Friday, December 9, 2011

Homeless Santa (And Other Thoughts On Character Study)

The Dollar Store is great for people watching. I consider it third best, surpassed only by indoor malls and airports. There's usually someone memorable wandering around, with some quirk I might tuck away later and add to one of my literary characters just for flair and flavor. Hoping to avoid alienation from friends (and/or lawsuits) I prefer to make notes on complete strangers. The show-tune singing Wal*mart cashier, the scary-big bodybuilder walking his teacup Chihuahua, the glowering bell-ringer with the hooker boots... I never know what's going to stand out as inspirational to my warped, ADD-addled little mind. But a while back, I happened upon 'the full package'--a person who unconsciously demanded to be a complete character rather than simply contributing to a possible-but-unlikely composite.

Homeless Santa.

It was nowhere near December, but the man's resemblance to Father Christmas was so striking, I ran into an endcap full of off-brand air fresheners before any family members could hiss at me to stop staring. Twinkling eyes...that was my first clue. Snow white beard and a cherry nose? Yep. Dimpled, rosy cheeks? Check. Broad face, and a little round belly? Definitely. It even shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of...

Well okay, so he wasn't laughing. He was actually a bit bedraggled looking. That's when I noticed the faded military fatigues and tattered old biker boots. No pipe, either--just a crumpled pack of Marlboros peeking up out of his left breast pocket. I shook off the eerie sense that I'd just encountered the results of a clash between mythos and a bad economy, and continued with my shopping. But even as I went about collecting my ridiculously cheap (but still quality!) cleaning supplies, I pondered the possibly down-on-his-luck doppelganger. Just as I'd started making up some tragic holiday story revolving around wartime Post-Traumatic Stress and memory loss, I heard a voice behind me rumble, "Excuse me, ma'am?

As it turns out, Santa has a Southern drawl. I smiled and waited for him to ask me if I worked there. (I get that a lot, for some reason... >.>) Instead, he told me he loved my tattoos. He then properly identified my Celtic trinity knot as a Triquetra, stating that the word was Latin for "three-cornered." He went on to compliment my interlocking Greek Alpha and Omega letters and knew precisely what they symbolized, (possibly making him the first stranger who hasn't assumed me to be some exceptionally devoted sorority member.)

Deeply impressed, I let him know he was the only person I'd met who recognized both of my tattoos without me needing to explain them. The older gentleman gave me a distinctly merry smile and said, "You know, people don't usually guess it, but I studied Greek and Celtic cultures pretty extensively back in my college days."

No, I bet people don't guess. But they really ought to consider it. :)

I thanked the man profusely. He had no idea how much our passing interaction affected me. Somehow...someday...he needs to make it into a story. But then again, I'm sure he has plenty of his own.

So, you've heard my confession. Tell me about an experience or inspiration you've had regarding character study, or just plain old people-watching.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo: What I'm Doing Wrong

It's said: 'A smart person learns from their mistakes. A smarter person learns from the mistakes of others.'

Today, I'm offering you the chance to be the smarter learning from my mistakes. Now, I'm not saying I'm already throwing in the towel (or perhaps 'the feathery pen' would be a better metaphor) at 11 days in, but I'm close to it. And for reasons that could have been avoided if I'd had more foresight.

#1. Having 2 children under the age of 3.

Mind you, I'm not saying my children themselves are mistakes. Far from it. But to someone who is attempting to slam out 50k words in a single month, it becomes tempting to regard 2 toddlers as hedonistic little assassins of joy. (An attitudinal issue that is as bad for my beloved spawn as it is for me.) Toddlers require extensive amounts of time and attention...manuscripts require extensive amounts of time and attention. In retrospect, this was probably not the best timing in my life's journey for me to be attempting something so demanding. At the very least, I should have lined up some trusted childcare.

#2. Poor planning.

I think I went into this with the hope that the collective support and energy would carry me into unfamiliar depths of spontaneity. I had a basic genre, theme concept, and two main characters I loved. I had myself convinced that plotting would only get in my way. And so, I got to chapter five and realized I couldn't see my destination, let alone how I was going to get there. Granted, NaNo is supposed to be a good time to push yourself and experiment. But I'm not a Pantser. And lack of planning from the logical side of my brain does not, evidently, constitute an emergency to the creative side of my brain. I should have at least had an outline to work with.

#3. Submitting chapters for critique as I went.

This was just a flat-out rookie mistake on my part. I don't know what made me think I could kill two birds with one stone by having my work critiqued while NaNo was still going on. I think I just lost sight of the goal and started worrying that I'd started off on the wrong foot. Any decent critique is bound to take you down a notch or two, and likely require some time of reflection and recovery. (True for me, at least.) But even knowing this, I let it send my brain slogging through a backward examination when what I needed was to plunge on ahead with abandon. Now that the wind has been knocked out of my sails, I've had to break out the oars.

#4. Attempting to live normally.

While I did severely cut back on known devourers of time, (i.e. facebook games, unnecessary reading, shaving my legs, and all futile efforts at saving the world) I severely underestimated the kind of lifestyle alteration that could have benefitted someone in my position. What I should have done was: disconnected myself from all media, stockpiled frozen pizzas, and warned everyone not to contact me for the entire month of November baring emergencies and/or ultra fantastic news.

#5. Ignoring all readily available guides to NaNoWriMo prep.

I saw the blog posts starting to go up at the end of September. All one has to do is do a google search on 'preparing for NaNoWriMo', and you'll turn up oodles of excellent advice. But did I do my homework? Well, yes...but like a B student who waited until the night before to study for the ACTs. >.> There's really no excuse for this sort of flippancy.

