Monday, March 29, 2010

Microfiction Mondays

Susan at Stony River has Microfiction Monday. A picture tells 140 characters... Here's this week's:

My story:

"Never a bridge too far," said short-sleeved Hector. He took a breath to welcome spring, downriver soon. His wife agreed and cherished him.

Try this. It's a challenge, but fun!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Own Contest: April Fools

Now that I've become slightly addicted to contests on other blogs, I've decided to run my own.
I'm calling it: "The First Annual April Fool's Day Vignette" Contest.

Here are the RULES:

1) In the comments section of this post, write about the best (that is, most wicked) April Fool's prank/lie/story you've ever done/told--or had done to you.

2) Mention this contest on either your blog or Facebook, and leave me the link below your entry.

3) Do all this by 11:59 p.m. PST on April 1st.

The Prize: Your Choice of $10 Powell's gift card or $10 Amazon gift card.

The Judges: My three sons, hooked up to the laughatron. All entries will be anonymous and read to the judges by Dad. Whoever gets the most snorts, guffaws, chuckles, or squeals of disbelief/horror will be the winner.

Write on and Good Luck!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Win a book

Over at the Caren Johnson literary agency blog, there's a contest that could win you a copy of the newly released Epitaph Road.

As a highly competitive soul, I'm always on the look-out for contests/competitions. In fact, I'm busily thinking up one of my own. Check back here in a day or two...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beauts from the Blogosphere

Here are a couple of things which caught my fancy:

I'm reposting a video I caught on the Dystel & Goderich blog:
Watch it with a young person.

And over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog, Chuck Sambuchino is running his "(Third) Worst Storyline Ever" contest:

I plan to enter. (I'm a big fan of prizes for bad writing.) Why don't the rest of you have a crack at it?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jamie Cullum makes me think

Driving in the car to pick up my kids yesterday morning, listening to NPR "Weekend Edition." Jacki Lyden interviewed English jazz artist, Jamie Cullum.

I'd never heard of him, but then I've never heard of a lot of people. He's apparently quite a star in the UK, having sold more jazz records there than any other British artist. At the end of the interview, Jacki Lyden asked him why he called his new album "The Pursuit." Here's his reply:

One of the reasons I called it "The Pursuit," is because, you know, as a musician you never get to the finish line. There are goals along the way but you never finish it. So it is this constant pursuit, one that I wake up every day wanting to get better at and wanting to make better music, 'cause I think as soon as I finish this album I had new ideas about the next one. So there's plenty to pursue.

Substitute 'musician' for 'writer' and Jamie Cullum and I are singing the same tune.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Isn't this what critique groups are for?

I love Mary Kole. (Perhaps not as much as I love Ursula Le Guin, but I love her nonetheless.) Mary is an associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency and writes the popular blog. She is also a writer (which is why I think people love her so), and her Revision-O-Rama series in late December/early January is a must-read.

Mary ran a contest recently for novel beginnings and featured the most successful on her blog, as well as adding comments on why these beginnings worked for her. After the contest ended, someone suggested she think of demonstrating beginnings which didn't work. Somewhat reluctantly, I think, Mary agreed to do so.

She was immediately swamped with entries and her comments page shows that people think this is a great idea. Personally, I don't. My first thought was: why would someone want to have an agent look at their beginning that "needs a little help?" Isn't that what critique groups are for?

As I ponder these questions, I can only surmise that people are desperate for their work to be seen by an "expert" eye. I'm sure Mary's comments will be as kind and enlightening as they always are, but once these entries are on the internet, who knows what will happen. Will they be mocked in other on-line forums? Pilloried by internet hooligans?

My second pondering is: perhaps these guys don't have critique groups? I am a member of two (and I hope to post about their awesome-wonderfulness at a later date). But I live in an urban area. Perhaps there's someone in a hamlet in the Nevada desert who doesn't know a single other writer for miles around and has only the internet for company. (I'm trying hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt here.)

For most people, however, a critique group is not too difficult to form. Anyone who is writing seriously should be a member of their local writers' orgs. In my case that's SCBWI-Oregon and Willamette Writers Willamette Writers, for example, has a monthly newsletter and monthly meetings where networking opportunities abound. That's how I found my first critique group. Yes, you do have to put yourself out there, but the rewards are great.

Will the critique group give you honest feedback? In my experience, yes. The best groups are tender yet tough; that is, they honor the work you're doing but know that part of this process is pointing out (respectfully, of course) what doesn't work on the page. Then you revise and revise and revise again till it works. (Critique groups also have infinite patience.)

Mary Kole talks about all this in her last Revision-O-Rama post.

In my opinion, if you want her as your agent (and who wouldn't?!) then you would send her only your very best stuff at the query stage. You wouldn't want her eyes on any of your early, problematic pages, even if she is one of the best and kindest writing teachers around. Leave the "unworkable" stuff on your critique group's cutting room table.

What do others think?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Query Carnage

In early February, I saw a post on an agency blog I follow. The agents were running something called 'Slush Week.' Writers were invited to send their queries, with the chance of having one of the agents review it.

I did the dangerous thing and sent mine in. In the intervening weeks, I changed it completely. (Thank God!) It got to the point that I was praying that my old query wouldn't be chosen. But you guessed it. It was.

You can view the carnage here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Portrait of the Author as a Young Man, Part III

It was the Willamette Writers conference of 1994. I sat across from the editor who had read my opening chapter. He was a senior editor at a major New York publishing house. He did not look dangerous.

This is a short version of what he wrote: "Every once in a while I come across a situation like yours. On the one hand, I like your writing; on the other hand I really feel the plot is not commercial... What I can say definitely is that you write well enough to be published... Might I suggest a Japanese detective story?"

What was my brain screaming? He likes my writing! He thinks I write well enough to be published!! Of course I'll write a Japanese detective story. I'll start tomorrow.

Which is to say that getting validation like that from a publishing professional is the greatest adrenaline rush imaginable. Of course your family likes your writing (it would be dire if they didn't!) and your writing group thinks you're a great guy who can turn a phrase or two. ("But what do they know?") Buoyed by this one short note, I threw myself into Mustang Mori, a Japanese p.i. novel and completed a first draft within a year. (The first chapter was later to win an honorable mention in the Kay Snow Writing competition.)

But then life knocked me off kilter. My first son was born at only 24 weeks gestation, weighing one pound and six ounces. Marie and I stood vigil in the neonatal intensive care unit for four months. And the Japanese detective novel, forever tainted by this traumatic event, withered on the vine. Looking at it brought back flashbacks of this life-or-death time. Even at 13 years of distance, I still cry when talking about what we went through.

I was thirty three when my first son was born. No longer a young man. My writing life changed considerably. But that is for a later post: Portrait of the Author as a balding, middle-aged man. (Hmm, doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I love Ursula Le Guin

I first read Ursula Le Guin when I was about 11. The book: A Wizard of Earthsea. I was convinced I was Ged. I also believed (not quite sure why) that Ursula Le Guin was a writer from the dim and distant past. Imagine my surprise, many years later, seeing her looking hale and hearty at a reading in Portland.

A Wizard of Earthsea still ranks as one of my favorite books. And Ursula Le Guin, the grande dame of Portland letters, is still going strong, battling Google. Here's a great piece on her written last week by Jeff Baker, the literary critic for The Oregonian: