Archive for the ‘The Writing Career’ Category

I started a new blog today at http://iamawriterdangit.wordpress.com/ because, while I love posting to this broad-based journal, I wanted to start concentrating on something more focused.

The new blog is a step toward my goal of breaking out of my current funk and into the world of published fiction.

I’ll still be posting here periodically, though, with personal stories and quips.

I hope you visit both ventures in the near future.

Please admire the following picture as a form of bribery:



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Bill is alien

Image via Wikipedia

When I picked up my four-year-old from school yesterday, he was tightly grasping at a fistful of construction paper haphazardly adhered together with scotch tape.  When I asked what it was he said, “I wrote a book.”

Imagine my pride.

He could not wait until we got home (we live six minutes from the school), so he read the book to me from the backseat as we drove.

So, risking copyright infringement, I’ll share with you the contents:

The Alien that Sneaked

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was sniffing three beautiful flowers.  She was very happy.

All of a sudden, an alien sneaked up on her and jumped out from behind the flowers and said BOO.

The girl jumped!  She did not know the alien was there.

The End.

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I read a great short story today that drew me in and made me smile.

It’s about a girl who is a little different, trying to fit in to a new high school.  Who can’t relate to that?  But when I say different, I mean randomly-growing-new-appendages kinda different. 

And the writer is a Hill Country gal, so I thought I’d share.  Enjoy.

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Cover of "Water for Elephants: A Novel"

Cover of Water for Elephants: A Novel

I have no interest in the circus.  Elephants, I dig, because they are immense in bulk and yet sweet in disposition, and I’m into that kind of contradiction.  But if you said, here’s a book about elephants, I’d likely raise an eyebrow at you and silently turn away.  Sans book.

So why did I read Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants?  More importantly, why did I stay up way past my bedtime last night glued to the last few chapters? 

Answer:  Because it was good.  It was just damn good.

Gruen opens the novel violently, with a scene that you anticipate throughout the read.  And – after you get to know the characters – you yearn for that part to come.  And when it does, it is surprising and awesome and better than you imagined it would be. 

Freaking brill.

The main character, Jacob, flees his ivy league college in a fight or flight response to a tragedy in his life.  He hops on a train car that happens to be chock full of circus men en route to their next destination.  And Jacob happens to be a vet.  Sort of.   The Depression-era circus is just what you would expect it to be – dark, dangerous, and delightful for the kiddos.   

Another thing I found amazing about Water for Elephants was the imagery.  Gruen has a way of describing a scene that really sucks the reader into it.  You are able to see what the main character experiences.  You are drawn into his world and you really feel present in it.  You can taste the lemonade.  You can hear the men pitching the big top tent.  It’s marvelous. 

If you choose to read this book, please please please also read the author’s note at the end.  Very interesting stuff about Thomas Edison killing an elephant in an electric chair.  A very big one.  Oh, and if you can stand it, Edison recorded this process, which you can see on youtube.  I’m not linking to it.  Cause I could not even think about watching it.  Poor elephant.  All he did was kill his trainer.  Who probably beat him anyway.  I’m sure he was just retaliating.  If you’re into that, you can Google it.

Personal note:  It’s interesting that I read this book right at this moment, because recently I’ve been struggling with imagery in my own writing.  I received a reject a few weeks ago for a piece I had submitted to a literary mag.  The very polite response indicated that I was so close to being done, but I was having trouble pulling the reader in to the scene.  The editor said he felt like he was pressed up against the story, but unable to penetrate it. 

Great comments, I thought.  And true, as well.  Now I just have to figure out how to penetrate.

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Image representing eHow as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I received an email today from eHow, indicating they are shutting down the Writer Compensation Program.  As a result, the site would love to buy the articles that I have published with them. (For $28 flat.  Not that much love.)  If I do not accept the offer, they will remove the articles from their site and they become mine once again.

Unlike some writers, I did not make a lot of money from eHow.  But I made enough.  Especially given the time I spent on the articles.  One article I wrote for them, in fact, on how to cure toddler yeast infections, made me almost $90.  For one measly 400-word article.  Not too shabby.

Here’s my earnings for everything in the life of my time with them (since 2009):

Date↑ Title Views Earnings  
Total $87.77  
02/19/10 How to Prevent Infant Ear Infections 148 $0.40  
06/17/09 How to Clean Your Bathroom – The Lazy Way 151 $0.00  
04/21/09 How to Relieve Allergies During Pollen Season 648 $3.02  
03/31/09 How to Treat a Toddler’s Yeast Infection 14,075 $84.35  

So, if I were to analyze that data, I’d say people were more interested (and more click happy) on the health-related articles.  (Because eHow compensates based on how many times a reader clicked on an ad that was on your article page.  The more keywords in the article, the more relatable the ads. )

As you can see, I abandoned this income stream (if you can even call it that) a while ago.  Then Demand Studios bought the eHow platform and, instead of paying writers for clickthroughs, they pay roughly $15 to $30 an article.  This makes more sense from a corporate standpoint, as they can clearly make more money by giving the writer a set fee and then taking royalties for themselves.  (Unless they were going to pay me for the lazy bathroom article, which I doubt they would.  They are much more picky than eHow.)

