Fear The Frog

About a year ago I wrote a post about avoiding cliché in my writing. This month’s issue of Poets & Writers brings us an article titled “Consider the Orange,” written by Benjamin Percy, which has the topic bouncing in my head again.

In the piece Percy talks about rhyming action – how certain physical things, when repeatedly correlated with an emotion in a story, come to symbolize that emotion. The example he uses is that of oranges in the Godfather movie trilogy. Oranges are seen when key characters die, to the point that subconsciously we begin to feel afraid when we see an orange.

The most interesting thing to me is Percy’s discussion of how this is done well, and not so well. A lesser writer, for example, might use stormy weather or a religious symbol to add a sense of foreboding. Uh-huh. How cliché is that? To use something like a bright piece of fruit is more or less genius.

So now I’m thinking – what could I use in my story as rhyming action? I have a smaller, but very important character who struggles with mental illness. Maybe I could have a small frog jumping around in the scenes in which he loses his cool. Okay, maybe a frog is a little distracting/strange (especially for a story set in the desert), but the overall idea of rhyming action is definitely one I’m toying with. If I did it well enough, my readers would get tense at the introduction of a frog to a scene, and not even know why…

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The Bias Against Print-On-Demand

Here it is – the Month Without Monsanto blog in book form. Well, here’s a mock up of the cover at least. In case you’re new, I created this book to give as a thank you to folks who donated to my new Digging Deep food awareness campaign (our new website will be launching soon).

It’s my first foray into Print On Demand and I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to explore the world of POD with this kind of low pressure project.

Like many writers, I have a certain bias against self publishing. As a fiction writer (mostly) I feel like the hurdles of finding an agent and then a publisher act as a kind of vetting process. When I pick up a book at the book store, I know that at least a handful of people thought this story was good enough to put money and man power behind. With a self published book you really only have the author’s word that their story is good and that, to me, has always seemed like asking a new parent if their baby is cute.

Then there are the small presses. I don’t consider these publishers the same as POD. Take for instance Eye Muse Books. A friend of mine started this company to publish a line of truly awesome travel books. Though she is technically self publishing, she is selling her books through traditional venues (book stores) which has the effect of bringing that vetting process to life.

It sounds like I’m saying that someone (besides you or your mom) has to think your book is worth money for it to be a good read. That’s not true, but when there are so many books I want to read in this world, a book that has the endorsement of someone else (be it publisher or book store proprietor) is more likely to get my attention.

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Did I Say 100 Days Of Writing?

Today is the first of November and the internet is a buzz with talk of the annual NaNoWriMo challenge. If you haven’t heard, it’s a website that challenges writers to to spill out 50,000 words in one month. The basic rules are that it has to be a first draft and you have to just write, write, write.

I’ve always wanted to try it, but seeing as I’m closing in on the completed second draft of my first novel, I didn’t want to get distracted by a new story. So instead of NaNoWriMo, I opted to do the 100 days of writing challenge, presented by the Writing Spirit website. I committed to writing for at least one hour, on my novel, every day.

I lasted exactly 12 days.

It’s embarrassing to say I didn’t meet my goal. I have many good reasons (excuses), but the fact is I blew it.

Perhaps these kinds of challenges just work better when they are done with a group. Maybe that’s the secret to NaNoWriMo – in signing up you have a whole community of folks to endure with.

I will try this challenge again, as soon as my ego recovers from the failure of it all, but next time I will recruit at least three friends to do it with. Maybe we could meet every week to check in, or commit to page counts or something. Has anyone out there had more luck with this kind of challenge? If so, what’s your secret?

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I once heard someone somewhere say that you can tell a lot about a profession by how one finds work. A business man applies for a job. Actors audition. Athletes try out. Writers submit. We submit short stories to literary journals. We submit query letters to magazines and agents. We submit our lives to the endeavor of putting words to paper (or screen as the case may be). The whole thing just reeks of innuendo.

I long ago accepted this truth about writing. The thing I’ve had more trouble with is keeping track of all my submissions. For a long time I used a few different excel spread sheets. It was crude, but effective. Recently though, I’ve found a couple (free) online options that have really helped me get organized. I thought I’d share them for anyone else out there who is looking for ways to streamline their writing life.

First was Query Tracker. In addition to listing agents, along with their submission guidelines, this website allows you to make your own personalized list. From there you can manage who you’ve submitted to, when and what the response was.

Second is The Writer’s Database. This one is to track submissions to magazines and journals. The thing I like best about this one is that it lets you organize by piece (showing you everywhere you sent a certain short story for instance), or by venue. It also has the very cool additional feature of providing a desktop widget (I use it on my mac dashboard) that shows you instantly what queries have been out the longest and should probably be followed up on.

Hope that helps some of you out there. And remember, if you’re not getting rejected, you’re not trying hard enough. Submit, submit, submit.

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The POD Adventure Begins

After doing some price comparison and reading up on the best Print On Demand (POD) options available, I’ve decided to go with Blurb.com to publish the book version of my Month Without Monsanto blog. (For more info on why I’m doing this read my post from October 15 2010.)

So far I’ve downloaded their design template, dropped a few photos onto my soon to be front cover and begin cutting and pasting my posts from the blog onto the pages of the soon to be book. The most time intensive work is the formatting. If it were one long document (like say the text of a novel or something) I’d be ready to publish by now. It really is super easy.

One thing I did underestimate is my page count. I guess my posts were a little longer than I realized, so I’m looking at a total page count of easily over 120. This increases the cost a little, but it’s still very affordable, particularly given that they’re having a 25% off sale on orders placed before November 2.

So I’m off on my POD adventure. Stay tuned to hear more about how it unfolds.

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Happy Anniversary to the Unfolding Tale

I feel like a forgetful spouse.

