Just Write Cat

One Writer, One Journey

Guest Post on Inky Fresh Press…The Money Side of Things November 8, 2010

Filed under: Freelance,Life,Writing — justwritecat @ 8:00 am
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This month Inky Fresh Press is blogging about the money side of this whole ‘writing thing’. To read my take on the topic, please check out my guest post. I was truly honored to be asked to provide a guest post – and writing for another blog proved a worthwhile learning experience.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on the subject!

Cat

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What’s In It For You? October 14, 2010

Filed under: Life,You Can't Do It Alone — justwritecat @ 4:16 pm
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Oh my, I’ve been busy. This says something about my personality – this past month I’ve taken on a few projects. I’m working on a couple of guest posts for Inky Fresh Press, finishing up an article for NW Kids, and oh yeah – running my son’s book fair at his school. Through all this, I’ve not spent time on my own blog. For that, I apologize!

But…this is all good stuff I’m doing. In another post I’ll comment on writing articles and even something on the book fair, but for now – here’s my thoughts on writing for another blog.

Writing a guest post is a new experience. I do write the blog for a local magazine, but as I’m the only blogger I have rather free rein on what and how I write. When you submit a post as a guest, you need to think about the overall content of that blog, what they’re looking for, their intended audience. It’s a challenge, but in a very good way. It’s made me question the purpose of my own blog. I started it to sort of keep track of my progress as ‘someone wanting to get a book out there’. Over time I’ve realized my blog is more about being a writer in general. Meaning, not having that singular goal in mind, but embracing writing as a life. And that includes more than writing – it includes how I see and handle things.

Example – I’m more observant of ‘life scenes’. I’ve always felt drawn to observing human interaction (my M.A. is in Sociology), but I never really paid much attention to setting. That became painfully obvious when I started writing my first novel. I couldn’t describe places at all. My son said I should go with ‘a person standing on some street by a random house’, which I admit sounds kind of funny – but not very descriptive. I started pushing myself to notice my surroundings more and more, and to take in not just the players in a scene, but the entire setting. It’s helped, though this is still an area that proves challenging.

Another example – writing lowers my stress in ways I would not have imagined. When someone does something that really ticks me off, I create a character out of that person.  And then I do something really bad (or embarrassing) to that character in a story.  Hehehe. Only strangers, though – well, maybe a couple of people I sort of know (like kinda strangers). It’s quite cathartic.

This is a bit of a rambling post, which sort of goes with the point I’m trying to make (yes, I have one). Why do I write this blog? Is it for myself, or for other writers? I initially wanted to help other writers – and I want to make sure I’m reaching that goal. So how can I make this blog more about you? 

What would you like to see more of/less of?  I want to do a contest – and I’ve got that almost figured out. After my son’s book fair (next week), I’ll have the time to blog about it. Until then – please, let me know what kind of information you might find useful as a fellow writer. I’m at a point where I feel a lack of purpose in this blog – or a clear purpose, at least.  Can you help me out?

 

Who Writes Short Shorts? September 18, 2010

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

 

Write What You Must… August 30, 2010

Filed under: Life — justwritecat @ 3:51 am
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August was…rough.  This month has always been a difficult one for me, well – for the past fourteen years.  My brother was in a fatal car accident on August 27th, fourteen years ago.  Three months after I married my husband.  My brother gave me away at my wedding, a memory I will forever cherish.  Another memory – of my brother’s face as we said good-bye to each other minutes before he was to get in his car.  It was one last weekend together, playing computer games, eating Chinese food (we loved to eat Chinese food), making fun of our parents – spending time together before I was to leave for my first year as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. 

I’ve never written about this before, so maybe this is a sign of something.  That the years can dull the pain, at least enough that you can write about it, can share it with others. 

Years ago I talked with a psychic.  She told me I would write a book about my brother one day.  This was way before I decided to write fiction, so my reaction was…one of surprise.  I never thought I would be able to write a novel, and certainly not one that laid bare my pain, my loss. 

If you’re over the shock of reading I spoke with a psychic, then here’s the important part:  She was right.  I wrote a novel, and it was about my brother.  I didn’t realize it at the time, of course.  It took working with Lisa (editor), and some serious introspection to understand that the novel I wrote was about loss.  About how to live when you don’t necessarily or always want to, how to move past the guilt and pain and anger to a place where you can remember the good times without crying yourself to sleep.  Oh, tears still flow – but not as uncontrollably. 

