Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A fight to the death

English: Fight between the French Confiance (Robert Surcouf) and the HMS Kent.

Am I a bad writer mom? I'm halfway through a major revision and I'm ready to hole the ship and watch it sink with all hands. It would cut my words from just over 100,000 to about 50,000 and that's a good thing, right?

This is my first revision since I began sending out query letters. Before that, I did about six full revisions and I'm really sick everyone in the novel. They are annoying me. When I wrote the book, the characters took on a life of their own. All I had to do was record their actions. It was fun. It was exciting. It was surprising. Sometimes the next day, when I read over what I had recorded, I'd be astounded. Where did that come from, I'd think. How did that get on my page?

It was magic.

In revision, however, everyone in the manuscript seems inept and unable to do anything for themselves. They are milling about on the stage, waiting for the director to force them to their positions, and hoping the catering truck will not be late. They have to be taken by the hand and dragged from place to place. I have to put words in their mouths. I have to make things up. It is like having two sets of newborn quintuplets to care for at once. It is exhausting.

Is it wrong for me to want to the wipe them all out? Have any of you other writers experienced this desire for a fight to the death during revision?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pacific Northwest Writer's Association 2010

This year I attended the PNWA Writer's Conference as a guest of Pam Stanek who was a finalist in the Adult Short Topic category of their annual writing contest. All of the finalists, and their guests, met outside the banquet hall for the awards dinner. We were escorted in first, before all the other conference attendees and seated at tables in the front. The banquet was great, as was the British C. C. Humphreys, the guest speaker. If you ever get a chance to experience him as a guest speaker, I advise you to do so. He is great entertainment.

Pam Stanek is in my critique group. Although she has written a fabulous book, she entered a short memoir into the contest. It is a powerful story. When she read it to our critique group she had us all in tears by the end.

"You're going to win," I insisted.

"Oh don't be ridiculous. I'm not going to win," she scoffed.

Below, please see her picture as the third place winner in her category. There were over 1,200 entries in this year's PNWA contest. Being third is an outstanding feat. Right now, as I write this, she is locked in a small room with a gaggle of agents, pitching her book. And they are paying attention to her because now she is an award winning writer. The evening with the agents is only available to the first, second and third place winners.

Congratulations to the award winning Pam Stanek. I hope to see your book in print soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coping with Rejection

I've talked about Carolyn J. Rose, my instructor for "Novel Writing Bootcamp." The first time I took her class I had about 100 pages written on a book and when I got done with the class I'd had to edit out all but fourteen pages. It was all backstory, scene setting, worthless prose, etc. After I read a page aloud in class one evening, Carolyn's fists began to open and close, her pupils dilated and foam formed in the corners of her mouth. "Gee," she said, "I'd love to take a red pen to that."

I took that as a compliment.

Her book, Hemlock Lake is being released tomorrow and I asked her if she'd do a guest blog. She thinks it is because I'm being generous, but really, I'm way deep into an extensive revision on my book and this will save me from having to write a blog. I have read Hemlock Lake, and loved it. It was like spending the summer at a lake without having to pack my bags or fill the ice chest. The residents of Hemlock Lake are my kind of people...if you don't mind wondering if you might be murdered during the night. She brings the story to sizzling life so you feel the summer heat and smell the smoke even before you see the sinister flames across the lake.

Without further ado, I present "Coping with Rejection", by guest blogger, Carolyn J. Rose.


Coping with Rejection

By Carolyn J. Rose


It’s as much a part of my writing life as carpal tunnel syndrome, brain cramps, and a butt that looks best in a bathrobe.

Being rejected cuts as deep as not being asked to the prom or being stood up on your wedding day. (Although, for the record, I had a darn good time not going to the prom, and have been guilty once or twice—in the midst of a discussion that wasn’t going my way—of wishing there’d been nobody waiting at the end of that aisle.)

Just as there are stages of grief, there are also stages of rejection—in fact, the first few stages are almost identical.

Shock and Denial. Check. I find myself staring at a rejection notice confident that if I look long enough I’ll see someone else’s name at the top or that the “not” will disappear and I’ll see that an agent is “interested.”

Pain and Guilt. Check. I feel I failed my story by not saying the right things in that query letter, by not writing a better first sentence for the first chapter, or by not being worthy to tell the tale.

Anger and Bargaining. Been there, done that. I’m guilty of crumpling rejections and hurling them against walls, and guilty of promising to drive within the speed limit, be nicer to those with too many items in the express line, and eat more fruit and vegetables if only . . .

