Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Of contests, that is.

The final results of the Portland Golden Rose and the first round results of the CTRWA's CONNections are due "in the first week of November". November, as I'm sure you've all noticed, starts tomorrow. However, since November starts in the middle of a week, I'm not entirely certain I should expect to hear anything from either of these contests until next week, since it's the first full week in November. And not knowing when to expect the announcements is driving me insane.

I'd like to say that this obsession is the reason I've only managed to write three pages in the last two days, but alas, it would be a fib. The truth is that I'm stuck in a scene. The irony of that is I knew this scene was coming a long time ago and I've had portions of it visualized for what seems like ages. But once I actually sat down to write, I realized the stakes were much higher for the heroine than I'd originally imagined but for an entirely different reason. This means a lot of what I thought would happen no longer works in the story, but I haven't quite been able to figure out what will work.

Usually, when I back myself into corners like this, my characters show me the way out. This time, it hasn't happened, possibly because my heroine is as uncertain as I am how to proceed (she usually knows, but this time, darn her, she's not helping!).

So, what do you do when you write yourself into a corner? Any clever tricks for getting out, aside from just ditching the scene entirely and replacing it with something else? That might work in this situation, but I'm rather fond of the way this scene ups the tension and conflict, even if I can't quite see how to resolve it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Truth or Dare

Just read Lainey Bancroft's blog and discovered that I have been tagged in a new game started by Jude Hardin on his blog. The idea is to come up with five scintillating facts about yourself, one of which is untrue. Your readers then get to guess which one is the lie.

I must admit, I had a hard time coming up with five suitably improbable facts about myself to throw you off the scent, but perhaps I've succeeded.

  1. In college, I had a boyfriend who called me during Christmas break and asked if I wanted to go to Hong Kong with him. I said I'd love to, but I didn't have a passport. No problem, he said, neither did he. We got our passports overnight in Honolulu and went to Bangkok and Hong Kong. Upon our return, customs said they'd been waiting for us and separated us for questioning. They asked me if anyone had offered to sell me drugs. I considered, then truthfully answered in the affirmative. Excited, they asked, "Where?" They weren't impressed with my answer. "In Honolulu, before we left."

  2. I was eliminated from the eighth grade spelling bee on the word "connoisseur". The kid who won spelled "hermit."

  3. My husband proposed to me under the influence of a fortune cookie. Nearly 17 years and three kids later, I still wonder whether that fortune cookie was a plant.

  4. I once fainted at Tom Cruise's feet, but not because I was impressed by his stardom. I was just dehydrated. I blame it all on the Sports Car Club of America. I am, incidentally, taller than he is.

  5. I had to be helicoptered out of Mineral King Valley after I tripped early in a backpacking trip and broke my nose. My first thoughts when I opened my eyes after falling were, "I hope blood doesn't ruin contact lenses and, boy, do I have to pee." My contacts cleared up right away, but it was five hours before I got to pee.

So, now it's up to you to figure out which one is the clinker. Good luck!

And, to follow Lainey's fine example, tag Lacey, Lynne, Jody, Sara and Erica: you're it!

Chronologically Challenged

I have a love-hate relationship with the whole daylight savings time/standard time thing. For the most part, I hate switching back to standard time in the fall. Even though I find it much easier to get up in the morning after we go back to standard time, I despise the fact that it gets dark at 5:00 in the afternoon. I mean, really, when do we need to "save" daylight more? Seems to me like there's plenty of it to go around in the summer! So from that perspective, standard time in fall and winter seems perverse.

But I do love the first week or two after we go back to standard time. First, obviously, there's that extra hour of sleep on the Saturday night when we "fall back". Who doesn't love that? But more importantly, it takes me a week or two to fully adapt to the time change, and so I find it easy for a little while to get up early in the morning, before the rest of the family is stirring, and get things done. Eventually, of course, I lose that edge and wind up sleeping until 6:30 or 6:45 instead of the 6:00 I'd prefer, but for this little honeymoon period, I am extra productive and I love that.

Of course, if it were up to me, I would abolish standard time altogether. When I was in high school, California actually tried this. For one full year, we had daylight savings time all the time. I liked it. My mother liked it. But a lot of people hated it. They complained that in the winter, their kids had to go to school in the dark. (My father, who hailed from Minnesota, laughed. In Minnesota, kids have to go to school in the dark in winter, even when they're on standard time.) But the experiment failed.

