Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Cozy, Snowy Evening

Hubby and I went to the library today so I could return my books. In the lobby of the library, the staff had set up a painted gourd exhibit in the glass cases. I really have to give my local library props. They're always setting up new exhibits and showcasing local talent. The last time hubby and I visited together, there were exhibits from the Smithsonian set up throughout the library. Very cool. This time was different, it was set up only near the back doors. If I remember right, the display was strictly local artists. 

After I'd handed over my books over to the librarian, we went to Johnny's for the pizza buffet. By then it was noonish, and the temperature had begun to drop. The sky was gray but clear when we arrived at the restaurant. As for the food...King Cake Pizza. What a pleasant surprise. I could've boxed the whole thing and brought it home with me. It was so good.  

We were met by sleet and rain when we left the restaurant, but it wasn't sticking, so we dropped by the store on our way home for a pack of camping hand warmers. Hubby likes to take those to work with him and stick them in his gloves. Anyway, when we left the store, the sleet had stopped. I figured that was it and didn't give the weather another thought. 

Back at home, we put Sassie's new collar on her and settled in to our usual lounging places. The bus arrived a little earlier than usual, about 3:15, so I went to the door to greet MiniBeast. He bounded off the bus with this huge smile on his face. That is always a big plus for me. Big smile equals good day for everyone. I watched Mini run across the yard, and when he came crashing inside, he said, "Ermegerd isrt shnerr!" (Translated: "OMG, it's snowing!" LOL) I stepped outside, and sure enough, there were flurries.

Once it had accumulated a bit, I stepped outside and recorded a few seconds of the snow falling. I imagine much of the snow will be melted away by tomorrow afternoon, so it was worth doing. Anyway, the video quality isn't that great, I took it with my phone, but it was lush being outside in the elements. I love the whisper of snow falling. It's a shame we don't live where we can experience it more often.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Writerly Performance Anxiety

No one is holding
you back but yourself.
I've been in the writing cave all weekend, and I feel like I'm finally making some progress. Mini is out of school tomorrow, so I'm going to stay up late and try to get in another chapter. That's if the words will flow. Then I'll go to bed, get about four hours of sleep, wake up, make coffee, drink too much of it, then try to write some more. So the cycle goes.

I've felt creatively drained lately, like I'm running on empty, and it's hard to keep my buns in the writing chair for more than five minutes at a time. I know what I need to do, and I have an idea of what I want to write. Nevertheless, I end up staring at the page for what feels like hours on end, and the words are just stuck.

I do mean that literally. Stuck. Lodged in there. I know the words are in there, I hear them rattling around like marbles in a coke bottle. But whenever I attempt to write it's like trying to pry those marbles out of the bottle with the end of a paper clip. What an absolute time consuming pain in the rump that is. And because I'm not writing steadily, I feel like I'm slacking, which only stresses me out further and kicks off that stress cycle again.

Lately I've been reading a lot to combat my perilous lack of inspiration. I've been reading novels of all genres - even YA, which I usually avoid. I've been reading help guides, writerly reference books, and people's personal blogs - anything that takes me to a place were words equal emotions. I desperately need some of that (whatever that really is), because it's lacking in me.

I also recently deleted one of my favorite writerly advice resource sites after they shared a word cull list for "strengthening your writing". I get it, already. The streets of hell are paved with passive sentences and -ly adverbs. Yes, yes, it's true that you can cut words out of your writing to make it much stronger. These lists are nothing new. But when you start making lists to cut words: was, were, like, can, could, should, would, as, then, when, know, feel, felt, realized, wondered, etc. etc. etc. It never ends.

There is always someone who, in trying to write stronger, brings more words to be slashed and slaughtered, until what's left is nothing but a bloody hacked up mess of stark, boring sentences. Not only is it creatively stifling, it's really not something anyone should be thinking about when writing a first draft. Words themselves are not the enemy. It's the way they're filtered through the characters to provide meaning and evoke emotion that determines whether or not these cull words are used successfully.

If I want to begin a sentence in my book with "there is", I will damn well do it, because as a real, living breathing person, as a character in my own life story, when I look at a door, I don't think to myself  "A door stands over there". I think, "There's a fucking door over there." And it is perfectly appropriate, and in character, for me to think that way.

