Thursday, January 30, 2014

Soapbox Series #8 (or Reading, 'Riting, Ranting) -- Write What You Love, Even if it's a Vampire Werewolf Dystopian Love Triangle?

My goodness, I haven't ranted in a while. Let me rectify this oversight! :)

I have seen the following question asked in a couple of different places. It goes something like this: "I'm working on a novel, and (a) it's in a genre everybody  knows is overcrowded but I love this idea, or (b) I just found out that two books very much like it are coming out next year. Should I write it anyway, or should I shelve this book even though I love it?"

It probably comes as no surprise that the usual, very passionate, advice is "Write what you love!"

And I couldn't agree more! What troubles me, though, is the implied corollary: "If you love it, you must write it. If you love it, that's justification enough." I dunno. I wonder if it wouldn't be more accurate to say "Love what you write!" As in, yes, I will commit to a project only if I love it. Only if I think it's "mine" to write. Only if it really taps into my heart. But does it follow that if I feel this way about a project, I must write it, even if there are reasons to consider not doing so?

No. In the first place, most writers are already in a position where they will never write all the ideas they love: There are too many for one lifetime. So while love is necessary, it's not enough to assure that any particular idea moves from the "great ideas" file to the "finished manuscripts" file. To wax mathematical for a moment, love for an idea or story is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Unless you know you are writing a practice novel, I don't see how "Never mind the market and just go for it!" is the best advice. In days of yore, after selling a MG series written in third person, I started a mystery series in first person. The MC decided she was going to speak for herself, thank you very much. "No," my editor on the first series said. "We don't do first person." Period. Even if I loved the project, or had done it well, it still wasn't marketable to that house. Fortunately, I was able to sell it elsewhere, but that doesn't change the fact that love doesn't conquer all. It's a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

More recently, I caught "the last train out of the station" with a certain genre. I wasn't thinking about what was popular or unpopular in the market. I'd just found a great idea and dove into passionate work on it. I was about 3/4 done with the book when I started hearing that this genre was saturated. What's more, I found out that two other books on my specific subject within that genre were scheduled to come out within the following year to year-and-a-half. No, those agents were not going to take on what was essentially a competing book, nor were those publishers. My book's competition was too direct, and there wasn't room for another, especially since it was a latecomer. My love for the project could not change that.

Many would encourage the writer to stick with a project by saying, "Your book will be completely different from the other book because you are a different writer!" Well, maybe it will and maybe it won't. No one can blithely promise you that your book will be completely different. There can be uncanny resemblances between your work and somebody else's. And some topics in themselves are too specific to stand much competition.

I think "Write what you love/write what will sell" is a false dichotomy. I insist that the twain shall meet. I want to write salable work, and I'm willing to tweak both the love and the market aspects so that I'm writing something I love and that isn't market-handicapped. It just seems to me that since I love a lot of different books, there's always a new idea to love, and in the end I can have my story and (hopefully) sell it, too.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Writer Marathon Soup

Too busy writing to cook? Need sustenance during your writing retreat that you can "just grab" and that's also healthy? Try my Writer Marathon Soup. Amounts here are approximate, and you can make any substitutions or omissions you like. On the eve of a two- or three-day "writer immersion" event, spend about 40 minutes putting this soup together, and it can feed two or three people for the duration.

Writer Marathon Soup
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 cartons chicken broth
1 can kidney beans
1 can white beans
1 can black beans
1 can green beans
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1-2 chopped onions
1/2 lb. baby carrots, cut if desired
2-3 ribs chopped celery
1/2 bag frozen veggies such as peas, corn, or green beans
garlic powder
lemon pepper
Italian seasoning

1. Place chicken breasts in microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave 20 minutes on high for frozen. Fresh will be somewhat less.
2. Meanwhile, plug in or set on stovetop a large Dutch oven. Add to it the broth and canned items. Set heat to medium or medium low.
3. Prepare the onions, carrots, and celery, and put them plus any frozen veggies you're using in a microwave-safe casserole or bowl big enough to accommodate them. Add a little water.
4. When your chicken is done, take it out of the microwave and put the dish of veggies in. Cover the veggies and microwave on high till done, about 7-8 minutes or done to your liking. While the veggies are cooking, cube chicken and add to Dutch oven. Using a colander or strainer, you may want to add any chicken broth from the casserole to the pot as well.
5. When the veggies are done, add them plus the water from their cooking dish to the soup pot.
6. Add enough water to make your pot as full as practicable.
7. Add your seasonings in any amounts you wish.

You can now heat this soup through and serve, or refrigerate for later. I also do the dishes as I go, so by the time the pot's in the fridge, or within minutes after, they're all stacked in the dish drainer. You can vary this basic recipe and method so freely that the soup can be different each time you make it. Perfect for these cold winter days! :)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Dog Called Homeless, by Sarah Lean

Cally's mother died in a car accident a year ago, and her father and older brother are dealing with their grief by packing away all the reminders and not speaking of their wife/mom. At school, Cally's mouth seems to always be open when it shouldn't be. Her best friend dumps her. When Cally begins to see visions of her mom in a red raincoat, accompanied by a large wolfhound who is not ghostly but real, she speaks up and says so. Dad gets angry and tells her he doesn't want to hear it; her aunt, more gently, tells her she's mistaken. Furthermore, Dad is putting their house on the market and moving the family to an apartment, and no amount of "please don't do this" makes any difference.

