Friday, December 19, 2008

Reflecting Forward

A rare quiet moment to reflect...forward.

2008 is still hovering around us, like Old Father Time circling the drain, waiting for his replacement so he can move on. I wish, however, he would linger just a bit longer that I might catch my breath and share a quiet moment with him before he goes.

2009 is waiting in the velvet curtains for his turn in front of the crowd and my thoughts race, as his might race, to the possibilities whispering in those 365 days sitting on the edges of their seats.

I want to be prepared. I want to know my lines, not play improv. I want to be braced for the music. I don't want to miss a minute.

And so I set a goal, a lofty goal, like a grand floral arrangement in a four-foot- tall fluted vase placed carefully, but nervously on a narrow pedestal. It is time to let go, to see if it will stay put, to see if it holds its place throughout the performance.

My goal is not some tussy-mussy of daisies and baby's breath arranged in a sturdy low bowl and placed in the center of a 60 inch table. It is wild branches with heavy berries that pull at their perch so they might wreak havoc with the white carpet below. It is a delicate blossom worth an untold fortune dangling at an unnatural height screaming "I will not go silent into that good night!"

Take a risk. As you look into your own future, do you imagine being impressed with something safe and staid? Or do you see yourself performing a bit of shock and awe of your own?


Thursday, October 9, 2008


How do you think you would feel if you went to Vegas and paid a whole lot of money for a really wonderful buffet, only to hear hours later that you'd missed the second room full of choices? Maybe it was brimming with beautiful desserts, maybe it was steaming with succulent appetizers. Either way, you're going to be ticked that no one pointed it out to you.

Or worse, you may be ticked that someone had told you about it but you either didn't believe them, or didn't really understand what they were saying.

I have been living this buffet. Every day. Life is wonderful, all I could ask for. I never leave the table, or end the day, wanting for much. Until Sunday morning, I didn't really know what I was missing. I actually have seen the other room before, but I forgot it was there.

Let me "s'plain".

Last weekend was kind of a rush for me. Good things happened--no GREAT things happened. Then Sunday morning I woke up with the usual intention of going right back to sleep, but the memory of the day before jumped center-screen in my head and I could not get it off.

Far from my usual routine, I got out of bed without reviewing, or trying to relive, my dreams, and wandered around, not quite knowing what one does when one rises ahead of schedule with nothing planned. I stepped out onto the deck in my robe (since I was still in my conference hotel room) and gulped in what I then remembered was fresh mountain air. I watched the freaking sun rise.

Did you know it doesn't look at all the same first thing in the morning? Probably a bit like people.

I enjoyed the sun, the air, the stillness, the slight touch of moisture on my face, and I wished I could have alerted others to the experience. I wanted to run up to folks in line for the wonderful, but regular, buffet and implore them not to miss the rest, the other room, the other experience that is completely their right to enjoy.

So I'm alerting you. Get up and see what the morning is hiding from you. You may be inspired, as I was, to dance outside in your robe and bare feet.

And it made the rest of the day taste better.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Don't let your crack show!

You cannot fool editors and agents.

Again: You cannot fool editors and agents.

Of course the odd book gets through the cracks. The odd crack...well, the odd crack is so odd that it is not worth searching for. You don't want to be the one who slipped into the publishing house and unworthily sneaked onto a bookstore shelf, do you?

Of course you don't. You want to write the GAN--the Great American Novel. What is more, you know you CAN write the GAN. So do it...

But don't forget to make it GREAT (or it will only be an AN).

If I boil down all the underlying messages and owl poop gleaned at RWA National Conference this year, it is that all the stalking of eds and ags, all the happy elevator rides and perfect pitches, and all the connections and friends you've made and the self-promoting you've done WILL NOT SELL A MEDIOCRE STORY, OR A POORLY WRITTEN STORY, OR AN AMATEURISH STORY.

