Dreams Without a Sell-By Date

I was talking to a coworker… or maybe this is a theme, and it’s just suddenly becoming obvious… But, it was one of those “At my age” conversations. So, here she is, in a job that she hates, coming off the last job that she hated, and which finally just hit the boiling point. Just couldn’t stand it, anymore, so here she is… And she was basically saying… what else can I do, at my age? (Her age is older than I am, but probably still about an eternity from retirement.)

The thing is, she had ideas. None of them are really things she’s passionate about, and most of them are things that you probably should be passionate about, if you’re going to make them your life’s goal. But they sound better than here, and why not?

Oh, yeah. That’ right. At my age… There are geographic factors, too. Kids, grandkids. Family in the dying little town we live in. We’re all good at finding reasons not to jump. Not to face the unknown.

The truth is, I don’t believe either one of us should count on our current job being here for long. Definitely not until I retire. Probably not even until she retires. And it’s really not that great a job to begin with. More of a devil you know situation.

Not everybody gets be an astronaut when they grow up.

And most kids… we pump them full of the kind of dreams that do have sell-by dates. How many years do you have to become a baseball player? I mean… you might spend your eighties tossing a ball around with the Senior Sluggers, but you’re never going to play for the New York Yankees. No, not even way out in left field. How long before you lose your chance to be a rock star? Do you even want to be President of the United States after you’re old enough to buy a beer?

Writing is different.

You can actually do that, regardless of age or geography for as long as you’re interested in doing it.

You can be better at eighty five than you were at twenty five.

There’s a lot of value in the idea that I can still make it, even at my age. Even at her age.

And I can make it doing something I’ve always loved.

I’m still working toward that goal.

In school, I got a lot of That’s Nice, dear… Have you considered this assessment-indicated career in forestry and wildlife management? Certainly more than anyone suggesting that writing could be a career path in itself.

 

Hobbies For Serial Killers… and Writers.

One of the things I like to do–as a point of interest, not as a career path–is to take the information that people hand out without a second thought, go to the internet, and see how much more I can come up with. It’s a holdover from my time writing thrillers, and the truth is, everyone should probably take a step back and think about how much information they really want to give strangers.

The correct answer?

I don’t know. I mean, I have a blog, don’t I? A Twitter account?  I post information on the internet, and for the most part, I don’t get a whole lot of negativity. I’ve never gotten any trolling, or threats. Of course, I’m also not really advertising to a full cross-section of the world, either. My blog focuses on readers, writers… uhm… mostly not homicidal maniacs.

I still believe you should think about what kind of information you’re giving away… particularly if it connects to minors.

There’s not a whole lot of advantage to giving away personal information.

So, the game goes like this. You see a stranger. It could be one of those SUVs with the stick family on the back, or it could be that Booster Club Mom with the giant buttons with her kid’s picture and the Sports Team T-shirt. Anyone, really. The goal is to get from watching their car drive by to knowing enough to get them to believe you know them. (I’m not actually suggesting that you act on this.)

You are not allowed to talk to the person, or to communicate with them in any way. No asking for more information,  no hinting, no introducing yourself in hopes of hearing the person’s name, or getting them to chat about their high school glory days.

You take the information they hand out freely, and you go from there. Is their kid an honor roll student at Herbert Hoover Middle School? Does Dad have one of those license plates that lists his ham radio call letters? (You can pull up radio license information, and usually a home address with one of those.) Those nifty Team/sport/name/JerseyNumber bumper stickers are suddenly weirdly creepy.

Because people really do give away a lot of information on their cars, sometimes on their bodies. Hobbies. Interests. The number of people and pets in the family. Do you really want people walking by your car to know you own an attack cat instead of a Doberman? Do you want them to know that your daughter’s name is Chelsea, she goes to Franklin Middle School, where she plays volleyball, and then goes to dance at Baby Ballet is us? Would you like that same stranger to know what her brother’s name is, and what kind of car to tell her broke down?

And yes, one of my villains does wind up choosing victims based on the bumper stickers on their cars. It’s not as detailed as this, but… well, it’s the kind of thing that gets a girl to thinking. Be safe out there.

What do you think? Where do you draw the line on giving out information?

True Self

I don’t know why I took the pills.

