Humblebrag

So hey, I graduated and whatnot. Well, I went to graduation ceremonies. I have yet to actually receive a diploma so I don’t feel like it’s official until I get that. But technically I’m a master’s degree holder. Supposedly.

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Psh, as if we’re lucky enough to find jobs at Starbucks.

This means I probably won’t be posting here anymore, as I will be working on my PhD and I’m not sure I’ll have advice to give. I mean, I won’t have a right to give advice since I won’t be pretending to be a writer anymore.

In case anyone was wondering, that does mean I finished my thesis. Obviously. Here are the stats:

Officially finished – April 10, 2012

Word Count – 66,582

Page Count – 238

# of Stories – 4, not including prologue and epilogue

# of Stories I’m going to write in the future –  ZERO!

It was a long strange trip, but in the end it was worth all the boozy coffees and miniature meltdowns. I do want to thank everyone for their help in various ways, especially my guardian gentleman, Dear Sweet Gentle Jonathan. Speaking of, he is currently working on publishing his book so look out for that shit. It will rock your face off. But don’t let it get that far, as you will need your face for reading.

Before I go, one last humblebrag: my bitch ass has been published. It’s not a huge deal, it’s like 2 pages (two unedited pages, actually. Ugh) from a pretty random and boring part of my thesis, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I try to stay away from horses, to be honest. It was cool to be published and TSR didn’t have to do it, so I thank them as well. Pick up a copy of the Review, it’s pretty sweet. And I’m not just saying that because I’m in it. Although, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of it.

So that’s that, for now. I’m gonna go back to doing nothing except checking the mail for my diploma.

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It has been decided

The city’s name is Dareford.

If you don’t like it, kiss the fattest part of my ass.

No, I’m just kidding (a little bit). Do you like it? I mean, if you don’t like it, you need to have a good reason why not and a better name lined up. Otherwise, pfft on you.

This is gonna be a thesis update, so those of you looking for advice can click away now.

Incepte'd!

Anyway, since my thesis first draft is written, I’ve just been handing the different parts in to my advisor. I gave her the second part (“Chapter”) last semester because that one was the only one completed at the time. She forced me (it was a good kind of forced) to finish my first part last month, saying that she couldn’t give the second chapter a proper evaluation if it was out of context. Which was true. The first chapter sets up everything. Duh.

It was a challenge for me because I am not, and never have been, good with setting or place. I’m an action writer. I’m the Michael Bay of writers. Fuck details, just tell me what the shit is going on. And throw in some hot girls and explosions. This is the main reason why I can’t write novels. I can’t meander. I can hardly read meandering, there’s no way I can write it.

Despite this erectile dysfunction, I finished it and I wasn’t altogether sure about the quality, but she told me that I’m apparently better than I think because she really liked the chapter. A few things need to be reworked, but altogether I’m on the right track. So she said. Sweet. We set a date for the next chapter, which is Monday, so that’s been all on my mind. Aside from the fact that I haven’t had power for about a week. Thinking about it was good, though, because I realized one part didn’t make sense and had to be fixed.

I just finished retooling the otherwise completed third chapter, the one I’m most proud of, but I’m a little unsure of this one as well. There are a few scenes that I can’t decide if they’re needed or not, so I’ll have to talk to her about them when we meet next.

The second and third chapters are the ones where I played around with the actual craft of writing and pushed myself to actually try to be good at it. The second chapter was written in first person. If you know anything about me, you know I don’t really like first person. (And you know I say fuck shoes.) In the third chapter I played around with present tense. It’s all probably more technical than it should be, but I feel like the point of the program should be more than write a publishable book. I should be learning.

So…that’s basically what’s going on with the thesis. Oh, the fourth chapter is a nice little wrap up that ends with death and maybe sex. Wait…no, no sex. Cockblock’d! I had the most fun with the last chapter, anyway, because it’s sort of disturbing. It’s from the POV of a pretty messed up character. The trick to this chapter was distancing: there are no feelings in the point of view. The character is very in the moment.

But! Here is where you come in! I need three profesh readers to approve this, yes, it’s true. However, I’m also going to want non-writers to read this, probably around the second draft, which won’t be until January or February. So if you have enough time to read what will basically  be a novel in length, let me know. I’m going to pick two of you unlucky SOBs, who will radically different from each other, to bother for a month or so as I perfect the story from a readership point of view. Think long and hard (lolzzz) before agreeing.

