Just Write Cat

One Writer, One Journey

Bleeding Out September 18, 2011

Wow, so I just entered another amazing contest hosted by agent Janet Reid. If you hurry, you can get your entry in (contest ends tomorrow). I’ve entered just about all her 100-word contests (I’ve received a few mentions, too – yay) – and each time, I learn something new, hone my craft a bit more, get another kick in my pants to keep at this…

But this one…it almost hurt to enter. It sure as hell hurt to write the poem (and not only because I’ve never written a poem, least not since childhood). This one hit close. It came from a place I prefer to keep contained. A place that is still sutured and bandaged, lest I bleed out. As I hit send on that email, I had to tell myself, “what the hell have you got to lose, Catherine?” Still, there’s something about opening yourself like that. Again, I’m not really talking about entering the contest, but writing something that is so much a part of you, that when you send it out…something of you goes, too. Maybe it will be a bit of the pain…that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

My point – they say write what you know. Yes, and write what you feel. Write what you are most afraid of, what you most try to blank out of your mind. That event or thing or fear that gives you the cold sweats, the shivers and that gut-wrenching, twisting pain that only comes when you are at your most ill.

Now, I have to go count my blessings. Three of them are sitting on the sofa, watching a movie, and waiting for me.

Cat

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Plugging Away… June 13, 2011

I’ve been remiss. I’ve let my writing take second chair. Well, second chair (or first, for that matter) isn’t taken – it’s given. So the burden of responsibility rests solely on my shoulders. Oh, I’ve been writing – mainly for local magazines and blogs – but I consider that something other than “working on my novels”.

I could point to a couple of external factors – problems due to the concussion I received two years ago (just started therapy for that, finally) or my recent involvement in my son’s PTSA  (funny how when you’re cell deep in your novel, you almost forget you have a real, live family). And the editor I worked with is on hiatus until the fall. I love that word, hiatus. Sounds like something requiring surgery. I had my hiatus removed, so the doc said I can’t lift anything over twenty pounds.

So, I’ve been plugging away at my manuscript (the wonderous third draft you hear so much about), trying to apply what I learned working with said (amazing) editor to the other 300 pages. I will state this: my first fifty are solid! Um, I think.

Here are my goals for the summer – finish my revision. attend the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference , prepare for the  International Surrey Writers Conference (both manuscript and confidence-wise), lose ten pounds (nothing to do with writing, but still a worthwhile goal. On second thought, make that an even twenty).

And how, pray tell, do you plan to spend your summer? I’ll ask another way – what writing goals have you set? Please share!

Cat

 

Getting Back in the (Writing) Game… December 21, 2010

Filed under: Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Freelance,Write — justwritecat @ 12:38 am

Oh my goodness, I cannot believe it’s been a full month since I last posted on this blog. Shame on me. And, I apologize.

I started focusing more on my freelance writing – initially out of necessity, then because I found it helped my craft. Freelance took off, which was both good and not-so-good. Good because bringing in an income doing something you love is always good, plus I’m writing outsize my non-fiction comfort zone…which means I might do the same when working on my novels. Not-so-good because I’ve put my fiction writing on the back burner. My hope is that I kind find that balance again in 2011. I managed to balance out my time up until recently — last month — when we received some financially devastating news. So, I had to put more energy to writing that brought in an income.

I am incredibly grateful for those freelance writing opportunities. Not only for the monetary reward, but because the work is pushing me to grow as a writer.  Plus, I’m learning about things I never thought about before — and I’m taking down notes on ways to incorporate those newsy bits in my novels.

Some time ago I asked how I could make this blog more helpful. Of course posting more consistently is a given – sorry, again. But I thought I’d focus on ways writers can branch out…either in the genres they write or by giving serious thought to writing ‘for the other side’ – nonfiction. So, here’s the first post on Freelance Writing.

I’m going to divide this by freelance writing for print vs web content — because there are differences (and I’m doing both, though only starting on the web content opportunities). My first freelance gig came by way of another blog I write for a local magazine. Back in the spring, they were looking for someone to blog a few times a month on various topics. I applied, the editor liked this blog and my writing style, and gave me the chance.  I had the freedom to write on a variety of issues – mainly my experiences as a mom in Vancouver, WA (it’s a family magazine). A few months later, I asked if I could query her with some article ideas.  She said yes, I did – and my first print article came out.

