New things learned/experienced in May

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To me, it’s important to be constantly learning or doing new things. Is it because I get so easily bored? And yet, I claim that I have never been bored in my life. Maybe it’s a form of ADHD? I’d rather think it’s just Sandy Carlson. Whatever this rolling nugget inside me is about, it sure keeps me moving and learning, and I love it. Will I use everything I learn and know in stories, blogs, articles? Probably not.

All that being said, here are a few of the new things I’ve done this month:

* Put in a small veggie garden on the SE side of our house. This is the first year in more than three decades that I haven’t had a sun garden. This year’s is an experiment, since our yard is 90% shade. But when our neighbors cut down the huge oak between our yards (which shaded our house each summer morning), the empty space brought about five hours of sun to that section of yard.

* Bought a manual reel lawnmower, which I LOVE using. I can stop and start whenever I have a need (like to pick up fallen sticks) without having loud noise come on and off. I can even hear birds singing or children laughing while I mow.

* Accidentally caught a prescribed burn around the base of my favorite tree in a nearby park.

*Investigated, then bought fruit tree spray for our apple tree. Although we’ve lived in houses which had fruit trees (cherry, pear, and apple), I’ve never sprayed before.

* Accompany on guitar a professional and excellent pianist (v.s. the “whatever” musicians I’ve worked with in the past, who were also very talented).

* After reading a few articles about how to save money, and realizing we already do all those things – except for selling our second house, since we don’t own one – I came up with a simple money-saving plan anyone could use: write down what you spend money on, then start eliminating. However, I realized that, if finances allow, there ought to be an occasional special something not necessary – the very reason why Hershey’s candy bars became so popular during the 1920’s depression.

* Made my own vanilla extract — although I have to admit that I didn’t grow the beans nor make the vodka myself.

* Learned how to hyperlink for my experimental eBooks, which is pending approval to the premium catelogue. (Yep, put a second one up: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/56480 , but this version is minus the hyperlinks.)

* Attended the newly formed Sisters In Crime chapter for our state.

And just think… there are still 3.5 days left in the month to learn and do even more interesting things.

4 Agents and Michigan Sisters in Crime

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Admittedly, the past two weeks were overwhelming with writing activities — that is, attending writing activities, not writing writing activities. It started with Miss Snark’s Secret Agent contest on Monday (I got my first 250 pages in for critiques — very helpful). Monday night WriteOnCon held a chat with three agents (interesting to discover their likes and visions for the future). I planned to get a post in on both those events, but sadly, like jokes, the timing is now past.

And then last Saturday, local writer Suzanne, hosted our first Sisters in Crime Michigan chapter (not counting the organizational one) with Bill Howe, a retired crime lab supervisor with the police department and currently the investigator for the county prosecutor’s office. I am not normally a mystery or crime writer, but, hey, these were local writers willing to get together right here in my home town, some coming from two hour’s away.  And learning new things is always interesting to me, especially if I can use some of the facts I glean to put into my fictional characters.

Bill’s presentation dealt with interviews and interrogation skills. Interviews are made with anyone involved, but interrogations are reserved for suspects. Bill addressed the importance of non-verbal communication, and that as one policeperson interviews the suspect, two others are watching the nonverbals. For instance, self-grooming or stalling to give answers (repeating the questions) are signs of deception. Bill explained how the eye direction of a right-handed person (v.s. left-handed) indicated truth or fiction. Interestingly enough, I learned that police are allowed to use trickery during the investigation. Sometimes the interrogator also uses sympathy, relating to the person and why they may have done such a crime.  Bill never felt good about doing this. In fact, it made him feel dirty. But if it got a confession by giving the suspect a way to save face (Bill: I can understand why you would ***. I feel like that all the time.”), it is a good interrogation technique.

The time with Bill passed in the blink of an eye. (Oh, no. Was I looking up and to the right, or down and to the left when I said that?) Will I ever use this information with my own writing? I don’t know. But now that I have it, watch out. I’ll be watching. Are you telling a truth or a lie? (Hee-hee-hee.)

How Do You Revise?

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An interesting question popped up on Miss Snark’s blog today: (basically) How do you revise? Do you revise right away or let it sit?

It got me thinking…

I revise in various ways:

1)sometimes as I’m writing the rough draft (a very slow writing method);

2) the following day, while reading over the previous few paragraphs or chapter to get a running start on new words;

3) when I’m finished with the entire rough draft for consistencies of voice, etc;

4) after going through comments from a few beta readers or critique group; and

5) right before I click “send” for an agent/editor submission. If it’s rejected, the story can sit years before I look at it again, then — BAM — it’s like I’m my own beta reader.

So? What about you? (Or are you like a best-selling author I know who says, “Only revise when your editor tells you to”?)

Miss Snark’s First Victim Contest

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This week I’ve been involved in Miss Snark’s Secret Agent Contest, where an anonymous literary agent critiques submissions on line. (If you don’t know about Miss Snark, please check her out at http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/p/secret-agent.html  OR at  http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/  for this week’s first 250 words of a MG or YA completed novel.) Friend Rose told me about the contest. I subbed at noon on Monday, missed the first window by subbing too late (4 minutes after the hour v.s. 2; gotta be quick with these things), but made it in during the second window of submissions (by getting my email all set to go according to the rules, and keeping my finger hovering over the “send” key as I watched the clock change to 7 p.m. — a nice hint from Rose). I’ve be critiquing many of the subs, and just today the Secret Agent — oh, I wonder who s/he is! — has started commenting on them.

Interesting things learned from this experience:

1) I work well with deadlines;

2) I like clear-cut rules;

3) I enjoy reading first pages and the critical thinking involved on how a piece of writing could be improved;

4) I love writing communities;

5) I get to see if what I critiqued matches what a real-life agent has to say, and use his/her observations to improve my own writing.

Be brave. Enter contests. Learn from others. And keep on writing.

Write Every Day… or Take a Guilt-Free Sabbatical

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I’ve done it… for the most part… write every day. I don’t always write on my WIP, but I do write every day. Still, somehow this advice always gnawed at me. Perhaps it is my Unorganized-Organized lifestyle. I’m excellent at organization. Seriously. However, my time-attention-span limits my interest. Like cramming the night before for a college exam, I can go full steam to finish a rough draft of a novel, or revise one, or put together a talk, or send postal letters to people.  But always, I have several (writing) projects going on at various stages of completion (with some “completed” until editor or agent tells me otherwise).

So, because of various reasons, I recently found myself on a writing sabbatical. I didn’t even keep up with my blogs. (Shame on me… or not.)

Two months ago, a critique partner from long ago encouraged me to submit one of my Sitting-Till-I’m-Motivated-To-Again-Send-Out novels. I could see her wisdom of timing, and of her faith in me. I thought about it. But I still didn’t write (nor rewrite, nor revise, nor even pick the novel up for a peek). Then, last Monday another writing friend emailed me about an on-line agent contest that day — to sub the first 250 words of your finished MG or YA novel. I subbed the first page of this written-a-while-ago story. It was only after I pressed the send button that I looked at my novel’s word count — about half what is expected for a YA. Completed novel? YIKES! I figured I’d best break out of my sabbatical.

On Monday, I printed off the novel. I looked over notes from previous critiques. I dug out my research notes. I did some more research on line. I made a list of characters and their connections to each other, along with biographies. (<– Although I do that now with my stories, back then I just did research and wrote the story.)  And while I was doing all this, I realized that not only was the story actually pretty good, but I also got very excited about it. My mind was churning. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

On Tuesday, I wrote an additional 1,100 words, all of which brought up a very interesting plot twist. (The original story now seemed bland without this addition.)

Today, I wrote another 1,600 words, including some revisions, and it’s not even noon.

I still have some more words to write to bring up that word count, but I’m hoping to have that done by the end of this week.

My writing sabbatical is over. I’m not only interested and excited about my story, I’ve set myself manageable goals to get it done. I don’t know if Monday’s on-line agent contest will produce any interest for a contract, but in a few days this story will be hot.  Was my sabbatical worth it? You bet! I’m tackling this project with an enthusiasm I’ve lacked for a while. Plus, that enthusiasm overflows into other aspects of my life.

My advice: It is okay to take a guilt-free sabbatical. Yes, write every day. Yet, there are times when you need to step back in order to go forward.

March’s 20,000-Word Challenge

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Now you see! With thirty-one days in the month, and no scheduled holidays off from school or work, THIS makes for a much better writing challege month (v.s. November/ NaNoWriMo when it’s not only one day shorter, but has THREE holidays thrown in the mix, plus the holiday weekends often with family buzzing about).

So… simple dimple writing challenge: Write 20,000 by the month’s end. It does not have to be edited. It could simply be Raw Writing (writing without thinking with the editing coming later).

MG/ YA Writing Contest

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There are constests here and there, but here is one you may not wish to miss, especially if you write MG or YA.

Deborah Halverson is the author of the upcoming Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (June 2011). She is the award-winning author of two teen novels, and has worn editing shoes for fifteen years. In celebration of her completed manuscript, she is giving away a free MG or YA critique. Your novel must be complete and must be under 80,000 words.

Check it out at: http://dear-editor.com/2011/01/19/newsflash-a-deareditor-com-giveaway-a-free-yamg-edit/

Good luck.

Rejection Before Even Submitting

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     A member of my critique group sent me a message two weeks ago about a small press which seemed perfect for one of my completed MG novels. I checked out their website, and agreed. They would indeed be perfect, IF I cut some words. So.. I’ve been snatching moments of company time — company which can be very distracting to a writer — to revise and cut 2,500 words in order to fit within their press specifications.
     Since this small press only does quarterly reviews, I decided to call to find out when their next review was, so I wouldn’t be waiting two and 3/4 months before they even take a look at it. The result: The guy said they are no longer accepting manuscripts because of the economy.
     The down side of this? I’ve got a story without a home  — yet.
     Double down side? A rejection is a rejection, even when I didn’t submit it. I.e., For a few days I’m sinking into W.R.F. — Writer’s Rejection Funk — until I can poof-up some writer’s courage back into me. (And, yes, I made up that acronym, too. Although, it sounds an awfully lot like a wrestling acronym, which may also be appropriate in this business.)
     BUT… The up side of this adventure? It’s actually a stronger story.