30 October 2011

Death Camp Withdrawals

Last year at this time I sat in my car, driving down to St. George, Utah. The occasion? Dave Farland's Writing Death Camp.

I'd wanted to go the year before, but didn't. Now I can't even remember why. So last year I took a deep breath, let my finger hover over the mouse before letting it click—signing me up for a week long writers camp.

Conventions aren't new to me. I'd even been to one conference at this point, but never a camp. And I'd only briefly met Dave Farland once before—the day I gave him my e-mail address so I would receive his Daily Kick in the Pants.

Needless to say apprehension began filling me the closer I drove to St. George.

I don't know about anyone else, but even after I've worked on a writing project for a long time, and I'm pretty sure it's good, I still question whether or not it's, well, good. Perhaps I'm paranoid. Better that than dead, right? Or humiliated or whatever. So going to Death Camp, and presenting my work to a New York Times Best Selling author was more than a little intimidating. Even though there isn't much about Dave Farland that would intimidate anyone. He's very simply a nice, soft spoken guy. But I didn't know that going in.

I'd have to say that Death Camp has been, thus far, the best move I've made for my aspiring author career. First, I got to meet and pick the writing brain of a New York Times Best Selling author. Dave Farland has more insight into the world of writing than I'm sure he has the time to share. The sheer scope of the writing world hadn't even occurred to me until I went to Death Camp.

Second, I got to spend a lot of time, well, writing. We had a class from 8:00am until noon, and then we all sat around typing or plotting or whatever. It was the first time that I'd been able to devote more than an hour or two a day toward writing. I discovered that with a little peace and quiet, and a lack of things clamoring for my attention, that I could crank out a lot of words.

Third, I got to meet other aspiring authors—people who were at the same(ish) point in their writing career. The experience of speaking with people who were trying to accomplish the same thing I was, was invaluable.

Fourth, I drove away having made some good friends and some good contacts. I now have a writing group that has the same goals that I do, and they've been a great help. Plus, I have people to go to writing things with so I don't have to hang out by myself the whole time.

Sure, some of the conferences I went to provided me with wonderful experiences. And I did stalk some editors at World Con this year. These things are all important. Very important. But, in retrospect, I'd have to sat that Death Camp launched me into the world of trying to become an author more than anything else I've ever done.

Here's to all the other Death Camp survivors!

28 October 2011

To Nano, or not to Nano

A friend in my writing group blogged about this very subject last month. He wasn't sure if he should spend his time writing a craptastic rough draft of something new for Nano, or just keep working on his current novel.

I think I told him to stick with what felt right. Go with your gut. Rah, rah, rah—go team and all that.

At the time I was considering skipping Nano. I've won Nanowrimo every year for the past seven years. Okay, for two years I had to do it in October because I was out of town for at least a week on vacation in November. I think New Zealand is a valid excuse for moving Nano up a month. But I still got 50,000 words those two years.

So it's kind of a tradition. A habit. Something I look forward to.

Although last year it stressed me out. I was at Dave Farland's Death Camp and finally got some of the ideas for New Sight to gel. I started re-writing that, as well as typing 50,000 words for another story. My brain almost exploded. Twice.

I'd like to avoid that this year, if possible.

I finished a rough draft of a YA Dystopian novel a few weeks ago. I've let it sit—stewing in its own juices—hoping to get a handful of good ideas about how to slim down the plot. The plan was instead of doing Nano, revise this story.

But I think I might have changed my mind. I've had a project on my “to do” list since the beginning of the year. I look at that list, see this project and roll my eyes. No time to make it happen and thus far no brilliant ideas for getting it started. Unfortunately, I may have found a great place to get it out on the web. It's not a story I imagine would ever be in print—I write it for my own amusement—but I do think people might like it.

And I have a month ahead of me that could be used for trying to make it happen. I also may have had a decent idea for a plot.

What to do? Decisions, decisions.

Sometimes I hate options.

23 October 2011

Halloween anyone?

October and November are my favorite months of the year. I love fall, the crisp weather changing from summer to winter, colorful leafs, pumpkin Concretes from Neilson's or shakes from Arsenic Circle, Halloween, Thanksgiving and everything that goes with the time of year.