I think the politicians' mistake wasn't the basic idea of setting the clock to one time and keeping it there all year, though. They just chose the wrong time. My proposal for chronological sanity is that we set the clocks half an hour ahead of standard time and then just leave them there. It wouldn't be pitch black at 6:30 a.m. in the dead of winter but it also wouldn't be pitch black at 4:30 p.m.

Admit it. It's an inspired idea. But, of course, inspired ideas are nearly always doomed to failure.

Speaking of inspiration, as I mentioned yesterday, my book has reached its 400th page. And seems almost as far from finished as ever. You see, I'm too inspired. I have more story for these characters than will fit in a standard full-length romance novel. I see a 480-500 page monster looming before me. And that's after I cut/combined some of the subplots to get to the end more quickly. If I hadn't done that, I would no doubt have been looking at a 600-page behemoth!

What to do, what to do? Well, I've resolved finish the damn book as plotted and then worry about whittling it down to a respectable length. It is, after all, a first book. Given how few first manuscripts are actually published, perhaps I shouldn't even be worrying about writing a book that's of a "saleable" length, since it's not particularly likely to be saleable anyway!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

100,000 Words...and Counting

I reached page 400 this morning. 100,000 words. And I'm way more than 40 pages from writing The End.


Friday, October 27, 2006

So, Is It Fun?

When I was in the office teaching last week, I kind of let it slip to my students that I was writing a historical romance novel. Since I normally try to keep my writing life and my professional life as discrete as possible, I was a bit irritated with myself for spilling the beans, but for some reason, I just had to tell. And it was a very small class, populated primarily with people I've worked with for years and only one client. Somehow, that just loosened my lips.

It's only after you share your aspirations as a writer with people who are not writers that you begin to understand how thoroughly alien the entire process is to the vast majority of people. Despite the fact that 81% of people feel they could write a book, only 27% of them would write fiction (you gotta scroll down that page a way to find this statistic). Clearly, while most people fancy themselves writers on some level, they don't have imaginary people carrying on imaginary lives inside their heads.

This difference between myself (and my fellow authors, both published and unpublished--see new links at right, by the way!) and the rest of humanity was made more apparent to me than it had ever been before when one of my students asked me, on a break, "So, is it fun?" Her tone clearly indicated she could not begin to fathom how it could possibly be fun to sit at a computer and spew words onto the page about people who never existed.

Worse, though, I couldn't really answer an unqualified "Yes." Because it isn't always fun. Sure, it can be. But sometimes, it's downright painful. And I have definitely reached the painful part of my manuscript. The part where everything comes slowly and with great difficulty, even though I have great clarity as to what scenes have yet to be written in order to reach The End.

So I told her the truth. I said it wasn't so much "fun" as a compulsion. Something I have to do. What I didn't say was that I'm not feeling particularly compelled to finish the book I've been writing for the past eight months. Because I'm not. Instead fighting the urge to ditch it and start the new book (or books), whose characters are becoming increasingly loud and insistent about their need to get out of my head and onto the page.

I know I have to be strong. I have a history of starting books I never finish. It's a history I don't want to repeat. If I don't finish Living In Sin, it'll be proof positive that I can't finish a book. And if I can't finish a book, I certainly can't get published and I'm just wasting my time. So I'm digging in my heels and ignoring those people in my head so I can finish. Even though I did register for NaNoWriMo, which starts November 1.

For those who don't know, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a new work within one month's time. I don't know if I'd manage that, even if I started on November 1, but since I've promised myself I won't start the new book until I finish the first one, I may not be starting until later in the month. But I thought committing myself to NaNoWriMo while simultaneously vowing to finish Living In Sin first would give me the kick in the pants I need.

And I think maybe it did. I've written 8,000 words since signing up. And actually, it was even fun!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's Official!

Courtesy of a link from Annie Dean's blog, I have discovered that I'm officially a nerd. A low-ranking nerd, but a nerd nonetheless. (I knew it!)

I am nerdier than 67% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

See, Lacey, we can graph our daily progress reports. It's too late for me, anyway.

