How to make the happy; or, curse you Mary! Part 2

After the Llorona CWC critique on Monday I got to thinking about what Mary said about the story being dark. Considering that the story opens with a murder/suicide, I would say she has a point.

But now I’m in a quandry on how to balance the story. See, the story ends*, if not happily, then at least hopefully. How do I balance the light/dark sides? It has to start dark, because the whole idea is that the family that I’m writing about comes out of this dark period ‘into the light’, as it were. However, will a reader throw the book down in disgust because the story is too depressing to continue?

There was much argument about The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, being way too dark–opening as it does with the rape and murder of a twelve/thirteen year old girl. That story is saved, at least for me, because it’s narrated by the little girl from heaven…so you know at one level that she’s okay before you even find out what horrible things happen to her, plus you have that youthful voice making it seem less jarring.

I have no such balance at the moment.

Right now I’m not gonna worry too much and just see what comes out. That way I can see if there’s a spot of light somewhere later that can come in earlier.

But it’s still a bit of a worry.

*Story ending disclaimer: I won’t really know how it ends until it ends.

Curse you, Mary!

My plan was to take it easier for May. Because Mary was gonna do all the hard work and submit a full manuscript. But noooo! Now I’ve gotta do the pages that I wasn’t gonna hafta do. And I have to finish the round story, because I didn’t do the hard work I was supposed to last month. How is it everything comes to a head like that?

You know what my plan is, though?

To do nothing but read this first week going into May. I went a little nuts at the library and so have to finish reading–and I haven’t really read much in a while. Must recharge batteries. Then rip into the writing.

So, May plan:
Read a lot.
Write a lot.
See what happens.
Oh, and critique a lot because this was the big three-fer month for CWC and I’ve got three for UGWP.

Lots of stuff to do.

Short story hook question

There’s been lots of talk about how important a good hook is for a novel–because that leads to better query letters, etc., and that way people have a good grip on what you’re writing.

But how about with short story queries/submissions? As a rule, you put your whole story into the mix and let the magazine decide based on the story. Some writers don’t even put a cover letter in their submission package, let alone worry about a hook. However, would they be better served with a cover letter telling all pertinent details of self and story (word count, etc.) along with a hook line like the one you’d use for a novel? Obviously, the sentence would be shorter, at the very least.

For example:

Dear SuperMagazine,

Enclosed please find “The Story Aaron Told”, a short story of 2,000 words. It’s a story-within-a-story about two writers figuring out the mystery of ‘where stories come from’ as they decide the fate of Paolo, their character, and the twin babies he sews together.

Etc. so on a so forth,
Jenny SuperWriter

When I was an editor, I admit to not reading all short story submissions to the end and disregarding ‘animal’ poems out of hand. Sometimes I didn’t even get past the first paragraph of a story before going, “Not happening”. I realize so many things depend on the writing of the story itself. But what if I’d had a really great hook telling me what the story was about? Would I have finished some of those disregarded stories? Would the writer have turned it all around and impressed me?

What do you guys think?–and how have you submitted short stories? Cover letter? No cover?

My brilliant plan is brilliantly redacted–

The idea was to read the round-story (I guess we should call it the Round Novel now, because there’s a lot to it at this point) and then finish in a brilliant flash of writing.

As I was going through the story, however, I started editing as I went along–never a good thing if you want to progress. My theory was that I’d get a good grasp and maybe find the lines that needed to be tied up. This happened.

But remember: several people have written this novel.

There were the moments where I went “What the hell?” There are whole meandering chapters but, to make life more difficult, those same chapters generally hold a tidbit of information that drives the rest of the main line. Some chapters are maddeningly longer and some maddeningly shorter than others. So some are going to have to be melded. Some sections would fit better toward the beginning. As I’m going through, I have some really great, detailed ideas for how to get this thing in shape. And it’ll be funny and cohesive (for those of you who have read this, please believe that this is possible!).