So, there you have it. My two cents on how NOT to approach NaNoWriMo. It's not looking good for me this time around, but hopefully I can work out a game plan if I decide to attempt it again next year.

P.S. I feel no shame in counting this post as 668 words toward my overall goal.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Call To Conference

This last weekend I had my first experience at a writing conference when I attended Moonlight and Magnolias in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm not much good with crowds, but I was told that a regional conference like this would be a good introduction to help ease me into the scene, in the event I might ever consider a national conference. And I have to say, I'm so glad I gave in to the peer pressure. I'm still riding the high of spending 4 days basking in such a unique atmosphere of professional ambition and warm camaraderie. I pitched to 2 agents, and received 2 requests for the first three chapters (despite the fact that my hands were shaking under the table and I stammered my way through each appointment.)

Reflecting back on my experience, I had a few tidbits of advice I wanted to get down before my brain evicts them to make room for something of questionable importance. These were just my personal takeaways--chunk them if you don't like them. :) Hopefully there's some universal application to be had.

#1. Business Cards - I recalled a conference several friends attended last year, and the overwhelming lament from most of them was: 'I should have brought business cards.' Many had put off the necessary evil of branding themselves onto a tangible piece of paper out of concern for what pen name they might want to use, or what color-scheme suited their genre. And while I agree, it's worth making every effort to present a good first impression...better a mediocre calling card than none at all. You want people to be able to contact you later, without the use of a private detective!

Which brings me to my next point...

#2. Network, network, network! - While I carpooled to the conference with two of my dearest mentors from our particular guild chapter, we saw relatively little of each other all weekend. This was by design. My friends had navigated the conference scene numerous times before and encouraged me to seize every opportunity to chat people up and make new friends. I could talk to them any time, after all. And while the introvert in me had a number of freak-out moments in which I went running to the nearest familiar face from my chapter like my 18-month-old to her security blanket, I usually recovered within a few minutes and went bounding back into the fray.

Which leads into a consideration I initially took for granted...

#3. Nap Time - It can do wonders for the disposition of toddlers and conference-goers alike. Keep some sleep in reserve. You never know when you might hit it off with a handful of people you happened upon in the lobby, and look up later to realize you've yammered on into the wee hours. Crawling out of bed and down to your morning workshops after such an evening is about as much fun as bathing a frightened cat...while naked. I'm not exaggerating, people. There's only so much a good cup of coffee can do.

(But still, scout out all possible coffee venues upon your arrival. You'll thank me later.)

#4. Attire - Allow for comfort on travel days, but once the conference is in full swing--think business casual. As I was there to be taken seriously, along with learning and making some lasting connections, I brought along my best 'hire me' clothes. I noticed a number of people who added an exuberant flair to their carefully selected outfits, but I'm honestly too much of a newbie to be daring. :)

Note: I think I went a little TOO safe with the formal-wear. If there happens to be a formal event like a dance or award ceremony, and you would like to stand out from the crowd at all, try to avoid wearing a black cocktail dress. (Unless, of course, you happen to me a dude. In which case a black cocktail dress will definitely get you noticed. >.>)

Now, who wants to offer up their take on a conference experience, or possibly some pointers to go along with that? I'm sure I've missed some things.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rejection I Can Appreciate

So far I'd been trying to use this blog to be helpful to other aspiring writers. Right now, I just want to be real with you. (Fear not--I have no intention of emotionally upchucking all over your house slippers.)

I just wanted to confess that I've just received my fifth rejection from an agent, and I've got some mixed feelings about it. (Yes, I know that five rejections is nothing, and I can easily expect a dozen more before the planets align and/or Snooki's book finally runs its course.) I'm not reflecting so much on the rejection as I am on the -type- of rejection it happens to be. You see, this is the first non-form rejection I've received.

Aha! My angsty dark cloud has a silver lining.

That's right, while it still stung like being the last kid picked for Dodgeball, this letter was -personalized-! No generic 'Dear Author'... my actual name was at the top of that tiny paragraph. No cut-and-paste standard reply about how the agent gets so many queries every day they can't possibly give me a hint as to why my project (regrettably, of course) doesn't interest them... this one gave me an explanation. And here it is, short and sweet:


'Unfortunately I'm going to pass on this idea. The manuscript is quite long, and it's quite hard to sell memoirs from authors with small platforms.

Sorry about all this. The idea itself seemed interesting and interestingly enough mirrors a fiction project that I'm planning on taking on.'



Now that I've gotten some potentially useful feedback on my attempt, I have to decide what to do with it--if anything. (This was only the query, by the way. This particular agent didn't want writing samples included.)

*Can I cut down the manuscript notably?

Maybe a few thousand words could still be trimmed without the book losing its essence, but I'm not sure what count to shoot for (as there is no average word count for this genre.)

*Can I magically pull a 'platform' out of subspace by becoming famous overnight?

Unlikely. (Call me, Snooki! I'd like to audition to become your arch nemesis. >.>)

*Can I completely rework the book into a fiction piece and still live with myself?

Ask me again after another two-dozen dismissals.

Okay, so I suppose I don't have much by way of conclusive information just yet. At least it's a start. Seeing any of this echoed by a different agent will certainly make me sit up and reassess my approach to the query gauntlet.

In the mean time, the name of the game is 'persistence.' If Kathryn Stockett (author of 'The Help') had to face down 60 rejection letters before finding an advocate for her story, then I figure I've got 55 more to go before I'm entitled to mourn my lack of marketability. (I may do a bit of whining at every interval of 10 or so, but I'll try to keep it to myself as much as humanly possible.)

So, has anyone learned things from rejection letters? And if you happen to have some experience with them, tell me what you make of mine. :) I'm wide open to interpretations/suggestions.