I’m gonna be all up in your grill.

Titles are overrated.

So I feel kind of bad because it’s been about two weeks since I said I’d close the poll and I never updated, those of you who were waiting with bated breath, about the results.

The results are, I still have no idea.

I think by now, I'm not fooling anyone about what I do and do not know.

 

Naming the city sounds like it wouldn’t be a big deal, but really the city is a central character. That sounds stupid but whatever, it’s true.

So the results are inconclusive. Daresbury technically won, however an equal number of people are for and against my naming it that. Ordinarily I’d say, fuck that shit and do what I want, yet in this case, I don’t know what I want. Well, no, I know what I want. I want the original town name. Whomp whomp.

I’m not going to lie, I’m not learning a whole hell of a lot in this class because it is a class for beginners. I’d like to think that with one semester left, I’m not really a beginner. But that makes blog posts difficult because I’ve gone over a lot of what’s been said in class already.

I will say this, though. Copy edit your fucking shit.

I understand that you believe that copy editing will be done by your publisher and whatever once you got a book deal, but you have to understand how much simple mistakes reflect poorly on you. It looks like you don’t care, both about your story and about wasting other people’s time. Get someone to do it for you before you hand it in. Read it 50 times yourself–I don’t fucking care how it gets done, just do it.

I feel like I’m a copy editor trapped in a writer’s body sometimes (except with my own stuff, I’m terrible at finding mistakes in my own writing. Hypocritical? Maybe.) and that’s how I read excerpts. So if you’re lacking an Oxford comma, if you use “was” instead of “were”, if you’re dangling clauses, then I’m going to point it out to you. Because it distracts me.

I brought this up in class yesterday and apparently we’re beginner enough that we have to put “said” after everyone’s dialogue, but advanced enough that we don’t have to pay attention to simple grammatical errors. Go figure.

Another thing that really grinds my gears is characterization. What I mean to say is, how realistic do we make our characters? And how do we convince people this is realistic?

I’ve been running across this problem with the story I’ve been using for this class. Originally it was just a story that I was using to get through this since I couldn’t use my thesis and I didn’t have enough brain cells to spare to create another story. But now I’m sort of using this story in defiance. The character is real, she’s very real, I’d go as far as to say she’s kind of me.

Usually, I’d be all “Noooo, don’t base characters off of yourself! That’s asking for trouble.” But in this instance, as I said, I didn’t have the time or energy to put a whole bunch of thought into creating a totally original character. So I made her, put her in a situation, and made her react as I thought I would.

And now I’m being told she’s not believable.

It’s confusing. Because on the one hand, not everyone reacts to situations in the same way. Even one person could react to a situation in many different ways. So telling me that my character isn’t grieving in the proper way is like, well, who the fuck are you? The grief police? Also, my professor is all about characters having sex or something, and she seems really confused that a boy and a girl would live together, even sleep in the same bed together, without having sex. I can’t count the number of times I’ve slept in the same bed as someone and have somehow resisted the urge to jump his/her bones. I’m sure it was difficult, but I managed it. Everyone I know is just so fucking sexy.

One of my classmates said, and rightly so, that my character’s lack of emotion is okay, there just needs to be a reason for it. So that’s another problem to deal with. How am I going to inject backstory like that into a story that really has not use for it. Maybe not no use, but no room. The story isn’t really about her and her lack of emotion, the story is about her dealing with grief enough to find out who the fuck killed her friend so she doesn’t go to jail. Taking time out to talk about her troubled childhood seems out of place. Also, I don’t have time to add these scenes.

So I’ve been told to give this character more emotion. It took a lot for me not to just be so fucking sarcastic and make her incredibly emo and crying all the time. We’ll see next week how the additional emotion plays out. Whatever. This is why you don’t base characters on yourself, everything that’s said about the character suddenly becomes personal and your immediate reaction, instead of listening and considering the critique, is to defend the character’s behaviors. Live and learn. 

I guess I did have something to say. Hot damn.