Two weeks ago one of my uncles – George Patino – died of a heart attack.  My brother’s middle name was George, named after our uncle.  My brother considered being an architect, like my uncle.  My oldest son’s first name is Stephen, named after my brother, Steven.  See how things come round like that?  How the memories and the connections and the love never really goes away?  That’s in my novel, too.  Those connections that carry us through, that maintain our will to live when times are dark, and show us that life can still be good, even great and beautiful. 

When you read advice on writing, you often get the message that you should write what you know and not be afraid to put yourself out there, not hold back.  When I started working with Lisa, she said there would be places I would go that would be…uncomfortable.  I think this is part of what she meant.  I didn’t sign up for this when I started my urban fantasy, that much I know.  I had no intention of putting myself out there like that, of exposing my wounds.  Nor did I make the connection between my choice of characters – someone who will, theoretically, never die – and the sense of loss I continued to carry.  Still carry.  But perhaps it was too be expected.  If you hold something in so long, it will find a way out.  So I will continue to put myself out there – in my writing, and maybe one day ‘in real life’.  Though sharing this face-to-face with someone too often, or with too many people, is not something for which I’m ready.

Put yourself out there, bare all.  It may hurt, you may cry, but it will help not only your writing and your ability to connect to readers, it will help your soul.

Tears still flow…

 

For My Uncle George August 19, 2010

Filed under: Baby Steps, Baby Steps — justwritecat @ 6:18 pm

 

Here is my story, in honor of my Uncle George, who passed away this week, my Uncles Charlie (Peewee) and Eddie and my Dad (always the sneaky one).  I entered this story to Janet Reid’s short story contest.  We were required to use the following words:

  • honeywagon
  •  flaws
  • stake
  • pivotal
  • fairbank

 

“He’ll be fair. Bank on it.”

 “I don’t know, Ricky. Stakes are high, there’s no room for—”

“You ever know me to not think through everything? Not work through any flaws in the plan?”

 “Still, Peewee said it was pivotal—”

 “Ah, he’s filling your head with words you don’t know. Trust me on this, George. We’re golden here, like honey. Wagon’s here! Let’s do this.”

The boys walked up to the car, now idling in the driveway. Their older brother Eddie, the only one allowed to drive the sacred family wagon, rolled down the window and turned to face them, a doubtful look in his eyes.

“Hey bro, we hear there’s a two-fer at the Dairy Queen. If we take Peewee, then there’d be one left over for you.”

Little Ricky knew everyone’s weak spot, and his brother’s was the sweet siren song of the Dilly Bar.

 

The First Fifty… July 27, 2010

Filed under: Editing,Writing — justwritecat @ 3:28 am
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Whew!  Two weeks of cold/allergies/who knows what else and I’m wiped out.  I didn’t write for an entire week.  Okay, three days but it seemed like for-ev-er.  I did a bit of revision work, but quickly realized that what one writes in an allergy-drug-induced state doesn’t always make sense the next day.  Non-drowsy, my a–.

So, the past three days have proven a bit more productive.  I’m off “my meds’ (hmmm, not sure that sounded right), and my mind’s clear and ready to get back to revision work.  My next session with Lisa is this week, so I’m excited.  To prep for the next call, I spent the last couple of days thinking about ‘the first fifty pages’.  My first fifty, to be exact.  Fifty pages seems to be the typical number of pages asked for in partial requests.  I’m not exactly sure why, but enough agents ask for that so there must be a good reason.  Just enough to get a solid idea on what’s going on, who the protagonist is, is this something I want to keep reading…that sort of thing, I guess.

So, to better consider if my first fifty have what it takes, I read (and reread) the first fifty pages of several urban fantasy books and took notes.  Here’s what I found out:

When I read the first fifty pages of several books, one of two things happened – either I found, on page fifty, that time had flown by and I didn’t want to stop reading.  OR, I held the book in my hand, trying to figure out just how much more I’d have to slug through based on the width of the book.  If it was an especially thick book, say 450 pages thick, I promptly placed the book in my ‘return to library’ bag.  If the book was oh, 250 pages thick…I gave it another twenty pages…and then put the book in the bag.  There really was no in between.  No, ‘well, it’s not that bad so I’ll keep reading because my other books are downstairs and it’s late and what if I get out of bed to go downstairs and I hear a sound and it’s a ghost or something’.  See how my mind works?  I either wanted to keep reading or I didn’t.  So – those pages either grab a reader and refuse to let go.  Or they don’t.  Of the half dozen or so books involved in this ‘test’, only two made the cut. 

