Monday, December 14, 2009

Celebrities who've met ME! Artist, Derek Boone

Derek Boone is an artist, musician, nice guy and he's met me. In fact, he's done me a few favors. Those favors usually addressed the needs of my late customers, or addressed my own failings to get work done on time.

I live in a deadline oriented world. A friend like Derek is good to have.

Outside of work Derek discovered adventure with a few materials: tuna can with the lid, music box mechanism, extenders, 4 packages molding clay, petroleum jelly, newspaper, mixing container, whisk, water, wheat paste, utility knife, white glue, power , screwdriver, two-part epoxy , spray primer, glue gun and hot glue sticks, pencil, 12- and 28-gauge wire, rust, red, brown, gold, green and purple acrylic paint, paintbrush, jingle bell
wire cutters, and needle-nose pliers.

And what did he do with all those goodies? Well check out HGTV's Home & Garden Channel Web site. You see, Derek is a television-feature-celebrity.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Creative Process Part III by Little_Karol

By Guest Contributor Little_Karol. On the first of her series she shared her research on the novel writing process. The second piece encompassed her interview with author Carolyn Rose. Today she shares her interview with author Elizabeth Lyon.

Lyon is the author of six writing books on fiction and nonfiction, revision, and marketing: Manuscript Makeover, A Writer's Guide to Fiction, The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, The Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, and National Directory of Editors & Writers. Elizabeth Lyon lives in Springfield, Oregon. The December issue of "The Writer" magazine selected Manuscript Makeover as one of "10 Great Writing Books in 2008."

I sat down at my computer after a long day of cleaning the house. I connected to the internet and logged into Gmail, nothing out of the ordinary. I had e-mailed her earlier that week and was surprised when I saw, she had e-mailed back. I learned from Carolyn Rose that Lyon was supposed to be going on vacation soon. I thought she had already left, considering it took her a while to respond. I later found out she had responded to half of my questions, just to have accidentally deleted her answers.

“What is your creative process (What do you do when you are writing)? I know that seems kind of vague, but answer it to the best of your ability.”

“When I am writing something creative, like the memoir I have begun, I am back in the mental movie of the story. Most writers, I think, write from the movie in their minds and then revise more intellectually. When I write, I do a little of editing along the way, changing this word or that phrase, perhaps because I am an editor. I know, at least as a professional editor, that the best way to write a first draft is to just let the words blat out on the screen or page. Getting something written is most important of all. So my writing of my first draft is like a condensed version of what the final book will be. Like, just add water. Or, just add character depth through thought and feeling and reactions; add sensory detail; add description of Nature, man made objects, and of other characters; add similes and metaphors; harvest my own emotions as I relive the story as my character and add emotions.”

“How does you feel when your with an editor? What kind of thoughts go through your mind?”

“I have two forms of ‘editors’ for my work: my critique group friends and my New York editor who works for my publisher. Before my New York editor sees my work, I run it past my writing friends who give me their honest, constructive criticism. I always feel a bit anxious and insecure about what they will tell me. I have the same fears, hopes, and trepidations as most writers do when facing criticism. Afterwards, I'm relieved and excited, because they catch mistakes, not only in grammar and punctuation but also in facts, logic, and style. I feel grateful and relieved as well as eager to revise.

"By the time my in-house editor is reviewing my manuscripts, they have already been ‘vetted,’ so to speak by my critique group friends. I have had 6-7 different editors who worked for publishing houses, and they have all been astute, kind, and accurate. They have helped me save face by pointing out whatever is left that my writing friends did not address. As I wait for my editor's mark-ups and evaluation, I hope that she (I've had one male editor) will praise my work and be enthusiastic about it. Sometimes I have needed to directly ask the question, "Did you like it?" because they are focused on corrections. While waiting, I have days when I worry whether the book will not meet the editor's approval, but most of the time, I am confident that whatever is found is fixable.”

“What is it like when you’re presenting your work to an audience? Do you feel relaxed or do you still get butterflies?”

“Because my nonfiction books, six of them for writers, are typically presented in the form of workshops, here is how I feel: Before a workshop, I build up tension. Some of it is working tension that leads me to prepare, make photocopies, and think about my audience and how to present the work. The other portion of the tension I could do without: anxiety based on imagined scenarios, such as being dull-witted and "off," or being asked questions I cannot answer and looking like a fool, or having a non-responsive audience. I get more anxious when my audience is all pros. Then I worry that they will stump me or what I have to offer will be old hat. So far that has not been the case, but the anxiety says, "There is always a first time so watch out, missy."
Once I am in the room and am passing out handouts, I feel relaxed, cheerful, ready to have a good time as well as offer help to writers. I am a bit of a ham, so I crack jokes and fully enjoy meeting all of the people.

"If I am giving a speech, such as a keynote, that is a different story. Whereas I find teaching to now be natural, I find speeches to be unnatural. I know that I have to entertain, inform, and inspire. That is tough! I find speeches to be more formalized, best not done off the cuff, and giving them more like walking through a mine field. I try to structure in a laugh line in the first few sentences. If the audience laughs, I relax and feel as if I have purchased a little bit of extra rope, though I know I can still hang myself if I don't deliver. If they don't laugh, I sweat like an animal facing slaughter. When my speech succeeds and they clap--they actually clap--I'm soaring high on adrenalin. I summated Mt. Everest.”

“What is it like for you to find a publisher? What stages do you have to go through?”

“So far, I have been a self-publisher, then had my first two books published by a small Oregon publishing company that went out of business (so I was "orphaned"), then was picked up by a giant New York publisher for reprint of my first two books and for publication of two new books, and have had a small New York publisher who got bought out by a bigger fish and thus I was orphaned of all editorial support.

"In the beginning of my search for a publisher (outside of doing it myself), I wrote a proposal and a query. I already knew agents and one represented me, but was unsuccessful in selling the book (Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write). I queried publishers directly and an editor at St. Martin's was very enthusiastic, only to have the sales/marketing people shoot it down in the editorial review process. The editor so believed in my book that he did independent market research and went back to the review committee and it still didn't sail. At the time, I had no prior publications (except a few magazine articles and a few contest wins) and my only "platform" (ability to sell books myself) was that I taught adult education writing classes and had an editing business (my current dba is Editing International). I put the project aside and worked on another proposal for a travel memoir, again represented by the agent I knew, and again rejected. In hindsight, I was not yet a strong enough memoir writer.

"A year or so later, I was having lunch at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference with a NY agent friend of mine, and she suggested I pitch my proposal book to a small press. She knew that Blue Heron Publishing (Hillsboro, OR) was starting a line of writing books. I had seen a note about that as well, but her encouragement led to me attending a group pitch meeting with one of the co-owners, Dennis Stovall. I tend to be intuitive and I felt fully in sync with Dennis--a meeting of the minds--and he requested my proposal. I spruced it up and sent it in, and I got that call: "We want to publish your book." Although I haven't won a lottery, the emotions I felt were what I imagined winning Lotto would feel like.

"Dennis and Linny Stovall, founders and editors of Blue Heron Publishing, published my proposal book in 1995 and followed with publishing "The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit" in 1997. To gain consideration of their publishing this second book was entirely different because now I was one of their authors. I wrote a short proposal and after answering their questions, we signed the contract.

"When they decided to end Blue Heron to pursue other life goals, I was then "orphaned" with rights reverted to me of my first two books. By year 2000, I had a New York literary agent I had met by going to conferences. As a freelance book editor, I sought to meet as many agents as possible for my clients and in the process, that meant I had an inside connection--and now I was a published author. On September 4, 2001, I flew with my daughter Elaine, then 17, to New York. We patched together the trip using frequent flier miles and staying with a client and friend of mine in the city. The budget trip to New York City. I took a stack of my two books to give to my agent, with the hopes that she could find a new "home" for them. It seemed like a long shot as publishers like to discover and acquire new books more than "retreads." I had also written another proposal, for a series of writing craft books, and I left 10 copies of the proposal with her as well.