This also means that I won’t be getting my little $10 checks every month in my paypal account.  There goes my book/itunes fund!

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Image by Beach650 via Flickr

A few months ago, I finished (bwahaha – never is it really finished) the latest update to my young adult novel, which holds the working title Achilles Heel.  (It’s still a “working title” simply because of the apostrophe.  What do I do with that thing?  It’s possessive, so it should be Achilles’, right?  Or, per Strunk and White, Achilles’s?  But if you are referring to THE Achilles heel, a person’s singular weakness (which I am), then no apostrophe is appropriate, right?

Yeah.  So that will probably change.

After the edit was complete, I sighed with relief, sat back in my chair, and dreamed of the New Releases shelf at the big-box book store (incidentally, not Borders).  It’s always nice when a project is complete, though, it’s also sad in a way, because you’ve bonded with those characters and it’s sort of like leaving old friends.

After basking in the glow for a moment, I opened a new Word document and started to rap out my next great query letter.

Except, I didn’t.  Or, couldn’t.

There are books out there, written by professionals in the industry, that tout the true simplicity of a query letter.  You must reduce your novel down into one paragraph, they say.  And if you cannot do that, then you are NOT finished.

I’m resistant to this suggestion, of course.  My book is just too complicated, I think.  There are too many elements.  It’s not that I don’t have a good story, it’s just that the story is … complex.

Ah, crap.

Here I go again.  Doubting the worth of something I’ve worked so hard on.  So, I do some research.  And I come across this article called YA Fatphobia, by Kathryn Nolfi.

And it occurs to me that my novel could be what Nolfi is crying out for.  My main character is an overweight girl who is comfortable with herself and who she is.  YAY!  I’m marketable!

And then something else occurs to me.  I have not actually described my character as overweight.  Or (the less painful) chubby.  Or even (the socially acceptable) curvy.  This realization sinks in as I open my manuscript and do a quick search for these words and nothing comes up.  I then glance over scenes in which I know I have described her, but here’s what I get:  nada, nothing, zilch.

Several scenes entail my main character glancing at herself in the mirror, comparing her dull features to the vibrant beauty of her mother.  But that’s it.  I never say she is fat.  I also never say her mother is fat, which she is … in my mind.

And here’s something else I noticed.  I just typed the word fat twice … three times.  And each time, I cringed. 

I’ve never been thin.  In high school, I was always “the smart one” among my group of friends – a moniker they still seem to think I cherished.  And as a kid, I read the Sweet Valley Twins and Baby-Sitters Club series, which Nolfit discusses in the article:

Women who read the Sweet Valley High series as teens imprinted on Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s hallowed “perfect size six” figures. (In the subsequent series reissues, the twins have downsized to an even more perfect size four.) Those who read the Baby-Sitters Club series can’t escape noticing that Claudia is always described as thin with good skin (although she eats lots of forbidden junk food). When readers are obsessed with series that routinely describe characters’ bodies — the thin ones as desirable and the fat ones as disgusting and flawed — said readers can’t help but internalize those attitudes themselves.

I can’t say I remember the perfect size six of the Wakefield’s.  I also can’t say I cared.  I was happy as a child, overweight or not.  And that is how I intended to write Savanna in Achilles Heel (no apostrophe).   But I guess, I just didn’t. 

Why?  Could it be that the Wakefield’s destroyed my ability to say the word fat without aching inside?  Even as I struggle with why I failed to describe my character, I know the answer.   It’s because of that ache.  I avoided showing Savanna’s true nature because of my own true nature.  Because, even though I was happy in my size 12 jeans, I was also aware that I was bigger than the other girls.  And I always wanted to be a 10.  (I never even dreamed of being a six.  In my mind, that was not even possible.)

So maybe, just maybe, I’m not finished with the novel.

Maybe I have to go back and examine my main character – and myself – and give Savanna a little more … well … fat. 

Interestingly enough, maybe that is my Achilles Heel.

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I wrote a VERY short story recently, and have been researching flash fiction markets for submission. 

And today I read a great short that I have to share with you. 

Banshee Lullabies, by Chazley Dotson.  The writer was able to create warm characters and a deep storyline in less than 1,000 words.  Great achievement.


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