Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Are you, by chance, in it for the opportunity to tell people you are a writer and thereby appear mysterious and intriguing to them?
Do you imagine great writers are found the same way great actors are found, stopped by some movie director in a coffee shop who forces his or her card into said actor's palm with super-exclusive cell phone numbers scribbled on the back and claims said actor is just what he needs for the movie he's starting and please drop the boring life and be on location by 6 am the next morning?
Is an editor haunting your town with the 2010 version of Manuscript Detector hidden in the back of a utility van, holding oversized earphones to her head, waiting for that 'ping' that will tell her that somewhere in your house is the Cinderella of all writers just waitiing to be discovered, locked up in the attic with only a pen and paper to keep her company and no singing mice in sight, and therefore forced to write amazing stories of literary genius for a little escapism?
I'm telling you now that if you are Cinderella look around.
Those singing mice are somewhere. And the story about you is much more interesting (which is not saying much) than the story you wrote and you should stick with playing princess and leave the writing to the people who...
WANT IT BAD ENOUGH TO WORK REALLY HARD AND THEN POUND THE VIRTUAL PAVEMENT TO MAKE PUBLICATION HAPPEN!
To those of you whose talents have been discovered by an agent or editor while sipping your Starbucks and typing with one finger, or discovered because Aunt Serina knew someone who knew someone who owed her a favor, the rest of us have a message for you.
Miss on you, Pister.
Remember: Luck without Work is DUMB luck.
Work rewarded with Luck is Karma.
And to my friends who have recently been so rewarded with agent contracts, I dance the Evan Almighty Dance in your honor. Don't watch, it's not pretty.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Don't feel bad--I had to read it twice.
"... In a conversation with an interesting person, we endeavour to get at his fundamental ideas and feelings. We do not bother about the words he uses, nor the spelling of those words, nor the breath necessary for speaking them, nor the movements of his tongue and lips, nor the psychological working on our brain, nor the physical sound in our ear, nor the physiological effect on our nerves. We realize that these things, though interesting and important, are not the main things of the moment, but that the meaning and idea is what concerns us. We should have the same feeling when confronted with a work of art."
So harken back to why you started writing your story, the message you hoped to convey, the emotions for which you went dredging.
Ainsley, changing gears
Thursday, November 19, 2009
My legs are shaking now, not with the thrill of an historical romance unraveling in my mind, but with something I never intended to write...a YA.
When Harry Potter came out I had five kids between ages 8 and 12. In their blind belief that their mother could do anything, they pleaded with me to write a Harry Potter. I laughed.
A few years ago Twilight came out. The same children, now older though no less optimistic, suggested I write the next Twilight. Their lives, they reasoned, would be so much easier if I were rich. Having another series of books to read would be an added bonus.
I explained to them my main requirement for writing a book is for the story to drop into my head and demand to be recorded. At that point only Scottish historicals had the coordinates of my skull. YA wasn't even something I read, let alone something that would "speak to me". But boy, is one speaking now!
Do I feel transparent, writing to the market? Absolutely. After all, I'm the kind of character who fought reading Harry Potter books just because the rest of the world loved them. I NEVER love what's popular. Now I feel like the first rock star to allow VISA to sponsor my concert, or like a republican taking campaign donations from oil companies. In spite of my shame, however, I'm going to do likewise and embrace the horror.
This pile of pennies is weighing me down, holding me to my chair, demanding that I write the story. I feel as if my lower half is buried in a silo of oats and I'll be trapped here until the novel is complete. Every time I need a great idea for a scene I hear a clink and holy crap, there it is. The floodgates are washing down the hill, and I'm afraid whatever stands in my way is going to be ignored like the tiny town of Thistle, Utah, which now clutters the bottom of a reservoir.
You've all been here. I know you have. But just which story was it? Which genre? Are you there right now, gripping your lifejacket and hoping your raft stays right-side-up until it's safe to climb out?
And here's another question: When these mudslides/dam-breakers/writing marathons happen to you, do they always seem to happen when your schedules are full, after major events in your life, or do you make them happen? Is it only Nanovember, or have you poured body and souls on your keyboards during other seasons?