Guess who’s back, back again

Allo! Did you have as fantastic a summer as I did? Probably not. My summer is what I like to call “fucking glorious”. I was more than a little disappointed when I realized it was over and I have to go back to being an adult with responsibilities and gross stuff like that. But hey, there’s still rum, right? Silver lining.

The semester for me started yesterday. It’s going to be a long one. I can tell.

I don't know why I don't have a giant book labeled "Excuses". Maybe Borders has them....too soon.

The first day of workshops is always the most boring. I constantly consider skipping them. I don’t because a lot of the time the workshopping schedule is decided and never want to be stuck on a terrible day (in this case, she made up the schedule which was annoying because now I have to go through the hassle of changing one of my days since I won’t be there). Inevitably, your professor is going to make you go around the room, say your name (Yermama), why you’re there (because I had nothing better to do with $1500?), and what you like to write (fanfiction. Always fanfiction). Sometimes you’ll get asked what you’re working on (An EPIC Doctor Who fanfic in which I’m captured by Daleks and the Doctor has to save me. He doesn’t know that I’m secretly his wife from another dimension) and/or what you like to read (Playboy magazine). If you’re in a program, as I am, then you’re going to end up hearing the same shit over and over again about your classmates.

Workshop first days are rapidly becoming a study on what I’m not going to do on my first days when I become a professor. Because no one cares what you’re saying, we’re busy thinking about what we’re going to say. Or we’re thinking about what we have to do when we finally get to leave. Melissa Bank did it the best I think, she had us email a mini-biography of sorts about ourselves to her before class, because this “go around and tell everyone about yourself” business is really just for the teacher. And for the shallow people who like to talk about themselves. The rest of us either want to learn something or go home. Or not travel 2 hours by train just to hear that Joey Kissass loves the works of Pretentious Author Mcgee.

I’m going to try hard in this class, I promise. I try hard in all of my classes. I’m not as slackery as my laziness would suggest.

Anyway, out of all the things we talked about in class (besides my not being able to use my thesis for workshopping and having to do an in class exercise), one thing I noted in particular was word choice. Being quite a fucking wordsmith my damn self, I think wit mah headstuff this was an interesting topic.

At the time, the professor was picking on a dude who used the word elegant in his scene. A word I’m pretty sure no one else paid attention to aside from her. And when she made him read the sentence again, it, again, didn’t strike me as anything special.

But that was the point. What does elegant mean? What do you picture when someone says “Jackie had a rope elegantly tied around her neck”? Nothing remarkable. I just see a woman with a rope around her neck. Telling me it’s elegant, isn’t exactly telling me anything. Professy Wessy also said the same goes for words like beautiful, handsome, etc. They’re not helping the reader picture your scene. Because beauty, elegance, and the like mean different things to everyone. For example, I think this vampire is hot. Others think this vampire is hot.

There’s no accounting for taste.

So yeah, choose your words wisely. I mean, I know it’s difficult. I just did a search on my complete thesis document (over 300 pages, what whaaat) and I used the word beautiful 17 times. Granted some of it may have been within dialogue, and my professor said you can say anything in dialogue. Then again she told someone that she didn’t think one of the characters in her scene would say a particular thing. After hearing the character say one line before that. And not knowing anything about the character. But whatever. Say what you want! In dialogue! Exclamation point!

My professor says those words are lazy.

(She also said pop culture references are lazy. I, for one, like pop culture references. Yeah, it dates the material or whatever, but I like to feel like my characters are in a real world. Pop culture is in the real world. So, take that as you will. I’m not a bestselling author, she apparently is. Who you gonna believe?)

I don’t think those words are lazy, I think they’re a product of you either writing too fast and not knowing exactly what you want to say or you have an image in your mind that is difficult to translate onto paper. I’m completely terrible at setting up scenes (and, somehow through 4 semesters of the MFA program, I have yet to get better at it) so I know that images can be hard to write. D$GJ is the master of imagery, talk to him if you want help. He might not help you, though. He’s busy.

I absolutely hate it when published authors say something is lazy like the moment they got published, writing became a cakewalk. I get it, you’re hot shit, we should emulate you. Whatev. There’s so much to think about when you’re writing and also want to be published, it’s very easy for a word like beautiful to slip through. And, I don’t know, I’ve seen plenty of books become NYT bestsellers with it in there. Hell, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Beautiful and Damned and I’m pretty sure he’s one of the best authors ever. But I’m biased.

