Archive for the ‘Personal Anecdotes’ Category

The Takeaway   Leave a comment

Jennifer Armentrout

Last weekend I attended the Liberty States Fiction Writers conference. As always, it was a splendid affair, full of other writers and readers eager to meet old friends, make new acquaintances, freshen up skills and even make a few pitches to agents and editors. I managed to do all of the above, and more.

Perhaps what influenced me the most was the above speaker – Jennifer Armentrout. She’s widely known as a Young Adult and New Adult writer, but one glance at her list of books reveals her prolific ability to write just about anything. Ms. Armentrout was the keynote speaker on Saturday, delivering one of the memorable speeches I’ve ever heard.

Jennifer Armentrout delivering the keynote speech at the LSFW Writers Conference

After listening to her, it wasn’t difficult to understand why she writes as much as she does. Sure, she loves her craft. Has a fantastic imagination. Can spin tales out of nothingness and make them live in universes not quite explored by others. But that’s not what hooked me. It’s what she does: take risks.

Anyone in a creative field has to either take risks or quit. It’s not a wimpy business for sissies, no way. Although there’s plenty of self-doubt to paint the Sistine Chapel over and again, one learns quickly that if one keeps that up, one’s going nowhere in the publishing world. Yeah, in drearier moods I count myself among the talentless and weak. And sure, who doesn’t need the occasional pat-on-the-back to be reminded that your prose is worth reading?

Jennifer won’t have it. She’s got books to write. Amazingly, she’s stuck with the same agent for her entire career, but she’s taken some incredible risks. Taken offers from publishers who might not have paid her what another would, but offered her greater freedom for her creativity. Not afraid to tackle a subject she knows little about. Maybe even try self-publishing and see what happens. At any rate, she sits down in front of her computer and composes her works for eight hours every day. Sometimes more. But she has to. It’s part of her, to dream, to create, to write.

Perhaps the most powerful engine driving her is a simple matter of her health. At a routine eye exam, it was discovered  she has retinitis pigmentosa, or RP. It’s the gradual withdrawal of one’s ability to see. It’s a cruel disease. As it progresses, the peripheral vision fades, resulting in ever-increasing tunnel vision, until the curtains close forever. There is no cure. At the present time, her vision is still with her, although her peripheral vision is fading.

No one can predict when or how long her vision will last, but Jennifer isn’t waiting for the lights to dim forever. She’s got stories to tell. She’s not waiting for blindness to set in. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, nor does she expect anyone else to. So there she is, eight hours a day, writing like there’s no tomorrow, taking risks, and nothing will ever stop her.

It gave me a whole new perspective on not only writing, but life. We are put here on earth to succeed. If we don’t, we’ll fade. Why should I let anything hold me back from trying my very best to endure? Aren’t my words worth the risk?

Why, indeed?

Why I Write Science Fiction   Leave a comment

Tomorrow I’m going to a writers conference. I’m expecting the turnout to be a little low, mainly because of the awful weather we’ve been having.  Unless you’re planning to go skiing, two feet of snow with more expected tends to put people in a sour mood. That doesn’t mean the conference won’t be fantastic; it will. We have two huge NYT bestsellers as keynote speakers, a whole batch of editors and agents from big names will be taking pitches, fantastic workshops to take and panel discussions to watch, among other things. Besides, there’s going to be friends I hardly ever see in attendance too, so that means some serious catch-up time over a few, so we can discuss our works and lives.

I joined this well-respected group several years ago, under the influence of my sister Gwen. It’s called Liberty States Fiction Writers and it’s been around for longer than I care to admit. We’re in the process of making many changes, including the website, to accommodate our growing membership and genres represented. Most of our members are published, some by big names. There’s even New York Times bestselling novelists that are part of the team.

If anything, I’ve invested a lot of myself with LSFW, and in turn, they’ve given me the confidence to forge ahead, even when I’m sure I’m a failure. Even the most confident of writers need a bonk on the head occasionally, or a few words of encouragement at least, to get moving towards that computer and be creative. I never imagined I’d be able to write an entire book, and here I am well into the second.

