Writing in a Vacuum

The last few months of writing have been incredible. This is mainly due to my eldest daughter’s influence.

Since she returned back to the family fold less than a year ago and moved in with us, we have settled in as a family, sharing cooking and cleaning chores, along with errands and a host of other benefits one gets with a third adult in the house.

And after the settling in and getting used to each other after nearly a decade of living apart, we both found ourselves circling about, inspired and creative.

Dee felt her creative muse renewed and started dabbling in writing and art projects that had been shelved for a while. I had been mucking my way through my fifth book and, as fall and winter approached, was determined to finish the project.

I felt as if I were slogging through knee-deep mud. This was the first science fiction piece I had ever attempted and was a fusion of two ideas, a dystopian tale of a virus that kills off the world’s population and a spaceship packed with colonists flying to a new world with a saboteur aboard.

This time, however, was also very different. For the first time, I had someone right here, in my home who I saw every day, who was a writer as well.

“Would you look it over for me?” I asked Dee, “You know, edit it?”

She gave me a long look.

We had been talking for a long time about writing, the process, and more. She had already knocked out a few pieces, including a 100k (or more) fan fiction sequel to The Labyrinth (yes, the movie with David Bowie). Her writing style had not just improved, it had blasted through the ceiling.

This was in no small part due to the writer’s group she had worked with for over five years in California. Comprised of talented (and in some cases already published) writers, she had honed her skills consistently as they met, discussed and examined each other’s work.

Finding the right fit in a group has always been hard for me for a number of reasons:

  • Group settings, especially when I’m just getting to know people, are stressful and intimidating for me. The idea of diving in and letting the equivalent of a stranger review my writing is absolutely incapacitating.
  • I’m not looking for writing assignments or group activities. The “challenge of the week” does nothing for me. Probably because I’m NOT a team player (I’m probably not supposed to admit that, but there you go).
  • When it is something I deem important or close to my heart, I far prefer one-on-one interactions.
  • In editing, I’m typically looking for a mentor/mentee relationship – see reasons above.

In any case, I was nervous and so was she. But we dove into it anyway. I finished my first draft, some 73,000 words and handed it off, waiting three agonizing weeks for her to review it and return it to me.

Reading through it, seeing all of her notes, I will admit, I panicked a bit. I went through the “what the hell am I doing” stage and came out on the other side determined to improve the manuscript.

I worked on it, added chapters, swore a lot, had several more mini-crises, and returned the second draft to her. It now stood at 86,000 words.

The second edit went faster, less than two weeks, and then it was back with MORE notes and edits.

I felt sorry for myself, wailed, gnashed my teeth, and swore a lot more. I resolved to ignore everything and then added three more chapters and nearly 20,000 words and took just about all of her edits and considered them seriously. What she said made sense.

The manuscript is now in for a third review. I imagine it will be at least a week before it returns to me and I have resolved to stay this course. It is feeling better and better each time.

Writing in a vacuum is hard. Without any frame of reference, you write what you write and hope for the best. In my head are all of these characters. I know them, understand them, and write about them forgetting that, while the details might be there in my head, I may not have conveyed them adequately on paper. Or I may lose a reader with too much exposition and not enough dialogue. And don’t get me started on my habit of telling and not showing.

These rounds of edits – I swear, it feels like my brain is growing. It is as if there are neural pathways being built, and now, as I read books on my Kindle, I find myself examining how they are worded. What tense did the author use? Did the story elements make sense? Was there anything unbelievable or questions at the end of the story that were unresolved?

I have learned so much from these edits, and the subsequent discussions, that my mind is reeling. I haven’t felt this good about the writing process since my teachers allowed me to swap out grammar for creative writing in high school!

The one thing that does not exist here is ego. I don’t have time for that nonsense. I fully admit that at 45 (nearly 46) I can learn from my 27-year-old daughter. So learn I will, although not without some measure of whining, swearing and feeling sorry for myself.

All of this is to say – I’m still learning, but I’m mostly enjoying the process.

p.s. And I’m considering re-writing War’s End and putting it in one volume.

Are You the Trickster or the Martyr?

Years back, when I was still in my “I want to write, but I don’t know if anyone will ever read it” phase (and believe me, that was a very, very long phase) I asked a friend of my husband’s to read a manuscript I had written. I think that he probably instantly regretted sending me her way because he realized she was a “high lit” type and might just be merciless.

I don’t write “high lit” – I write YA, dystopian, hopefully suck you in and keep you swirling about in the muck literature, nothing high brow to see here.

And while she wasn’t merciless per se, what she did have to say slowed my writing down to a crawl for about a year.