So go forth, beautiful writers! Create handsome works of elegance!

And stay away from vampires.

Y so srs?

So, we’re back and sobering up from spring breakery. The debauched baccanal of excess made famous by horny college students really means more to you when you have something to break from.

I also watched a shit ton of basketball. And I regret nothing.

Anyway, today we went over something in class that was really difficult for me not to LOL for days about (I love using internet slang when I’m trying to be taken seriously. It really helps with the irony). That is, the average writer’s incessant need to think of writing as such srs bidness.

Don’t get me wrong, I take my writing seriously. I even have delusions of being published someday. I respect too many writers not to think that writing is a hard thing to do well.

This is the first thing I'm going to do with Shakespeare when I get my time machine up and running.

But honestly, we’re not curing cancer here. We’re not splitting the atom. Some of us can’t even grasp the fact that “alright” isn’t a proper word (so help me if I see that in another manuscript, I’m going to throw the Oxford English Dictionary at someone. Unabridged. Hardcover. Gilded edges for extra paper cuts across the face.). Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that what we’re doing is world shatteringly important. I’m not saying that you can’t think it’s important if it’s something you want to do for a living, but really, keep it in perspective. A discussion today about who do you choose to have read your work sort of devolved into a discussion on how much other people don’t understand the plight of writers. Like we’re sitting around cracking the human genome or something. “Non scientists just don’t understand how much of a breakthrough this will be!”

I find it hard to believe that every writer’s circle of friends/family doesn’t get the fact that he/she is a writer. I understand that there will be people who won’t find that to be very interesting because, let’s face it, no one really cares about anyone else (I’m serious. You don’t care, don’t deny it. The moment someone tells you what he or she does and you find it to be uninteresting, you forget about it. We all do it, it’s natural.).

Perhaps everyone I know is just really good at pretending to care. Seriously, the shit I was hearing in class was like these people are fucking martyrs trying to preach the word of the lord to nonbelivers. All of the people I have told that I’m writing a book of short stories for school has been either mildly interested or inquisitive about it, or even excitedly asked me if he/she could read it, with the exception of my father. There’s no “getting” what I’m doing. People “get it”. It’s not that hard to “get” in the first place.

That aside, there was an interesting discussion on who you should have read your work and when, before this pity party started. And it really is an important thing to think about.

When I first started writing, I had a self made embargo on having anyone read what I wrote. It’s not that I was writing anything scandalous or salacious, I just didn’t think I was very good. That obviously changed when I dabbled in journalism and I think now I’m pretty good with accepting the fact that people have to read what I write in order for me to get a clear idea of what someone who didn’t write it, meaning anyone but me, thinks.

However, my embargo returned in the form of not wanting my friends to read my writing but being okay with strangers, my classmates, reading it. Someone in class (I don’t remember who. The class is 98% female and all girls sound the same to me a lot of the time and I was doodling in my notebook during the entire conversation so no one would see my amused expression) said that this hesitance to let friends read your work stems from thinking that your friends would have a hard time separating you “the friend” from you “the author” (Actually, I don’t think she said that, but that’s what I translated what she said to be). Which would get weird if you were writing, say, a rape scene. Or if you write from the POV of a murderer. Especially weird for memoir.

The thing is, my friends–well, maybe 50% of them–are the exact audience I’m writing for. The 20-something, fantasy enjoying, sarcastic, intelligent set. So that puts me in a delicate position. When I first started in the program, I was asked to list my three rules for writing. One of my rules was never ask your friends to read your work.

Think about it. Although your friends would be an extra set of eyes and will catch little mistakes that you would otherwise miss, they will not tell you the truth. They simply won’t. Regardless of if you give them strict instructions to give their honest opinion, they will still tell you what they think you want to hear. Secretly, you want to hear that whatever you wrote was incredibly amazing and should be published post haste. They know this, so they’ll tell you that with the alacrity of the most highly paid yes man.