And yes, I'm procrastolating again, LOL!

Making Progress (Sort of)

I refer you once again to the lovely meters on the right hand side of the screen. Yes, 'tis true, 'tis true! I've finished my plot revisions to Living In Sin and have started writing new stuff again. All two and a half pages, LOL!

I have to admit, the revisions needed to accommodate the new plot line turned out to affect only a few scenes and only in small ways. Which is what I was hoping when I came up with the idea. I wasn't keen on making any major changes to what I'd already written. I was just looking for a way to get to The End a little more expeditiously.

And while I did manage to remove a few thousand words along the way, I regret to say that I added just as many, so I still have a manuscript that is way too long. In fact, for an Avon book, the desired length is between 90,000 and 95,000 words or between 360 and 384 pages. A quick glance at the Write-O-Meter will tell you that I'm currently sitting at exactly 384 pages and I'm easily 50-75 pages from the HEA.

There be a lot of cutting to do.

That said, I'm not going to touch the first 384 pages of this thing again until after I write The End. Nor am I letting anyone critique anything else between now and then. Trying to re-engineer the past is keeping me from the future, LOL!

So now, in the words of Jack Black as Dewey Finn, let's get rockin'!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Starting a New Project

If you actually pay attention to all that garbage on the right hand side of the screen, you may have noticed that I added a Write-O-Meter for a new manuscript, tentatively titled Lady Libertine. This book is a sequel to Living In Sin that's been floating around in my head for the past few months. The heroine, Amelia Manwarren, started out as a villainess in Living In Sin, but before long, I found I enjoyed writing in her voice so much that I couldn't bear to let her go when the story ended. This meant I had to find a way to redeem her at the end of LIS so she could go on to have her own book.

Amelia is definitely not your typical historical romance novel heroine. Far from being a virginal innocent in the dewy bloom of youth, she's a mature twenty-eight years old and newly widowed in the opening scenes of Lady Libertine. She's also, not to put too fine a point on it, promiscuous. Or has been up until she meets her hero, Remy Giroux, a former spy for the French government who has gone into private practice. They meet when Remy is hired to retrieve some blueprints for his client that have been in Amelia's husband's possession since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

I resisted starting Lady Libertine for a long time because I was afraid it would distract me from finishing Living In Sin, but my FanLit experience taught me that working on two projects simultaneously isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may even be a good thing, for the obvious reason that if you get stuck in one story, you can always switch to working on the other one. And sometimes, it seems changing gears shakes loose ideas and gets the creative juices flowing so you can go back to the other project and pick up where you left off, fresher and more energized than before.

The danger in starting a new project when you haven't completed the first is, of course, that you get so wrapped up in the new project that you completely abandon the old one. And I have to admit, that worries me because I am notorious for starting stories and never finishing them because I get sidetracked by a new story. (Come to think of it, that's my M.O. for life in general. I am the quintessential absent-minded professor type. I start things, get distracted, and forget to finish what I started. No wonder my husband finds me frustrating to live with!)

So I do have to be careful here. I've actually written only the first paragraph of Lady Libertine at this point--not even enough to show up on the meter. And my plan for today is to keep plowing forward with my plot revisions to Living In Sin in the hopes of picking up again from where I left off either late today or early tomorrow. But I wanted to put the meter up there because I decided to take the chance and see if writing my own second project would give me the oomph I need to finish Living In Sin before the final results of the Golden Rose and the preliminary results of CONNections Contest are announced.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

FanLit Finals Alert!

I didn't enter a FanLit chapter this week, but a couple of my critique partners did. And this week, one of them made the finals. Big congratulations to Leigh on a well-deserved place in the top ten (of 179 entries)! Way to go! I won't tell you what the name of her entry is, but if you're motivated to vote, there's a rather well-placed hint in this sentence.

Also, I was so excited about my own final last week that I neglected to mention that another of my critique partners, Kim, had a chapter, Friends in Deed, in the finals last week as well. So this is my belated congratulations to her. Kim rocks!

Monday, October 16, 2006

I Just Didn't Do It

After making my public announcement last week that I would no longer be submitting any entries to the FanLit contest, I spent last night tossing and turning, unable to sleep because an idea for a Round Five chapter had wormed its way into my consciousness and refused to leave me alone. Even though I knew I didn't want to go down that road again, I was mightily tempted. I even started writing the darn thing.