"On September 11th, 2001, my daughter and boarded out United Airlines flight at 8:30, leaving LeGuardia and, we thought, to arrive home in Eugene, Oregon by afternoon. The pilot gave us the shocking news soon after we took off, and landed us at O'Hare. Amidst confusion and disbelief at what had happened, we lucked out and were among the displaced passengers who found a room at a nearby hotel. Three days later, when a rental car was returned to the airport, Avis gave us a one-way "distress" discount, and my daughter and I drove 2200 miles home. I could not have been more amazed than when my agent called six weeks later, only six weeks after 9-11, with a four-book deal. Perigee Books, an imprint of US Penguin, purchased reprint rights to my first two books, and agreed to publish two of my proposed books in the new writing series.”

“What will you do after you are done writing books?”

“I'm done writing *writing* books now. Which means that I am unleashing myself on projects I've wanted to do for a long time. Foremost among them is a memoir based on my being the only white student, at age 17 in 1967, at a summer program for high school kids held at Bennett College in Greensboro, NC. I think of this memoir as a 3-5-year project, art and craft, a "legacy" work that may or may not be publishable, but most of all, must meet my inner artistic satisfaction.

"Second, I've always wanted to write a book involving my hobby, which is astrology. That one might be commercial as I am writing it for the masses and not for astrologers per se. I've begun outlining and doing some first writing on it. Because I don't want to write under deadline pressure, and the advances have so far been inadequate to let me stop working and just write, I want to have at least half of this astrology book done before I hand the proposal over to my agent for representation. I'm thinking of this book as being on a one-year track, perhaps longer.

"Of course, I have many other books in the queue, including a young adult novel. It is germinating in the back of my mind, so I'm "working" on it in the fertile womb of imagination.”

“Reflecting back on your work, how do you feel you did?”

“I hope the question doesn't mean that I'm all done! I feel great about the contributions I have made to the how-to instruction for writers. I have always held myself to the standard of contributing something new to the topic and writing in the clearest way I possibly can. All of my books have been well-received and some have reviews that feel like winning the lottery.

"My one disappointment is that I thought there would be more sales, more royalties, from writing writing books. When I started out with publishing, I thought that after my third writing book, I would surely receive enough royalties to cover my expenses and buy time to write more creative works. I now have six books in print with two earning royalties (meaning, they have sold well enough to pay back the advance). If the books continue to be in print, I am now joking that they will be my IRA, my retirement income, in addition to the pathetic amount I'll get from social security--if it still exists. The reality is that my choice of writing nonfiction was for a niche market, a specialty readership and not for a mass audience.

"One way out is to now write a bestseller! How many writers dream of that? Don't answer that. I assume we all do. But, I have now paid considerable dues: I am a professional nonfiction writer, I have a great agent, and I know how to write proposals and develop an already-existing strong platform, which refers to my promotional ability to sell my book. So the only thing in my way is thinking of that bestselling idea and carving out time. I'm hoping my astrology book for the millions will be that book. . . .

"I know I will never ever run out of creative ideas. They swarm around all the time. I dream them, I stumble across them, they come beckoning on knees. Do me!”

“How many books have you had published?”

"Seven. The six writing books and a first self-published book (in 1981) called "Mabel--The Story of One Midwife." I published 200 hardback and 2000 paperback, and learned every aspect of this business. Mable Dzata was the midwife for my two children, who were born at home. The book is her biography plus a collection of home birth stories by the families she helped. I was told a few years ago that it is a "midwifery classic." It took 10 years to sell out all copies! I say I was a tad bit naive when I thought they would all sell in 3 months. That's when I learned that it is one thing to write a good book, and it is another thing to let a reader know it exists and then to get 'em to fork over money.”

“How do you know when your book is done?”

“Most writers of all levels of skill and experience don't know. We're so subjectively tied to your creation. When you've written the best you can and revised up the wazoo, and you can't see anything else to do, other than change a few words here and there, you're done. The work may not be close to the quality for publication, but you've done the best you can. You can market and will have confirmation of its readiness by acceptance or rejection. But no matter what, you should start a next project.

"The more experienced a writer becomes in all areas of craft, with more books under the belt--or in the drawer--the greater will be the writer's instinct for how much to revise. There is a point where too much revision makes the book slick, like newly waxed tile. It loses its edge and the sheen will push the reader away instead of making the reader stop, engage, and feel the character's emotions. Of course I am talking fiction and memoir here, not how-to or information writing.

"I think all writers need someone outside of them to give feedback, and criticism. Astute readers are one choice. Other choices include a fellow writing buddy, a critique group (in person or online), a writing teacher, or a professional freelance editor.

"Writers also need to cultivate an ability to tune into their own heart, soul, and gut. They need this to be able to discriminate between suggestions and criticism they agree with and those they do not agree with. As I've often said, The Writer Rules. Everyone else has opinions. In the end, deciding when your work is done is a solo job, just as writing the work in the first place. You simply get better at the decision.

"Even after books are published, probably every author you talk to will tell you that he or she can pick one of the published books off the bookstore shelf, read a bit and find something they would now change. It is the nature of creativity and the inability to be perfect.”

“Where do your ideas come from? Pete Fromm has an idea folder and I was wondering if you had something similar.”

“I formerly put ideas onto sticky notes and plastered them onto my file cabinet. Bad idea. The sun makes them fade. And I never looked at them again. I have three places where I put ideas: I carry a little spiral notepad in my purse. I make computer files with working titles for the projects I think will get developed. And I have an artist's sketchpad where I doodle, think on the page, use colored markers, and build a "playground" for ideas to come in without censorship.

"My view on where ideas come from is this: "Build a field and they will come." (Field of Dreams) The field for a writer is your imagination. Just stating the intention to receive ideas gets implanted, like an egg in the womb. It will be nurtured and return at odd times with an idea and some growth to it. The process for a writer is, I think, to facilitate the flow from imagination into thought, which is different than searching for a "where" to find the ideas. It is not like going out into a field and digging for a buried treasure. It is more like building up the soil for a great garden.

"For me, these activities or conditions help build that field, or add nutrients to the garden soil: water--taking showers and getting lost in your thoughts, washing dishes, swimming, soaking in a hot tub, eyes closed to see the inner movie screen; walking--moving the body, getting a rhythm where you don't have to think about walking but your mind is walking--into the imagination and coming back in thought with ideas; driving--same thing though not quite as safe! I do have my notepad open with a pen as I drive longer distances, to jot down "great ideas"--they always seem great when they arrive. I also nab dreams I remember and as soon as possible write down the basics of them. I have "received" several ideas for novels directly out of dreams. Brainstorming with writing friends is another source of ideas and problem-solving for existing writing. "What if" is the best phrase for writers to complete.

"Last of all, and you didn't ask this is to note the "right stuff" to succeed as a writer: A love of expressing yourself in writing; the courage to ignore the inner voices of criticism and overcome the silent forces of censorship; patience and perseverance to practice writing skills for years, not expecting instant success; openness to constructive criticism; commitment to the process of multiple if not seemingly endless revisions to produce a finished work; immersion in the business side of writing as a career, learning marketing and networking skills; and last: remembering always that your reason to write is for the joy it brings you.”

Added as a side note was “Good luck and I hope this proves valuable. PS: You may find something else useful from the YouTube shorties that were taken at the talk I gave at Cover to Cover where we met each other.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Carolyn Rose Interview: Creative Process of Writing a Novel

By Guest Contributor Little_Karol. On the previous post she shared her research on the creative process of writing a novel. Today’s piece deals with an author interview she held with published author and writing teacher Carolyn Rose.

