Saturday, December 19, 2009

Going Dark

Sorry for the few-and-far-between posts lately; I'm taking a bit of time off for the holidays.  I'll be back to a normal schedule, including some regular features, after the first of the new year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

That Sneaky Facebook

This was friend-of-blog John's Facebook status today:
If you don't know, as of today, Facebook will automatically start plunging the Earth into the Sun. To change this option, go to Settings --> Planetary Settings --> Trajectory then UN-CLICK the box that says 'Apocalypse.' Facebook kept this one quiet. Copy and paste onto your status for all to see.
I'm still giggling.  (My apologies to anyone not on Facebook; this is a lot funnier if you are.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another Thing I'm Not Good At

I have this story I tell at parties now and then.  It's a true story vividly recalled from my own childhood, and every telling is a unique performance.  I'm a border collie, using various details to charge and feint until every listener has been herded into the right mindset.  Only when I have them on the edge of their seats with bated breath do I give them the climax.  When it's all over, they blink and laugh and say they need a drink and realize how badly they've needed to pee.

It's awesome.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to capture this magic in writing.  I've tried to write this particular story at least half a dozen times, and it never works.  Unlike fiction, the context of the story is my entire childhood, the relevant details infinite. Without being able to read my readers the way I can read a live audience, I can't settle on a useful perimeter.

I'm having the same problem with my entry for Moonrat's Mentors, Muses & Monsters contest.  I'm trying to tell a true story from my life, one I've told out loud many times, and again I can't seem to circumscribe it for the writing.

Oh well.  I'm no good at calculus either, but I get along.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Great Outlets for Short Bursts of Genius

Write every day.

That's the mantra bespoke by experts far and wide, but some days you just can't face your novel.  Some days you just need a little somethin'-somethin'.  For those days, I give you my list of favorite very-short-form creative writing outlets.

1.  Urban Dictionary
Submit a definition!  You can redefine an existing term or make up a new one.

2.  The New Yorker Magazine Cartoon Caption Contest
Submit your own captions and vote for winners.  They have it every week, and you only have to sign up once.

3.  Ebert's Little Movie Glossary
Silly terms for silly film devices.  See Ebert's FAQ for submission information.

4.  Twitter Fiction & Poetry
Use an existing or new hashtag to identify your creative posts.  JJ DeBenedictis's #HaikuHorror is a particular favorite of mine.  Contests like Stuart Neville's #GhostsOfBelfast are also great fun when you can find them.

5.  Blog Parties & Contests
Someone is always running one, and they are a great way to "meet" other writers.   I generally don't have time to write entries for short story and essay contests, but I can hardly pass up a one line / one paragraph / one verse / under 150 words-type contest.

I'd love to hear if you have any to add!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Really Do Enjoy This

My novel revisions are under way!

Sort of.

Here's a little secret about the novel.  Although I had planned to write a vaguely steampunk SFF, it somehow became a reality-based historical thriller.  Although by 'reality-based', I mean based on my crush-and-clique-eclipsed recollection of middle-school history.

So Phase One, Step One is actually the Basic Research Phase, wherein I make sure the technology central to my plot actually existed when I hope it did. 

So far so good.

That said, I haven't stopped writing.  I'm just indulging myself with other projects.  Tonight I wrote 1400 words of a new short story, and another 400 for an entry into Moonrat's Mentors, Muses & Monsters Contest.

And now I really must go to bed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Note To Self Re: Paying One's Dues

A pattern in recent posts with subjects from rejection letters to runner's knee have reminded me that when deciding to climb a mountain, it's important to realize the path is not only uphill but also crooked, uneven, and changing.  No matter how hard you climb, along the way, you will probably fall, and stuff will probably fall on you.  Prepare for this even if others seem to have had it easy.  Prepare for this even if those who had it hard seem to be special cases.  Success will depend not only your hard work, but also your ability to recover, adapt, and continue despite the setbacks.  These are all just part of paying your dues.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Final NaNoWriMo 2009 Post

I can't believe it's been less than a week since NaNoWriMo ended.  NaNo is like driving on the autoban.  It goes so fast that everything immediately afterward feels impossibly slow.

So here are my final observations:

1.  It wasn't anywhere near as difficult as I thought it would be.  I expected it to be the hardest thing I'd ever attempted for fun.  Not even close.  But then, I happen to thrive on pressure.
2.  The most challenging thing about it was finding the time without shirking other obligations.  This was possible only with the help and understanding of a very supportive family.
3.  The second biggest challenge was keeping the right attitude.  It's OK to write shit.  Keep moving forward.  Remember this is supposed to be fun.  Keep moving forward. 
4.  The most awesome thing about it was, of course, that I won.  Along with the sense of satisfaction, I finally have a completed first draft that I'm excited about.  I can't wait to go back to work on it.  I've had to force myself to leave it alone this week.
5.  The second most awesome thing was that it really was fun.  I enjoyed writing with abandon, and I enjoyed being part of a huge community doing the same.  There is a reason why people get together to run marathons instead of just submitting their treadmill times.
6.  My NaNo book is completely different than any other fiction I've ever written.  At the same time it is more representative of my personal point of view -- more essentially me.
7.  Would I do it again?  Definitely not before next November.  And then?  Well, we'll see.  It was the tool I needed at this time.  That may or may not be true in future.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Royalties in the Music World

Hopefully by now we all understand how royalties and advances and earning out works in publishing.  One thing that is less clear, because it varies widely depending on situation, is how this information is all tracked and reported to the author.  For various reasons I have been under the impression that tracking and reporting royalties for digital downloads would be pretty straightforward.  I know this can and should be true because I know how the technology works, but here is a missive from the music industry that put a little chill in the air.

Thanks to Tim Quirk and the band Too Much Joy for lifting the veil.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What I Mean By 'Anything'

When I ran out of ideas, I just wrote anything until the plot started churning again on its own, which it reliably did.
I was just saying that the other day.  But what does it mean to write anything?  For some people, it means quoting the dictionary.  For me, it means pure self-indulgence.

I write detailed descriptions of clothes, places, daily life, backstories, and where-they-are-nows.  In other words, I write all the stuff you're supposed to elegantly suggest in your story without boring your readers to death with plotless exposition.  Fuck that.  Call these notes in prose form.

If I get stuck even for expository vignettes, I literally just write in my fantasies: the character is wearing a dress I've always wanted, or living in my dream house, or telling someone off with a razor wit.  If I'm hungry, she's eating whatever I'm craving.  If I'm tired, she takes a nap.

I really can't explain why it works, but inevitably these diversions make a problem more complicated, a character more layered, the stakes a little higher. As long as I keep writing, I can find my way back into the story.  I know even as I write this horseshit that I'll take it out, but it's still beautiful.  It's the string on which the sugar crystals grow into rock candy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No, I Did Not Query Today

I'll write a few final reflections on NaNo this week, and then I'll shut up about it, I promise. 

Today there have been mentions in the blogosphere about agents' inboxes getting filled with NaNo queries, and it's tempting to write it all off as the irritating conceit of the profoundly uninformed wannabe population.

But for the record, all the participants I've talked to are entirely realistic about their NaNo projects.

NaNoWriMo is to writing a novel what gold mining is to making a piece of jewelry.

You write and write and write anything until you hit a vein of Story, and then you follow that until it peters out. Then you write/dig, write/dig until you find some more Story. In the end, you have 50,000 words worth of unrefined Story Ore nuggets and the detritus you created getting to them.