Now, I don’t know if having an article published in a magazine makes me an author or not – I’ve heard yays and nays, but it sure does give one confidence. I’ve written a few more pieces for the magazine – Vancouver Family Magazine – and now for other local magazines and newspapers. I sent my first query to a national magazine last month.

I love writing for the local magazines because I can write about what I now – what I experience living daily in this part of the country. And you can establish great relationships with editors of local magazines. They live in your community,  you see them out and about, they seem incredibly approachable (magazines more than newspaper editors) — if you not yet confident enough as a writer (are we ever???), local editors tend to take the time to provide suggestions for article topics or insider tips. I think of the editor at Vancouver Family Magazine as more a mentor — and I don’t know if that happens when you’re looking for guidance/feedback on your novel (until you have an agent).

So, those are my thoughts on starting local if you’re thinking about branching out to freelance writing. Next post – differences between writing for magazines and newspapers.

Happy Writing!

 

Who Writes Short Shorts? September 18, 2010

Filed under: Fiction,Write,Writing Contests — justwritecat @ 10:19 pm
Tags: ,

I LOVE entering those 100 word story contests (Janet Reid is the queen at coming up with those). I’ve found entering ‘shorts’ helps me with other projects. My writing is more concise, focused, snappy – at least, I think I’m seeing a difference. 

Improving my craft aside, entering writing contests is fun! Here are a few I’ve recently come across.

Contest #1 The Badger Games is hosting a fun contest. You have to write a query/blurb/something else on the cover of a book she recently found. Creative. My entry is somewhat long – hmmm, what was that about learning to be more concise??

Contest #2.  My good friend, Frederique, sent me the link for NPR’s Three Minute Story Contest. Now, why didn’t I know about the NPR contests before? Because I’m an uncultivated heathen, that’s why. So, thank you to my more cultured friend for thinking of me! Still working on that entry, though I think I’ve got a fun premise.

Contest #3 Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition  This one I knew about. I may not always listen to NPR (though I love Prairie Home Companion), but I do read WD every month. Front to back, several times.

If you know of any short writing contests, do tell!

Cat

 

Branching Out… September 17, 2010

Quick update – still working on revisions with independent editor, Lisa Rector-Maass. Still amazed by her uncanny ability to read the hearts and minds of my characters. Still waiting for the day when my first novel is ready to send out (again).

Meanwhile – I decided to branch out a bit.

Partly fueled by the belief that I should have ‘something to show for the past year plus of work’, but primarily out of a desire to further improve my craft – I started writing nonfiction (articles mainly).  I wasn’t sure if I could easily transition between writing fiction and nonfiction, but so far things are looking good.  For the past few months, I’ve blogged for a local family magazine – Vancouver Family Magazine.  The editor gave me the opportunity to write an article for their print edition (comes out next month). Getting that assignment gave me the confidence to query a couple other local magazines and a local newspaper. Result – my first printed article appeared in the Columbian last Sunday.  A travel piece.   Another article is coming out next month for NW Kids, and I have a future piece lined up for that same magazine. 

Boy howdy! The hardest part was giving it a try.  Seems it was worth it – especially if this keeps up.

Moral of it all? Be open to any and all writing opportunities.  Doesn’t mean you have to say yes to everything – but if you keep an open mind, you never know what doors may open. 

Does it feel rather cool to get ‘paid’ for one’s writing?  Sure.  But more than that (honestly), it is validation.  Getting a thumbs up to your writing. Realizing that you may very well be witnessing your dreams come true.  Now that’s beyond cool.

I planned to blog about this in greater detail, but then another cool thing happened.  I received an email from another blogger.  I’m not going to mention who  – yet.  She asked if I’d like to submit a few guest posts to her site, gave me a few ideas, offered to consider some of my own.  She was open to the topic of ‘expanding one’s writing repertoire’, so that’s what I’m going to blog about on her site. Once I know when my posts go live, I’ll update everyone on the details.  But – isn’t that the greatest?  To have someone – someone you admire as a blogger/writer – reach out in that way?  I thought it was…

Okay, okay – as I double checked my post for errors, I realized something. I gotta come up with something other than ‘cool’.  Awesome? Fantastic?  Freakin’ Fabulous? Something that captures my allegiance to the 80s, but still expresses the extreme…uh…coolness of things. 