Ainsley, who is headed to the store for Prep-H, tissues, chocolate, and a DO NOT DISTURB SIGN for her office door.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
2. Have you wished you were writing today?
3. Have you emailed, tweeted, read or written a blog today about writing, rejection, publishing, agenting, or the subject of your latest research?
4. Did you check your email before leaving home, hoping to see a name from New York?
5. Did you check your cell battery in case you get THE CALL?
6. Did you check a list or chart to remind yourself who might be calling or emailing so you'll recognize their names as they all scramble for your attention, after a long night of reading and re-reading your material?
7. Did you lose sleep anytime in the previous week imagining one or more residents of New York reaching for your submitted work, the look on their faces as they read, or the times during the day when they may have tried to call but either the phone was busy or a satellite in space lost the connection to your voicemail?
8. Did you try to memorize all the area codes in New York so out-of-state sales calls won't give you a heart attack? (Good luck)
9. Do you keep praise for your writing near at hand, like hiding alcohol in a drawer, for particularly hard days?
10. Is anyone in your family under the misconception that someday they will be rewarded handsomely, and with cash, for all the times they tolerated your eccentricities and various forms of abandonment?
If you answered 'yes' to question number one, you are a real writer.
If you answered 'yes' to questions 6, 7, or 8, you are a psycho. The good news is, if you also answered 'yes' to question one, the world will overlook your illness.
If you answered 'yes' to number one and to any of the following--2,3,4,5,9, or 10--you're quite normal for a writer. Especially 10.
If you answered 'no' to question number one, but yes to any of the other questions, shame on you. Return to your word processing program and earn your shingle.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
For the rest of you, knock it off!
We, the silly writers of the world, have somehow gotten it into our heads that we are capable of anything any other writer does or has done. If Mr. Whatsit can get a contract for 17 books to be written in a couple of years, or if Thee Nora can crank out a book every two months, or less, we assume they're spinning gold right off their tongues, or fingertips, landing on the hard drive in a perfected state. After all, it's not unreasonable to believe that after you've got your head on straight and that writing muscle pumping like a machine, you are able to pump out fantastic first drafts.
You would be wrong. They would be wrong. We are all bloody wrong, okay?
Of course we get better the more we write. The fourth book is always better than the first, and so on--unless we are burdened with a degenerative disease or an incredibly stubborn pride in every word we write. Yes, stubborn pride is a burden--don't be proud of it! Remember Elizabeth Bennett won the day only AFTER she put her pride aside. So will you. Okay, we.
The point, Nuwanda, is that the only one who might enjoy reading your first draft is you--not your critique partners, probably not even your mother. You are the only one who could think your raw material is brilliant. If you think your first draft, or second, is a gift to the world, you'd be the kind of chef who would advertise two eggs for ten bucks because they have the potential of becoming a gourmet omelet.
I have news for you. No one wants your eggs. Eggs are a dime a dozen, (or a dime each these days).
Recipe for a sellable omelet? I can only guess. Second drafts might crack the shell, but drastic revisions can break them wide open. At this point, it's just a mess without a bit of containment/organization. Using tips from other writers and conferences should add a bit of spice, but you still need to put in some elbow grease and a lot of heat/focused attention.
You selling fresh eggs with great potential?
You may as well be selling blank paper.
Need more professional advice than mine? See this post from Jessica Faust: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/07/good-enough-is-never-enough.html
Sunday, August 30, 2009
From what I've gathered, it's the story behind all the stories you're telling.
When I first read this, I thought, "Oh, how unoriginal, to tell the same story over and over. I'll be damned if I'll only tell one story."
Well, it looks like I'll be damned.
In the Writers On Writing section of the August 2009 RWR, there is a great interview with Jayne Ann Krentz. She was able to identify the core story she was telling in a paranormal she couldn't sell and that discovery led her to the Regency genre where she did very well.
She made it sound simple. Simple is something I can handle even on my laziest days, so I took a poke at the stories in my brain...
It's like seeing a face in the texture of the ceiling above your bed. Once you've seen it, you can never go back. Every time you look at that spot, you see a chin, an ear, and the spaces where the eyes should be.