There's a lot of work between this pile of glinty rubble and a shiny work of art (probably a year's worth for me), but every novel has to start somewhere.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wordle #1

Wordle: First Draft, November 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009 WINNER

What?  You didn't doubt me, didja?  If you did, well, you know me better now.


Reflections and stuff after I get drunk.  Later.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Congratulations Blogfriends!

I'm learning right at this moment exactly how hard it is to finish a first draft novel.  Luckily, I've got great inspiration right here in blogland.

Just last week blogging buddy JJ DeBenedictis finished the first draft of her latest novel. 

Then tonight I see that Fairyhedgehog has just completed her NaNoWriMo 2009 novel!  3 days early to boot!
Congratulations to both of you, and thanks for all the encouragement!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a pretty complicated holiday.

It is possibly the only major holiday that commemorates a meal.  Not a birth, death, war, tragedy, victory, or miracle.  Just a meal.  An absurdly romanticized mythical version of a relatively insignificant event in a highly controversial period of American history.

Meanwhile, it is also a crucial inflection point in the annual economic cycle.  Black Friday exists only because Thanksgiving Thursday gives so many consumers a free Friday on which to shop before Christmas.

Meanwhile, it encourages the fattest population on the planet to eat even more than we usually do.

Meanwhile, it is stressful and expensive as everyone tries to travel on the same days and cook three-ovens-worth of meals in one oven with a suspect thermostat.

Meanwhile, it is Thanks-Giving, a day in which we are all reminded to consider what we are thankful for.  I'm thankful for a lot of things, and not least among them is the surge of positive energy that flowed today.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Schedule Feature!

Oh for Pete's sake, I only just now discovered that Blogger allows you to schedule when your posts go up!  I figured there had to be some way, possibly involving a third party site or an unpaid intern, but as I have not yet had, erm, occasion to pre-write any posts, I never bothered to look it up.

Well, here's to a sunny future in which I'll have a backlog of in-demand content queued to post while I'm on a Mediterranean cruise (that somehow doesn't have wifi).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Skids

At least, it feels that way.  The first 30k words have been a lovely romp through the woods, but now I'm tired and I still have to find my way home before it gets dark.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Caldera-Size Plot Holes

Totally against my will, a mental list has been coalescing in my hindbrain - the various phases of revisions this NaNo project is going to need.

If it isn't already obvious, I think there is enough good stuff here to warrant further work.  But holy cannoli it's gonna need a LOT of work.  The first phase is going to be nailing down basic coherence: timelines, locations, and characters' names.

That's right, characters' names.  When you make up a bunch of names on the fly, and never go back to re-read the previous sessions' work, you tend to forget the names.  So several of my characters already have several names each.  I know what you're thinking - I was supposed to make a note of these things as I was going along.  But I was in the zone, and I didn't think I'd ever see these guys again, let alone their dogs.

Now, given this problem with proper nouns, you can imagine the plot details I've misplaced.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Suck At This, Alton Brown

I'm NaNoWriming tonight, but needed a quick break, so I thought I would share a quick confession.  I really have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to basic narrative style.  I don't know why I'm breaking paragraphs where I am, or if I'm using Jane said versus said Jane correctly.  I feel like I'm making up the rules of dialog-specific capitalization and punctuation as I go along.  Did Jane say, "hello, how are you?" or is was it, "'Hello, how are you?' asked Jane," or both, or neither?

This doesn't alarm me.  I can easily look this stuff up (in December) or just look at, you know, a book (in December.)  But it's funny, because I read a lot.  I've even read skimmed Strunk & White.  How is it I never really noticed this stuff?

I should say I've written a lot too, though technical documentation doesn't involve a great deal of dialog or narration. Or style.

Anyway, it's made me think of Alton Brown.  Do you ever watch Good Eats?  I love that show, but all the details have made me a terribly insecure cook.  Cooking and writing are two of those things you can more or less know how to do without knowing how you know, until you think about it too much.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Over Half-Way!

I just passed 51%.  I'm still about a day-and-a-half behind, but this was a lot of progress for one day with work and family, so I'm happy.  To celebrate, here's a clip that has nothing whatsoever to do with writing, other than the fact that someone wrote it.  (If you've never tooled around the ONN, I guess I should warn you that it's a terrible time-waster.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yeah, I'm Tired

My NaNo project hasn't lost momentum, but I have.  For various reasons, writing time has been in short supply the last several days.  I'm mildly dissappointed about an unproductive weekend, and I'm tired.

I'm still making progress every day - if nowhere near the 1667 daily quota - and the story is moving along fine, so the hole isn't serious yet.  I just hope I find some time and energy this week to catch up again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What I Told My Mom


My mother and I were talking about Christmas and she said something like, "of course my dearest wish for the holidays is to read your novel."



My fellow NaNo Rhinos may be facing this same request.  Here, for your use, is a handy shut-em-up-quick explanation for your loved ones on why reading your 2009 NaNo this decade is a terrible idea.
The novel is my baby, and the first draft is like the first trimester.  If you were to see it at one-trimester old, it would not be cute or cuddly.  It would be disturbing and sad, because exposure at this time is a terribly risky procedure.
After the second draft/second trimester, it might be a look at little more like a novel, but still its touch-and-go survival after being exposed before it was ready will cause us all a lot of anxiety.  And cause you a lot of guilt.  Just sayin'.
You can look at it after the third draft/third trimester.  It still won't be perfect - all wrinkly and cone-headed - but it will be cute and ready for your love.  You can wait.
Mom's reaction: "It's going to be a looong pregnancy."

You're telling me!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Night Laughs

To start your weekend off right, here's an email that's been going around for over a decade, but it still made me laugh so hard I could barely breath.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Almost Caught Up!

Only 896 more words before midnight to get back on schedule!

I think I can spare a moment to tell you how it's going.  If you haven't been following along, I entered NaNoWriMo with only a couple of characters, a situation, and a tentative ending.  My story, at nearly 20,000 words, does not remotely resemble the loose idea for a plot I had going in.  It is much, much better.
Inspiration comes with the writing, and seldom precedes it.
- Gillian Roberts, You Can Write A Mystery
I believed that before, but this NaNo experiment has been a highly effective reinforcement.  While I am able to devise novel-size plots with nothing more than bullet points and time, they've always seemed mechanical and dead, my characters genetically engineered to run the maze I'd built.  I'm just not experienced enough to create the layers and textures that compel me without actually writing and letting them unfold one step at a time.

I can't wait to see where the next 30,000 words go.

That said, the NaNo project is also, of course, a big hot mess.  For example, major characters become major with no warning.  There are laughable anachronisms.  I'm writing the story chronologically, so there are entire swathes of scenes missing because I didn't know they'd be needed until later - or because I just wasn't in the mood to write them.  Oh well, that's December's joy.  And probably all of 2010, but who cares?

P.S. I made it!  20,000 words!  On schedule!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Teensy Bit Behind Schedule

No time to blog tonight - gotta catch up on NaNoWriMo - read this instead.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Language and Physics

Do you watch shows like American Idol, Project Runway, or Design Star?  Of course you do; you're not made of wood.  Now I have another question for you.  When someone on the show inevitably starts talking about who really really wants it, what is your reaction?

A.  Sympathy and support, because whoever wants it the most deserves to win.
B.  Irritation, because what the heck does wanting having to do with winning a competition?

It finally struck me: the verb to want seems to have evolved.  Wanting something once meant desiring it and/or lacking it, and wanting something badly enough meant wanting it badly enough to work your tush off and sacrifice other things for it.

In popular culture today, however, wanting something badly enough apparently means lacking something so badly that you actually become a vaccuum and suck that thing to you.  Thus it is a law of physics that WANT = ENTITLEMENT.