Suggestions??

 

A Different Type of Revision Process June 20, 2010

I start working with editor Lisa Rector next week.   Wednesday, to be exact.  And yes, I’m counting down the hours.  I’m super excited about working with her, even though I know there will be a great deal of revision work involved.  I don’t mind revision work (it’s so much better than writing the first draft, imo).  The hard part is finding someone who gets your writing and your story, someone who can guide you as you try to make your novel all it can be.  I posted about this last week – why I feel this will prove a good fit.  But basically, everything she said in her initial emails resonated with me.  My instinct tells me I’m going to learn so much about improving my craft…and you have to trust that instinct.

The way this is going to work is this – we’ll have a series of phone calls to review my completed manuscript Set ‘Em Up, Joe.  Each call will last between one to two hours (total of ten hours for the package of sessions).  We’ll handle about twenty pages per call, going over any issues/shortcomings.  I think the real-time feedback I will get as we review each page/line will prove amazingly helpful.  And efficient – I’ll be able to get immediate feedback on possible ways to change the plot/story instead of rewriting and waiting for the thumbs up or down.  I like efficient.

The really cool thing about this process – as I revise the pages we cover each session, I can resubmit them to her for a quick second look.  Also, I can send in chapter outlines, goals, ideas for changes – anything that might help us during the review sessions.  I really love that…it helps her see my vision/goals for each chapter and for the larger story arc.  And of course, with her guidance I’ll be able to ensure those goals are met (or change them if they’re not working).

In the contact email I sent to Lisa, I included the novel synopsis and first five pages.  In her reply she offered her initial thoughts on the pages.  And wow, just those initial comments helped me rethink some major things in my novel.  I’m going to include some of the things she mentioned, because I think it raises questions worth asking when reviewing any manuscript.  If readers are telling you the plot is not engaging enough or they don’t get why they should care – maybe you can apply some of the comments below to your own work.

(this is paraphrased, with my own comments italicized)

What is the larger threat?  Readers need to get an idea of that threat right away – in the first pages.  In other words, why should anyone care?  This is related to What’s at Stake?  Personal stakes, societal stakes – something has to matter, and in a big way.

There must be a sense of urgency in what’s going on.  Certainly related to stakes, but also to tension.  Readers must feel that things are happening, or might happen if the protag doesn’t act/do something.  Right now.

Conflict.  Stories are all about conflict.  Inner conflict, outer conflict, the intersection of the two (especially).  There can be no easy choices, no clear ways out. 

To prep for the first call, I went ahead and revised the first chapter to address the things mentioned above.  I made some major changes, and also worked on adding line-by-line tension.  I think it’s better, more intriguing – a stronger sense of why things matter (to the reader, to Joe).  I introduced a change to his existence, once that has him uneasy and uncertain of how to proceed.  Joe likes to be in control, to know what to expect…so hopefully this will start to address inner conflict. 

Rewriting those pages involved some work, but really – it was more a matter of approaching things differently.  Of trying to decide how to put Joe at a clear disadvantage at the start of the story.  And to set things up to get much, much worse.  Before, I wanted things to be sort of tough…but not too much at first.  That is not tension.  Certainly not enough to hold a reader’s attention.  I know I’m going to have to keep working at the tension aspect.  Putting Joe and the other characters – and me, for that matter – in places that are beyond uncomfortable.  Places that are ugly, places that most people don’t want to be. 

But that’s fiction.  It should be ‘more than’ real life.

 

Last Line Blogfest Entry May 1, 2010

Oh my, when did it become May??  Seriously.  A few weeks ago I started a draft of this post, figuring I had weeks – WEEKS – to decide which last line to use.  And then I’m checking the comments on my blog and someone is nice enough to remind me that the Last Line Blogfest is tomorrow!  TOMORROW. 

A heartfelt thank you to Roland over at http://www.rolandyeomans.blogspot.com  for the friendly reminder, and of course a mega-thanks to Lilah Pierce for hosting this blogfest.  Too cool!!