Depression and loneliness. Oh yeah. Writing can be a lonely experience at the best of times, and loneliness can be a slippery slope into the depths of What’s the Point? Canyon.

So, unless you’re one of those rare writers who lands a publisher with the first toss of the query net, you might want to have a coping strategy—or several coping strategies—to get you through these early stages of rejection. And you might want to be aware of the potential cost of each course of action.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve employed in the past and the benefits and drawbacks I’ve discovered:


Imagining that agents are the dirt beneath the beater bar, I charge around the house sucking them up. On the plus side, I discover the carpet has a pattern. On the minus side, I pinch a nerve in my shoulder and wear out the carpet attachment. Dirt returns and brings along its close friends, dust and pet dander. I put away the vacuum and start

Taking long walks

Going with the theory that a tired writer is a less angry writer, I set out to see my neighborhood. I raise my metabolic rate, strengthen my heart, and lose a few pounds. But I develop planters fasciitis, suffer excruciating pain in my heels, and have to fork out $400 for special orthotic devices that make it feel like I’m standing on a pipe. I give up walking in favor of

Water Aerobics

Telling myself that others will suffer more from the sight of me in a bathing suit than I do, I hit the pool six days a week, strap on a flotation belt, and start building something I never knew I had—core muscles. Within two weeks, I’m doing the cross-country ski maneuver and tuck jumping jacks with the best of them. Within three weeks I develop dry skin, split fingernails, and things on my neck that look a lot like gills. I cut back on water aerobics and substitute


Pretending that weeds are agents, I uproot them by the dozen and trim back shrubs with a vengeance. The lack of weeds and overhanging branches reveals numerous bare places. I spend a small fortune on bulbs and plantings to fill them. My dog eats several and digs up more. Others are attacked by grubs and bugs devour most of the rest. I retreat to the deck and the strategy of

Catching up on the TBR pile

I inhale some great literature and feel energized, then come across some not-so-great literature and contemplate unfairness of life. Feeling sorry for myself once more, I resort to

Whining to friends

On the first day I collect 10 “poor baby” responses. On day two, I rake in 6 “poor babies” and 4 “I’ve got a call on the other line.” On day three I get two “poor babies” and 8 message machines. On day 4, no one answers. With one foot sliding down that slippery slope I mentioned earlier, I sulk to the bottle-filled cabinet in the buffet and begin on my new strategy of

Indulging in chilled adult beverages

Determined to numb myself to the pain of rejection, I drink too fast and get a stabbing headache. After self-medicating to treat that headache, I wake up the next day experiencing hangover Armageddon. Furious at myself, I hit on a new strategy

Writing another novel

“I’ll show them,” I chortle. “They haven’t seen the last of me. I will learn more about plotting, characterization, scene structure, subtext, and backstory. I will never quit. I will never give up. They’ll have to pry this keyboard from my cold, dead fingers.” Finally, a strategy that combines time-consuming, distracting reaction to failure with time-consuming, distracting forward action.

To my surprise I found that, for the wrong reasons (spite and revenge), I did the right thing—burned off the negative energy and faced up to the realities of writing for publication. The next step was to accept those realities and the fact that I couldn’t change them. That enabled me to move on, to reconstruct myself, to practice discipline, to nurture others. Over the years, I published a number of mysteries through small presses and recently landed a contract with Five Star for Hemlock Lake.

Reviews so far have been positive and with each one I tell myself, “You wouldn’t be reading this if you hadn’t stopped arguing, avoiding, indulging, and whining.”

Like writing itself, I found coping with rejection was a journey during which I learned much about myself. I’m not the same person I was when I got my first rejection slip. I think that’s a good thing. I think my friends—who now take my calls again—would agree.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Continuing the Car Search

After having a car for eleven years, and being completely happy with said car, having to look for another one is tedious. I went to Forest Grove this weekend and paid attention to the cars I saw there and I think I've narrowed down my choices to three easy-to-find-in-parking-lot cars.


I've always been partial to the Mercedes 450SL, but I think this little car would be fun to drive. I've
checked out craigslist, but haven't found this model yet. Maybe in the coming week I'll see a new posting.


This '04 Olds is a spiffy red with black interior. It says, hot, hot, hot. I even liked the wheels. Those small tires are so in fashion now. Add to that the beautiful headlamps and I'd be all set for a drive along the coast or just commuting to and from work.

There are lots of ads on craigslist for Oldsmobiles, but again, very few with this model. Do I just seem to pick out the rare models, or what?


My all time favorite will always remain the '30 Buick. A four door convertible is so rare. I'd say I wanted to buy it, but I'm afraid my father would say "Okay." I'd have to sell my home, my furniture and my first-born
to be able to afford it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Obnoxious Humming

My car has a hum. It is the kind of hum one hears when a wheel bearing is going out, or maybe the U-joint. The last time this happened, my wheel fell off. Oh, not all the way off, mind you, just part of the way off, so it rested at a 45 degree angle to the car.

The tow truck driver dropped it at an independent VW garage and I locked it, dropped the key through the little hole in the front of the building and added a note. They called me the next day and said they had found my note, but it really hadn't been necessary. They were pretty much able to see the problem when they walked up.

That afternoon I had someone drop me off. The mechanic came out and looked at the car with me and said, "So, it surprises me that this happened."

"Really?" I said. "It surprised me too."

We both stood beside the new wheel and nodded our heads. It was a nice, shared moment, but then he ruined it. "Yeah, because usually you have a little warning."

My eyes lifted and I focused on the building across the driveway. "Oh? How long of a warning?"

He folded his arms and stared up at the sky, calculating in his head. "I guess about six months."

"Hummm," I said and knitted my brows. "What kind of a warning?"

"A humming sound. You never heard it?"

I have a six-CD changer and front and rear speakers, for crying out loud. If there was an off-note tone, I simply edged the volume up. "I did once, when they had just repaved. I thought it was the new pavement."

His lips thinned and he sucked in air. "Let me tell you all the things that could have happened by ignoring this." The next ten minutes I nodded and made little noises meant to sound like I agreed with him. When he finished his diatribe he jammed his hand into his pocket and yanked out a little cup shaped thing. I backed up a step. "And here is another thing," he jeered. "Do you see the little copper wire down in the bottom of this?" He shoved it next to my jaw.

I squinted into the cup, but could not see the wire. I'm not a car person and this was obviously a car part. My jaw rose in challenge. "No I don't."

"That is because there isn't one." He held it up in front of my eyes. "But there should be." He marched over to the hood and hauled it open. "Someone put a cheap imitation part on this car instead of a genuine VW part," he accused, "and the car is not going to run as well without it." He pointed to a new part shining in beams of sunlight and birds chirped all around us.

That was about seven years ago. Last week he came out from the shop floor, wiping his hands on a fluffy white towel, and shook his head. "I'm sorry. There isn't a lot we can do." He listed all the possible causes of the humming.

I finally held up my hand. "So what are you trying to say?"

He held up his own hand and started ticking off points on the other. "You've got one hundred eighty thousand miles, the roof leaks, the throttle is going, the clutch is going and it is very possible the transmission is going. It is time to start looking for a new car."

A lump formed in my throat. "How long does it have?"

He shrugged. "Six months, a year."

Today I sat in a 2010 Subaru Legacy and a VW Jetta and had to tamp down a bubble of emotion as I looked through the windshield at my little Cabrio quivering in the parking lot. This is going to be hard.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Renovations in Progress

Photo by Alisdair McDiarmid from Glasgow, UK

Have you ever had a feeling something was wrong with a passage, a scene, a chapter you are writing, but could not put your finger on it? Have you rationalized or ignored that uncomfortable feeling and plunged on? But when you read it aloud to your critique group, they gave you a sympathetic, yet firm glare? And then it happens, what you were dreading.

“Melanie, that last scene…you were telling, not showing.”

“Melanie, how does this scene move your plot along?”

“Melanie, where did that come from? You’re character would never react like that.”

And then you know. You know. That is what was wrong. That is why you were uncomfortable with the scene, but you didn’t know why until it your group called in your marker. Because you’ve been in your critique group so long, you know they are right.

I’m not talking about the various critiques where suggestions are made and you can accept or reject the advice. I’m talking about the times when you just know they are absolutely, positively correct on every point. The scene must be revised, or deleted and you must weave the one important point into another scene. It is work. It means lots of time and thought, trial and error, but somewhere inside you there is excitement. Just as you knew something was wrong, now you know something is going to be right. You know when you are finished, the scene will be spellbinding.

That happened to me this week, only this time it wasn’t my critique group’s feedback. An agent’s assistant sent me a fabulous rejection, taking the time to kindly outline in detail what needed to be revised. And I knew. I knew she was right on every single point. Instead of feeling rejected, the letter instilled excitement. Some of the points will be an easy—though time consuming--fix. Some issues I wasn’t sure how to address and wanted input.

I sent out a call to authors, Carolyn J. Rose and Mike Nettleton (the husband and wife team who taught the “Novel Writing Boot Camp” I attended (twice). Carolyn and Mike dropped everything and agreed to meet me for a drink. Crit friends The First Carol and Sharon Axeline also came running. (I'm sure it had nothing to do with the word "margarita.")

