basis, maybe even create an unreliable narrator. If the payoff is big enough, your readers will thank you for it later. And your writing rep will remain intact.

My week in Write

Image by Grant Snider

I’m away from home this week, spending some time away in seclusion to work on my WIP. I’ve always wanted to do this, cloister myself in a pretty place where I can be alone to create. I’ve been here since Monday and so far, I’VE FUCKING WRITTEN EXACTLY TWO PAGES!! This is sooooooo far away from the page count I wanted to accomplish (somewhere between 50 and a jabillion), and I feel like a cross between a rank amateur and the worst kind of slacker. BUT, I did have a bit of a breakthrough today. I’ve always thought that when so-called “writer’s block” hits, it’s because you’re approaching the page wrong, and what you need to do is take a 180 degree turn and come at it from another direction. So between that and a) making chicken salad from rotisserie chicken b) watching the shitstorm on the news c) eating cold pasta out of the leftover box from the restaurant, and d) pulling my pants up because I forgot to bring a belt, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I found out sometimes to go forward, you need to go back, and just the like foundation of a building, give your story enough support so what comes after doesn’t crumble. Turns out you can’t write all that foreshadowing if you have no structure for it to cast from. So I had to go back and give all those twists and turns a solid basis, and NOW, my story makes so much more sense. In fact, as I originally wanted to do, I’ve set my story up for at least another, if not one more, sequel. Now all I have to do is write it, but you know what? Once you’ve got the map, it’s so much more easy when you know where you’re going.

By golly, I do think I’ve reached the cocktail hour. Cheers!

2018 Housatonic Book Awards – Submission Deadline June 15th!

The MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University and its alumni organization, the MFA Alumni Writers Collaborative, are now accepting submissions for the 2018 Housatonic Book Awards.

Granted to a book of short or long fiction published in 2016 or 2017. The award includes all forms of fiction, both literary and genre (mystery, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, etc.). The Award carries a $1,000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the January residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of January) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA
students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. Please see 2018 Housatonic Book Awards Form for more info.

Tips from the MFA Pit Part 3- The World I Know

Although the Spring semester ended last month in my MFA program, I thought I’d give you the benefit of one more of my genius insights to hold you over until Fall. In this edition of Tips from the MFA Pit, our grad student asks the question: as an African-American, can she rightly write a white character? (Don’t you just love that alliteration??) She’s considering doing this for her current work-in-progress…

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I heard a quote once from Sofia Coppola, a writer and director in her own right, and the daughter of famed auteur Francis Ford Coppola: “I feel everyone should tell what they know in a world that they know.” I found this to be quite revelatory as it struck home for me, in a way so different from the old writer’s saw, “Write what you know.” How is it different? Because you’re writing what you know in the world YOU inhabit, and only you can know exactly what that is. You fear you will be plagiarizing if you write too closely to another story. But how can that be when you’re writing from within your own world? No one can inhabit your body but you. No one but you knows better what’s going through your brain. Only you can see from your perspective. There are lots of people who have written about ocean voyages. Or living in the Wild West. Or about cops chasing robbers. Or about falling in love. But no two stories are the same. Author Jodi Picoult’s novel Small Great Things is about an African-American nurse who works in a hospital and experiences racism firsthand. So does that mean there could never be another book about African-American nurses? Well, for one thing Picoult is white and not a nurse, so right there her points of reference will be unlike yours. You will always give your own story your own unique perspective if you write from within your own experiences and impressions.

Being white myself, I could never presume to know how it feels to be a person of color. So does that mean I could never write a black character? I hope not because I have. First and foremost, there are experiences we all share—we eat, we sleep, we love, we work, we despair, we hope, we laugh. We are all human. But there are things outside the realm of our shared similarities that are thrust upon us by society. For these, I strive for understanding. I try never to assume, and rather than rely on generalities, I write what I know in a world that I know. If it’s outside of our shared experiences, I do the research to get to know it better, or I don’t write it at all.  I read a book called Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it gave me great insights into the black experience, while simultaneously making me reconsider what it means to live my life as a white person. It gave me a greater understanding of both experiences, and hopefully it’s something I could translate into my characters of color. But will I ever be able to write with the unique perspective of an African-American? No, and not for the seemingly apparent reason. I couldn’t because I could only write from within my OWN unique perspective, and that will always be colored by my own experiences within my own world. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make it as real as I could.

