treasure hunt

All these years of "no pix online" rule, and today I find out the husband posted some of me a long time ago. And they're not good, either, damn it!! Of course, maybe that's the point.

Gold Star to anyone who can find 'em.


I've been spanked by a couple of friends for my lack of communication. Peek-a-boo. If I don't look at you, you can't see me. (That's a developmental ideosyncracy, for those of you who aren't parents or have forgotten those baby-days.)

I met a man yesterday who remembers everything about me. I couldn't recall his name, barely his face. He's recently divorced. I didn't know. I said something about his better half. He didn't acknowledge it. I learned later he cheated on his wife and was a general asshole. He told me he's writing a novel. Of course he is.

Christmas comes in November this year, but everyone forgot to buy gifts. McCain signs litter my street. Do we live in the same nation? Watch the same CNN? And then I remember that eras of knowledge accrual tend to bring the mighty to their knees.

We're having one of the most beautiful Septembers on record. I stare at my sweaters with longing, as if a change in temperature might change everything.

I've had a few episodes with friends lately which make me wonder, all things being equal, are we actually friends? Or are we a convenience? Friends shouldn't sting, right? But that may be how it is for everyone. I don't know. I'm not them.

I have a lot of stories out on submission. I gave up my art once because of disapproval and inconvenience. I wonder in my weaker moments if it might happen again. Am I destined for middling success, a sort-of-almost-but-no-cigar life? Dreams are safer.

But I know, at its heart, this is not artistic angst. This is a milieu of defensive indifference. Humanity is a tide, and we swim at our own risk.

Get involved, people say. Rock the vote. Promote good books and good works. Volunteer with the hungry. Raise a sign.

But involvment diminishes me. I am finite. Someday I might wear away into nothing.

angst and eccentricity

I posted over at the Electric Spec blog, if you're interested in "making the cut. "

JA Konrath, author and tireless supporter of Newbie Writers, has written a great post on how the "artistic anguish" is bullshit.

I couldn't agree more. A writer is an entertainer, no better or worse than some stripper on Bourbon Street (except we're not as well paid). The stripper has to take off her clothes and act sexy, even when she feels icky.

A successful writer has to do two things:

Write. This means sitting at your desk and treating it like the job it is. Your brain is a muscle; use it. If you can only write once a week, then do it. Many selling authors operate this way. But don't whine or make excuses. That's for wannabes.

Be a writer. You must be who your adoring fans want. Like it or not, we writers have a mystique, so play it. I don't mean get all angsty or puffed-up. I mean that writers are entertainers, so act like one. Be who they want you to be. Smile on cue. Without readership, a writer is nothing. They are the single most important asset a writer has.

A few other tidbits I've been thinking about:

Dress like an entertainer. I don't wear sweats to conferences, but I don't wear business suits, either. I dress to get attention, to illicit reaction. It's not always fun. Actually, it feels like holding your stomach in after a big meal. But I do it because it's good for career building. I hang out in the bar, even if I don't feel like drinking. (Hey, it could happen.) I smile and force the charm, even when I'm tired. I try to be someone fans want to approach, to be seen with. Even better, I want to be someone famous people want to hang out with. Or agents...

A little eccentricity goes a long way. You're interesting, eccentric, a friend told me recently. You're a writer.

HA! Right now I'm in my jammies, on the wrong end of a shower, the kitchen looking like two kids and a dog had breakfast in it, wet clothes growing mold in the washer, just about ready to open my laptop and pound away at a story that is not coming easily. If this is eccentric, then I'm not impressed. I'm a geek, with a slab of immaturity on the side.

Eccentric writers are boring and annoying. Don't be that writer.


Sorry I've been so quiet. I'm buried in my hold-for-voting file right now. (Stop writing such good stories!! It makes more work for lazy editors!) Our first production meeting is Thursday for a Halloween release.

During an interview, in which I rambled far too much, I realized I've seen some changes in short fiction, which could be attributed to blogging. I'm not going into details yet--want to give him a chance to use the drivel material first--but I think it's important to note that sophisticated writers think while they write. They actively change their style, tone, and voice according to their intended audience. As well, I think readers are coming to expect a difference between online and print stories, and in the coming years, we'll see that divide grow. It's subtle, but there.