I think a lot of my lack of inspiration comes from performance anxiety. I worry about what I'm writing. I worry about my characters. I worry about my readers. I worry that I will write a draft so broken that it can't be fixed. Well, okay. I'm pretty sure drafts that can't be fixed are out there and a dime a dozen, but really, it's time to retire that fear and move on. Yeah, I stand the chance of writing a broke book. So what? If I do, I do. Part of the risk you take when writing is that your book, your beloved baby, will turn out so hideously deformed you'll have to bury it in the back yard so no one will ever, ever know it existed.

Okay, so really, that last part was me rehashing the plot of an episode of the X-Files, but whatever. The point is, all those burdensome lists of cull words... There is a way out, I will find it. I feel pressure, and I will acknowledge it. Yeah, I am 100% done with those.

Alrighty, enough of that. I didn't start writing this blog post in order to rant. Truth told, I'm not even feeling ranty. More or less I'm just tired of dreading what I once loved. Writing has always been my passion, but I've imposed so many rules on myself over the past seven years that I'm now struggling to create anything.

To remedy that, I've decided to take it slow, to take it day by day, and put one word in front of the other. No looking back. No looking at cull lists. It's time to stop worrying about writing and just write.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thoughts on Writing for Anthologies

Contains CZ's story
"Only the Moon Will Tell"
Collected here are a few words of wisdom when it comes to writing for anthologies. This post talks a little bit about contracts, but don't construe this as legal advice. It isn't. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV.

If you're about to enter into a publishing agreement, do your due diligence. If you aren't sure about your contract, and you don't have an agent, hire a literary attorney. I'm posting this because the anthology market is a fun and unique niche in the industry. That said, I've had both good and bad - very, very bad - experiences in writing for anthologies.

Consider this post a friendly, casual heads up about some of the things you need to know and be watchful for before you dive in. Everything here is based on my own personal experiences.

Let's get started by defining an anthology. It's basically a collection of short stories or novellas by various authors. Notice I said various authors. If you have a collection of short stories or novellas by a single author, it's simply called a collection.

There are two main types of anthologies. The first one is the kind where you write an original story based around a chosen theme, such as 18 Bloody Awful Ghost Stories, Hot Hung Hunks, or Naughty Spanking Werewolves, or whatever. This represents a standard anthology, regardless of genre. A publisher or editor will put out a call for a specific kind of story or theme. You write the story, send it in, and hope to be accepted. You're typically paid on publication.

The second kind of anthology is rare. It's when an already established author puts out a call to buy short stories using the established author's previously published and copyrighted characters and their pre-existing world, their pre-designed story bible, and any other pre-existing story elements as per the submission call. These calls are often themed as well, and you're typically paid on publication.

[For example: Bess. S. Author wants you to write a 500 word story using her John and Anna Romancero characters, set in their hometown of Happyland, USA. In order to fit the anthology's 4th of July theme, stories should revolve around the characters visiting the town's annual fireworks show in the park.] 

With that kind of pre-existing character/world anthology, you can expect the contract to be strict about what you may or may not do with the author's characters and other story elements. For instance, it will say you do not have any legal right to continue to use the characters, story world, bible, story elements, etc. outside of the anthology. Often, you can't combine any of your previously published characters with the anthology author's characters. But most importantly, if your story is selected and published (or even if it's not) you will never be able to publish that story elsewhere. In other words, you can't use it for anything other than that specific anthology call. Publish the story elsewhere and risk being sued. Like I said, these calls are extremely rare.

Unless you're writing for that rare kind of anthology that requires you to use someone else's copyrighted characters, world, etc., never - yes, I said never - sign a contract for an anthology that asks for exclusive rights to your story.

There is no reason a standard anthology needs your exclusive rights. You might think a story won't matter to you once it's published. You may believe that you already made your money off of a story when you signed on, and the publisher (or in some cases, the editor) sent you that one-shot $10, $75, or $100 payment* on publication. You might think you will never read or use that story again. I'm here to tell you, you will more than likely come to regret that decision later if you sign over exclusive rights. I've done it, and there has always been a major headache attached to doing so.

Down the road, you might find another anthology where your story fits. Or you might want to use that story in your "greatest hits" author collection. You might want to make a bundle out of it with your author friends. The point is you might want to publish that story again, and if you've signed away exclusive rights, depending on the contract, it will probably take the legal equivalent of the jaws of life to pry you (or buy you) out of that contract.

Another thing to watch out for is a contract that forgoes a concrete rights reversion time frame in favor of a clause that allows the publisher to determine whether or not the book is "out of print" or "no longer in sufficient demand". Neither of those terms, or anything similar to those terms, should be used to determine whether or not you can request your rights back on an anthology story. These clauses are vague and can easily be manipulated to keep a dead book "in print". Also watch out for those contracts that automatically renew annually, but offer the writer only a narrow, vague window of time in which to request rights back each year.