I've been unnerved, dammit. I don't know how this is going to help me in future stories, and I don't know if it has ruined me. I do know that I have given myself a 'holy, holy crap' psychotherapy session that may or may not affect the rest of my life. And it was all so simple...
Hell NO! I am not going to share with you my core story. It turns out my core story just so happens to be MY core story, if you get what I mean. You can try to see it in my novels as they come out, but thank heavens the ones who know me best won't be able to pick out such things. Surely. Surely!!!
I suppose the real purpose in this post is, I don't want to go quiet into that good night. I want to rage, and I don't want to be raging alone.
Many of you will think I'm out of my gourd...still, or...again, or...it was just a matter of time.
Some of you may never speak to me again, if you have the violent reaction I'm having.
But I can't help it. And neither can you...yes you!
Right now, you're wondering what in the hell I'm talking about. Some of you don't want to know. Some left the blog after the first manic paragraph, or curse word. But right NOW, in the back of your mind, you're wondering what your own core story is. Well, we're ALL wondering. So take a minute. Look at your current wip. Compare it to the one you recently finished. You were telling a story about a woman who....
Having trouble? Try peeling the story away from her, the genre, the trappings, the story set up. Just look at her. Is she interchangeable with your other heroine? How? What is that thing they both end up doing?
Take a minute. I started typing her basic arc. Starts here, meets hero, changed here. Then I realized my endings were similar--not the way a reader would see them, just in theme--a buried-under-six-feet-of-dirt kind of theme.
Take all the time you need. Then, if you've had any breakthroughs, if your core story eerily reflects your past, or how you wished your past would have evolved, share a comment. If you're like me, and your core story is too close to home, tell me. You don't have to show your core, just let me know if you found it, how it makes you feel, whether or not you're worried you might be found out, or whether or not you'll be able to write a more original story next time.
If I'm the only one out here, I'm going to look stupid, but I don't care anymore. In that same RWR issue, there is also an article called "What Make You Strong Makes You Sell", and I'm selling crazy baby.
Monday, August 10, 2009
As a new or reinvented writer, is your hook as important as your book?
Is your query as crucial as your book?
Is your synopsis as important as your book?
WHAT DOES IT SPELL?
You are going to need the whole package to sell that book, team. Now check your pompoms and megaphone. Make sure your shoes are tied and your rockets are in place. (Clean underwear, jic.) Warm up your vocal chords and get out there. This game won't win itself.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Wish you could get to know these agents a little before deciding whether or not to query them?
Target/Agent doesn't blog, but does she tweet?
Going crazy waiting to hear back from an agent or two? Wish you could see what their day is like, if they ever spend any time looking at submissions, and why in the world haven't they reached out for yours, which you're sure is sitting right in front of their faces? (ahem)
If I had the capacity for internet program design, and if I were a similarly neurotic writer, I'd invent a program that would seduce agents and editors, and famous writers, to jot down a line or two during their days, telling me just what it was they were thinking or doing at the moment. I'd arrange their comments to be sent to my own little window on their world. I'd make sure I could send off a pithy response or two which they actually may read...sometimes.
I'd make it the coolest thing to join. I'd give it a cute name.
Twitter, maybe. What is cuter than taking a moment to tweet?
Okay, so Twitter may just as easily have been created by someone who likes to stalk others...
Sounds like a writer to me.
Of course it’s not as exciting as stalking them in person, at a national conference, for instance. It’s not as classy as linen stationary correspondence. But it’s great for weeding out agents whose attitude rubs you raw, or who lets it slip that something incredibly close to what you’re shopping around is really not his/her cup of tea, even though he/she requested said cup of tea which is currently sitting on his/her desk, getting cold.
On the other hand, you may find an agent’s sense of humor makes you laugh EVERY TIME she tweets. You see that she just may be the one to GET you. You may find that this perfect agent is going to participate in a conference just a state or two away and if you’re quick, you may get a face to face appointment!
Disclaimer: as someone who has tried to limit her time on-line, joining Twitter was the last thing I had planned to do. But I’m happy I did. My neurosis has lessened. I don’t spend time wondering what an agent is doing. I now have a good guess. I know he or she has a lot more on her plate than I used to think. Client reads, edits, edits, edits, submissions to read, then a hundred more tomorrow. When I get a reply back, I feel a bit more blessed.