Sure, Christmas is cool, but it gets so stressful! My family is pretty dull (a fact for which I am eternally grateful) so Thanksgiving is always nice, enjoyable and full of great food and sometimes a long game of Star Wars Monopoly, which is sometimes the only drama of the day.

It all starts when I crunch the first fallen leaf off a tree between the bottom of my shoe and the sidewalk. There is something so satisfying about that . . . I can't even explain it. Like eating your favorite kind of potato chip. Crunch, crunch. Yay! A week later they're everywhere, and it's on.

Halloween is first, and this year I decided I wanted to fulfill a dream I've had for forever. I wanted to go to the Thriller dance concert that the Odyssey dance people put on.

Really, I've wanted to go for years. So a few weeks ago I heard about it on the radio, talked a couple of friends into coming with me (I thing the words gory dance theater may have done it) and got us tickets. And I have to say that it didn't disappoint.

There were zombies trolling the stairs coming into the theater. More of them crawled through the aisles as people moved to their seats. I heard plenty of teenage girls screaming at the top of their lungs (which makes me so happy). They did a great Thriller zombie number, an amazing Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein routine (which I'd have to say the Bride was fantastic!), a glow-in-the-dark skeleton tap dance, a River Dance spoof where someone started shooting all of the dancers like in a carnival game, a Chucky routine, three Jasons—which were both hilarious and scary, a nightmare, a mummy dance and a bunch more. There were even a few short films. The Nightmare Before Christmas one I really liked.

So yes, it was awesome. And yes, I will go again next year! Tradition time.

19 October 2011

Rear Window

I've never seen this movie before. Yes, yes, I know, I'm behind. WAY behind. I like it that way—keeps people's expectations low. I did see the Birds in High School. Ugh.

So anyway, my roommate ordered it on Netflix and we got the disc tonight. (No, please don't go into the Netflix rant with me. My roommate is in charge of that.) After a rather painful trip to the gym, I made some dinner and we settled down to watch it.

Old movies are always entertaining. It's like going to a different world—one that's not totally dissimilar from ours, but enough to be distracting sometimes. When James Stewart pulled out a phone book, and actually used it, I mentioned that if we had kids they might not know what a phone book was for. Besides using as a booster seat, that is.

But I'm rambling again.

I liked the movie. I knew the story (hello, the Simpsons spoofed it) so there weren't any big surprises, but I still enjoyed it. Good characters, plenty of suspense, a little romance, great setting . . . fun, fun, fun.

Although, we were confused by two things. Why sit and watch someone who supposedly killed their wife with your lights on, and why doesn't a big, tough man like that have a gun handy? Seriously, Mr. “I travel the world and eat stuff that you wouldn't even like to look at before it's dead” (or whatever) doesn't have a firearm handy? This is America, for crying out loud! And really, turn your lights off. Spying 101 there people.

Okay, I'm making fun, but I still found myself curled up on the couch, arms around my knees, biting my lip as the girl climbed up the fire escape into the murderer's apartment.

Next on our Netflix list is Disturbia. Haven't seen that one either. Good Halloween-ness going on here. Anyone have any suggestions for more Halloween movies that aren't all gore?

17 October 2011

I See a Need

So I'm looking for a literary agent. One that will love my book, think I reside slightly above dork and a little below insane status and want to know what I'm working on next.

This is no easy task. There are a myriad of websites designed to help a naïve, aspiring author through the process of finding an agent. I've used a couple of these web sites (they can be very helpful), I've had pitch sessions at writing conferences, I've stalked agents at conventions and I even went through the latest 25 agents introduced in Writer's Digest.

The first thing I noticed . . . some agents will say that they want Young Adult (YA) books, but then I dive into what they've sold recently and there isn't a YA book among them. Or they say YA fantasy and only sell books about coming of age stories at fat camp. Ugh. There is nothing magic about that. Trust me. (A note: I have nothing against fat camps [I should maybe check one out], or any sort of camp really, but reading about it bores me to tears.)

The second thing I noticed . . . there isn't a great place to figure out what kind of person this “agent” is. Once in a while they'll give a little personal spiel that might expose some of their personality, but most of the time they all sound very excited to see your book—just like the last fifteen bios that I looked at.

This is where the need comes in. Someone should put together a web site that matches you with an agent. You know, like those on-line dating sights do. Forget the questions about your pets (well, maybe) and go for something a little different.