Here’s the thing. I figured I had enough time to read, get a general editorial idea, and still have time to finish the book. But I only got the first two done because (surprise!) we have over two hundred pages of material…and that takes longer to sort through than you think.

So, my brilliant, overachieving idea is gonna hafta wait another month. Sorry Scooby Gang!

A full request!

Hello, ladies and gents,

I just wanted to jump up and down for a moment because an agent has requested the full manuscript for Following Julia Roberts!

Whether or not anything comes of it is beside the point right now, because I’m assuming that everyone has their fingers crossed. *Peering at everyone’s hands* It’s my first full request!

Commencing with the jumping for joy….

Mentor of the Month: Julia Alvarez: Feeding the Sea and Piggybacking on Deb’s "Shortcuts"

Certainly none of us serious writers of Latino origin wants to be a mere flash in the literary pan. We want to write good books that touch and move all our readers, not just those of our own particular ethnic background. And speaking for myself, I very much agree with the advice given to writers by Jean Rhys, ‘Feed the sea, feed the sea.’ The little rivers dry up in the long run, but the sea grows. What matters is the great body of all that has been and felt and written by writers of different cultures, languages, experiences, classes, races.”
–Julia Alvarez, “On Finding a Latino Voice” from The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work

On Deb’s blog, she discusses the idea that a writer should, well, write for writings sake. Not for financial gain, not for recognition, not for awards. Writing should be it’s own reward, basically. And I totally, totally agree.

I think it goes even a little further. I think it’s like Julia Alvarez states in the above quote: we want to move people. What you, as a writer, have control over is the honesty and quality of your writing. So I say you should not only write, but endeavor to write well. Are your readers only going to be your critique group? Then try your damndest to make that group laugh/cry/scream with horror. Don’t make it a half-hearted attempt. (This doesn’t mean you can’t turn in first drafts, by the way, as long as you’ve put thought and work into those first drafts. I’m not talking editing, I’m talking heart.)

This, in my opinion, is what ‘feeds the sea’. Imagine if Emily Dickinson had gotten too disheartened by the one editor she’d sent her work to (which he sort of accepted at a point or two in her three-or-four-published-poems career) and had just stopped writing altogether? And I don’t think anyone would call E.D. a ‘little river’. Even if she wasn’t published after her death, don’t you think her family was not-a-little-awed by what they found?

So go write. And write what you want. And love it.

Mentor of the Month: Julia Alvarez: The Secret Life

I was embarassed by my ethnicity, which rendered me colorful and an object of derisioin to those who would not have me be a part of this culture…and so I started to have a secret life, which perhaps is what started me on the road to becoming a writer.”
–Julia Alvarez “On Finding a Latino Voice” from The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work

I am not a Latino writer, I’m a white girl raised as an Army brat. I have never been ridiculed or teased for the color of my skin (perhaps for the color of my hair…). I have never had to reconcile living in two different cultures–though you can make the argument that a military base is a different culture, even though it does create its own community–but something resonates with me when Alvarez says that her differences forced her to create a secret life.

I think all writers experience this to one extent or another. Without our secret worlds, with our secret friends, we couldn’t come up with our stories, our settings, our characters, or our own, original voices.

When I was little, I didn’t feel pretty enough (even when I was really little–like four or five) or smart enough or cool enough. I felt like an outsider. Books became my love. If I was told to clean my room, I insisted that I had to ‘organize my books’, which took all day because I stopped to read every single one before I put them away. My head was filled with happy little fairy tales, and later with some wonderfully horror-inducing plotlines and my room was never clean.

These little worlds/mental stories helped me when I was teased, or when I felt left out. I think this is a defense mechanism that helps to build and develop a writer. It’s something that’s done automatically in our brains. And you could never speak about what you came up with in your head because people would 1. think you were insane, or 2. make fun of you. It was necessary to keep that space private.