“Can this manuscript be saved?” I asked.

“Absolutely. You can do this. It is going to take some work, but you can do it.” Carolyn and Mike affirmed. The five of us tossed around ideas while we sat in the dry heat on the patio of a Mexican restaurant and sipped margaritas. Mike and Carolyn threw out one idea that caught my imagination. I sent them that vacant, far-away smile, when your fictional mind is off and running and Mike said, "I can see you've got something."

I’m starting the next phase of writing. I’m following the advice of the agent’s assistant. Thanks to her I know what needs to be done. I know how to do it. Now I just need to develop the back-story in my own head and weave it into the book. It is like sewing white, puffy clouds together in an azure summer sky, forming interesting shapes as they float slowly across the vast expanse. It will take some time, but I can do it. I will do it. And it will be spellbinding.

I’m so excited.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

And the winner is...

Winslow Eliot

Sometimes social media astounds me. One of the people to respond for my plea for help on the Help-Melanie-Write-A-One-Line-Pitch-Twitter-Style was the famous and esteemed Winslow Eliot. She not only left comments on my blog, but sent additional ideas on direct message via twitter. Is that sweet, or what?

She is the author of Heaven Falls, a romantic novel edged with Gothic DuMaurier-esque suspense. You can download it for only 99 cents on Amazon.

In addition her book, The Bright Face of Danger, has been published in four separate French editions. (The only way I'd be able to read the French edition is if it were a picture book.) Check out her blog for a list of books she has published.

One of the items you'll discover on her website is a blog called "WriteSpa, an Oasis for Writers". She has a lot of interesting information to help writers be the best (and healthiest) we can be, using a variety of techniques including yoga. This blog is filled with great things. I'll quote something from her WriteSpa #39 that I found interesting. She'd love for you to come check it out.
"Interestingly, neuroscientists describe our brain as having two separate ‘networks’: an administrative network, which we use when we’re busy accomplishing a task, and a default network, which is the one that we automatically revert to when we’re at rest or not concentrating on something. In other words, the default network ‘switches off’ when we need to focus. And when one network is ‘lit up,’ the other is not.

However, when we daydream, both networks are lit up at the same time."

I can just imagine it now. "But officer, I am lit up because I'm daydreaming. Honest."
You can follow her on twitter at @winsloweliot
Thanks, Winslow, for all your help. You win my contest. If I am published, you will receive an autographed copy. It will be SUCH a treasure.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Winner of the Help-Me-Semi-Blogfest

The winner of the "Help-Melanie-with-a Pitch-Line-Twitter-Style Contest is:

Well, I will announce it later. I'm having trouble with the blog. I made the mistake of thinking it needed remodeling and now the comments are not showing and there are other aspects in need of repair. So, since I'm not even sure this will post, I'll save the winner's name for when I'm sure I'll be able to add links to the winner's website, etc.

Sorry for this confusion. I'll probably have to ask my IT friends.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Spreading the Blog Blove

Awards Blog Time

I'd like to thank Olivia Herrell at That Rebel With A Blog who has been kind enough to give me two awards. I am very flattered to have been given these awards. Either it means she really enjoys my blog, or she thinks I'm a patsy. Either way, I'm happy to receive them and follow the rules (there are always rules).

The first one was The Versatile Blogger award. Yippee. That is me, because you never know what this blog will be about. Neither do I. Sometimes even after I write it I'm not sure. But the rules are as follows:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.(whew, that one was easy)
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award to 8 bloggers* who you have recently discovered and who think you are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...)
4. Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

Share seven things. Oh wow. Here goes:

1. I wrote "The Secret of the Green Eraser" in grammar school. It was a novella, probably about 8 or 10 pages--but that is a LOT in grammar school. It was a mystery, but I don't think I ever wrote exactly what the mystery was because I didn't know. This was when I discovered it is difficult to write a book.

2. I am not a rule-breaker. However I sometimes change the rules to suit my purposes.

3. Every time I send in a query for my book, I spend at least an hour imagining the agent or the very worthy assistant opening the email, loving the query letter, reading the ten pages (or whatever they wanted sent along with the query, and then begging me to send them a full manuscript. After sending it to them, I imagine them reading it with a very, very strong drink, and deciding they will represent me. Then I imagine them selling the book, the movie rights and foreign rights in a bidding war. My imagination moves on to buying a little cottage in the south of France and hiring a cabana boy to bring me fruity drinks with little umbrellas in it while I tap away under an awning on my next book.