This excerpt was originally published at Writing My Heart
, and is Part II of III.

I met Rose at a reading at Cover to Cover Books in uptown at Schofield’s corner. She was there to assist her friend, Elizabeth Lyon. I had gone with Carol Doane, a student of Carolyn J. Rose, and Doane mentioned Rose would be great to interview and would be happy to answer my questions for a school paper. Doane found her e-mail and I thought I’d give it a try and see if she responds. Sure enough, she did. Rose said she would be honored to be interviewed. This was over e-mail.

“What is your creative process (what do you do when you are writing?). I know that seems kind of vague, but answer it to the best of your ability.”

“Once I’ve collected ideas, done some research if I needed to, started to develop characters, and figured out a lot of the plot, I generally go into a period of avoidance. I turn on the computer, and then play a lot of solitaire. I don’t allow myself to have other computer games or I’d never get any work done. When I’m sick of solitaire, I start to write. During the first hour I’m lucky if I get two paragraphs down because I’m still in avoidance mode—going downstairs to put in a load of laundry, emptying the dishwasher, etc. But apparently while I’m doing that my mind is working because by the end of that hour I’m moving.

“I used to sweat out the words that didn’t catapult into my brain and agonized over adjectives and similes, but lately I just leave a blank space and come back to it. Often when I wake up in the night to let the dog out the words are there and I write them on an index card and slip them in the next day.

“From day two on, I use the looping technique where I go back through what I wrote the day before and make minor corrections. That revision is a springboard for fresh writing.

“I forget about the concept of ‘perfect.’ First of all, I know it’s impossible to achieve that. And second, most of the good stuff, like subtext, foreshadowing, and the development of character voice, comes during the third, fourth, or fifth revision—or even after that.”

“How do you feel when you’re with an editor? What kind of thoughts go through your mind?”

“I’m not sure what you mean by this. I haven’t worked with an editor, only with critiquing friends. Sometimes I see exactly what they mean and agree with them. Other times I think the problem must lie with them. After all, how could they not get what I meant? I put all the comments aside for at least a week and I’m often surprised at how some of the ones I thought were idiotic acquire merit during that time period.”

“What is it like when you’re presenting your work to an audience? Do you feel relaxed or do you still get butterflies?”

“No butterflies. I attribute that to eight years working as a substitute teacher in local high schools. There is no tougher audience than teens that would rather text their friends, eat, sleep, or talk, and whose agenda for that period seldom includes listening to the sub and following through on the work she lays out.”

“What is it like for you to find a publisher? What stages do you have to go through?”

“The best way is to get an agent who has contacts with large publishing companies and can get your work in the door. Many big publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited or work without an agent. An agent will take 15% off the top, but it’s worth it.

“I had agents in the past, but those books didn’t sell, and in recent I’ve worked on marketing them myself to small and mid-sized publishing houses.”

“What will you do after you are done writing books?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be done. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and something I can’t imagine ever not doing. It’s not a job and I don’t look upon writing as work, so I’ll keep going as long as there are characters in my imagination wanting to get out.”

“Reflecting back on your work, how do you feel you did?”

“I wish I’d started sooner, but life (and the need to make a living) got in the way as it usually does. Elizabeth Lyon believes it takes about ten years to learn and integrate all the components of writing craft into what appears to be a seamless, effortless story. I think I’m still a few years shy of that point. So ask me this question again in a couple of years.

“I’m not a ‘great’ writer. I doubt I’ll ever write a classic that will turn up on high-school reading lists. But I’m trying to do the best I can and learning more about the craft every day.”

“How many books have you had published?”

“I have six out through a very small press (SynergEbooks) and three of those were former with Deadly Alibi Press (it folded a few years ago). I just sold a book to Five Star Mysteries and expect it will be out around the end of the year.

“How do you know when your book is done?”

“I don’t think they’re ever finished—I could always go back and make changes. But I stop revising when another story has built such momentum in my mind that I need to get it down on paper so I can concentrate on other things—like stopping at red lights.”

“Where do your ideas come from? Pete Fromm says that he has an idea folder... do you have anything like that or do you find inspiration where ever you may be sitting writing?”

“I also have an idea folder and a riffle of sticky notes around the edge of my computer monitor. Many of my ideas begin with character: What would happen if I took a woman like that and put her in a situation like this? Sometimes I draw on people I knew when I was growing up or situations I experienced. The Casey Brandt series sprang from my experiences in TV news. The Paladin series came from a morning at the Saturday Market. The Devil’s Harbor series (not yet published) [Editors note: due out in 2010] emerged from a visit to a tiny town on the Oregon Coast where everyone seemed to have two jobs. Hemlock Lake, which I just sold, comes from growing up in the Catskills in upstate New York. A Place of Forgetting, which I’m marketing now, comes rereading the journals I kept as a teenager and thinking about the intensity of emotion at that age.”

She added towards the end, “I don’t believe in writers’ block. There’s always something you can write. It might not be what you intended, and it might be dreadful, but it also might be amazing.”

Next Time Little_Karol shares her interview with Elizabeth Lyon

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creative Process of Writing a Novel

By Guest Contributor Little_Karol. This piece written for a creative writing class and originally published at Writing My Heart.

Part I of III


“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” ~Toni Morrison

The start, the beginning of a long journey. It’s initiated with a page. A blank one at that. Staring me down until I’m sitting in a corner glaring at the page.. It’s intimidating. I have a need, I fill the need suppressed by fear with the ability to cover the page with words. Stuff pages with ideas spinning around my head. Of vivid characters, living life and colorful scenes. I know imagination lets the mind expand.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” ~Albert Einstein

Developing a manuscript equals hours of editing thousands of papers with red pen marks. It rounds out to somewhere close to hours of sleep deprivation, shoulder tension, head aches from staring at the computer screen for days on end with aching fingers and hands. Take action! Get published.

If you’re turned down, keep trying. Doctor Theodore Seuss got turned down twenty-seven times until he got published by the twenty-eighth publisher. His visual art and creative writing teachers said he didn’t have it. Editors will evaluate you and catch every flaw. Every word misused, every coma misplaced. But share with agents and they will help you share with the world.

Your critique group will support you and help you refine your book. The critique group will help you to become published. How do you get there? Here is a teenager’s view of the creative process of writing a novel. From the first words to seeing your book in the local stores.

I came to the School of Arts and Academics to expand my inner artist. I took literary arts explore sixth grade year with Michael Carr. Through poetry I found more of myself than I had bothered to go searching for. I was never much of a writer before this. I loved writing assignments, but I always did the basics and never thought I went above and beyond to deserve the four out of four I received. I am now putting all my efforts into writing assignments teachers give.

My mom started writing a novel in 2007. She used me to bounce ideas. I gave her feedback that helped her start her writing. Now, 2009, two years later, she has her manuscript. She has her own world that comes with it. Where no one else is allowed to be. A world where something is always happening and no one can interrupt. This is a phase where she no longer talks to her child. Where she gets holed up in her room and only leaves to go to work and meet with her critique group.

I always wanted to know what went through her head while she was writing. This gave me the perfect opportunity. Now I had the just the right reason to ask her all the questions I wanted without her bugging me because I was interrupting her thoughts. This gave me a new insight to how my mother thinks when creating art. Wonders of her creative process aren’t wonders but rather questions answered.

All questions How do you know when your book is done? What are your judgment thoughts? What is it like to find an agent? What is it like to be published? What is your creative process? Are answered. I find questions popping into my head from books. I find myself asking about voice and style and about metaphors and ruts that you get stuck in and can’t seem to find a way out of.