The great news here is that I no longer need to put in my time and pay my dues learning the craft of writing.  I can just practice wanting my name on a bestseller while waiting for people to bring me expensive coffee beverages and designer clothes.  Maybe I'll visualize it and pray for it too, just to cover my bases.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Emerging Pattern

For better, worse, or weird, I have noticed that nearly all the scenes and conversations in my NaNoWriMo novel are roughly 400 words long.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jasper Fforde!

This morning I woke to find another NaNoWriMo pep talk in my inbox.  These are invariably funny and encouraging, but this one was by Jasper Fforde - one of my favorite writers - SQUEEEEE!!!

I just have to share the first paragraph with you:

I once wrote a novel in 22 days. 31 chapters, 62,000 words. I didn’t do much else—bit of sleeping, eating, bath or two—I just had three weeks to myself and a lot of ideas, an urge to write, a 486 DOS laptop and a quiet room. The book was terrible. 62,000 words and only twenty-seven in the right order. It was ultimately junked but here’s the important thing: It was one of the best 22 days I ever spent. A colossal waste of ink it was, a waste of time it was not.

Thank you, Jasper!  The bio at the bottom also made me happy:

Jasper Fforde is the best-selling author of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime books. He has been writing for twenty years, but only published for ten. His training took a while. His eighth book, Shades of Grey, will be published in January 2010. He lives and writes in Wales, has a large family and likes to fly aeroplanes.

Too bad his book won't be out in time for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Being busy writing and all, I didn't see this capsule of pure genius from THE INTERN until today.  Go forth!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Cop-out

A few people have asked me what sort of book I'm writing for NaNoWriMo.  This turns out to be quite a difficult thing to answer, particularly in person.  At least one local writer thinks I'm an incoherent moron after the first attempt, so I'm going to try to get it down pat here once and for all.

So here goes:

I have no idea what sort of book I'm writing - yet.  I'm just trying to tell a story.  I haven't planned it out.  I have a setting, some characters, a situation, and an ending I'm not committed to.  I'm just figuring out what the characters do, one scene at a time.  By the time I have created a heap of fifty thousand words, I have faith that I will be able to look back and see where the heart of the story is.  That will tell me if it is a romance, a mystery, and fantasy, or what-have-you.  Then I will start over, and rewrite and restructure the entire goddamn thing around that heart, per the conventions of that genre.

Maybe this is the stupidest thing you've ever heard.  Maybe this is the stupidest idea in the history of writing.  But I do have a reason for trying this experiment: my last novel attempt (still officially a WIP), in which I decided up front it was a thriller and planned the fuck out of it -- and then was too bored and sick of it to actually write the thing.  When I forced myself to try, my characters kept rebelling, trying to fall in love instead of chase bad guys, etc.

I am certain of only one thing: even if this experiment is an utter failure, it won't have been a waste of time.  I'll learn some stuff, and try a different approach on the next one.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Settling into the Groove

You know what's good practice for NaNoWriMo?  Or writing at all?  Blogging.  Half the battle really is just being in the habit of writing something - anything - just about every day.

This was merely an optimistic theory when I started this blog, and it feels very nice to get the first evidence back that it was right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kick-Off Write-In

It's been a strong first day for NaNoWriMo so far.

I went to a write-in at a local IHOP last night.  It was packed - at least forty writers in the back room once reserved from smokers.  Apparently it started at ten pm, but I didn't arrive until a little after twelve, so I missed introductions.  It became clear throughout the night, however, that there were two groups of people: those there to work, and those there to party.

Also clear: different folks had very different goals for NaNoWriMo.  There was a group of young girls, apparently doing it for a lark, challenging each other to include silly words picked at random from the dictionary and various people spotted in the restaurant.  For my table-mate, NaNoWriMo was motivation to write the fourth book in her YA science fiction series.  She refered constantly to a dense sheet of notes and spent a lot of time meditating on her next move.  For others, it seemed to be a typing contest; there were ten-minute challenges every hour, the winners of which logged between six and seven hundred words.  All of these were in the spirit of NaNoWriMo - I'm not judging.

I had 3229 words of coherent narrative by the time I left at 4am (which was actually almost five hours of writing thanks to the blessed time change) because the group had wittled down to mostly the loudest and most distracting partiers - and because it was cold enough to freeze peas in that room.  IHOP had had enough of us.  I left a $10 tip.

I've written a bit more today and should have several additional writing hours tonight.  My goal is to get 5000 words complete in these first twenty-four hours.  Check the progress bar to see if I make it.

More thoughts to come.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Great Weekend

My husband and I had big plans this weekend.  Between Halloween and our wedding anniversary, it was going to be a blowout end to a rainy October.

Unfortunately, my youngest daughter is currently going through a phase -- the one where she experiments with lots of different viruses.  This week, she chose a sweet old chestnut that isn't at all dangerous, but does create mountains of extra laundry, frequent over-the-counter medicine cocktails, and repetitions of Dr. Seuss books deep into the night.

Since all our plans involved mixing our children with our friends' children, we cancelled everything.  Besides, Mommy and Daddy are tired (pronounced tarred, because we live in Texas.)

This sounds very sad, but there is an upside:

1.  Tonight I bought a new desk and chair.  I have had other desks, but my husband has managed to annex every one to his dark, untidy, electronics-plagued man-kingdom.  This new one is absolutely off-limits to everyone but me, so I can use it as a NaNoWriMo headquarters (and craft station).
2.  Late tomorrow night, after the kids are in bed, I'm going to a NaNoWriMo kick-off write-in.  My husband was shocked - SHOCKED - that I wouldn't prefer to spend our anniversary on the couch watching TV, but also relieved to have the freedom to read Robert Jordan guilt-free.

Anyway, my posts for the next month might be a little spotty and will almost certainly be NaNo-centric.  Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I *Almost* Can't Wait

For NaNoWriMo.  I know I keep going on about it, but I really am seriously excited.  I've been preparing:
  • Re-read No Plot, No Problem, but only up to Week One chapter - CHECK
  • Sign up at official NaNoWriMo site - CHECK
  • Add word count progress bar to blog - CHECK
  • Get new, more comfortable headphones - CHECK
  • Inform husband of plan in vaguest possible terms - CHECK
  • Create private space for writing. 
  • Buy new house with extra room for writing.
  • Schedule cafe outings to write - CHECK
  • Find possible write-ins to attend - CHECK
  • Avoid thinking too much about actual story - CHECK
  • Verified I can at least type 1,667 words per day - CHECK (about 40 minutes)
  • Get ahead on paycheck-related work to minimize possibility of November overtime - CHECK
  • Organize house in preparation for Thanksgiving houseguests -

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Moonrat Bump

Is it a coincidence, or did the GravRain Read-Along lead to a co-op deal?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stock Characters

I can't remember what I had planned for tonight's blog entry; I am utterly distracted by a person I just saw.

Scene: I'm having my weekly glorious night out alone.  (If this sounds pathetic to you, recall that I have small children.)  It's Sunday night, I live in the Bible-Belt Blue-Law 'Burbs, and I'm a Book Nerd, so my idea of glorious is spending two or three hours at the nearest bookstore that stays open until 11 on Sunday.  (As a bonus it's one of the really huge ones that carries stuff others don't.  There's an endcap display for Gravity's Rainbow, for Pete's sake.)

