Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking a Moment

Getting ready to participate in National Novel Writing Month, in which writers from all over the world participate in a great adventure, writing 50,000 words in 30 days, the month of November.  This is not going to turn out great literature.  Perhaps some work that could become something great or truly wonderful, but generally it's an exercise to get people writing.

One of my favorite writers is John Steinbeck (1902-1968) who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.  His acceptance speech is a favorite of mine and I was re-reading it recently.  It's a good reminder of what literature can achieve.  I am sharing here a couple of excerpts from his speech to inspire us all who attempt to write "the great American novel."

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches - nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.
 ... the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat - for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.

I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.

Enjoy the NaNoWriMo experience, if you're participating, and if not pick up a good book and take pleasure in the written word.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo Here I Come!

Well, I did it! I signed up for National Novel Writing Month.  I've never participated before, although I've heard of it for awhile.  It sounds like a lot of fun.  I'm looking forward to meeting other authors and to challenging myself in this way.

The goal is to start November 1st and write through November 30th; a 50,000 word, 175 page novel.  It's not a contest, it's just promoting writing.  "Thirty days of literary abandon" is the motto.  Just get out there and write!  What a kick.

If you're interested in participating, visit their website at and sign up yourself!  If you do, I'll see you there!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What Failure Can Teach Us

We all need reminders now and then that struggles are part of the process.  Not only that, they may be something we need to help us become who we are meant to be.  With that in mind, I am posting part of author J.K. Rowling's commencement speech from Harvard in 2008.  I think it's important to keep things in perspective, and this is a woman who has seen both the very bottom and the very top and reminds us all that perhaps one is needed to achieve the other.

"Ultimaely, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies." J.K. Rowling, June 14, 2008

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Do You Handle Rejection?

A thick skin is needed when you're a writer.  Rejection is almost always part of the equation as you work on getting your writing represented, published, edited, read .... all of the above.  And even if everything were to go smoothly there's still bound to be some rejection.  Not all readers will like your book and you will hear/read some reviews that will be hard to take.

So how do you handle rejection?

For me it's a seesaw experience.  Some days I'll receive a rejection letter and I'll think the agent/editor is swamped and didn't really understand what they were turning down.  Other days it'll cut me to the quick and I'm sure I must give up the idea of being an author.

The thing I've learned over time is that you need to keep everything in perspective.  A common comment I've received on rejection letters from agents I've queried is a reminder that this is a subjective business.  What one person likes another may not and visa versa. 

Keeping that in mind you also need to look back at the rejections you've received and ask some questions.  For example, have you received some rejection letters that are not the usual form letter?  A personal note should encourage you.  They are not very common.  Also, did the rejection come after a request for a partial or a full sample of your manuscript?  This should also tell you something.  Maybe your query letter needs to be amped up a bit.  Maybe you need to get more feedback from your beta readers and punch up the manscript a bit more so that a partial leads to a full which will lead to a contract.

It's important to remember that a rejection is not a rejection of you.  And it may be just what you need to get yourself moving toward the goal we all wish to achieve, which is having our work out there being read and enjoyed by others. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Slump is a Slump

We all fall into slumps of one kind or another.  Don't feel like doing something we normally really enjoy.  As a writer I've experienced slumps in my work which is frustrating, but it passes and soon I am cranking out 1500 words a day or more.  Love those times!

But I find myself in a slump right now that hasn't happened very much in my experience.  A reading slump!  Really.  I am absolutely addicted to reading and always have at least two books I'm plowing through.  Lately, however, I just don't seem to be able to work up the steam to read the books I have, even though they are authors I really like. 

One book I'm reading was written by a contact I made on facebook.  I got the book for my e-reader and am about halfway through it.  It's a romantic suspense, a genre that's one of my favorites, and I'm stumped in trying to figure out "who done it."  The other two books I have are a couple of my favorite authors and even they can't get me back to the page.

At least my writing muse is strong.  Hopefully my reading guru will return kick me back into action.  I need to find out who the culprit is in my friend's book!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hello. My name is Maureen and I'm a Pantser.

Yes, I'm a pantser and proud of it.  Well, maybe not exactly proud but it's what I am; a novelist who writes by the seat of my pants without an outline.  Actually I hate writing outlines.  I've tried to in the past and it just doesn't work for me. 

I commented about this on Facebook this morning and one of my fb friends wrote a reply that I just loved.  When you let the characters tell you where the story is going they feel more alive.  It's as if they have breath in them and they speak to you.  She made the observation that books that don't do that are difficult for her to read.  I find that too.

I started my new novel this week and the plotline is going in a different direction from what I originally thought it would because the characters are telling me which path to go.  While I know the story and the background of these people in ways my readers may never see, I don't always know all of their stories until they reveal them to me as I write.  I love that sense of discovery as I go, and I think my readers do too.  They share the path with me and the characters which gives it a freshness.

This is one writer's opinion.  Outlines work well for other writers and they probably have more productive days because they know what they're doing and where they're going with their story.  As for me, I'm along for the ride.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: No Place Safe

I should start out saying I generally like memoirs, but I’m pretty selective. Awhile back, when checking out a literary agent's blog, she mentioned this book and posted an excerpt. I was hooked and had to go out and get it.

Kim Reid's memoir No Place Safe reads like a novel, and an intriguing one at that. It's easy to see why she won the Colorado Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. It's amazing.

Set in Atlanta from 1979 through 1981, it tracks her family's life during the Atlanta Child Murders, which I remember well. Her mother, a single mother and one of the most inspiring and incredible women I've ever read on the printed page, is an investigator for the DA's office and is assigned to the case. This leaves young Kim, who is 14 the summer of the first killing, in charge of her younger sister. As her mother becomes more and more enmeshed in the investigation, Kim soon finds herself running the household as well as trying to emotionally support and care for her mother.

In the midst of this she begins high school, tranferring to an all-white school in an affluent part of the city. She struggles to find her way, trying to fit in with the rich white kids while remaining true to her roots. The pain, confusion and anger the young girl deals with feels like a heat rising off the printed page. You cannot help but be pulled into her world, and see how her life--and the life of her family--is being changed forever.

This book, while nonfiction and a personal memoir, reads like a thriller on one hand, and a poignant coming-of-age story on the other. Her writing is honest, fresh and lively. I absolutely could not put it down.

I am dismayed after having read No Place Safe, to see on the agent's blog (click here to read the excerpt: that this book is erroneously placed in African-American studies. I fear it won't get the attention it deserves there. It should be with the other memoirs and autobiographies where it belongs. Don't let the opportunity pass you by to read this heartfelt, well written book. I'm so glad I didn't.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I like to read books/authors in the order they're written.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this.  Even if an author doesn't write a series, I still like to read the books in order.

Part of this is being able to see/read the evolution of the writer as they progress.  Usually you can feel when they find their voice and the story seems richer than the previous books.  I love that!  Having felt it in my own writing it's something to see it in someone else's.

In the case of a series, you can watch the development of the character in a fun way.  See them mature, grown and evolve as the series goes on.  As the author feels more at home in their own skin so do their characters. 

Just a fun little habbit.  Annoying when I accidentally pick up the second book and have to put it aside until I can get the first one.  I know, a little compulsive, but what can I say?   Anyone else out there like me?