Another thing to pay close attention to is what format the anthology will be published in. Is the book going to be published in print and ebook? As a bundle on Amazon?  In audio book format? Avoid anthology contract clauses that grant the publisher rights to publish you in "technologies in development/not yet developed/discovered", "forthcoming technologies", "future technologies", or anything of that sort. What does forthcoming technologies mean for you? Long story short, given the rate in which new publishing platforms and technologies are cropping up, your book could be considered in print indefinitely.

Ideally, an anthology contract should be for non-exclusive rights. Sometimes there will be a clause that says you must wait a specific amount of time before you can republish your story. This is fairly common. It gives the publisher of the anthology a chance to make money off the book before you publish your story elsewhere. However, before you sign that non-exclusive contract, make sure the time frame stated in the contract is crystal clear. Six months is good. A year is good. Anything over three years, negotiate your way into a shorter time frame or don't sign at all.

In addition to non-exclusive rights, if you can get the publisher to add that the rights "automatically revert" to the author (after a clearly specified amount of time), so that no contact with the publisher is required for the rights to be returned, all the better. I've worked with two publishers that have those clauses, and I'd happily work with them again and again. What's great about an anthology contract that requests non-exclusive rights with an automatic reversion clause is that you don't have to wait for the publisher to send you a rights reversion notice in order to republish your story after the time frame is up. On the opposite side of the fence, the publisher doesn't have to stop selling/ take down/ unpublish the book they invested in (your story and everyone else's with it) just because you wanted to publish the same story elsewhere. Instead, you can both look at it that you fulfilled your obligation to the publisher. If you're contracted to receive royalties, you'll continue receiving royalty payments on the anthology if it is still in print/ for sale/ selling. In the meantime, you have the right to republish your story elsewhere. Everyone walks away happy.

About anthologies and getting *paid. I prefer to work with publishers that offer a one-shot payment for an anthology story. Most editors state in the submissions call whether a project is royalty paying or a one time payment. With royalties, you stand the chance of earning more than a one-shot payment, but you also stand the chance of earning pennies. I once received a 4¢ royalty check for my cut of a paranormal anthology. Unless I'm looking at a book bundling deal (for example, e-book bundles currently sold on Amazon), when it comes to the average anthology story, I mostly look for calls that offer a flat rate payment (most often paid on publication) along with a few author copies.

Anthologies are good for sharpening your writing chops, and they are good for getting in a little paid exposure. They also give you a chance to dive in on a subject or theme you might not have taken a risk on writing about otherwise. If you're not ready to commit to writing a full novel, consider submitting to a few anthologies. It can be valuable and rewarding experience.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

300,000 Words To Go

I'm taking a slightly different approach to writing this year. I'll be tracking my project by project word counts, but I'm also setting a year end writing goal of 300,000 words.

I have no idea if I can write that much, since I've never tracked my yearly total before. But I figured that's a safe estimate. Several friends wrote over 500k last year. Holy smokes, that's a lot of words. I'm superdy impressed!

I'm using the 300k as a baseline test. Next year I'll have a better idea of what I can actually do and what I can't, so that takes some of the pressure off that big end goal. It's all trial and error at this point.

A friend sent me over to Svenja Liv's website for an excel spreadsheet to track my progress. I chose the forest fairy spreadsheet, but they have several different themes to choose from. There are even some Supernatural (TV series) spreadsheets. Donations to the creator are welcome, but the downloads are free. It's worth a look!

Spreadsheets URL:

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Holiday Fray :: Ringing in 2014

I really have no idea what I want for the new year, only that I want things to stop sucking so much. That, and I want to write more and have less stress about (and while) actually doing said writing.

Today has been a mixed bag of memories and emotions. Oldest was home with us over the Christmas holidays. We had him here for roughly a week, during which everyone except me and Dad were sick with the cruddy plague.

We picked Oldest up from the airport on Christmas Eve's Eve, and didn't get home until 1 a.m.. Once we were home, I hugged Oldest for the tenth time, helped him settle in and get comfortable, then went to bed. Once there, I listened to the guys talk in the living room until 2 a.m. because I couldn't sleep. This is not so unusual for me, really. The insomnia. But I digress.

The next morning, I woke up at nine. The house was as quiet as it always is. We had dropped Mini off at grandma's the day before. We knew he wouldn't weather being in the car for hours at night. Too, Oldest wanted his homecoming to be a surprise for his little brother. Whether it was, or wasn't, I can't really say.