4. It seems to take me a long time to send out the next query letter.

5. It took me about an hour, and a glass of wine, before I finally hit the "send" button for my first query.

6. Agents and their very worthy assistants scare the bejeebers out of me.

7. I don't know why I think of zebras when I see a crate outside of a business.

Before I bestow the award, I need to list the second award, also given by Olivia Herrell.
This is really a lovely award because it involves a teacup, filled with tea (I imagine) with pink flowers floating on top. Thanks Olivia. Here are the rules for this one:

1.Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and her/his blog.
2. Pass the award to 8 other blogs* that you've newly discovered.
3. Contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.
So, I'm going to award both awards to the following eight terrific bloggers. Most are new to me, but a couple of them I find so fun, that I've named them for these awards too.

1. Rashelle Workman at A no.2 pencil stat! who had a fun "First Sentence" Blogfest
2. Rebecca Thompson at Sonshine Thoughts who has a fun blog on Wednesdays (well it is fun every day, but I like the Wednesday one) and graciously allowed me to give her a heart attack.
3. Sharon Axline at Preposterous ponderings who is a fabulous writer and has two of the cutest little dogs, ever!
4. SingleDatingMommy at Adventures in Dating who is enormously funny, and writes very well, but doesn't even realize how well she writes.
5. Taffy Lovell at Taffy's Candy who has an awesome first line to her book. Makes me want to read more.
6. Vicki Rocho at Rambles & Randomness who is running an interesting Matchy-Match Contest on her blog. Check it out.
7. Elizabeth Mueller at Elizabeth Mueller Blog who is keeping the faith and being a writer at the same time. Nice blog.
8. VR Barkowski at VR BArkowski Writer's Blog. Besides being a great blog to get information, it just LOOKS nice.
*Okay, I have said the rules are to present the awards to eight bloggers. Originally the rules were to present to fifteen people. I changed it to suit my purposes and really, I'm not sorry about it either (namely the amount of time it takes to do this) and I welcome these recipients to do the same or return to the original fifteen.

Friday, July 2, 2010

It is the right size for one

Photo by Hans Hillewaert

Sometimes having a fictional mind* is not a good thing, especially not in a cubical world. I think I understand now why they had me working in a closet for such a long time.

I'm afraid they might put be back there.

When I moved upstairs into the cubical jungle, they put me in the furthest corner, up against the wall. There is a window, and I shoved my desk around to afford the best view of the asphalt driveway and cement building across the parking lot. Once in a while a bird flies by and in the outside corner a spider lays in wait for a hapless fly. I like the back corner. My computer hums while I punch in purchase orders, blast out emails and make phone calls to ascertain the whereabouts of a missing shipment. But no one has to walk by my little grey cell, and sometimes it feels like I'm not really part of the cube city.

Yesterday, at the east end of the building, one company was moving out and another was moving in. The four parking spaces in front of the office area were filled with three vehicles and a large wooden crate. At lunch, the cars were gone, but the tan, grained, plywood crate waited in the warm sun. Apparently it was still there at closing time.

It was nearly five and there were still three purchase orders I needed to enter, but I could hear the others, chatting, powering down their computers, and rolling chairs across the tiled floor. The voice of my new boss could be heard down at the other end of the big room.

"So, you getting ready to leave?" he asked my co-workers.

"Yes," they all said. "It's nearly five."

"Oh, I see that crate is still down there in the parking lot," he said, obviously looking out of the window.

"Yes," Sandra said. "I've been watching it all day. No one has been near it."

"What do you suppose is in it?" Grey asked.

"Could be some sort of equipment for the people moving in," my boss said.

"Could be all the office things from the people moving out," Sandra said.

"Could be some sort of equipment for the warehouse," another offered.

I wanted to be part of this conversation, participate in the camaraderie. This was one of those moments where everyone laughs and slaps each other on the back, and then they walk out to the parking lot and smile and wave and wish each other a happy evening. I wanted that too, like I was really part of the cube village. This was my chance. To fit in, to be accepted. To belong. I raised my head and took a deep breath. "Could be a zebra," I called out.


My fingers stilled on my keyboard and I gazed at the gray divider.

"What?" a voice floated back to my corner.

"The crate is the right size," I said. "It could be a zebra."


A cough. A whisper. "Um...yes," my boss said, and coughed again. "It could be a zebra."

And then I heard the door to the stairs open and several pairs of feet rush into the stairwell. The door whooshed closed and I was alone.

Luckily writing is a solitary occupation.

*Yes, I know what a fictional mind implies