Now, before you castigate me too much for my momentary lapse, you should know that over the weekend, I managed to churn out eight pages of Living in Sin. I had a brainstorm last week for a way to replace some internal dialogue in the fifth chapter that really amounted to a long, boring section of "telling" with a couple of scenes that would "show" the same information. And I'm quite pleased with the result. It needs a bit of spit and polish, of course, but it's much better than what I had before and I'm so glad I did it. The only problem with it is that it's so good, the scene that comes right before it now suffers by comparison because it was written months ago and isn't as "snappy" in terms of showing the characters' emotions as the new one!

This is probably why you should write a throwaway novel (or, perhaps better yet, FanLit entries) first to develop your craft and then write the story you really care about. The trouble I have in revising these scenes that I wrote when my craft was in its infancy is that I'm so close to them, I can't see what's wrong with them unless someone hits me over the head. But when I do see what's wrong, I can't always find a way to fix it without throwing off the pace and flow of the entire scene. I should probably just start again from scratch when this happens, but that feels a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. After all, it's not like there's nothing in these older scenes worth saving. And so I end up with a scene that's serviceable, but shows signs of having been patched up one too many times.

Since I was actually able to write something other than a FanLit entry, you might be wondering why I flirted with writing another one anyway. Well, first Avon guidelines for this week's chapter were tough. The requirements demanded the writers fill a plot hole that the voters had steadfastly ignored when choosing the winning entry for four weeks in a row. Entries that had tried to fill it in past rounds were steadfastly shot down in flames. Everyone on the forums complained that the premise had killed their muses. So, when I came up with an idea that seemed rather clever and unique, the desire to show it off was pretty darned strong. Especially with the knowledge that others were finding it difficult and that likely meant there would be far fewer entries this round than last.

Yes, deep down, I'd still like to win a FanLit round. Not for the prizes and not for the fishbowl head, but because I want the publishing credit. Even if it's just a single chapter in a silly e-book novella about nothing. That's all I really care about.

But despite the urge, I managed to be the master of my own domain. I just didn't do it.

I can't claim it was solely a matter of willpower, though. If it had been a normal work day and I'd been at home in front of the computer all day, I suspect I'd have succumbed. As it was, I had to go into the office and teach a class all day, which meant I had less than an hour and half in which to pump out my ~1,500 words and post them to the site. I probably could have done if I'd put my mind to it.

But I didn't. And I'm proud of that.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Getting the Monkey Off My Back (or Why FanLit is Hard to Quit)

That's right, boys and girls, another round of FanLit has come and gone. I am pleased to say my entry, The Best Little Whorehouse in London, did not win.

Yes, you heard me right. I'm glad I didn't win. Recent events have convinced me that wearing the fishbowl head is not all fun and games. It can be an out and out pain in the neck. And while it would have been nice to have a teeny-tiny publishing credit as a result of a win, I'm not sure it's worth all the hassles that go along with it!

Here's the thing: I set out very deliberately to get at least one entry into the top 20 this round. I wanted to know whether I could "write to the market" that I saw developing in FanLit. That "market", as I understood it, wanted fun and witty with a good hook at the end. So that's what I tried to write, mainly as an exercise to prove to myself that I could do it if I set my mind to it.

As it turned out, I proved it to myself twice over. Not only did the aforementioned entry finish in the top 10 (its final ranking was 6th), but my other entry (written and submitted first), And Snydley Makes Three, wound up 12th. So all in all, it's safe to say I nailed my goals in this round and there's really no reason to keep playing, especially since I need to work on Living in Sin! (Anyone who posts comments may feel free to flog me over my neglect of my manuscript. A little public humiliation would probably do me good.)

But deciding it's time to bow out has made me examine my addiction to FanLit with a more analytical eye. It took me four weeks to figure out why it's so seductive. Because it's certainly not that it forces you to write compelling stories with strong character development and solid goals, motivations, and conflicts! And it's not that it forces you to put in peculiar elements dictated by the panel such as a feather or a pot of chocolate. And it's certainly not that we all produce our very best work when we are constrained by characters and a story premise created by someone else. Or that we have only 72 hours in which to craft our small miracles. So what, exactly, is it?