“The third step is getting out of the rut. This is the hard part. Knowing and admitting a problem are not the same as solving it. But executing a solution saves you and gets you moving again.” (Tharp 189)


It started with reading Twyla Tharp’s book "The Creative Habit," and then reading some of Elizabeth Lyon’s guide, "Manuscript Makeover." I also read Lyon’s other book "A Writer’s Guide to Fiction." I expanded my searching to the internet. Usually I find something on my topic, but this was a little hard. I don’t think you can really find the creative process of doing a certain task. You may be able to find the creative process of one person. But it seems a little vague. I found little to nothing about the creative process using these resources. Little details came in handy along the way though.

What is the creative process of writing a novel? Is it each stage you go through to get to the final piece? Do the Fundamental Questions help you to answer the question, what’s next? You can ask all these questions, ask so many that their head will explode before you are finished asking; and you still might not have the answer you maybe wanted. Stopping at a stand point to find you have to go and discover those answers on your own. But where to start? I have hit a rut.

I figure this question is too… vague. It’s hard to find the answer I am looking for. No internet article seems to help; every interview seems to add to my curiosity and confusion. So, I’ll look at it this way. What is the creative process of one writer? Of just one novelist? Although I don’t think of her as a novelist, but well, let’s say a mom, she still has a lot of growth and tolerance for my never ending list of questions… sometimes.

No one can define your creative process; no one can cheat off of your work. We have techniques that many of us share when writing. It’s what we have in common, the rest is up to you. We all started with one page, we all end thinking something can be improved. We all have a reference point, when we turn to a critique group to help us get through the editing stages.

In her book, "A Writers Guide to Fiction," Lyon says “If you are new to writing fiction, you may wonder if there is a right way to ‘find’ a good story, to know how best to plan a story. The answer may not be a comfort to everyone: There is no right way; there is only your way. Anything can and has inspired writers and given them the kernel from which they’ve developed a story. No matter where you begin, you will have to fill in all the blanks.” (Lyon 11)

Don’t we all start out knowing what we want to write? Is it really that easy? Carol Doane pulled her inspiration from books and observing everyday life around her. In books you don’t hear about interracial couples very often, so she put one in her book. Hear about racism, sex, alcohol? Put it in her book as well. Her book pulls you into a fantasy world where everything is supremely real and any of these things can happen to you. Live in a life with metaphors that take time to grasp and understand? You find everyday life stories that sometimes go hidden shown to us through fiction.

We all begin somewhere. When Doane starts to draw inspiration, she pulls out her three by five cards. Scribbles of words and pictures of days long, long ago. Phrases from conversations that went through her mind everyday. As she flips each note card over and over again carefully, she begins rapid fire. Typing faster than most students… or her co-workers have ever heard. She’s on a roll and no one is getting in her way. Kind of like some demolition derby driver…

She has all her writing down and begins to transform her manuscript. Making metaphor after metaphor seamlessly flow throughout her paper. Taking sentence structures and tearing them down, just to come back to something fairly similar. Replacing words with words. Deleting sentence after sentence, just so another one could take its place.

She goes to her critique group to discover more and more revising is left to be done. Going back home, thoughts are still going through her mind. She won’t let me talk to her, scared they might escape. Every time she goes, less editing seems to need to be done. But she never stops. She adds and adds and adds, and then complains her manuscript is too long. So she goes back and decides to cut some areas, just find out later, they are replaced by new ideas.

What are some techniques for writing? Everyone has their own… but some are very similar. In Elizabeth Lyon’s book, "Manuscript Makeover," she talks about many techniques different writers use when editing their manuscript. Some examples will include: cultivating deep listening, silence critics; banish censors, practice riff-writing, revise from your truth, harvest your emotions and catch fireflies.

Each of these included a description of what they are and how to apply it to your editing stage in your manuscript. She also encourages you to: model favorite authors, revise for sentence variety and revise for impact These help with the simple revisions for style. Sections in the book help you to create similes, metaphors and a correct sentence structure.

Confined in her room another week, Doane prepares for another meeting with her critics. Revising again and again… to find yet another mistake. A vicious cycle of editing and sharing. Editing and sharing. Time after time again. After a year, less editing needs to be done. All metaphors and similes are woven throughout the book. All sentences run smoothly and all scenes make perfect sense. If you pay attention.

With each week the characters begin to develop. They gain their own colors. “To make characters live and breathe, writers must write ‘from the inside out’ to the ‘outside in’” (Lyon 19). Characters overcome problems throughout her book, adding more depth to their description. Making them seem more real with every twist and turn of an event.

Lyon says to not read to a group, but read in monotone to yourself as to not “perform” your writing (Lyon 8). Doane finds that reading to a critique group helps her catch more mistakes than she does alone. So, every method you try may not work for you, but it will work for someone. Trial and error. Find the one that works for you, the one that will help you more than frustrate you during the editing process.

How can you ask a writer about her experience with publishing a book if she is unpublished? Although Doane has queried to about half a dozen agents and a small publisher asked to see the first four chapters; she still remains unpublished, work not fully completed.

So I turned to two published writers to learn what the development stage of the creative process is when it comes to writers. Carolyn J. Rose is a fiction writer.

Here is what Rose had to say….

More tomorrow in Part II of III


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Social Media? I'm sure its a short term addiction *cough*

When I embarked on my book writing adventure I buried myself in manic bouts of typing. I radiated atomic concentration waves. An illusive feel or thought pulse fluttered within grasp and I stretched to reach it. During these hiatuses from real life, my pre-teen started her Facebook page. By their terms she was too young to have one. I took it down. Then, once newly birthday-ed, she re-upped and was back surfing through social media heaven with her friends.

Her offense was not discussing her foray with me.

I decided not to wage a Facebook battle, Instead, I got my own Facebook page to keep an eye on her, and within 48 hours I was hooked, sifted down through the rabbit of hole of profiles, activities, interests, favorite music, movies, books, quotes, political and religious views. Oh, and how many pictures of my kid can I upload? We traded the laptop back and forth each evening in congenial family fashion so we could each check our growing list of friends.

During one of our exchanges, I lamented that my bud Rij had neglected to give me a quote on the cost to develop an ’author’ Web-site. After investing a year into my novel I knew it was more than a hobby and I needed to begin an online presence, a platform, to launch myself. Rij builds web pages for a living and we had discussed at length what I envisioned. He and I had parted with a promise of a ‘family and friends’ rate.

Two weeks after my grumbling my daughter turned the laptop my direction and showed me my new Web-site, a Facebook fan page. I was stunned, first, that she listened to my cranky complaint, second that she took creative action to support an addiction that mostly siphoned time away from her. To insure I duly appreciated her efforts, she detailed, in encyclopedic specificity, how difficult the fan page set up was to decipher and that she had mirrored it after Eeyore’s page. (No dumb-ass jokes, please).

I rifled through the site, noted she had a couple of misspellings, didn’t have time at the moment to attack them, closed the page, and frankly, I forgot about it.

Two weeks after that a co-worker passed me in the hall and said, “I’m a fan!” Startled, I stopped mid-stride and tried to understand what in the world she was referring to. It dawned on me. The Facebook Fan Page. The misspellings. Oh, horror. How can you proclaim to be a writer and leave a blatant trail of misspelled words in your wake?

I scrambled home that night and broke into a cold sweat when I logged on and realized I had 6 WHOLE FANS. People who knew me. People who now thought I couldn’t spell. My fingers rattled over the keyboard and I attacked the editing task. Then I played with the page. What would make it interesting, how could I draw in more fans?

Okay, I could stop right here and tell you I was not really enamored with having a fan base, half of which I have coerced to follow me, but I can’t lie like that! I love my fan page.

