Friday, March 29, 2013

Fun Fridays: Catching up with “Doctor Who”

I blogged before about my new obsession with that British treasure “Doctor Who” after giving it a shot on Netflix, and I also mentioned that I had to stop watching to mourn the Tenth Doctor. I didn’t mean to take such a long hiatus, actually, but life got in the way and caused some road blocks that prevented me from getting back to the show until now. I finally started watching the Eleventh Doctor episodes this week, and now I’m on episode 11 of series 5. I swear, this show is like crack — not that I have a clue what crack cocaine is like. Better to say it's like potato chips. You can't just watch one episode at a time. Well, I suppose if you were watching the show live you'd have no choice, which is what brings me to this. I’m well aware that the new episodes premiere on BBC America tomorrow night, and I don’t have BBC America. Lowers head, sobbing.

Now that I’m watching the Eleventh Doctor, I have to say I quite like him. Not as much as David Tennant’s Doctor, but I like him a lot. I like Amy. I like Rory. Anyone else think Karen Gillan and Felicia Day could play sisters? I see you nodding your head right now. Uh huh. Weird, right?

Anyway. I’m still considering doing a full-day marathon of Doctor Who tomorrow to reach the point where I could, in theory, watch the new episode. Is BBC America available online? Can I stream new episodes anywhere? Help? For the love of the Doctor, please help me!

In the meantime, have you seen this behind-the-scenes video of EW’s photo shoot, in which Matt Smith discusses the 50th anniversary episode?!? Epic.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Right? Wrong? Wha? Why 'don't judge' is more than a saying to me — it's a way of life

I saw this article on Huffington Post that got me to thinking (and over-thinking) about this. It struck a cord with me because I am surrounded by judgmental, critical people. Friends. Family. Co-workers. Nothing wrong with that. It's just their way. Shoot, we're all judgmental in our own ways, aren't we? It's a part of being human.

That said, I’m not a very critical person. That’s a fact. I’ve tried hard to be more critical because of the old adage "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and…I didn’t like how it made me feel and the experiences to which it limited me. So I stopped. Cold turkey. Or tried to anyway.

Now I’m wondering, is my mostly non-critical mind what’s holding me back from being a truly great writer?

If so, well, crap.

I love movies, and I love books. You’ll rarely hear me say anything negative about either because that’s just how I am. I prefer to acknowledge the “good” and overlook any “bad” I find in these things. That’s kind of a general rule with me — the only exceptions being when I’m PMSing or suffering from a migraine. Then nothing is good. Nothing! But mostly, I like to think I see the good in things...well, okay, except maybe exercise, helping people move, and pencils (I hate pencils). But otherwise, I try to see the good. Hey! Don't roll your eyes at me. I'm human, remember?

And simply writing this post proves that I AM, in fact, capable of serious criticism and — darn it, I'm overthinking again. Back to my original point.

For example, I read THAT book everyone was talking about last year, and believe it or not, I did not hate it the way so many of my author friends and acquaintances have. My thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey” were simple. Good for her for finishing three really looooong novels and getting them published. Good for her for bringing attention to the genre. Good for her at creating very tangible chemistry between her hero and heroine. Good for her at writing a very well-done alpha hero. And I stopped before lamenting too much on any of the things I didn't like about it.

I can’t remember ever reading a book I didn’t at least like a little. I’m sure there is one, if I think back to school, but nothing comes immediately to mind.

Same thing with movies. I went through a mega-marathon of viewing “good” movies prior to the Academy Awards. I pretty much liked them all. But you know what? I still like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” way better than “Life of Pi.” I’ll still re-watch “Twilight” before I will “Silver Linings Playbook.”

I took Angela James’ BEFORE YOU HIT SEND workshop, which teaches you to be more critical in your self-editing. Perfect. Exactly what I need. And I’ve been employing Angela’s suggestions at self-editing, and my manuscript is really a better read now, at least in my opinion. Funny thing is, the biggest lesson I took away from that workshop is so common sense I felt beyond stupid when I had the epiphany. It also applies to everything and not just writing.

There is no “good” or “bad.” There is only preference.

Honestly, I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like the same movies as I do — as long as they don't try to make me feel bad for liking what I like. My best friend hates “Twilight.” She also loves “High School Musical.” I thought “High School Musical” was okay. When she goes on and on about how bad “Twilight” is, I never hit back with well, you like “High School Musical” and it sucks! Um, at least I hope I never have. Okay, so I might have been PMSing that one time, but — you get the point. She likes what she likes. I like what I like. (For the record, yes, we are both adult women far into our 30s. Don't judge). It’s the same with my niece and nephew, who loooooove “Harry Potter.” They think it’s an extraordinary piece of literature. I read it and liked it okay, but I didn’t go beyond the first book because it just wasn’t my thing. I know I'm probably in the minority in feeling that way, but I do. I thought it was too archetypical. That’s also the reason I liked “Twilight” so much. Meyer broke so many conventional rules with vampires, I loved her creativity.