My epiphany came when I finished writing And Snydley Makes Three on Saturday and sent it to Lacey and Darcy, hoping for validation of my feeling that it was the best thing I'd written for the contest thus far. I think I even titled the e-mail, Quick, before I succumb to temptation and post it!

As it turned out, I couldn't even wait an hour for them to get back to me. Okay, maybe it was two hours before I gave in, but when I hadn't heard from them for what seemed like forever to me, I did give into the temptation and posted it. And immediately hopped over to the My FanLit area of the site to watch my scores roll in.

For those of you who haven't been sucked into the FanLit universe (and if you're reading my blog, it seems highly unlikely), My FanLit shows you all the entries you've submitted in the current round and their "last rating" on a scale of 0 to 5, as well as all the entries you've read and rated with the score you gave and the last score they received. And based on the forum posts I've read, most of us spend an inordinate amount of time in the My FanLit area, periodically clicking the refresh button to see if our scores have changed. And then hopping over the forum to moan that our poor little darling has just received a low score (a 0.5 or a 0 or, worst of all, the dreaded "--", which we have been told is a 0 but somehow looks even worse than a 0) with no comment from the voter explaining what s/he didn't like about our masterpieces.

I'm sure there are some people who submit a chapter to FanLit who are actually able to submit it and then pay no attention whatever to its scores. They just let their entries fend for themselves and find out how they did first when the finalists are announced and then, if they didn't finish in the top ten, on Friday when the final rankings of all the entries in the round are announced. I'm just not sure who they are or whether they are actually human.

And the fact that so few people are able to ignore how their entries are doing is part and parcel of the reason FanLit is so compelling. It's because you get virtually instantaneous feedback. The problem with being a writer is that you do so much of your work in a vacuum. Even if you have critique partners, you can write something and not have any idea for a very long time whether it "works" as well as you thought it did or not. In addition, critique partners don't constitute a particularly wide audience. I have an unusually high number of critique partners, but that's still less than ten people who read my work and provide me with feedback on a regular basis. When you compare that to the hundreds of people who are voting on FanLit entries, you can see why it's hard not become obsessed with watching those scores.

And even if the voter doesn't leave a comment for you, the score you get tells you something. Maybe most of the really lowball scores are coming from people who are trying to help their own entry (or a friend's) by giving exceptionally poor scores to everyone else. But maybe it's also just that some voters give their scores based on their gut level reaction to your story. It might be well-written, but for whatever reason, perhaps they just didn't enjoy reading it. And a low score without a comment is no less valid as feedback than a high score with no comment, yet everyone seems to like those!

In the end, I suppose all writers have an obsessive-compulsive need to find an audience and, more, to gain approval from that audience. In the "real" world, of course, there are agents and editors to accept or reject us, but that generally takes a long time. If we are lucky enough to be accepted by an editor and have our manuscript published, then we have the audience of book buyers to accept or reject us. That generally takes even longer. Worse, once you get to the stage of being a published author, it's hard to judge your audience's approval by book sales unless you're one of the lucky few to reach bestseller status. And that takes even longer than getting published in the first place.

FanLit is so successful because it offers a shortcut to audience and approval (or rejection, though of course none of us wants rejection). Instead of the weeks or months it might take for an agent or editor to get to your query or partial and respond to you, you discover within minutes of clicking the Submit button whether your audience likes you or not. You read the comments on your entry and find out what some of your readers liked or didn't like about your story. And you keep finding out, score after score, comment after comment, hour after hour, what your audience thinks. For writers (even published authors, some of whom have participated or continue to participate in the contest), this is almost as irresistible as the urge to breathe.

But I've decided it's time for me to resist the urge. Not because it hasn't been fun and not even because it's been a colossal waste of time (okay, I admit sitting on the My FanLit page and hitting refresh every few minutes was a colossal waste of time, but writing my entries was not as I definitely learned from doing them), but because I want to have to suffer with the longer route to audience approval. And FanLit has been distracting me from that goal.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Kind of Story Writers Love to Tell

So, here I sit alone in my hotel room, a Samuel Adams draught lager on my left and a TV remote on my right. No kids to put to bed (my husband gets to do that tonight), no dinner dishes to clean up after (housekeeping gets to do that), and no one to interrupt me while I'm trying to write. Ah, this is the life!