Many writers I’m around are romance novelists. They’re all great at it. Come up with real tear-jerkers and tales of sorrowful gladness. Stories range from no-holds-barred sentimentality to BSDM. That’s fine. Even LGBT romances are on the upswing – good news.  One of the best LGBT writers I know is a fine, humorous man and an excellent teacher whose lessons I apply to my work.

Me, though, I’ve never been one for sentimentality. You might even call me a cynic. True love didn’t conquer me. It led me down a golden path and kept me hidden, until it gave me the boot. I’ve never had much success with romance, so anything I’d write regarding that subject might sound dismal, hopeless and anything but happy. No Hollywood endings for me, no siree!

Instead, I found solace in situations that simply didn’t exist here on Earth or in our timeline. Sure, the characters might inhabit a strange world, but it’s my world, dammit, and if I want my characters to explore the possibilities of atomic substructures in subspace, so be it. Scientists quibbling over launch trajectories in equatorial locations seemed so much more interesting than, let’s say, getting flowers from a handsome fella. Not knowing what lies within that abandoned research facility on the moon and worse, who – or what – attacked it is definitely more intriguing than what dress the bride’s going to wear. Genetic mutations, nanoscience, coded machinations set to manipulate and govern sure beat the heck out of will she or won’t he.

That’s not to say my characters don’t believe in romance. They do, they engage in it and it doesn’t turn out well for them, either…but they find themselves working on scientific issues and dodging conventions while building worlds using insane technologies and writing sick codes. They don’t have time for flowers and chocolate. They get right down to business, then figure out how to beat the enemy at his/her own game.

They say you write about with what you’re familiar. To me, that’s sci-fi. It’s been my best friend since post-toddlerhood, has never let me down (although I’ve been disappointed a few times) and keeps me on the level. And creative.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?

Many Happy Returns of the Day   Leave a comment

rocket-happy-birthday

A birthday cake of dubious function and flavor

Tomorrow is my birthday. Amazing how they creep up on you. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared or anything; February 16 seems to come every year, at least once. And sure, I’d like a cake like the one pictured above, although I think I’d stand a fair distance from it, should the attractive brunette choose to light it.

I’ve heard the expression, “Many happy returns of the day” said to me on my birthday. It sounds really nice, if you ask me. But what exactly is getting or being returned here? I did a little investigation, and here’s what I came up with:

  1. The Earth has gone around one time and arrived at approximately the same place as it did a year ago, so made a return.
  2. It’s the name of numerous television show episodes, films and songs.
  3. One’s birthday will be full of happiness and joy, necessitating a wonderful return on the “investment” of a birthday.
  4. As found in Wikipedia’s entry for the phrase:

    …by Lady Newdigate in a letter written in 1789 (and published in Newdigate-Newdegate Cheverels in 1898)[1]

    “Many happy returns of þe day to us my Dr Love”

    The letter was written in London on the 31st of May 1789 by Hester Margaretta, Lady Newdigate to her husband, Sir Roger Newdigate, 5th Baronet, and refers to a wish for their wedding day.

  5. Winnie-the-Pooh preferred using this greeting as he wished his friends a happy birthday.

Now, I’m not one of those who gets all teary-eyed when I’ve gained an extra year or two. I mean, I can’t help it, nor can anyone. I get more upset with circumstances surrounding my life than the actual years marking its passage.

But there is something I can do, and that’s celebrate. It’s an abbreviated vacation from all the woes, sufferings and stupidity that seem to fill my life these days, and it’s an excellent excuse to eat all of the things I shouldn’t be eating (except on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, National Potato Day, etc.). Plus, I get to hang with my friends and complain about things in general, all while overindulging.

So what will I do on my birthday? Get up, go to the gym, continue working on my second novel, eat, get dressed, go out, eat, have some fun, eat cake, drink and otherwise be merry.

Life is rough. Why make it any harder by not celebrating a birthday?

