Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Multitasking vs One thing at a time

I read somewhere recently that few of us actually multitask very well, in spite of the fact most of us think we do. I also heard that what little ability we have to multitask gets worse as we age, and that scares me.

Why have I been thinking about this? Actually, it was Sinead's last post about writing faster (and my recent snails pace of finished product production). My snail's pace is due to the frustrating time I've been having doing final revisions on my latest opus.

I've always been a multi-tasking kind of person. At least that's how I think of myself. But I'm realizing (either because of age or wisdom or both) that maybe I'd be more effective if I forced my ADD underground and focused on one thing at a time.

And I don't mean doing multiple books at once. I've stopped projects mid-way to start others... but I've never been a write-two-books-at-once kind of gal. I wish. I mean, dealing with one stage of revisions/editing at a time.

Once a book is sold to a publisher, it goes through a few very distinct kinds of edits. Here's how I understand it:

The first is revisions. Which, for popular fiction at least, is mostly about changes to the story. Making sure it's as tight and strong as possible. Depending on the book and the editor, this may go through a few rounds. (Have you ever heard Lisa Garner talk about her revisions for The Perfect Husband?)

Then there are line edits. This is where the words become the issue. The prose. Are there repeating words or phrases, overuse of adverbs or adjectives, repetitive sentence structures. That kind of thing. (I understand depending on the editor, and the extent of revisions needed, these two stages are sometimes combined. I also understand that with more "literary" novels this stage is more rigorous. Fine. I heard one story about an authors and her editor arguing over the choice of one particular word for a few weeks. Lucky publishers have popular fiction to help pay for that kind of anal-retentiveness.)

Then, only then, does it go to the copy editor who worries about continuity and fact checking and punctuation and grammar and do the heroine's eyes change color on page 243.

This is how I understand the process to work, anyway.

So, I'm thinking. Why the hell do I make myself crazy trying to combine all those different kinds of edits into one set of revisions myself? Why do I worry about all of these things on each pass through my manuscript? Why am I fussing over the exact wording of a paragraph until I'm absolutely positive the overall story is working? Do I like wasting time? Making extra work for myself? Subsequently cutting huge swaths of prose I'd tinkered with until I loved it? Am I that worried about my CP's opinion of me that I can only show them stuff I think's nearly finished?

I'm not sure why I never tried to apply this multi-step approach to revisions to my writing process.

And even if I hadn't made the connection earlier, I could have taken a lesson from my CP, friend and fellow drunk writer, Molly, who never cares about line edit things when she's just trying to get the story right.

I've learned to (mostly) ignore grammar and repeated words and poor punctuation in Molly's early drafts, but I'm seriously just realizing now how friggin smart she is. (I knew she was smart about lots of things, just not this.)
What I now realize is how much time I waste trying to polish my work before I show it to my CP's for that initial "does this story work" critique. Or even before I make my own assessment of my story.

Damn, damn, damn.

Can you edit your work for just one thing? Can you ignore the wording and just worry about the story? Or do you multi-task-edit, too?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Writing faster

I have a really limited amount of time on my hands these days… largely due to my expanded family. Whoever said newborns sleep a lot should be shot..

So when I do have a free moment, I have to think carefully about what I want to do. The usual answer is work on my current WIP. Which is what I’ve been doing.

What I would love to know is how to write faster. I really have to work on this, because right now, a book is taking me close to eight months start to finish and I really have to shave two months off that.

Lots of people write several books a year and raise families, so I know it can be done. I think it’s a lack of focus on my part. I sit down to write and my mind wanders and I take breaks and check email, and all of a sudden my time is up, and I only have four pages written in two hours.

Molly is great at writing fast, three books a year, and she has said what helps her is having a computer disconnected from the internet, along with deadlines.

Other people leave the house, go to a coffeeshop where they have nothing to but work. This works really well for Maureen.

Me, I work in spurts. I have great weeks, and really pathetic weeks. Some weeks I get to the computer and can focus on what I'm doing and get tons done, other weeks, I find surfing the net irrestible when I should be writing.

What does help me is having a specific goal when I sit down to write. Knowing exactly what scene comes next, and what needs to be accomplished in the scene. If I sit down to the computer with only a vague idea of what comes next in the book, I'm screwed.

Does anyone have any other ways to keep focused and write faster? I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Surreality TV

No, this post isn't about the Surreal Life, I got bored at that one after the first season. Once they started casting so-called celebrities who actually realized the joke was on them, I didn't find it so funny anymore. Does that say pretty bad things about me? (But seriously, Cory Feldman's antics and tantrums in the first season cracked me up and appalled me at the same time. That's entertainment.)