I also love my daughter who embraces my quirks and feeds my addiction, then writes all about it in her term paper. I'll tell you about THAT next time.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

What evil lurks in social media? A mom

Little_Karol, my daughter, sat in a cube after hours at the office. The computer screen in front of her glowed as she checked her email. At least that’s what she told me she was doing. I strode into my office, crashed behind the desk and plunged into an evening of catch up.

It had never happened before, that our wires had crossed, even though she always used my log-in to get to the internet, but an absent-minded mouse flick on my part altered the screen I stared at. Suddenly, I shadowed her computer movements. It shocked me how quickly I rocketed into the bad-mom-universe. I was the bad mom. What flickered before me alarmed me.


I had shuddered at every horrid child abuse story in regards to social media, and had nodded sagely, arrogantly even, knowing my capable parenting skills would never find me the subject of a sad news story. I was too intelligent to raise a child who would fall prey. My child was too bright to fall to a predator. But there it was. Facebook. The ultimate child predator.

drifted in semi-consciousness as: ‘places not to visit.’ LinkedIN sounded like the online bar of hook-ups. Bloggers were anal politicos who needed a forum to rant, or self absorbed punks who didn’t get enough ‘me-time’ and needed to hear their own voices, so they posted what remained of their dribble online: me-me-me. Twitter had barely hit my radar and sounded inane, a test to drill your most profound thought to 140 characters. What kind of a character is that? Did a space count as a character? Ignorance foamed and huffed at me and I choked on its fumes.

My fingers trembled as I stared at my child’s Facebook wall. What the heck is a wall? Why would I be encouraged to write on it? I clicked through the other places of her Facebook page. Oh my effing gee, she has posted pictures! If that isn’t a predator call I don’t know what is.

That was it.

She was done.

I am a woman of action.

I took control and did the most sensible thing.

I read the Facebook terms and conditions.

I had her.

She was toast.

I called her into my office and I sounded mean. I confronted her Facebook abuse. I gave her a piece of paper and a pen and ordered her to write down every email, gmail, yahoo-mail, hotmail and every Web-site she was on that required a log-in and I demanded her passwords. Her dark eyes flooded with panic and tears pushed at her lashes. She took in a shaky breath, her little knees collapsed, and she sunk into the guest chair. One-by-one, she proceeded to disclose her secrets. That’s when I learned she had a blog. I had never read a blog. I was ignorant.

I shut down Facebook and doled out strong words. She was underage. Facebook had a minimum age requirement. She did not qualify. My strong lecture lasted up through her birthday. Midnight clicked over and back up went her Facebook.

Second discovery went as well as expected.

I yelled.

I gave up.

I got a Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy halloween

Happy Halloween :) I thought this was a funny picture.
:) Happy Halloween. We are cancelling all illness and turning the flu into pumpkins. Picture via Janet Liang: The Chemo Experience, from her blog Autumn in January.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm friendly but I have rules

I took a Saturday class, ‘Hands on Small Business,’ to understand how businesses can take advantage of social media. I dabble in what I thought was everything and wanted to see what I might be missing. Plenty. I received an introduction to Office Live, strolled through Kirtsy, and helped my proximity partner understand a bit about Twitter.

Twitter I get. I’ve got like a bazillion accounts. Well, two, me and my twin. She’s all about business, I’m all about fun.

When you’re a small business, your biggest issue is cash flow. Social media allows a small business, (and what is a writer other than a small business?) to reach beyond a geographical location (your butt in a chair in front of your computer getting inspiration from other writers). It offers ways to collaborate with professionals (publishing peeps), and research experts to pimp your publishable stuff (agents).

Social media allows you to jump in the stream without an outlay of cash.

The class taught us to use cloud computing (use products that don’t land on your laptop or your server). This stuff lives out there in the netherland and is managed by someone else. It is at this point I wish I had a lot more complicated words so I could really impress you that it was a hard class, and that I’m really smart. Just pretend: It was a hard class, I am really smart.

Katherine Gray, the teacher, is a ten-year veteran of online marketing. She is a social media maven who consults on web-design, site architecture, and she is a content strategist. In her Twitter life she is @thiskat and @dirttodish. (Oh, and @dirttodish is about food. Remind me not to cook any of her recipes. That is a two-way joke. I don't cook).

Katherine is really smart, and she makes it happen by being a woman mentoring other women, and finding sponsors like Microsoft who pitched in a prize: Office Small Business ($449.95 value). Katherine had a drawing. I didn’t need win. Here is where we pretend I am smart, an excellent student, and lucky.

Since we’re pretending, we shall also say I am a twitterable expert, and I will share what I have learned after posting 2,000+ tweets.

When I become a bit more adept at Office Live and Kirtsy (holding out for prizes here) I’ll post my experiences.

Twitter. Let’s define the basics.


RT = retweet, this is copying someone’s tweet. It appears like this:

RT @TheFirstCarol: she said blah blah blah (You may enter your twitter account and copy this exactly as written. I won’t mind and I might follow you).

The RT credits whoever originated the thought. People who originate thoughts appreciate when you repeat their words and give them credit. This is the smile factor. Make someone smile.

@ = The @ sign is coding. It comes before someone’s twitter name, it highlights their name. (Here’s the complicated stuff, so pay attention…).When you start a tweet with someone’s name @theFirstCarol, for example, only TheFirstCarol will see your message, and anyone who both you and TheFirstCarol follows. This excludes everyone who does not follow both of you.

.@ = The .@ preceeded by a period .@theFirstCarol, allows everyone who follows you to see what you are writing. This is inclusive.

If you want to see everyone who is talking about to you in a stream (on your wall), look on the right hand column of the Twitter screen and click on the words @theFirstCarol (or whatever your name on Twitter is). This will gather all the messages in a stream. This will make you feel good.

DM = direct message - this is like sending an email, only the recipient sees a DM message. It never appears in your twitter stream and it does not appear in the sender’s stream. To view a DM, the recipient needs to be on their ‘Home’ page they have to click on the words ‘Direct Message.’ To the right of the words ‘direct message’ there is also a number. This tells you how many direct messages you have received. You send DM’s by clicking on ‘Direct Message.’

Unless you are using a client such as Co-Tweet or Hootsuite you will have to check the ‘@’ sign on your home page to see a stream of your messages. Ms. Gray, recommends Co-Tweet for a business who will have more than one person tweeting. Hootsuite works well for individuals.

OV = overheard, something you heard in real life. You would write:
OV @TheFirstCarol talking smack about having more followers than @Scupperlout #whatabraggert (Sure, tweet THAT, I won’t mind. I like attention).

# = hash tag, organizes an event #bwe9 (Blog World Expo 2009), or thought #beatcancer It puts your tweet into the stream with others using the same hash tag. Our class used the hash tag, #hosb (Hands on Small Business). There is a white bar on the right hand side of your Twitter screen where you can type in a word such as #hosb. When you do this you will see the stream, who is using it. You can also simply click on these specific words, or click on anything highlighted in your Twitter stream, and it will take you to the specific stream or web-site.

The hashtag can also emphasize a thought, #newfriends #wierd #quote, or make one up, #iamnotdense

Follow Friday - on Friday’s you will see tweets saying #FF or #FollowFriday This means they like this person and are encouraging others to follow that person. It is important that you ALWAYS say #FollowFriday @TheFirstCarol, like every Friday, okay? It’s a good thing, just do it.

Who to follow and why I might not follow you:

When someone follows me, I get an email and I go to Twitter and check them out. I click on ‘Follows’ (who they are following). Eventually, I will find @TheFirstCarol in their list of who they are following. If I am too deep into their list, i.e., more than three pages back, I don’t follow them. I assume they are only interested in having a big number, not a conversation. If they later RT me or @ me and demonstrate they are interested in a conversation I follow back.

