Gold Rush Alaska: smell it and weep
Gold mining is often asociated with getting rich fast. Writing is also often associated with this as well. The average Joe, Jane and Dick think that writers in general are rich.... that writing a book in and of itself is a way to get rich quick.
I think the real reason I like Gold Rush is not gold, but how hard the people work. There's also a gamblers element to the work, something I think every writer can understand. We are all estentially rolling the dice, playing for a chance at the big time.
However, reaching the big time rarely comes without struggle. And whether it e mining for gold or writng stories, tears will be shed. Perhaps the most interesting part about it is, is not the pursuit of riches, but the pursuit of a dream.
Gold miners don't quit their job because they struck it rich. In fact they reinvest almost all their earnings back into mining. Why?
I think it's the because the pursuit is more rewarding than the destination. In other words, life's about the journey. Remember smell those freaking roses... or diseal fumes, horse manure, or old glue bound books. Smell it and weep because it's rarely about the money.
Mistakes are magic
Have you ever been at a public event or participating in a conversation only to have it high jacked? Of course you have. The event, which could have been very informative, is derailed by somebody who doesn't know when to shut up.
Well, I'm that person. It's not intentional. I just have a lot to say about everything. My solution to this problem is to zip my lips and throw away the key.
It will thus come as no surprise that I struggle with dialogue in my writing as well. My characters start chatting in my head and, if I'm not careful, their conversations takeover the story.
Now, Meat Head was written before I had learned to zip my lips and put my chatty fingers under lock and key. I've been fight to control the dialogue which is funny and finally it occurred to me that I needed to rip it out. I've spent countless hours trying to work it in. One of the slowest ways to "fix" a flaw is to fall in love again with things on the page that is great on the sentence level, and even scene by scene, but detracts from the larger story.
I've spent the last two days ripping out dialogue. On Saturday, Meat Head was sitting at 60,000 words. Now it's 45,000 words...
I happen to love the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. I love it, but sometimes the dialogues get out of control. I'm listing to Stephen King's Tommy Knockers on audio book as well. There's a seen where one of the character's gets drunk and goes on a rant. It's quite long and drawn out, and at times boring. This has been Meat Head's problem. And sure, I can go ahead with these flaws, and probably be fine.
Whatever I have come July, will be what I have. Imperfect. I'm trying to do the best I can with Meat Head but it will never be as good as something I might write now. But even that isn't fair. A story has it's time. I couldn't not write a manuscript like this now. What I didn't know about writing three years ago, contributed greatly to the magic, flawed as it is, of Meat Head.
This theory is at the core of why I think it's wrong to spend too many years writing the same story. There is magic in mistakes that ten years of trying to do better will screw up as surely the typos in my posts.
On Sunday, which is today if you're in the United States and yesterday if you're in South Korea with me, I went up to Gwanali Beach. Something happened a few weeks back. I wrote a big long post about it and the internet gods didn't see it go live. I've since decided to not talk about what happened in the public forum. (Doesn't that just make you curios as hell?)
Anyway, what happened isn't important. It's the aftermath which, for inexplicable reasons resulted in me staying home. I'm a home body anyway, but I hadn't realized how long it was since I'd been to the beach. Three or four months. The day was nice, the ocean baby blue and the sun hung low in the sky to warm things just right for a seaside November day. I settled on a bench and watched the tide roll in. There were two sailboats in the bay doing figure eights in the intermittent breeze.
These are the kind of things I get inspired by. Okay, that's not true. I also get inspired but drunks puking as my taxi rolls by. The world is just chuck full of little details looking for a home in a story. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, I was having a perfect day and when I sat down to write I drew a blank.
As I prepare to relocate, a funny thing has happened. I've nearly stopped writing. In the interim I've wasted countless hours on Craigslist and searching the internet for cities I might like to settle in. But the key information here is Craiglist. I keep scanning the employment adds looking for... I don't know. I plan to take time off because I NEED to to do something about this insomnia. How long that will be... shrug. I've got enough saved that I can probably go a year without working if I'm careful.
But work defines me and my mind is set: I will never make a living as a writer. I believe I'll sell stories. I believe I'll sell full lengths books. I might even get an agent and a real publisher. What I don't believe is that I'll ever be able to quit my day job. Is this mindset fatalistic or realist? I don't know.
The power of a smell
I had some old bananas and because of my impending <strike>dislocation</strike> relocation, I decided to made banana nut bread. I'm trying to use stuff up. I don't have any walnuts on hand, but I do have some pecans. I tossed in a pack of banana pudding because hate banana pudding in and of itself. My friends sent it too me from home in case you're wondering.
