Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion

I was quiet here in March, well, stuff happened.

1- Dog was diagnosed with Stage 2 Mass Cell Cancer tumor and had to have tumor removal surgery. He still has to see a puppy oncologist and start puppy chemo.

2- I was accepted (as of today thus afar) into WCSU's MFA Creative and Professional Writing Program as well as the MFA Creative Writing Program at California College of the Arts. Uni of San Fran's Writing MFA rejected me. San Jose State U and San Fran State U will be finalizing and sending notifications this week. I really really want to be accepted into SJSU, but am preparing for rejection because their criteria was pretty rough.

3- I got into a sort of end of winter depression. I guess the waiting, anxiety, and everything snowballed so I got into a very uninspired and morose sort of funk. It happens.

 So I will not know where I'm going to grad school until next week I suppose, and if I don't get into SJSU I will probably go with WCSU and registration starts Apr 13th so  I need to decide if I am going to start in Fall or Spring. Part of me wants to hold off to Spring because I am moving to San Jose and would like to get a little financial stability and not travel so heavy in the summer, but then part of me just wants to get started with the week residency and such.

And that is that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Under the Magnifying Glass

When I was younger, I had a very hard time with criticism. I didn't have a vast sense of self-confidence for a lot of my formative years which is what I suspect the reasoning why criticism would leave me prone to wanting to hide under my blankets and cry.
   That being said, when it comes to my writing I love critique and feedback.

  Writer and poet Alyce Wilson posted a link to her latest blog entry entitled "Giving and Using Feedback". I know Alyce through non-profit organization volunteering and only recently learned she was an author/poet. What I loved about this article/blog post was how she talks about focusing critiques and when giving a critique or feedback. Understanding the type of piece it is, its intended audience, the author's goals, and are they achieving them are good things to keep in mind when someone offers something up for critique.
     To me it's not about pointing out extreme negatives, but seeing what is and isn't potentially working and making light of this so the author can improve their work.
    I know I'm not a perfect writer. I have confidence in my ability, but I don't get very lofty about it, sometimes I'm downright unsure or, well, see that Karen Eiffel head desk icon? Yes, its very apt for me, but when it comes to writing I have this as my feeling towards it, which is where feedback and critique comes in- It can always be better.
     Sometimes as a writer you can get pretty attached to your work, or sometimes you get unsure about a scene or a chapter. Does this really work? Is something off? What is it that's catching me up here or not working? Can this be better?
         I know it helps me a lot to have other pairs of eyes look things over and catch something I may not.
  I replied to her post (via Facebook as opposed to her blog) a shorter version of what I just said above, she replied that I had a very professional attitude about it. I might have squeed in joy a little bit. For someone who used to take criticism hard, to really see how far I've come in some aspect anyway with it is a nice feeling.
       I don't see a critique as being something that's intended to upset me, or tear my work to shreds and make me feel I suck as a writer. I see it as something very helpful intended to add that extra bit of polish to make it shine, to help it grow and flourish.
       Mind you, I'm talking about constructive crit and feedback. Things like "your writing sucks!" or "this is the dumbest story I've ever heard" are not either of these things are just unhelpful and rather mean. Though in the face of these sort of things, I'm the type of person who will counter with "Oh really? Then how do you think I can make it better?"
    Another thing to consider is, think about where who you are sending crit to for feedback. I find it works better for me to have my work critiqued by people who read/write in that particular genre because there are nuances that are particular to a genre. I have had people crit my work who give feedback, but confess in it they don't read that particular genre and aren't sure how useful the crit might be, or to find people who read/write in that genre to send it to for feedback. Granted, I always thank that person regardless for taking the time to look my work over, and most still provide valuable feedback.
  Sometimes though, its nice to have a genre-saavy person taking a looksies.