Also, note my appearances are here --------------->
(just like I am somebody). So if you want to meet the Sex in person, come on down to MileHi Con in October. I must be on a panel or two; my name is in the brochure.

Homework: go read some online stories here and here and here and then pick up Sci Fi and Fantasy or Ellery Queen and see if you can find a difference.

wip progress

I stalled out. Not a bad thing, but I realized I needed some time to think. I've been filling my time with short stories while Trinidad hangs about in the back of my head, hitching his weight to one side impatiently.

Today a quote from Philippians inspired me, something someone will yammer at Trinidad at the most annoying time:

For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well...

(Isn't that damned annoying? Most people, my priests exempted, quote the Bible like they're wielding a weapon, and so it shall be in this scene.) Trinidad will cut this person off angrily, not thinking of how the verse ends until a later, guilt-ridden moment.

...since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

I'm comfortable with these floating snippets because that's often how a plot takes shape for me. And I have a feeling that this will be a major part of Trinidad's emotional resolution. But still, this book is still the most planned book I've ever written. I've got my ironic crux nailed down. (Something I'm going to write about further for ElectricSpec.) The characters are starting to breathe. I've logged in hours of research, which has left me with some major world-building decisions to make, and my synopsis approaches ten pages. So I'm going to finish this short story, perhaps another, and get back to The Silver Scar, palate cleansed, head cleared, knowing where I'm headed.

Except for this minor point: I'm pretty damn vague on how the whole thing ends. :D

critique series #3

I constantly am amazed at the quality of submissions I receive. Not just story, but the nuts and bolts of writing: grammar, spelling, punctuation, structure, and word usage. By far, most of my submissions are damn near perfect. So that's your competition. Don't waste an editor's time or a critiquer's time. Turn in spotless pages. Besides, you want a story critique, not a copy edit.

You all have a pretty good idea of formatting, yes? Courier or TNR, double spaced, inch margins, left justified, right ragged, start chapters 1/3 down. Folks aren't too picky about ordering the header, but it's cool to have your name, story name, and page numbers all on the top. Novels require a cover sheet with contact info, title, and word count. This info goes on the first page of a short story. And there's no need to use the copyright symbol. It just shows you don't know the law; your words are protected the moment you write them.

I want to expand on this, from the editor's standpoint. Some of us sound nitpicky over stupid things, like copyright symbols. But consider this: when I get copy that's formatted all funky: Notepad files, copyright symbols, giant font for the title, or lots of pretty illustrations (don't laugh, it happens) I make an involuntary value judgement about the writer. I think one of two things:

This is someone who hasn't done the necessary research.
Or, worse:
This is someone who thinks the rules don't apply to them.

So at best I feel I'm going to have to explain, maybe even argue, over industry standards and why we've adhered to them lo these many years. It has happened. Ditto for submission requirements. Reading sub requirements takes ten seconds.

What does all this have to do with critique? Every group has an agreement on length, format, and level of quality. Follow these expectations. Also, compose your drafts in standard manuscript format and do your own copyedit before you submit. It will save loads of time later.

Formatting and grammar aside, what exactly should you expect from a critique of your work and how do you know if it's a good one? There's been a lot of talk about "gut instinct," and I respectfully submit that will only take you so far. When you talk about anything else: car engines, interior design, sport, they all have their own lingo. Learn your terminology and use it. That's the first step in recognizing it on the page when you see it. Maybe not at day one, but with practice and study, you should be able to pinpoint and discuss: point of view, telling v. showing, the premis, the inciting incident, resolution, the three levels of conflict (inner, personal, extra-personal), exposition, character development or arc, subplots, plot points, transitions of all sorts, opening and closing values, pacing, rhythm, story stakes, gaps in goal progression...

This is by no means a complete list, but if you can point to all these in a sub, you have gone a long way in helping the writer improve their work. Better yet, learn to realize when something important, like inner conflict, is missing. Learn to recognise when rule-breaking, like telling or exposition, actually works.