Anyway, adding pudding to a cake mix will result in a moister cake so I thought I'd try it with the banana bread. I didn't quite have enough flour so I took the trash out and stopped off at the Family Mart on the first floor of my building. They don't have much of a baking section, but I remembered seeing some flour. The single small bag was still gathering dust next to several bags of sugar which were not not dusty. I whooped with joy and grabbed a diet coke from the cooler. I got a bemused look from the cashier at the register.
This was about 10:30. Before bedtime shoppers are usually after beer, ice cream, and chips. There were two Koreans loading up on this goodies as I made my purchase. They too, gave me a bemused look and about ten minutes ago some neighbors stopped to linger outside my door. The scent of fresh banana bread has apparently escaped into the hall.
This might seem counter intuitive to buy more flour when I'm trying to use things up, but I have some pie filling I've been sitting on. It's not easy to come by here and I can't remember exactly where I got it, but I do remember when my shelf had a can of pumpkin, a can cherry and two cans of blueberry pie filling. That was probably two years ago. Anyway, I've one can of blueberry left and now that I'm returning to the land of perpetual pie ( You didn't know that is a nick name for the United States? Well, it is now.) it seems kind of silly that I waited so long to use it.
I'll probably give the pie to my boss, though I'll grab a slice when everybody at work sits down to eat it. The next few weeks they're going to discover some delicious surprises. I wouldn't say I have a lot of special stuff waiting to be cooked, but with only three weeks left, I can probably prepare two special dishes each week. it also means the hall is going to be smelling pretty sweet in the days to come. None of this is import.
Except maybe one thing. The power of smells, particularly smells of fresh backed deserts. My neighbors have not grown up with these scents. They do not recall their grandmother pulling a fresh pie out of the oven on Thanksgiving. They do not have the memory knowledge to distinguish pumpkin pie from apple pie from banana bread. And yet it compelled them nonetheless to linger. It could just be coincidence but I don't think so. In the 18 months I've lived here, not once has any one lingered. To me, that is proof of the power of a smell.
Thank you for rejecting me
So far this month I've had three short stories held for further consideration, one of which was rejected yesterday, and six form letters.
Agent wise I've received five: Dr. Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency,Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Victoria Sanders & Associates, Jennifer Azantian of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary, Inc. I mention them by name because I wanted to thank them without clogging their in-boxes. These are great agents that any author would be lucky to have.
So agents thank you for rejecting me. I mean this with all sincerity.
Since I started querying in August I've sent out forty or so queries and gotten about 15 rejections. I've made no secrete how I feel about agents whose response is silence. (I don't like it=(
Rejections suck until you experience the alternative: silence= no. Not "maybe," not she/he's seriously considering the story, just "no." Silence was once a place were writers found hope, delusional as it may have been, that their work was a contender.
Now, I treasure each form letter. I appreciate them so much that, if they weren't electronic, I might even be caught petting the paper "No" is written upon. In the meantime, I've settle for stroking the computer screen and saying "This isn't what you think," to the coffee shop staff as I'm escorted out of the cafe`. "I got a form rejection from an agent today and I just wanted to give it some love."
"How does that improve this situation?" the Korean man said in perfect English.
I started my first fast food job three days before I turned sixteen. When your in high school, fast food's flexible hours are attractive. The work sucks, especially closing the store when all the friers have to be broken down and film of grease scrubbed off the floors with a product called degreaser.
My lot in life kept me in the front of every story I worked out. I was a damned good cashier and I was polite to customers even when it hurt.
As a consequence I've seen people go berserk because their special order burrito or hamburger wasn't perfect. Once customer tried to pull a girl I worked with right through the driver's window. In this case he was rabid over a taco and when she leaned out to take the bag of mistakes back, he grabbed her. She screamed and seven of us dropped what we were doing to come running.
It was late, just before closing and I don't think he realized how many people were working. Seeing it happen taught me a lesson about leaning out of the window too far. Don't do it. I also learned how to avoid quick change artists, free food scams, and that customers would orders that weren't theirs. Some would even return shamelessly to the counter for their order.
When I worked at Pals, a strange but delicious regional joint, we had this one customer who always got the wrong order. Her special hamburger was not rocket science and yet every time she ordered it, we managed to screw it up by epic proportion. More often than not, she got a sandwich she hadn't ordered or paid for. She was never belligerent, because we always apologized and gave her the correct food. But one day, she broke. She cursed up a storm about how we never got her order right.
It's unfortunate, but until she threw her fit, she had been just a face in the crowd. I didn't actually believe her as she screamed at me-- customers have been trained to claim this in hopes of free food. I recoiled from the verbal abuse, hollered what I needed and directed her to pull up indicating we'd bring her the food.