So there's this guy here.  He's an employee.  I swear he looks so much like a dude I once almost sort of had a thing with that I'm afraid to look directly at him, lest I catch his eye and blush.  I should explain that this old friend he looks like was a very attractive young man, but had a little self-control problem at the time; he set my hair on fire.  Just a tiny bit with a magnifying glass, but things actually got weirder from there.  In fact, Pyro-Boy himself looked spookily similar to another guy I once almost sort of had a thing with, which got even weirder when it turned out they were connected - but that's a story for another post.

The fact is, this shit happens all the damn time, and it never fails to freak me out.  When I first met my husband (on a blind date), he looked so much like an old friend that it was almost love at first sight.  A coworker of mine looks and sounds like another close friend from college.  Recently, the stars aligned such that all three of us were in the same room at the same time, and I felt the floor shift beneath my feet (and said something really awkward).   Also, I once had a boss who was a dead-ringer for the guy I lost my virginity with.  Let me tell you, THAT was distracting.

What I have actually been doing here tonight is mentally preparing for NaNoWriMo.  Characterization is not a strong point of mine and I had been wondering if I would go to Writers' Hell for starting with stock characters and building from there.  I've now decided it's OK.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I have this frequent argument with myself.

Meek Kate:  My story is too out there.  It'll make readers uncomfortable.  They'll wonder what's wrong with me!

Bold Kate:  Every novel I've ever loved was out there (at least for its time).  Every one was the result of an author's courage.  Mine probably isn't out there enough!  Man up, you lily-livered whine lover!

Obviously Meek Kate loses every argument, but she continues to worry that risk-taking in novels is a little like risk-taking in fashion.  It's universally spoken of as a Good Thing, but if you go too far, it's unlikely anyone whose opinion matters will ever tell you.  As far as I know, there is no form rejection for "this is batshit crazy and who the fuck do you think you are?"  No, you'll get a polite "not for us," which could mean anything and is a waste of analysis.

Of course, there is an obvious explanation for the lack of "batshit crazy" forms.  Of all the reasons agents and editors reject fiction, too audacious is probably at the bottom of the list.

The lesson to Meek Kate is to stop flattering yourself with this nonsense and spend your energy worrying about execution.

The MacGuffin and the Elephant

Today's subject: The MacGuffin.  Birthed in the movies and made famous by Hitchcock, The MacGuffin is the thing in a story that the characters care about.  It doesn't matter what the object is -- whether it is a diamond or the contents of a case, it doesn't do anything -- it is merely the dense center of gravity around which the characters and action swirl.

It is possibly the oldest and cheapest plot device.  However, it can and has been used brilliantly time and again, and can be extrapolated thus:

Creating a conflict complex enough to sustain tension throughout a novel can be difficult, while real-life problems often seem too complex to inspire.  Try finding one fundamental problem in the story you want to tell.  Once you can identify it, consider its causes and effects and let those bud fractally into secondary and tertiary problems.  Pick only the most interesting growths and hack off the rest.  Now it is like the elephant in the old parable.  You lead your characters to it blindfolded and let each feel a small part of it.  Some will think they are touching trees, others a snake, others a brush, and maybe one of them peeks.  The nature of your characters will determine how they respond.  Story ensues.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  Although I'm not a full-time writer, I have already attained one of the primary perks of the writing life: I work from home.

I do have a desk in an office somewhere that I visit occasionally -- when I can carpool with my boss -- and he takes me out to lunch.  Of course I never get any work done on those days.  I'm too busy gossiping, reminding VIPs I still work there, and making sure my special chair hasn't been stolen (since I plan to steal it myself if I ever leave the company).

I'm no fool; I treasure this deal.  Working from home really is as sooper-dooper fantastic as you think it will be.  But having done it for many years now, there are a few bits of advice I'd like to offer to anyone heading into this dream:

1.  Build in some exercise, preferably outside your home.  Seriously.  Even if it's just shopping.  When you work from home, you aren't required to do anything as strenuous as change your clothes, and this takes a physical toll faster than you'd think.  Even if you aren't vain about your figure, you'll miss having nominal levels of stamina next time you go on vacation.

However, this is for your mental health as much as your physical health.  When your commute is fifteen feet, you tend to start working five minutes after you wake up.  Combining your work and home life in one space also means you tend to think about work 24/7.  Exercise breaks reset your head.

2.  Make sure you have healthy food in the house and schedule regular breaks in which to eat it, especially breakfast.  When your diet consists primarily of leftover Halloween candy and a spoonful of salsa consumed no earlier than 3pm, you will quickly degrade into a concentration-challenged, clinicly depressed blob of arterial plaque and cellulite.

3.  Make sure you have a variety of adult, in-person social interactions built into your life.  Otherwise your social skills will atrophy just when you need them most: in your loneliness you'll start weirding out supermarket cashiers with stories of your childhood pets; you'll commit tweets about your body hair; you'll mortify your editor.

Obviously this is basic wisdom for anyone at any time.  I only spell it out here because we tend to take for granted that most jobs build in some of this stuff.  When we're finally cut free from all the structure, we're so blissful we fail to remember what it bought us.

Monday, October 19, 2009


You will not find a lack of ideas among my personal collection of six or seven thousand writing challenges.  You will, however, find this:

I like to percolate.

I started using this word in high school, when I discovered that if I lodged a problem in my mind and then went about my business - especially sleep -  my subconscious would digest it and float the answer back up in due time.  I don't know why I felt percolate was the appropriate verb, but I did have a part-time job that involved removing coffee grounds from a giant urn after exactly twelve minutes.  I was often late by several hours.

Likewise, I tend to leave my story ideas to their own devices for too long.  They tend to bloom in my noggin like spores on agar.  Before I've typed five hundred words, I have a novel's worth of elements building their own civilizations.   (If you see me staring into space some time, it's not a petit mal seizure; it's just the story temporarily hogging my CPU.)

Once upon a time this seemed like a good thing.  Handy, even.  Until I tried to actually WRITE the story.  At that point, expelling all these characters and settings and plot points onto the page felt like herding cats.  Worse, the draft started to read like a a police report.

I don't know the answer to this problem, but it is one reason I'm anxious to try NaNoWriMo.  Maybe, if I work hard to NOT think the story to death before November, the writing won't fall too far behind.  If not, maybe I'll have the courage to revolt against the story and and cut new paths as I go.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I just signed up for NaNoWriMo 2009.  I want a break from my main WIP, and I happen to have an idea for a short novel right now, so the stars are aligned.  This'll be my first time doing it.  Anybody tried it?  Doing it this year?  Buddy me!  (My username is, of course, KateInTheCloset.)

Friday, October 16, 2009


Kate: Hi.  I'll have the spaghetti.

Server:  Great!  Here's your spaghetti.

Kate: Um, this spaghetti isn't cooked.

Server: Oh?  It's not?

Kate: No, see, it's cold, and dry, and crunchy.

Server: Oh, so you want it cooked?

Kate: Yes, I want it cooked.

Server: So will you cook it then?

Kate: Um, no.  I need you to cook it.

Server: Oh, but I can't.  The cooks do the cooking.  You'll have to ask them to cook it.

Kate: (speechless)

Yes, the spaghetti is a metaphor. But I promise you the conversation I actually had was just as stupid. Some people simply don't understand what their jobs are.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Well, That's Something

I'm hitting the hay early tonight, my friends.  Just two quick items:

First, I decided to enter Nathan Bransford's First Paragraph Challenge after all, with 28 minutes to spare.  (This is pretty much how I live my entire life.)  I wish I had read his recap on last year's contest first, though, as it was very instructive.  Plus, I love the winning entry.