If this seems overwhelming, well, it is. It's a lot to know. But fortunately there are brilliant resources out there to help you learn. This is a partial list of some of the books in my library:

For nuts and bolts:

(This should be your coaster on your desk.)

(I like Oxford Pocket)

MAPPING THESAURUS (I don't have one, but I have a gift card that I'm going to use on one.)**
OWL (Online Writing Lab)

For craft:
STORY Robert McKee
WRITE AWAY Elizabeth George (premier on character study)

**A word on print dictionaries vs online. There are epiphanies to be had between the pages of a print dictionary. First of all, you have to think of the word, but if you don't quite have it, you see a ton of other words on your way to finding it. Also, you get exposed to words, just many, many words. Ever read the dictionary? It's addicting. A single word can answer a question or set you off in a direction you never thought of. Words are your business, so immerse yourself in them.

in honor of talk like a pirate day

I give you yesterday's post, but how a pirate would say it. See below for the landlubbers version.

'Tis truly better t' give than receive when 't comes t' critique. I b'lieve we learn as much or more through th' time we spend wi' others' work than from th' critiques we receive. But th' tide will come when ye must stick yer pages ou' in th' sunlight, which betray ever' pore an' wrinkle an' scar. An' 'tis hard nay t' take 't swabbieally.Ye must, as a writer (an' as a swabbie, too, but that's another post fer another tide) accept yer failings. Fact be, much o' what ye an' I write be utter bilge water. I be a proponent o' th' Cargo holds o' Word Theory. This theory states that 't takes a cargo holds o' words t' e'en begin t' touch what ye mean t' say wi' any consistent marketable competence.This jus' means writin' takes practice, like everythin' else. An' that practice--writin' words ye love as well as writin' stuff ye hate--gives ye th' ammunition t' distance yersef from yer writin'. Ye be nay th' sum total o' yer ability t' express yersef through fiction. Th' sooner ye learn that, th' sooner ye'll open yersef t' improvement, t' submission, t' rejection, an' t' forgin' ereonward into publication.On accoun' o', whether 't sucks or 'tis brilliant, whether inspiration carried ye on a tide-long high or ever' word splashed on th' page accompanied by tear o' insecurity, at th' end o' th' tide, yer story be a product. As a writer myself, I know how much blood stains th' pages in me slush. But me primary job as an editor be t' go shoppin'. ('tis a really freakin' great job; jus' wish 't paid better.) In fact, I be an editor who's shoppin' fer six stories ou' o' three hundred. I buy .o2% o' me slush. 'tis like goin' into Nordstrom an' buyin' only one pair o' shoes. (As if!) An' th' odds be probably better at me magazine than at many others.This reality be much easier t' take if yer story has already been chewed up an' spit ou' in critique.But sometimes, someone (a fool editor or that jerk critiquer) keeps sayin' th' same lily livered thin' o'er an' over...they jus' dasn't get 't. They dasn't get ye. Keep 't in perspective. First o' all, as we learned in kindergarten, we all won't be best shipmates. 't helps t' think o' critique as a professional endevour, e'en when yer critter be readin' yer passage aloud wi' different voices fer each character an' a Vaderesque narrator. Secondly, reckon 'tis jus' th' opinion o' one swabbie. I know I spake that last high tide', but today 'tis th' other guy's opinion we're talkin' about.An', hell, maybe ye actually agree wi' what they's saying--or nay, or whatere; but them crackers be stale. Same bilge water, different critique. 't can go on fer voyages.Mine be pronouns. Th' squadron railed on me o'er pronouns. An' so I work at 't an' finally, that particular nit drops off th' map. An' then we get a new member comin' t' squadron an' she says, "Ye know, Sex, I love yer stuff, but why do ye use yer characters' names so much?"So think these situations through carefully. Be the'r thinkin' flawed? Do they be havin' a stylistic difference? Maybe they be havin' an inability t' express what they mean.Or maybe ye're stubborn.Whaterethe issue, dasn't justify, explain, or defend. Thar's nay need. YE BE TH' MASTER O' YER DOMAIN. This be yer story. Ye be th' final decision maker. An' before ye ask, aye, we've asked fer edits at th' magazine fer stories we wanted t' buy an' had writers decline. Me point? Ye may be sittin' all alone in yer darkened study wi' jus' th' glow o' yer laptop t' keep ye company, but this be yer story an' nay one can make ye change 't.How t' decide, tho, what's worthy?Consider th' source. Be this an editor who wants t' buy yer story? A top agent who wants revisons before signin' ye? Consider the'r advice carefully, o' course. Nay jus' on accoun' o' they be havin' power t' put real treasure on th' table, but on accoun' o' 'tis the'r job t' know industry trends an' standards. When I be a kid, headhoppin' be all th' rage. Now rigid adherence t' close third an' first apply. Professionals make 't the'r business t' know what will sell an' judge yer work accordingly. Th' crutch: try 't e'en if ye disagree. They know. They won't last in this business unless they do.Gut instinct. Ye know 'ere ye're headed. If th' critter wonders why Gandalf appears at th' start an' mentions some fool rin' ou' o' th' blue, an' ye know 'tis cuz by chapter four all hell's gonna break loose wi' Ringwraithes, then sit tight wi' a Mona Lisa smile. Kill yer darlings only t' a point. If thar be a line o' dialogue or a passage that makes yer writerly mojo sing, then dasn't kill 't starboard off. Think about what that passage be tellin' ye about yer characters an' yer story. If yer critters dasn't be seein' th' importance, then maybe ye need t' pump 't up rather than cut 't.But then, when feelin' particularly defensive about particular advice, put 't aside an' eyeball 't again later. Scallywaggin' if I dasn't often find they be starboard. (Sons of a biscuit eater, ever' one!) An' majority rules: if two o' three critters want a change, consider 't very carefully. Some o' this trust comes from good rapport, tho. I hate when th' critiqued interrupts me (cuz I'all love th' sound o' me own voice, dasn't y'all?). BUT, I love when they ask me (when I be finished talking): Here's what I be tryin' t' do; any ideas? So, t' me, th' opportunity t' discuss 'ere ye're headed wi' a piece be invaluable.Basically, tho, 'tis nay yer turn t' talk. Sit quietly, hands clenched (among other things) an' listen. Listen listen listen. Ask questions only after th' torture session be o'er an' be sure t' say thank ye. Finally, trust yer critters. They want t' help ye. Take 't fer granted that they like ye, that they want t' revel in yer success,an' bask in th' glow o' yer prose an' themes an' plots. On accoun' o', really, most writers love doin' critiques. I dasn't submit t' Critters, but I crit fer them. 'tis been a voyage, maybe, since I submitted t' Crapometer. But I read 't an' crit thar, too. Most writers I know owe me critique time on accoun' o', as I spake, 'tis truly better t' give than recieve critique.Next high tide': bilge water terminology ye ortin' ta know, th' editor's perspective, an' maybe e'en a wee handy reference guides.