In the end I realized that I didn’t write for her, or for “high lit” minded folks in general. I wrote what I wanted to read – adventure, drama, dystopian “the shit is about to get real” kind of writing. And if you are looking for love forever, heroes always win and everyone goes home happy, yet again, my writing probably isn’t for you.

A few days ago I mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s interview with Marie Forleo. In it, she discusses the trickster and the martyr, stating that these are the two dominant writing types out there.

The Martyr lives and dies for the art. They weave words like others carve statuary or an artist paints a landscape. They agonize over each word, placing it just so, perfectly positioned for meaning, depth, and the art of it all.

The Trickster is far more likely to bum a smoke, tilt back in their chair, or even wander off to handle whatever else needs doing at the moment before wandering back to toss a few more words on the page.

Martyrs speak of writing as “their life’s work” while Tricksters grab a pen at odd times, jot a few notes and give you a smile and a wink. Martyrs dream of their work surviving them and becoming popular years after their sad demise, gin bottle in hand, in a gutter, unappreciated for their ultimate postmortem genius. Tricksters prefer for people to just read their work already, damn it.

Any guesses about who I might be?

What about you?!

Criticism – Accepting It and Turning It Into a Positive

Receiving criticism isn’t easy. It’s tough, really, really tough.

Despite my feisty exterior, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and it is the biggest downside of writing for public consumption. It is as if you have grown a baby for nine long months, given birth, and held it up to the world to view – only to be told it is ugly, it is lacking, it is…less than it should be.

Now obviously, you cannot please everyone. You simply cannot. We are all different, all wired with different interests and different views, and those inevitable hot buttons.

So when I posted on Facebook the other day that I needed reviews, I knew I was opening the door to criticism. I crossed my fingers and hoped I would get a few more reviews for my various books and I hope it inspired some to read what I had written if they hadn’t already, to take a few moments and post a review of one of the books. And I’m expecting that it will be a week or two before a few more roll in, but I was excited to see one come in today.

Until I read it. The review suggested that I ‘edit the book a little.’


Because I have edited the book in question, multiple times, and not just me, but a proofreader who makes a living editing small and large jobs. I will admit I took a few indulgent moments to be resentful, to think of uncharitable responses, and to point out (several times) to the empty office that, “editing is effing hard to do and damn near impossible to catch every last mistake.”

And while I dearly wish such a comment had NOT been put on Amazon for all to see, I finally came to recognize the worth in the criticism. I hate typos, grammar, and other editing/writing inconsistencies too. I was in spelling bees as a child and am rather anal about such things. So the idea that my book, my baby, still had them, and enough of them to be commented on was the real issue I was stressing over.

It took a while, but I turned it into a positive.

Do my books need better editing? Well, yes, obviously they do. So I’m going to try this idea on for size. When I finish with a book and begin the editing process, I plan on doing a fast one-through myself. Checking facts, correcting typos as best as I can, and the next round will be reading it out loud to my husband. A lot of typos go unnoticed by writers because we know what we are intending to say, and our eyes automatically skip crucial sections, fill in missing words and miss those funky little typos. Reading the words out loud will help check everything, because while my mind might automatically fill in wording as I am reading, I won’t automatically substitute the right words when reading the piece out loud. I’ll catch more of the mistakes. This will also accomplish another positive end…my husband will get to enjoy reading the story his favorite way, by listening to it. He has a form of dyslexia, and has always preferred audiobooks or being read to.

Feedback, criticism, can be hard to take. That said, as a writer who enjoys putting my work out for others to read, I know that it is an intrinsic part of the publishing process. i won’t always get reviews that focus on the meat of the matter – what a book said, or how it affected someone else – and I won’t please everyone. If I depended on a publishing house to edit my work, there could still be mistakes made (heck, I find them all the time in books!) and I would have someone else to point a finger at and blame. In that way, I think that I vastly prefer to be responsible for my mistakes, to own them, and to try to improve my editing skills and the finished end product with each book I write.

As my dad says…”Onward and upwards!”

Rejection #1

I must say that the Barbara Bova Literary Agency is really on top of things. Less than a day after I sent them a query for War’s End, I heard back.

Unfortunately, your query does not meet our particular need at this time, but thank you for giving us the chance to review your work. Good luck in future.

Most agencies tell you it will be up to eight weeks – and that you may never hear back from them, depending upon their mood!

In the writing world, life is full of rejection. I get that. I understand it.

I know that I’ve written a good query letter, one that I, and others, feel is my best foot forward. And I would honestly be shocked beyond measure if I actually got a “yes, send me more, we are interested” response from the first batch of ten. Or even the second batch.

These things take time. And lots of perseverance.

