My First Fan

When I was in fourth grade, I wrote my very first novel. A new American Girl story. (For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, they are a historical fiction series about young girls growing up in various times of American history. They also sell dolls with each character.)

**Sad story time: Oh how I longed for an American Girl Doll. We had the entire set of books, but the gorgeous dolls with all of their fun, historically accurate outfits and accessories?? No. And I never got one, despite a several year fascination with them. Are you feeling sorry for fourth grade Renee yet?? Yes? Good. Moving on then.**

Anyway, so my story was Meet Kalani. The story of a young Hawaiian girl growing up during the annexation of the island chain into a state. When I first found it, I was expecting it to be hilariously bad. But you know what? It was pretty darn good! Lots of scaffolding. A few minor plot holes and several unnecessary scenes, but on the whole, I was quite proud of my nine year old self.

Well that’s not the best part. Last night, for the first time, I sat beside my five year old daughter and read her my story. And let me tell you, she was captivated.

She cracked up at all the lame jokes. Gasped in horror at the mention of the evil Hawaiian Monk Seal poacher. Cried when he killed Kalani’s pet seal’s mother. (Seriously, she started to cry. So I had to quickly ad-lib a part in the story where the mother was actually just hurt, but she gets better and swims away.) And at at the end, when the crowd at the hula and music festival is cheering on Kalani’s wonderful ukulele playing, my daughter was literally jumping up and down on the couch, squealing with joy.

After I finished, and after she hugged me and told me that I wrote the best stories ever, she immediately ran to the kitchen table to start writing her own story.

I don’t need to tell you how the whole experience made me feel. I think my husband put it best. “This is why you write,” he said. “No matter what happens, you can know that you’ve given a wonderful gift to your children with these stories.”

Perspective like that makes it all worthwhile.

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Photoshop Friday

I think we in the writing community are pretty supportive of our authors. We buy their books, write rave reviews on our blogs, and come up with complex, educated reasons why this author or that book is so great. But what if the rest of the world got as into these books and authors as we did?

What if Writers were the new Rock Stars?

For one thing, they definitely couldn’t go out without being thronged by screaming hordes of fans. Look at poor John Green, signing autographs on his way to the grocery store.

Kids would decorate their rooms with all the latest paraphernalia of their favorite YA novels.

Instead of debating on message boards and Amazon, the masses would take their opinions to the streets.

Even celebrities would get in on the craze. Beyonce has paparazzi cameras flickering with her stylish support of the writing community.

And book readings/signings? They couldn’t take place at a table in Barnes and Noble anymore.

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Photoshop Friday

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The One that Hurts

As many of you know, I have wonderful beta readers. Fabulous beta readers. I love them all to death. And when I gave them Searcher, they offered amazing, insightful advice, as well as MUCH appreciated praise. Seriously, their enthusiasm has been the one thing that kept me going in my darkest moments, as lame as that might sound.

Today, however, I’m thinking of the one beta reader that didn’t offer encouragement. We crossed paths on Absolute Write, because she said she was looking for a non sugar coated review. Sounded good to me, so we agreed to swap manuscripts. And let me tell you, her review of mine was FAR from sugar coated.

I remember reading her email and getting a knot in my stomach. Let’s just say she didn’t mince words. I feel like I went through the five stages of grief in dealing with her evaluation of my work. First Denial: This is bull, she didn’t even read it. (She had gotten back to me in only one day.) Then Anger: Who does she think she is? (After all, I’d read her book, and it was far from perfect.) Barganing and then Depression. In fact, I think my depression over her bad review was one of the big factors in my dilemma of a few weeks ago, where I was ready to shelve Searcher forever.

Now, I think I’ve finally reached Acceptance. Truth is, in many ways, she was right. Some of the points that hurt the most, probably did because I knew deep down that it was true. It’s funny because as irritated as I was (still am?) with this girl for being harsh, I find myself very grateful to her.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things about her review that I’ve ignored. Could she have said things in a more constructive, kind way? Definitely. Could she have integrated things she liked in with her numerous criticisms? Uh, hello, yes. However, I can’t deny how helpful she has been to me. Some of the things she said acted as the catalyst in my mind, which lead to changes in my story that I am so excited about now. I know my story will be better because of her.