critique series #2

It is truly better to give than receive when it comes to critique. I believe we learn as much or more through the time we spend with others' work than from the critiques we receive. But the day will come when you must stick your pages out in the sunlight, which will betray every pore and wrinkle and scar. And it's hard not to take it personally.

You must, as a writer (and as a person, too, but that's another post for another day) accept your failings. Fact is, much of what you and I write is utter crap. I'm a proponent of the Million Word Theory. This theory states that it takes a million words to even begin to touch what you mean to say with any consistent marketable competence.

This just means writing takes practice, like everything else. And that practice--writing words you love as well as writing stuff you hate--gives you the ammunition to distance yourself from your writing. You are not the sum total of your ability to express yourself through fiction. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you'll open yourself to improvement, to submission, to rejection, and to forging ever onward into publication.

Because, whether it sucks or it's brilliant, whether inspiration carried you on a day-long high or every word splashed on the page accompanied by tear of insecurity, at the end of the day, your story is a product. As a writer myself, I know how much blood stains the pages in my slush. But my primary job as an editor is to go shopping. (It's a really freakin' great job; just wish it paid better.) In fact, I'm an editor who's shopping for six stories out of three hundred. I buy .o2% of my slush. It's like going into Nordstrom and buying only one pair of shoes. (As if!) And the odds are probably better at my magazine than at many others.