What this post is actually about, is John from Cincinnati. Does anyone else out there watch this? What an interesting and bizarre little show. Who wouldn't love a television series featuring levitation, surfing, resurrection, illicit drug taking and a strange man who doesn't eat, sleep, or poop, and might be an alien, or a robot or maybe the second coming.

When this show first came on at the beginning of summer... (it's on TMN in Canada and they're at about episode 7 now. Don't know when it was/is on in the states...) Anyway... when it first started up here, I watched a few minutes of one episode, saw Bruce Greenwood floating off the ground and decided it wasn't for me. (Or rather that if I was going to watch, I'd have to watch from the beginning to figure out what the levitation was about. Now I know even if I had watched from the beginning, I'd have no idea what it was about.)

So, I finally got around to giving it another try and have been getting caught up via the on demand channel.

Wow. I don't really know what's going on, but it doesn't matter, I'm hooked. I've always liked Bruce Greenwood who until now could mostly only been seen in Canadian films (like The Sweet Hereafter). I thought he was going to become famous after he was cast as JFK in Thirteen Days... but Kevin Costner kind of ruined that movie and it bombed. (But I also understand it never would have been made without Costner's involvement... so there you go.)

Anyway... Bruce is aging well.

Check this show out if you're into the surreal, bizarre and unusual.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why ON THE LOT isn't working...

I've PVR'd all the episodes of On The Lot and I just got around to watching all of them. They have been remarkably easy to turn off - which doesn't say much about that show. However, after watching all of them in a row - the show is great. What those filmmakers are doing in such short turnaround is astonishing and the guest judges! Yikes! You don't get much bigger. So - why isn't it working. Granted, it's not as accessible as a singing talent show or even a dancing talent show -- but there are enough lovers of movies in the world and not enough good tv on in the summer that this show should be doing great.

1. Well, in Canada it's on at 11. That's crazy. And they are still working out the kinks of how to make the show work. For a while the bottom two vote getting film makers sat on stage for the whole episode to find out who would get cut. The next week they had an off stage package declaring the loser of that week.

2. The host - Adrienne? Oh my lord she's awful. She's really terrible. The non stop reviewing of numbers to call and the rules of the game and the fact that America is voting --- it's all necessary but you need someone with a bit more like-ability or chit chat skill to make it easy to listen to all the time. She doesn't.

3. The judges. Carrie Fisher and Gary Marshall are the regular judges all the time and I think they were hoping Carrie would be a bit more blunt than she is -- the Simon Cowell type. Gary is a character -- he's the old grandpa with a lot of smarts but is old fashioned. But there's no conflict with the judges. The reviews are all the same "it was good." "it was a success." So bland - no conflict nothing juicy - nothing actually very real. Sometimes the guest judges lay down some pearls of wisdom but for the most part it doesn't seem like anyone is getting judged. Which leads me to

4. Everything is very competent. Unlike a singing show when someone is bad you can tell -- it's hard to tell when these shorts are bad because it's all very competent. There's a whole lot of middle of the road and as anyone who has had to judge a writing contest -- nothing is worse than a whole bunch of middle of the road. There are some real stand outs -- Will and Zach and I really liked Marty despite his meltdown. But other than that -- a whole lot of the same. And to get viewers you need conflict and highs and lows.

It's an interesting premise for people who love storytelling and movies but they need to make it an interesting premise for the rest of the world. The rest of the world without PVR.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why the Emmys suck..

I love, love the timing of this, because the emmy noms came out yesterday and I have a whole lot to say about them.

First, my public service announcement. I don’t watch all the shows that were nominated, but I do read Entertainment weekly and TV guide, so I have a handle on what the critics are saying.

The noms could not have been more boring, or predictable, or in my humble opinion, WRONG.

I don’t have a lot to say about comedy, except perhaps the inclusion of two and half men, which I don’t love, but 30 Rock and the Office are brilliant and I’d like to publicly announce my huge girl crush on Tina Fey, one of the most brilliant comedy writers around.

But DRAMA… Wow, I feel they dropped the ball on a massive scale here.

Where the hell is Friday Night Lights, or Lost? Two shows that were completely riveting this year. How could they ignore the brilliant writing on FNL?
But I can answer this, by bringing up two more shows they have consistently ignored. The Wire, which almost every critic out there raves as being the best show on TV and Battlestar. If season 2 of Battlestar couldn’t get a nom for best drama, there was no chance in hell for season three, not even for those brilliant first four episodes.