So, should I feel bad about myself? Am I making the "wrong" choice when I pick up a book that has only gotten negative reviews as opposed to that best-seller everyone loves? Should I hang my head in shame because I write romance novels instead of literary masterpieces?

Heck, no!

Why judge? Because that’s exactly what we do when we say “Ugh, that was a bad book” or “That movie was stupid.” One of my pet peeves is when someone turns up his or her nose at reading a particular book or seeing a movie because "it looks stupid." So what? You're limiting yourself and potentially missing out on something great. At least read/see the thing before you judge it. Geez.

I’m convinced that in this Internet age that encourages anyone to say what they like free of consequences, we’ve bred a generation of pretentious and judgmental critics. And yes, I realize that in making that comment I am also being judgmental and pretentious. Stop rolling your eyes! I already told you I could be as judgmental and critical as the next person, didn't I?!? No getting around that.

And another thing. I also dislike when people confuse critical consensus with objective truth. Too often I’ve heard someone say, “It’s the truth,” when no, actually, it’s only your personal preference or observation. When it comes to personal preference, there is no collective truth. Statistics don't apply; only feelings.

So, yes, being a mostly non-critical person in this judgmental world probably puts me at a disadvantage. It certainly makes me a fun and amusing target for those who don't share my views. I'll tell you straight up I'm not the best person to ask when it comes to feedback on books or movies, because I pretty much like everything. That makes me weird, certainly, but does it make me a really horrible writer?


I prefer to think not. You can disagree, and that’s okay.

Number one rule of publishing: It’s all a matter of preference anyway.

By the way, I really like my story. I've come to the conclusion that's all that matters. I'm ready to hit send now. Hopefully some lucky publisher who shares my tastes will love it, too. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fun Friday: 5 favorite books!

My friend and fellow author Veronica Scott, that sneaky devil, tagged me in the game of "Five Favorite Books" going around the Internet. I am far too out of shape to outrun her or anyone in a game of tag, even in my smelly broken-in sneakers, so I've sucked it up and accepted her daunting challenge. As Veronica said, and which I will shamelessly steal, the problem immediately becomes HOW do you pick only five books?!? I mean, five. Only five? No way. Not possible. That's like asking Jay Leno what his favorite car is. Yeah, right. I can't even.

I've really had to think about this question. Pulled out some boxes of books I have in storage because I love them too much to donate, sell or throw away. Browsed my bookshelves. Clicked through my Kindle. Should I pick Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen? Gosh, I love both those classics. Or should I pick Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz or Christine by Stephen King? What about Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer? The Loop by Nicholas Evans? Nightshield by Nora Roberts?

What. Do. I. Pick?!? (runs screaming from the room because I can't handle the pressure)

In the end, I narrowed it down to five of my favorite books, although I'm far too wussy to declare them my five actual favorite books. Sorry, that's a commitment I simply cannot make.

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid. Sure, it's a graphic novel, but it's quite possibly the BEST graphic novel EVER. Plus, it has Superman, Batman AND Wonder Woman in it. This incredible story is set in the future of the DC Universe and is a grim tale of youth versus experience and tradition versus change. It examines what defines a hero in a world spinning inexorably out of control. The superheroes find themselves pitted against new and violent vigilantes, and although I initially grieved for Lois Lane because she's awesome and I love her and terrible things happened to her in this story, it was okay. Seriously, this story is amazing. I'd wager non-comic book fans would appreciate it, too.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I mean, who doesn't love a slightly depressing dystopian story featuring a kickass heroine who wields a bow and arrow like nobody's business? Plus, it has a dreamy boy who makes bread. I was barely able to put this book down after the first chapter got me completely hooked. Katniss Everdeen is quite possibly my favorite fictional heroine of all time. Maybe. I haven't decided yet. She's definitely awesome. This book is well-written and powerful in its brutal examination of our modern society. At least, I felt very intelligent and self-aware after reading it. The movie was good and all, but the book was sooooo much better.

Angel of Darkness by Lynne Graham.  A category romance title? Wow, Angie, that's an interesting choice. Ha! You're only thinking that because you haven't read this deliciously awesome morsel, have you? This is one of the first romance novels I ever read, actually, and it hooked me on the dominating alpha male heroes I still love to read about--I swear they're like crack to me in fiction--but would be horrified if I encountered in reality. I'd be all like, "Jerk! Get away from me!" Funny how that works, isn't it? This book has it all. Angsty angst. A love-hate love so strong it radiates from the page. A scandalous relationship. Crack, I tell you. Come to think of it, I first read this when I was like 16 or 17. Geez. No wonder I'm so effed up. But I still love it.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. This is a recent read, and I'm still chuckling at the memory of it. Tina Fey is a wisecracking, whip smart genius of a writer. She's one of the few celebrities I'll go on record as saying I want to be like when I grow up. Her autobiography is quirky, honest and just plain fun to read. Oh yeah, and it's also inspiring. I can't recommend it enough. Plus, it has this fabulously funny teaser on Amazon: "Before Liz Lemon, before 'Weekend Update,' before 'Sarah Palin,' Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true." Ha! Don't you love it?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I've read and re-read and read again this book so many times I should be ashamed to admit it. Looking at this list, I've decided I'm a sucker for angst. Gee, explains a lot. This classic tale of unrequited love is so melodramatic, it's better than anything on TV. It also created Heathcliff, who totally had to inspire Christian Grey and all of the other angsty domineering alpha heroes out there, I just know it. He was the poster boy for Romance Novel Hero before romance novels were even a thing. Enough said.