This reality is much easier to take if your story has already been chewed up and spit out in critique.

But sometimes, someone (a fool editor or that jerk critiquer) keeps saying the same stupid thing over and over...they just don't get it. They don't get you. Keep it in perspective. First of all, as we learned in kindergarten, we all won't be best friends. It helps to think of critique as a professional endevour, even when your critter is reading your passage aloud with different voices for each character and a Vaderesque narrator. Secondly, remember it's just the opinion of one person. I know I said that yesterday, but today it's the other guy's opinion we're talkin' about.

And, hell, maybe you actually agree with what they're saying--or not, or whatever; but those crackers are stale. Same shit, different critique. It can go on for years.

Mine was pronouns. The group railed on me over pronouns. And so I work at it and finally, that particular nit drops off the map. And then we get a new member coming to group and she says, "You know, Sex, I love your stuff, but why do you use your characters' names so much?"

So think these situations through carefully. Is their thinking flawed? Do they have a stylistic difference? Maybe they have an inability to express what they mean.

Or maybe you're stubborn.

Whatever the issue, don't justify, explain, or defend. There's no need. YOU ARE THE MASTER OF YOUR DOMAIN. This is your story. You are the final decision maker. And before you ask, yes, we've asked for edits at the magazine for stories we wanted to buy and had writers decline. My point? You may be sitting all alone in your darkened study with just the glow of your laptop to keep you company, but this is your story and no one can make you change it.

How to decide, though, what's worthy?

Consider the source. Is this an editor who wants to buy your story? A top agent who wants revisons before signing you? Consider their advice carefully, of course. Not just because they have power to put real money on the table, but because it's their job to know industry trends and standards. When I was a kid, headhopping was all the rage. Now rigid adherence to close third and first apply. Professionals make it their business to know what will sell and judge your work accordingly. The crutch: try it even if you disagree. They know. They won't last in this business unless they do.

Gut instinct. You know where you're headed. If the critter wonders why Gandalf appears at the start and mentions some fool ring out of the blue, and you know it's cuz by chapter four all hell's gonna break loose with Ringwraithes, then sit tight with a Mona Lisa smile. Kill your darlings only to a point. If there is a line of dialogue or a passage that makes your writerly mojo sing, then don't kill it right off. Think about what that passage is telling you about your characters and your story. If your critters don't see the importance, then maybe you need to pump it up rather than cut it.

But then, when feeling particularly defensive about particular advice, put it aside and look at it again later. Damned if I don't often find they were right. (Bastards, every one!) And majority rules: if two of three critters want a change, consider it very carefully. Some of this trust comes from good rapport, though. I hate when the critiqued interrupts me (cuz I'all love the sound of my own voice, don't y'all?). BUT, I love when they ask me (when I'm finished talking): Here's what I'm trying to do; any ideas? So, to me, the opportunity to discuss where you're headed with a piece is invaluable.

Basically, though, it's not your turn to talk. Sit quietly, hands clenched (among other things) and listen. Listen listen listen. Ask questions only after the torture session is over and be sure to say thank you.

Finally, trust your critters. They want to help you. Take it for granted that they like you, that they want to revel in your success,and bask in the glow of your prose and themes and plots. Because, really, most writers love doing critiques. I don't submit to Critters, but I crit for them. It's been a year, maybe, since I submitted to Crapometer. But I read it and crit there, too. Most writers I know owe me critique time because, as I said, it's truly better to give than recieve critique.

Tomorrow: shit terminology you should know, the editor's perspective, and maybe even a few handy reference guides.

critique series #1

I spoke on critique this past weekend, so I thought I'd turn it into an article if anyone's interested.