 

Local Aliens   Leave a comment

Alien Fest - Sue & Gretche

Susan Crawford, Gretchen Weerheim and a Photobombing Alien

Pine Bush, NY Alien Festival is a local institution celebrating that town’s rather long legacy as the Hudson Valley’s premier UFO visitation site. And while it might not compare with, let’s say, ComicCon, it’s a small, charming, earnest festival that welcomes aliens and their friends from all over the universe. Sure, you have a crowd of abductees retelling their stories of horror aboard a ship of untraceable origin. Local authors hawk fiction and nonfiction stories of the weird and strange. And if you’re hungry, there’s always fried dough to munch on.

My sister Gwen and our friends Susan and Kate (actually, they’re sisters too) gathered together to check out the festival. Having never actually attended, none of us knew what to expect, which was a good thing. Yeah, sure, alien stereotypes abound.

Alien Fest - Porch Aliens

Porch Aliens

Oh, so what. Who cares? The whole town’s having a great time, a silly laugh and an excuse to dress up. What’s wrong with that?

Alien Fest - Mispelled sign

If things got too much, aliens can always esape…or escape…to a special hideaway created just for them.

Alien Fest - Star Trek Fans

 

To break of the monotony of green, we’ve got a little Star Trek thrown in. As Gwen and I wandered around, we came upon these two from the local chapter of the Star Trek Fan Club from Poughkeepsie, NY. These two reps from the club were about as enthusiastic as can be, offering me a chance to snuggle the tribble, offer me a piece of Double Bubble, and graciously giving me a copy of their newsletter. They’re open to new members and have MeetUps often. Visit their website for more details, if you’re interested.

 

Alien Fest - T-Shirts for SaleAlien Fest - Tom Q

Of course, any festival has great souvenirs of all kinds. Everyone seemed to be selling T-shirts and although I really thought they were cool, $20.00 is a bit steep. Thomas Quackenbush, a local sci-fi author, sold his books.
Alien Fest - Band

And what kind of festival is it if there isn’t some kind of ear-splitting music echoing down the streets? This particular band, First Round, actually was quite good. They played a good selection of covers extremely well. I liked them. Down the other end of the street, however, was a high school band with a horribly off-key wailer, accompanied by kids playing their instruments without any discernible rhythm.

I’m saving the best for last – the parade. The Parade.

Sure, it’s tiny and if you blink, it’s over. But man, those streets jam up and everyone cheers ’em on! Alien Fest - Saucer FloatAlien Fest - Green Aliens

Alien Fest - Green KiddiesAlien Fest - SW CarAlien Fest - ST CarAlien Fest - White AliensAlien Fest - UFO Patrol

As you can see by the above pictures, the parade was well attended.

Alas, the day came too quickly to a close, so we ran for the car, seven blocks away, and drove off before everyone else thought about leaving. On our way home, as we got diverted down a road none of us ever saw because of an accident, we recounted our adventure on a lovely Saturday afternoon. Already we’ve made plans for next year.

Oh, and it’s been decided: we’re going as Coneheads.

Random House Open House   Leave a comment

Gretchen at RH 4-29-16

Yours truly, causing problems

Oh, what a day I had last Friday! I got to walk in the temple of literature amongst the gods. That’s right – I went to Penguin Random House.

So many distinguished authors have had the blessed fortune to be published by this institution, it’s mind-boggling. Seriously, one can’t take it all in. To wit: here’s a wall (and it’s only a partial view) of the Nobel Prize winners that have had their works published here.

Nobel Prize Wall

PRH’s distinguished and honored literary lineup

Why was I there to begin with? To ask/beg them to publish my work? Pssh. If only. No, I went with my sister and a bunch of our friends (also writers) to their quarterly open house. If you’re interested in books, writing, publishing, or just stretching your mind, it’s the best place in the whole world.

PRH presents a lineup of great writers of all genres, plus a little insider stuff. The day started off with Questlove, best known as the bandleader for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He wrote this wonderful book entitled SOMETHINGTOFOODABOUT, a collection of essays and interviews with chefs who raise their culinary talents to the artistic level. It’s a beautiful book, full of amazing photos of food worship. I longed for a snack after gazing through its pages. He kindly autographed it.