So Harsh Girl, wherever you are, I just wanted to say thanks.

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Meet the New Guy

Well, last week on the roller coaster ride of my writing, I’ve been swept away with edits on Searcher. But, the good news is I’m nearly finished with the 50 page section that I’ve been rewriting from scratch. (Woot!) So I’m getting closer. Though, I probably will hit the One Year Anniversary of working on this baby. Yowzers.

Anyway, among many changes, one change in particular has taken me by surprise. Basically, I’ve murdered one of my central characters and replaced him with a younger, sexier model. Cruel! Though I must admit, it’s rather fun. See, at first I thought I was just going to spruce this guy up, shave his beard, make him ten years younger, pump up his biceps, etc. But as I started to do that, I realized that the whole character was wrong.

So I killed him. Send in the new guy!

Trust me gals, this one’s much more . . . interesting. (read: hot) And he’s definitely a different person from the man I replaced him with. His whole personality is different. Its kind of strange. Now instead of a few changes in that fifty page chunk, I’ll have to go and rewrite every single scene with him. A lot of work, but I’m confident it will be much, much better.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever gotten to the editing phase and realized that an entire character needed to be replaced?

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What does that say about me?

Well, so far things are going well with my Four Short Challenge. I’m about two thirds through with my first story. No working title yet (surprised?) However, I am working on a Short Story ticker for the sidebar of my blog.

So as my body of work grows, it’s interesting to notice similar themes and characters popping up. They can be strongly present, or like familiar ghosts–fleeting glances of which can be seen haunting our stories. I suppose we writers can’t help but to let a bit of ourselves bleed out onto the page.

I’ve compiled a list of a few of my own personal little ghosts. It’s somewhat amusing, and to tell you the truth I’m not sure what it says about me. The stats:

-In every story I’ve written, save one, (that’s three completed novels, two unfinished novels, one novelette, and a nearly finished short story) there is an impassioned revolutionary of some kind.

-When I write in a male’s voice, he is always troubled. A dark character, battling his inner demons.

-When I write in a female’s voice, she is usually quiet and pensive.

-I haven’t written a single story without some speculative element. And if I were pressed, I’d have to officially classify myself as a Sci-fi writer.

-And finally, I have a real penchant for the semi-tragic ending.

Looking over this list makes me laugh. I swear guys, I’m a happy person! You might not be able to tell from my writing. So what about you? Who are your recurring characters? What thematic ghosts haunt your stories?

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MICE!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Did you notice the capital C I put for Character story? No, I wasn’t being cutesy, or playing around with orthography, e e cummings style. I was actually referencing a very interesting theory about writing: Orson Scott Card’s MICE quotient.

Basically, the MICE quotient states, that there are four elements to every story: Milieu, Idea, Character, Events.

Every story has different levels of each, but there is usually one that predominates. So in other words, all stories have one element in the driver’s seat. One element gets the most attention. Any story could be any of them, but the MICE quotient illustrates how we, the writer, tell it.

M-Milieu
In these stories, the setting is the most important element. The writer spends a lot of time focusing on the various wonder/horrors/hilariousness of the world. A lot of fantasy stories, including the great Lord of the Rings, fall into this category. (LOTR as milieu story. Discuss.)

Idea
This could be called a concept story. These stories often start with a question: What if snakes got loose on a plane? What if every adult in the world suddenly vanished? Mysteries also fall into this category. What drives the story is the question: whodunnit?

Character
Now, obviously, every story should have strong characters, but again, the MICE quotient is about what the writer focuses on in the expanse of pages. In Character stories, the developments and workings of the main character take up the most space. Often, the stories quest is internal.

Event
These stories focus on a problem/problems that will be resolved in the course of the story. Action stories and thrillers fall into this category. These stories often have a ticking time bomb feel to them.

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Down with Perfection!

*No Photoshop Friday today. My humor well is all dried up. But don’t worry, I’ll have something by next week.

Today I wanted to make an announcement on my blog, partly because I’m excited about it, partly because I will need you all to keep me accountable.