It wasn’t smart. Just a moment of try-anything desperation, and a gulp of water, and two slightly luminous capsules the size of castor beans went sliding down my throat.

Half a second after I swallowed, I decided to put my finger down my throat. That was the sane thing. The only choice. Throw up. Throw up. THROW UP!

I wasn’t fast enough.

The room didn’t spin, and nothing went black. My vision didn’t even blur.

I was going to puke up those pills, and then, I was on the floor. The cold tile and the sound of lukewarm water still running in the sink. Yeah. I knew the old woman’s promises were lies. I probably knew the pills were a rip-off, too. After all, the damn things glowed like theater props in her hand, and nobody ever said what they were supposed to do. I was hoping for something—anything—but there I was, waking up. Painted horse tranquilizers. Maybe Nimbutal.

Six hundred dollars down the drain, all because some poverty stricken fortune teller reminded me of my grandmother.

I stayed where I was, and listened to the water run.

Thought about calling an ambulance.

But what was I going to say? Passed out for a while. No, I don’t know what I took. Feel better, now. Feel better than I have in a month. But, maybe check my blood pressure?

No.

I got to my feet, and brushed off my bathrobe.

The clock on the counter said a barely-believable number. Time had passed, and lots of it.

If it was already evening, that was bad.

It wasn’t evening. The grinding progress of a garbage truck insisted it was morning.

And that meant I’d been unconscious for at least an entire day.

I’d have to be at work in a few hours, and for the first time in nine years, I wasn’t ready. The project I was working on wasn’t finished—not unless the pills had magical properties even the fortuneteller hadn’t predicted—and the company was relying on me. Failure was—

Not an option.

It was inevitable.

I was going to be fired, and the truth… Maybe the pills were working. Maybe they were–as advertised—resurrecting my true self.

Resurrecting? It had been so long I couldn’t remember for sure what my true self had been in the first place. I know people asked, once… what do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?

And I answered.

I must have answered.

But what I said?

I don’t remember.

My true self. Maybe I would have known, when I was eleven, and maybe… if I could remember… maybe knowing my true self would be enough to make me happy, or at least, to let me know where to look for happy.

I splashed some water on my face, and reached for a towel.

I couldn’t call in hung-over. I’d have to pull it together and make it through the day. I was a grown-up person, with a grown-up job, and after all, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Glowing pills. What was I thinking? I’d never go back to believing I could be a rock star, or a fire woman, or a sea captain. Whatever thing it was, I’d forgotten it for a reason. And a pirate? Why not just dream of being a serial killer? The only difference is a hat.

I threw the towel in the hamper.

Then, I looked in the mirror, and stopped breathing.

I leaned in to look at my own face—at my true self, a voice in the back of my head repeated, not quite mocking— just to be sure I wasn’t leaving for work with the imprint of a shoe or a wrist-watch on my face. The mirror stared back at me.

And there was nothing there.

Nothing left of my true self.

So, there you have it. Something I whipped up for your entertainment. Let me know what you think, and be sure you beat the hell out of those share buttons.

Turbulence and Abrupt Stops

The middle section of my book came to an abrupt end, yesterday, as I realized that the scene I was writing and the scene where my main character turns herself in–we’ll say to the “police”–could be smushed into one convenient bundle, and end a whole lot of tramping around the countryside.

It also ends the potential for any of those love-scenes I write when I can’t think of anything to write, and leaves my characters divided and arguing.

Oopsie.

I’ve run into a few instances where things I thought were separate episodes turned out to be elements of the same scene, and they may be the only reason I have any hope of coming in under word count.

They also have a way of getting that story cracking, and I’m positive that’s a good thing.

So, now… MMC doesn’t know it, but FMC has come to “the police station” for two reasons–she intends to leave him in a safe place, and she intends to turn herself in.

For various reasons, he’s not crazy about being left in a safe place, and the accelerated surrender means that I have a plot card that’s just… floating. I need to either ground the plot card, or go back through the draft and remove it, entirely. I haven’t decided which one, yet.

Or, maybe I just haven’t decided how, yet.

So, my sagging middle is starting to tighten up, and I’m reaching the point that I’m happy with the results.

Gearing Up For Competitive Blurb Reading Season

I’m not writing my query letter yet. I’m still looking at examples from our forerunners, and looking for something (anything) that includes a vital piece of backstory. Yes. Exactly. My novel is the exception to the “no backstory” rule. At least, I think it is. There’s one glittering hunk of backstory you can’t understand the inciting incident without.