Three years ago I had written three bad books in two years. By chance, I found RMFW and a local critique group (The Inklings). I submitted a chapter, which they proceeded to rip and restructure for me. But instead of being sad or upset, I was elated. For the first time, I realized my writing is not complete until it's been read. But mostly, I had found my tribe. Since that fateful day, they asked me to join the staff of ElectricSpec, and I've gained beta readers online, overseas, and other local readers. I've even been fortunate to receive advice from industry professionals.

But what is it about critique? Why is it so important?

Well, obviously it's a support system of people who know. They can commiserate and encourage. When I sold my first story, I told my critters before I even told my husband (he's not a writer). They might not be my family, but like I said, they're my tribe.

Regular critique provides deadlines. Deadlines are your friend. Working writers operate under deadline. Turning in subs keeps your butt in the chair and stops that endless revision loop. It also makes it easier to make the leap into professional submission.

Critique trains you to edit on command. This sounds like a pony trick, but I have yet to buy a story that I haven't edited. Pro writers don't balk at an editor actually editing, they expect it. Really. Your agent is going to say, "I love it. Now go fix these 500 things." And then your editor is going to say, "I'll buy this after you fix these things." And then the copy editor...well, you see my point.

To be an effective writer, you must be an effective critiquer. This is about knowing your craft. Of course there are pitfalls in giving critique, and they all stem from hurt feelings. If you take nothing else from this, write this down on a sticky and put it on your monitor: This doesn't work for me because... This forces the critiquer to not only take responsibility for what they're saying, but state why they feel the way they do. A good critiquer will always do this. I'm confused and awkward are also good phrases to use. Both are benign and indicate fixable problems.

Some issues stem from someone being condescending. In my experience, condescending writers are defensive, incompetent writers. So watch your tone. Remember: your opinion is only one person's opinion.

Beginning critters tend to focus on the negative. But we learn as much from what we do right. So find those gems and point them out. A handy method is the "sandwich" method, in which you sandwich constructive critique between two positives. Every piece has something right about it. A good critter will find it. And, of course, always focus on the writing.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how to receive critique without blowing your top or bursting into tears, and what to do with it when you get it.

i'm awake i'm awake!

Back from the conference, and if I say it enough times, I'll stay awake. (I'm really typing this, right? I guess I can check tomorrow and see if I really did.) I had something like three hours of sleep each night, so it'll be a day or two before the synapses are firing under their own decaffeinated power.

My talk went well--really well. My prize (everyone has a prize and I have no books or devil ducks to give away, and my magazine is free) was a 30 page crit to the lucky winner. Since the presentation was on critiquing, it was appropriate. Anyway, I got lots of accolades, even from the very nice President of RMFW, and we all know how I'm a whore for accolades. Later this week I'll write a post using my outline over at the ElectricSpec blog so you know what I talked about. Some critiqueless folks appeared to make connections, so that's awesome.

I also did tons of networking and hanging with friends. Our own Jeanne Stein was Writer of the Year. She got a big blue "prize heifer ribbon" (Jeanne is very svelte and a generally wonderful person, but the ribbon really does look like something from the state fair) and a plaque and got to make a speech.
I met wonderful writers named Shirley Jump and the writerly sisters of PJ Parrish. They were all keynote speakers and really wonderful women, all. I was in charge of the hospitality suite, which mostly entailed ice duty and making good friends with the bellhops so they would help us with our many coolers of beer. Of course, the entire wait staff knew me since I spent so much time in the bar. Though I didn't really drink all that much.
I didn't.
Shut up.
Followed up the weekend with a Rapids game down the street from my hotel. We kicked ass 2-0 and hung out in the parking lot for a bit of tailgating. I was in bed watching Sons of Anarchy by 8. Interesting Hamletesque show. I think it still needs to grow into itself, but I have hopes. Whatever. Jax is hot.
I've been remiss in mentioning my new hangout spot. It's called Dennis Cass Wants You To Be More Awesome. We're discussing a theoretical dreamworld-without-queries. I posted my thoughts on branding and personal promotions, so take a gander. Not all of us have a sexy Irish accent or hot mug to flaunt, you know. Some of us actually have to work at it.


I'm heading off the the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference this weekend, so I'll return Monday with insights about craft, a renewed sense of creativity, and a hangover.