On the upside, I just learned that my entry does not contain a single one of the most common words from the submissions (larger version here).  I also learned my paragraph was much shorter than average.  That's something, right?


In other news, Facebook told me one of my old college buddies is at Bouchercon right now.  Until today I didn't even know she was a writer!  I hope you're having a great time, J!  Also, I'm terribly jealous.  Especially if you have a reservation for the Too Many Cooks Banquet -- I freaking love Rex Stout.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Educational Opportunity

Agent Nathan Bransford is currently holding a First Paragraph Contest.  There were over 2200 entries last time I checked.

Can I just tell you, I'm as excited as an elf on Christmas!  Not to enter, you understand, but to have the chance to play Slush Pile Reader.

Processing a giant stack of unpublished writing samples simply isn't like regular reading. I'd bet brain scans would show it has more in common with evaluating a sackfull of beans.  Even if you want to appreciate each individual bean, your brain is wired to categorize and generalize.  You recognize common characteristics and get progressively faster at dismissing almost every bean as typical of a type almost the instant you lay eyes on it.

Agents, editors, and undercompensated assistants have provided myriad lists of these fatal traits, but no advice makes as stark an impression as reading the slush pile yourself.  Contests like Nathan's are as close as most of us will ever get to that education.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I've decided that a steady income isn't the only reason to keep my day job.

Learning to write is profoundly humbling, and while humility is essential to the learning process, it's also crippling if not balanced with hubris.  Hubris is not too strong a word -- only a tiny fraction of aspiring novelists ever finish their first book, let alone get published, let alone make a living at it.  Knowing this, a writer doesn't stand a chance of finishing without monumental confidence in her project and herself.

So.  As long as I spend my nights abasing myself in the writing novitiate, I need to spend my days as the deft expert, replenishing my well of chutzbah.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Going to Hell

If you haven't already seen this gem on book publicity, please enjoy a little hilarity compliments of The New Yorker.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writing Space

I've always been interested in interior design.  Like many people, I feel happier when I spend time in a beautiful space.  That said, I have a strong suspicion that the popular notion of a beautifully designed writing space is, well, crap.

You know what I'm talking about, right?  I'm not arguing against Virginia Woolf.  I'm arguing against this:

This picture, which I recognized from a Pottery Barn catalog, appeared in a great blog post on a related subject last week.  It is representative of a fantasy writer's room that is popular in decorating magazines and books.

I would kill for this room.  I would like to believe that if I had this room, it would magically transform me into a bestselling author who also happens to be great looking and an impeccable hostess.

The truth is that I don't have an imaginary room like this because I don't have an imaginary life.  I have a real life, where computers and lamps have power cords and white furniture has stains and windows look out onto neighbors' houses and the actual objects I use every day are not color-coordinated.

In my real life, a desk has half-empty drinks and stacks of junk mail, magazines, and books.  It has dirty socks and crayon drawings deposited by my children.  It has a big ugly printer.  In fact, there is no room to write on this desk.  I write on the couch.

Of course some actual writers do have awesome spaces.  But I think they are the exception, and even they probably started out on a card table in the laundry room like Stephen King.  On the flip side, I have known real people who had amazing writing spaces, and never accomplished what they hoped to in them.

Here's the thing.  Writing is hard.  It's all-too-tempting to externalize our shortcomings into things we believe we could control if we only had enough money/space/time/etc.  I can't write because I don't have a good space.  In other words, we like our excuses.  It's natural, but it's lame.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

If You Like TwitFic

Have you ever entered The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest?

You TOTALLY should!  It's fun, it's creative, it's quick, it's free, and they might even send you a bookmark.  If you manage to win, you get a credit in the freaking New Yorker!

There is no downside.  Go.  Go now!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Today, Big Boss posted this as his status: 50%

It's been niggling at me all day.  What the hell does he mean?

My first thought is paranoid, that some performance indicator is 50% of what it should be.  If Big Boss caught a problem before we did, it'll be ugly.  I double-check all the reports.  Phew!  That's not it.

I start over.  Is he feeling only 50% well today?  Is he only 50% available?  Is he noticing only 50% of his people are available?

Stop it, Kate, it isn't about you.

Are we half-way to one of our goals?  This could be good or bad depending on the time frame.  My mind wanders to compensation and staffing possibilities -- 50% can be miraculous or devastating depending on the noun it modifies.  But scratch it; he wouldn't post about something like that because it would be neither professional nor, frankly, of that much interest to him.

What would be?

Eureka!  The key partnership deal he just negotiated: 50% revenue share.

Note to self:  A story may revolve around the protagonist, but the actions and motivations of other characters generally do not.  Characters must say and do according to their own reasons.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ode To a Four-Year-Old

I have a four-year-old daughter.  She is a magical little person in many ways, but in one especially: she is so very easily entertained.  Tonight's activities, for example:

1.  Gleefully pointing out every pink object in the grocery store.
2.  Dueling dramatic readings of Sandra Boynton's Doggies.
3.  A nice long bath dramatizing several original stories featuring Ariel rescuing Flounder.
4.  The Pajama Monster game, in which she plays a monster easily defeating the parent attempting to put her to bed.  I'm not being ironic here.  She's so dang cute saying RAWR! and collapsing into giggles it takes Herculean resolve to put her to bed.  In fact, I failed utterly.  Instead I sic'd the Pajama Monster on her father at the other end of the couch, at which point the P.M. met its match: the Daddy Socked Foot Monster.  That battle went on for another five minutes until D.S.F.M. had P.M. pinned to the floor and giggling so hard he could finally scoop her up and deposit her in bed.

Why do I go on about this?  Is it really my intention to bore readers with stories about my children?  No.  I promise I won't make a habit of this.  My point is there was a time in our lives when our thrills were simple and elemental.  The highest goal I have in my fiction writing is give the reader a path back to her own fountain of youth, where wonder, excitement, and joy flow pure.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm No Expert, But...

Aside from being fascinating and instructive, all these blogs by industry insiders also give me a daily dose of writing humility.  This humility is liberating; a novice is allowed and expected to make mistakes.  It is in this spirit of humility that I wish to discuss a mistake I have observed and hope not make myself.  There is probably a technical name for this error, but as unlearned as I am, I'll have to make up my own.  I'll call it the Answer to a Stupid Question Doth Not Drama Make Error.

The example I have for you is actually dialog from a trailer for the movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009).

Guy 1:
"Standing in front of you are Delta-6 Accelerator Suits." 

Guy 2:
"What does it accelerate?"

Guy 1:


The question Guy 2 asks is patently idiotic.  What the hell else would an accelerator SUIT accelerate if not a person wearing it?  I mean, it is clearly a man-shaped suit.  We've already been told that this group of people is the best of the best.  Is Guy 2 supposed to be an imbecile hero?

No, Guy 2 is a device.  In this scene his function is to increase the mystique and awe surrounding the accelerator suits by making them appear so mysterious and awesome he can't figure out what they are even after being told.  He is made to ask so that drama can be contrived from the one-word answer punctuated with heavy bass and CGI pyro f/x.

What Guy 2 actually did was undermine the credibility of the entire movie at the exact moment I was deciding whether or not I wanted to see it.

Thus I humbly add the Answer to a Stupid Question Doth Not Drama Make Error to the list of things I humbly try not to do myself.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Bit of Inspiration

Yesterday I made a special trip to pick up The Ghosts of Belfast, the debut novel from Stuart Neville.  The reviews are fantastic, but I would have bought it anyway because I've been reading Stuart's blog.  From the first entry (scroll to the bottom of the page), I knew I liked this guy.