Last Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of my first post on the Unfolding Tale. Last year at this time I was a little skeptical about blogging, but it’s been a great year. I finished a first draft of my novel, completed my Month Without Monsanto project, graduated with honors from USC’s Master of Professional Writing program, found an agent, wrote my first non-fiction proposal and blogged about it all right here.

I used to think of blogging as journal writing for the public, but it has become more to me over the year. Blogging keeps me thinking about writing. Twice a week I have to think about the act and art of putting words down and find something (hopefully) interesting to say about it. It also keeps me writing. Yes, a few hundred words twice a week isn’t much, but it’s something. Lastly, it’s a fun record to have of my adventures in writing. In this way it is kind of like a journal – one devoted to my writing.

Thank you to my readers. I know a lot of you are writers too, and your thoughts and feedback have meant a lot to me over this first year.

May it be the first of many.

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Adventures in Print On Demand

This Sunday morning marks the end of the Digging Deep initial fund raising effort. As of right now we only need $603 more, so if you haven’t given yet, please consider kicking down a few dollars toward the cause (see button in the right hand column there or click here). For those of you who have already done so, you know we’re offering rewards for our backers, and one of them is a bound version of the Month Without Monsanto blog, signed by me, the grateful author.

Of course, now that it’s looking like we might actually meet our goal, I have to figure out how best to produce said bound version of the blog. This will be my first foray into self publishing.

In total, I wrote about 75 blog posts about my Month Without Monsanto. None of them are terribly long, but I figure by the time I write an intro, I’m looking at an 80 page book at least. To produce this book/blog hybrid gem, I’ve decided to follow the model of Steve Almond’s “This Won’t Take But A Minute Honey.”

You don’t have to go any further than my last blog post to know I admire this guy and his writing, and the book is great (I actually bought two copies – one when it came out and the other when I realized he was going to be at AWP signing them and didn’t have my copy with me).

Almond used the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) to print his book. In an article in Writer’s Digest he talked about the economics of it, and if I remember right, it cost him about three dollars per book. That seems reasonable.

So now I just have to
1. Find an EBM (any ideas from the bloggosphere out there?)
2. Figure out how to format the content so it looks nice when it prints
3. Write and introduction
4. Figure out some cover art

Stay tuned. When I do find this EBM I will be sure to tell you all about it. In the meantime, go give a few dollars to my campaign – if only to watch me squirm as I figure out how to live up to my promises.

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Why I’m Crushing On Steve Almond

As a writer, I occasionally develop what I’ve come to call writer crushes. When I consistently read a writer’s work and think “damn, I wish I had written that,” or when I put down a book/article/journal and think “perfect, just perfect,” I can’t help but feel a little like I’m back in high school, looking across the crowded quad at the dreamy, mysterious drama kid and thinking “he’s so cool.”

Well I just finished reading Steve Almond’s “(Not That You Asked)” and I officially have a new writer crush. I’ve been following his work since before I even realized it. I would catch myself reading an essay or article and thinking “this is damn good writing” and then check to see who the writer was, and it was him, over and over. Then I found out he’s a Bay Area kid, which just made me love him more, and now having finished this book, I’m sold. So that’s why I’m crushing on Steve Almond (fun bit of trivia – he’s my first non-fiction writer crush). He’s made a damn fine career for himself as an honest, hard working, hilarious writer. Who among us could ask for more?

For my fellow writers out there looking for inspiration, definitely check him out. You can thank me later.

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(Shameless) Self Promotion

This post illustrates the difference between self promotion and shameless self promotion.

When working to promote myself I focus on updating my brand including my head shot (do you like my new one by the way?), card, website, social networking abilities and the like. I blog about this because it’s something all writers must do, whether we like it or not. If nobody knows who you are, they can’t hire you for work.

What I usually try to avoid is shameless self promotion, but here goes…

As you know, I’m working on a book about my Month Without Monsanto project, and with my partner I am setting up a website where I will share what I learn as I research the book. The goal is to create a place where people can go for unbiased information about where their food comes from. We don’t want to tell people what to eat, we want them to make their own informed decisions. And we need money to get started.

So if you followed the Month Without Monsanto, or if you care about the health of your food, please consider giving a few dollars to the campaign. It only takes a minute. You can click on the slightly cut off icon to the right here, or go to www.diggingdeepcampaign.org. We only have 10 more days to raise the funds or we get nothing.


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It Doesn’t Have To Be Long, It Just Has To Be Good

I started this novel in December of 2009. By December of 2010 I finished a first draft of 247 pages and felt pretty damn good about it. I put it aside for the holidays thinking that I’d read it over once more in January, make a few changes where I needed to (I knew it wasn’t PERFECT after all) and be done. Happy New Year!

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, it didn’t quite work out that way. By mid January I was back down to about 150 pages. A month later I was down to 40. I basically scrapped my entire first draft, and yet, I still call it my first draft. Why? For one thing, I learned so much about my characters that even though the pages didn’t make the cut, I still think it counts, and for another, calling what I’m working on now my second draft just seems much more fair.

I’ve simply been working on this baby too long, and have written too many pages to go around saying I’m still working on a first draft, but here’s the weird part – it’s only 170 pages long. My nearly completed second draft is way shorter than my first.

True, these 170 pages are immeasurably better than the 247 of my first draft, and I’m not done, but I worry that the story won’t be long enough to count as real novel. My husband likes to remind me that it doesn’t have to be long, it just has to be good, and I know he’s right, but still, in the literary world, a book has to have a certain word count to be taken seriously.

I try not to worry too much about it. If it’s one thing this process has taught me it’s that the revision process holds many surprises. If I don’t like the finished product for any reason, I’ll just keep revising.

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