Why? Well, which is worse: telling you your work sucks then having to look at your despondent face as you stab your fork into the salad during your group dinner at the Olive Garden or watching you smile lovingly at the breadsticks (not as good as the cheddar biscuits) because you think you just wrote the next New York Times Bestseller? How could they handle the hurt in your tone as you ask them to pass the butter with a side of killed dreams? No matter how much your friends want to support you and have you be successful (everyone knows that I’m going to buy us a private island to get drunk on), they really don’t want to be saddled with the inevitable guilt when you, accidentally of course, write something that is less than stellar. It’s the nature of friendship.

What I did was ask my writer friend for help. My dear sweet gentle Jonathan. D$GJ was the one I knew would give me solid advice and honest criticism because he is going through the same shit I’m going through. The only problem with that is, D$GJ is going through the same shit I’m going through, so he doesn’t have the time to deal with my nonsense continuously. I have other friends who offered, but I may not take them up on it until I’m 100% satisfied with what I’m doing. So, maybe never.

Anyway, it’s important to think about getting yourself a good reader or two. Someone else in class suggested getting specialty readers, which I completely agree with. I’ve asked my friend with a dog about dog behavior. I’m going to ask my California dwelling friends about living there. I’ve asked D$GJ how guys react to throwing up. It’s always good to get advice from a source. If you’re writing YA, I suggest asking a kid to read your stuff. Sidebar: my younger brother is pissed that my book isn’t kid-friendly. He actually told me that he’s disappointed in me. Ain’t that precious? (sidebar to the sidebar: ain’t isn’t a proper word either.)

You don’t want your credibility as a writer compromised because you were too lazy to turn and ask your doctor friend about the sound a breaking bone makes or how long a person can live with a wound before bleeding to death. Or if the scene about fixing cars sounded realistic to a mechanic. I’m not saying go out and find a person for every aspect of your story, but if you’re unsure you shouldn’t just write it and hope for the best. Verify, son.

Really, I think I might end up having my intelligent, sarcastic, 20-something, fantasy reading friends to read my collection. We’ll just have to avoid going to Olive Garden afterward. Perhaps Applebees instead.

A tragedy of errors

You know when you have to sneeze and it can’t or won’t come, and there’s this buildup, this feeling of needing something to happen in order to feel normal again?

Well, that’s kind of how I feel right now.

When I was driving home from class, I was convinced that I did actually have to sneeze. There was a pressure at the back of my throat and my nose tingled but the more I thought about it I realized that it was anger. And what I was suppressing was frustration.

Cover your fucking mouth.

Being workshopped is not for the faint of heart. You have to be secure in what you’re writing, you have to be prepared to answer any possible question that could be thrown at you. You have to believe in what you’re writing both in form and in content. Any sort of insecurity or vacillation will be detected and promptly harped on until you want to sit in a corner and cry.

What I’m going to discuss today is when you feel that your workshop hasn’t gone your way and you don’t know what to do about it.

So I was workshopped today. I was fairly confident the days leading up to this; my last workshopping had gone rather well, everyone asked and answered the questions I wanted, there was no uncertainty, and I walked away ready, fuck, eager to write more. This time, I picked a section that I was confident with, there wasn’t too much involved that would need explaining and I had edited it to the extend that I wasn’t embarrassed. All I wanted, really, was to be told if my POVs were distinct enough that I could carry them through the whole story. I did everything one should do before walking into a workshopping. I wasn’t even nervous to read the first page out loud.

I suppose all of that should have been a sign of things to come. Nothing ever goes exactly the way you want.

Instead of discussing the mechanics of the story–excerpt, really. The story as a whole is over 50 pages–what I got was Harry Potter.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I fucking love Harry Potter. There’s no fucking doubt about that. I’m sure I’ve said many a time that I would like to write the next Harry Potter. And who wouldn’t? Bitch is fucking richer than the Queen right now. The thing is, the next Harry Potter is something I’ll write when I want to write it. It’s not something I want to be told I’m writing when that is not my intention.

That’s another thing you probably will have to deal with if you become a published writer: people telling you that your work is something that it isn’t. Sometimes that could work for you, maybe they’ll say your work is deeper than you had intended, which is cool. Means you’re smarter than you think. But sometimes shit like that is just blatantly unhelpful.

