Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ten Ways to Tell if You are a Writer

(This post was originally a guest post on Living for the Books ) 
When I was in high school, I told the career counselor I wanted to be a novelist. She looked at me and let out a huge sigh. “A writer? Of fiction?” she said in a toxic tone. “How about psychology? ”

 It was good advice. That first year at university I delved into Psychology 101 and discovered how insane I was to want to be a writer. It’s the one career that’s rife with rejection, sprinkled with self-doubt and constant criticism. Even so, I kept on writing.

Call me mentally disturbed.

 But I am far from alone. There are many of us out there. Are you one of them?

You know you are a writer if:

 1. You carry a pen with you everywhere and you are seriously possessive about it. When someone asks to borrow it, you hesitate before allowing them to use it and you don’t let them out of your sight.

 2. You can see the silver lining in dramatic break-ups, major accidents and family disputes. They make for good stories. In fact, there are times you complain that nothing bad enough ever happens to you.

3. You rewrite everything. From birthday wishes to text messages to grocery lists.

4. This rewriting is especially true for your creative writing. You write, rip apart, write some more, and rearrange -- constantly aiming to fill plot holes, write smoother sentences, and create deeper characters. Unfortunately, it is only after your novel is published that you’ll know exactly how to fix it.

5. Your thesaurus is more beat up and dog eared than a 13 year-old-boy’s Playboy magazine.

6. Your butt is wider than your shoulders because you are sitting all the time.

7. Coffee is your best friend.

8. In fact, you have very few friends because most of them are avoiding you after reading your short story about the rabid werewolves who started a colony on Mars. Yeah, you know the one.

9. You are still in a state of shock from finding out that there are people who don’t read books. Like ever.

10. Your best memory is actually from a novel.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Author Branding and the One-Toothed Troll
Last night I watched a Google hangout on branding with John Rakestraw and Rachel Thompson, two social media buffs and writers I admire. As a new indie writer, I'm still trying to get my head above water, so their conversation was instructive, to say the least.

The bottom line is something we've all heard: writers today need a platform. They need a brand. Your author name = key words or concepts.

That's the reality.

I hate reality.
It's why I write paranormal fiction.

There was a time when a writer could be a one-toothed troll with a bad case social ineptitude and still sell books as long as they were good.  Your only expertise could be lining up paragraphs and drinking liters of liquor and that was fine.

No longer.

Writers nowadays need to know something beyond their books.  They need to be someone: An expert on self-publishing, a gardening guru, the go-to gal on police procedure or vampire myths or contortionist sex positions.  Writers no longer need to just sell their books -- they need to sell themselves.

Oh, f**k.

After the show, I made a list of things I'm good at.  Things that could be associated with me -- the Katie Hayoz brand.  And I came up with this:

*Whining.  I've mastered that. The only person who's better than I am is my six-year-old daughter.  But that because she's got my genes.
*Popcorn. Eating it.  No one can top my popcorn eating abilities.  I dare you to try.
*Just Dance. I always come out the winner on Just Dance.  That is, unless I'm playing with the  neighbor kids, but they cheat.

Crap.  That's a pretty sucky platform.  How about things I'm interested in?

*Anything paranormal.  I'm no expert, but I do perk up the second someone mentions ghosts or demons or angels or ESP.
*Literature for girls and women that doesn't feed directly into rape culture and poor self-image. I've already touched on it in a previous blog post, so I won't rant about it here.  But writers have the tools to teach girls their own power and importance in the world. We should be doing more of it, myself included.
*Popcorn. All sorts of popcorn. Yes, I'm interested in popcorn. Buttered, caramel coated, sprinkled with cheese...

Looking at this, I'm wondering if I shouldn't just give it all up and work for Jolly Time.     

And yet there was one thing Rachel Thompson said on the show that gave me hope:  Be genuine

I may not be able to give out expert advice on anything except my own use of fragmented sentences, but I am genuine.  The person you see on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or my blog is the same person who sits down in front of the computer to write my books.  She's green and lost, but she's real.  And she's hoping that one day the keywords that come to mind with her brand will be these: good writing.

Because isn't that what writers want?

Well, that, of course, and a bowl of popcorn.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pitch Perfect. Or Not.

This weekend I traveled to the UK to Newcastle for a pitching workshop.  Not throwing a baseball -- which, I dare say I probably would have been better at -- but how to pitch your novel to interested (or mildly intrigued) parties.  As one of the finalists in the Mslexia 2012 Children's Novel Competition, I was invited by New Writing North to hone my pitching skills.  There were sixteen of us.  By the end of the day, fifteen of us did pretty darn well.

And then there was me.

The truth is, I'd prefer to tweeze my toe hairs than speak about my work -- especially to someone in the book business. Agents, editors and publishers scare the hell out of me.