4 shows that are so much better than House, Boston Legal, a really uneven season of Grey’s Anatomy, seriously, how they could they nominate these shows instead of the 4 listed above.

And what about acting nods? Where is Kyle Chandler, or Connie Britton, or any of the teens played so terrifically on Friday Night Lights? Where is Michael C. Hall for his outstanding performance on Dexter.
I agree with Hugh Laurie’s nod, but House was really disappointing for me this season, they seem to be building a show on his performance and that’s it.
And what about Battlestar, if Michael Hogan couldn’t get a nod for his unbelievable work as Colonel Tigh this past season, then obviously whoever is voting for the emmys is deaf, blind and dumb.

Phew! It felt good to rant. The rage still hasn’t subsided completely, but I feel better. How does everyone else feel about the emmy noms?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Agents and Editors are People

I know, pretty provocative title. (and not because the correct word is "persons", not "people".) The provocative idea is that agents and editors are mere human beings. How scandalous of me to suggest this.

Sure, I'm being silly to make a point, but I do assert that many writers act as if agents and editors are gods.

Before embarking on this trail toward publication, I was in a fairly high level position in business. The idea that there was anyone I couldn't approach, or that I was too junior to talk to, or any such notion, had been dispelled from my arguably once timid and cautious personality, many years back.

So, imagine my surprise when I started writing, got ready to submit, and found out there was all this mystique around these agent and editor creatures. All this strange protocol about how to contact these beings, how they'll snap and turn on you, how you'll be put on a "never publish ever list" if you make one false step. Some people will insist that editors and agents have special rulers to measure margins and won't read submissions unless you choose the magic font. You can't ask them questions, you must not speak unless spoken to, you must not e-mail unless e-mailed and invited to e-mail back, you can't make eye contact in the halls at conferences, you must bow down deeply whenever in their presence, you must send a SASE with every small note you write them.

Now, some of this is clearly joking... But except for the bowing down one, I've heard most of these on the loops or in workshops.

I've broken all of these so-called rules by now. In fact, the very first piece of writing I submitted (a requested partial manuscript to an editor at a major publisher) I did not include a SASE. GASP! Now, I do know that including such a thing is standard procedure in this industry... but at that time, I didn't believe it. You mean, considering my work isn't worth fifty cents to this major corporation/publishing house??? You've got to be kidding me??? I refused to send one. The editor had asked me to send my work, after all. (I didn't really refuse... I just didn't think it applied to requested submissions.)

On being assured, by people I knew not to be idiots, that the SASE myth (I had assumed) was true, I started to panic that all the other myths were true, too. But my submission did get returned to me (rejected, but obviously read given the specific comments in the rejection letter) on the publishing house's dime for postage. Okay, dollar--the sent my submission back, too. But while editors (in my experience) will respond without a SASE the same is not necessarily true with agents. (Although many respond via e-mail now, making the SASE obsolete.) This seems a bit crazy to me... since from all I can see, the real money in publishing is in agenting... Sure, to make money as an agent, you have to pick the right authors, and be good at your job, and have a little luck, and it can take years of eating expenses and not making money before you do well... But I'm sure, proportionately, there are a lot more agents with big incomes than either authors or editors... but I digress, again.

And I suppose this gets me around to, (finally, I'm sure you're all saying), what sparked this post. The lovely and talented Lauren Baratz-Logsted made a very interesting post to a forum in an on-line writers communitiy we both belong to about agents and authors and respect (among other things). She was asserting that many agents don't respect authors and how many authors deify their agents to the point where they don't question the agent's choices about their careers.

Some of what she said (and what I've rambled on about, above) got me thinking about agents who blog. Now, I LOVE that so many agents blog. It's a fabulous way for newbies to learn about the industry and for writers who are agent hunting to learn a bit about the working practices/personalities/likes and dislikes of those agents who do blog. But I'm wondering if some of these blogs (the belated Miss Snark in particular) don't help to perpetuate the agent as god myth. I think so many writers end up living in fear that they'll do something worthy of being shot by a clue-gun or write something that will score high on a crap-o-meter that they become paralyzed with fear.

Sad thing, I suppose, is that there are a lot of crazy people out there who've written a book or who want to.

It's possible the industry has built up this mysterious wall around agents and editors to deter the crazies. It behooves the rest of us to remember we aren't crazy.

If you know you aren't crazy, if you know you've written a great book, then don't worry about all the myths. Don't think of agents and editors as gods. Just submit. If you're at a conference, introduce yourself. Just don't be crazy. :-)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

So You Think You Can Dance -- best show on TV. Period.