I can't wait to start reading the book, but I'm making myself write another five thousand words first.

Friday, October 2, 2009

More Flash Fiction

I'm very dissatisfied with my foray into flash fiction yesterday.  It's just such a good idea.  All other media is trending shorter and more flexibly delivered to busy/mobile people.  I think short fiction has a natural place at that table.  (OtherMe is certain of it.  She's already plotting an iPhone app.)

So I'm going to go out and read a lot more of it.  Since I also strongly suspect that the skills required to write good flash fiction will be useful for writing any commercial fiction, I think I'm going to try some here on the blog for practice.  Stay tuned.

Incidently, I understand why it isn't necessarily favored by authors.  Novels usually pay advances and/or royalties, but unless anthologized, short stories usually pay one time, by the word.  Under this model, flash fiction is utterly unlucrative, even by writing standards.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I Knew I Was Getting Dumber

Yesterday I mentioned twitfic - complete stories in 140 characters or less.  Today I read some flash fiction - complete stories in 1000 words or less.  Mostly a lot less.  I don't know what I expected, but much of what I read was, frankly, incomprehensible.

Maybe I just found a tough batch, but I had to re-read many of these stories several times.  I thought I more or less knew what was going on plot-wise (though I hesitate to use the word plot), but there were inconsistencies and loose ends that I could not reconcile.  While it's possible this was plain bad writing, comments from other readers suggest I'm just too dim to understand.

I knew it.  I was once considered quite bright by standard measures, but I've suspected for a long time now that I'm getting dumber.  It started with my first pregnancy and got much worse with my second.  I should sign up for long-term care insurance before it's too late.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


OK, it isn't that big a deal, but I got my very first writing feedback today.  As a bonus, it was positive!  HAPPY DANCE!

Granted, it was feedback on the first two sentences of my work in progress, but still, HAPPY DANCE!

I submitted those two sentences in response to this compelling tweet: "RT @buffysquirrel: tweet openings to short stories to get my opinion on whether i'd read on; tag with #gudslush; please RT"  It turns out that buffysquirrel is an editor at GUD Magazine, and they are currently accepting submissions for their next issue.  Sweet!

Thus encouraged, I also entered the #GhostsOfBelfast twitfic contest.  Writing very (very) short fiction is a really fun challenge.  I highly recommend it to anyone who aspires to Strunk & White's acme, "make every word tell."*

*I think that's right.  I seem to have mislaid my copy.  Again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Please read Moonrat's post today. It's great tasting AND nutritious!

Monday, September 28, 2009


As a little treat to my immune system, I'm going to bed early tonight.  For your education and enjoyment, I give you this special investigative report on internet writing gigs by THE INTERN.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Venturing Forth

I want to take a creative writing class.  I've been devouring every book, blog, and board I can find on the craft, which is like drinking from a firehose, but it can't quench that one most pressing need: feedback.  I'm hoping that a novice course will straighten me up on the fundamentals, but above all be a good introduction to the crit group dynamic.

We have a form of group critique in my field.  In my experience, it's the single most valuable tool for improving one's skills.  I have high hopes this will be true for me with fiction crit groups as well.  There's only one way to find out, right?

I've just started searching for classes, and am open to nearly any format.  If you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them.  Thanks in advance.


Many of my favorite authors are what you would call prolific.  But there is a special kind of prolific that makes my head spin.  To wit: I have never read James Patterson, but I'm also not sure he's an actual writer anymore.  He has a contract for 17 books in the next three years, and according to this eye-opening little article will have had 22 for 2007-2009.  Obviously there are co-authors and ghost writers involved.  His name is apparently mostly brand.

As a reader I find this such a turn-off.  To me, books are intensely personal.  They are not commodities, and the author's name on the jacket means infinitely more than the imprint's logo.  When I buy a book by an author that I like, I expect it to be written by that person.

Unfortunately, I'm in la-la land, for this phenomenon is as old as the hills.  So I'll put it this way: I believe that branded series of books can be good (e.g. Nancy Drew); I just want the question of authorship to be honest and transparent.  After all, Kate may not be my real name, but I can at least assure you there is only one of me.  Instead of half a dozen people all writing as James Patterson, why can't their books just be "Developed by James Patterson", "Edited by James Patterson" or "Executive Produced by James Patterson"?

Perhaps I'll feel differently as an author someday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Honeymoon is Over

So far, it's been lovely just sailing along, typing scenes as they come into my head a la NaNoWriMo, but now my novel and I have to actually start building a life together.  The plot points floating around my skull like confetti do not a novel make.  I need to create a damned outline.

This scares the poo out of me.  It's odd that it should, because I'm the High Priestess of Listmakers.  My whole life I've been a positively OCD planner (a characteristic that has allowed me to get away with egregious procrastination in the execution department.)  But planning prose?  This seems somehow antithetical to my notion of creative writing.  Is this why I like writing - the fact that prose is the one thing in my life that isn't planned?

Well, I suppose I could just write shitty stream-of-consciousness as a hobby and give up the idea of ever publishing.  But first I'll at least TRY to create that outline.  Wish me well (please).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Snuggie Haiku

Must Remove To Get A Drink
now it's cold again

Moron Disrobes To Go Pee
wishes for front slot

Damn It Are They In Or Out
can't find the remotes

I Don't Have The Pink One Yet
only leopard print

'Conomy Must Be OK
they still sell like mad

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom

I've invited my wonderful mother to read this blog, and in honor of her upcoming birthday I want to share a little sort-of-anecdote.

I was recently talking with my best friend, who is a multi-published author with a contract for a series.  She writes a lot.  Her mother is also a published author.  My friend described their lovely symbiotic relationship in which her mom proofreads all her work.  (If you are the mother of an adult child, you probably understand why I say this is symbiotic.)

It's adorable, isn't it?  And it would never, ever work for my mother and me.  Yes, my mother is well educated, well read, and has never made a spelling error in her life, but she did make the mistake of passing her Stubborn Gene down to me.  As a matter of fact, it is specially calibrated to respond to her own voice.  My mother could gently suggest to me that periods should be placed at the ends of sentences, and I would argue with her.

"You just don't understand," I'd say, and then I'd launch into some inventive rationalization of why my prose is too special for punctuation.  I am simply incapable of doing anything she tells me to. 

She would have to employ reverse psychology to induce me to correct anything at all.  "I just love the way you spelled archniods!  That sounds much more spiderish to me!"  She's probably had to do this my entire life, the poor woman.

I love you, Mom.  I hope you have a fantastic birthday.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Old Habits

Here I am on this blog trying to be a writer, and the other me - the one with the paying career and last name - keeps peeking in and wanting to play too.  It's getting obnoxious.

You see, all this talk about the turbulent transition taking place in publishing is catnip to OtherMe.  OtherMe is a Business Person, and a bit of a bloodthirsty opportunist, I'm afraid.  OtherMe keeps pestering me with entrepreneurial possibilities and trying to horn in on my writing time.  Since I can't keep my fingers in my ears singing la la la and write at the same time, I have only one defense - an incantation - and I hope it's strong enough:

No amount of money or success has ever, or will ever, give me the kind of satisfaction that writing does.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Promise

This is why I will never ask you to read my novel.  (And this.  And likewise this.)

Unless you are in my crit group.

(Anyone know how to find a good crit group?)

Thanks to Editorial Anonymous for another great link.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reading List

Back in the day, my husband and I consumed books so voraciously that we when of us would get to the bottom of our stack we would announce to the other, eyes a-twinkle, "I'm out of book!"  This was a sad state of affairs only if we could not get to a book store by dinner time.  In fact, it was understood that if one of us was "out of book," both of us got to replenish our stacks.