1-When do you get your best writing/reading done?

2-What type of book will you loose sleep over in order to finish?

3-Favorite literary character ever and why.

4-Would you dress up as them for Halloween?

5-If you're at the beach, do you play in the water or read more?

6-Which is the bigger offense? Getting sand kicked in your hair or on your book?

7-Where is the craziest place you've worked on your novel / read a query letter?

8-What happens when you get really, really into either reading or writing a manuscript?

9-What is the greatest length of time you've staved off going to the bathroom in order to finish “just this last bit?”

10-Personal hygiene—when is it appropriate to let it slide?

11-Do you have a rating system for a story as you read it? (ex. 1 yawn=I'm tired, 2 yawns=maybe this isn't as good as I hoped, 3 yawns=time to get some sleep/I'm glad I got this one from the library.)

12-When is the last time someone told you that you were obsessed with your job / your manuscript?

13-List your top 5 favorite genres.

14-What book do you wish they would make into a movie. (A good movie.)

15-Where were you when you had your latest and greatest idea pop into your head?

16-What usually entices you to pick up a book / manuscript?

17-Why should writers want you as their agent or agents want you as a writer?

18-Characters, plot, setting . . . discuss.

19-What location have you always wanted to use / read in a book?

20-Use five words to describe you. Try for a complete sentence if you're feeling frisky.

You see, these are just a few questions that, if answered, could tell a person and an agent if they would be a good match. I'm sure some Access genius could figure out a way to input the data, run a query and come up with the top ten candidates.

That's it. Someone with mad skills needs to make this happen.



15 October 2011

Adventures in Walking

Yes, I'm at it again. Still trying to work myself up to the 11 mile hike into Druid Arch in a few weeks.

And can I just say (which I will, because this is my blog and you can't stop me) that going to sparring class and then heading out on a two hour walk up in the hills of Bountiful was not a good plan. My body is pissed. The 150 or so kicks we did in Kempo class probably didn't help.

Hey, you try it. Go on. I'll wait.

Really. Go ahead. Now go walk five miles.

Needless to say my body is tired. I've got a stupid headache that won't quit and I'm wondering if this 11 mile thing will be the death of me.

But does this hinder my resolve to go? No, of course not. And why?

Why do you ask?

Mostly because I'm dumb. Yes, I readily admit it. Blonde moments plague my everyday activities, and about half of the time I wonder what I was thinking right as I'm in the middle of something. I can't wait until I can call them blonde, senior moments, but luckily those are still a few years away.

A few good things did come out of my adventure this afternoon. First, I got some sun. I'm pretty much white all year around—a sunburn turns red and peels off revealing the white underneath again—so any sun is good sun. Second, I saw some beautiful fall leafs. See the picture above. Third, I listened to the first part of Harry Dresdon #3, which made me laugh out loud a few times. Good thing no one else was dumb enough to be walking outside on a Saturday afternoon. They might think I'm weird. Fourth, I was so tired tonight that I sat on the couch and watched Without a Clue and then, because we were in the Sherlock mood, the first episode of the new Sherlock that came out on BBC earlier this year. Loved both of them, by the way. And fifth, I think I'm going to sleep like a baby tonight. Good bye cruel world . . . until I wake in the morning.

11 October 2011

The Good, the Bad and the . . . Ugh

A little over a week ago I finished the rough draft of my work in progress. I can't remember if I mentioned that or not. Seriously, it's been more than five minutes and that means I will not remember. Anything. Probably some sort of early onset Alzheimer—it does sort of romp through our family like a little kid in a puddle.

The last 10,000 words of the rough draft suck, just so everyone knows, but it's finished. I closed the file and vowed not to look at it again until at least November.

This month I've decided to go back to my first novel. I put the finishing touches on it back at the end of July, and it has been sitting around, waiting for someone to read it. So far none of the agents have asked for it, so it's getting kind of bored. This past weekend I pulled it out, made a hard copy, bound it (thank you Alphagraphics) and started reading.

I thought that after a few months of non-contact that I would be wow-ed. Like totally and completely “Oh my gosh, this is great!” Not that I believe my novel is perfect, but I worked hard on it and after going back to something I find it a lot easier to pick out the good parts, as opposed to the bad. Needless to say I was a little surprised when I found myself actually scanning the first chapter. Reading the first line of a paragraph and then the last line—and ignoring everything but dialogue in those lines.