Her order was not complicated. What exactly, I don't know. But I remember being shocked when she came back and it still wasn't right. Three tries, and we got it. I've worked joints with crappy management where repeated mistakes but for a well oiled fast food machine, which Pals is, this many screw ups is not ordinary. And whether you believe it or not, accuracy is point of pride for many fast food workers. This is because even when a job sucks, employees can't divorce themselves from the warm glow of a job well done. Management has to be radioactive to create total apathy in the staff.
At Pals there was true pride extending beyond this. The full time staff had not resigned themselves to the fact that life had not let them be whatever they wanted to be but embraced it. Patty could sling burgers like nobodies business. When she wasn't on shift, it took two people to do what could handle all on her lonesome. There was one full time staffer for each position and during peek hours where cars wrapped around the restaurant and spilled into the main street, Pals functioned like a well oiled machine. No matter how long the line was, customers never hesitated to stop.
We couldn't wallow in our repeated mistakes over the woman's order, but because we had pride, we felt it. We snapped at each other to make sure we each did our part and at last we delivered everything correctly. The next time she came through, I remembered her and issued an order to make sure the food was correct.
It wasn't. These happened a few more times before it dawned on me that this was a thing beyond our control. This woman had a lot in life. Every time she ordered food, it would be wrong. It's such a small thing that God, the great creator, fate, whatever couldn't be bother with such. Well, perhaps the powers that be have a whacked sense of humor, but I think everybody has a thing they can't avoid. For me it's crazy neighbors. The joy of my first apartment was marred by the schizophrenic living next door. Actually, he seemed pretty nice and I tried to keep an open mind when he told me about his issue and said I had nothing to worry about because he was on medication. I could not keep my mind open after he showed up, knife in hand, banging at door one night. Suffice to say, I didn't answer the door.
Well, he had a legitimate mental condition. Most of my neighbors since have been sanely nuts. Despite overwhelming evidence, it wasn't until recently that I realize wherever I move, if my I have sane neighbors to start with, they will promptly leave and the crazy folk move in.
This is just a theory of course. I can't prove it's true, but I think, despite free will, people get a parcel. Life's lot means your friend can do x and nobody will say mum and when you do x you get arrested. There are just certain ways things work and don't work for you. Perhaps it's fate keeping us on our path or perhaps the powers that be have a fucked up sense of humor.
So what's your lot in life? Does it frustrate you? Have you made peace with it?
It's going to be great!
The minute things start to go as planned, I get both excited and anxious. The excitement comes from progress and right now that involves progress with novels.
Even when a project is finished, I am always editing. I want to be prepared to say an emphatic"Hell yes!" should an agent ask, "Do you have a more recent draft?" Never mind that this has never happened and probably will never happen.
Because I insist on being as prepared for success as for as I am for a zombie apocalypse, I am a self-generating anxiety machine. The anxiety is different than fear. Anxiety is always a result of anticipation of good things.
I rode horses for nearly 15 years and always, in the time it took to leave home and arrive at the stables for my lesson or just a relaxing trail ride, the anticipation of what I would do had me about ready to jump out of my skin.
Then I got on the horse, which was indeed as exciting the first time as it was the last time I rode. But it was also a let down as I was faced with reality.
"Damn-it, I'll never do half the things I had planned to do today, because, now that I'm on this effing thing, I'm scared shitless."
I suspect that landing an agent and/or getting a publishing contract share a lot with my experience as a rider. I think perhaps one of the best times in a writer's life is the time spent imaging how great success is going to be.
Agents have been relatively mum about my Meat Head queries, and I don't mean form rejections. I mean silence but since no response is becoming the agent preferred method of rejection, I can't read too much into that. But of course being a needy writer, thoughts like "Oh, my God it's so bad, they can't even reject me!" Of course, I give that head voice an ultimatum.
"Shut up or I'm going to make you stand in the dark corner over there."
This is a visualization technique I've used to deal with Fear. People who know me now are surprised to learn that I'm terrified of everything, and just a few years ago this was especially true for escalators. I could not even look at one without breaking into an anxiety induced sweat.
As you can imagine, when I announced I was going to live and work abroad, my friends who knew me then were like "Um, there's a lot of escalators in the airport and the world is full of things you're terrified of."
"Well, I've ridden horses for years," I said.
"Yeah, and you're still terrified."
I shrugged. Slightly less than I was fifteen years ago."
Because I'm afraid of everything but I refuse to let it rule my life, I'm well practiced in putting the cowling head-voice, Fear, in the corner, where it can observe but not intefere. I think when writers get the negative head voice barking about this or that, it's not really neediness. It's actually Fear.