So, if you have some stalking to do, I’m just sayin’... After all, that’s what the Indians used to do. Hide in the bushes and make bird calls.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
When first considering a pen name, I made a list. This took no small amount of time. I used every marketing-inclined brain cell while considering each alternative and bothered every acquaintance for his or her input (field research).
Ultimately, I landed on something that spoke to me, rang my bells, and seemed a good marketing move. I got business cards, a website, and started this blog. I have been, for the past two years, Ainsley MacQueen.
I don't know if I'm the only writer to do this, but I have actually been jealous of myself, Ainsley MacQueen, on occasion. The thought of Ainsley MacQueen getting credit for the books I write rubbed me wrong. It's like the gal in the mirror walking out of the glass and taking over the most exciting parts of my life.
So I rebelled. I told my RWA chapter friends that I was plotting Ainsley's murder. I began imagining my own name on those book covers, and I imagined my new fans awaiting my every release, but then I stalled. My name is often pronounced wrong, spelled wrong, and not easily remembered. So I was back to square one.
Or was I?
Perhaps I have been trying to eliminate the wrong person from my career picture. Perhaps Ainsley needs to do the murdering!
Besides, I made the pen name decision two years ago. I spent all that time making the best decision I could make, and I went forward. Why try putting the rose back on the bush, when I have a perfectly lovely vase to put it in--a vase that looks a helluva lot better in public than the old bush, you know?
(Dorian Grey has nothing on me.)
Ainsley MacQueen is alive and well and taking over. Vive la portrait!
Monday, July 20, 2009
At the end of the blog, she gives a short list of positive things to be, and I finally have a definition for my personality; I am buoyant.
Before some of you (Lisa Water Closet, et al) fall onto the floor and lose your grip, I am not speaking of the fact that I find it physically impossible to drown!
I refer, rather, to my attitude in general. I wouldn't call myself optimistic. What fun would that be? You can't enjoy sarcasm with those rose-colored glasses on.
But I'm not a total pessimist, either. Although my head goes under every now and then, I tend to bob back. I'm buoyant. It is the more liquid equivalent of bi-polar, perhaps, but I tend to linger longer on the upswing. The size of my...egos... keep me up there, I guess.
(I thought this would be a bit of a bandaid for that last "piss or get off the pot" post.)
The Chronically Buoyant Ainsley
Saturday, July 18, 2009
The reports from RWA's National Conference are going to be a mixed bag, and the bags are due home in a couple of days.
What do I foresee in the mix?
I suspect the usual report of writer's and VIP's trying to keep a stiff upper lip in the economy. I expect the true and worthy advice about making sure your product is absolutely perfect if you expect to sell in these choppy industry waters, and I expect some desperate celebrations on the popularity of romance novels in a depressed society.
But I am guessing that the real juice to be wrung out of the RWA National grapevine is going to make us all pucker.
Newbies are a tough sell. Newbies are going to be THE TOUGHEST SELL this year. It doesn't matter what you write, or how good you are, how many awards you win, or the ever-reliable 'who you know'.
If you are a newbie, with no publishing numbers to set of the mousetrap, you're going to be laying in wait for the dumb luck of a mouse/agent stumbling and flying onto your cocked, but empty trap. And if you get lucky enough to have her at your mercy for a few seconds before she sets off again in search of negotiable cheese, you'd better have a big voice and something pithy to say.
So, my advice to you, before you hear it firsthand, is to brace yourself for bad news, determine whether or not you have what it takes to TAKE THE MOUSE BY THE BALLS, or go the other route and find a palatable exit strategy.
It can all be summed up with one of my favorite lines from The Shawshank Redemption, "You gotta get busy livin', or get busy dyin'."
To those of you queuing up for the River Stix Tour, I bid you a fond farewell. To those of you who decide to stand upon the battlements with me, I've got your back.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
As self-appointed leader of the opposition-to-plotting party, I hereby resign.