Jim Butcher’s Changes (latest in the Dresden Files) and Joe Gores’ Spade & Archer, the Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

I don’t know if you read The Dresden Files, but this last one is a doozy.  No spoilers, don’t worry.  I hate spoilers.  The series is about a wizard living in Chicago.  This guy – Harry Dresden  – has really, really bad luck much of the time.  He’s a good guy, a great guy – but crap is always happening to him.  Of course, that’s what makes the stories so fun to read.  You get to watch Harry deal with the crap in some very creative ways.  First fifty pages of Changes – no less than four major crap things happen to Harry.  Again, no spoilers – but as I took notes, I realized that there was more action in Butcher’s first fifty pages than I read in some entire books.  Lesson learned – things have to happen to your character!  Maybe not quite so much so soon, but enough.  Enough to keep you turning the pages all the way to the last one.  The author Piled. It. On.

You also learn some things about Harry and the larger plot early on, some things that Make You Care about the character enough that you want him to win whatever it takes. 

I reread my first fifty.  First couple of chapters, hey – whaddya know, you do learn some things about Joe.  Things that pre-revision with Lisa, you didn’t learn until – drum roll – AFTER page fifty.  Egads.  Important things, things that matter.  Things that Make You Care.  But, too late.  Again, that was pre-revision, so I do feel good about my revised opening chapters.  There’s more tension, more going on – not just action, but things going on with Joe, with where he’s at when the story starts and where he seems to be headed.  Not nearly as much happens in my first fifty as does in Changes – but, Changes is like book twelve or something in the series (I think).  So there’s been a tremendous amount of set-up, enough that you can bring back characters from previous books, have things happen to them or because of them, and the reader easily follows the plot.  Set ‘Em Up, Joe is the first in a (hopefully) series – so I might need to set things up more before all sorts of stuff happens to characters.  Not sure, will have to ask Lisa during our next session!

Gores’ Spade & Archer.  As one reviewer on the back cover stated – this book is ‘pitch perfect’.  The voice, oh my goodness, the voice.  And the language – this author clearly studied Hammett, read him, read other noir books – maybe all noir books – and then put his own spin on things.  From the first page, nay the first word, I am hooked.  I want to keep reading.  I’m having fun! 

Now, it’s not quite fair to say I learned so much about the character of Sam Spade in the first fifty because I already knew the character from Hammett’s books – and some of the films.  BUT…Gores presents a totally possible explanation for why Sam is the way he is.  You buy it, you see it playing out in your head, you are convinced Gores channeled Hammett somehow.  Not to undermine Gores’ talent….but it’s so darn…darn….pitch perfect that channeling had to have occurred.  First fifty – you understand Spade.  You get him.

My first fifty – yes, a tentative yes, but yes…I think you get Joe.  Get what makes his blood boil, what makes him react.  I believe you can see things playing out.  I’ve been told yes to these things by readers, but it’s hard to see it for yourself sometimes. 

So first fifty – give the reader something to care about, have your protag doing something that is worth caring about.  Make your character(s) real, find a way to connect to the reader.  Make bad things happen to your characters (conflict).  Don’t let up, don’t ease off.  Pile. It. On.  

The books that made the bag rather than the cut?  Nothing was going on, or at least nothing that mattered to me.  In one case – things were happening, but none of it made sense.  It was as if the author tried to throw in every UF plot twist just to keep the reader’s attention.  It lacked focus.  One other book – I actually sort of read it through because I wanted to know how it ended.  I read the first fifty, uh, the skipped around.  Quite a bit.  Like to the end.  I know, I know – I hate doing that, but that was the book in my hands that night when I was suddenly afraid of the downstairs.  So, I read the end.  Um, and in the morning I took the sequel out of my library queue.

Working on your first fifty?  Read other books in your genre, take notes – then apply to your own work. 

Happy Writing!