I also check to see if the person has a web-site. If yes, I go to the web-site and if it says, INCREASE YOUR TWITTER FOLLOWING, or if it’s a blatant sales offering, I don’t follow. They are more about pushing something on me so they can make money. That’s not fun at a cocktail party and its not fun on Twitter. If their Twitter streams says, “get whiter teeth” I do not follow. If they have naughty pictures or invitations to see them naked, I do not follow back. If they have no RT’s or no @’s in their Twitter stream I do not follow. That is someone pushing information and not engaging with anyone else. Boring.

If everything in their stream is the EXACT same post:

@adamflater Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

@Hannah899 Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

@LouisPagan Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

@avadakedevra Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

This is a bot. It is on autopilot. It sends an auto post whenever you tweet their magic word. Again, who wants to talk to a machine? I’ll pass.

Get a Picture.

You need an Avatar. An avatar is the picture that represents you on the social media site. If the person who follows me does not have an avatar I do not follow them. If no picture, they may be a short-timer, not that interested, not that interesting. They need to care about their Twitter adventure enough to invest the time to put up a picture.

Write a bio.

This is one in the settings mode. Let it represent your personality. Be who you are. If you’re not funny, don’t force it. You can re-write it, edit it until it’s perfected and you feel a need to re-write it again. It is not set in stone. Experiment.

Say Thank You.

I thank my followers. I plan this on Hootsuite which allows me to write the tweet and send it at a later date. I can do this at my leisure when I have time to do a batch of days. I choose the day and time within 5 minutes.

I prefer thank-you’s to run first thing in the AM, between 6-7 AM, at 8 AM when people log on at work it doesn’t mess up the Twitter stream for the people who don’t care, but the person who it is intended for will see the message and know that I acknowledged them. Everyone loves to see that someone is talking to them, don’t be afraid to do it, it will make someone feel good.

If you cannot think of anything else to say, say thanks followers and write their Twitter names.

Always include the @ sign before the name (no space) or the tweep will not see it.

A typical thank you message looks like this:

Thanks followers: @GlennGThater @joomlawebmaster @iflashvideo @GilAsakawa @namenick Party Favors! Remember 2 feed petrock!

The web-site link goes to a picture I’ve uploaded in TwitPic. Everyone who has a Twitter account automatically receives a Twitpic account. All you have to do is log-on using your twitter info and start uploading pictures. I copy the picture’s URL and paste into the window on Hootsuite to shorten the URL.

It makes this:

Look like this:

The uses 11 characters, the other 18. Since you only have 140 characters available you want to keep your links short. By including a picture I make the tweet interesting to anyone else who may have tuned in and makes it fun for the person included in the tweet.

But what do I get started?

Are you interested in advertising, web-design, jewelry, hiking, biking, writing, editing, publishing? Find a word that represents your interest or your business niche. Type the word in the white bar on the right hand column of your Twitter home page and see who/what comes up. Check these tweeps out. Pick a few that appear interesting. Follow them.

At the beginning of a Twitter adventure, no one thinks they have enough followers and some look for short cuts. Go for it if you want. There are plenty of people promoting ways to increase your following. That never interested me, I was more curious about how people found me, and then when they did, I checked out who they were following and followed some of their friends.

Ready to get started?

First, tell me who you want to find on Twitter... leave a note in the comments below. Come on, tell me the person that would get you so excited you’d tell everyone at work.

I'm serious, tell me. No one at work cares. Really.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

After the coffee comes the concussion

“Do you think anyone will show up who we know?” I asked Melanie as I jumped into her compact forest green convertible.

“Good Lord,” she replied, “I hope not.” She threw the car into reverse and sped out of the parking lot at a robust three miles an hour. Melanie is a safe driver.

We crossed the interstate bridge and left Washington State and the quiet life I lead and the exciting one Melanie leads—as an award winning writer—and within twenty minutes stood outside a big wooden 1930’s building in SE Portland. We glanced nervously at each other and I laughed like I’d done this a million times. “Come on, this will be fun,” I promised.

The door clanged open and the heady smell of ground coffee wafted our direction. We’d made it this far. We could surely cross the threshold. I tugged Melanie inside and we glanced around trying to locate a familiar landmark to shore up our quaking knees. There. We greeted Ed, our third friend, who was getting his head in the game by listening to his IPOD. He waved. Melanie and I drifted around the open tables and settled onto facing couches in front of the stage.

We fired up our laptops, clamped our jaws tight and flitted our eyes nervously around the room. Three of us, three of them—we had an audience—almost a full house. I took a picture to prove that point, but Teresa who tweets as Pdxsays made me take it down. I was ‘messing with her brand.’ (Note to self: ask before posting, not everyone likes their picture plastered around the internet, especially that one of me where I look like I’m a man, pretending to be not a man, or maybe pretending to be one, I don’t know it's kind of confusing. And don’t you all go looking for it. It sucks. Sheesh).

Melanie and I concentrated on our laptops, as if it were a life’s mission. We waited for software to load, for wi-fi to connect, whatever would help pass the time between now and the appointed hour. Tonight, the magic would begin. Ed would play microtonal music composed by his computer via algorithmic patterns, and we would read from our unpublished manuscripts. This was Monday, and this was Three Friends Coffee House and we were the entertainment.

By eight o’clock it’d be over.

Hopefully, I'd still have two friends. Teresa was already a goner.

Luke, the organizer, strode in and his deep, vibrant radio voice steadied our rattling nerves. He shook our hands, confirmed pronunciations of last names, and I noted, “Ed’s going first.”

Ed gazed at me, his kind eyes full of piss and vinegar, and said, “You should go first, you’re The First Carol.”

I was almost relieved and agreed way more faster than I would have suspected, thinking, that might be a good idea, I’ll get it over sooner...but I’ll be left on stage, better make a plan. I scribbled some ‘next guest’ introductory notes. Proving again that last minute planning is microcosmically successful in any venue.

I met Ed by stalking him on Twitter. During the day he’s all geek. Late at night he’d share what he was listening to: As a music major and geek wannabe I found the whole Ed package fascinating. I tried to lure an invitation out of him to meet a couple of times, he didn’t bite. Then all of sudden we were talking Linux and now I have Linux on my laptop and I have Ed as a friend.

Then it was 7 PM.

Luke welcomed the audience and welcomed me:

Hot pursuit of a career in advertising landed The First Carol a job in one of the largest newspapers in Southwest Washington. After numerous years of hacking out ad copy for the print ads she sold and making friends with everyone in her path, she can now claim connections in the highest echelons of covert government, Hollywood, and the janitorial staff (she works late). Welcome The First Carol!

I crawled on stage.

Took me awhile to stand up.

Took a little longer to find my voice, but I did manager to squeak out, “Take a good look around, pick a man, ask him to dance.”

Fifteen minutes later, three people clapped, (I suspicion they were Melanie and Ed and maybe Teresa). I nodded approvingly, although some people thought it was an avalanche of nervous shakes. Before I could actually decipher it myself, I launched into my Ed intro.

Ed explained the origin of his composition and we listened to the wild warblings of : "When Harry Met Iannis." When the tune ended I jumped back up dodging wires and Roland speakers and the chatter of the happy patrons waiting for this to end so they could get to open mic part of the event. I smiled benignly at Melanie who sat contentedly on the couch refusing with the utmost grace to come up on stage. I just as graciously introduced her from the stage. Maybe I had my hands on my hips and glared at her...maybe not:

Melanie is not sure why she is here, except she is my friend and I told her doing this type of stuff would save us from being boring. I convinced her being out in public was practice for Oprah, and we can use the experience for a blog post. If we’re a bust, we can make up that we were brilliant, in other words lie…because after all we write fiction.