To those whom I leave behind on my break for the other side of the fence, I wish you luck and hope to soon see you on the outside. As I don't usually go around asking people what style of underwear they are hiding, I likewise have no idea which side of the fence any of you are on, but I'm outing myself.
Look if you dare.
(For the moment, I'm out of metaphors for closets, underwear, and whether or not one should plot in the closet or pants on the lawn. Feel free to make up your own and share it, but if you do, we'll all know where you stand and what you're wearing!)
What brought this on? Scene and Sequel, baby.
Someone finally stood up on a table, waved her arms wildly enough to get my attention, then told me that while I can be entertaining at times, in a Picasso-eye-where-your-ear-should-be kind of way, my writing is a tad too unfocused for general consumption.
Enter Mr. Bickham, Scene and Structure concept.
Result? I have a google map of the yellow-brick road, know right where to get a free apple, where the poisonous pansies grow, and the departure schedule for hot-air transportation.
Looking for me? Look up, baby. Look up.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Asking a Best Selling Author to mentor a new author is absolute bull and here are just a few of the four hundred and three reasons why:
Those superstars who have the inclination to mentor...do. Many of them are so happy to fulfill this need for instruction that they actually write a book endowing their readers with all the wisdom they could organize and get past an editor.
Others take a newer writer aside and offer personal advice--the point is, these authors get to choose whom they aid. Trying to make an author take on the mentoring of anonymous newbies is like asking them to take your teenager for the summer. No one will be comfortable with the situation except for the selfish teenager who will take whatever advantage she can.
For fun, let's compare Stephen King and Nora Roberts. While Mr. King has graciously written a book to entertain and educate other writers, Ms. Roberts spends her day furiously producing novels which...can both entertain and educate other writers!
Leave her alone! Don't ask her to write one less novel this year so she can pass along her knowledge to someone who may or may not be worth five minutes of her time. Tell the newbie to go out and buy Stephens book, or any of a hundred books that will teach them the few things that can be taught, since most of what makes a BSA a BSA are the things they learned by writing--not listening, not reading, not plagairizing.
I am not yet a BSA; I'm not even a P.A.N., yet. I have at least a hundred friends in the business, however, and it ticks me off that some people are able to make the most successful among us feel guilty for not giving up their valuable time to lift a stranger off the ground, a thousand miles away, when a perfectly good set of crutches sits on a bookshelf next to this stranger's butt.
I'm not talking about the homeless, I'm talking about the lazy. The Romance Writers of America has meetings in nearly every state, at least once a month, and those writers can lead new writers to a list of books to read, or help them find a critique group, or a loop to join, where they can find all the advice and instruction ever given on how to improve and get published. The non-BSA's who attend these meetings are happy to share this info. I know. I've been shared with and I can honestly say I wouldn't have come as far as I have without these women.
There is a line in Jurassic Park, delivered by Jeff Goldbloom, that says something to the effect that if you haven't put in your dues learning the science, you have no business picking up where others have left off.
I say, if you haven't come to practice all season, why should you be allowed to play in the game?
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Open up your current work in progress. That's it. Open it up to any old page, or new page--even a page of which you're rather fond--and read it aloud.
Sound like you?
Not, "does it sound like you wrote it?", but
Does it sound like you? Were those words you use in your everyday conversation? If your book is historical civil war they wouldn't be, but how about the tempo, the cadence? How about the character's thoughts? Even delivered with a drawl, a brogue, or sliding off the tongue in french, did you hear yourself in there?
Do you suppose Janet Evanovich is a sarcastic woman? You bet your bippie. You can't write sarcasm like that and not be soaking in it. I think for JE to NOT write sarcasm would sound...dishonest.
Look at that page again. Not your words? Not your thoughts? Ask yourself who you were trying to impress, then stop trying to impress them if you can't recognize your own voice in what you write.
You want a voice? You have one. You just have to be honest about it.
At the first writers conference I attended, I believe it was the author Lynn Kurland told us we should just worry about writing to an audience of five--not to the masses, just to five people. She said we could even pick the people, or envision them, but we only need to be able to impress five people.
Boy, does that take the pressure off, right? Not writing to a million people you need to convince to buy your next book, not even a thousand, just five. Easy breezy.