Then, at school, comes a charity fundraiser that involves volunteering to remain silent for 24 hours. When her ex-friend and other classmates jeer that Cally couldn't possibly keep her mouth shut, she volunteers. She completes the challenge with ease, and then, when the principal announces that the volunteers may speak again -- Callie doesn't. She realizes that she sees no reason. No one listens to her, anyway.

In the new apartment, Callie makes friends with a boy in the other flat who is blind, nearly deaf, and may have cerebral palsy or a similar condition. Though she doesn't speak, and in any event can speak to Sam only by spelling into his hand, the two grow into close companions. What the story seems to be saying here is that it's willing, listening hearts that really forge communication, not merely, or necessarily, the ability to speak.

Cally continues to see her mother's ghostly image, and the very real dog, which, while connected to her mother, is also being looked after by a homeless man, Jed. While everyone around Cally's family comes to believe that the dog belongs with them, to the point of telling her father so, he angrily insists they cannot take care of a dog.

We know that in the end they will, and that Cally will speak again, too. It's the emotional journey that's prominent here. I found myself rooting for Cally to not speak again until she was good and ready, and in that way this book tapped into powerful childhood emotions for me -- always a sign that I'll find that book a winner. Lovely and heartwarming. Recommended for anyone who would like a realistic story with overtones of magical realism.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Took the Plunge...

...and joined Facebook. Yeah, I know, what's so "plunge-y" about that? I mean, I got on Twitter without any angst, and my initial reaction to Twitter was, "Are you kidding? Who wants to TEXT the entire internet? And what for?" But I saw some advantages to Twitter. For me, at least, it's not a time suck. I can "get in and get out." And I've found that having to express something in only 140 characters results in a lot of "right between the eyes" quotes and uproarious lines appearing in my feed. In other words, it's not hard to find good food for thought or your laugh for the day, in only a few minutes. I like the challenge of saying something so concisely. I've found some great writing links. I've connected with people. And I know who I am on Twitter: I'm a writer.

With Facebook, most of this is murkier. I've only been on for two days -- and granted, the first evening it took some time to set up my account -- but the time-suck temptation is already stronger. You become Facebook friends with Cousin Hattie, and then you see that she's friends with Long Lost Mary, and whatever did become of good ol' Mary anyway...? I am absolutely firm that I will not get sucked in to excess, but I do get that you can suddenly look up at the clock and two hours have passed. And because the posts can be longer, they are, which means they (a) lack the punch of tweets, and (b) take longer to read. There's not the nice little challenge of boiling something down to 140 characters. And I'm not that sure who I am on Facebook. The mix of personal and professional has always made me a little skittish, and since we hear about people's FB accounts being used against them by prospective or actual employers, why shouldn't it?

I'm sure it'll all be okay. Despite the fact that I've friended mostly writers, while at the same time I'll enjoy keeping up with some cousins and other extended family that I don't see much. Because, truth to tell, what finally made me break down and join was missing out on an important piece of info once too often. As another writer said just recently, Facebook (among other, newer social media sites) is where the conversation is going on. With this mix of professional and personal, I guess that on FB I'll just have to be a person. :)

By the way, if you're on and I haven't sent you a friend request, feel free to send me one.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Writing Retreat -- This is the Life!

In mid-December, my husband's work took him away for three days. He's not gone overnight often, but when he is, I have but one response, and it's immediate: Declare a writer's retreat!

At such times, nobody is here but the cats and me. And the more completely I can achieve the following goals, the happier and more successful I feel:
  • Throw away the clock. I sleep when I'm tired and eat when I'm hungry (or sometimes when I'm not, heh heh).
  • Divide awake time among three activities: exercise, prayer, and writing, with the greatest number of hours spent on the writing. There might be a little minor web-surfing as a break. I might write an email to a friend. But that's it. The retreat is basically a writing marathon. I will take care of the cats, wash the few dishes I use, and throw in a load of laundry if necessary. No other housework. Oh, and I shower too. In case you wondered.
  • Turn off the landline. I respond to important contacts by email or cellphone. But I don't want anything else ringing at me. Even the answering machine is too intrusive.
  • Don't go outside. Yeah, I know. I'm a recluse-in-training. I *might* break this rule during seasons that don't involve piling on the winter gear and wondering where the ice patches are under that new coating of snow.  
  • A byproduct of the above, more than a point in its own right: Don't talk. My husband called me on the phone during those three days, but I think that's the only time I actually spoke.
  • Dig into that novel wherever it's at and (for me) think in terms of completed scenes rather than word count. I couldn't figure out why the middle seemed to be moving so sluggishly, even though I knew what had to happen next. Except...I didn't know. When I finally threw out what I thought would be the midpoint, put something else there, and rearranged a few other scenes, I unblocked the thing. New scenes flowed onto the screen. And I wrote more than 5K words in those three days. For me, that's a lot.
The retreat was a resounding success. I loved those three days. And while I know all of life can't be spent this way, nor would I want it to be, I'm really going to experiment to see if I can live like this a little more often. Except that DH can live at home. Really, he can. :)