Melanie adjusted the mic Luke had provided for her couch delivery, and we heard chapter three of Melanie's historical fiction work which plunked us on a brigantine in the Atlantic Ocean.

I listened and I'm sorry to say my mind wandered as I tallied the evening and my friends. Ed lives an exciting life of research, computer programming, music and social media. Ed has about 3 gadzillion followers on Twitter, znmeb is popular! Melanie is an award winning writer, with adventures to her credit from one coast of the US to the other (she recently moved her parents out west, which I deftly captured in the post: After the Rum, Comes the Reality). Her manuscript won second place in the 2009 Pacific Northwest Writers Assoction contest.

I am me and thus driven to compete amongst all this talent and seek attention.

And what am I telling my periphery friends who did not attend? Well, I'm saying, “I was absolutely brilliant.” (I don't mention I'm brilliant at convincing my friends down the rabbit hole). Then I try to divert attention away from my performance and dwell on how difficult Melanie was...a true complicated artist type, and I mention as often as possible, “Melanie's like all, ‘I'm not standing in front of these caffeinated hot heads, I'm staying on the couch. They can stand up to see me.’ Then when she finished, everyone started clapping and because they were standing she’s running around telling everyone she got a standing ovation! Can you even believe it.” Then I heave a huge sigh, like it’s such a problem dragging her anywhere.

And this is the truth, a guy chased Melanie out of the coffee house to shake her hand and thank her for coming and told her over and over again how much he liked it. I said, "Wow, you have a fan!"

Melanie said, "Yeah, but did you see him?"

I said, "Yes, and I smelled him, too." <-- I made that up just to be funny.

So, now the big question. Which two of your friends would go on stage with you?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tag You're It!

THREE WEEKS since I've posted. If you're interested in the excuses I'll gladly respond to any comments. In lieu of breaking my silence with a fascinating and charming note on my fascinating and charming life, I am sharing a 'tag note' my kid shared with me. Feel free to 'tag on.'

Dear Rowan:

I don't really know how to tell you this, but I'm joining the Convent. I think I realized it last year when you peed your pants outside your office and I saw you sit on my boyfriend. I'm sure you're open enough to understand that your driving sucks. I'm returning your love Hannah Montana underwear to you, but I'll keep the results of that blood sample as a memory. You should also know that I always will remember the pep talks, and that you have ruined my attempts at another world war. . .

Please Don't Hurt Me.


Little Karol

Here's how you do this:

Dear (Somebody you've talked to recently)

I don't really know how to tell you this, but (1). I think I realized it (2) (3) and I saw you (4) (5). I'm sure you're (6) enough to understand (7). I'm returning (8) to you, but I'll keep (9) as a memory. You should also know that I (10) and (11).

(Your name)

Then tag 10 people.




Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Have we lost the nuance between right and wrong?

The executive director of the local history museum found me on a Saturday afternoon in a friend’s art gallery. “I’m glad I caught you,” Susan said, and launched into a litany of information about an event she was organizing on Washington women’s suffrage.

She caught me off-guard. Although, I claim to blog about politics, I usually squeeze it in haphazardly, no big plan, just an occasional ‘hey,’ which sounds surprisingly like, “And we should all care about government...or at least pretend we do.” I never think about my right to vote, or ponder that it’s a privilege earned not by divine right, but by courageous women who believed in equality, wrestled men with words, challenged leaders and laws, and exhibited extreme persistence by introducing the same amendment every session of Congress for 41 years.

Susan, wrapped in enthusiasm, noted that Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote, Washington—not too far behind—was the fifth. Of course, I knew globally some women still did not have the right, and it wasn’t until 1971 that women in Switzerland were able to vote—if you’re older than 38 that happened in your lifetime. So, why don’t I appreciate this right more, if at all?

Susan detailed her event, a gathering of sorts, a mind-meld of diverse women from our community, a way to brainstorm how to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our right to vote. “Sign me up,” I said. She did.

A month later, on a sweet summer evening I walked up the steep steps of the Carnegie Library on Main Street. Years earlier the building had been converted to the museum and more recently updated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I entered the echoing space and shared a meal surrounded by women and women’s handiwork, pieces of reed and bark once bought for mere tokens, now revered as priceless, an ongoing display of Native American basketry.

My table mates were also priceless:
Jean - ran for public office in the late 1950's and became the first woman on city council

Ann - our county’s first woman scoutmaster

Florence - first woman executive director of the Francisco Symphony

Cheryl - college debate team member whose experience propelled the first test case on harassment and discrimination

Dorothy - first HR specialist to put women into jobs on the male-dominated manufacturing floor

Jerri - past state president for Delta Kappa Gamma, a national society of women educators

Mi - first female president of our local Korean Society

Karen - recruiter (and counselor) for political candidates

Norma - stay-at-home mom in the 60’s, now university professor

Melissa - English as second language teacher

Erika - a college student

Becky - a volunteer at our local community college

Kerri - one of the first women on the Rotary Foundation Board

Molly - an attorney

Lisa - an art history professor

Stacee - a mayor in a neighboring town

Maureen - an artist

Molly – daughter of the first woman to receive a Meier & Frank credit card, but only after the department store called her husband and asked for his permission

These fascinating women shared amazing stories. They reminded us that over 130 state laws changed in 1972 when Washington enacted its own Equal Rights Amendment. Changes, so small and seemingly insignificant by today’s standards, but ones they valued because they had lived without them:

“Getting my name in the phone book along with my husband’s”

“Getting credit cards in my own name”

“Having my own checking account”

“Being able to compete in sports...Title IX

“Comparable worth pay”

They spoke of personal gains:

“Birth control”

“Learning we could get married and postpone having children”

“Or not have any”

“Or choose a career”

“Being part of a state that produced the highest number of women in the legislature”

“The only state to have a woman governor and two women senators at the same time”(Chris Gregoire, Patti Murray and Maria Cantwell)

“Changing the school dress codes so I could wear pants in weather 35 degrees below zero”

The chill of remembering changed the pride. The hurts of the past emerged like a lazy, backwater relative you were hoping to ignore if not hide, a cultural backlash from the younger generation, youth who do not comprehend how recently gains have been made, have no idea how much they take for granted, and remain clueless on what yet remains to be targeted to create new opportunities.

The women I met that Sunday noted that cleaning products are still only advertised to women. They complained that college systems mostly make competition fair, but outside in the job world it isn’t. “Along with many other bright and caring women my daughter went into medicine and salaries plummeted,” shared a mother caught between pride and anger.

“I agree we have more laws that help us with access, but that glass smacks you hard if you go against the ceiling,” said a woman with experience in the military.

Another added, “I broke through the glass ceiling with shards of glass in my neck.”

They spun stories of subtleties and how dangerous they can be. The older women encouraged us to teach our children what those subtleties are, how they pervade our assumptions, our language, our perceptions.

“A conference room is littered with men and someone needs to take minutes. Everyone looks at me.” Why?

“BlueCross would not pay for my birth control, but they would pay for Rick Nelson’s Viagra.” Why?

“Women’s dress codes state ‘no dangling earrings,’ but is that on the dress code for men?”

“If you stand your ground, you’re aggressive, you’re a little hormonal, it’s that time of the month.”

“I can assert myself appropriately, but I hear 'she’s bitchy, she can’t take a joke.'” Why?

“If I beat boys in sports I’m labeled a lesbian.” Why?

“If you’re going to succeed you need to learn how to play golf, but you can’t be good enough to win. If you win you emasculate them.”

Them...why is it we all know who they are? Or do we?