So go ahead and write your story without fear. No matter how similar you think it is to something else, you will always be giving it your own unique spin. In fact, you can’t help it as long as you stay as close to your own truth as possible.

Logic of an Alpha Male

Here’s a rerun of one of my more popular blog posts from a few years back (with a bit of updating). Sorry, but my brain is still on vaca and won’t cooperate. But try to enjoy it anyway.

One of the basic tenets of romance concerns the hero and heroine overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to fall in love. It doesn’t matter if he is a detective, a duke or a ditch-digger—or if she’s a countess or a coder or a feminist attorney. Their problems can be of class differences or underlying neuroses or even as simple as she hates men who wear Panama hats. Whatever the bone of contention, it has to forceful enough to cause night sweats and fever dreams, yet still won’t stop them from crossing mighty rivers or hacking through buffalo grass to get to each other. And nine times out of ten, it’ll be the hero doing the hacking because as sexist as that sounds, most romance readers still like their men physically stronger than they are.

All right…don’t get your knickers in a twist. There are reasons for that, and if you’ll just calm down a second I’ll tell you what they are. First off, romance heroines are strong women. That’s right–tough, inside and out. They’re also smart enough to spot a sniveler a hundred yards off. So of course – and here’s the logic – a strong and smart woman is not going to be looking for a weak man. It just wouldn’t make sense, because if he was, she’d barely give him the time of day. She’d not only be looking for her equal, but someone who could knock her off her feet. He can’t be anything less than an Alpha Male, someone powerful, smoldering, unrepentant. And looks alone aren’t enough, because our smart and savvy heroine can get anyone she wants with a crook of her little finger. Her man, in any form he takes, has to be everything she’s looking for plus. Plus equaling that inimitable quality only she can define, and recognizable the moment she meets him.  Because when she collides with someone who can actually challenge or even best her, it’s such mind-blower she’s instantly intrigued, whether for good or for bad, for love or for hate. And from there, the chase begins.

I can hear you saying, but that’s not realistic. Most men have foibles, shortcomings, are far from perfect. But this isn’t the real world, my dears–this is fantasy. Yet in so many ways, it isn’t. Fact or fiction, real life or not, don’t we all realize something in our object of affection that no one else can? Aren’t we privy to insider info maintained for our eyes only? Of course we are. Because only when we’re in love do we open up our hearts, to share the things no one else can see, to an enraptured audience of one. Who would want it any other way?

Brain Drain

No espousing any wisdom or advice this week. I’ve recently completed grading seventy plus 10+ page final essays to close out the semester, as well as finishing up thesis-critiquing with my grad students, and also have been diligently working on my current work-in-progress. Then my sliding glass door goes and gets assaulted by a large branch in last week’s storm, smashing it to bits, and my car had to be taken to the dealer for a thump it seems only I can hear. To sum up, my brain’s a bit fried.

So see that table in the left background? It’s at a lovely little lakeside bistro in beautiful Greenwood Lake, NY. That’s where you’ll find me this weekend, basking in the sunlight, with a restorative frosty in my hand. I will call you if I need you.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend start of summer, all!

Happy (deep state) birthday to me!

I blog every Wednesday, and it just happens that today coincides with my birthday. So I had a really good writerly topic I was going to expound on, and in doing so, I needed to look up a particular source I’d link to. So I go to Google and lo and behold, there is this doodle staring at me wishing me Happy Birthday, Gwen! (click on it to get the full impact of its exuberance). Okay, creepy enough, but how is this happening? Because Google knows everything about you, sweetheart! Nothing is secret anymore! Well, happy Wednesday to you, big brother!

 

Seriously Snark

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