Yes, I know there are whole writers’ groups full of writers’ rule exceptions. But me… I’m the real deal.

Shut up.

So, I’m in the process of reading blurbs on the backs of books, or movies, or you know… tattooed on performance artists. Whatever. Trying to get a grasp on what other people are doing, and what works (backstory!) And what doesn’t, and why.

I’m not there, yet, but I’m working on it.

So, while  shopping for movies doing intense, and detailed research, today, I ran into one that was largely cliche, and which made me smirk just a little.  Let’s make sure I get this right. Snazzy relationship ends after she disappears without a trace. Very next sentence? He follows her “trail.” I’m pretty sure a “trail” is a pretty large “trace”.

Fortunately, it’s a movie, not a book, so with the right number of explosions, I could forget all about that, and be happy.

But I probably have less wiggle room as a writer.

Back to the great backstory hunt.

Cemeteries and Science

Somewhere, in the Great American Prairie, on land that belonged to a town that no longer exists, you will find a small cemetery. Be sure you close the gates. You don’t want to chase the cows out, and the volunteer who mows doesn’t want to clean up after them.

Now and then, a new grave goes in–someone old enough and local enough to own a plot–but for the most part, you’re the only living person there. All the rest–the pioneers and cowboys, the homesteaders and farmers, even your own great-something-great grandfather, who used to deliver the mail a couple of times a month… they’re stories from before your time.

And if you went there often enough, you still know those stories by heart.

And you know the family names, of course. The families are still around. Mixed into bigger towns, more successful towns.

Seven children died, once. One after another, from whatever the disease was at the time. Typhoid, maybe. Cholera. Something we cure with antibiotics if modern water systems even let it through.

And their father had to bury each one, himself.

Carry the bodies out to the cemetery, tuck them into the ground, and cover them with dirt.

Their neighbors told the parents they had sinned, and judged harshly, as if they, themselves would be immune.

But, not quite sure, they made him bury his own children.

 

That Writing Sprints Journal Thingy…

I got a copy of the Writing Sprints Journal by Jennie Marts. Let’s be honest. This is one of the books I could have bought at the writers’ conference, and maybe I should have. It took me a couple weeks to decide I wanted it, though. Even after hearing the author talk, and seeing her amazing productivity.

This is a how to organize the three and a half minutes you have in a day book. It’s not how to write a novel, or how to revise, or how to write perfect characters.

It’s just how to get the most out of your time.

Jennie’s goals are a lot loftier than mine. She does four or five books a year, and still looks like a beauty queen while not cussing out the books, the schedule, or random strangers on the street.

Personally, I’d be happy with one book a year, while looking nearly human. (And I promise not to cuss out lamp posts or fire hydrants.)

Okay, so after the initial shock of Word sprints? Really? That’s it???! I thought about it, and the truth is that word sprints–in general–do work for me.

I’ve never really done them in an organized, routine way, though. More of a panicked, I’m how many words behind? during Nano.

This is more of a plan, and then sprint, and by the way, do it every single day kind of approach. It’s Organized with a capital O.

And as you may have guessed by now, organized is not my natural state. It’s something I buy or steal off others. It’s something an army of high school teachers has tried and failed to teach me. (Some of them came through remarkably well. Others… well, they do twitch a bit, now.)

As of right now, I’m in the revision phase of current book.

As of… well, a  really long time, actually.

I’m debating whether to start right off by adapting the book for revision-y sprinting, or to start with actual word-sprints for new material, or what.

Fine. So, I’m writing in my recurring events, and working my way up to the big stuff. Right now, the goals are: Finish revising book. Write Query letter and Query the book. Begin next book. Short Stories for Blog Hop and (**sigh**) 52 week challenge. Oh, yes… and try to sell at least one of those.

I’ll just sit here and stare at the journal until I wind up jumping in head-first, I think.

 

Writing by Index Card and Machete

So, I started the revision with three separate files on the ol’ novel-writing software. I had One for the  chapters at the beginning that I’d already revised almost to finished. One for the things that I think I can use out of the first draft. And One for scenes which did not exist, when I started the revision. (I have matching, color-coded index cards to go with this.)