I was bored!

Reading my own first chapter. Pathetic. And not good. I actually put it down and pondered for a few minutes about quitting writing and going into clogging. I was pretty good as a kid. I'm sure I could pick it up again. Or perhaps hat making. Anything but writing, considering how bad I am at it.

Yes, it was a pity party, and since I'm trying to lose some weight there were no cookies anywhere to be had. Which turned out to be a good thing, because they would have been gone in about six seconds.

Once I took a walk, glared at the manuscript for a few minutes and sat back down I felt a little better. My brain engaged and reminded me that this is the chapter that won the first chapter contest at LDStorymakers this year. People like this chapter. It must still be so ingrained in my head that I can't look at it with objectivity.

I'm happy to report that I almost missed leaving for Kempo tonight because I was reading somewhere in the middle. That made me feel better.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

09 October 2011

By Myself!

This is what happens when someone who does too much engineering at work has to transport an almost full crock pot full of clam chowder by myself to a dinner across town.

Yes, the lid is lashed onto the pot—through the handles.

My dad would be so proud.

I suppose the first remarkable bit about it is that I made the clam chowder by myself. From scratch. And it turned out good. Well? Whichever. I'll ask my friend the retired English teacher. She'll know. I can never remember all of these darn little rules that have multiple exceptions. Like if you can count them is it fewer or less? I knew a week ago, and now it's gone.

But I was talking about soup. And dinner. And the harrowing drive from my house to the house where we had dinner.

I've never made a whole batch of this stuff before, so I had no idea that it would pretty much fill my crock pot. I had about half of an inch to spare at the top. My first thought, “Huh, that's going to spill for sure.”

So I grabbed a towel. Then I remembered the rope I had, and snatched that too. I lashed the lid to the crock pot handles, wrapped the cord through the handles as well, tucked the towel over my purse and left. I only had to set the darn thing down three times between the kitchen and the car. Getting the front door closed, the garage door open and the car door open were great, Herculean feats. The neighbors were probably laughing. I don't blame them.

The dip that I have to drive through to get from our parking lot into the road is rather rough. I'd never noticed how steep it was before I watched clam chowder (now sitting on the floor and surrounded by the towel) inch forward as the front wheels dipped into the road.

Only a little got on the inside of the lid. Whew. But every time I had to stop the same-ish thing happened. So I grabbed the long end of the rope and pulled the front of the crock pot up so the soup wouldn't slosh. I felt like I was holding onto the reins of a horse. Well, one horse with one hand.

Glad no one noticed that. People already think I'm strange.

And I am.

The soup was delicious!

08 October 2011

Gene Pool Police

Where are they when you need them?

Yesterday as I was driving to my Kempo lesson I saw a blatant display of people who should not be allowed in the gene pool. (Sorry if anyone finds that offensive, but hear me out.)

To their credit, the five young teenagers were standing at the light, waiting to cross. And that's as much credit as half of them get.

Apparently the excruciatingly long wait drove them to the brink of insanity. I watched (I was three cars back, glaring at the light, hoping that this would help it change faster) as two of the boys started to do a funny little dance of impatience. I've seen the dance before, but usually from little kids who need to pee.

I'm not sure if such close proximity to a couple of girls did it, or if they're just plain stupid, but the two boys bolted across the street—before the light changed for them.

Okay, I've seen plenty of people do this . . . but not when rush hour traffic is bearing down on them on an extremely busy street. And slightly smarter people stick with their plan and make it to the other side of the road.

Not these chaps. Oh no, instead they stopped in lane three of five and turned back. They then proceeded to beckon the girls to follow them.

One girl still stood attached to her boyfriend—which can't exactly be taken as a sign of intelligence considering where his hands were. The other wouldn't do it. I suspect because her friend, the one with the boyfriend (at least I hope that's what they were doing) didn't move.

The couple did some making out—I suspect to make the other two boys jealous. Then the light finally changed and the little green, walking man lit up. The rest of the crew scampered across the street, the girls giggling and shrieking as they went.


Can someone please tighten security on the gene pool? I don't want to live in a world where people aren't even patient enough to cross the street without endangering not only themselves, but their friends and anyone within a hundred feet are in charge.