That's it. Ask me tomorrow and I'll probably give you a different list. There are just so many good books in the world...I can't even imagine picking only five.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why feedback is a blessing—and also, why it makes me want to scream and hide in a cave

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” ~ Walt Disney

I’ve been really down lately for a variety of reasons. Some personal and some professional. Professional as in both “the day job” and “the side writing career.” I’ll discuss some of the professional because some of the personal is just that: personal. Let’s just say it involves loved ones dealing with illnesses and leave it alone.

But professionally…

For example, there was one day this week where a training schedule was posted at the day job, and I was not on it. On one hand, woo-hoo! No training for me! Fist pump. On the other hand, wait a minute, why am I the ONLY person not on this schedule? Huff! So I asked my supervisor, “Why am I not on this list?” He checked and got a response from his boss that basically amounted to “Who is she again?” I've been with the company 10 years, and the man has no idea what I do.

Thanks for that. Really. Thanks. Facepalm.

I checked my personal email later that same day and had yet another rejection from an agent on my current manuscript. I think I’m up to 10 now. 10 rejections. Since I got more than 100 for the manuscript that became CRY WOLF, that’s not a lot, but still. Each one chips away at my confidence.That particular day was a double-whammy to the ole ego. I got walloped by both the day job and the writing gig. And then kicked in the ribs by personal stuff.

If I were a drinking woman, I would have downed alcohol and lots of it that day. Instead, I bought a dozen donuts…and ate them all. By myself. Yep. I did. Don't judge.

So that’s the mindset I'm fighting right now: that I’ll never come up to scruff with my peers, for whatever reason, so why bother?

Well, because I want to. And because rejection is normal and every person and writer experiences it. It’s really a stupid reason to give up, if you think about it. Rejection usually makes us better for it, at least in the long run. With people dying every moment and some people starving in the streets and kids being shot in schools, having a manuscript rejected seems like such a trivial thing.

I'm doing what I can to get past this hurdle. I’ve been participating in a workshop to strengthen my writing skills. What I love about Angela James’ BEFORE YOU HIT SEND workshop is that she always teaches you the rules as she knows them, then lets you know it’s OK to break them if you feel, in your heart of hearts, it makes your story better. More often than not, though, I'm realizing my stuff is better if I follow the rules. Truth.

I’ve also employed the use of beta readers and begged my critique partners and author friends for feedback. It’s been really helpful…and in some cases, conflicting, which proves the point that your critique partners and beta readers can sometimes mess with your mojo and lead you astray, and you should smack them really hard in the face NOT listen to them.

Example: In an early scene, my hero—who has a bit of a disability—is doing pull-ups. In my first draft. He was finishing 50 pull-ups when the scene began. A beta reader, who is a personal trainer in New York, warned me that 50 pull-ups is “a lot!” and not realistic, even for the most athletic of people. Hmm, well, okay. I changed it to her suggestion of 10. Then two other readers commented the same thing: “Let’s face it. 10 pull ups is a bit wimpy, don’t you think?”

The reasonable thing to do is to delete the pull-ups altogether, right? Pouts lip. I didn’t want to. So I called two gyms in my hometown and asked if said scenario was plausible. The result? I’m keeping it at 10. And I expect if this story ever gets published or reviews, I’ll hear, “It does have a wimpy hero who only does 10 pull-ups though” because we all expect a hero to do 50 pull-ups!

Cue the tiny violins. It's tough being a writer. I never know whether to trust my own judgment, or others. I have fantastic critique partners, and truth is, they rarely steer me wrong. Still, I wonder...Am I revising too much? Should I just leave it alone and keep looking for that one person who will like it "as is"?

My gut tells me this story still needs some work and that it's worth pursuing, so I'm going with that and considering all of the feedback I've gotten so far as I make revisions. I’ve realized I have a tendency to over-explain things and need to do a lot of trimming. That's majority opinion. One person told me my writing was too choppy and needed more narrative, more explanation...but I don't think so.

I agree with some feedback. I don't agree with some feedback. That's normal, right?

I write this post not to gain sympathy or to be mocked. I say these things because….well, actually now that I’ve over-shared and over-explained as I have a tendency to do, I have no idea why. Self-therapy, maybe? Yes, I do feel better, so that must be it. 

Plus, I'm doped up on cold medicine and not in my right mind at the moment. Honestly, I can't be held responsible.

Don't judge. And since I think 99% of all writers can relate to this post, I know you won't.


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