Nothing is going to sell your story unless the writing is great. Come up with a great product and the selling part will be easy (well, easier). Produce anything less and the selling of it will be unlikely--VERY unlikely, unless you happen across that crack and slip in. But know this: your crack will show!

As more than one agent said this year, "Stop worrying about self-promoting and start worrying about writing a great story." They can sell a great story. It's what they love to do.

And what do you love to do? You love to write. So write. Do what you love. Don't stop writing in order to be your own agent. Novels do not get written by people who spend their time playing agent.

Spend nearly all your time perfecting this activity you love and then when you've given birth to this beautiful creation, take a snap shot and send it off for the professionals to appreciate and SELL. Then get back to gestating another one. If you were born and bred to breed great stories, don't stop the breeding! (Yes, funny. I know. Now recall the song, "I keep breeding, I keep keep breeding love..." and it's even funnier.)

So gird up your loins. Higher. That's it. You want to be crack-free.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Get Crazy, Baby

Upon my wall, among the endless array of scraps of both paper and wisdom, one quote reigns supreme. I have long since lost the author’s name, of course, so please don’t anyone sue me. It reads:

There is no perfect time to write; there is only now.

There is no perfect time to write? Surely if you light the requisite number of candles, put on the perfect music, keep your space uncluttered and pay off the requisite number of children to find a quiet pastime in the opposite end of the house, surely that will leave you with the perfect time to write.

Does that not depend upon which type of writer you are?

Are you a plotter or a pantser? (Not a pantster with two t’s, for wouldn’t that indicate you like to run about taking the pants off others?) A pantser, as most of you already know, is someone who sits in the chair and writes by the seat of his or her pants with very little thought ahead of time as to where the story might lead, from what source of conflict comes, etc., etc.

For those of you who plot, who find it difficult to sit down to write unless it is indeed the perfect time to write and the perfect journey has been laid before you, you may be missing a lively boat.

And for those of you who are pantsers who give yourself grief for not being a plotter, for needing to go back a few times over to restructure, etc., you may not be enjoying the lively boat in which you sit.

If you can take up a pen and paper, look around you and be completely inspired, I believe a panster will find a freedom a plotter cannot. If you can manage to let your muse wild for a bit, with no structure to control it, it will take you along for an incredible ride.

How long has it been since you have ridden?

Imperfect time to write coupled with an imperfect writer could very well produce the latest edge on which to cut a story.

If anyone can do it, we can.

Plotters, come over to the dark side. Pantsers, lighten up. That's it, really.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Email Diet

Oh, you're really going to love this.
Think emails can help you lose weight?
Nope. In fact, they probably help you gain it.
But what I am talking about here today is how emails help you lose time.
Email diet, bad.

I remember sitting behind my accountant, watching her trying to get into an IRS site to find the answer to some question. I couldn't believe how much time goes by when you are not the one driving the mouse. In the time it took her to find her answer, I could have made a phone call, been redirected four times and boiled water for mac and cheese.

The email ZONE is just like that. A dead zone. You have no idea how much of our valuable writing--and living--time is eaten away at it. For instance, it's slow at work today. Very slow. I opened my email two and a half hours ago, and apart from the stray phone call and a customer, I've been on email all this time!


So, I've gotten away from TV for the most part. Now it's going to be email. In fact, I think I will take the internet off my cp and only use it for writing. And when I do go to email, I'm going to keep a timer with me. If I need to put every one of my loops on digest--or even pull out of them--I will.

Nothing but emails from editors and agents can be important enough to suck away my time like that again.

I so swear.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hitman for Critique Partners

Critique partners got you down?
It's time for the "trust yourself" lecture. yourself.

Think of how far you've come, how much you know that you didn't know in the beginning. Think of all the time you put in for other people, to help them with their writing. It's time now to think of you. To remember why you started writing in the first place.