I hereby decree that in the next thirty days (September 10th-October 10th,) I will write one short story every week.

There. It’s in print. No turning back now . . . You might be wondering, why? You also might be thinking, isn’t she in the midst of editing a novel? To answer the second question, yes, and I have no intention of stopping that. No worries. It won’t get as much attention, but cest la vie. I feel like this is really important.

Basically, I have been thinking a lot, A LOT in the past month or two about my various weighty issues related to writing–my writing, and writing in general. It’s been something of a voyage of self discovery, as has been apparent on this blog. I’ve read books on writing, read great works of literature, read popular works of fiction, read my own works with a critical eye, and done a whole lot of pondering. (I’m actually very good at pondering. It’s one of my greatest talents.)

I’ll spare you the extended development of my thoughts, and say that in the end, I decided that I put too much emphasis on perfection. I wanted to have the perfect idea, the perfect execution of that idea, the perfect prose to carry out that execution, the perfect characters to speak that prose, and the list goes on and on, piling stone upon stone on my poor, poor chest until I felt like I was being pressed to death by my own ambitions.

So I am forcing myself to shun perfection. In having to write a short story every week, I already know that they won’t be perfect, but who cares?! I will be working on my craft and producing, and I think that will make me a better writer more than endless hours of pondering.

I’m very excited about this, in fact I already started one yesterday. I had no more than the inkling of an idea and I forced myself to just start writing. It was exhilarating. So I want you guys to keep me accountable. No perfection allowed.

Down with perfection!

*Also, on a related topic, I wanted to mention that my friend Michelle and her crew over at The Literary Lab are having a short story contest. You can get details here. I know I’m entering!!

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Ugly Mortal Hands

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ideas and Ideas–yes there is a difference between the two. Allow me to explain. Though we writers are a varied breed, every one of us gets ideas. We all approach them differently. However, I’ve noticed two distinct attitudes emerge when it comes to the nature and origin.

1. ideas: a beginning, a groundwork, a start. These ideas come from our own feeble minds and therefore they are something to be worked, pulled, prodded, dyed, clipped, chopped, stretched, painted, mashed, scrubbed, kneaded, and otherwise put through the ringer.

2. Ideas: a flicker of something amazing. We, the writer, should close our eyes and wait, listen, learn. We may need to do some gentle exploring, but not too much. If you prod too much, the Idea will be tainted by your own ugly, mortal hands.

Remember, I am talking about the initial stages. Once that novel is written, then we are working with a flesh and blood draft. That’s a different animal. Most of us view the draft as something to be worked, pulled, prodded, etc, etc, etc. What I’m talking about right now is that initial spark. The idea. . . the Idea.

What do you think? And dig deep here, because I know half of your are about to say, “It’s both.” In my mind, it can’t really be both. With ideas, we need to spend a great deal of time with it, before it’s worth writing a word. Yes, an aspect of that idea may sparkle and excite, but the rest must be developed with care. Ideas, however, are something that we shouldn’t mess with until after it is contained in the body of a story.

I should put you at ease right now, this is not one of those frantic plea-for-help post of a conflicted mind that I’m rather prone to writing. No dilemma going on over here. I’m just intrigued by the dichotomy. What’s your opinion?

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Photoshop Friday

For the past week, I have been deep in edits on Searcher. (Yes, I’ve finally solved my dilemma of a few weeks ago.

At any rate, I’ve been slaving over this book long enough to experience the many different emotions of a writer editing their book. Today, I’d like to highlight the stages I’ve gone through in the past five months that I’ve been editing this baby. Mostly the negative ones. (How’s that for inspiring?)

Editing H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

It always starts like this:So confident. So pumped. You are going to make that novel SHINE!

It doesn’t take long for it to start feeling like this:
You’re working day after day, with no dent in sight. You’re starting to wonder just how long this is going to take.

There are days when you feel like you’re dealing with a spoiled child.Please be good. Pretty please? I’ll give you whatever you want!

Then there are days when it feels more like this:And this:

But don’t worry. No matter how bad it gets, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t last forever. At some point, you will finish. (Right? Right?)

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