05 October 2011

Start at the Very Beginning

Earlier this evening I picked up my copy of Writers Digest and started to peruse it. An article in the Questions & Quandaries section caught my attention—so I read it. Figured I should since it went to all the trouble to stand out like that. You know?

The article entitled 10 Myth-Busting Answers to 10 FAQs on Grammer, Writing and Publishing (by Brian A. Klems) included ten entries. Number three rang true to me.

3. The Big Bang Theory?
Is it true that the best way to start my novel is with action?
The commonly accepted “rule” that you should begin your novel with action has a flaw—and it's a major one: What good is the action if it isn't grounded in context that's important to the story or draws you to the main character? It's much, much better to start your story with tension, like a character conflict or a character who's not getting what he wants. This gives the reader a reason to feel connected.

I have mixed feelings on this. I guess you can start a story at any point you want—you're writing it after all. I'm not a lover of an overly long scene setting beginning. Too much description, no matter how beautifully written (and some people are really, really good at this), gets dull for me if I don't have a reason to care. The same goes for a narrative beginning. Like a voice over in a movie, it works for a bit, but gets old fast. I don't care about what happened then (although I'm sure it will come in handy later), I want to know what's going on now!

Strangely (or perhaps not) I feel the same way about action. Sure I could start a story with:

Darin dove to the side, the heavy sword biting into his shoulder as he failed to get out of the way. The strike forced him to his knees, and it took everything he had left to bring his own weapon up to block the death blow aimed at his head.

Ugh, that was horrible. Sorry about that. However, it's action. Sure, there's some questions. Who is Darin, why is someone trying to kill him with a sword, will he win, do we want him to win?

How about this (probably just as badly written—bare with me)

The flickering streetlamp gave Darin just enough light to see them coming down the alley. Four against one? It seemed a little extreme, but maybe they'd heard about what happened in Boston. Unfortunately, he didn't have a set of Bestes Guards with him this time around.

Huh, whatever.

I guess there's still “action” with Darin looking and figures coming at him down the alley. But in this one I feel like there are more questions. Who is Darin, where is he, who are the four people/figures doming after him, what happened in Boston, what are Bestes Guards, why did he have them before and why doesn't he have them now, do we want him to win? And the four against one bit makes me laugh. This gives Darin's voice some life, which is good. I think. I hope. If not, I've spent a lot of time over the past 18 months apparently not learning to write.

I've tried to start a couple of stories and novels with pure action, and it's never felt good to me.

But the up and coming authors say to keep it moving fast and furious right from the get-go.

I think I might have to twist that little bit of advise to meet my own sinister purposes. Buahahahahaha . . .

02 October 2011

Ninja Wannabe gets in some Quality Time

Last night we had a six hour work out marathon for my Kempo class.

I did it last year too, and I remember really loving it. Then I remembered (about 8pm last night—four hours in) that I only got to four of the six hours of the work out last year. That would explain why I don't recall feeling like I wanted to curl up on the dojo floor and take a nap. Not good when the dojo floor looks comfortable. Not good at all.

However, we learned some really, really awesome stuff! We did a Kempo technique that I very much enjoyed that involves ripping someone's face off after you've already brought them to their knees, learned how to dodge a crazed baseball player who is trying to whack you on the top of the head (it could come in handy for the zombie apocalypse), practiced how to make a block a strike (the more striking the better, of course), experimented on how to get away from someone who has you up against the wall (the real lesson there being that somehow you let them get you against a wall, which means you messed up big time), did some great throws and then worked on a bunch of different kick and punches that we then put together into a very cool technique that I have to deny that I know, and in general had a great time.

I've got bruises everywhere. My arms look like a spotted leopard (are there other kinds?), along with a few other places that I won't mention. I swear I got tossed on the ground at least fifty times. Which is why one butt cheek is so sore, because I always get up with the same leg. I know, TMI, sorry about that, but it's true!

Next time I need to remember to pull more of my hair back. At one point a guy decided I would be good to practice a neck break on (this is after he'd tossed me on the floor), put a foot on each side of my head and twisted—all very controlled of course—but I felt a chunk of hair go. Sure enough, on the floor sat a sizeable hairball of my blond hair. It's not like I've got a bunch to spare for crying out loud!

So lots of bruises, sore muscles and less hair. I guess it's a small price to pay for Kung Fu awesomeness!