You love to tell stories, right? You have a great story to tell, right? So tell it. It's like in the movie, The Rookie, when he remembers that playing baseball is supposed to be fun. And he was getting paid to have fun. He walked into the locker room after coming so close to giving it all up, and said, "You know what we get to do today, Brookes? We get to play baseball!"

So, you know what you get to do today? You get to play "writer". Forget those women who have nothing better to do than to drag you down, or worse yet, think they are helping you by picking you apart. Remember the important part about dissecting a frog is THE FROG DIES.

Take a break from CP's. Just trust yourself. Trust that you know a thing or two. Step back and look at the story you are trying to tell, at the people you want us all to meet, and tell us about them. Put them on the psychologist's couch and let them rant and rave while you type it up.

You have the power to save someone, to change some one's life, to rescue the damsel, to save the hero from himself. And you can do all of it. Don't let them stop you. Buy some chocolate for pity's sake, the expensive kind. Indulge in everything and let your characters indulge themselves. Take an "I'll show them" attitude and show them. Make it great.
Take your favorite scene and reveal a little more than you had. Take a bad scene and look at it. What are you trying to do here? What minor changes can you do to some one's dialogue or actions to make the story clearer? Through whose eyes you are watching this scene happen? Would a different POV make things more exciting?

And then, when you have had your fun, cause remember, it is fun....then you can say, It's done. If you don't like it, you don't like it. I like it and it's time to move on because I have another great story to tell.

Listen, I'm rewriting my first ms for about the seventh time in two years and I can't stand it anymore. So I am going to attack the story with all the energy of a ranting lunatic and shake it up. Every time I've given the reader what they expected, I'm going to turn it around and give them just the opposite. Their heads will be spinning. I have a life to live and stories to publish and this one story only gets seven more weeks of my life and that is it. Seven weeks.

Have some fun with this wip. Like a flower arrangement that just looks horrible, take all the flowers out and do something different. Use the same flowers--the same story--and wrench it around. No one ever complains about too much action, excitement, or surprises, right? So blow them out of the water.

You are a writer. You are a god in that universe inside your head, now act like one. Create. Shock and Awe, baby. Leave them panting. Exhaust them and walk away laughing.



Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Getting Up From Down Time

As you may have noticed, I was missing in action for the month of May. Lots of excuses; weddings, funerals, holidays, and flowers for all of them. I am a former florist, by the way, and am trying to remain a retired one. Sadly, in a month like May 2008, it was not possible.

So, I've had some "down" time. Welcomed or not, I took an uncomfortably long break from my emails and my ol' pal, Word. I will not examine too closely how many days I never gave a thought to turning on my cp, let alone remembering the wee blue "W".

But now I am back. Time to get up off my...down time. How do I start?

First, I will not waste my time worrying that had a been a real writer I would not have taken such a long break. Until I am given the luxury of 7 undisturbed hours per day, like Hemmingway, I will not brow beat myself for non-production.

Second, I will not make the mistake of waiting for my Muse to revisit. It never answers its mail (or email), never calls just to check on me, to see if I'm ready for company. When I'm published my Muse will not be signing those books, taking credit. It will be all about me, baby, and so must the work be all about me.

So, it's time to start. Luckily for me, I followed Stephen King's advice: I didn't walk away from the computer before knowing what work I would do when I returned to it. I know what my first task is. I know the time allotted for it. I will send off some funny emails to my friends to warm up my writer's vocal chords and begin with the page I have scribbled on a three by five card next the monitor. How "plottish" of me.

What a crock.

Of course that is what I planned to do, but I have to sneak up on my writing so I don't have to "set the mood". It's like a pit bull; I'll avoid eye contact and go about my paper shuffling as if there was never a lull, using all my acting ability to keep the smell of fear from the room.

Next, I will strain my brain for a romantic image that will set my brush to canvas. And I will be ever so grateful when something lands on the paper and smiles. Stephen King, eat your heart out.