I can almost do e-mail.  But don't hand me the phone.  And God forbid we have to talk face to face, because I will become mollusk-like: spineless and slippery and blah.

So this weekend when it was my turn to practice pitching before a friendly panel of experts, I could feel my palms sweat and my brain shut down.  Rather than pitch my finished novel, I decided to describe my work-in-progress.

Yeah. *Ahem.* Let's just say it didn't go well. The woman interviewing me ended the session saying, "I'm completely confused."

Well, so was I.  But for a different reason.

Dammit, the book I'm writing is unique and fun and dark and moving all at the same time.  Yes, it's complex.  But it's not complicated.  So I want to know how I managed to make this adventurous, lively story sound utterly unfocused and dull.  How is it I can write the thing but I can't explain it?

I'm not alone in this. Many writers would prefer to write a new novel than give a synopsis.  Many writers struggle at first when trying to describe their work.  Luckily, many get better and better at it. 

Moral is: I am far from pitch perfect.  But in the words of a fellow writer from this weekend, I know I've got a "bloody good book!"   So until I've worked it out, my pitch is this:

Read it.  And let's talk.
But, uh, preferably over e-mail? 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Death By Fire: Personal Essay on a Five-Year-Old's Fear

I wrote this a year ago, but thought of it this weekend when I saw how much my youngest has changed over the last months.  It is an essay I feel speaks to how stress is not necessarily an adult thing.   And how kids can be complicated creatures.

wikemedia commons
Death By Fire

I swallow hard as the therapist hands me the drawing.  There’s a girl, in a rainbow colored dress, lying with her eyes closed on a series of jagged red peaks.  It could mean anything.  It’s colorful, bright.  Maybe even cheerful.

But the therapist shakes her head.  “When I asked Elodie about it, she explained that this girl was burned alive. Killed by the heat of the fire.”  She points to the red peaks.  “That’s the fire.  The girl has her eyes closed because she’s dead.  Not  because she’s sleeping.”

I can imagine my five-year old daughter huddled over the paper, chewing on her dark blond hair in concentration.  I can imagine her gripping the markers with her soft little hand and pushing down hard enough on the paper that in places it’s ripped through.

What I can’t imagine is what goes through her head.

I hand the drawing back to the therapist and she continues, “Have you noticed any changes in Elodie’s attitude or behavior lately?  Has she been especially angry or scared?”

I wipe my palms on my skirt.  They’re wet and stick briefly to the fabric.

Does Elodie seem angry?  Yes.  Lately, always.

“It’s just that in every session one thing has struck me about Elodie,” the therapist continues.  “The amount of aggression she displays.  It comes out when she’s playing or drawing or, especially, when she’s discussing her nightmares.”

“Aggression?”  My lips feel numb.

The therapist’s eyes catch mine and, thank God, I see empathy, not judgment there.  She explains.  About how Elodie’s playtime scenarios involve things like gutting a dinosaur with a huge, serrated knife.  How her dreams involve multi-headed monsters Elodie must fight or face certain death.  How terrified Elodie is of death by fire.

I twist my rings on my fingers and look down, remembering  when Elodie was still a baby.  When she would gnaw on my shoulder and neck with her gums or when she’d only fall asleep in the little kangaroo carrier, the warm flesh of her cheek almost fusing with the soft skin on my chest.   There was such a synergy, such a shared neediness between the two of us, that I sometimes forgot we were two separate beings.  We seemed to be an extension of each other.  I knew when she was happy or hungry or sad or scared. 

But now?  Now she’s this five-year-old girl who’s become an enigma.  I watch her with such love, it wrenches my heart.  I watch her and wonder how she became so agonizingly angry with the world.

The therapist and I talk for a good hour about Elodie and her aggression.  About Elodie and her fight against growing up and growing more independent.   “I’ll help her deal with the monsters,” says the therapist.  “You help her move from baby to big girl.”

I shake her hand and leave to pick up Elodie and her sister from school.   On the walk home, my eldest runs ahead to catch up with friends and Elodie curls her fingers around mine.  I tell her the therapist said it was time to become a big girl.

“But I don’t want to.  I don’t want to grow up!”

She holds it together until I unlock our apartment door.  That’s when Elodie lets out a long, fierce scream, kicks her feet and pounds her fists on the wall.  For the first time, I take a moment to really look.  And when I do, I see past the fury: I see terror in her eyes.

And I feel it.  I know it.

It's the fear of being consumed.   Of a cherished time, a cherished past, being eaten by flames, being reduced to ashes.  A fear of losing myself, who I was -- who I am -- in the smoke.  And of losing others to the hungry fire of life.   I think it may be part of what is going on in Elodie’s head at only five years of age.

