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...