My eldest once said, “Paper your wall with rejection slips!”

I looked at the rejection, so politely worded, and cut and pasted it to the notes section of my Submission Tracking file for War’s End. It is the first, and I doubt it will be the last, and that is just fine. An hour later, I found another possible “go-to” agent in my 2011 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, visited the website, read over the details of how to submit a query, and sent another one out.

My mother once told me, “I don’t know how you do it. Life has given you such terrible twists and turns, knocked you to the ground, and yet, you get up, dust yourself off, and get back to it.”

And so it must be with my writing. And yours, if you are so inclined. Sure, you got knocked to the ground and it hurt like hell. Now get up, dust yourself off, and get back to it. There’s no time like the present.

In other news – I woke up this morning, words and phrases describing my second non-fiction book The War On Drugs: An Old Wives Tale bouncing about in my head. It took a couple of hours, mainly because I allowed myself to be distracted wading through emails and surfing the internet, but I pulled up an old query letter I had written and got down to editing it. Then I sent it off to my new best writer friend Kerrie for a good thorough proofreading.

I need to pull together an author bio, an outline, and identify the sample chapters I would send with the query, and then I’ll be set to begin my first round of ten inquiries to agents.

Wish me luck!



At least, that’s how I feel.

God, I hate pissing people off, offending them, or whatever. I also don’t like getting told off, even if I have, somewhat, deserved it. It makes me feel about three feet high and I just want to take my toys and go cry in a corner.

A post on HA went south in the worst way, and I doubt my follow-up apology post cut it. I did the best I could, but I really felt misunderstood and misconstrued.

Worse, it has consumed my afternoon and, knowing me, will stay with me for a while – a few days at the very least. I came home just after 1pm to find the two emails – one frosty, one rather angry, and I couldn’t get onto any of my websites for nearly two hours because some damned server was down.

By the time it came up I was ready to abase myself, prostrate on the floor and apologize – until I read, then re-read the post. Is it wrong of me to say I that I think I was misconstrued? That perhaps this reaction was not just in response to today’s post, but perhaps also has to do with my Herding Cats post from a few days past? Perhaps a few feathers were ruffled, someone was feeling under attack already (or things were a bit too accurate for their taste) and then today’s post put it over the top?

Or am I just being a hormonal bitch?

Hey, either way, it could happen. I rule out nothing.

But I hate conflict, and this has put a significant damper on my afternoon, affected my productivity completely, consumed my thoughts and now I just really want a margarita. (This from someone who gets tipsy maybe once every three months or more)

How can I turn this around? How can I use this huge amount of stress in a productive way?

p.s. And will someone besides a spammer please read this damned blog – I’m so f-ing sick of spammers. I will NEVER post your misspelled, Gingrish -laden monstrosities with links to penis enlargements, French clothing, or hot horny women here. Go find someone else!

p.p.s. I’m turning it around, slowly but surely. I opened up War’s End Book 2 and began writing in the I Can’t Forget chapter. Go me?

Day 9 of NaNoWriMo

Okay, I’ll admit it. I got discouraged. But I also learned a little about myself – so to me it is educational, a lesson learned.

I was plugging away on Gliese 581: Departure. Now supposedly Dad and I are collaborating on this. I say ‘supposedly’ because, probably due to other motivations on his part, (mainly he just wanted to motivate ME to write), he is serving as editor and I am the writer. When I suggested a collaboration I was thinking more about how I write a chapter, then he writes a chapter, and so on.

But that’s not going to happen.

So then I hoped he would give me plenty of ‘atta girls’ as I wrote. Just simple stuff such as “I liked the part where you described [fill in the blank]” or “you really hooked me in that first paragraph.” Instead his focus has been on the scientific side of things. This isn’t terribly surprising, I told him I wanted him to be the science expert. But begging him to read over what I had written for a week took its toll on me. Especially after he read enough to simply tell me about three things that didn’t work.

So it put me off of writing it and I spent the rest of the weekend doing a multitude of projects. After all, around here, there is always plenty to do.

At 40 years of age, I still want my dad’s approval. I can’t help it, it’s just the way I’m wired. But that wiring also seems to include a deadman’s switch. The minute I sense too much disagreement/disapproval and not enough reassurance/approval – the writing shuts off.

So the lesson learned for the day is this…

Whether or not he approves or comments favorably, I still need to write. I need to continue to push forward. If I don’t, if I allow myself to be waylaid or fall apart with a little bit of criticism then I won’t ever be successful in a writing career.

I don’t have to be rich, but I do expect to be published. I need to make sure that being published happens.

So lesson learned.

Starting word count today: 11,503

Goal for today: 2,000 word