There - I'm putting it out into the world. For my money - as much as I loved Dexter and the Sopranos and The Office and yes, even Friday Night Lights - nothing compares to the way I feel about So You Think You Can Dance. I obsess. I watch. Rewatch. Rewatch. Think about deleting it from my PVR and then don't. So I can rewatch yet again. I worry. I really worry about Hok. I worry about who will be given the gift of working with Wade Robson in the next week.

This show - as good as all those other shows are - at least once a week startles me with beauty and honesty and something so creative and different and moving that I thank God that I am a writer and I have PVR. I think this show offers us a glimpse into something very real about the dance community. American Idol has become it's own planet with nothing relating to the real world. But this show puts real dancers in the same room with real choreographers - and it's always exciting.

I saw part of the first season - watched the second season at least twice and now am glued to the TV for the first season and it's getting better all the time. They have six couples left and while I know that Hok isn't the best male dancer and could be the next to go - how is that possible in light of that Wade Robson ballet from two weeks ago? That was one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. I also thought the waltz last week was lovely -- the guy is short! What can he do?

Danny? Oh Danny so stunning. His hands - beautiful. His body. His dancing - stunning. But the judges are right. He's either not in touch with something very vulnerable in himself or he is arrogant -- I don't know which.

As for the girls - Sara, Sabra and I love Hok's partner Jamie? I can't remember her name because I am blinded by my love of Hok. But she is beautiful and elegant and giggly. She's fun.

The whole damn thing is fun. And beautiful. And artful - and that is almost non-exist ant on tv these days.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Coming Up Blank

Ok, this is going to be the shortest blog post ever, because I have nothing to talk about. I’m not at Nationals, I had no real reason to go this year and no way to justify the funds it would take.
I’m really hoping that changes by next year, would love to go to San Francisco, but I need to justify the expense, with either a publishing contract, or a super agent willing to take me on, or a huge lottery win..
Which ever happens first.

I’m finishing a book, hopefully by mid August, and ready to send it out. So while I edit, I’m thinking agents. I learned the hard way to research the agents I want it sent to. I lost a lot of time with an ineffective agent, and don’t plan to go that route again. I need to draft a query letter and a synopsis, two things I’m dreadful at, but on the plus side, I have some talented critique partners who are great at this stuff.

And I’m thinking of the next book. I have some good ideas, but nothing coming close to an outline, or a decent structure, so I need to think on this as well. I don’t like to take too much time off during books, I lose a lot of momentum that way..

There you go, everything that’s been on my mind writing wise this week. Anyone else wish they were at Nationals?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reading the Ritas....

Every year I try to read a few of the Rita nominated books and since Maureen is at Nationals right now - soon, I am sure to be picking up her Golden Heart -- I thought I'd give a quick report on the most suprising one I'm reading -- Anne Stuarts historical - The Devil's Waltz. All the same great stuff she does: an amazing hero, wonderful tension, moody moody moody - but, get this. The Heroine steals the show! The heroine is amazing! In fact she's outshining the hero! This is a great book.

How about the rest of you -- any good reports from the Rita's this year?

FYI -- www.torontoromancewriters.com won the award for best website. A huge congratulations to Simone Seguine who designed it. It's an amazing site - check it out.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sicko: audience manipulation? Or great storytelling?

Husband and I went to see Sicko - Micheal Moore's latest documentary - on Friday. And as an American living in Canada I have a fairly unique perspective on the Health Care crisis in the United States. At one point in the documentary an American living in France (which has the BEST health care system) said that she felt guilty for all that she was given in France when her parents had worked their whole lives to only get a part of what she can take for granted in her adopted country - paid vacations, free healthcare, prescriptions and dental care.

I feel much the same way. After that movie I wanted to gather up every loved one in the United States and bring them to my home - so the stress of aging and dealing with HMO's could be lifted from their shoulders and they could go back to the business of being happy.

Now calling anything Micheal Moore does a documentary is slightly skewed. Sicko is to a documentary as Fox News is to journalism. But luckily, Moore is using his powers for good. (Unlike Fox). Moore is liberal. No doubt about it. He's liberal and lots of people can fire cannon balls into the huge holes in his other documentaries. But, I think with Sicko - he's figured out how to shut the mouths of even the most uninformed and vocal of the republican right. He uses babies and firemen.

Lots of people are being abused by the system. But Moore's thesis statement is: Because of the US health care system babies and fireman (who worked in and breathed the hellish mix of chemicals in ground zero) are dying. Uncared for and neglected.