I don't go on business trips very often. I avoided doing them for years when my kids were younger because I just couldn't stand to leave them and my husband for any length of time. And of course, when they were still nursing (and I nursed all of mine well past the recommended one year), it wasn't really practical for me to leave.

But now, business trips (as long as they are only one or two nights long) are a godsend. They are a little gift to myself--peace, quiet, and nothing to do but please myself and (during the work day) the client. Believe me, I love my husband and children beyond anything, but there is something so blissful about being beholden to no one, even for just a few hours a day, that I never fully appreciated before I had a family.

Maybe at this point, you are wondering what I do for a living. I am an instructional designer. (Cue puzzled expressions.) Don't worry, no one else knows what it means, either. I always tell people it's shorthand for someone who creates corporate training materials. Then they usually nod and say "oh" in a tone that clearly indicates they wonder why I don't call myself a corporate training writer.

And I guess the answer I'd give is that there really is a design element and process to writing training materials. It's so much more than just knowing what your students need to know, but about knowing in what order they need to know it and then, once you figure that out, building documentation and demonstrations and activities that use only what they've learned up to this point and nothing more. Do anything out of order and it's a bit like trying to put the roof on the house before you've framed the walls--it all falls down around your ears. In addition, a good instructional designer writes course materials that can be delivered by many different instructors in essentially the same way. The course has to be repeatable in a way that's consistent and doesn't depend on who happens to be the teacher on any given day. That makes doing instructional design well a real challenge. And I love a challenge!

The company I work for provides data processing software to credit unions. I'd link to the company's website because I'd love to promote it, but I'm a little hinky about sharing my secret aspirations as a romance novelist with most of my coworkers, and I'm thinking the link might get tracked backward at some point. Still, it's a great place to work or I wouldn't still be there after more than 12 years. (It doesn't hurt that they let me telecommute despite the fact that I live 20 minutes from the office!)

As an instructional designer, I rarely travel or see clients. Mostly, I sit at my computer and research how the software works and then design training to teach people how to use it. But every once in a while, a client wants training on an aspect of the software in which I'm either the acknowledged expert or I'm the only available instructor. And when that happens, I'm generally willing to do it as long as it's not more than a couple of nights. Any more than that is just too hard on my family.

Okay, it's 9:40 and my beer's almost gone, so it's about time to wrap this up. The real reason I started this post was to share a story my husband told me about our seven-year-old daughter when I called earlier this evening. Now, the first thing you have to understand is that our daughter is very literal-minded. Ever read an Amelia Bedelia book? If you have, then you will understand me perfectly when I say my daughter is Amelia Bedelia. She is so much Amelia Bedelia that she usually doesn't get the joke in Amelia Bedelia stories.

For example, one morning, when she was about four, she came downstairs very early, one of her Kelly dolls in each hand. My husband said, "My, you're up with the chickens." She looked from one hand to the other then at him and said solemnly, "No, I'm up with my dolls." God, I love that story!

Today, she went to a Brownie meeting after school. As one of their projects this year, they are making a pair of knitting needles from soft wood. One of the leader moms is going to teach them to knit and they are each going to knit a square which we'll assemble into a blanket and give to a charity at the end of the year. So, this mom sharpened all the needles between the last meeting and this one and gave them to the girls, but the wood was still quite rough.

When my daughter arrived home with her knitting needles, she immediately took them out in the back yard and began covering them with dirt. My mother, who babysat this afternoon, saw her and was extremely puzzled.

"What are you doing?" my mother asked.

To which my daughter promptly responded, "I'm sanding them." Which was, of course, exactly what the leader had told her she should do.

And Now for a Really Fast Post

I am in my hotel in Burbank. I am supposed to be at the client site to set up for my class in three minutes. But I am taking this very brief opportunity to tell you that...yes...I finaled in FanLit this week. All I really wanted was to crack the top 20, but I've done cracked the top 10. Unbelievable!

Maybe now I can quit this damn thing! It would be really good if I could.

When Real Life Intervenes

This is going to be a short post! I should have written it last night, but real life intervened.