QuestloveGretchen & Questlove

Questlove chats with his cowriter, Ben Greenman;

Gretchen gets his autograph – very nice man indeed!

 

Later on in the morning, Justin Cronin and Pierce Brown held a discussion regarding their books. Both had such camaraderie, one might think they knew each other forever. They’d only met fifteen minutes before taking the stage. Still, their engaging conversation gave writers (like me) hope that even if you have 137 rejections (like Pierce Brown did), you still might get lucky. And boy, did he ever. Justin Cronin was a college professor whose daughter, quite young at the time, told him not to write boring books.

Justin CroninPierce & JustinPosing with Pierce Brown

Autographing it up with Justin Cronin, listening to their chat (I know, bad photo) and chatting with Pierce

After lunch, two in-house art directors, Greg Mollica and Joe Perez discussed the finer points of creating a cover. They used several books for examples, some going through several dozen attempts to reach the right look. It’s really true that a book is judged by its cover, because without reading a word, you’ve got to attract the reader’s attention. My favorite story was that of Mark Maron – he’s a favorite of mine and I love his podcast. Mark loves cats. Getting a cat to cooperate proved to be an exercise in patience, as the cat wrangler tried very hard, as well as Mark, to get the cat to pose. I think we all know what comes next:

Maron Covers

Some of the shots trying to get THE shot for the cover

PRH saved the best for last: Anna Quindlen. In case you didn’t know, a New York Times columnist and NYT bestselling author many times over. She was interviewed by no less than Lee Woodruff, an author whose husband, Bob Woodruff, was a correspondent for ABC news and suffered a serious head injury in the Middle East – a story in itself. She discussed her writing process and the fact that one of her sons thought it was entirely gross that she wrote sex scenes in her books (he was a kid at the time). Fortunately, she had the best snacks on the block and all the kids hung out at her place after school.

Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen and Lee Woodruff, a little on the dark side

The day went by like lightning and was over far too soon. As I sat on the train, staring out at the window on my way home, reading Questlove’s book and feeling hungry, I thought to myself how lucky I was to have been in Random House, thoroughly enjoying the day. Who knows? Maybe one day my books will grace their library walls for all to see. But for now, I’m glad I went and can’t wait for the next one.

Gwen, Me & Linda at RH

Me, my sister Gwen Jones and our friend Linda Parisi

GOT Coloring Book

My souvenir for the day

When the First 50 Pages Is Actually 80 Pages…   Leave a comment

Vintage Typist

So now that I put my first book to bed (for now), it’s time to begin writing the second! I’ve come charging out at the gate, full of zip and zing, just itching to get those words out of my brain and onto a screen. After all, the characters have been banging around, demanding to take on some form and function, ready to put that plot to action.

And off I went, typing my little heart out. I came up with a fast outline, about twenty pages or so, then reduced them to about three, then one. Why? So I’d have a synopsis ready. My agent will need it, plus it helps to have it to hand when coming up with that all-important pitch.

I have a wide-screen display, so part of it showed my outline (to keep track of things) and the other was the book. Pretty soon, I ignored what I had up there for an outline and just kept going.

See, I wanted to write those first 50 pages that editors always seem to ask for when perusing a book submission. Checking it out to see if it’s any good. If it’s what they want. Can they sell it? Can you write? It’s got to be perfect, a real page-turner, else it’ll wind up in the slush pile and the permanent death bin. Can’t have that, now, can we?

So write I did, until I have my main three characters all set up nicely and it became pretty obvious they’d have work cut out for them to resolve their issues.

As it seems, so did I.

I wrote eighty pages. I only needed fifty.

My characters looked askance. One of them complained he had glue in his feet. Another thought she’d been kind of inactive for two long. And the other? Kind of went on and on about something or another without actually coming to a point.

Time to chuck out the garbage!