“It’s okay, Elodie,” I say, wrapping my arms around her, kissing her forehead. 
But I’m afraid.

Of growing up.  Of growing old. Of growing further away from her and the others I love. 

I, too, am very afraid of death by fire.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Beautiful Blogger Award

The lovely Kyra Halland nominated me for the Beautiful Blogger Award.  Now before you go looking at my profile pic and thinking "Huh?" -- it's not a beauty contest! Thank God, because there is no way in hell I'm gonna strut my stuff in a swimsuit.   No, the Beautiful Blogger Award is more of a game of tag to let other bloggers know you appreciate them and their posts or would like to know more about them.  Kyra is a Goodreads buddy who knocks my socks off with her productivity.  She's completed close to 20 novels and has participated in NaNoWriMo four years in a row.  Check out her blog  HERE .

So here's the deal.  The rules are:
  1. Copy and place the Beautiful Blogger Award in your post.
  2. Thank the person that nominated you and link back to their blog.
  3. Tell 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate 7 fellow bloggers.

Seven things about me.  (That aren't on a different page on this blog.)

1. I'm a plant killer.  I don't mean to be. But it's stronger than I am.  All I have to do is touch a plant for the thing to start to die.  Which is why my husband takes care of the flower boxes on our balcony.

2.  I absolutely detest peas. *shivers*

3.  I am the youngest of six kids -- I have two brothers and three sisters.  I have never had any doubt about being loved, but I also have never had any doubt that my mom was devastated when she found out she was pregnant with me.  My siblings liked to share that little tidbit with me when I was growing up. :)

4. Coffee is a new revelation for me.  A year ago, I couldn't stand the stuff.  Today, I'm drinking it by the bucketful.  I started off drinking it to keep myself awake (too much falling asleep at the keyboard) but now I am hooked.

5. I have a cat who drools. A lot.

6. The Geneva Writers' Group is my home away from home.  It's a group of 200 members and we meet for workshops, conferences, critiquing.  I've been a part of the organizing committee for nine years and am assistant director of the conference.  The director is Susan Tiberghien.

7. Glimpse into my fantasy world:  Robert Downey Junior. On a hot day. *swoons*

So that's seven things about me.  Now here are some bloggers I'd like to know more about.  I can't guarantee that they will do the Beautiful Blogger post, but I can guarantee that they are beautiful bloggers, in every sense of the term:

 Wendy Storer
 Terry Tyler
 Julie Hutchings
 Leigh Ann Kopans
 Shanah Wooldrage
 Marina Sofia
 Shelley T. Arline
Rhiannon Douglas


Monday, June 3, 2013

On Brain Aneurysms, Control, and Self Publishing
A year ago, my husband woke me up at 6:00 a.m., hands on his head, yelling, "It hurts! Get an aspirin! It hurts!"

When I came back from raiding the medicine cabinet, he was unconscious on the the bed, foaming at the mouth, convulsing, and wheezing.

My daughters' stuck their sleepy heads out of their bedrooms, their eyes wide.  "I need you to go back to bed," I told them.  They must have sensed the panic in my voice, because for once in their lives they listened without argument.

My husband suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm.  They drilled a little hole in his head.  They put a coil in where the hemorrhaging occurred.  And they told us the consequences could be serious. If he made it.

Waiting to see how he would pull through, I had never, ever felt less in control of life.  I had never felt more useless or more frightened of the future than I did then. But after a surgery that lasted hours and a stay in the hospital that lasted six weeks, my husband came out practically unscathed.

I say practically because he's himself and yet he's not.  Parts of his personality have changed, and we are still trying to work with that. It's put all of us -- me, the kids, and him -- in high-stress mode most of the time. The past year has been a serious education for me on just how sensitive the brain really is.  And how quickly life changes.

But it has also taught me to take control of my life. Or at least the of things in my life I can control.  Up until last year, I'd been waiting for life to happen to me.  Now I know not to wait; I have to make things happen. 

My book had been rejected by publishers and it was sitting dormant on my USB key.  After eighteen rewrites, plenty of feedback and some editing, Untethered wasn't perfect.  But it was ready. And so was I.

Was self-publishing Untethered the right choice?  I don't know.  But it was a choice.  I could have waited, finished my next book and had my agent send that to publishers, hoping for better luck. But I didn't want to wait. Being picked up by a publisher wasn't as important to me as being published.  I may be blind and blundering around out there, but I am out there.  And that's what I want.

Now, as I'm closing in on finishing a draft of a new novel, I know there are things I will do differently with this book and its publishing path. And unless the gods come in to make me an offer I can't refuse, I'm planning on going straight to self-publishing.  Because, well, it's a matter of control.

As that morning a year ago taught me, we are so rarely in control of the things that mean the most in our lives.

So I intend to seize the occasions when I can be.