First, did you know it is no longer possible to fly non-stop from San Diego to Burbank? I have to go to a client site today (I work for a credit union data processing software company) and, as you've probably guessed, it's in Burbank. I wanted to fly. I can think of few things that are as great a waste of time as driving several hours. I'd rather spend the same amount of time in airports and on planes. At least in airports and on planes, I can commune with my laptop and get something useful done!

When I first found out about this client visit, I figured I'd fly to Burbank. It would give me a great opportunity to get some work done on my manuscript. But then I started looking for flights and discovered that to get to Burbank on a plane, I have to fly to Las Vegas first. What the heck?

So now I have to drive. Yahoo Maps optimistically estimates it will take me 2 hours and 14 minutes to get from my house to the client site. Um, on what planet? Obviously, Yahoo has never actually driven in Los Angeles. The last time I drove to a client site in LA, it took me more than four hours and it was closer the Burbank. The traffic was terrible.

Wish me luck. I hate driving in LA!

Monday, October 09, 2006

I Can Give Up FanLit Any Time I Want--NOT!

Okay, I confess. You've dragged it out of me. After getting down on my bad self and swearing I wasn't going to write anything for FanLit that wasn't a parody because I clearly suck at it, I submitted not one, but two serious entries this week.

All right, maybe "serious" isn't quite the right word. Serious and this FanLit contest do not seem to go together. The entries that have made it to the finals have almost to a one been droll, madcap pieces positively dripping with witticism and foolery. And I don't mean that as a criticism. It's hard to write that kind of stuff, which is why I've struggled with it.

Still, I decided in an e-mail exchange with Lacey and Darcy and a separate chain with another of my critique partner's, Leigh, that it was worth my time to keep trying. Finaling in FanLit appears to be very much a crapshoot and I'm convinced that some of the very best entries were overlooked due to the vagaries of the voting system. That said, there does seem to be a general tendency for the cream to rise, and even if the finalists haven't always included my absolute favorite entries, they've all been good. It didn't hurt my decision that I came up with one pretty darned good idea on Friday night which I was able to write and submit on Saturday, leaving me with Sunday to come up with yet another pretty darned good idea to write and submit today.

I'll admit it: I want to crack the top 20. Little birds have told me that Avon editors have been paying attention to submissions that get into the top 20. I'd prefer to be a finalist (hell, let's be honest, I'd prefer to bloody well win!), but a little notice from an Avon editor--especially when I've got a manuscript in a competition that has an Avon editor as the final round judge--would not go amiss. And I think maybe I have a shot with at least one of the entries I submitted this time. It's the first time I've felt that way and I haven't been wrong yet, LOL!

There's another reason I've decided to keep playing, though. I find writing these chapters to be a useful writing exercise. Of course, it's very bad in that it's been keeping me from working on Living in Sin as much as I ought, but I think it's improving my writing in subtle ways. First, I'm learning to get more information across with fewer words. Given how much I have to cut out of my manuscript to get it to come at or under 100K words, I cannot help but view this as a good thing.

The other thing it's taught me is that I can write quickly and well simultaneously. For some reason, with these FanLit scenes, I don't agonize over every sentence, every phrase. I don't worry the thousand little details that slow me down when I'm writing my manuscript. Part of this is the inevitably freeing effect of writing something where hitting the characters' goals, motivations and conflicts are less important than providing a scene that is witty, amusing, and surprising in some way. (Julia Quinn, who submitted an entry anonymously in the last round, commented on this very fact in the forum, and I have to agree. It's great to write something without worrying about what's going to come next and whether it will "fit" with the rest of the story.)

So, I'm hoping to carry some of these lessons over into my own manuscript. If I don't crack the top 20 this week, I suppose I'll be motivated to try again in Round 5 and again in Round 6. It's ultimately just too much fun not to.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Another Round of FanLit Completed

Well, my straight entry finished in the top 100 this time (40th, to be precise) and it seems I actually beat Lacey this time, but not Lynne's parody. I guess that's progress of a sort! At least this time, the average scores and page views seem to make sense in relation to each entry's placement in the ranks. There don't seem to be any major disparities like there were last time.