But guess what else it does. It puts you into a nice intimate little circle of associates with whom you can finally be completely honest. Think a character is a turd? Let another character call him a turd. Let your characters be honest and call a turd a turd. Think a character is going to hell for his morals? Say it. Be bold. Be judgemental. Be biased. Be snide. Be paranoid. But be honest.
Another place you're supposed to be flat out shameful and shameless is at your friendly neighborhood shrink's office. Right? So put your characters on that couch and let them spill their guts. Let them rant.
And when they are all done ranting, throw those ethics out the window 'cause you're a quack anyway, and share their dirty little secrets with the reader. Let the honesty flow, babe. Shout it from the rooftops; whisper it through a hole in the fence.
Spill, baby, spill. And when you're done, you will hear something familiar...the sound of your own VOICE.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Perhaps some of you knew that already, but this is news to me. Or perhaps my awareness of it comes and goes. If so, it has come again. I am a writer-snob.
Everyone is proud, in a way, of their personal writing process. For example, my all-or-nothing personality dictates my rituals. I must either be completely immersed in my story, or not give it much thought at all. Lately I have realized that the former is becoming more and more rare, and at this rate, I will finish my next book in about...three years.
I have been boycotting writing goals, thinking that would invite more late night manic mudslides of production. My mud, however, has been awfully dry of late. Dirt, really.
So, I've got a small trowel and bucket. Artistic Pride be damned.
Three years. Really!
Ainsley on the rebound
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
On some digest this morning I was seduced to a blog site written by Caren Johnson, lit agent, where she had invited writers to send her a line or two of quality writing out of their wips or completed mss. I missed out on the window, but I did read the critiques she'd given. I also read the beginning of the blog explaining what she considers to be quality writing.
Hmm, I said.
Quality writing as opposed to quality punctuation, grammar and formatting? As opposed to high concept in-your-face action?
Hmm, I said again.
Quality writing, I discovered, is actually the beautiful stuff I fell in love with all those years ago when I read "Ethan Frome" and wanted to hitch along on a suicide ride, when I wept next to Heathcliff in that silly box-of-a-bed in the middle of the night. And here's the kicker: As it turns out, I don't have to write like an Austin, Wharton, or Bronte in order to write beautifully. And neither do you.
Quality writing is from the soul. It's inspiring and inspired. It's the difference between telling a story and painting a story, but it's even more than that.
It is taking the time to think about what you're trying to say, allowing yourself to feel it, then finding the perfect words to express it. I can't write quality sentences if I am cranking out a word count for a production goal. I can't write quality while outlining a character's GMC, or plotting the greatest romance of the month.
Quality writing is seeing and feeling what lies beneath the story we're telling. It's the secrets kept between the molecules in the air. It's the stuff we can see only with the night vision goggles on. It's there. The writer is the only one who can see it, and she must tell everyone the monster is right in front of us without letting the monster know that she knows.
It's SUBTLETY; anything so subtle others may not see it, but important enough that no one should miss it. It's the potential in Ethan Frome's shoulders that will never be realized because of his "smash up". It's the futility of the winter sun trying to shine through an arctic wind. It's opposition you never notice, tension deep within the stem of a flower that keeps its head up. It's the chemistry inside the same flower that allows it to turn its head, ever so slowly and indiscernibly, toward the sunshine.
Quality writing points out the secrets all around us, secrets God was not going to tell us if we didn't think to ask, or look for ourselves.
If you want to discover if you have left quality writing behind, do what I did. Race to your latest wip and search for three or four lines of quality writing you could post to Caren Johnson (as if it weren't too late to do so) so that she might comment on it.
Want to feel better? I skimmed through ten pages and couldn't find anything worthy.
Want to fix it? Want to warm up your quality writing muscles? Grab a box of tissue and a copy of Ethan Frome. (I wept before I ever reached page two--the way one weeps over poetry, or perfect Christmas snow. I wept for the hope that I might be the producer of such beauty.)
The great thing about Edith Wharton, by the way, is that she is more easily read than Austin, but writes so beautifully you know you're elbow-deep in a classic, and you finally understand what the term "classic" means.
Ainsley the Subtle