I’m going to say that Harry Potter was mentioned maybe 10 times or more during my entire workshopping. Which, okay, whatever. If that’s the only “fantasy” you’re exposed to then whatever, everything is going to be Harry Potter to you. At least they didn’t say Twilight. I would have cut someone.

What I was basically told was that my story drew too much from other sources.

That shit threw me for a fucking loop.

Not only have I worked my fucking ASS OFF trying to create an entirely original world, with it’s own rules and constrictions and nuances (I have a fucking MAP of the CITY for christ’s sake. I created a University, a bookstore chain, my own fucking version of Donald Trump), I absolutely did not know what they were talking about. Not a clue. As I was sitting there, I tried to find places where that could be true, where I maybe slipped in the word Hufflepuff instead of something else. Where I said Muggle instead of my word for non magical people (yes, I have my own word for it. And it sounds nothing like Muggle). And I completely could not think of one instance where this would be true.

My thing was, if I’m drawing on other works and I can’t see it, then how can I continue? How am I supposed to go on when I feel like every word I write could be an accidental homage to the Boy Who Lived? What would be the point of that? It would mean I’m not myself, I’m not original, my story only works if I’m making nods to other people. That’s not writing, that’s paying tribute.

Alice in Wonderland was also mentioned. Which, okay, I can see that. My story titles are all characters from Alice and Through the Looking Glass. The name of the city I created is Wonderland.

That is where I thought the similarities stopped.

In fact, those aren’t similarities. Those are me making my story titles from characters of another story. And naming my city Wonderland.

I normally don’t resist criticism. I like being told what in my story doesn’t work so I can improve it. It’s easier to know what doesn’t work than what works. But I have to draw the line somewhere. It took me forever to come up with my story titles. It took a lot of careful thought and research. I’ve never read Through the Looking Glass, I did not know all the characters. I did not know that the Mad Hatter wasn’t called the Mad Hatter at all, that was Disney. So when I put all this thought and effort into titles, which are difficult for me to being with, I’m going to reject the idea of changing them.

I’m writing a book of linked short stories for my thesis. One of the other things I was told was that I needed to make the distinctions between my stories greater. That I maybe should have consider making them all separate novels.

Again, I do not resist the idea of changing my stuff, however radically. If it looks like the change in question makes sense and will improve what I’m doing, I’m all for it. And that’s important. You have to be open for that sort of thing. Nothing you write is going to be perfect right off the bat.

The thing is, though, the entire POINT of what I’m doing hinges on the format I chose. That is why I was so conflicted when I thought I should expand one of my stories. That would mean abandoning the format I’ve been working really hard to perfect. Which, I guess, I should think about the fact that maybe I am going about this the wrong way. But no one really wants to think that.

So what am I going to do?

First, I should ask, what should one do when faced with a workshop like the one I just went through?

I think I handled myself all right. I bit my lip and I listened to everything, regardless of if I knew what they were talking about or not. I answered the questions to the best of my capability and I didn’t contradict. I didn’t berate them for not reading carefully enough or for not understanding that the first excerpt and the second one were two different parts of a whole and should be treated as such. I didn’t shout at them to keep open minds. I didn’t tell them to stop comparing my shit to Harry Motherfucking Potter. I didn’t cry. Rage. I didn’t say my work was a load of crap and should be treated as such. I was calm, composed, and I really did try to see it from their point of view.

I think that’s all you can do, really, when faced with that situation. Listen to what is being said. Listen. The first impuse is going to be to defend your work. But listening is so important. Try to look at your work as a potential reader, not as the author. You’re too close to it as the author.

I don’t know what I’m going to do, honestly. I guess the first thing I’m going to do is sit down and read through my story in question very carefully. I’m going to have to mark what I think could be a similarity to Harry Potter or anything of that nature and if it is something that could be changeable, I will have to think of ways to change it. And if I can’t find anything or if I can’t change it, I’m going to have to seriously consider not writing this book anymore. I will have to stop wasting my effort and hope I can pull something else out of my ass in enough time to graduate on time. Perhaps a cookie-cutter literary novel. Or a memoir chronicling my rather ordinary life. I’ll just have to write enough to make a passable thesis, get my degree and move on.

I may not be proud of it in the end, but hell, the thing I was proud of might not work, so pride has nothing to do with it.