Below is my entry for last line blogfest over at http://lilahpierce.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-first-blogfest.html

Ahem, I cheated a bit in that the set-up is way more than twenty-five lines.  More like fifty.  Sorry – I really wanted feedback on the last line in this scene and didn’t think I could get the flow working in less than fifty lines.

This scene takes place after Joe Cooper, ME, is called out to examine the second murder in as many weeks.  He is speaking with Detective Grace Gutierrez right before he’s about to chat with the kid (a seventeen year old) who found the victim. 

Now, I like the last line.  I think it’s somewhat cheesy, but that’s what I was going for in some ways.  Joe’s a bit of a player, flirts (even at crime scenes), and Grace is attracted to him.  But….if you think the line doesn’t work, please don’t hold back.  (FYI, Rodriguez is Grace’s partner.  Another homicide detective who is rather AR.  He dropped a spot of jelly from a donut on his shirt, hence the reference to him still looking at the spot).

Thanks for reading!

     I walked away from Rodriguez, who was still looking down at his shirt.  I headed over to the kid, and Gutierrez followed.  “Don’t trust me to get at the truth, Gutierrez?  I’m not like your partner, you know.”  I smiled at her, the most unassuming one I could manage.  “Occasionally, I give someone the benefit of the doubt.”

            She laughed, looked at me, started to speak, and then blushed.  She always seemed momentarily taken aback when we looked directly at each other.  And in those moments when I looked directly in her eyes, I could see the beginnings of her guard going down.     

            “I know you’re not Robert.  In fact, you’re so opposite of him and any of the other detectives I work with, it’s strange.”

            “Well, I’m not a cop.”

            “True, but you work with us.  You’re on the same side, but something about the way you conduct your business is different.” 

            “I’ll bite.  Different how?”

            “You’re focused, intent, and yet, also distant.  I know all of us are—hard, somehow.  No  one on the police force could be accused of not caring about a case, about the victim and those left behind.”  She looked off to the side, took a deep breath.  “You put on a good show of not caring, but it’s obvious you do.  Maybe too much.  And yet, I can‘t figure out just what you care about, what motivates you.  Is it catching the killer, helping the victim, or something else entirely?”

            I watched her, enjoying the sound of her voice.  It was soft and lyrical, and I thought I could listen to it for hours. 

            Her breath quickened and she looked at me, her eyes open and wide.  As if she was waiting for me to say or do something.  Not just to answer the questions she had voiced, but to give her answers to larger, more universal questions.  Maybe to explain why anyone cares about anyone else in this world.   

               “I know I’m rambling—sorry.  I’m tired and working this crime is a hell of a way to wake up.” 

                I looked at her for a moment, sensing what she needed to hear, perhaps what she plain needed.  And I wanted to give it to her.  All of it.  The answers about my existence, my life, my pursuits.  I wanted to tell her why I cared about humans, the same humans I hunted when my thirst became too great.  But, as always, I held back.   

            I broke her gaze, looked to the side and cleared my throat.  “You think too much, Gutierrez.” 

            Out of the corner of my eye I saw her body tense, her shoulders go up a fraction of an inch.  She stared at me for a moment, and then turned in the direction of the witness.    

            “And, I would never call you hard.”  I turned back and gave her a sly look.  “You seem plenty soft to me.”

            She snorted.  “Guess I was overreaching with you, Cooper.  What was I thinking?”  She smiled, not very convincingly.  “So the kid’s name is Ernest Smith, a.k.a Skinny Ernie.  Seems he was headed over to his grandmother’s so he could help out around her house.  He wanted to get an early start since he has to work later today.  I will give Robert credit for something.  I think the kid did see more than he’s letting on.”

            “You know I prefer to question witnesses my own way.”

            “Sure, I know.”  She turned to walk away, then looked back.  “Hey, Cooper—”

            “Yes.”

            “He seems like a good kid.  Okay?”

            “Sure, Grace.” The maternal instinct looked good on her.  “By the way, if you know where I live, why haven’t you ever come knocking?”  The embarrassed and possibly caught reliving a sordid-sexual-fantasy-involving-a-forensic-pathologist didn’t look too bad on her, either.