Women’s experience dealing with credit issues or banks has changed very little. You are not the same person without a man. “Recently, a staff person’s husband was killed in a car accident. They had a line of credit with a local bank, never had a late payment and had good assets. The bank came at her the week he died and asked her to file new loan papers.” Why?

“This generation hasn’t had a struggle, hasn’t fought a significant war, they sense that everything is okay, and look for the path of least resistance, get what I want without too much effort.”

“We don’t remember that before 1976 marital rape was legal in every state.” I heard a door open and close as a few women with evening commitments drifted out: meal planning, laundry, ironing.

In the aching silence a woman sighed. “I don’t get a sisterhood feel. I get more pressure from women to not be more.” The room tensed.

“When do we get to not blame ourselves?” someone asked.

“It's not simple,” Susan answered, her voice gaining strength as she gathered our drifting attention. I was eager for a resolute summary that would conclude we had not faltered with the gift we'd been given. “There's a case right now in Newport prosecuting a teenager who took photos of another girl and sent it out over a cell phone. She is being held for a stupid mistake she made. She didn’t comprehend what she was doing. Now the way the court is looking at her she could be jailed and have to register as a sex offender.”

“Texting has made our children predators,” a young mother acknowledged.

“Sexting,” a co-ed corrected.

I shivered. Susan’s right. It's not simple.

The group took a collective breath and then released it as Susan steered the discussion to easier topics -- how to celebrate the gains that had been made over the last 100 years. Someone mentioned a display of underwear and that elicited a collective laugh.

The renewed planning warmed the open space as I slipped out. I started my car and before backing out flicked my eyes over the rear view mirror. How did we lose sight of the line between right and wrong? I waited for the traffic to clear. Or has the difference only become more subtle?

What do you think?


Friday, August 28, 2009

Nothing's original, but is that bad?

Music, inspiration and madness produced this piece of artwork in one evening of hard driving coffee house action. Fascinated by the spirit of its creation and the fervor of the artist, I snapped a photo before he carted it off to his vehicle.

A few days later I clicked on a Twitter link and discovered the picture below. The original I'd seen in its living, breathing essence, seemed somehow tainted. Not as pleasing. Even though the first was created using a brush and oils, and the one below is merely a manipulated photograph.

Man on Fire
The experience reminded me of discovering a local author, and exploring her work only to be disappointed that each book copied the identical concepts, down to at least one character in each work having clever, whiskey eye color. I felt quite critical, smug even, although she had reached the NY Times Bestseller list multiple times.

How unoriginal.

After listening to my rant, my sister reminded me writers don't pump out several books a year. If you enjoy an author you usually wait a year for the next release. You forget their idiosyncrasies. I, however, forget little and tend to start with an author's first work and read one right after the other in an effort to determine how their writing style has evolved, and most of all I don't want every story to include:

Female protagonist who pep-talks self out-loud, saying things like ‘get yourself together, with more attractive siblings and one developmentally delayed or socially-underdeveloped one; she lives in a small town near a large city, and drives a jeep, rides horses bareback (ever tried it? Give me a saddle, geez), is from a wealthy, influential family, with a domineering father, makes bad choices in men, then suddenly makes a good one (?!), hooks her thumb at her chest and hitches her chin, has a sickly stomach and tends to throw up a lot.

A male character who sires a child with someone other than his wife and child is hidden, speaks basely about women, thinks about sex a lot and its not pretty, nor is it love, has a sex slave who is willing to do anything to keep him, which doesn’t seem to work out so well for her and ultimately is not appreciated by him, practices a sexual deviancy: brother to sister, father-daughter, or husband caught with under-aged girl…

Another male character who is a social outcast, as a youth has a trouble with the law, and who pines over the girl for years, and somehow was either misunderstood or magically got his life together.

Somewhere I read, perhaps on Nathan Bransford blog (wish I could find it), what sells, sells. The author had found a writing niche readers enjoyed and had exploited it.

I don't want to be a copy, or imitate. That's so uninspiring, I still can't quite embrace it. Perhaps that was my inspiration to be first, as in The First Carol. Someone else can be next or last, and I hope they have a grand time trying to imitate me. Sure. Let's run with that.

If given the chance (or talent), which author would you want to imitate and why?


Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's a writer's conference, cry me a river

Day One.
I give my elevator pitch to Fellow Writer A, a woman. She says, “Oooo, nice.”

I gain confidence and give my elevator pitch to First Agent. She nods, appears interested. I give very brief summary of story. When I get to the part where ex-husband shows up as female protagonist’s new boss the agent stops me.

“No. That is too much of a coincidence for me.” I explain how the plot line makes it plausible. “No,” she smiles, “He would already know who the employees are in a business he is buying.” I tell her the story does not make that clear, whether he knows she’s there or not, it is not a story point. “No,” she repeats still smiling, pulls out a pocket dagger, swings it in front of my eyes for emphasis and details further, “I can’t find anything likeable about your female character.”

Nothing? The glint of the steel flashes and I sit back in my seat. I swing my head toward the exit and try to judge how far away I am.

“I like books with very strong female protagonists. Rethink your pitch, recast it in a way that describes the genre, what and why—why would she marry him?” She says things like explain plot device and ends with, “I have a disdain for characters who get themselves into a fix.” She stabs the dagger into the table top for emphasis.

I am in a fix. She has disdain for me.

Rewrite the story? I can’t just make something up.

Oh, right, I made it all up.

It sucks. I suck.

I my lips pull into a wavering smile and I thank her for her time.

Day Two, Morning
I give my elevator pitch to Fellow Writer B, a man, “Wow, I’m intrigued.”

Second Agent says, “Pitch me.” I give same elevator pitch. She stops me. “If she’s learned not to depend, why does she?” I explain the circumstances that make it plausible. She asks, “Is this you?”

“No. why do you ask? Does it sound like it happened to me?”

“No, but if it had happened to you, I would ask why you married this guy and tell you to turn it into a memoir.”

I wonder briefly if I can find and marry Jae-Chun Lee. I must discard this thought, after all, he is already married and...and...he is fiction.

I realize I am insane.

My plot is insane.

Day Two, Lunch
I decide I will not share agent feedback with my critique group, because one of them will tell me that such-and-so always bothered them, too, and I will quit, actually quit writing because…

I’ll give them a good excuse, as soon as I write one that does not suck and sound insane.

Day Two, Afternoon
I am thirsty. I leave my volunteer station in the agent consult area and grab a seltzer water can out of my car. I slip back into the banquet room and glide past an agent twiddling thumbs on a break.

The Agent grabs my arm and asks,“Where did you find the sparkling water?” I size the situation up. I hesitate. I do not snap the metal circle-tab. “You will be my new best friend,” she declares, “if you divulge your source.”

I hand her my can.

“No, I can't take your water,” she says, and struggles to maintain her composure. She’s likely very thirsty after telling all the writers how much they suck. She swallows and chomps down on the inside of her cheek.

“My treat,” I say. “I have a whole case in the car.”

She looks doubtful. I plant the can on her table. She relents. Her shaky hand reaches out. Her fingers close around the metal cylinder, red-glazed fingernails flick at the ring-top. It pops open and the water gasps, sparkling and plinking of Northwest freshness. She takes a long draw.

“You owe me a pitch,” I suggest, and it doesn't sound like I’m kidding. I mentally check my internal resources and steel myself for rejection.

“Send me your stuff,” she answers, “No,” she decides, after taking another gulp. She wipes her mouth with the back of her sleeve. “Send me your entire manuscript.” She scribbles her email on a scrap of paper.

I realize my value is measured in the drinks I keep in my car.

Later that evening, I wonder if it is required to cry everyday of a writer’s conference, and realize I do not suck at everything.


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