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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Welcome: Words Are Tricksy Things

The old welcome page has been deleted. Basically this blog offers weekly insight into the life and times of an (as yet) unpublished wanna be writer. It's not as blah as it sounds- really. Sometimes it's much, much worse. Happy reading. 

 Words Are Tricksy Things


I was struck by poetry this morning, don't worry it doesn't happen often. 

Ah summer-
the sweet sounds of nature 
punctuated by the occasional transformer explosion
and the sudden machine silence
of a neighborhood without electricity.



'Cause, well, the transformer down the street exploded when all the neighbors' a/c units clicked on at the same time and I needed a Facebook post. Writing is like that sometimes.

How do I know? Hop on board, I've got a backstory for you.


I've always loved reading. The greatest gift I ever received was the message from my Oma and Opa that, if I was reading quietly somewhere, I wouldn't get in trouble or have to do stuff like scooping up dog crap in the back yard. Because I liked to read (and really hated scooping dog crap) I had a plethora of cool words to use to express myself. I got plenty of attention because of my extensive vocabulary  and learned to love the taste and feel of words. I discovered that scooping dog crap was the perfect time and place to use many of these words. 

For years people told me that I could write well but I knew better- writers were like movie stars to me; I couldn't imagine becoming one. I knew I wasn't ever going to be good enough to call myself a writer. If I was so freaking talented why didn't I ever win any of the writing contests in school? Looking back, my books were kind of lame. I was writing cat mysteries well before they became popular and I hadn't quite mastered the art of the subtle clue or interesting dialog. "Look Cathy I think these cat prints must mean something. Maybe if we follow them we'll find your cat." or "Oh look Cathy, I think that's your cat." It was.


It takes more than one seed to make a garden.

 When my kids were little, the one place where I felt comfortable letting them loose was our little local library. The librarian, Joan, would take my hyperactive, inquisitive son and daughter to her desk and allow them to organize the stuff she kept in the top drawer of her massive library desk. She loved listening to their stories and she patiently answered their many (often esoteric) questions. As an added bonus, the library was extraordinarily small and I was able to keep an eye on them while I grabbed every new book that came in. 

I fell in love with the "cozy mystery" back then because I could pick up  pretty much any book in the genre and put it down a million times without losing the thread of the story- a necessary quality for a mom with two kids under the age of four. I loved the sense of place in the books, the adult, blessed with nannies or other people to watch their kids so they could investigate a murder, protagonists, the (sometimes slight) mental challenge of sussing out the murderer. I read other stuff (The New Yorker, other fiction, Goodnight Moon) but cozies were my comfort food and libraries were my refuge. 

The librarians always took time to talk to me too. One day Joan said "if you can write as well as you speak you'll be the next Erma Bombeck." I disagreed with her, joked that if I ever did write a book I'd dedicate it to her and filed the comment away for future contemplation. She died maybe a year later and I knew that I had to get over myself and write a book for her. It took me five years, a few extremely significant life events (especially moving away from New Hampshire to Tennessee) and a more settled life before I could get that first book done.


In a fit of homesickness, I sat down and wrote a scene of a woman sitting on a damp rock looking out onto the Isles of Shoals. I didn't really intend to write the book-In spite of my desire to please Joan I'd pretty much given up on that dream- but I needed to write (it's one of those sneaky recurring compulsions ) This time I wrote almost  every day and, three months later, had a completed novel.

It felt pretty damn good to have a whole 80,000 word (259 page) novel under my belt. Writing this book was a transcendent experience, like reading times a hundred. I had no idea what was going to happen next; this was both terrifying and exhilarating. Amazing, really. I gotta tell ya, I fell in love with the places and (some of) the characters I created. Awesome! Writing  wasn't always smooth and easy but the beautiful days far outnumbered the others. 

Sometimes you have to amend the soil and replant the seeds.

Then I started editing and entered the endless hell of weeding out the crap from the okay. I had beta readers and some of them offered pretty terrific criticism. Some of them just sucked. I know now not to send the first draft (or the third for that matter) to anyone. I also learned that friends don't always make the best judges, especially when they don't read the genre. I quickly discovered that people will beg to read your book even if they don't actually have the time to read it. But what the heck, I'm still learning. So I edited (or complained about having to edit) the MS for a year and started researching the publishing biz. I kept on writing, because I couldn't help it. Oh, in case anybody is wondering, book 2 in the series (I have five titled and outlined) is on hold until I get the first batch of query letters out of the way (I sneakily wrote the first couple thousand words of the next book but if I allow myself to finish writing I'll never get the queries out)

Then I really researched the heck out of the publishing biz. I chose the 30 agents I felt were most qualified to represent my "work" and read their blogs, submission guidelines, their bios and those of their (genre appropriate) authors. I just totally freaked myself out. 

"Start a blog (done,) don't send us to your web page or blog- we don't care. Send an e-query, send all queries snail mail, don't send a query fill out a form or, worst of all, come to our workshop and we'll ask you to send one {I eliminated all of these agents, I'm all for making a buck but c'mon} Format your query this way, don't format your query that way do it this way, format your MS this way not that way." You get the drift. 

I couldn't prioritize the final 30 agents- it all seemed impossible. I muddled around for a while then had something of an epiphany. I taught my kids to make unpleasant activities more fun by making a game out of them (some games are better than others) and I took my own advice. 

For the perfect mix of chance and design, I wrote the names of the 30 agents on slips of paper and put them in a basket. I then drew eight names and wrote them inside a cootie catcher. I asked my Facebook friends to choose a color (pink, blue, green, yellow) then a number from 1-10. I did the cootie catcher dance and chose my first eight agents. The first agent was probably the most picky and tricky agent I could have chosen and, honestly, I'm writing this rather than editing my special, just for her, query letter. I've got the thing almost done, It just needs to marinate in my cortisol (that's the stress hormone, right?) pickled brain for a while. Yeah, seriously.

Starting seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date helps give your garden a head start. 

Yeah and I'm entering contests- only the legit ones of course.


It's all about the words. A kid in my son's speech class was asked to pronounce a problematic word and he couldn't do it. He smacked the table and said, "Words are tricksy things." Truer words have never been spoken (lisped?) Every once in a while I have the perfect combination of the right word and the right place to put it. Some days are writing days, some days are selling days and some days it is just easier to search the want ads for entry level temp jobs. I'm not vain enough to call myself a real writer but, I'll tell you what, I am going to be a paid writer- just let me get a couple things done first.

S.H.



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