Remember, all the planning and good intentions are worthless if you can't walk (or crawl) to the chair, unrepentantly push the clutter from the seat and replace it with your backside.

Here's to pushing the crock off the counter and getting down to business. (Makes you wonder if my office is a complete disaster, doesn't it?) Go ahead, wonder.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bigfoot and The Writer's Voice

That's right, people. I have found my elusive Writer's Voice. This calls for a toast!

In our early years of writing we are encouraged to watch for it--like Bigfoot. We are told it's out there somewhere. Others have their own proof, and urge us to hunt for ours. They even give us suggestions for bait, the places most likely to find it, where you definitely won't find it. Some even have theories on the best procedures for its care and feeding.

But in the back of our minds we acknowledge it may never exist, or if it does, we likely will never be able to identify it. We pretend to believe. We forge ahead, hoping it will fall in along side us as we go, but we doubt.

Hold on to your marshmallows, campers. I'm here to tell you Bigfoot has been sighted again. I will share with your my proof and you will be believers.

The question of "genre" choice has been bubbling to the top of conversations and loops of late. In fact, on the novelsisterhood loop we were asked what we read and what we write. Harmless question.


What would you think if your answers to these two questions were not the same? In my case I saw a breakthrough. My next step has been to experiment in another genre and I have blown my own socks off. Within the first 2000 words I realized I was hearing my true voice giving those words back to me. And although I love that other genre like a friend, I have come home.

I will add my own advice to to the voices of those who have also had a close encounter of the third kind. I suggest you experiment with another genre and consider that possibly your first love was not meant to be your true love.

I will continue down this path for a while to see where it leads. Will I visit my friend's home? All the time, I'm sure.

Check the footprints. Are you stalking the wrong animal? Maybe you should look closer at your own tracks. They may lead you to your very own Sasquatch.

Happy hunting!
Ainsley MacQueen, crack shot extraordinaire

Monday, April 7, 2008

Couch Carrot Time

It's kinda like a couch potato, but you lie down...

My father is getting married. Remarried. Lost mother 31/2 years ago. You know it hasn't been long when people still use the 1/2.

Well, I'm fine with it. Really. He's been dating this woman for 3 years--without the half. We really like her. She's already part of the family.

Boring, huh? You're right, it is. However...

What a great opportunity to write some emotion. I need to sop it up and wring it out into a notebook to be used for some character down the line who won't be "fine" with a step parent at all. It doesn't matter what she's like. It's what she COULD be like is the stuff classics are made of. After all, the original Cinderella story was probably inspired by a day like this; "Found out today that Daddy is going to remarry. There is a chance she is nice..."

So split up. You on one side and You on another. One is the patient, one is the doctor. Patient on the couch. Now You say, "Tell me how you really feel."

Take great notes!
Doctor MacQueen

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Writers on Parade

In these days when friends are finaling in the Big Dance of Romance--The Golden Heart and Rita contests--it is easy to get discouraged if you are not among them. While it is wonderful to feel their excitement, to know they deserve their success, and to hope they win the prize, it is easy to take a step back and believe you are not ready for center stage.

But don't you dare.

Everyone who has ever been published has been in your waiting-room shoes. You just need to be clear about what it is you are waiting for.

Are you waiting for a contest result, an editor's reply to a query, and/or an agent's response? Why the bleep not?

Are you in this parade or are you content to sit on your plastic lounge chair and absorb someone else's excitement? Are you waiting for the Parade Marshall to recognize your talent from afar and come beg you to climb up beside him on the convertible?
Come on. Take off the shades man. No one is watching you. They are watching the parade.

So, if you need motivation, sign up to enter a float. If you're not ready, send off a query to add a bit of pressure. Embarrass the bleep out of yourself and ask some writer friends to read your story. If you have read it too much to see the flaws, ask someone else to look for them.

What everyone else is doing, where they are in their careers, does not matter to yours. I'll tell you a little secret: If you are watching the parade you are not in it. If you are in it, you're not watching it.