 So how do you all feel about feedback and critique and the give and take of it? Love it, know its necessary, dread it?
  Let us discuss! Comment away!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Adventures in World Building

World building to me is one of the most adventurous and fun things about writing fiction. Creating characters, their cities, their culture, deities, technology, and essentially making a whole world of my own (or several worlds) is pretty exhilerating stuff.
   A lot of my world-building is very inspired by our own world history and folklore, which I guess is quite an indicator that I have a obsession with the past. I won't apologize, because it leads to things like Richard Armitage looking dashing in a suit walking through a cotton mill playing on my screen.
    What I try to do when I world build is to keep them seperate worlds, but try to retain my "voice" as an author. This does lead to a lot of clutter in my head.
  I have one world that is loosely inspired by Victorian England in terms of culture and techology, yet their kingdoms and rulers are a throwback to much older times or great myth and the idea of many gods/goddesses. Also, one kingdom alone never gets warmer than 60 degrees. Don't ask, I blame living in Scotland for this idea of a quirk sticking in my head.
 I have another world that is very fantastical yet is inspired by Rennaissance Europe. Courtly love, intrigue, romanticism of that time...there's a lot of elements I like drawing from that period in history that in itself are great stories as is.
   When I really get into a project, I will map out a world so intricately as if its a history/anthropology report. I like to think this is because I am so proned to being scatter-brained that it keeps my organized. It also helps me outline where I want a story to go.
   Anne Bishop is an author who I think is very excellent at world builing. Her Black Jewels Series, especially the original trilogy, are very amazing in the way she set up this whole caste system and world and it just blew me away.
 Neil Gaiman is really great at it too, but then that man could write a laundry list and I'd fangirl it.

 What do you guys do to world-build or where do you get your inspiration from? What authors do you think excel at this?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Being the Literary One

     My boyfriend, whom for all intents and purposes shall be known as The Gent, is one of the most technical smart people I know, a veritable MacGyver even. He's actually a draftsman/technical director for an Audio/Lighting/Video install/rental group that does a lot of big corporate shows out West. He's very good at what he does.
  He also cannot spell to save his life.
     Seriously, I love him to utter pieces but when we first became involved conversation at times was akin to having someone speak to you via Babelfish when we would IM. Sometimes, due the interesting autocorrect the iPhone decides on, conversation could even be downright hilarious.
  A year later I am pleased to say I can properly "translate" what he's trying to say with some words.
      A few months ago when he was up for the position he currently has, I demanded to read his cover letter/letter of intent. It wasn't a bad effort, but needed a fine-tuned grammatical polishing. I like to think my help was conducive to him getting the gig.
     His spelling has actually improved a lot between now and then, and I often wonder if its my influence and the occasional spelling correction that has brought this about. Or that he makes the effort because I am "the literary one" between us as he says.
     Between us, I read more of what is considered literary fiction. He's more into science fiction/space or non-fiction works. He loves e-readers, I prefer what he calls "dead tree books". Call me arcane, but I love paper books.
       I have considered at some point writing something in science fiction, something he would like to read and one of our mutual friends would like to read, and maybe even other people would like to read. I probably would never be the next Heinlein, but writing some sort of epic space opera even just for funsies?
  Well, why not?
    Goonies never say die!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Not Your Mama's Mantitty

Romance novels get a bad rep, I think.

  When people think romance novel they still think of the covers where the heroine has impossibly big 80s hair and blue eyeshadow, bodice askew, being held by an equally big haired Fabio with like a swan coming out of his rear (or so it would seem...there's many good critiques of covers over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)...
   Back then it was all Alpha Male is Alpharific! Here, milady, have a punishing kiss and some sexy times of dubious consent!

 The thing is, things have changed as they are wont to do.

 Romance novels have in the past decade or so shifted into stories that are witty, fun, clever, dark, poignant, or even in Middle English dialogue.  It's historical fiction with romance. They are some of the smartest books I have read, to be honest, and most engaging.
The heroines are more fully fleshed out characters, the heroes less of the 'dominating, rapistish-like' heroes of yore. There's the history of the era present, the deliciously fancy language (I love big words).
 And the thing is, for most of fans of the genre- It's not even really about the sex scenes.
 Yes, they're nice and all when well-executed, but most every review is based on plot and characters, and the romance itself. Not if the two leads are boffing in a stable.
  There seems to still be the lingering notion romance novels are "porn for bored housewives".

 This could not be more wrong at all. All sorts of women, even men, read romance. Teachers, professors, lawyers, businesswomen, etc.

 Ex- I was a Dean's List student in college that has seen a GPA 3.5 and higher on my transcript. I am applying to graduate school. I have read the Classics, I love Greek tragedies, I love Austen, I love Poe, and Nick Hornby.
  I study European history on the side as a hobby. Let's talk Tudor dynasty some time if you dare. I am working on two romance historical fiction manuscripts.