Yesterday we said,
“I am Mother.”
“I am Husband.”
“I am Hindu.”
“I am Conservative.”
“I am Atheist.”
“I am Wealthy.”
“I am Daughter.”
“I am Son.”
“I am Poor.”
“I am Muslim.”
“I am Wife.”
“I am Liberal.”
“I am Sister.”
“I am Christian.”

today our flags hang low
the birds fly alone
today the skies weep blood
and ash
and fear

today we say
“I am American.”

open for interpretation

I'm back to research and copying notes (that's how we learn stuff) for The Silver Scar. It's always amazing what a few months' distance will show you. Like, I've been thinking all along, Damn, this world is silver. It just is. I see it so clearly, right through Trinidad's very own eyes. But what does it mean?? I studied silver mythos and meaning and didn't come up with a lot except that both my main characters are going to be 25.

Last night I realized there's a ton of symbolism surrounding silver, all of which can work, all in my own notes. It just really depending on your view of what the silver world actually is, which shall remain up for debate. I realized in the past few days that I actually don't want to impose my view of what the world is on anyone. I want them to make up their own minds. So, my new standard for the book is this:

If readers argue over what the silver world means half as much as the characters do, then I've done my job well.

painting the air

Yesterday, the fourth graders and I listened to a soft spoken old docent talk about Impressionism.

First of all, if you've never seen an actual Monet, Renior, Sargent, or Pissarro then your life experience is deeply flawed. Get thee to a museum and see some!

Of all painting, and maybe all art forms, this is the genre, if you will, I most admire. I don't know, punk rock pulls a close second. But some obvious observations in how painting relates to writing, and one not so obvious:

The farther you get away from the work, the more it takes shape.
Impressionism is the epitomy of show, don't tell. The artists painted suggestions. These masters knew if they made the suggestion with color, the eye would fill in lines and details. This is what makes Impressionism special. It allows for each viewer to fill in the details in his or her own way. Similarly, words, phrases, sentences, scenes, dialogue, even description should all serve to suggest ideas, never nail them down past debate or addition by the reader.

Renoir said to paint the shape of someone is to capture them.
What is the shape of your character? Physically, mentally, emotionally? And most importantly for a story, what will distort that shape?

Monet did not use the color black.
By painting in the open air, Impressionists learned the color of shadows is not black but the reflection of the colors casting the shadow. Think of a plot as a shadow cast from your character. How do the shades of your character color your plot?

Impressionists were not big on blending color.
They blended colors only to match the colors they saw, but they did not blend color on the canvas. If you study an Impressionism painting up close, the brush strokes have a brutal simplicity. But several of those seemingly casual strokes side by side in the painting of a master becomes a beautiful composition. This is like picking the simplest, best word to do its job and putting it next to another simplest, best word, and next to another, and another. Words are the writer's strokes. But note, the Impressionists made it look easy because they thought through each brush stroke, no matter how quickly they worked.

Monet said other painters paint a boat, a house, the sky; he painted the air that surrounds the boat, the house, the sky.
Envision a character living, working, talking, breathing a certain way because of the atmosphere surrounding them. By atmosphere, I mean setting, other characters, the conflict and its importance to the character. You can show that atmosphere through the character's attitude toward it, through pacing and structure, through dialogue and mannerisms and decisions. Showing is painting the air while writing.

buh bye world

Ever been on the verge of a creative tsunami?

Right now is the quiet before the big one hits, that moment where the wave slides back and reveals sand-crawling animals, old fishhooks, and cameras lost by tourists. But it always rolls back and drags us out to sea, sea being that realm of absent-minded distraction with people who aren't real and yet live.

How do you prepare for the flood of words?

Me: getting stories out the door; reading slush; wrapping up revisions and sending them on their merry way; nailing down final details of my talk at RMFW Con. Jotting thank yous, writing checks for school, and running errands. Taking fourth graders to the Denver Art Museum, moleskin in hand. Reading, always reading.

Dreaming. Worrying. Shivering.

I'm the forecaster of my very own storm, and I'm as battened down as I'm gonna be.