So, what do you see? Right now, what are you thinking about? Your writing or theirs?

Still content to sit at the side and watch the writers on parade? That's alright. I am going to need some folks to wave to.

Ainsley, who is ordering crepe paper online instead of leaving the computer to go shopping. I'll be on the LOUD float.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Horseshoes and Cigars

Nothing beats reaching a goal. Nothing.

I have personally been hiding one goal in my back pocket--yes, yes, a tight squeeze, I know--and that has been to get a query sent off to a particular agent. This past weekend I got it done.

However, this goal was not on my list of things to do. It must have been tired of the lack of air and crawled out of the aforementioned pocket before making its way up onto my desk and staring me down.

No, my goal this weekend was to email a contest entry for which I had already mailed the entry fee. (That's the best way to make sure you enter; pay first. Talk about a deadline. Nothing speaks to me like a possibly wasted buck 'er two.)

Long story short, I turned this great way of self-deadlining into motivation to reach my big goal:
Even though my proposal wasn't perfect enough, it was close. Therefore, while I waited for an answer to a query, I could make it perfect. Automatic motivation.
My full ms isn't good enough, but while I wait for a reply on my proposal, I can make it good enough. Automatic motivation.

So, I will no longer put off those queries until I have my full ms polished. Doing that only gives me an excuse to wait for someday.

"Close, but no cigar"? Bull! This is horseshoes. CLOSE COUNTS.

(If you enjoy this blog, pass it on to a writer near you.)

Ainsley, in motivation mode, baby!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pass the Gas?

For those of you who are old enough to have memorized M*A*S*H*, let me remind you of the episode when a young injured soldier continuously tries to take his own life. Exasperated, Col. Potter pretends to give up fighting with him and offers his aid instead, cranking up the tank and forcing the gas mask back in the man's face. The young man is so surprised he starts fighting back and after a few intense moments, Potter says something to the effect of, "There, you see? You don't really want to die after all. Now keep fighting to live."

I told you that to tell you this:

The other day I had the opportunity to play the role of Col. Potter. I have a friend--we'll call her Cathie--who was a bit fed up with some ticky-tacky technicalities and casually mentioned she might just throw in the towel. After gasping at the thought, I sent a reply pointing out just how easy it would be to leave the dream behind and move on to another. I told her she had my support either way.

Then I waited.

And while I waited, I thought, "There is no way I will ever give this up. I will never even type such a blasphemy."

But then what did I DO?

Next to nothing.

THAT is the problem. Doing nothing IS giving up!

Let me say that again.

Doing nothing IS giving up. Not writing anything today is giving up. Well, I won't do it, I tell you.

My anonymous friend, Cathie, said she won't be giving up either.

So, my goal--and I encourage those of you who occupy this same boat to join me---is for this coming week to do less giving up. Much less nothing and much more something, and in our world, that means writing.

So don't pass me the gas, thank you. I've had my wake up call and I'm fighting back.

Ainsley MacQueen, a writer today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gray Matters and Water Balloons

I was recently whining to my friend and fellow writer--let's call her Kim Finnegan--about what an event packed year this is going to be for me.

The problem, I told her, is that in the middle of all this drama, I am having inspiration dropped on my head like a bunch of water balloons from a balcony above. How unfair for it to happen now, when pens and time run from me.

Her insight has put Eyore back in his place but good.

She said "The more you use your brain, the more it will work for you." Wow. Anyone else think about the movie "Phenomenon"? I got visions of my brain firing and parts near the hot spots warming up as well.

My conclusions? I will not begrudge how busy I am when that schedule is accompanied by water balloons. I will lift my face to the little buggers on the balcony and enjoy the bath.

( I will also buy a tape recorder today.)

I will pass on Kim's eloquent warning, too.

"Don’t over do and burn out. When you get your breaks…rest. It ‘s not just the notes, but the space between the notes that makes the symphony beautiful."