Things are different now.  There's very little time to read.  I have to be far more selective in the choices for, and even from, my dusty stack.  I have to weigh cozy familiarity against expanding my horizons for the sake of my craft.  I even consider how many times I'm likely to be interrupted in the course of a reading a book.  Often I only manage half a page in a reading session.  This ruins a lot of books.

This situation bums me out a little.  I'd really like to know: how do you decide what to read next?

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Back to the subject of writing today, I have to confess a little shortcoming.  I find it very difficult to stay focused on one project.  I have dozens of notebooks full of story ideas.  I have a hard drive full of random scenes.  I have three novels in progress.  All of these call back to me.  All of them want development.  All of them provide lame excuses to never actually finish a first draft of anything!

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Friday!

And I'm taking the night off.  If you're dying to read something, here's a word about titles.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Digital Revolution, Part 2

The publishing industry is of course notoriously technophobic and slowww.  It's being dragged into this revolution only because its fingernails are not strong enough to anchor it to the well-worn floorboards.  With all the good news about a smarter compensation model and faster idea-to-paycheck lifecycles and whatnot, it's still terrified that the big online retailers will eat the launch profits, piracy will eat everything after that, and the publisher will never get paid for their investment.  Yes, I oversimplify, but if you want details you won't have to google hard to find them.

Frankly, I'm not going to argue with these fears; they are legitimate - for the short term.  Restructuring, getting into the direct sales business, and keeping on top of the current technical formats is very hard.

But it is going to be so worth it!  Here's why: the internet is one gigantic matchmaker.  In my opinion the biggest challenge with hardcopy publishing is getting the book and the person who wants it together in the same room at the same time.  This is absurdly difficult - especially when the person doesn't know they want the book until they have it literally in their hand.  Step One to fix this: put the book online, make the first chapter free, and make the rest instantly available.  Now the room is the internet and most of the planet can get there.

But the internet is a big and crowded room, you say?  True, but it has secret magical matchmaking powers that hardly anyone in the publishing industry seems to know about yet. I am not talking about Amazon's search function or B&N's 'people who bought this also bought this'.  I am talking about user profiles, click stream analysis, data mining, and predictive behavior algorithms.  Today we are not even scratching the surface of the potential for getting a book into the hands of the exact readers who are going to want that book.  But it will come.  And when it does, the industry will discover the true diversity of readers' tastes, and that it can cater to that diversity and actually make money doing it!

The Digital Revolution, Part 1

I have a lot to say about the digital revolution in books and why I think it's a good thing.  For this initial installment, I want to point out that mass-digitization of books will expand readership.  A LOT.

To start with, I suspect there are millions of people in the U.S. who cannot easily get to bookstores, afford to pay for new hardcopy books, or have room to store books.  That doesn't mean they are non-readers.  A lot of them are simply reading online content or used books or library books.  You can reach this audience with digital books, and make a profit doing it since there are no printing costs.  Perhaps more importantly, the online world allows you to target marketing efforts to the right readers with a precision and efficiency never seen before.  I'll talk more about this in a later installment, but now let's move abroad.

Have you been to Japan lately? Here is a wealthy developed country of people living in itty-bitty little spaces. They love their content, but they really love all things compact. They watch live TV on their cell phones. Digital books fit their lifestyles infinitely better than bulky hardcopies.

Now how about rural India? Not too long ago, someone on NPR said that cell phones have done more to raise people here out of poverty than thirty years of government social programs.  Cell phones allow geographically isolated farmers to check prices at different markets in real-time and make the best decisions about their crops.  I think there are not many bookstores or libraries in rural India, but where you can have a cell phone, you can have an e-reader.

Step back and look around the globe, and we are talking about literally BILLIONS of people who can be reached now who could never be reached before.

Now before you pummel me with the yeah, BUT gripes I want to remind you that I am not finished.  Come back tomorrow for even better news.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


First, a little local business.  It has come to my attention that some of you are having difficulty posting comments here.  Anonymous comments are now enabled, or you can email me at kateinthecloset at gmail dot com any time you want to get in touch.  I'll share here as appropriate.

Now, about the business.  Today was Dan Brown Day, widely expected to break all sorts of publishing industry records.  This is an outstanding example of what many people say is the problem with this business.  The Lost Symbol is likely going to finance every other Doubleday publication for the next few years.  It is what every company is chasing - the panacea that makes all the failures OK.  The entire industry will try to create 'more like this', and instead of a wide variety of mostly mediocre choices with a few gems, we have increasingly homogenous mediocre choices with increasingly fewer gems.  (Have you noticed how many fucking vampire novels there are at Barnes & Noble lately?  There isn't even any actual fucking in most of them.  For fuck's sake.)

It's all doom and gloom, right?  Actually, I don't think so.  A lot of the industry seems to be pissing itself in terror over the digital content revolution that is already in progress.  I may not know shit about the publishing industry, but I happen to know a lot about the online services industry, and I think the revolution might just be the best thing to happen to books since ink.  Tune in tomorrow to find out why.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Aw, a Nice Agent

It's a rainy Monday, and I'm going to spend the evening on the novel.  Here's a fun blog on query letters to entertain you while I'm off in my little world.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Aesthetic - Continued

Thinking more about the visual aesthetic of many of my favorite stories, it is clear that using an established aesthetic makes things much easier.  Just a few words, like castle and tapestry, or cottage and gingham, conjure an entire world and heaps of associations in a reader's imagination.  There is no need to slow down the action with a clutter of modifiers, and no need to risk clashing with the reader's vision.  It also makes room for describing the things that are unique and critical to this story and have the reader actually remember them.

I just gained a new respect for my favorite writers of science fiction - the ones who create entirely new universes with entirely new aesthetics (no mid-century modern cheats here!) and do it without getting in the way of a crackerjack story.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


So, I’m embarrassed to say that I only recently learned the term steampunk.  Naturally, I immediately slapped my forehead and felt like a moron for not realizing that aesthetic I’ve be seeing everywhere actually has a name.  Warehouse 13, Sanctuary, League of Extroardinary Gentlemen, Up!, the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, and the dreadful Killing Time by Caleb Carr.  I don’t know if these fit what people think of as the steampunk genre, but they all contain elements of the steampunk aesthetic - including the books.

This is something I hadn’t thought about before: the value of establishing a visual aesthetic in written stories.  I now realize that most of my favorite stories have such an aesthetic, that it is distinct from atmosphere, and that it matters to me.  Harry Potter has a colorful medieval aesthetic.  Twilight just has rain.

More on this tomorrow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eve Tasting the Apple

I've been spending time this week reading a lot of blogs and such from the publishing industry. The more I learn the more it fascinates me. However, there are a few things I sort of wish I hadn't read.

Case in point: Pimp My Novel, which helpfully talks about what's selling and what isn't.

This is extremely dangerous information for an aspiring novelist. One the one hand, it is probably useless. How things are selling now obviously does not predict sales trends and market saturation at some murky future moment when one's own book is ready. At the same time, it's almost impossible to ignore. You say hard science fiction has been on the decline for fifty years now? I guess I won't waste my time.

Well, it’s too late now. I’ve tasted the fruit and there’s no going back. Besides, it's yummy.  I guess remaining true to one’s self will just be a little harder now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

So, uh, could you tell?

...that I was under the influence when I wrote my post yesterday?  I told you I'm a lightweight!

I'm finally on the back end of this cold and going to try to write for an hour (sober) and then get to bed early, so no maudlin happyrant tonight.  Just a link to this interesting little gem from The Rejectionist.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Who - and What - You Know

I have had the great fortune over the past fews years to become acquainted with my favorite living novelist.  We’ve never talked about my aspirations, and indeed we’ve barely talked at all, but I have seen her in her own world, and I think it sort of changed my life.

Whereas I was once humbled by her insight into exotic subjects, I’ve since learned that many of these subjects are simply part of her world, no more exotic to her than my career expertise is to me. Whereas I once thought her ideas had an other-worldly wisdom to them, I’ve since learned them to be natural extrapolations of her experience.

In other words: she writes what she knows. Nothing is more reassuring to an aspiring author than confirmation that a regular person might just know something that will matter to others.

Of course, she also writes very, very well. But even in this, knowing her is reassuring. She, like me, always wanted to write, but had a family and a career first. She, like me, had no formal training. She, like me, is not a literary writer and hardly knows what that means. She, like me, prefers reading different genres than she writes. She, like me, is interested in a lot of things besides writing.

Maybe it should be no surprise that I’m drawn to her novels. Nonetheless, I find it endlessly surprising and delightful and inspiring that the creator of works I find so very eye-opening and fundamentally worthwhile is, ultimately, just a person, like me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Hab A Code

Well, today I was back to my day job after a one-week (plus Labor Day) staycation.  Typically, my job has a scary way filling all the nooks and crannies of time in my life, especially when I'm at home.  Not this time, my friends!  I barely looked at my email for the past ten days, let alone answered it.  Instead the week was absolutely dedicated to writing and it was awesome!  I accomplished more than I expected to, and enjoyed every minute of it.

I was a little afraid that getting back to work would suck all this happiness right out of me.  Actually, it hasn't yet.  Today I was very motivated to get to work early, get caught up, and get out of there so I could write some more as soon as the kids were down for the night (instead of work-working some more).

Ah, the best laid plans...

You see, as of today, I officially have a terrible cold.

I have taken medicine for it.

The kind that can make you sleepy.

I'm a lightweight.

I can barely lift my fingers to type this.

Good night, friends.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

As today is a holiday, I'm going to take the day off and just link to someone else's hilarious blog post.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

Now back to my novel...

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Yesterday I poo-poo'd originality.  I was of course referring to originality of theme, basic structure, and elemental plot.

Freshness is a different animal, and one that I think is important.  Styling prose, dialog, humor, details, pacing, and point of view to make the work feel spontaneous and relevant can give new life to the oldest stories.

It's also very hard to accomplish without getting trite or in the way of the story.

I'm going to do some thinking about it, and I'd love to know what you think makes writing seem fresh to you.

Friday, September 4, 2009


If the purpose of a writer is to create original written material, it would seem to follow that originality is important.  In high school I fretted seriously about whether or not my stories were original.  Whenever I decided one passed muster, I might tell someone about it, and then some helpful (ex-)boyfriend would happily exclaim that the story sounded just like such-and-such book he had just read.  Considering this an essential failing of my talent, I gave up.  Despite the fact that I was accepted to an Ivy League school largely on the strength of my creative writing (I still have the note from the admissions director saying so), I eventually got my degree without taking a single english class.

Speaking of english classes, my friend Ted was recently telling me about the field of Comp Rhet, a closed system of academics one-upping each other in originality - "endlessly spewing into the ideasphere," is how I think he put it.  Contrast this with the world of children's literature.  My five favorite children's books/series are all about orphans entering a strange and dangerous new world, and becoming the hero of that world.  That is just the beginning of their similarities; it just occurred to me that they all mention tapestries.

It's extremely liberating to finally stop worrying about originality.  Case in point, I know there are probably five hundred blogs exactly like this one, but that's okay.  The purpose of this blog is not to be original, it is to help keep me motivated to write.  The purpose of my stories is not to be original either, they are intended to entertain.

So what are your top five most beloved children's books/series?  What is the empirical plot that turns you on over and over again?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I have this thing about How-To books.  I love them.  I'll devour them in any subject, but it won't surprise you to learn I've got shelves full of books and magazines about writing.  Some are unquestionably more useful than others, but I've found at least one pearl of wisdom in each of them, and I'm always making excuses to buy more.

I do wonder sometimes if it isn't rather counter-productive.  I could be spending the time writing.  How much advice - often conflicting - can I really hold in my head anyway?  Will too many rules paralyze me?  Will my writing lose its soul if I try too hard?

Meh, I'll take the risk.  At this point, what interests me as much as the information about writing is the information about publishing.  (Along with the books and magazines, there is at least one very excellent blog about it.)  What a very, very strange industry this is!  It's like reading travel guides for an exotic country I plan to visit soon; I feel the same thrill in my gut as I fantasize about my adventures there.

The downside is that it's virtually impossible to read about publishing without (a) getting really depressed about how tough it is, (b) realizing that a good strategy is imperative, and (c) that I don't have one yet.  The challenge is to control this anxiety and not give it undue influence over the writing.  Although writing is only one part of a successful writer's job anymore, I'm pretty sure it's still the most important part.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Down to Business

OK, let's get down to it, shall we? I have, in fact, been writing in most of my free time for a few years now. Half of this has consisted of blogging and other participation in online communities.  This has served both to keep me connected and to keep my language engine running. The other half of my writing time has been devoted to actual fiction.  I have several works in progress, including a novel.

This novel is my first real attempt at such a thing. Going into it, I thought it was mostly a matter of coming up with a good story and getting it down on paper. I had consciously decided not to worry over every sentence and paragraph until the first draft was complete.

So far I'm pleased with my progress and pleased with the story. However, even with a story in mind, I'm a little bowled over by how many decisions there are to make. To start with, there is the question of category. Everyone would like to write the perfect novel that is all things to all people. But of course there is no such thing. Readers of different categories of novel have different expectations. A thriller and a mystery may both have a detective and a crime, but they are markedly different in structure and tone. A romance and a fantasy may both share paranormal love, but the romance is short and delivers primarily emotions while the fantasy is long and delivers primarily ideas. Then there are the hazy literary fiction and commercial/literary fiction, the definitions of which frankly mystify me.

My story has mystery, suspense, romance, and speculative science. I'm afraid my novel can be sold as, at most, only one of those things. Sigh. For now, I'll just keep getting the story on paper.


Hi, I'm Kate.

I have a problem. I have a fantastic job. I'm good at it, I love the people I work with, I have amazing freedom, wonderful benefits, and worst of all, I'm very highly paid.

Don't get me wrong. I like making a good living. I have no desire whatsoever to eat ramen noodles and borrow rent money from my parents. My family enjoys my cushy living even more than I do.

But alas, I'm at a cross-roads. Pace of Advancement is an important concept in Corporate America, and if I'm going to stay on pace I need to advance, one way or another, in the next year. This means a lot of decision-making and hard work and maneuvering and blah blah blah. Sigh. My heart just isn't in it any more. If I'm going to work hard, I want to be doing something I'm passionate about. That would be writing.

If I didn't have a family and a mortgage and two school tuitions to pay, it would be relatively easy to set aside extra money for a while and buy myself a year or two worth of ramen noodles, hole-in-the-wall rent and free time. Hell, I could move back in with my parents. But that just isn't going to happen. I have to multi-task: take care of my family, write, and keep my job.

About that last one... you know my name isn't really Kate. I would simply prefer it if my employer didn't decide to do me a favor and push me out of the nest, so to speak. At least not without a gigantic severance package. Of course anonymity is a disadvantage if I'm going to build a platform, but more on that later...