I’m pulling the three apart to make one, coherent file, right now.

Watching my word count soar.

I’m aiming for a word count somewhere in the middle of my genre’s expectations.

Word count and I haven’t always been friends. My first novel wound up very low, and the first draft of this novel is… well, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of twice as long as it needs to be. I was playing with writing thick at the time.

Let’s just swing back and forth between extremes.

I have about 80,000 words in the “good” pile and about another 70,000 in the “possibly able to keep” pile.

**sigh**

I know I have a lot I can’t save, and some of it doesn’t even fit with the plot, anymore… but still!

It’s possible that writing thick isn’t working for me on the revision end.

So, how do you write? Less than you need and add more later, or more than you need, and cut it down to size in revision?

 

Reading, Writing, and Television Documentaries

I’m finally sitting down to finish reading the Doomsday Book, and it appears that I’ve saved all the most depressing bits for last. **sigh** Well, I guess I shoulda figured it out back at the beginning, when I found a quote from the author that suggested that all time-travel stories are inherently sad, because you’re dealing with characters who have long since died.

Let’s see if I can keep up here. I took a break from my Hugo/Nebula list to read Sandman, an now I’m taking a break from Sandman to read the Hugo/Nebula list. Oh. And some quick peeks at the book I was given at the writers’ conference. Because, hey, free books.

Ideally, I would like to have my own book finished before the people I met at the writers’ conference forget who I am.  So, I’ll just hop in a time machine, and go back to last week to mail the manuscript. I’m feeling incredibly forgettable, right now. And maybe, the truth of the matter is that the whole point is to be able to “jog” people’s memories later: “We met briefly at the Pike’s Peak Writers’ Conference. I did not throw up on you.”

Clearly, I need a more concrete timeline.

Right now, I’m working on organizing everything I have into one coherent document with a timetable attached. I think most of the scenes are written–or, at least, I can say they exist in real life–and just need to be polished.

And I watched a delightful–if somewhat mass-audience–documentary on syphilis today. It’s amazing the things that are just sitting there, waiting for you to find them on YouTube. I learned that there is a non-lethal, airborne version of the disease, and also that John Deere tractors are sold in England.

To the best of my knowledge, there are neither John Deere tractors nor venereal disease mentioned in my novel. Perhaps I should add a postscript.

 

Religion as A Marketing Technique

Yesterday, I was reading an author’s biography.  Her biography was a list of attributes. You know the kind. Dinosaur wrangler, Rockstar, and Mail-order Accountant Ethel Hergenmeier lives in Florida with her husband, her potted plants, and three small children whose parents refuse to take them back. (This was the blog-based, and probably unofficial biography, by the way.)

Except, in her case, the first attribute was her religion. So, Zen Buddhist, Dinosaur Wrangler and etc… And, in all fairness, she was writing a book about the Four Noble Truths for writers, or artists, or something. (Disclaimer. I never got past the Third Noble Truth, and can’t remember what the Fourth Noble Truth is, so if you have questions about Zen Buddhism, go ask one.)

For all intents and purposes, the book seems to be marketed toward a general writing audience, and not exclusively to the Zen Buddhist crowd. The biography on Amazon is different, and focuses on her previous books, her career, and where she lives.

There’s no separate Zen Buddhist section in the bookstore (or at least, not in mine) and this book would wither and die, if people had to hunt it down in “Eastern Philosophy.”

The general audience thing has me stumped. On the one hand, the fact that the writer is a Zen Buddhist could matter. Of course, if it does, the fact that the reader is not could also matter.

With some religions, I have a very clear idea of what to expect, if the author or the book is described (front and center) with their religion. Christian comes to mind, and generally means no sex, no swearing, and geared toward a (fairly conservative) Christian audience. (No, that is NOT idiomatic.) It’s not just a fact, it’s a niche market.

I don’t have that same clarity with Zen Buddhism. Maybe I would, if I knew more about it, but I’m not picking up on the “How does that sell books?” end of it.

There’s a range in all of the biography information. Retired FBI agent or NASA astronaut is more relevant; Owns a dog named Buster is… arguably less relevant. And you work from more to less relevant.

So, how important is knowing an author’s religion to you? And what information do you get from knowing? Are there any circumstances under which you would mention your religion in your bio information?