Around ten a.m., Oldest and Hubby took off to Mom and Dad's for the Christmas Eve family festivities. As per the usual holiday routine, I stayed behind to have a shower while the house was calm, and to wrap the last of the gifts before making the trip to join the rest of the family. This hour or so before the big dinner also gives me a chance to center myself before dashing into the holiday fray. I am an introvert, and it really takes a lot out of me to hang out with a large group of people. As much as I love my family, they are no exception to this rule. The dinner is always especially tense for me, although I can't really pinpoint why. It just is. But once that part is over and we all sort of drift throughout the house to have more one on one conversations, to clean up, to sort gifts, etc. I can usually start enjoying myself a bit more.

That morning I wrapped the gifts, wrangled the dogs, loaded up the car, and with my hair still slightly damp after attempting to dry it with the hair dryer, I drove to my parent's house. When I arrived, Dad and Hubby were standing around in the front yard talking. It's always a good sign if the guys are in a good mood and chatting. I carried the gifts into the house, and first thing through the door, I see that Mini is lounging on the arm of the recliner next to his brother. Mini is on his iPod, Oldest is on his Gameboy. It was just like old times. My small heart grew three sizes that instant. (Yes, I am comparing myself to the Grinch. If the shoe fits...)

I deposited the gifts under the tree then went to help mother set the table and put ice in all the glasses. The guy shuffled into the dining room and there was the yearly adventure of musical chairs around the dinner table - who is going to sit where. Oh, but he will want to sit next to you. Oh, and isn't that Dad's tea glass over there? That part was fairly low key, but once we'd said grace and were sitting together, I was constantly worried that Mom and Dad were going to question Oldest about the Navy. I can't explain why I was so suddenly uptight and worried about it, but there it is.

We are an entire family of Navy cheerleaders, and we are so proud of Oldest. I don't think Oldest realizes quite how proud everyone is of him. He's independent, and as he should, he has his own thing going on when he's away from home. I'm also aware he's probably not going to stay in the service once his initial time is up. I think everyone hoped he'd do this Navy thing as a career, but I doubt that will happen. He's restless, and interested in other things: art, swords, girls. It happens. So I'm listening to the rah rah conversation going on around the table, and feeling incredibly anxious and slightly sick to my stomach even though the ham and cranberry sauce, and the green bean casserole is really, really good.

Instead of the conversation meltdown I'd expected, Mom brightly announces in the middle of dinner that she is coming down sick with the plague. I was sitting right next to her, so of course, on top of the anxiety, my chronic paranoid germophobia kicks into overdrive. I'm a Virgo, after all.

From that point on, instead of letting Mom touch anything on the table other than her own plate and glass, I guarded the bowls and commandeered the serving utensils. Yes, I did. Worse than the crazy angelfish on Finding Nemo screaming "My bubbles, my bubbles!" when anyone got close to his treasure chest...or in this case, when anyone got close to the ham.

I took over the tongs and the scoopers and the dippers and quietly hoped no one noticed what I was doing or why. I have no idea if anyone caught on, or if they all just assumed I'm a nutcase and let it go because they felt sorry for my present mental condition and because, well, it's the holidays. Mistletoe and forgiveness, and all that Burl Ives snowman fairy jazz.

We drifted off to the den to open gifts after the dinner. I took my time and cleared the table. It was soothing to do so. To step away from the round table for a few minutes. While I did that, Hubby acted as the present passer and sat down next to the tree.

I hoped this would be a no fuss, no muss kind of deal, since the gifts were mostly focused on Mini. At the same time, I worried Hubby would be disappointed with my last minute selection of gifts for him. He always asks for the most impossible shit to find, and this year was no exception. (This would later be the core of an argument we would have on New Year's Eve after he'd had a few drinks, but again, I digress.)

For the first year ever, there really weren't a lot of gifts under the tree to pass around. I mean, that's not a bad thing. Gifts aren't the reason for the season, as they say. But I mean, we didn't have much present passing to do. We didn't go crazy with gifts for Oldest because we were afraid he wouldn't be able to take them all in his carry-on luggage when he left to go back to his post, and Hubby and I had bought Mom and Dad's main gift early on in December. We bought them a much needed deep freeze, aka (in non-Southern slang) a deep freezer, which they set up in their laundry room. To me that was really the highlight of the gift exchange. Mom has since showed off the deep freeze to everyone who she can convince to come look at it. It's as if we had bought her a brand new car. Her enthusiasm, as you can imagine, has made both me and Hubby extremely happy. After all, everyone loves a well received gift.