Ain't she a poet?

Thanks Kim


Monday, February 4, 2008

Reach out and GOOSE someone

Reach out and goose someone? Am I kidding?

As someone who has just been "goosed" in a sense, I say goosing is a service to your fellow man.

Surely she doesn't mean "goosing" the way I think she means "goosing". Ooooh, but she does. Alright, kind of.

When is the last time you felt wide awake with shock? Apart from a shower suddenly turning cold? I thought so.

Here's how I accidentally goosed myself...

Went to Vegas to a furniture show last week. Too busy to write, of course. Too busy to breathe, actually. But on the last night my boss, Kara, and I were determined to have a good time, so we walked the strip. Yes, we saw the water at the Bellagio, etc. But just before we gave it all up I got an idea. Kara wanted to see the roller coaster at the New York, NY casino. Just to see it, mind you. So we went up to the landing and I insisted that we get on, citing "we are women, not mice". She was so surprised I would do it, she went along.

Little did she know I anticipated not fitting into the seat, planned to act disappointed before insisting she go on without me. Yes, I'm that devious.

She was amazed at my calm. I was amazed at my calm. I even managed to distract her while we waited for our turn.

I climbed in first, intending to pop right back up and out, only to find that I DID fit in the seat. The handles COULD lock over me, and the shoulder bumpers FIT ME LIKE A FREAKING GLOVE! Before I could share my little joke with others the car started moving.

I started screaming.

Before it even started the climb up that murderous hill, I was screaming my head off. At half way I was telling Kara what I wanted her to tell my family. The rest of the ride was a blur of curses. I averaged about 30 "sh..ts" per minute. Surprising how uncreative I was.

So, with my heart racing, intent on attacking me as soon as it caught up, I flew through the neon-blurred air. I screamed like a banshee over a battlefield. In the end I was surprised to discover not only had I not peed my pants, I had been caught on camera not peeing my pants. What looks like a smile is actually the shutter catching me mid "sh...t".

It has been a long time since I felt so alive. Alive and ready to write. If only I can get that kind of life into my characters.

So, I will take them to the brink of death (or what they believe to be the brink) and snatch them back. A psychological "goose", if you will. And what's good for the character is good for the writer. Push yourselves to the brink this week. Take a close up view of life in any way you can. Then get it on paper.

And if all efforts fail, goose someone else.


Cook, damn you.

Wow, what inspiration, huh? I did not even write a POST for January. That fact alone has inspired me to write this...

If writing represented God, and not writing represented Satan, I would have to admit that Satan had me by the tail all through January. He lured me from my writing with the siren's song of a good paying job which I love. How horrible. Everyone should be so unlucky, right? Of course, but at what cost?

I happen to write historicals, a market which is enjoying a burst in interest this year. If I put off my writing for another year, or even 6 months, what window have I slammed shut on my career? And even if I wrote in a less popular genre? When its turn comes up would I be ready with product? No.

So this seems to be quite a year of choices for me. Do I sacrifice my dream of writing to have a dream job? Do I weigh the hard won dollars of publication against the sure paycheck of an executive for a large company? Should money matter?

Don't be stupid. Of course money matters. If it didn't, would this "Satan" have been able to keep me from writing for a month? No.

So, happiness and fulfillment? Or happiness, money, and a lesser degree of fulfillment? And can I have it all?

I'd have to turn off the job at 5:00 instead of obsessing about what the new showroom will look like, or what the wonderful bottom line will be, what my paychecks will be. I'd have to remember I'm a writer every single day, to pick that creative voice out of the crowd of creative voices demanding a brilliant business move. I'd have to put one joy aside for another. Easy? I think not. Ever tried it?

Damn that Scotsman and his money. I choose to write. I won't turn away from my job, but I will mute that obsession in my head while turning up the burner under the other.

Cook, damn you. You have but stolen time. Cook.

A repentant Ainsley