 Enough on me.
 Even the authors themselves are women who are certainly smart ladies.
   Julia Quinn, one Avon's most prolific authors and agreed by consensus of fans Writer of Some of the Best Dialogue Ever, has books in which 80-something% I believe of the SAT/GRE vocab words are contained within. She was studying at Yale Medical School to be a doctor, but found writing to be her calling. I know I thank her for that decision, I love her work!
  Eloisa James, another prolific author, is actually in reality Mary Bly- a tenured Shakespearean professor whose academic writing has been published by Oxford Press. She also currently head of the Creative Writing Department at Fordham University. She essentially "came out" in 2005 at a faculty meeting.

 Romance is about 60% of the sales of all fiction genres. Basically...it's pretty much the best-selling fiction. It has a very smart and loyal fanbase. Romance Writers of America is one of the largest writing associations in the country with one of the largest conferences anually.

 So can the bad reputation for being "bodice rippers" please end already?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

This was unlike the story it was written to be....

 Oh now isn't this original, you might think, another upstart would-be writer with a blog? How cliched.

Well you would indeed be correct, but I could counter with- "Sure sure, most every writer has a blog these days but! But with a capital "B", I am me with my own voice and isn't that sort of the point?"

 Now that we've moved past that stage, let's have some coffee and chat.

 First, let's get to the basics.

 I always read stories and came up with stories for as long as I can remember. It was part of me, who I was, who I am. For a while I had, despite this predilection, decided I was going to grow up to be Indiana Jones and go hunt for priceless artifacts.
  Fast forward to today- I really don't feel that way anymore. I mean I actually do really love history, anthropology, etc. etc. and the things that entail being a proper archaeologist, but I fear that was a track in life I just did not follow.
  So here we are today. A few answers to probably questions:
 Yes, I write. No, currently I am not published. Yes, I want to be published someday but I am also currently in the waiting period of hearing back on whether I have been accepted or rejected from graduate school. See aside from the whole loving to write thing, I kind of like teaching and have some fancy Ideas of being an tenured professor that lectures about books all the time.
  I blame this one woman- Elizabeth Popiel, an associate professor at my undergraduate alma mater. She is, to put it best, a force of nature. Also a union scenic designer by trade who works for one of the Big Networks in NY doing set things, I am convinced she doesn't sleep. She was my professor and mentor for years, still is my mentor, and decided some years ago that despite pursuing a degree in Technical Theatre that Writing was my true calling.
     So she encouraged me, suggested I apply to grad school, told me anecdotes and such and in general essentially said to me some of the best motivation ever to pursue that goal, to keep writing, when I was initially rejected last year by University of Baltimore and felt very dejected-

  "Hey you! Don't you give up now and make me kick your ass! I didn't raise no wimp!!"

 Which honestly, she would never actually kick my ass, but it was definitely a "Okay, I'm not giving up on this."
    I remember sitting in her kitchen, waiting to see what she and her husband (Actor/Writer/Comic/Professor/Wunderbar Don Stitt)  thought of my writing portfolio. Liz had expressed she was pretty  blown away with it, especially the historical fiction piece that left her in suspense and wanting more. I knew she would have encouraging things to say, and even if she felt some writing was weak she has a way of spinning things to highlight what works and positive ways to fix what doesn't.
   And then Don appeared and I was nervous and anxious and terrified he would thinking my writing was horrid. Don is rather brutally/frankly honest when it comes to these things, which I also needed.
    So there he is, holding my manuscript, and goes  (I'm paraphrasing here)- "You know, when it comes to writing there's just this certain thing, a spark, that just isn't something you can learn in a classroom or be taught. You either have it or you don't and most writers don't. That being said- you definitely have it, the spark, and if this is the path you want to take...Go for it. Do it. You have what it takes."
        So in the lovely, horrible, and nerve-wracking period I am in of the Grad School Waiting Game, I have been working on some manuscripts.
      Now here is something one should know about my writing-I don't stick to one genre. I write in many.

 Currently on my hard drive is the following-

  • Two romance genre WIPs
  • A YA fantasy WIP that will probably be a trilogy
  • An adult fantasy WIP that will probably be a trilogy
  • An historical fiction mystery series 
  • Another YA fantasyWIP  
  Oh yes, you read that right up there- I said Romance.  But that will be a blog for another day.

 So this, to sum up, is my introductory blog post. I shall now return to my movie Mary: Queen of Scots, my coffee,  and plot plotting.