So, here are the posse's entries in this round:

31st Lynne's A Different Light
39th Sarah's A Lighter Shade of Mauve
40th My Flings and Arrows
56th Sarah's Purple is the Color of My True Love's Lies
60th Sarah's Cat's in the Cradle
94th Lacey's Double-Crossed

Darcy didn't enter this week, as she was in the throes of moving.

At this point, it seems pretty evident that trying to write an entry with a valid shot at the finals is a waste of my time and talent (which apparently is more camp and comedic than I previously imagined). I seem to do much better with my parodies and have more fun with them, so maybe I'll stick to that from now on.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ego, Superego, and the Id(iocy) of Self-Delusion

Okay, I admit it. My pride was wounded. Let's just get that admission right out on the table. And it's at least part of the reason I didn't post the results of the second round of FanLit on my blog when they came out on Friday as I originally promised.

Most of you who read my blog probably also read Lacey's and/or are involved in FanLit one way or another, so you already know that her entry, Sweet Deception, won the second round. That's right, she won!!!! And, honestly, I'm couldn't be more pleased.

Well, okay, I'd be even more pleased if I'd won. And I'd still love to win. First, though, I've got to figure out how to write an entry that's not a parody that people actually like. Alas, thus far, I don't seem to have that skill nailed down. I can apparently write parodies that people find hilarious and heap praise upon, but my straight entries leave something to be desired.

As mentioned below, my entry in Round 2 was a very silly piece of fluff called The Fairy Tale Fractures. But much to my surprise, it got a lot of "buzz" on the forum. The winner of the first round, Sherry (aka Yorkie Lover), even left a comment saying she thought it would be fun to follow. It appeared on quite a few people's favorites lists. And while I knew such a ridiculous entry would never actually be allowed to win, I had momentary dreams of grandeur. I visualized finishing in the top 20, if not the top 10.

So I'm sure you can imagine how dumbfounded I was when the results came out and my much-acclaimed entry came out in 282nd place. Um, people, there were only 299 entries! How in the world did my wonderful if ridiculous little story, which had three pages of mostly complimentary comments, wind up in 282nd place? It was mind-boggling. Unbelievable.

When the site hiccuped shortly after the winner was announced and no one could access the results for entries that finished out of the top 100, I had a brief moment of hope that the results were actually wrong and I'd at least finished in the second 100. But no, the final results came back and showed that The Fairy Tale Fractures had indeed finished 282nd.

(Have I written 282nd enough now for you to realize how catastrophically damaging to my ego this was?)

I was not the only person who was bamboozled by this result. Lynne Simpson did a little bit of digging in the HTML code and discovered that my entry's raw average and page views should have been sufficient to place it easily within the top 20, if not the top 10. Well, that made me feel a tad better. The voters didn't actually hate it; there was some other explanation for its bottom-of-the-barrel finish.

Questions were posted to the forum, asking whether someone could have deliberately sabotaged my entry and several others that seemed to have peculiar final rankings. The FanLit people responded with assurances that averages and page views aren't the only thing that goes into the final rankings and that there are "top secret" weighting factors that also play into the equation.

In the end, I came up with my own theory for why my entry finished so astonishingly low, and it soothes my wounded pride a bit. I've also no intention of sharing it here as it probably stinks of conspiracy theorism and vanity. Not to mention I wouldn't want the powers that be in the FanLit universe accusing me of accusing them of unfair play. Which I'm not! It just might sound that way.

So here are the final finishing positions of the entries (not including Lacey's winner and my loser) submitted by the members of our little posse, to which I'd like to welcome Sarah as our newest member.

15th Place Lynne's The Amateur Adventuress
22nd Place Lacey's The Comedy In Question
27th Place Erica's Once a Hellion, Always a Hellion
32nd Place Sarah's Suffragette City
38th Place Sarah's Very Nearly Picture Perfect
44th Place Darcy's The Morning After
52nd Place Sarah's Cat Scratch Fever
74th Place Lynne's The Wayfaring Wife
102nd Place Erica's Surprises in the Shadows
118th Place Darcy's The Absent Husband

In this latest round, I decided to do only one, completely straight entry. As mentioned, I apparently haven't got the knack of writing successful straight entries, however, and I'm sure it has no chance whatsoever of finaling, let alone winning. Given that, I may go back to parodies in the next round. It seems to be what I'm good at. And I already have an idea...