First, I read the whole thing without changing a word. The story line made perfect sense, but it could be better. I examined each paragraph, all the dialogue, even punctuation. Took my time and shelved a few ideas. I liked them, but those ideas gave too much of the plot away, so I made a file called, “For later.” I go back to that file if I need an idea, use a quote, even a suggestion. Often I ditch much of what’s in there, but if you come up with a good quote and it doesn’t fit right in its original spot, it might be useful later. Or you can admire it over and over and congratulate yourself for being clever and use it in witty conversation at one of those glamorous cocktail parties you’re going to be invited to when your book is published. Believe it or not, I got rid of 10 pages this way.

Next, I went over those really long paragraphs and the very short two-liners to see if I couldn’t condense them. I actually trimmed quite a bit this way.

Finally, I went over each and every sentence. That’s tough. I found myself reading sentences over and over, unable to shorten or reword them. It’s going to work out that I’m going to need some of those longer sentences, but I can make them shorter by finding better ways to contain the information they’re trying to convey. After all, brevity is the soul of wit, and you can keep a reader far more interested if you get right to it.

I’m not quite at 50 pages yet, but I’m nearly there. I’ve hacked and pruned my way to 59 pages, which isn’t too bad. My story’s exposition reads a whole lot better and I’m feeling good about it. I’m still in first draft mode, but with those solid first 50 pages, I’m ready to tackle the rest of the book…all three thousand pages of it…

Just kidding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life During Manuscript   2 comments

My Manuscript

An Early Draft, Now Barely Recognizable

It’s done. All Done. Over. Finished.

My sci-fi soul, laid bare, over the course of several hundred pages and 130K (or so) words.

My book. The one that took forever to write, or seemingly so.

Its fate rests in the hands of my agent now, who has total authority to sell it and make us both rich, famous and instantly recognizable.

My sister Gwen, our agent Marisa and me went out to dinner recently, discussing all that it takes to put forth a novel of any genre or length. Sure, there’s coming up with a compelling plot, interesting characters, twists, turns, a blast of an ending and the promise of more works to come. But there’s a backstory to all this, one that most readers never consider.

It’s this: what happens when the writer writes? What goes on in his or her life while the words flow?

I started writing this book in 2013. Mainly I wrote nonfiction and copy. Truly had no clue how to write a novel. So during the time from first word on the page until the seventh draft – yup, that’s right – I’ve had a lot of action occurring in the background.

Both of my parents died. My dearest uncle, too. I quit one job, lost another, and got hired again. I’ve had surgery and a scare of cancer. My sister had two surgeries and a cancer scare too. My brother is battling a terrible disease. My husband had major surgery. And sure, there were many times I stared at the computer screen, eyes filled with tears because I couldn’t think long enough or clearly to formulate a sentence. I couldn’t focus long enough even to come up with a lame blog entry.

Good things happened, too. My son grew nearly a foot (no lie – he’s 6’2 1/2″). Andrew and I had a great trip to Atlantic Canada and San Francisco. I have some wonderful friends that made me laugh. Gwen and I went to several fantastic literary events. Even had a few birthdays along the way.

And absolutely most of all, I survived the writing experience and I finished a book, got a wonderful, wonderful agent and there’s a publisher who might be interested in my work. Yay!

This, too, might seem strange to some, but probably not to a writer: my characters wouldn’t let me give up. If I wallowed in my grief and sorrow, one of them tapped me on the shoulder and said how sick they were being trapped in my brain and they were going to kick me in the patootskie if I didn’t let them go on with their lives and live it up on the pages of my book. They had plotting to do, people to exchange dialogue with, motives to fulfill. So as I drifted off to sleep at night, one or two of them inevitably held a conversation in my head, wondering what they should be doing next. I tried to discuss it with them, but often I was too sleepy. Sometimes, they’d be a bit too active and wouldn’t allow me to drift off, poking me to move the plot along already. And then, of course, when two characters grew rather attracted to each other, well…

So hopefully I’ll do a better job of keeping this blog active. I spent the past month on the final home stretch to get the manuscript in good order, and now that it’s done? I’m on to my next book!

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