Although my anxiety level was off the chart, the gift exchange went well. At least I thought so. We made it home by mid-afternoon. Straight away, I ditched my jeans for pajama bottoms, put on my new fuzzy boots (house slippers), and made a dash for my office for some alone time. The guys watched movies on the Roku, and after a while, I drifted out of the office, gathered up everyone's new clothes and tossed them into the washing machine. Mini's allergic to the fabric sizing the manufacturers spray on everything, so it had to be done.

It was calm and cozy. It felt like Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve, which had me all screwed up time wise for the rest of the week.

The next morning, Christmas Day, Mini and Oldest opened their presents and stockings from Santa. Ditto for JakeDog and SassiePup. Most of Mini's Santa booty was MineCraft related. Little figures and a foam sword. An Angry Birds comforter and sheet set for his room. Santa didn't go crazy this year, either. Oh, and there was the Sonic the Hedgehog watch that Mini went absolutely bonkers over when he pulled it out of his stocking. Since then, the watch has been left abandoned on the dining room table.

While cleaning up all the discarded wrapping paper into a big black garbage sack, I realized I had not taken pictures of anyone on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Not a single photo. I don't know why I didn't. How did something that important slip my mind? I mean, my son is home from Bahrain for a limited amount of time, and I didn't take any pictures? This of course triggered another fit of anxiety. It triggered fears that this would be our last Christmas as a family. My parents are getting older, you know. They're not in the best of health. Fears cropped up that someone might die before next Christmas, and I had completely blown it. I hadn't acted as the family paparazzo and snapped pictures of everyone eating, opening gifts, and trying avoid the camera. Fears still eat at me that I do not have pictures of this very important Christmas, because I was actually in the middle of it for once. Instead of taking pictures of it, I was living it. In the moment. Not watching through a lens. (Which I often find more comfortable than being in the moment, truth told.) Nevertheless, for the first time in 13 years, the depth of that anxiety attack made me wish I had a cigarette. No, I didn't give in to the urge.  

Fast forward to 10 p.m., December 31st, 2013. Mini is running a blazing fever. Oldest and Hubby are both restless. The past week dashed by. The fastest few days I've ever lived. There were not enough hours, minutes, or seconds. There wasn't enough time to visit, to drive and see things with Oldest, to breathe, to say thank you, to say I love you. I also felt like maybe I was coming down sick. (I have been on the teeter-totter edge of succumbing to the plague for about three days now.) That night, I stayed up late and chatted with Oldest long after Hubby had gone to bed. Oldest laughed, smiled, and played with JakeDog, who I must say took to Oldest from the moment he stepped into the house with his suitcase. That was a big, happy surprise.

Around 2 a.m., I gave up trying to be perky, told the Big Boy good night and that I loved him, and I went to bed. Once again, I couldn't sleep. I wrote on my iPod, read a few emails, and sometime around 4 a.m. Hubby woke me up. It was time for Oldest to leave. Since Mini had been and is still running fever, I agreed to stay home with him while Hubby drove Oldest to the airport. I hugged Oldest and told him I loved him. Then I woke Mini up so he could hug his brother goodbye. Shortly after that, Hubby and Oldest were gone. Again, no pictures. I was too busy in the moment to think about my camera. Another regret to add to my list of many. I hope Hubby thought to take a couple at the airport. I'll have to ask.

So that is the 2013 from which I have emerged. I feel like a butterfly pried too soon from its cocoon. I'm not ready, I'm not ready, I'm not ready. But I have to keep moving forward. What other choice is there?

In 2013 we went through a lot as a family. We also went without a lot. Still, I'm so grateful I was able to see the Big Boy for the holidays. Last night, while chatting with Oldest, I asked him when he thought he'd be transferred to another post. He said it would probably be August. His birthday month and mine. Hubby, who also felt there weren't enough hours, minutes, or seconds, has said that when Oldest transfers - hopefully to the states - we'll go visit him. I'm ready. I'm looking forward to it.

Overall, the house has felt a lot emptier today, but we keep going. We keep on keeping on, one foot in front of the other. Marching through the elements, marching through the regrets, the forgotten photos, the moments of joy. I'm so very glad 2013 is finally over. It's like I've finally escaped a year long funeral. I'm allowed to come home now, go to my room, and strip off my black dress of mourning. And I'm relieved to do so. I'm ready for brighter things. Happier times. I'm ringing in 2014, ready to move on.