Now I put a lot of those secret pieces onto paper and I’ve discovered that I don’t need to hide it, I don’t need to be afraid that people will make fun of it. As I grow as a writer, I grow more confident because I understand that there’s a whole lot of people that think the same way I do. Later on in the essay, Alvarez explains that through her writing, or her desire to write, she finds more people like herself. She doesn’t say so in the essay, but you can tell from the writing that, by meeting these other people and doing the writing work, she grew in confidence too. And let me tell you, if I ever write anything close to what Alvarez or Maxine Hong Kingston or Sandra Cisneros writes, I will die a happy, happy writer.

An Experiment

The Age of Fable: Library Edition The Age of Fable: Library Edition by Thomas Bulfinch

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Bulfinch likes the word ‘propitious’…at least that’s the word that stuck out the most to me as I listened to the narrator. Also ‘thither’–such an old word that it seemed really forced, even with the knowledge that the book was written Back in the Day.

However, as far as getting across the stories of the myths of Ancient Greece, and The Northern (read: Norse) Mythologies, he does a fairly accurate–and sometimes painfully detailed–job. All of the old favorites are there, though I did get confused because when I originally learned all of the stories, it was with the Greek names. Bulfinch uses the Latin or Roman versions so I had to mentally check myself everytime Minerva, or Juno, or all the others were mentioned. (Especially confusing when he reminds us that Athens is named for Minerva–who is Athena in the Greek).

Long story short (because this is kind of a long read) it’s a good introduction both to the myths and to a great deal of Romantic and Classic poetry. Definitely filled in some gaps of learning for me. I also think he did the best job describing the basic ideas behind Hinduism and Buddhism…though I have the distinct impression all he knew were these basics. There’s definitely a lack of detail in the Eastern Mythology portions of the work.

View all my reviews.

**This was an experiment to see if I could get the book review posted. Experiment=success.

Do you want to know how stupid I am?

Here I am, sitting at the computer, day after day, checking my email, bemoaning the fact that no one is requesting pages and pages of my genius, when, low and behold, a request comes through for pages.

All together now: Yay!

However, this isn’t what makes me stupid. What makes me stupid is that in the introduction paragraph of this particular query letter, I mention the fact that I won “Best Tension” after being judged by a panel of celebrated authors. This is the only query letter where I mention said award and drop the names of Carol Berg, Charles Kaine, and Barbara Samuel (now writing as Barbara O’Neal). You would think that I would be smart enough to mention that in every single query. But no! I have tried to be funny and cute and all the other things that you’re not supposed to do while proving that you’ve heard of the agent/agent’s clients.

All together now: Arghh!

But perhaps this agent will come through and I will not have to worry about sending more queries? Fingers and toes crossed…Hope springs eternal!

April Goals, March Sum-up

I didn’t do too bad in March. Got some queries together and off. Got some new pages written–not as much as I wanted, but enough because it helped keep me from going insane while the queries were doing their thing (and they still are, by the way). All the critiques for both groups got finished.

April, I think I will take a little lighter, just for my own sanity’s sake. Here’s what I have:
1. Gotta finish the Round Story. Yes, it is almost done. And I have to say that I’m proud of what the Underground Writing Project has accomplished. What were there? 9 different authors? 10? I’ll have to take a look. And we’re actually going to finish a really large project that forced us all to write outside our comfort zone and allowed those of us who haven’t finished a novel before to see the process…even if we never do another one and if nothing else comes of it, that was worth all the time and effort. Last chapter to me!
2. Keep on moving on La Llorona…I’m shooting for at least 10 pages, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it.
3. Read! I’m going to finish Julia Alvarez’s Saving the World and P.D. James’s Children of Men.
4. All the critiques, which were pretty mild this month. There were still four in the UGWP, but they’re 2 pages each.
5. Gonna work on my submission package some more. Just went over what I sent in earlier and discovered a typo, a typo!, on the second page that I somehow missed. Even with everyone circling and highlighting and underlining. I still missed it. Ugh! Well, let’s just wait for those rejection letters to come on in and get the new package put together….