Now, who - who can possibly say that the health care system works when Moore zooms in on the tear streaked face of a mother who lost her 18 month old daughter to a high fever that could be treated by antibiotics. And who could say that the firemen and EMS employees who have been cut off and run around and ignored by the government they worked for! shouldn't get the care they need - even if it is from a Cuban doctor?

Yes - he's totally manipulative - but that's what makes him a good storyteller.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Why TV is so much better than Movies

I love movies, have since I was a young child. I religiously watch the Oscars, love almost all genres, from horror, to drama, musicals and action, and even love to watch the shows on the making of movies.

But in the last two years, the movies I’ve seen on the big screen have failed to thrill me like they used to. I could be getting more cynical as I get older, but when is the last time I saw a movie that thrilled me start to finish as much as Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Aliens, or even Die Hard.

Movies that I was so entranced with, two hours went by in the blink of an eye.

My last favourite movie was Pan’s Labryinth, a wonderful movie, and one of a handful I really enjoyed in the past couple of years.

And then there’s TV. I have been thrilled by Battlestar Galactica, emotionally drained and inspired by Friday night Lights, held completely enthralled by Heroes, and hooked by Dexter.
Shows that have 22 episodes a season, and I watched each one with the same eagerness that I open a bottle of red wine. (I really love red wine, more so for having had to abstain for almost a year…)

TV has more time to develop characters and plot, they can introduce more arcs and plot points, but that also gives TV more opportunities to screw up. And the above shows rarely do.
It seems the really great storytellers have migrated from the movies to TV. Better romances, better tension, better villains, and more risk taking, independent movies aside.

And then let’s talk comedy. Is there any movie in recent memory funnier than Arrested Development, or as simultaneously funny and sweet as The Office?

We’re in the summer movie season and the only upcoming movie that vaguely interests me is the Bourne Ultimatum. Everything else is either a sequel, or a retread of some other movie.

But the Fall TV season. That I’m itching for… New seasons of BSG, FNL and Heroes. I can’t wait.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Conference Bound

Okay, I'm being a negligent drunk writer this week, posting a day late and without much to say. Sorry.

I'm off the the HUGE RWA National conference in Dallas early next week and have been bogged down in getting revisions on a book done, preparing for the conference and trying to dig a few trails through the clutter filling my house, because my niece will be staying with me for a few days right after I get back and I don't want her to get crushed by one of the piles. You think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. Well, maybe a little.

This is is my fourth "Nationals" and the second in Dallas. Nothing against Dallas, but I almost decided not to go this year because of the location. But, I thought, the reason it was so insane last time was because the conference dates coincided with a Mary Kay conference. Surely RWA wouldn't make that mistake again? Surely the hotels wouldn't book two huge groups of women at the same time? Surely they learned from their mistake?

Apparently not. A group of the 2007 GH finalists are trying to get a dinner reservation for Friday night somewhere within say, ten miles of the hotel, and guess what? Everywhere is booked up with Mary Kay people. ACK!

Can't wait until the MK ladies start berating writers for not wearing pantyhose or enough make up. :-)

I'll try to post next week to let everyone know how it's going.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Suzanne Brockman is ruining my life....

So a friend loaned me all of her Suzanne Brockman Navy Seal categories a week ago. She handed over this lovingly assembled hodge podge of reissues and used and new books and I had no idea what I was in for.

I haven't done ANYTHING all week. I go to bed at 9 and read to 1. I've stopped writing. I've stopped exercising - at every turn I am running upstairs to read more about Alpha Team Ten. I am chain reading them. The first one still warm from my hand and I'm three pages in the next.

And so, I've figured out what the deal is with Brockman - I thought it was the males and they are great heroes. But the worst book in this series was the first one -- SHE KEEPS GETTING BETTER. SHE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT. It's amazing. I love some writers -- buy each and every book - and when one is a bit of a stinker - I forgive and forget. But so far none of these books are bad. Her research gets more and more interesting. Her characters more complex and even harder considering her subject matter and the confines of category romance -- they are all DIFFERENT. Elizabeth Lowell's category romances - which I love - are all sort of the same in terms of plot and character. Still love 'em. But Brockman is really pulling it off with these boys.

Now, I write category romances and like most category romance novelists have aspirations of "breaking out." And, I sometimes get very very antsy about time but Suzanne has taught me this last week the importance of building an audience and honing my skills.

While none of them have been bad - Frisco's Kid - is my favorite. And so far - Harvard's Education was the least gripping -- it was fantastic but maybe had less romance than I like. Thoughts?

How about you guys? Is there another author out there that I am missing? Someone else batting a thousand.
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