Fear isn't useless-- there is a time and place for it-- but of all the emotions, it probably is the least needed emotion for modern humans. There are no monsters, lions, wolves or, and I'm terribly saddened by this, zombies,waiting in dark alleys to eat us. Fear is an overlooked employee, exploited a few times a year at theme parks and regularly by thrill seekers. But it's unimportant in our day to day lives, so it creates crisis and gets revenge by interfering with our dreams.
I can without reservation, that you can throw yourself at escalators regardless of Fear says. Now, go ride an escalator... or write something that you're afraid to write.
I'm not talking about technique, grammar, or plot. I'm talking about habits.Not what you put on paper, but how you put it there?
From me, this is not working on one story until that story is finished, but working on many until they are all finished--staggering completion dates so the rotation doesn't begin to feel stale. I've realized that in five years I might produce zero novels but after five years and two months, I might have seven.
To do this I dedicate one week M-F, to story X. The next week I work on story Y, circling back to story X. Saturday and Sunday are my free days. Every writer needs time out. But if your like me, a writer who tends to get ourselves bent out of shape because things aren't progressing fast enough, you really do need to enforce down time.
Finding the right writing habits increases productivity and quality. Trying to write under the wrong conditions, makes writing itself a chore. So while, I agree that authors should try advice from other others on this, I'd add the caveat that you have to keep trying new things. When you find the right habits, you'll know them by the end result.
How do you like to write? Do you try techniques of other authors? Do you feel inept when your method doesn't match the ideal habits of your favorite author?
31 Flavors of a diabolical mind
When I was in college, I started an internet business. The business did not exist. I did make a website with products such as Lard Lips Lip Balm and personalized straight jackets. Membership cost $13.13 for thirteen months and got you a rubber monkey. The name of the company was Ruber Monkey because I misspelled rubber when I set up the website. I cared not one whit about spelling at the time and so I embraced this error in our slogan. RuberMonkey.com the misspelled website that doesn't exist. I involved a friend in a variety of antics. We produced a few videos, some of which we paid to air on public cable, very late night on channels few people watched when they were sober. Being imaginative souls, we got a kick of the idea that people were scratching their heads, and asking themselves WTF at 1AM. Perhaps we even broke some laws by doing this.
These days, I'm starting to query agents in a spartan fashion. Part of this is my finished novels needed CPR. Writing short stories has given me the novel and plot recitation skills I need. I have decided that I can't write any more short stories. My focus is getting the longer works into circulation.
Writing short stories also taught me that I like to work on multiple projects at the same time and how to do that successfully. Because novels cannot be finished in a week, I'm rotating three projects. This has been My Father's Heart Weak. So in three weeks, I'll work on it again. One of the tricks to doing this is to note everything you do. I used to work in a call center where everyday I summarized about 70 conversations into the computer so the next rep would know what the costumer called about. Every skill, everything you ever do will teaches you something you can use later.
Here is this skill from a job I hated, making it possible for me to pick on large works right were I left off. I use Notezilla, which allows you to stick notes to files or files to notes whichever you prefer, to track my progress and out look to manage my writing schedule.
Right now I have one novel (Meat Head) in circulation. I don't consider this an easy sell for a first novel. But it won't be an easy sell for a second or a tenth novel because it's the only book I have like it. I can't say, "this is the kind of author I am. This is the kind of books I will write."
Because of this, I recently decided to submit a query that deals with this issue (I am less concerned with landing an agent-- I either will or won't, and if it's the latter, I'll go the indie rout-- than how best to deal with my 31 flavors.) I have developed an analogy involving ice cream. I say that I can serve chocolate and vanilla, but that I also serve mocha-tuna-wtf.
I've talked about this before-- should I have pen names for different styles? This analogy triggered a realization about my own reading habits. I pick up Stephen King because I like his flavor. I read Christ Crutcher because I like his flavor. I return to the same authors because they each offer a flavor I like and I read the flavor that suits my mood.
Then, I realized in all of this, if I publish my 31 flavors all under the same name, I'm going to be such an unreliable author that readers won't ever been in the mood M.R. Jordan. Before, I thought it was matter of trust readers to not be confused. Now, I think it's a little more complicated than that.
And it truly does complicate the agent hunt. Should I be up front about my eclectic tastes or surprise them with a humor book that proves selling personalized straight jackets was not profession not so far off the mark. I don't know. I suppose I'll try both ways and go with what works.
Below is the Lard Lips Lip Balm commercial.
(pst, Lard Lips Lip Balm is 100% natural because it's made from lard. The items came from the back of a cake mix and some other random food products. To my knowledge, none of the ingredients are in lip balm. And yes, if anyone had been willing to pay $2.99 for 1/4 oz jar of lard, I would have sold it to them.)